Jeffrey Sachs to Wall Street: A Case of Criminal Stupidity?

"Golden Calf" returns to Wall Street, October 2011.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs explains the Occupy Wall Street protesters and the anti-Keystone XL pipeline movement to the Wall Street Journal editorial board and hedge-fund managers. Sachs is also Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

I love to see the prophetic imagination played out in the headlines of our times!

“Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?”–James 2:6

“For wicked men live among My people. They watch like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit. Therefore they have grown powerful and rich.”–Jeremiah 5:26-27

Sachs writes in Message to Wall Street:

“The [Occupy Wall Street] protesters are not envious of wealth, but sick of corporate lies, cheating, and unethical behavior. They are sick of corporate lobbying that led to the reckless deregulation of financial markets; they are sick of Wall Street and the Wall Street Journal asking for trillions of dollars of near-zero-interest loans and bailout money for the banks, but then fighting against unemployment insurance and health coverage for those drowning in the wake of the financial crisis; they are sick of absurdly low tax rates for hedge-fund managers; they are sick of Rupert Murdoch and his henchman David Koch trying to peddle the Canada-to-Gulf Keystone oil pipeline as an honest and environmentally sound business deal, when in fact it would unleash one of the world’s dirtiest and most destructive energy sources, Canada’s oil sands, so that Koch can profit while the world suffers. And they are sick of learning how many Republican politicians – the most recent news is about Herman Cain – are doing the bidding of the Koch brothers.

Here, then, Wall Street and Big Oil, is what it comes down to. The protesters are no longer giving you a free ride, in which you can set the regulations, set your mega-pay, hide your money in tax havens, enjoy sweet tax rates at the hands of ever-willing politicians, and await your bailouts as needed. The days of lawlessness and greed are coming to an end. Just as the Gilded Age turned into the Progressive Era, just as the Roaring Twenties and its excesses turned into the New Deal, be sure that the era of mega-greed is going to turn into an era of renewed accountability, lawfulness, modest compensation, honest taxation, and government by the people rather than by the banks. …”

Read Sachs’ whole commentary.

Van Gogh: ‘It is Good to Love Thorns’

For the first time all the letters of Vincent Van Gogh have been collected and published in a 6-volume set. I’ve been interested in Van Gogh since my parents lived for a year in Nuenen, Netherlands, where Van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters. Below is an excerpt from one of Van Gogh’s letters and an article by Mary Tompkins Lewis from The Wall Street Journal on the new release of letters.

The Potato Eaters
The Potato Eaters

When one eats a crust of black rye bread it’s certainly good to think of the words ‘Tunc justi fulgebunt ut sol in regnum Patris sui’ (Then shall the righteous shine forth as the Sun in the Kingdom of their Father), or also when one very often has muddy boots or wet, dirty clothes. May we all at sometime enter into that kingdom which is not of this world, where they do not marry and are not given in marriage, where the sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee, but the Lord shall be an Everlasting Light, and God our glory, where the sun shall no more go down, neither shall the moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thine Everlasting Light, and the days of mourning shall be ended and God shall wipe away all tears from the eyes.

And so we can be leavened with the leaven of ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’, being what we are through God’s grace, having in the secret recesses of the heart the words ‘I never despair’ because we have faith in God. And then ‘Set your face as a flint’ are really good words in many circumstances, and also ‘be like an iron pillar or like an old oak tree’. It’s also good to love thorns, such as the thorn-hedges around the little English church or the roses in the cemetery, they’re so beautiful these days, yes, if one could make oneself a crown of the thorns of life, not for the people but with which one is seen by God, then one would do well.–Vincent Van Gogh

vangoghletter

Over 800 letters written by van Gogh have survived, most of them addressed to his younger brother, Theo, an art dealer and an indefatigable source of support, and 80 others received from friends and family were saved by the artist. But while many of these letters had been published over the years, they hadn’t been approached in their entirety as the illustrious literary monument they are, or with the fullest sense of their import for his art and career. This has now become possible with the publication of all of the artist’s extant correspondence in Vincent van Gogh—The Letters, a richly annotated and illustrated six-volume compendium, and the launch of a related, scholarly and eminently searchable Web edition (www.vangoghletters.org). In tandem and in time, they will undoubtedly reshape the landscape of van Gogh scholarship and the image of the artist long held by the public.

