Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The True-ish Meanings of Christmases: WoCIO,IYWI, 2

Note: Second in a series.
Pt. 1, pt 3, pt 4

What is the TRUE meaning of Christmas?

The question is, of course, irrelevant. Christmas started as a pagan ritual that became Christianized. Unlike Easter, there is nothing specifically holy or appropriate about the season or the date. No mythos that connects the birth of the god-man to the beginning of winter, no biblical tradition, no holy connection. Which doesn't keep it from being what one wants it to be, but it is not explicitly a holy season for Christians. Therefore, there is no true reason to argue that "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." Especially since there are other, specifically non-Jesus-y, reasons for the season*.

Earlier this week, a friend and I were discussing my daughter and what she looks forward to - or may look forward to - for the upcoming season. I grumbled something about her expecting Santa (aaargh!) and snow (also, aaarrrgh for us Chicagoans). But then my friends talks brightly and fondly about watching the Christmas classics on TV. And this, oddly enough, flashes my mind with images and emotions related to watching Star Wars (NOT the infamous Holiday Special one) on our black and white telly in the early 80's, pre-VCR. Not to mention Charlie Brown's Christmas classic, or The Grinch, the Christmas Carol with the really freaky Ghost of Christmas to Come in the Joe Black trench coat. Of course, we shan't forget little Ralphie and his Christmas Story.

Faith is believing when common sense tells
 you not to
I cherish and idolize my memories of watching these fantastic stories and their fantastic sets and worlds (early Lucas re-interpreting cheesy sci-fi and Chuck Jones interpreting Charles Schultz and Dr. Seuss, especially. But also Vince Guaraldi, and hilarious word-play like "'Frajily.' It must be Italian."), but especially in the settings where I watched them: with my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my brothers, mom and dad, and grandma. Christmas was for family reunions.

That's what Christmas has meant to me. For my friend, the best part of the season was the fact that her mother relinquished control of her telenovela addiction to allow my friend and her sisters to watch Christmas specials with their only television.

The point being, there is no such thing as the REAL meaning of Christmas. Christmas and the rest of the holidays are as subjective, as meaningless or meaningful as you want them to be.

For me, for now, however, I choose to let the season be more about focusing on what it means that God would submit himself to humanity in the frailest of ways. Not so much Christmas as a supposed holy day, but the notion and contemplation of the birth of Jesus. That, in part, is what this season means. And I'd like to let that influence the rest of me.

children's nativity

*More on that later. But here's a hint: Credit/Cash/Money/Buy/Spend

War on Christmas Is Over, If You Want It... (pt 1)

First in a series

There's a lot to hate about the so-called War on Christmas. I hate the trolling and looking for fights where there are none. I hate the misplaced anger. I hate the out-of-whack priorities. I hate the violent-centric, bloodlusty name.

There's so much more and I could do a series on it*. Fortunately our friends at The Christian Left introduced us to a blogger calling him(her?)self Fat Pastor, who addressed many of these issues wonderfully three years ago.

If you want to keep Christ in Christmas, worry about things more important than the signs and decorations at JC Penney. You think Christmas should be about Christ? Then take up your cross and follow Jesus – not into department stores, but into the prisons, the hospitals, among the poor and the outcast. You get angry when someone doesn’t say “Christmas?” Try getting angry over Christ’s children dying of malnutrition or AIDS. Try getting angry over the fact that the Christmas chocolate you love so much was kept cheap on the back of the working poor. Try getting angry over the fact that Christians are keeping people out of churches with their closed minds and closed doors.

You want to keep Christ in Christmas? Try putting Christ in your life first. Then we’ll talk about how to greet each other. And if you want a truly Christian greeting, one that makes no mistake whether or not you follow the Christ child, try, “the peace of Christ be with you.”

Eerste Wereldoorlog, gewonden

Eerste Wereldoorlog, gewonden

Question for today:
What do you hate about the "War on Christmas"?

*Nah, I will do a series on it. Next: the True-ish Meanings of Christmases.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walking Psalm for Advent

He walks through walls
 walks through Uganda
He walks through Juan
he walks through, opening doors of tragic, breathless spaces
learning there may be scars where the magic
takes place

He walks through the veteran
 undone again
by her favorite plot and mulligan

The spousal abused
 , being confused,
keeps running back with open arms
to those fists who rebuked and refused

But, he walks through
with hands with holes where the palms should be
skin closing in on again and ripped out
by brokenness

Lonely man
Lonely Man, pietrozuco via flickr.

man's got a million, you've
got a thousand, I'm
lucky if i could hold on to a hundred for more than a week
But then Rafta
he makes eight dollars a week, hardly any more
and owes nine to the company for room and board

he walks through the empire of America
knowing full well the cost of Liberia
hearing the justifications of every reporter, politician, broker and philosopher
the names and the scars and the hairs of every bloodied head in Kandahar

Friday, November 25, 2011

Open Thread: Small Biz Saturday

Saturday is being promoted as a day to shop local, independent and small businesses. I've only recently heard about this, and even more recently heard about the fact that American Express, of all the Evil Financial Institutions* is one of the main sponsors for this event.

Since we've been speaking about moving in a local, democratic process for the last three months or so, I like to think that Left Cheek has been responsible for the popularity of this movement....

In either case, where are you shopping tomorrow? I'll be paying Miss Geri's Dance Studio for another month of service (for my daughter, that is) and grabing some java at Cafe Mustache, rather than DD or Starbucks. Outside of that, I'm not sure yet.

