Monday, June 28, 2010

Mules to my right, Jackasses to my left.

During a Republican gubernatorial nominee debate in Arizona, incumbent (but not elected) governor and full-time liability Jan Brewer opened up her mouth, allowing more unfounded biases to pour out. She declared, "They're coming here, and they're bringing drugs. And they're doing drop houses, and they're extorting people and they're terrorizing the families."

Because the veracity of her reports needed to be further justified while simultaneously adopted by the gullible and/or racists, she did us all the pleasure of expounding the other day.

Well, we all know* that the majority of the people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are now become drug mules. They're coming across our borders in huge numbers. The drug cartels have taken control of the immigration. …

So they are criminals. They're breaking the law when they are trespassing and they're criminals when they pack the marijuana and the drugs on their backs...

I believe today and in the circumstances that we are facing, that the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming in the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels, and they are bringing drugs in...

There's strong information to us that they come as illegal people wanting to come to work. Then they are accosted and they become subjects of the drug cartel.

1) Mules? Beasts of burden. Animals. Un-human. There's a direct, Orwellian correlation between this type of language and the type of language used to justify chattel slavery and genocide. Those who argue against immigrants ("illegal" or not) continue in the fine tradition of de-humanizing their targets in order to lift themselves up (in Brewer's case, it's a political ploy, one that she shares with the Segregationists of the middle 20th Century).

2) Brewer denied that Mexicans and other Latin-Americans are coming through the Southern border to find work, to feed their families. It's a furthering of her de-humanizing practices (and the de-humanization of non-Whites in a White Supremacy rule), and another attempt to de-familiarize. These are not people with real struggles and needs, people whose lives are on the precipice largely because of American intervention into their economy, according to this WS thinking.

3) She's actually countering the claims of a fellow Arizona Republican. That's a bit of hope badly needed in these highly politicized days.

4) In trying to once again to connect immigration to the drug trade (two things that need to be solved separately) Brewer once again shows her sympathydeep-seated racism. Latinos are only good for _______________(fill in the blank). For some people, apparently, they're only good as boogie-men. But this misses another, broader point.

Q1) Why drug-smuggling? Why is that on the table at all in discussing Latinos?

Simplified A1) Because it's a real problem in Mexico, especially near the borders. And if it's a problem in Mexico, then, ergo, forsooth it must be a Mexican problem. And if it's a Messican problem and thems is coming here, then it will also be an Amuriken problem. Unlesses we's stop them.

Q2) Why is drug-smuggling an issue in the northern border regions of Mexico?

Simplified A2) Because Amerigringos can't get enough of the sh*t. As long as we don't have to change our way of life to get it. And we don't plan on doing that anytime soon...

We're causing the drug-smuggling problems, and yet we take no ownership in that.

4) In the name of Christian love, I propose that every time Jan Brewer comes out to speak/open up a shopping center/brey, we should greet her with a familiar, familial call of "HEE-HAW! HEE-HAW!" It would make her feel at home, among the jackasses.
*Sadly, no.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Readings: The Beloved Community

This book... is a portrait of the Christian faith as a set of social disciplines shaped by gratitude, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Biblical religion offers peacemakers and activists much more than pep talks and consolations, indeed a potent arsenal for imagining freedom, energizing social reform and forging solidarity with the poor. It is all well and good for Anthony Appiah to advise us, "live with fractured identities; engage in identity's play; find solidarity, yes, but recognize contingency, and above all practice irony." But what might it mean to settle down after all the fracturing and decentering and assaults on identity have run their course, to build community among the hopeless and excluded in places where irony is a condescending shrug? It is unlikely that anyone has ever read Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra or Jacques Derrida's Disseminations and opened a soup kitchen. But the Christian peacemakers who yesterday and today build beloved community with the poor and excluded "drink the earthly cup to the dregs" (D. Bonhoeffer) and bear glorious witness to the spirit of life in concrete and practical ways.