In both versions of the text—the culmination of 15 years of research and edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker—each letter is newly transcribed (the originals are also captured in facsimile on the Web site), painstakingly retranslated without adornment or amendment, and in some cases redated in accordance with new research. A few letters, previously unknown or fragmented, are also added to the lot. They are accompanied by thumbnail reproductions, many in color, of every work of art van Gogh discussed in his incessant musings on painting, including his own. Brief sketches introduce each haunt of his short, peripatetic career, and every person, place or event mentioned even in passing is likewise explained in copious notes. Van Gogh was a voracious reader, and epistolary exhortations to friends to read his favorite authors peppered his writings. His countless literary references, which ranged from Homer to Zola, are also enumerated here in depth. Though no new attempt is made to interpret his work (a massive bibliography invites others to the task), one comes away astonished at the ardor and depth of van Gogh’s immersion into a cultural world we have long thought he knew only from a distance.–Mary Tompkins Lewis

Read Mary Tompkins Lewis’ whole article here. There’s also a lovely online slide show.

Peace Prayers at St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig (and not Ronald Reagan) Brought Down the Berlin Wall in 1989

"Monday demonstration" in Leipzig on October 23, 1989, five days after the forced resignation of Erich Honecker.
"Monday demonstration" in Leipzig on October 23, 1989, five days after the forced resignation of Erich Honecker.

As the world marks the 20th anniversary of the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, I want to highlight a story that you won’t see in the mainstream news: how Christian nonviolent action was the lynch pin that set the stage for the wall to come tumbling down.

I remember exactly where I was and who I was with on the day the wall got a hole punched through it. It was the beginning of the collapse of Communism. The Soviet empire imploded. The Cold War that had left millions dead through starvation, poverty, nuclear brinkmanship, and “Red tide” skirmishes  began its slow decline. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal notes, what Friedrich von Hayek so aptly called the fatal conceit was in retreat.

Several months ago I came across a remarkable story by Lutheran peace activist Bonnie Block on faith-based peace action in East Germany in the 1980s that set the stage for the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. I asked Bonnie if I could reprint it here. She replied, “Yes, I wrote this article in 2001 and would be delighted to have it distributed.  We so often do not hear the stories of nonviolent action and thus it’s easier for the culture to convince us that violence works.”

Amidst a global economic recession and the potential end to U.S. imperial hegemony, I’ll posit that market capitalism is also a fatal conceit that is now in retreat. And the acts of faithful Christians who act out of Jesus’ ethic of nonviolence on behalf of human dignity are and will be the leaders of this revolution too. As the president of the German Democratic Republic said at that time, “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”

Read Bonnie Block’s article below:

Protests during the Church Congress in Leipzig (July 9, 1989)
Protests during the Church Congress in Leipzig (July 9, 1989)

In early November 2001, I was one of eighteen members of two Lutheran congregations in the Madison, WI area who visited the former East Germany as part of a 13-day “heritage tour.” I knew that the churches of East Germany had been vital to the nonviolent revolutions which brought down the Communist governments of eastern Europe in 1989. But hearing and reading the stories of people who were involved in this historic time, actually sitting in the pews of one of those churches and lightening a peace candle there, has strengthened my resolve to practice nonviolence.

