The Axioms of Evil

It’s been sixteen years since George W Bush and David Frum introduced to the neocon play action Axis of Evil speech¹ pointing out the three major powers that the US wanted to overthrow and colonize liberate from any semblance of self-rule: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea (DPRK). These were three nations that supposedly sponsored terrorism and were thus linked to the 9/11 attacks on US soil. An attack by a network not affiliated by any of these countries but instead by one of the US’s closest allies, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Since Iraq has already been dealt with, to put it crudely, and the Gears of War are turning on the other two due to either some protest or escalating nuclear tensions, it’s time for a some disjointed thoughts:

  • First, let’s dispel the false notion that there were millions of protesters in Iran calling for the overthrow of the government (and certainly that they want the United States to overthrow it). Several pictures of Brown-People-Protesting did go viral, but one of those was in Buenos Aires and another in Bahrain–two large-scale protests that Americans did not care about.
  • One of the main driving factors for the Iranian protests, as they are, has been economic. People protesting in the hundreds to thousands for a better standard of living, and against cuts to the social safety net, such as reductions in cash subsidies to the bottom 90%. How familiar does that sound to Americans? But in this case, we’re supposed to believe that Donald Trump and reactionary American elites are on the side of the protesters?
  • No one dared to raise the possibility of regime change during the millions-led Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, a clear (but respectable) sign of dissatisfaction with the current regime by a significant percentage of the population.
  • No one dared suggest toppling DC after the #J20 protesters on the day of the Inauguration for protesting a little more loudly. In fact, the police kettled and arrested 200 such under false pretenses and have pressured most to either take a plea bargain (granting them a criminal record for either protesting or being adjacent to a protest) or face up to 80 years in prison. Some are still in jail or awaiting trial.
  • What country raised the possibility of invading the US during any of the Fight for $15 minimum wage demonstrations? These were longer, and involved tens of thousands of people, many literally leaving their work place during hours. And while several municipalities raised their minimum wages (after decades of stagnation), several states made it impossible for cities and counties to increase the minimum wage–despite the fact that cost-of-living substantially rise in urban areas and thus states should not be in charge of determining what is and is not livable. Missouri Republicans, for instance, forced St Louis to reduce the minimum wage by 20%! This was clearly a repressive state action. But again, silence.
  • Speaking of St Louis, where were the regime change callers when the Black Lives Matter protests kicked off? Thousands of oppressed people took to the streets demanding justice in the criminal justice system and its attendant policing. While the justice system started making minor accommodations to their demands, the current administration has worked overtime to turn back those concessions and several states have introduced bills that make it perfectly legal to run over protesters. Clearly, Black Lives do not matter to this regime.
  • But, if anything, the US is ignoring long-standing protests in South Korea against the US’s military presence and impending war.
  • Meanwhile, the US has given millions of dollars to support the right-wing government in Honduras, which killed dozens of protesters recently. When the Washington-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández was accused of rigging the elections in his favor, thousands took to the street. Dozens were killed, most directly by the narco military police units. In one scene, a group of unarmed protesters were shot down by the police who would tell the world that their victims were shooting back at them and thus they had no choice.

Relatives of the dead say they fear that there will be no justice over post-election violence: some say they have been threatened by troops; others point out that human rights prosecutions involving security forces are overseen by the same task force that helps coordinate [military police] operations.

  • North Korea at least is acting in a defensive position. Who does the US have to prove itself to? Who is threatening to destroy our entire country? What nation in the world has ever wiped off one-fifth of our people? (Not counting the original inhabitants because then the answer would be the United States.)
  • Who knew our president would use classic Orientalist tropes about Asian male sexuality IN A FUCKING TWEET?
  • South Korea (the Republic of Korea) began negotiating talks with the DPRK without US input. This angered Trump and Nikki Haley because it’s important for US interests (including Abe’s Japan) to make it look like Kim and the DPRK are unhinged and would never compromise; as if North Korea were the one making threats, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • When the negotiations between North and South Korea to start talks began leaking, all of the US media focused on how divisive this would be, how it will end badly (for who?), and how Trump is taking credit (despite the fact that Nikki Haley just yesterday distanced the administration from the talks).
  • The United States’ two biggest allies in the Middle East do not allow for protests. It is illegal in Israel to display the Palestinian flag, and a group of more than five protesters is also violently prohibited. And we all know about the extensive human rights abuses in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Israel prevents movement in Gaza and shoots Palestinians trying to get away on boats. But you never hear of politicians condemning Israel or the KSA the way they do the DPRK and Iran.
  • If, however (and hear me out, please), Iran had a nuclear arsenal, the Trump administration would be much more likely to heed caution as they’re doing irt: North Korea.
  • There are some times when I truly wish that Trump actually was a stooge for Putin and Russia.
  • Meanwhile, in a country we’ve already conquered (my ancestral homeland): So far, at least one thousand Puerto Ricans have died and millions more at still at high-risk, without regular clean water or electricity as a result of Hurricane Maria and the US’s abysmal response. Clearly, we do not have a good track record of supporting our colonies², so why should we have a right to talk to or about Iran or Korea?

