It feels like years ago

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Already it feels like years.

It was just 13 months ago – Feb. 16, 2016 – that Pope Francis made news in Mexico after then candidate Donald Trump spoke of building a wall and making the Mexican government pay for it.

After saying Mass at the Mexican-U.S. border in February, the kindly Pope who named himself after Francis of Assisi, the advocate for the poor who prefers the Vatican guest house to the Pontiff’s palatial quarters, offered his view of the Christian life:

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.”

Francis’s statement has firm roots in Christian Scripture and the tradition. Ambrose (c. 340 – 397), Bishop of Milan, one of the four early Doctors of the Church, for instance, declared that “giving to the poor was repayment of resources bestowed on everyone equally by the Creator but which have been usurped by the rich.”

It’s not just a matter of charity. It’s a matter of economic justice.

In a June 28, 2016 CNN interview candidate Mr. Trump said that, compared to the fortune the Mexicans are making off the the U.S., paying for a wall “is a tiny little peanut compared to that. I would do something very severe unless they contributed or gave us the money to build the wall.”

Today the billionaire candidate who promised “something very severe” if Mexico didn’t “give us the money to build the wall” is President of the United States and the Pope is still the Pope. Mexico has refused to pay for the wall. The President’s proposed budget includes money for the wall while cutting funding for programs on which low and middle-income Americans depend and funding for the State Department, the builder of diplomatic bridges among nations like Mexico and the United States.

As the President spends his weekend at Mara-Larg-O  with the bill sent to the tax-payers, I recall Francis’s response to Mr. Trump’s criticism. “At least I am a human person,” he said, adding that, as for being a pawn of the Mexican government, he’d leave that “up to your judgment and that of the people.”

The judgment was made on November 8, 2017. Four months later it feels like years.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 18, 2017.

 

 

 

Warning: Danger Ahead

If you’re interested in a homiletic case consistent with Bernie Sanders, check out the Rev. Ed Martin’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill Church in Chaska, MN. It’s superb.

Give up your faith

“For 40 years,” writes Steve, “I had been a Pastor on college campuses where many students were of the marrying age, and perhaps because I would not accept money for weddings, was often asked to officiate.”

Verse -“Give Up Your Faith”

was what I told several Christians
who were wanting to marry
someone of another Faith.
“It’s the Christian thing to do,”
I said. “Give up what you love
for the person you love.”
(“Remember the Golden Rule?”)

Only a very few became Muslim,
or Buddhist, or Hindu or Jewish,
but I felt those who did were
showing clearly the love of Jesus…
I was glad to be an evangelist.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, October 11, 2013

Creating hell in the name of heaven

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
– John Lennon

The bombs were heard in my living room last night.

The echoes of last Sunday’s suicide bombing of a church in Pakistan that killed 80 people sounded in the voices of two Pakistani members of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minnesota where I serve as pastor. Twelve members of the church had gathered to talk about something totally unrelated to Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Christianity and Islam. We were there to share. The quiet horror of Samuel and Nasrin – “I was sad all day.” – was like a bomb going off in the living room. I ask myself, why? What is happening?

I am a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. Strange as it may seem, I often feel the way John Lennon did. I dream of a different kind of world where there are no more bombings or shootings in a Kenyan mall, in Peshawar and Lahore, Pakistan, in Baghdad, Damascus, or Boston in the name of God. I am tired of all claims to righteousness, whether professedly religious or professedly secular. I would like to wipe the human GPS of its magnetic field between due North heaven) and due South (hell) and re-orient us all toward the rising sun.

The voices that fight for heaven to erase hell do not all sound the same. They speak Urdu, Parsi, Arabic, Hebrew, and English. They claim different names: Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and sometimes secular. They live in different parts of the planet in different time zones and different climates. But if you listen, they all sound alike and they do the same thing.

They do not look up at the sky. They look down. They march in lockstep rhythm because the Quran or the Bible or nationalism tells them to. They live for tomorrow – for heaven or some version of it – not for today. One doesn’t have to strain to see what’s happening, and, when anyone sees it, how can one help but imagine a different world, a different kind of humanity: one without religion?

The bombing in Peshawar last Sunday is said to have been a payback for American drone strikes that had killed innocent civilians in Pakistan. For the suicide bombers, the Cross was the emblem on the shields and helmets of Christian Crusaders. Back then the Knights Templar of Holy War killed with swords. Today the suicide bombers associate the Cross with the drone attacks of the Christian West.