*AE charges the highest percentage of all the major credit cards, which would seem to make struggling smal businesses least likely to work with them...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Playing the Race Card Card

20061129_3282 by graphia
20061129_3282, a photo by graphia on Flickr.
Let's role play a scenario that I see, on average, at least twice a week on the webz.

Jan (Person of color): Did you hear/see that? I find that comment directed at my race to be incredibly insensitive and hurtful.
Jim (Person not of color): Stop being so sensitive. Must you throw out the race card?

It's a weird counter-argument. But it's also horribly inhumane. Without a trace of irony - and most likely without noticing it - by trying to prove how Jim isn't really racist, he actually demonstrates just how racist his frame of reference is.

Let's break it down, shall we?

Jan is hurt by remarks that she is quite aware are directed at her race/family/ethnicity/culture/identity group.
Jan lets others know, that may not know, how hurt she is by the offending statement.
Jim is offended (OFFENDED!) that Jan is offended by such a statement.
Jim does not understand why Jan should be upset as he does not share her cultural or historical background.
Rather than taking Jan seriously as a real, adult human being with actual feelings and emotions and intelligence, he continues to downgrade not just Jan's feelings as being less than legitimate (which leads Jan to feel like less of a person, at least in Jim's eyes), but also Jan's history, culture, family, and humanity.
Jan is not a legitimate person in the eyes of this white person.
Jan is led to believe - and with good reason - that Jim does not trust her accounts of her own experience and reaction simply because Jan is a different race or ethnicity.

This, in effect, is what racism is, what white supremacy is. It is also a sign of sexism. In this regard, Jan is doubly cursed.

A similar scenario can also be played out according to class or sexual identity, for instance). But it's been ridiculous efforts like Rush Limbaugh's "uppity" comments - directed at the First Couple and only at them - and the refusal of specific white Christians to acknowledge that that phrase is used disparagingly toward Black people who are perceived to rise above their station. In fact, judging by the responses I've seen from several paleo-conservative white male Christians, they don't give a rip about the hurt that that phrase causes African Americans.

Add to that, Thanksgiving is once again upon us and we still, in 2011 AD, mock and ridicule the very tribes and nations that were in the Americas first. Those very people that we systematically wiped out through assimilation and murder. And - adding insult to those injuries - we continue to mockingly dress our sports mascots as racist caricatures of "savage" Indian chiefs. A continuation of a history of profiting from the humiliation and exploitation of those we've been oppressing.

Braves mascot with dignitaries

When the First Nation tribes and people inform the alumni and students, universities, and professional sports teams that the mascots and mock-ceremonial actions are offensive to the very people that are being caricatured, the white men invariably answer, "No, they aren't. You aren't really offended."

Excuse me. But I have to ask my fellow white males, "WHAT THE FRAPPIN' HELL ARE YOU THINKING?"

Who do we think we are to tell others what they should be offended by when we're offending them, both historically - and because we choose to ignore their histories - currently? Especially after hundreds of years of oppression, genocide, slavery, removal, segregation, and utter marginalization. And now we White people want to act like everything's cool between us and the people we've marginalized and profited from - when it's obvious that we are only continuing the same acts of aggression?

Yeah, we're sick like that...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Million Miles in the Wrong Direction

Jesus... did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
 - Philippians 2 [New Living Translation] 

Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.
- Matthew 16 [New Living Translation]

I know it's a bit faddish - or at least that's what I've been told - but I prefer being called a Christ-Follower to being called a Christian. Although there are many reasons to hold onto the typical label*, the term Christian gives off the impression that conversion and purification is something that has happened at a specific moment in time. It is as if I've been Jesus'ed - as if Jesus had happened, and there is nothing else to be done. A moment in time, a simple prayer, some recitation and closed eyes and it's over. The rest is just waiting to happen.

But Jesus called his disciples to follow him. Daily. The book of Philippians instructs us that we are to follow in Jesus' acts of humility. Jesus told his first followers to pick up their crosses of sacrifice and forget the ways that the harsh, cruel, cynical world was teaching them. The world taught them to act in bitterness, told them to love and accumulate power, to bow down before the emperor as if he was a god.

And it only makes sense to, right? After all, the king's seat is the center of power and wealth. And if those are good things, surely those who control them are blessed by the gods, right?

'Jesus' photo (c) 2005, Francis Bijl - license:

Rather, Christ's followers are to follow him in submission. We see how the God-man acted in his sacrifice - in his actions of becoming a lowly, working-class "slave". In his

We are to follow him by turning our backs on the ways of the world and towards the things of God.

Although many Christians would agree with that assessment, I'm not sure they understand what the ways of the world are. And I'm particularly troubled that they may not understand what the ways of God are - whom God values and treasures. So though their intensity in the struggle may be commendable, the direction of their struggle can be easily misguided. We've gone very far, but in the wrong direction.

Jesus made it clear that his way is the way of the humble, the meek, the lame, the blind, the outcasts, the poor, the shepherds, the prostitutes, the dirty protesters, the aliens, the outsiders, the rejects, the mentally handicapped, women, people who look different than us, who sound different than us, those whose ways are strange to us...

According to Jesus and his early followers:
  • We cannot worship both wealth and God in our churches - or our politics.
  • We cannot consume all the world's resources while most of the world starves and follow the same Jesus who reviled gluttony and sided with the poor. That's gluttony. The US must repent, starting with Christians, for our consumptive culture.
  • We cannot simultaneously hate Arabs and Muslims and claim to love Jesus.
  • We cannot bear false witness while honoring the ten commandments. Such bold lies as when we allege that Muslims are trying to take over the Western world. Or that Sharia Law is a danger to the US Constitution. Or that Islam is a cult. No religious group that has been around for over a hundred (er, thousand) years and has over a million followers (let alone a billion) can be reasonably called a cult by any reasonable explanation.
  • We cannot mock homosexuals and yet keep the two commandments (Love God, love neighbors).
  • We either follow the desires of the world - fame, money, wealth, exclusion, power, gratification - or of Jesus - inclusion, healing, peace, service.