¹ In what the Washington Post dubbed the Fourth Best State of the Union Address ever.

² Yes, that is the point of colonialism, after all….

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making demons of heroes

to face the demons
we must face the demons
betrayed within the lines of our own
lying eyes
running the course of blood that
feeds as it pours

it takes a special kind of courage and
a special king of nourishment
it takes a fool of sorts
to strike the demons
from flags and forks

so much to hold onto so much to lose too much to loose

facing devils
facing stakes and guilty guillotines
facing corners
naked, huddled
didn’t know you were you
but today you do

pide un deseo...

Fruits of the Spirit: Our Imperialist Christian Standards, pt 3

There is a lot to unpack in any reading of Scripture, and certainly in any of the letters attributed to St Paul. We have to take account that it was written for and in a different time, different place, different language, and very different context. So when Paul is talking about witchcraft and when Pat Robertson is talking about witchcraft, they are not speaking of the same thing. Nor are they even necessarily speaking of the same thing when they talk about sexual immorality – or homosexuality.

Sadly, they’re not even talking about the same thing when they refer to The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom, as NT Wright and other biblical scholars often point out, is a place that is not in space but is yet on Earth and now rather than away and later. It is the reign and rule of God in the hearts of the people that live the new way to be human that Jesus demonstrated and taught (cf, the Sermon on the Mount). This new way to be human (to lift a phrase from Liberation Theologian Gustav Gutierrez) is a recognition of humanity’s Imago Dei – the fact that we share in the divine as we are made in the image of God and God – in the form of Jesus – shared in us, in our sufferings and glories and hurts and pains and cramps and laughs.

How do we know if we are a part of this particular Kingdom, away from the dominant kingdoms and empires of the world (and their ways of conquest and power), and the easy ways of the flesh (personal empires)? Besides the various metaphors that Jesus shared (which should also be understood in context), both he and Paul talked about fruits. What we’ve noticed in our series is that much of Christian culture talks about the fruits – and casts people in and out of Christianity based on how they believe another person acts in accordance to their interpretation of one of the “acts of the flesh.” Homosexuality is openly condemned as being “sexually immoral” but wealth accumulation is glossed over when it’s not encouraged and sanctified.

Another note: This isn’t about heaven and hell. The Kingdom of God isn’t about the afterlife (though it accompanies and carries through to that), and it isn’t about fear. It is about the here and now and about love. Let that sink in and soak for a good long while because, when it does, the power of imperialistic Christian standards die a good, silent death.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, faction and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Lemon Splash

Click image for source

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

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Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Filibluster – or – Whose Freedom?

Yesterday was Backwards Day. It must have been. During Rand Paul’s filibuster related to Obama administration drone policies to extrajudicially target, strike, and execute US citizens, Congress Democrats – the political wing of the Left, or as close to it as we have in the States – were silent. Meanwhile, the Twitters were abluff – ABLUFF I say! – with unmitigated leftist support for Rand Paul, who was labeled “courageous” for his approach.

It should have been the other way around. Washington is the place to make odd political pals. Washington is the city of pragmatism and political expediency. If political liberals and political conservatives can agree that a specific policy area is immoral – for whatever the reason – this would be a place to do it without equivocation. There is no need for a statement to the effect of: While Congressperson X is vile and decrepit and immoral on 95% of issues and while I distrust X’s reasons for standing in agreement with me on this issue…

There is no need for such statements because Washington is a place to get things done. Not a place for testing ideas. Not a place for integrity.