- Charles Marsch
The Beloved Community

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Music that Gets Us Through: Just Another Day

Another Breakthrough - Israel Houghton & New Breed
Another Day in Limbo - Mark Heard / Tonio K
Another Good Lie - Mark Heard / Hezze
Another Star - Stevie Wonder

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Loving the Individual Sinner, Hating the Institutional Sin

... and forgive us of our sins as we forgive the sins of those who trespass against us...
- Jesus
I just got back from a retreat that was bookended by some furious moments*. Rising early on Monday morning I was greeted (if that's the word for it) by an email from a friend of a friend**. In an honestly odd and disturbing manner he took me to task for standing up for African Americans in a conversation with our mutual friend. And then he practically ordered that I defend him as he - according to his story - is constantly under attack by the African Americans that live around him. After telling him a truncated version of my life story I assured him that I stand and advocate for all who are abused, marginalized, oppressed and beaten-down. And then I challenged him and told him that he should stand WITH those that attack him.

He didn't like that. His response showed anger that I wasn't siding with him and against them. And with that, he showed his true colors.

But I'll talk more on that later.

I was in a rush to see my wife this evening. As usual, running late to an event (this one an appreciation dinner for volunteers - of which I'm one, though a small part - at a local social services organization) and passing a group of African Americans, one of whom calls me by name. I couldn't recognize him instantly, but he did me and asked me about church, etc. Feeling bad that I was running behind and frustrated that I couldn't place him, I told him I had to get going to this event. As I made way down the block, some kid (I can only presume) throws a pen at my back. I didn't have time (or the patience) to return to the scene of the crime, so I kept walking and lifted my shoulders as if to ask, "Why?"

There is something that I want to say to both of these people, to the child and to the man:
Open your eyes and realize that you are enslaved. Break the shackles off your mental slavery, from your feelings of woeful inadequacy. You are better than what society has told you you are, and you do not need to hurt others to feel better about yourself. Together, we can defeat your mindset and the tools and armies of oppression that surround us all. Divided, we only fight and die divided.
But it was my toddler's near-ragged, relentlessly exhausted and exhausting, cragginess and violent rebuttals to night-night that caused me to look inward as well. I struggle to not continue the cycle of violence and shame that I learned from my own dad and thus drag her into it. And that's harder to perform than swinging a good, swift swat. But I also have to remember about grace, and redemption. And about not continuing the same block-headed stubbornness that my father and I were locked into for some eighteen long years.

Sure, Jocelyn - the sinful and stubborn little booger that she is - needed a time-out. She needed to learn to listen to her daddy and sit in that corner until the bell rang as a reminder to not hit. But she also needed grace. And a blankie. And forgiveness. And a long hug.

I gave her those things. And sent her back to her corner for the last minute or so. And then we cleaned out her nose and read stories and laughed.

And I asked if I could pray for her. And as she was falling featherly deeper and sounder into her sleep-state, I prayed the Lord's prayer over her. And I decidedly meant every word. Whether or not my child understood every word, I felt her approval as if God were nodding as she was nodding off.

Forgive me my pettiness, Oh Lord.

Now on to the title of the piece and the idea of true colors:

A motif that I've noticed recently is that people (and this tends to be White people, but they're certainly not the only ones. But what I've noticed recently has to do with Whites' responses to racism and racial injustice) have this incessant need to be forgiven for the systemic sins that they have no intentions of repenting from. It is ridiculous and stupid and evil and immoral and needs to be corrected, but I also realize that they are slaves to the institutional sin that they propagate (and that has been practiced on them). It is a sign of true colors: we're all slaves in one way or another to some system of sin, some - as we Christians sometimes call it - demonic stronghold.

This stronghold, this institutional sin, this immoral injustice needs to be rectified. And the person practicing it and legitimizing it needs to be corrected. But she also needs grace. He also needs to be loved. The hope is that we get to save both the lost sinner and end the enslaving system. That, in the long run, is win-win.

And I like those odds.