I am not suggesting that I am wonderfully following in these ways. I recognize that I let my anger and rage - often a selfish-influenced anger - get the best of me. I recognize and know my short-comings - or at least a few of them. I feel as if I've only crawled five miles in the general direction of Jesus. But that's not what this is about. This is about the error, the sin, of letting the sins of the prevailing culture - the ways of the world - take precedence over the gospel of freedom and deliverance for all - including the poor, the outsiders, the aliens, the sick, the hungry, the cold, the imprisoned, the lepers...

*The sense of identification, the family, the history, the traditions, the security, etc. These are not bad in and of themselves and are in many ways a positive benefit of belonging to the universal church. In fact, in general they are good and necessary, and with a bit of soul-searching (apologizing and making up for past and present abuses, for instance) these attributes can once again be a blessing to the world and the name of Jesus. For now, however, we have some demons to exorcise.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Community con Leche

It is not good for the man to be alone.
- Genesis 2

Skinny barged into the apartment and found me crouching on the sofa while my one year old was busy tearing down - and tearing up - any books in her reach. Skinny didn’t live with us anymore - but he still had keys - and he still came in whenever he felt it appropriate. He still does, actually. And that fact, and he, are a God-send.

“Yeah, I know how you feel,” he shared in his slow, low, slightly-Spanish accent.

That meant something profound and significant.

At a time when I felt I couldn’t find anybody who understood my depression - not even myself - Skinny was there. He knew of the ravaging effects of depression. He spent months in solitary confinement, and was still feeling the effects of that. I couldn’t hide who I was or what I was going through with Skinny.

During the swank of the summer, Kiki swung by as a respite from the swamp-like heat-wave invading her non-AC apartment. I asked her to spend the night so that she could finally get some sleep. But after she accepted (yeah, I really had to twist her arms to do that), I wondered where I would sleep if my wife and I had a fight that night. There are times when I grab a blanket and lay on the couch more often than I care to admit.

Favorittbilde #3. Ukas bilde / Photo of the week 36/2011 by Riksarkivet (National Archives of Norway)

It’s easy - when neither of us are at a place where we can communicate fully and well - for me to move my frustrations to the couch. Lot less messier than yelling or letting my frustrations get the best of me, and maybe a spot in the wall as well.

In my depression, I just want to be left alone.

But living in community does not afford me that option. It doesn’t allow me to hide. To cover my shame. Or desperation. To be secretive. Or to disappear all together.

I bring up both Skinny and Kiki because, both being chronically depressed, they have both benefited and assisted our community.

And because, in times like now, I am deeply indebted to them for their support of me and my family.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nonsensical Jesus

I found this Tumblr while trolling through the comments section of one of my favorite blogs, Slacktivist.

It's called Common Sense Jesus, and these are some of my faves:

and finally,

The blog was inspired by a post from current presidential candidate Herman Cain where he blathers on about things he doesn't seem to understand:

For over 2,000 years the world has tried hard to erase the memory of the perfect conservative, and His principles of compassion, caring and common sense.
Of course, the brilliance is that Jesus didn't use what we would refer to as "Common Sense." Certainly not what politicians and pundits mean when they say "Common Sense." In fact, it's quite the opposite from how the world operates and thinks. We have a limited imagination, and we are influenced by the Powers That Be to think that power comes only through violence and coercion. That hope ends when the figurehead is murdered (or when the centralizing area - say Zacutti Park - is shut down). That turning the other cheek is weak. That miracles don't happen and faith and hope are silly - or that we should only have faith and hope in future, otherworldly events without corresponding and revolutionary actions in the here and now.

Jesus is decidedly nonsensical.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ladies of the First Order

A couple weeks ago here we conducted an unofficial survey inspired by this gorgeous shot of Ms. Obama: "Who is your favorite First Spouse?" Although the question was ostensibly about the spouses of any world leaders, all of the answers that I received - and that I could think of - focused on First Ladies (with a few hypotheticals for a former president). The results:

Michelle Obama as the overwhelming winner
Eleanor Roosevelt
Betty Ford
Lady Bird Johnson
JaneAbigail Adams

Honorable mentions were also given to Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, and Laura Bush.

Personally, since Obama is from my hometown and went to my high school - ten years earlier, I should add solely because I have a hard time letting go of my youth - I feel a personal connection to her. But even beyond that, I find her to be remarkably strong - like Ms. Rodham-Clinton herself - but with an intelligent grace rarely seen even amongst the First Lady Club.

I was within the Chrisitan Right during the Clinton years, and I heard some naughty, ugly accusations against the then-first lady - including that she had an affair connecting to a bad investment gone haywire and the whole scandal was covered up in murder made to look like suicide. I don't think it's fair to compare the travails of the oppressed - even the wealthy ones such as Obama and Rodham-Clinton, so I'll refrain from saying who has it worse. That would be, after all, playing into the thugs' hands.

Having said that, outside of personal preference, I would have to go with Eleanor Roosevelt as the greatest first lady of all time, and one of the better, high-profile leaders in the US.