With even the Tea Party decrying military reach and most wars, I don’t know what Democrats are afraid of when it comes to drones and the Military Industrial Complex. Who are they now afraid of that they go out of their way to grandstand and advocate anything explosive?

Liz Cheney? Michael Bay?

Democrats do not want to upset their central Autobot/Union demographic

So shame on the Democrats for being shown as the unconcerned loyal politicians they are. Grow some courage and integrity, dammit! You can’t claim to be the Party of the People if you’re okay with wars and overlooking the very basic constitutional rights that protect citizens from undue legal judgments – less alone allow them to be executed without a proper judge, jury, or legal defense team.

Instead, we’ve had to rely on Rand Paul to speak up in this area. And that’s troubling not just because he is a Republican, or of the Tea Party. No, it’s troubling because Rand Paul is deeply, deeply troubling. And, to be honest, more scary than a flying robot killing machine.

So now I’m disturbed by the Prophetic Left who praise Rand Paul for his “bold stance” on drone strikes against American citizens but neglect to mention that Paul seeks to erode if not eradicate what little liberties and protections women, minorities, disabled people, workers, and the poor have from the government. Aren’t these the very issues that are sacred to us?

And don’t give me the bullocks that the states will be better equipped to deal with their local populations than the central government. It hasn’t happened; it won’t happen anytime soon. That is why we needed the ADA, the ACA, and the CRA.

He can say that he opposes the War on Drugs that unfairly and disproportionately affects people of color, but that doesn’t give him a pass. It doesn’t mean he isn’t a racist. In fact, we must ask, every single time a Rand Paul decides to speak out on behalf of constitutional rights and liberties: Whose rights are being sought? Whose liberties are we protecting?

It disturbs me because the PL are the very people who do not need to kowtow, who do not need to compromise, who can hold the DNC accountable without hurrahing racists like Rand Paul as some sort of hero. The fact is that I don’t trust Rand Paul on anything. And any person of color aware of Rand Paul’s positions has every reason to distrust anything embraced or led by him.

After all

So forgive me if I’m not AS concerned about the remote possibility of American citizens being killed extrajudiciously WHEN IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING. This isn’t a mere overreach of federal government – this is institutional racism and classism. This is the protecting of American business interests – same as ever. And if Rand Paul can’t seem to understand that, then we have other major issues here.

On "From the Sky"

We here (well, me here) at the Left Cheek care about following the radical message of equity and justice that Jesus Christ, the prophets and the apostles shared some thousands of years ago in some backwater provinces of the Empire’s reach – where violence and complacency were means of keeping rebellious forces in line.

Empire has a funny way of making its citizens believe it’s the right and natural thing – even as it destroys families and people. As long as we’re a “good” nation with “good” intentions, we don’t want to question it too much. We don’t question rape culture in our own country. We rarely question how we treat immigrants or the homeless or criminals. And we don’t question the concept of racism, war, safety, or collateral damage – as long as those concepts don’t affect us directly. We rarely question how comfort and dominance is shaped by the suffering of others. Unless we are the others who are suffering.

So writer, filmmaker, critic and my friend Ian Ebright – who has featured our guest blogs occasionally at his site The Broken Telegraph – is putting together a fictional film about a father and son living under the reach of the American Empire as potential collateral damage. From the Kickstarter page for the movie (which is hoping to raise $18,500 in one month):

From the Sky‘ takes viewers beneath the headlines by telling a fictional story of a noble father Hakeem and his troubled teenage son Abbas as they journey across a volatile region of the Middle East.
The story opens to reveal Abbas suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to a tragic past and the frequent presence of drones flying overhead. Soon, a turn of events forces Abbas to make a choice about which way he will go in life: the way modeled by his father, or a different path articulated by the charismatic character Dhiya.
The film will be among the first (if not the first) narrative works of cinema from the U.S. to show the impact of drone strikes on civilians in the Arab world. The film also explores the roots of extremism and ultimately asks a universal question: When we are harmed, will we take the wide road of retaliation or a more narrow path by responding in life-giving ways? (please read more at the site)

If, like myself, you believe that true education leads to freedom and that that education involves the arts because true education is not just cognitive but involves the senses. Learning about others – as we learn about ourselves – is sensual. This is a great learning opportunity. Let us invest in this opportunity and not allow it to go to waste.