Religion is with us and, depending on how one defines it, always will be. A wise elder statesman, Elliot Richardson, observed toward the end of his life that religion is the problem, but that if we erased all of the religions were erased from the face of the Earth, they would re-invent themselves in a heartbeat. Why? Because that’s how we’re made. As defined by the likes of Emile Durkheim, Margaret Meade and Paul Tillich, religion spans a much wider terrain than the belief systems for which heaven and hell are essential. Furthermore, whether or not we are professedly religious, each of us has some kind of inner GPS, some version of a societal ideal (heaven) and a social and personal horror (hell).

What’s happening across the world is profoundly and earth-shakingly religious. Though our languages are as different as Arabic is from English, and as far from each other as Peshawar and a mall in Kenya are from a Quran-burning church in Florida, the voices of Abraham’s three children (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all sound the same whenever we create hell on Earth in the name of heaven.

For the Pakistani friends in my living room last night the Cross stands for a divine interruption of the cycle of violence and all claims to righteousness. In the crucifixion of a Palestinian Jew of the First Century C.E. what we see is anything but the excuse for a crusade to eliminate hell in the name of heaven.
The Jesus we seek to follow threw his life into the spokes of the wheel of violence to stop it, and we must do the same.

Every Sunday worship service concludes with a “Charge” – an instruction in how to live.

Go forth into the world in peace.
Have courage.
Hold on to that which is good.
Return no one evil for evil.
Support the weak.

When the bombs tear through a church or a mosque or a neighborhood in the name of our imagined heaven for the righteous, we need to remember that there are Muslims, Jews, secularists, and other religious practitioners who seek to practice the way of peace…”living for today” throwing themselves into the spokes of the wheel of violence.

The Abel Project in the City of Cain

The same day America honored the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington most remembered for Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, America’s first black President, who had just delivered a great speech in honor of Dr. King’s dream, appeared on the Newshour to discuss military strikes in Syria.

Irony of Ironies

Martin Luther King, Jr. was as deeply committed to peace and to non-violent, non-military solutions to global problems as he was to ending racism. As his analysis of the national, international, and human condition continued to develop, he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, capitalism, and imperialism. He grasped as well as any public figure of his time, and of ours, the insidious institutional power of an unelected, undemocratic web of the economic-military-corporate complex at work behind the scenes of American public life.

President Obama’s speech from the same spot where where Dr. King had stood 50 years before at the March on Washington was a potential seminal moment of American history. It was a great contradiction to that potential to view the President’s interview on The Newshour (PBS) later in the day regarding Syria. I couldn’t put together the President’s honoring of Dr. King’s dream just hours earlier with his entertainment of military action in Syria. For whatever reason, the media did not seem to notice the incongruity and the irony.

The Newhour also featured a conversation among foreign policy experts about the advisability of “punishing” Syria for crossing the red line of chemical weapons. University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer’s raised the gravest voice of caution. “Stay out militarily.” He also reminded the other two panelists and the viewing audience that the United States is the only nation ever to have dropped the bomb. The world has not forgotten. Click HERE to listen to the conversation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to national prominence because he issued a clarion call for the dawning of the City of Peace in the midst of the City of Cain, the city of bloodshed. In King’s view you can never get to the City of Peace by means of the methods of the City of Cain: violence, the lex talionis, or worse.

Ethical decisions, in personal life or in international affairs, are rarely simple. Our hearts go out to the innocent children, women, and men who died from chemical weapons in Syria. We want to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers. We want to help. We want to stop it. That sense of compassion is as it should be. All hearts should break over this horror. But something else is called for before we act on the impulses of the compassion.

It is also worth remembering who it was that first asked the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It was Cain, who made the statement to God to put the blame for his own homicide back on the One who held him responsible for the senseless murder of his brother Abel in a fit of anger. “Sin is crouching at your door, and you must master it.” Dr. King and others who choose the methods of non-violent resistance to great tragedies like the one in Syria interpret the instruction to Cain – you must master your anger – as the instruction to master one’s own knee-jerk retaliatory response. Patience is required. Taming the lion that crouches at our own door is a chief task of becoming genuinely human.

The Blood of Abel and the City of Cain

For Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and a host of un-noted, anonymous souls, the way of violence, even in behalf of the good, represents a failure to tame the lion crouching at our door and further entrenches the City of Cain.