*There is one more moment that I can not stand to testify about, at least at this moment. But in sticking up for a (somewhat righteously) stigmatized group, I was labeled with the same stigma. I can only imagine that the young man who made such uncharitable, inflammatory and just plain hurtful remarks toward me has suffered some deep, uncharitable, inflammatory and just plain hurtful pain himself - possibly in a related way.
Or, he could just be a self-righteous prick hiding under the relative anonymity of Facebook. I did offer to kick his ass if he so desires to come to Chicago and he hasn't taken me up on that offer yet...

**Friend and email both being loose terms as this was all done through the miracle of Facebook.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Metronome Fest!

Hey Chicagoans! Normally I try to make my Chicago plugs on Tuesdays, but since I didn't this week (or month. or year...) I want to announce my block party (of sorts*), the Metronome.

I'm really proud of the work that goes into this project, just on its second year. The organizers (mostly the head of security and public relations from the Congress Theater - an awesome guy named Max) work hard to make the fest green, sustainable and local. Hence, most of the bands are from local regions, proceeds go to four different not-for-profit local community groups including a local grammar school (Chase), the Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association, the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce, and Friends of Goethe School (a group of parents working with another local grammar school). Most of these groups are situated within the four-block radius of the event itself.

The performers will run on four different stages through the two days (one per end of the fest area per day) and run the gamut from Latin Rock to Folk, and Indie Rock to Punk. I've honestly never heard of any of the performers, but since I'll be there for the duration of both days, I'm looking forward to hearing something new (favorite name, of course, is Cooler By the Lake).

I'll be there with our community group, MAPA, and my church will host a service at 10am Sunday morning on the West end. Would love to see you there!

*As in, it's not my block, specifically, but it's right around the corner. And certainly not my party. And not really a block party. So technically, the whole sentence is wrong...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

ReMix: Weapons of Our Warfare: Sarcasm

It's certainly not the only weapon, nor the best to fend off the maddening screams of chaos and control. Kind words are often more effective and certainly help to defuse a tense situation.

Sarcasm and its twins only shorten the fuse.

But there are times when one needs to cut the wick low, when the shock bomb needs to go off just so that the listeners can be broken free from the sadistic chains of manipulation. It is only then that they are able to see the bigger picture and envision a brighter hope. Sarcasm is a weapon, and there are times when it is the most appropriate one to use. It's the hammer that hits heavy, the hand grenade lofted into the enemy's space, the incisive knife of the surgeon. It works in a way where kind words or actions do not.

And, importantly for Christians like myself, it's deeply biblical.

The lone Hebrew prophet Elijah taunting his multitudinous contemporaries, wondering aloud if their gods were taking a tinkle. The otherwise unknown prophet Nathan flipping the story of the thieving, murderous landowner on King David. Jesus illustrating the corruption of the debtor system with his rude imagining of a stark naked quasi-slave.

In each of the biblical stories listed above, it was the little man, the outsider, the powerless countering the onslaught and injustice of the mighty. In some cases it worked immediately on the target (luckily for Nathan). Although the priests never seemed to convert to Elijah's God, we can imagine that the audience was stumped and even broken by the prophet's mockings. Jesus' illustration made his impoverished and often deeply-in-debt hearers laugh and feel a bit empowered. But since the two-line story from Matthew 5 may be lost on the modern ear, allow me the chance to update it a bit.

If we were to make a trip a few miles west of my house, next to the innumerable empty lots you may also notice the absence of traditional banking venues (large, community, or the increasingly popular credit unions). "That's only sensible," you suggest. "Banks aren't out of reach, they're just not in this area, and for good cause. There are few businesses in this blighted area, and the neighborhood most likely doesn't have enough cash flow to maintain such a costly venue, let alone allow it to turn a profit."