Few of the Sins of the Fathers Are Visited Upon the Sons

Inevitably, whenever you get a mixed group talking about ethnicity and racial justice, and history, the topic of reparations of one form or another is brought up. The topic could be slavery in the New World, cultural and population genocide of the indigenous in the US, cultural and property genocide in Australia – but the topic in one form or another hits this supposed sleeping giant.

And the defense, the very natural defense for us white folks – and I sure as heck have thought this and used this line since I was twelve till about the time I started shifting maybe eight or so years ago:

But I didn’t do it. Maybe, maybe some of my parents were involved. But, see some of my parents were Puerto Ricans (or fill in your blank, non-white descriptor), and most of them were poor or weren’t even IN this country at the time or they were Northerners and Abolitionists fighting to free the slaves, but even if they were slave owners or slave drivers, that wasn’t me…

Those who use this defense are not necessarily bad or racist or even ignorant. Rather than going after the individual making such statements, it is beneficial to remember that we all suffer from bias and from a system that demands and takes and orders and cushions and protects itself against all others. This line of thinking, it is important to remember, is another tool in the pervasiveness of Dominant Culture Survival – another line where the dominant culture (particularly Western/Euro-American) tries to protect itself from considering our own culpability – and we, growing up white in America, almost naturally adopt that defense as if it were our own.

But that wall of protection (just like the “I’m Not a Racist!” defensive wall) becomes a barrier to justice. And that barrier to justice is a barrier to humanity and wholeness.

Let us start with the recognition that history has a current role in racial injustice. Globally, and particularly in the Americas and Australia, the indigenous have been deliberately robbed of their wealth, land, and (for most) cultural signifiers such as language and history. The African diaspora that is currently in the Americas (including not just the US, but Haiti and Brazil among others), have also been robbed of their ancestral cultures as a collective cloth (though much of it survives in bits and pieces and still more is being found and rediscovered by the descendents), their language, their work, their families, their blood, the value of their work. The wealthy elites, bosses, and agents of White America saw generations and perhaps centuries of tremendous profit to be made for themselves and their progeny – and that profit could most easily be made if those working for them did so as perpetual, soulless children, bereft of will and completely dependent on the whims and moods of their “masters.” They tried their damnedest to steal the dignity and humanity of the indigenous and tribal.

Fortunately, that experiment failed. Economically, the northerners figured that a “free” labor source (though still ridiculously low priced) without fear of so much upheaval would be cheaper than maintaining and propping up a system of continuous fear and paranoia (it’s a delicate economic line that the very wealthy are still trying to distinguish between in struggling between FreedomWorks, CitizensUnited and various Koch-backed agencies on the one hand and the Buffetts, Gateses, and other millionaires who aren’t as willing to see hungry masses crash the gates just yet on the other).

farm work
Unfortunately, that experiment lives on in too many aspects to count in such a blog post. But maybe a primer will suffice for now:

These devastating realities did not just happen. They certainly did not happen because Black and Latino Americans (or fill in your marginalized people group) are lazy or inferior (though there are supposed “scholars” who make it their work to argue just that, and entire populations who eat that sh*t up for breakfast). In fact, to speak broadly, people of color in these here United States have had to work much harder than White Americans just to get by – just to literally survive. Much the same can be said of the indigenous and the African diaspora globally.

The awful truth is that Euro-colonialism has stolen from non-Euros and continues the trend of stealing from them, from their wages, from the fruit of their work, by refusing care. What remains is not much – and for many, it’s much less than adequate. Do we who have more access to wealth and privilege due to those robberies owe them any debt? I believe we do – at the very least to erase the debt, to start the clocks over again, to release the prisoners, to declare the year of jubilee.

We who have descended from Europeans like to say (and as a White – though also bi-racial – American, I have also myself since at least the age of fourteen until the last five or so – almost twenty years) that WE should not be held responsible for the sins of our ancestors. Yes, sure.

But neither should the indigenous nor other people of color be held responsible for the sins of our fathers.

Especially while we still benefit from those sins…

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* Because I’m speaking of a global phenomenon, I do not want to show trends rather than figures. The links provided, however, give just a glimpse as they are focused on the United States and particularly the relationship between Black and White Americans in dealing with justice. It doesn’t give a comprehensive picture, of course – and if you would like to offer some extra links, maybe we can have a link dump in the next blog to demonstrate the global inequity. The figures that are presented in these links, however, are staggering and mind-blowing, but I also want to point out larger trends – not just in the US, but in Canada, throughout the various Latin American countries and regions, in Europe and white-run sections of the rest of the world (South Africa and Australia come to mind), as well as throughout Africa and Asia.