Beyond the philosophical-ethical-theological considerations are other facts. The “red line” of chemical weapons is one that was crossed years ago. It was crossed in Vietnam. A trip to the nearest Veterans Hospital is a humbling reminder. It was the United States that used Agent Orange and Napalm in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as part of Operation Ranch Hand. Our hands are not clean. As much as we might like, we do not speak from moral high ground. We have already crossed the red line. The moral finger we point toward Syria points back at us. To unleash even the most minimal, narrowly targeted Cruise Missile strike on Syria from a warship from the coast of a tinder-box in a far off place is like throwing out a boomerang expecting that it will not return to us in retributive violence. As Dr. King understood so well, violence begets violence.

As if that were not enough, the struggle in the Middle East is confounded by another form of political-economic-cultural-religious-military violence: the American corporate presence in the oil fields, arranged by American and Saudi elites (Sunni Muslims), and the expropriation through the United Nations of Bedouin Arab land to create a homeland for the survivors of the holocaust of World War II Germany. The intent, so far as the general public was concerned, was compassion. Provide a safe place, a homeland. But the homeland belonged to someone else when the United Nations expropriated it for the creation of the State of Israel, and the Arab world has never forgotten the way it happened.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” drove popular sentiment to support the creation of Israel. Why the homeland was not carved out of Germany or perhaps France is an interesting question. Or why the United States did not carve out of our vast geography a territory in the United States of America as a safe haven, is a question long since ignored by nations who thought they were taking the moral ground but not forgotten by Palestinians, Shiites, and most of the Middle East.

Those questions aside, Israel today is a sovereign State in the midst of an Arab world that resents both its presence, the history of its creation, and the United States as its most faithful ally and supporter.

Behind it all stands a military-industrial-technological-corporate complex that feeds on mistakes like Iraq and Afghanistan, and the question of whether we are our brother’s keeper, responsible to play policeman to the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. never lunched on the food at the lunch counter of the military-industrial-technological-corporate complex. Nor should we. Neither should the President. Neither should Congress.

The Abel Project: We are the World

An alternative to a military response with potential catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and for us is the neglected methodology of nonviolent, passive resistance by which Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi changed the world.

If we and the rest of the world believe in the City of Peace and wish to redeem the blood of Abel in the City of Cain, let the recording artists of the world with the full support of the United Nations, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches (Orthodox and Protestant Christians), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and international Jewish organizations representing the spectrum of Judaism lift the people’s voice so clearly across the world that it cannot be ignored.

Call it “The Abel Project” – named for the innocent who was lost to the world, the slain brother of Cain, whose blood still cries out to God from the ground.

Let there be candlelight prayer vigils for an end to the way of Cain in Syria. Let the lighted candles in every national capitol, every state or provincial capitol, and in cities and towns around the world make the statement that we, the people of the world, led by the three warring children of Abraham and Sarah (Jews, Christians, and Muslims), stand for the transformation of the redemption of the blood of Abel and in the name of the City of Peace.

The President can contribute to that effort but he must not attempt do it alone. Nor can he lead it.

Unleashing the potential of a worldwide vigil in the spirit of “We are the World” must rely on the untapped power of the United Nations as a force for peaceful resolution, the original dream that inspired its Charter. He must do it not only with our closest allies in the West but with the leaders of nations that resent our history in the Middle East and Southeast Asia who are suspicious of American saber-rattling from the Western presumption of moral high ground. The voice of the world must include the two warring branches of Islam – Sunni and Shiite – whose tensions and hatreds also lie at the center of the conflict in Syria and most of the Middle Eastern Arab States.

If he does, the irony between the August 28, 2013 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the poor people’s march on Washington and the evening news will resolve itself in a new decision to honor the legacy of the fallen witness to the power of non-violent resistance and the power of love as the only method and power that ever really change the City of Cain. For the sake of Abel, our slain ancestral brother, let the candles be lit across the world.

End the Violence

Today’s Sojourners’ blog posted End the Violence .

After reading this article, I submitted this comment about the “comments”:

I am continually amazed and dismayed by the character and content of comments on articles like this. I have the sense that Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have told their listeners, “Go on Jim Wallis’ blog and take him down!” Lines like “liberal Christian drivel,” “a law that restricts a persons (sic) ability to fulfill their divine obligation to protect their home and family” (the legislation does NOT restrict it, and there is no such “divine mandate” except in the NRA Bible), and “what are these faith leaders doing about abortion?” (when the issue here is violence with guns and the allegation is that religious leaders must choose between the two) – these comments do not engage the issue.