The place we visited is the Nicolaikirche (St Nicholas Church) built in 1165 in the center of a cobblestone square in the inner city of Leipzig. The story actually begins in the late 1970s or early 1980s when there were huge demonstrations all over Europe to protest the arms race. But in East Germany there was no neutral space to discuss and reflect on public issues except for the churches. It was in this context that a youth group from a congregation in eastern Leipzig started “peace prayers” every Monday at 5 pm at the Nicolaikirche. Soon “Bausoldaten” (people who rendered their compulsory military service by serving in special, unarmed units) came, followed by environmental activists and people interested in third world issues. Together they tried to stir the public’s conscience and encourage action.

That made the Stasi (State Security Police) and SED (the ruling Communist Party) officials come to see what was going on. Soon applicants for emigration and other regime critics came — along with Christian and non-Christian citizens of Leipiz and other parts of East Germany. The government reacted. From the May 8 1989, the access roads to the Nicolaikirche were checked and blocked by the police. Later the autobahn exits to Leipzig were subject to large-scale checks or even closed during the time of the prayers for peace. Monday after Monday there were arrests or “temporary detentions.” Yet the people continued to gather.

By September, the 2000 seats in the church were filled and people coming out of the church were joined by tens of thousands waiting in the Square outside. All held lighted candles in their hands and slowly they began to move toward the ring road that surrounds the city center. Helmut Junghans, a retired professor at the University of Leipzig said: “It started with 5 or 6 but each week there were more of us praying for peace. Eventually we filled the church and then the square around the church and then we spilled onto the ring road surrounding the old part of Leipzig. Eventually there were 300,000 of us marching past the Stasi headquarters. Chants of ‘We are the people’ began and then soon changed to ‘We are one people.’ But there was not one broken shop window and there was no violence.”

October 7, 1989 was the 40th anniversary of the GDR. The authorities cracked down and for ten long hours uniformed police battered defenseless people who made no attempt to fight back and took them away in trucks. Hundreds were locked up in stables in Markkleeberg. The press published an article saying it was high time to put an end to the “counter-revolution,” if need be, by force.

On Monday, October 9, 1989 “everything was at stake” because the order to shoot the protesters had been given. Rev. C. Fuhrer, describes the day as follows:

1,000 SED party members had been ordered to go to the Nicholaikirche. Some 600 of them had already filled up the church nave by 2 pm. They had a job to perform like the Stasi personnel who were on hand regularly and in great numbers at the peace prayers. And so it was that these people, including SED party members, heard from Jesus who said: “Blessed are the poor”! And not: “Anyone with money is happy.”

Jesus said: “Love your enemies”! Instead of: “Down with your opponent.” Jesus said: “Many who are first will be last”! And not: “Everything stays the same.” Jesus said: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it”! And not: “Take great care.” Jesus said: “You are the salt”! And not: “You are the cream.”

The prayers for peace took place in unbelievable calm and concentration. Shortly before the end, before the bishop gave his blessing, appeals by Professor Masur, chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and others who supported our call for non-violence, were read out. This mutuality in such a threatening situation is also important, this solidarity between church and art, music and gospel.

And so these prayers for peace ended with the bishop’s blessing and the urgent call for non-violence. And as we–more than 2,000 persons–came out of the church–I’ll never forget the sight–tens of thousands were waiting outside in the Square. They all had candles in their hands. If you carry a candle, you need two hands. You have to prevent the candle from going out. You cannot hold a stone or a club in your hand. And the miracle came to pass. Jesus’ spirit of nonviolence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power. Troops, industrial militia groups, and the police were drawn in, became engaged in conversations, then withdrew. It was an evening in the spirit of our Lord Jesus for there were no victors or vanquished, no one triumphed over the other, and no one lost face.

Not a shot was fired. On Monday, October 16, the peace prayers continued (as they do to this day) and 120,000 people were in the streets of Leipzig demanding democracy and free elections. On October 18, Erich Honecker, the leader of the ruling SED party resigned. Nonviolent protests were held all over Germany, including one with one half million people in East Berlin on November 4th. On November 7, 1989 the entire government of the GDR resigned. On November 9th the crossing points of the Wall in East Berlin opened. Seven months later the entire border regime of the GDR (symbolized by Checkpoint Charlie) came to an end. On October 3, 1990 Germany was reunified.