Occupy/Incarnate

Jesus, we Christians must remember, was not content to be a removed deity, off in the sky judging humanity and moving efforts from the heavens. The story of Gospels is the story of an incarnational God – a God who not only walked among men and women, but was one of them. A lord who did not lord, a religious leader who welcomed all into the work of ministry. The story of the Gospels is, therefore, a testimony against centering and lording forces such as imperialism, statism, and capitalism, an alternative to presidents and corporations.

In that sense, however, the greatest remaining legacy to the witness of the incarnation in the US may not reside in the four walls of the institutional church. It does not belong to the power-hungry Religious Right in its various incarnations (let alone the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association). It does not belong to the Republicans, nor to the Democrats (shockers, I know!). But it also doesn’t honestly belong to me or my friends in the Christian Left or much of progressive Christianity (at least as far as bloggers) – though I like to think we’re preparing groundwork and pointing the way.

No, those on the ground, those in the trenches, those doing the dirty work – those are the ones demonstrating the incarnation by being and doing interconnectedly. Such actors are in every community of course, but as far as any large body where I see the work of community and salvation being worked out without authoritarianism, without massive centralization, that distinction goes to the Occupy Movement. Still. While the rest of us have just about forgot about them save a few slogans, they’ve been involved and part of communities in need; they’ve been incarnational this whole time.

So how did an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, best known as a leaderless movement that brought international attention to issues of economic injustice through the occupation of Zucotti Park in the financial district last year, become a leader in local hurricane relief efforts?  Ethan Murphy, who was helping organize the food at St. Jacobis and had been cooking for the occupy movement over the past year, explained there wasn’t any kind of official decision or declaration that occupiers would now try to help with the hurricane aftermath.  “This is what we do already, “ he explained: Build community, help neighbors, and create a world without the help of finance.  Horst said, “We know capitalism is broken, so we have already been focused on organizing to take care of our own [community] needs.” He sees Occupy Sandy as political ideas executed on a practical level. (Emphasis mine)

How to make a difference that will last? Be incarnational.

Saving Ourselves from this Corrupt Generation

Acts 2 (NIV)
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
All people”? Well, there’s God being all egalitarian and accepting and open, ain’t that it?
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
And daughters? Well, as long as they’re silent about it and let the menfolk handle the serious studying of God’s word.
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
Again with the women!! Get it together, already. Women can’t preach so why waste your spirit on them?
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
Blood and fire! Fire! Fire! Yes! Burn those gays and heathens and Messicans and Arabs!
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Oh cool! It’s all about the end times and the rapture! Yippeee!! Bring on the BLOOD BATH!!
The above was brought to us by the ancient prophet Micah by way of the Jesus-follower Peter on the first Pentecost, and then interrupted by a common Bible Belt interpretation. It’s a selfish understanding of the Bible, one focused largely on our own experiences and formed by a consciousness of privilege and fueled by a spirit of vengeful persecution.
Wait til Jesus comes back and gets those liberals/welfare dependents/elites for slighting me!
It’s an odd mix to have. Not that there wasn’t a lot of blood and wrath on the minds of the Old Testament prophets, or even in the stories that Jesus and the apostles told. But their sites were set on the oppressive empires that were actually oppressing them. Making it impossible for them to live, to operate. Abandoning widows and orphans. Conquering them with military force. Excising all their wealth into a centralized body.
Israel, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome and their emperors and their ways of exploitation and domination were, in the language of the prophets and the apocalyptic writers of the bible, the sun and the stars and the moon that would be darkened and bloodied and overcome. 
If I were the rest of the world, I would know this passage to be speaking of the end of the American empire and her multinational corporation partners. And I’d be rejoicing.
Pentecost
But the end of empire-dom does not occur through bloodshed. It will not happen through the art of war, via tanks or bombs or guns. Neither will oppression cease through a supergroup of superpowered superbeings or via battleships or really terrible lightning bolts coming from a grey-bearded god in the sky. Those are the old ways, the language of oppression and dominance and violence. When we follow the old ways, we are only replacing one tyrant with another. 
If we continue in the old ways, what are we saving ourselves from and what are we being saved into? From the violence of one group to the violence of another? Would we be replacing the czars only to end up under totalitarian rule – dolled up in the language of equality – all over again?
We will be saved by the singular mission of a people united in speaking the same message – the message of freedom, of equality, of sharing, of equal access, and equal power, of beaten swords and spears, of shared plows and tools – and acting as a people liberated from the message of the empire, that “Might is right.”
Peter’s last words to the gathered crowd were, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.
How did the new followers then save themselves? From the end of that same second chapter of Acts.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The people were not saved into an eternal life that would start after they died. They were saved into a new way of being, a new humanity, a new ethos, a new kind of rule separate from the predominant empire. Jesus’ rule wasn’t an earthly type of rule – it was one of kindness and sharing and giving and peace. The kind that takes the old and turns it into something new.
“…..and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