She came from a fabled aristocratoc family, the Roosevelts (Theodore was her uncle and Franklin was a fifth cousin), but since she lost both of her parents at an early age and realized that she could not rely on her loks to garner her attention, Eleanor became a force to reckon with. It was through this that she was able to simultaneously woo Franklin D Roosevelt and be his conscience. For one of their first dates, she took him to the slums of New York, exposing the upper-class socialite to a world he wasn't aware of before. This would send him down a decidedly different route. Although he still largely identified with the uber-wealth of his family and class, I find this a foretelling of this nation and his role in it.

Fly me to the moon...
While First Lady, Eleanor lobbied hard for the rights of the poor, minorities, and women. During WWII, she tried to prevent her husband from signing the order that set up the internment camps. She traveled extensively during the Great Depression, putting a human face on a fairly human, but still distant, Washington establishment. She met and encouraged one of the architects of the Selma bus boycott.

Ms. Roosevelt was a cheerleader for the establishment of the United Nations. And, she helped to form the Declaration of Human Rights in the fifties. Her role in that was pivotal as she was to the president in his communication efforts with the American people. Eleanor played the role of the common person, keeping high-minded scholars honest in language so that the regular citizen can understand.

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Yeah, that's hot.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Let the Evicted Become Occupiers

How can you buy the sky?
How can you own the rain and the wind?...
The earth is our mother.
What befalls the earth befalls all the sons and daughters of the earth.
- Chief Seattle, when the US Government offered to buy the remaining land of the Salish (after, of course, destroying the people of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes)

As I travel through the West and South Sides of Chicago - where I and thousands live and work and where thousands can't find work or living accommodations - I can't help but notice dozens and dozens of square miles of foreclosed and evicted properties. Lands lay fallow and empty and overtaken by weeds. Empty lands where there could be jobs making products of any use: food, machines, clothes, housing, health...

Meanwhile, I know of several other friends - one who just died this week (RIP Kevin!) - who can't find work of any meaningful kind or, like myself, meaningful pay*, or who live under bridges.

The signs of these times are the Eviction Notice, the Pink Slip, and the Foreclosure Notice.

Hard-working, outstanding, moral women, men, and children are being tossed out of their homes and jobs by the wealthy lords through the power of the law and the force of the police (who also face the same difficulties and realities that the rest of us do). So it only makes sense that the Occupy movement is being served eviction notices as well.

New York, Portland, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, San Diego. They were all told they are not welcome there. Chicagoans couldn't even spend the night in our own park.

Where the Occupy Chicago movement holds its meetings.
Not because, as we've been told about others facing evictions, they are lazy bums who do not want to work. Not because all they do is complain. In fact, the majority of Occupiers everywhere are employed and attend the events in their spare time.

Rather, the Occupiers show, on a grand scale the kind of unjust reality that we currently live in by trying to live out a different reality and calling our supposed rulers out on their manipulations, on their bullying, on the fact that they serve the big property owners (the Multinational Corporations), rather than the public they were sworn to and promised to serve.

When the landlords and other rulers of the present, corrupt, de-humanizing reality come into conflict with a reality that they cannot profit from, there is a clash. And the violence that erupts is not a violence from the people, but from the system.

So when the Occupiers try to live as a united people in public land, demonstrating with the rights that we all are supposed to have by way of the First Amendment, suddenly they are called lazy, dirty, reckless, greedy, foolish brats who want everything and are unwilling to the necessary work to get it. Of course that's not the reality. That's the lie. The reality - for increasing numbers of human beings - is that because those who make money off the land that we are standing on have figured there are better ways of making money off the lands we are on, we are moved off the land and put on the reservation.

To starve and die.

Property laws disproportionately serve the greedy desires of those who own most of the property. And they often turn the vast majority of us into little more than extended property.
  • Just ask the original settlers of America whose land - and along with that, ways of life and life itself - was bought out from underneath them by the man-made laws of the powerful European settlers who believed that Law=Rightness.
  • Ask the peasants of old Europe or the serfs of Eastern Europe.
  • Ask the slaves (themselves considered property) of the American South before the Civil War.
  • Ask the sharecroppers of the South after the Civil War.
  • Ask the Occupy members in Portland, Oregon or New York City. 
  • Or office workers who have been removed from their workplace by security as if they're common criminals. 
  • Or any number of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of working class and middle class white, black, and brown Americans sent out to live in the streets over the last five years.

We have all been evicted for profit. It is high time to occupy for humanity.

*Also known as living wages: Meaning that you make enough money in order to afford basic costs to live without worry of being uninsured, having enough money to buy proper food for your family, not having to worry about paying rent or utilities., being able to get around town decently, etc. You know, living...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scooter Getting Served and the Power of Guerilla Protest

Clapping for homelessness is always classless. Especially when it's the "upper" classes doing it.

When Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker came to Chicago to speak at a breakfast, it seemed like the clashing of identical worlds from alternate realities. As I said a couple times here before, Scooter and Chicago's mayor Rahmie are practically brothers despite the fact that one is a supposed liberal Democrat from the big city and the other is, well, defying odds in one of the formerly most union-friendly states in the Union. That's, of course, when we had unions..

But I'm not the only one to notice the similarities. As this awesome video shows, the Occupy Chicago movement has caught on to this assault on the common worker and family done by the profiteers. When they had a Human Mic Check demonstration at the breakfast, they not only shamed Scoots, but their own mayor and all the pro-corporatist government teat-seekers in attendance as well.

Now, the danger of such demonstrations is that the common American doesn't much trust protest or theatre, so combining the two can prove disadvantageous to our collective causes* . It can actually turn our target audience against us. But the genius of such an act, however, is that it catches its target, the rich class who rule over us, by surprise in such a way where they don't have their armies of darkness - the PR men, the Spin Doctors, the Karl Roves and other manipulators and liars - to protect them from their most base selves. So the evil overlords, when caught off-guard, are free to act like the wicked, vile people they are. In this case, they are clapping for homelessness.