There is an anti-legislation, anti-democratic, anti-government streak in so many of these comments. The comments are political in the worst sense, demeaning the integrity of the writers and stereotyping their views into predetermined conclusions.

This seems to be the nature of the blogosphere, but it is especially distressing to see it here on Sojourners where readers mostly profess Christ and have attempted to take to heart The Epistle of James, “So the tongue is a little member and boats of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” The tongue is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison. WITH IT WE BLESS THE LORD AND FATHER, AND WITH IT WE CURSE OTHERS, WHO ARE MAD IN THE LIKENESS OF GOD. FROM THE SAME SOURCE COME BLESSING AND CURSING. Brothers, this ought not to be so. (James 3:5-10).

As a writer and a blogger, I am grateful that the comments on Views from the Edge are respectful and thoughtful. Those of you who choose to comment engage the substance of what this blog posts. Such is not the case with the Sojourners blog with Jim Wallis. Jim Wallis is a progressive evangelical Christian, author of “God’s Politics: How the Left Doesn’t Get It, and the Right Gets It Wrong” and subsequent books on American values, economics, religion, and politics. Glenn Beck has publicly targeted him as a Social Gospel liberal (i.e.) a socialist disguising himself as a Christian.

“The Birth of Freedom” and the NYSE

The New York Stock Exchange was closed down. For two full days the trading bell on Wall Street did not ring. But on Main Street the bells that mis-identify American freedom with Wall Street were ringing in our living rooms, flooding the airwaves with campaign ads about freedom and the loss of it.

In front of Westminster Presbyterian Church on the Nicollet Mall at the heart of downtown Minneapolis stands an eye-catching sculpture called “The Birth of Freedom.”. The figures are naked, emerging from primal slime, evolving, reaching toward the heavens.

The Birth of Freedom, Paul Granlund

The late Paul Granlund was the sculptor. Westminster commissioned him to give visual expression to the words of the Apostle Paul:

“For freedom Christ has set you free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  (Galatians 5:1)

There is a freedom from and there is a freedom for.

“For your were called to freedom; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” (Letter to the Galatians 5:13-15)

I listen to the campaign speeches. I hear the freedom talk. I see crowds cheering. I hear loud applause. And I wonder…what kind of freedom is being cheered? What kind of slavery is feared?

The advertisers who write the ads for the candidates and the PACs know the answers to these questions. They know that the psyche of American generations that grew up in the Cold War defines freedom as freedom from “Communism” or “Socialism.” They also know that the Christian Right fears submission to the “godless” whom they believe threatens their religious freedom.

But no one can take away my freedom or yours, and it is misleading to paint one’s political opponent as intending to take it way. For me, as a Christian, the freedom for which we are released (set free) is not freedom from but freedom for communion with my neighbors. It applies not only to personal relationships. It applies equally to the political and economic systems.

This morning the bell rang again at the stock exchange. The biting, devouring, and consuming of each other becomes a way of life again, the adored substitute for freedom. To condone it is to submit again to a yoke of slavery, the most widespread violence where, to quote Jacques Ellul,

“in this competition ‘the best man wins’ – and the weaker, more moral, more sensitive people necessarily lose.

The violence done by the superior may be physical (the most common kind, and it provokes hostile moral reaction), or it may be psychological or spiritual, as when a superior makes use of morality and even of Christianity to inculcate submission and a servile attitude; and this is the most heinous of all forms of violence.”

– Jacques Ellul, Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective, Seabury Press, 1969.

Meanwhile Paul Granlund’s “The Birth of Freedom” still stands silently in downtown Minneapolis, calling for the birth of something as yet beyond our imagination.  “Stand fast therefore [in the freedom for which Christ has set you free], and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The Apostle Paul often wrote his letters from jail cells, charged with disturbing the Pax Romana.

We never felt so far from him

The Grand Canyon

 

Dad thought Dave and I were going to hell,

since we had left his fundamentalist

God.  My brother sent me Bertrand Russell,

“Why I am NOT a Christian.”

                                       Atheist,

he–liberal Presbyterian, me–

stood at the rim and watched the rising sun/

paint all the colors far below.  “Maybe

there is a God…” Dave said.  But his was one

cry like “O God!” at orgasm, sincere,

but not a creed.  My faith was mixed with doubt.

              Before he died Dad told his own pastor

to preach to us, his sons, to call us out

at his funeral.  So “Just As I Am”

was played.  We never felt so far from him.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, September 16, 2012