H8r Crimes & White Christian Privilege

“Suspicious… These assholes are always getting away.”

Fox News and other White, male, heterosexual, Christian supremacist spokespersons like to pretend that Hate Crime legislation give potential victims – particularly Black, Arab, and Latino people, females, those with mental and/or physical disabilities, homosexuals and bisexuals, trans*, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists – more rights than they have. As one of my friends put it, those people groups would belong to a special “protected class.”

This type of thinking, and the acceptance of it by much of White American Christianity, belies the fact that those groups already belong to a special attacked class. But it also reveals privileged thinking.

Privileged thinking doesn’t comprehend the factlargely because privileged people are safe from these types of realitiesthat entire people groups are constantly, systemically, and substantially attacked. And because it can’t comprehend this fact (and because we’re human and if we don’t need to be aware of an ugly fact that makes us look bad, we most likely won’t), it has to make up silly disclaimers that minority groups are seeking extra rights.

  • School desegregation and busing? Extra rights. Black children already have their own schools; they shouldn’t be allowed to overrun ours.
  • Civil rights laws? Extra rights. See, black citizens already have the right to vote; they just need to quietly apply like the rest of us. They’ll get their turn when it’s their time.
  • Anti-bigotry laws? Extra rights. Gays are trying to force their views on God-lovin’ straights. If I want to voice my disapproval at their lifestyle in a demeaning and threatening manner, that’s my Constitutionally-protected right.
  • Ramps, elevators, special bathrooms, and handicap accessible doors? Extra rights! Why do we have to accomodate them? We’ll take care of them when they come, not before.
  • Same-sex unions and/or marriage? That’s extra rights, right there! Straights can only get married to a person of the opposite gender. It’s not fair that they get to marry somebody of the same sex! (Yes. I have talked to somebody with this view. In 2010. He must’ve thought he was so clever.)

And so on and so on, ad infinitum…

/HaterJustificationText…

And if you disagree with them, then it’s reverse racism. And if you tell them that they’re supporting a racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, classist system, they take it personally and deny the fact that they’ve ever had a hating bone in their body.*

Of course they missed the point. They’re privileged. Not only can they afford to ignore the very institutions that don’t challenge them, but they also profit from ignoring those systems.

A number of young Christian slacktivists, like myself, have done a good job of cataloguing oppressions of the US empire overseas. We recognize the horrible costs of war, cheap oil, and cheaply-produced consumptives. We call it by its name: murder.

JUSTICE for Trayvon Martin!
Yet, are we recognizing the implications of this murderous system when it’s at home and so obvious it smacks us in the face with its obviousness?

Trayvon Martin’s murder – instigated by racial fears and racist subjugation – is one such obvious case.

For more:
GraceIsHuman (where I first was made aware of this travesty): “Look, I don’t give a shit how George Zimmerman or Bill Lee personally feel about black people or what their personal relationships with black people are like. I am not in the least interested in whether they’re “really racist” or not. I care what they did. I care about the cultural and institutional realities that made what they did (and are still doing, on the part of the Sanford PD) possible, and made them think – with very good precedent for thinking so – they could get away with it.”
Sarah Over the Moon argues that White Christians love to patristically defend African children – as if we were their only hope – but we ignore racism in our own backyard.
And Fred at Slacktivist does a journalist’s job of consorting and compiling – in an effort to amplify – the voices of those who understand oppression and privilege.