Now, there's going to be some sections of the American public who would join them. Heck, if history's any indication , there will be some homeless people on the side of the Gov Walkers. That's a sad state of humanity, to be sure. But it doesn't have to be that way. If anything, we should be rising and screaming against the sort of despicable people that tell us what to do and where to go; the sorts of people that run our lives and run us out of our homes and jobs; the sorts of people that put us into debtors prisons.

We should protest and demand a lasting change.

All together now! Economic fairness for all!

*Freedom to live and be employed without living in permanent debt, for instance.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Occupy Iz Unemployed?

There are a million different ways to parse information, especially when dealing with public opinion polls and self-reflecting polls. With all the limitations of this poll, however, I find it very intriguing. What I find curious, though, is that though most of the OWS crew is employed, and most of the Tea Party crew is retired, it is the OWS objective to camp out whenever and wherever possible (Chicago being a notable exception). That has, of course, gotten them/us into all sots of trouble with the law.

The following chart, however, deals only with misperceptions of both the Occupy and Tea movements, so it's not as helpful as I'd like it to be. I'm going to continue to cover the OWS from my paeticular perspective. I do believe we need to find common ground between the two groups. Not, as I mentioned before, some sort of compromise, but areas where genuine people can agree that the business of politics mixing with business is dangerous for both governance and business - but mostly for people.

++ Click to Enlarge Image ++
Occupy Wall Street vs. Tea Party |
Image Source: Accelerated Degree Programs

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cain: The "Real Black" Candidate

Caution: Reading Facebook during any of the elongated election seasons can be dangerous for your health sanity. Consider it a tip courtesy of the jasdye.

For example, one man, completely unprompted, posted the following comment:

So you hypocrites call Republicans/Conservatives racists even when many of them support a genuine Black American?

The obvious and short answer is yes. Yes, we do. As to why, the answer to that is in the question. This concerns me as a person and a blogger and a Christian in a way that is central to my blog here: We continue to talk down to people who are different than us without trying to understand where they are coming from in the first place. As a white, male,heterosexual, American Christian who allies and aligns himself with those from all over the socio/economic/racial/ethnic/spiritual world - whether by accident or not - I'm highly aware of the ways that other wmhac's fall short in this area and I cannot be silent on these issues. So, for a group of whites to identify who is and who isn'ta "true" member of the African American community is beyond the *ahem* pale...

It was bad enough when my African American students (and some friends and classmates before that) would say that another African American isn't "black enough". As limited as that thinking was, at least it was an internal critique. It would be like a Panamanian saying that another Panamanian isn't really Panamanian based on preconceptions of what makes a Panamanian.

But neo-cons and Republicans accusing Barack Obama of not being black enough is more like an American saying a Panamanian isn't REALLY a Panamanian - but the American doesn't even know in what hemisphere Panama is.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Powers That Be, the Gift of Enemies, and #OccupyWallStreet ( #OWS ) - Guest Blog (Kurt Willems)

Kurt Willems: Anabaptist, Visionary, Blogger, Friend wrote such a phenomenally good post on a Christian response to the OWS movement that I thought it needed another airing. So here goes:

The Powers That Be by Walter Wink speaks to our day in profound ways.  The broad theme of the Domination System is helpful in my reflections about issues of justice and equality in the world.  One quote that really stood out to me comes from page 68:
A society with an unfair distribution of goods requires violence. Violence is the only way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality between rich and poor can be maintained only by violence. Jesus rejects violence.
The results of a Domination System are manifested in many ways, including the unfair distribution of goods.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement recognizes this and is invigorating the imagination of people in our country and world who understand that financial power must be distributed in a just fashion.  A simple protest that began through social networking has spread into cities across America.  It’s a movement of resistance to the status quo – that economics based on a “trickle down” philosophies.

The interesting connection I see here is that on the surface it would be quite easy to say that violence is not connected to our distribution of resources.  The problem with such a view is that it lacks integrity.  The United States is maintained through economic practices that are secured through various forms of violence.  We use violence to strip nature of her beauty in order to secure the best “resources” for production, we pay the poor throughout the world wages that come close to slave labor, we reduce the lower-class of Americans to robotic repetition while refusing to pay them a wage that empowers them to rise above their current reality, and ultimately we use our military machine to perpetuate these things.  And when “national security” can be used as a front, Americans are quite good at justifying violence in order to make sure that economic interests are not threatened.  This truly is the Domination System of “empire.”

Yet as Christians, Jesus calls us to another way.  The way of peace.  The path of justice.  The journey toward humanization of all people in all places.  According to Matthew 5, all forms of violence to secure this Domination System are opposed to the Christian life.  Wink rightly reflects on this both theologically and practically.  He states: “Violence can never stop violence because its very success leads others to imitate it” (134).  In other words, violence may temporarily intervene to stop some immediate threat, but that it only contributes to justifying its use by others in the future.  Jesus stops the cycle by inviting the Christ follower into nonviolent resistance.  A “third way” approach disarms the violator.  In doing so, we also can expose the evils of the Domination System through the use of various forms of civil disobedience.  Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are wonderful examples of this.  Occupy Wall Street seems to have this sort of an approach as its aim as well.