Sindermann, who was a member of the Central Committee of the GDR, said before his death: “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”

Block lives in Madison, WI, and was the national coordinator of Lutheran Peace Fellowship during the early 1990s and chair of the National Council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1995.  She would like to thank Herb Brokering for his reflections on the pilgrimages he made to the Eastern Germany before the fall of the Wall and which were available for reading on the bus during our journey in 2001.

The Mosque in Morgantown: Finding Our Religion within American Pluralism

Asra Nomani (center) and family
Asra Nomani (center) and family

In March, I had lunch with Asra Nomani at Sticky Fingers, the vegan bakery across from the Sojourners office. Nomani, former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, mentioned the culmination of a two-year film project she’d been working on that PBS would be airing as part of the “America at a Crossroads” series. The Mosque in Morgantown premiers Monday, June 15, 2009, at 10 p.m. EST. (Check your local listings.)

I first came across Asra Nomani in 2003. There was a small article in The Washington Post about a woman who was fighting for women’s rights in her mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia. I was intrigued by a Muslim woman — born into an Indian Muslim family and raised in the United States — not only returning to the heart of her religion but doing it in a way that produced the kind of radical call to freedom true faith engenders. I was intrigued that she claimed Sojourner Truth, the ex-slave who adamantly defended the rights of women in the church and in society, as one of her inspirations.

The Mosque in Morgantown is the story of Asra and her mother, Sajida, who in 2003 entered their mosque in Morgantown by the front door and prayed in the same room with men. This was counter to the rising practice in many mosques, in which women are forced to pray behind partitions. In June 2004, five women from around the country joined the Nomanis to pray in Morgantown’s mosque.

Not only did Nomani forcibly integrate the mosque, she “nailed” (taped, actually) her “99 Precepts for Opening Hearts, Minds, and Doors in the Muslim World” and an Islamic Bill of Rights for Women on the mosque door. She stood firmly in the tradition of Martin Luther, who pounded his 95 Theses into the church door in Wittenberg, and Martin Luther King Jr., who posted the demands of the open-housing campaign on then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s office door in 1966.

The Mosque in Morgantown takes the viewer inside a religious community that’s in the midst of a simmering battle between progressives and traditionalists. We see how Nomani’s prophetic tactics of direct action alienate the moderates and horrify the traditionalists. We see the struggle for power that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever served on a parish council or vestry. We see the creative responses that emerge from the community as it is forced to deal with change.

Nomani is driven to fight the “slippery slope” of extremism that she perceives to be taking over the leadership of the mosque her father founded. It’s clear to the viewer that Nomani, who was a close friend of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, must take clear and decisive action against religious extremism in her home community because she’s seen where such extremism can lead.

At the same time, members of her community take great offense at being lumped in with violent extremists just because they take a traditionalist view of their faith. Other community members don’t like her tactics. They prefer a moderate, more measured, course. “The American experience,” says moderate mosque member Ihtishaam Quazi, “works against the idea of a slippery slope that Asra is so afraid of.”

Unfortunately, as we’ve learned from the murder of Dr. George Tiller by religious militant extremist Scott Roeder and the murder at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by militant religious extremist James W. von Brunn — both of whom claim to be Christians — the “American experience” and the vibrant flame of a pluralistic democracy must be guarded with eternal vigilance.

Watch The Mosque in Morgantown on PBS and find out more here.

This post first appeared on GodsPolitics.com. For more about Asra Nomani, see “Men Only?” by Rose Marie Berger and “Living Out Loud,” by Laurna Strickwerda. To read Nomani’s articles in Sojourners, see “A Faith of Their Own,” “The Islamic Reformation Has Begun,” and “The Struggle for the Soul of Islam.”