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*Much like the KKK and White Citizens Council did in the 50s and 60s.

Lust and Chastity

To recap yesterday’s stress-eating, I ate two bowls of oatmeal sprinkled with brown sugar, a large bowl of vegan chilli topped with decidedly non-vegan cheese and sour cream, a large cup of coffee (raw sugar and soy – because I have only so much tolerance for my lactose intolerance), a “snack size” Oreo McFlurry, a blueberry granola bar and juice box (I from my afternoon job tutoring grade schoolers. Not that I’m averse to buying my own juice box. They’re awesome!), a chicken torta, a Butterfinger, and a slice of homemade pumpkin pie (courtesy my roommate’s mom). I would’ve had more if a Skor bar hadn’t fallen out of my pocket on the bus. Somebody got lucky there…

What of this did I need? I wasn’t hungry at any of these feedings and could’ve been well enough with one bowl of oat meal, half that bowl of chilli – or at least without the dairy products – and the torta.

Oh, and that pie.

The fact is that I lusted for 400 calories of saccharin-infused corn by-products. And then I lusted I my pockets for the change to buy it (get your minds out of the gutter!).

Lord save me, it wasn’t even that good.

Lust is almost always defined in terms of sexuality, but it’s much broader and deeper than that. Lust is the need for instant gratification of our desires by objectifying and consuming that which can temporarily satisfy us.

Lust is turning ourselves, others, and the good resources of the world into mere instruments devoid of wholeness in order to get what we want now.

A lust for power
A Lust for Power. Aimaness Photography

Lust isn’t just about bodily activities, but also the consumerist need to keep up with the Joneses and so deprive ourselves, our body, our senses, our world, our friends, our neighbors of their full potential.

Lust doesn’t just manifest itself in pornography and one night stands, it is embodied in our credit reports, it is demonstrated in our shopping habits, it is seen in our living rooms and closets.

And lust is strongest where the temptations are the most powerful. This is where everyone, the top and the bottom percenters, are liable to fall. And it’s strongest of all where the income disparity is biggest, because the Joneses are unattainable, and the social status – gotten through mounds of unassailable credit – is all that more urgent.

It’s McFlurrys, flat-screen TVs, nights at the multiplex, fur-lined boots, converted condos, extravagant coffee tables, coffee table books (we never, ever read them), disposable dresses, iPhones.

I lust for books even though I read at a snail’s pace. They were getting ready to do a spin-off of Hoarders just for me before I reluctantly sold half my titles.

This lust, this consumerism, is as dangerous as greed to our well-being because it is the engine for greed. If we can slow down our lust for materialism, we can grind down the entire Greed Machine.

Which, I’m well aware, takes a lot of mental fortitude. Not necessarily because people are lazy or stupid or any other sort of excuse moralists like myself use to feel superior, but because we are constantly bombarded with psychological warfare that tells us/instructs us/coddles us/warns us that we are only as good as what we possess.

And that which the corporate machines sell to us is guaranteed not to last.

Not that this is new to us. Many of us are aware of the inconsistencies, but we’re programmed to live them out. That’s why so many billions upon billions of dollars are paid by advertisers trying to jam our brains with their messages. Buy Now. Buy Now. Buy Now.

What if we were chaste instead? What if we said to the authorities of the social, political, and economic worlds: NO! Enough is enough. I control me! I want to receive more out of life than material wants.

What if they realized that we understood that instant gratification does not equal long-lasting satisfaction? That a fleeting laugh is not the same as day-long joy?

What if we grabbed and turned around a puritanical, joy-deprived word like Chastity and renewed it to its revolutionary impact? Because, amongst powers that demand us to buy now, buy now, buy now, to not do so, to not immediately turn what is precious and whole into what is objectified, consumed and tossed aside is to be revolutionary. Is to say, “We are not satisfied with filling our bellies. We want fulfillment. You have taken that from us to sell us retrograde garbage. Give us us back!”

Whitey Colonies on the Moon

Presidential hopeful Newt “Butterbean” Gingrich, if elected, promises, “by the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American.”