In our current economic climate, it would be easy for those involved in the current protest to “project” their own images on to the “enemy” of corporations.  This is true, not only in this moment in history, but in any moment.  When we find ourselves in a situation where an enemy is present, creating oppression through use of Domination; the temptation always will be to project on them all forms of evil.  The problem with this approach is that history shows that such means often lead to demonization, which eventually can justify various forms of militancy.  Wink says that we are invited to view our enemy as a gift.  His example (expounded on page 168ff) is from Matthew 7.3-5:
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
The above text reminds us that until we can see clearly by removing the log out of our own eye, a path to our full humanity, the temptation of projection will remain.  We project because we are unable to see our oppressor as they truly are: flawed image bearers of God.  Wink states:
How wonderfully humiliating: we not only may have a role in transforming our enemies, but our enemies can play a role in transforming us!  As we become aware of our projections on our enemies, we are freed from the fear that we will overreact murderously toward them (171).
Only when we see our oppressors as gifts, as objects of love in spite of their un-love, will we be able to become the kind of just peacemakers that the way of Jesus invites us.  Our task as followers of Jesus, when we understand the dynamics at work in the Domination System, is to humanize our oppressor and in turn become more fully human ourselves.  “Nonviolence presents a chance for all parties to rise above their present condition and become more of what God created them to be” (172).

Whether it’s Occupy Wall Street, the Civil Rights Movement, GLBTIQ political rights, or any other justice initiative; the people of God have a gift to offer the world – the gift of the “third way” between inaction and violence.  The way of Jesus exposes the dehumanizing systems of the world, while seeking to raise the humanity of all parties involved in any conflict – even one dealing with economics.

You can catch Kurt at his awesome Pangea Blog where he daily takes on issues like non-violence, theology, and being an Evangelical Reject.

You (Ain't Neva') Lie!

I stand and scream with my home state US representative, Joe "You Lie!" Walsh. It is high time that we nasty liberals and so-called "fact"-so-called "-finders" stop blaming our economic woes on the banks and place it where it belongs: on the poor and laborers who don't know how the economic system is rigged against them.

We should stop blaming the financial institutions for leveraging purchasing power within the halls of Congress to get their way and deregulate themselves so that they are without accountability. After all, as Walsh notes, that was the work of "your Congress." And he should know, as he is exactly the kind of congressperson who would work towards that goal.

We should also stop blaming the banks for passing on dirty, unstable bonds to themselves while rating them AAA. Because the banks themselves gave the highest possible credit ratings to their banks' own faulty loans, which only the banks knew not to do, since the banks shut down all effective regulation overseeing the banks. But you can't blame the banks for that. After all, they were just trying to make a quick, easy (trillion) buck($), and it's un-American to find fault in that! Who do you think you are, anyway!?!

We should also stop trying to blame the banks for betting against themselves. If America is a casino, the banks are the house. Nevermind that the risk of the current economic system that makes it operate like a casino was also made possible by the banks...

And please, stop blaming the banks for the housing crisis in the first place. After all, they were forced into making all those trillions by tapping into an untapped market back when they forced Congress to make it easier for them to tap into that untapped market. You can't blame them for forcing the crash on us! As Walsh so eloquently points out, we should blame poor minorities and struggling working class people for wanting to live in homes. His point being that most people should be content living in a sidecar or in a four-walled box.

Just ask his kids.

Lastly, I believe we should stop finding fault with Rep. Walsh's homicidal outbursts of venom and rage. After all, he wouldn't feel such an urge to interrupt constituents and presidents if they wouldn't bother him with pesky "facts."

Just ask his kids.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

First Corporatopolis

Salon writer David Sirota understands about Chicago what few Chicagoans understand about our city and leadership.

But today, while cities may still largely vote Democratic, they are increasingly embracing the economics of corporatism. The result is that urban areas are a driving force behind the widening intra-party rift between the corporatist, pro-privatization Wall Street Democrats and the traditional labor-progressive “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.”

Start with a look at Chicago, the metropolis most identifiably (and inaccurately) branded as a hotbed of labor power and liberal economics.

Fritz Lang would be scared.
In recent years, the Windy City has become “the most aggressive city in the United States in the privatization of public infrastructure,” according to the Public Interest Research Group. Citing the city’s budget crisis, officials have sold off highways and parking meters at cut-rate prices —all to pad the profits of corporate investors (the schemes are now being explored by other Democratic cities including Pittsburgh and Los Angeles). Despite this, during its once-in-a-generation contested mayoral election in 2010, the city’s voters chose investment banker Rahm Emanuel over other far more economically progressive candidates, and Emanuel quickly filled his administration with corporate consultants eager to accelerate the privatization already under way. Now, Emanuel has declared war on organized labor, with the Associated Press’s headline blaring “Even in Chicago, Mayor Goes After Labor Unions.”

The article isn't just about Chicago's habit of seeling off its public assets for the benefit of the few and the rich (who in turn scratch the itchy backs of thepols pushing such legislation) but also the trends and goings-ons in other quickly privatizing metros - including NYC, Denver, and Washington.

But for once, Chicago's the First City. Just not of something we should be proud of...

Monday, November 07, 2011

Living this Moment

I take my daughter to ballet and tap dance class on Saturday mornings - far away from any internet connection or ability to lose myself in a cafe. Last Saturday, the mother of one of Jocelyn's school friends, "Jan", asked if we cut Jocelyn's hair. We didn't, I assured her, and the last time it was cut was a disaster - because few people know how to cut curly hair correctly. I looked over at the now-veteran dancer to my left for validation. The ten year old, "Brenda", (whom I remembered had said something similar in a previous conversation when a relative brought up Jocelyn's hair) agreed, adding her own traumatic experiences. We both noted that there was a salon across the street in this little desert that advertises their propensity for cutting the curly hairs. Brenda, a ten year old dancer, added that her mom was going to take her... and then her voice sort of trailed off.