He must be ironically referencing Gil-Scot Heron:

A rat done bit my sister Nell, with whitey on the moon
Her face and arm began to swell, and whitey’s on the moon
I can’t pay my doctor bills, but whitey’s on the moon…

Newt Gingrich seems to pop up everywhere

The Humiliation of Living Humbly

My new friend David Henson wrote a story about Jesus being born into a migrant family that is worth a good read and meditation. It’s a bit of a pick-axe if you’re like me and you’ve heard Linus’ gospel story on repeat since birth but can’t quite make a tangible or visceral connection to it every year. The original hearers of this particular “gospel” story, after all, were quite shocked by it.

A small distraction from this meditation occurred when David proposed that modern readers tend to think of Jesus’ birth as being a humble affair, rather than the humiliation he believes it was.

For most of us, I think he’s right. We like to imagine being born into wealth, or at the least to rise into wealth so that our children can be privileged. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have some amount of fortune, if not of the wealth variety, then at least enough to find yourself with a computer, internet access, and some amount of spare time. Rare commodities in most of the world. We may pity those without such access and leisure.

I don’t need any research to convince anyone that we actually enjoy imagining the life of the glamorous, the fabulous, and the wealthy. Those are what most movies and television shows portray. The roots and bark of hip-hop culture comes from poverty but bloom wealth fantasies. We play the game of watching the thrones. We like to envision ourselves as masters of fate, as having dominion and persuasion, luxury and attractiveness. The greatest crimes are being ugly, or poor, or weak, or humble, or servile.

But Jesus took the opposite approach. A later book in the New Testament said that the Christian God “emptied himself.” A result is that he was, “of no stately appearance.”

By our standards, it’s safe to say that he may have been ugly, but he surely wasn’t a sexy, strong stud.

David is right in that we gloss over the full revolution that Jesus’ birth signified. But if we suggest that a position is humiliating, we must recognize that it is only that for those who are unwilling to be in such a position.

Angel
Such a humble birth – one amongst the beasts and belonging to street-level commoners in a strange land – may be humiliating for the apotheosis and divine cult of the Caesars. These are men who (and let’s consider that empires and autocratic states have not changed their essence within the last two thousand years) were conferred the proof of their godness upon the state of their “superior” birth and measured by the tools of their wealth, accumulation, access, and power. The Roman emperor becomes a god to continue the oppressive system and keep the power base faithful. As long as he is faithful to the good of power accumulation – and hence exploiting all those and all that which can be used for the good of the power accumulation – then the god of power is served.

The Hebrew god becomes a man to “confound the wise”, “shame the powerful”, and turn the world freakingly upside down.  For a god to become man, or man-like, would require that he or she becomes man, and therefore is in tune with what it means to be human, not just become human. And when that god comes in the form of the lowliest of people (which is to say, most of them), then that god can not look down with pity or disgust at the “lowly”. That god – Jesus – identifies with the common man because he is the common man.

Christians have a horrible habit of hagiographing everything we respect even though our holy book does not. If Jesus didn’t look like the star from The Passion, then he we typically see him as otherworldly. Jesus would have never been tempted to cheat on a math test because he knew all the answers. He would never have struggled with lust, because that’s what sinners do. He wouldn’t have cried when his friend died, because Jesus knew that his friend was with God… No, wait.

It is nearly impossible for us to imagine our dear Lord and Savior being actual flesh and blood. And often when we do, we middle class Americans like to figure him as one of our own.

But he wouldn’t be. Not in the least.

To be sure, if Jesus were born this generation, it’s likely that he’d have been born in a ravaged part of the world – say, occupied Palestine or just-“liberated” Iraq. North Korea. Or in the slums of Calcutta, Johannesburg, or Warsaw. Or any number of war-savaged post-colonies throughout Africa and the Americas and Asia.

But if he was born in the US empire – and David makes a good point that Israel/Palestine was in the furthest reaches of its time’s super-empire – then it’s likely he would have been born to a migrant family, or to homeless vagabonds, or WalMart associates, or to out-of-work coal miners.

His angels would have likely spread their message (“gospel”) to AIDS patients, dope fiends, prostitutes, hospice guests. The birth could’ve happened in a back alley, in North Lawndale, the projects, the Appalachian back roads…

All of which may be terribly shocking for those of us who secretly or openly aspire to be wealthy and beautiful and powerful and who therefore expect that god also worships the wealthy, the beautiful, the powerful. But to the god who became one with humanity, then it only follows that that god is enchanted by the outcasts and misfits – which is to say, all of us.