Being partially hearing impaired and used to voices trailing off to indistinguishable noise, I didn't think much of it. I tend to nod my head and agree - possibly landing me in a lot more trouble than I need to be in.

Brenda is one of several individuals and families that practically camps out at the dance studio on Saturdays between classes, so she's often there for the entire hour that Jocelyn has class. Along with a few other girls and a few parents, including Jan. This time, the girls were joking in the dressing/coat room. Being the only non-Hispanic, she comes out of the giggle-fest to ask the other moms in the room, both of whom are Latina, how to say "stupid" en espanol. Both of the other parents wouldn't bite, telling her that it's really offensive and mean. She lingers, just long enough for me to look up from my typing and tell her, matter-of-factly, "Bella."

She runs back to the closet and we three crack up. Almost literally rolling on the floor.

"'Bella'? Really? That's a nice insult. If anybody gets really upset with me and tells me, 'You're bella,' I'd say, 'Thanks, you think I'm pretty?'"

After class, Joss and I ride the bus with her friend and Jan. The mom looks at me and asks if I know about the curly-haired girl, Brenda. I know who she's referring to, but not much else about her. And then she shocked me. Out of my pants. The girl's mother had just passed. Quickly, with little warning.

They buried her on Friday. Yesterday. And the very next day, Brenda goes to dance class as if nothing had happened to fundamentally shift her world. I don't know how she grieved, or even if she has grieved yet. Heck, I don't understand how I grieve. There are the stages, of course. But we all pass through them differently, in communion sometimes, but mostly alone. And I am not a part of this child's life: I can't mourn with or for her. So I wonder, for a brief millisecond, what I can do.

I can watch my daughter play on the bus.

I turn to her, and I try to burn images into my mind of my daughter enjoying herself with her friend as they watch the streets pass them by.

I can live in the moment and love deeply and madly and not have a single regret. That's what I can do as a parent. That's what I can do as a human being.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Prophetic Imagination and a Time Like This


That word means so much and yet so little to so many. I grew up in an environment that largely talks about prophecy as being fortune-telling about the End Times - except where it somehow or another points to Jesus. Now I'm more apt to align myself with a movement that largely equates prophecy with speaking harsh truths to the powerful. However, in my denomination and in some other charismatic churches, we tend to use the word to mean highly individualized, personal words of God to people within the church - usually words of encouragement, but words that are highly symbolic, spiritual, and yet real and tangible as well.

And then a gander at the Hebrew Scriptures leaves us with something altogether different itself: The actual prophets. Men who lived with and fell in love with whores. Who despised their captors and wanted to see them burn. Who dared kings and queens to their faces. Who mocked foreign gods. Who were killed by the hundreds. Who prayed for bears. Who demanded justice for the poor from the merchants and nobility. Whose tongues burned with the fire of the word of the Lord.

These men (and women) were enigmatic. But they said God's near-impossible truths because they seemed to have no option but to do so. Some of them (Micah) were fueled by righteous indignation right out of the gate due to their state or circumstance in life. Yet others (Jonah) burned with self-righteous bitterness to the end of their story - although probably not without some justification.

Wanting to know more about prophecy and how relevant it is to this day and age, I've turned to a couple scholars - men of courage who've made it their life's ambition to speak the prophetic into current times and against the current. One of those was a hero himself to Martin Luther King, Jr.: Rabbi Abraham Heschel. I've written about him extensively here before. Another one is revered Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann (incidentally, my old friend Carson Clark is also writing about him on his blog and makes note that WB is nearly single-handedly responsible for invigorating his love for the Old Testament. That is no small feat for nearly ANY Christian...)

The following are a couple paragraphs from Brueggemann's primal work, "The Prophetic Imagination"

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the conciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us... Prophetic ministry has to do not with primarily with addressing specific public crises but with adressing, in season and out of season, the dominant crisis that is enduring and resilient, of having our alternative vocation co-opted and domesticated. It may be, of course, that this enduring crisis manifests itself in any given time around concrete issues, but it concerns the enduring crisis that runs from concrete issue to concrete issue. That point is particularly important to ad hoc liberals who run from issue to issue witout discerning the enduring domesticaton of vision in all of them.

The alternative conciousness to be nurtured, on the one hand, serves to criticize in dismantling the dominant consciousness. To that extent, it attempts to do what the liberal tendency has done: engage in a rejection and delegitimizing of the present ordering of things. On the other hand, that alternative consciousness to be nurtured serves to energize persons and communities by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move.

I can't help but notice that this is always relevant, but that perhaps now a good portion of society is ready to hear it. Even as the Powers of the Air are as ready as ever to drown out the prophetic imagination with their own temptations, noises, images, it is the time for the Church to get prophetic.

The Christian church, I am convinced, is at a crossroads - no different really than a million other crossroads put before her in her its history. She can acknowledge her historical and present short-comings and be a counter-cultural agent, voice and visionary for change. Or she can continue to be co-opted and disempowered by the Powers of the Air and continue their religious but ultimately dead languages. Not that the songs, the rituals, the prayers are bereft of meaning or life, but that they aren't. They are very much alive but serve within a holistic purpose. "For if we have the tongues of angels but refuse to love..."

We have, sadly, the gift of healing but we do nothing with it but advertise it. And when the people show up for wellness, we put on a dog and pony show and wonder where the people go.

Maybe what they need is to hear the voice of God rushing through the people of God, in all its bizarre and devestating - and freeing - manifestations.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

These Are My Pet Peeves

My pet peeves include:
  •  False dichotomies: The idea, for example, that everyone can be broken into one of two categories, liberal or conservative, and placed somewhere on the big stick of socio-political allegiances.
  •  False equivalencies: Usually an extension of the first idea. The most common and perplexing example being something like, "Fox News is no worse than Rachel Maddow."
  •  False assumptions and groupings: In my circles, it most often sounds like, "All conservatives/tea------rs/Republicans say/believe/think the same about /minorities." Experience proves, again and again, that this isn't true - even if it's true in that person's experience.
  •  Other forms of Broderism: Such as using a rare example to show that "the other side" is likewise guilty

Of course, the reality is that I need to get over the peeved part of that, as well as the pet part. There isn't enough time or energy in the universe and there are other, more grave injustices to struggle against. Otoh, though, I realize that ours is not a fight of flesh and blood, but of powers, principalities, and psycho-socio captivity as well. The battle of freedom is not to be waged, as I constantly note here and on Facebook, on just one level - just as we cannot rely solely on private charity or on governmental action to fight poverty. And I also realize that not everybody thinks deeply about what divides and unites us (did I just hint that I think deeply? Do I? You'll never know...) So I want to at least have something to point to next time someone picks on my nerves over the intertubes.

And this is the message:
We're all a lot more complex than that. We truly are. Maybe we should ask more questions and surround ourselves with more people we can disagree with intelligently, capably, and agreeably.*

As you can tell, I'm mad as a hatter!

Now on to the reasons I wrote that qualifying intro. The current crop of specific pet peeves.

I'm tired of the Occupy Movement being confused for partisan politics. As in, I'm tired of it being confused as an arm of the Democratic Party by jealous-sounding conservatives. Likewise, I'm tired of the Democratic Party trying to co-opt the movement. I'm tired of their lame Occupy the Vote campaign. The DP is part of the two party system that has been corrupted and corrupts completely through its oligarchal/corporatocracy factions. They are not listening to the American people and will not listen to us until they loosen the bonds of the Military/Prison/Educational Industrial Complexes as well as Big Oil/Coal/Pharma/Banks. And they will not do that as long as the DNC is complicit in taking their donations, nqa. Chase Bank wants to make sure its investment pays off and Boeing and Caterpillar want to make sure that they stay in good business. The OWS is about the process of consensus-building democracy. As in, everybody gets involved, every person has a voice. Human people, that is.

I'm tired of baseless allegations being leveled at every forward-thinking person or organization. Worse, I'm tired of Americans buying into the discreditations as if those should stop the message. And while we're speaking of the message, I'm thoroughly unimpressed with white paleo-conservatives ability to take a five second clip of one of Dr. King's many fine speeches to try to prove their ignorant, backwards, and regressive point. If minorities WERE to be chosen based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, then jails would be empty of them and universities would be full of them! Besides, the same thugs who try to praise King now, removed by amnesia as they are, were defaming him for sleeping with white women and for being a Marxist when it suited their purposes. Another pretty blatant lie that suits the paleoconservatives is to plant allegations of rape on progressive and subversive leaders. All allegations should, of course, be taken seriously. But these same dittoheaded d---hebags only care about the accusation when it's tossed at men behind the Black Panthers, WikiLeaks, or now Occupy Wall Street. Men who were very likely set up by the powers they are trying to challenge. These Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs, Michael Savages, and J Edgar Hoovers don't care about women protection when it's the military or military contractors being accused of sexual assault or rape and then locking up the victim for days on end in a janitor's closet...

I'm tired of being told by my good friends that voting for a third party is not just throwing my vote away and giving it to the GOP. That's foolish and worse, bad math. Of course, I'm also tired of those who say that voting for ANYONE is preferable to voting for Obama. Seriously?? There is a distinction between the two evils. I will not waste my time campaigning for the Dems, but I sure won't stand idly by if someone compares Obama to any neo-con. Seriously, I love my country too much to hand it over to another John McCain or George W Bush (fortunately, I live in a state where Obama's vote is all but guaranteed).

I'm tired of cynicism, often from my closer friends, my irl friends. This is the affliction of knowing something must change, that something needs to change, of maybe even agreeing about a course of action but then... Phfeweeeewww... Their sickness lets out all of the air. They are generally smart enough to know that nothing worth changing will changith ease and overnight. They understand that the future isn't full of non-allergenic puppies and rainbow-riding unicorns. But they lack long-term prophetic vision.

And without vision, the people perish.


*Like much else in my blog nowadays, this is as much directed at myself as at anybody else, if not more so.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Hollow Ween

Slightly edited exchange on Facebook about giving away - or not - candy on Halloween.

Starts when a friend of mine, John G., ribs his numerous conservative/Republican friends with this provocative status update:
Tonight, I will answer the door as a Republican. When asked for candy, I will tell them that I am not interested in giving them handouts, but I DID throw some candy up on the roof and if they want to stick around and wait for the "trickle-down" effect, they are welcome to. Then I will make them show me their green cards.

A few comments later, one of the numerous replies:
You can't be a democrat unless you first took from the kids that went out and collected their own, and then gave that, plus a healthy subsidy that you borrowed from the store on credit to the ones who stayed at home and didn't make the effort. Then, you went back and arrested the parents of the kids who went out for abuse because they dressed them up funny.

Now, how would you reply to that?

I kinda think it's important we consider that because people are watching. And many of them simply don't know what to make of such dirty, filthy assumptions. I know sometimes the hypocrisy and blatant contempt for working families boils into red hot rage in my skin. I waited a few minutes and gave my reply:

that's a bit of class warfare, don'tchathink? After all, it's not like all of the wealthiest ten percent - who receive the most money from the government - are lazy. There are a few, to be honest. But there are also model, hard working members of the corporate welfare crew.