I won't argue that, but I will point you to the institutions that have filled the monetary void, specifically the title and paycheck loan businesses, not to mention their ancient cousin, the pawn shops. Used car salesmen will say that they offer credit for any borrower, but the APR - as it is with the other lender businesses mentioned - is exorbitantly high; 500% APR is typical, if not many times more so (They've also been taking advantage - if that's the word we want to use - of the microfinancing boom). As long as there have been poor people there have always been businesses who abuse them for profit at every turn, going back even before Jesus' day.

Fortunately, there were a few laws and customs in ancient Judea to at least moderately protect the debtors from total annihilation (besides, what kind of foolish economic system would completely obliterate their profit-base?). In Jesus' time and place, the lender sues the borrower that has not paid up on his debt. The court will often decree that the indebted give up his outer garment for the duration of the day. This was a type of protection for both parties, a kind of guarantee that the debt will be repaid and a way to keep the humiliation minimal for the payee.
Which is to say that the payee is supposed to be humiliated. Triply so, actually. First, that he needs to borrow money in the first place just in order to make ends meet for a couple more days, probably until he finds work. Then he's embarrassed that he isn't able to pay his debts off as immediately as he planned. But now he walks around town with half his clothes off, a sign of his triple-shame.

The type of permanent serfdom that such situations lead to (where the borrower is always *just out of means* of fully repaying and therefore always indebted somewhat to the loaner) is basically a hidden slave system, a way of using the law to the advantage of the usurer and to the disadvantage of the majority poor and penniless.

But Jesus, in his ingenious way, reverts the shame back to the creditors. "If a man asks for your tunic, give him your robe as well." In a two-robe society, the person who follows this advice is stark naked. And in a society in which the person who looks upon the other person's nakedness is ashamed, the shame belongs to the loan officers and their court allies. It's a small victory, to be sure, but it looms large as the poor and oppressed villagers parade around town, happy that the usurers have been upended, even if just for a moment.

There are many, many other examples and the Bible is rife with satire of one form or another. According to Douglas Wilson's A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire, the entire book of Amos is satire, as is Jesus' woes to the hypocritical religious leaders of his time. Check out this translation of Matthew 23 and tell me the text isn't dripping and oozing of unhinged Juvenal sarcasm:
Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It's on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation—and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse. (The Message)
The Bible is rife with such analogies: an indiscreet woman is like a gold ring on a pig's snout (Proverbs); hypocrites accusingly point to the splinters on others' eyes while overlooking the barks in their own (Jesus); then there's the sacred cow slaughter in Amos 4:

Listen to this, you cows of Bashan
grazing on the slopes of Samaria.
You women! Mean to the poor,
cruel to the down-and-out!
Indolent and pampered, you demand of your husbands,
'Bring us a tall, cool drink!'

This is serious—I, God, have sworn by my holiness!
Be well warned: Judgment Day is coming!
They're going to rope you up and haul you off,
keep the stragglers in line with cattle prods.
They'll drag you through the ruined city walls,
forcing you out single file,
And kick you to kingdom come.
- God's Decree.

Come along to Bethel and sin!
And then to Gilgal and sin some more!
Bring your sacrifices for morning worship.
Every third day bring your tithe.
Burn pure sacrifices—thank offerings.
Speak up—announce freewill offerings!
That's the sort of religious show
you Israelites just love. (The Message)

Sarcasm has the ability to illuminate, to make truth blindingly bright. It does so by dragging its hearers through truth's dark undertow, and leaving them panting for breath at the shores.
Of course, the majority of times that isn't a proper way of treating even an enemy. Leaving someone traipsing in the dark after punching them in the guts is not a way to have a non-sadist return.

The Elder James (one of Jesus' brothers) warns against using the tongue in a negative or easy manner (James 3). That's for good reason: sarcasm is a double-edged sword that needs to be wielded rarely and carefully.

Sarcasm is the odd man out. It cuts deep and leaves shards all over the friggin' place, but then there are times when nothing else will work, when you need to cut it open or blow it up (depending on which of my many mixed metaphors you want to bandy about). The rest of the time, it's probably not so cool to run around with a live little bomb in your hands.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Helen Thomas, Palestine, Israel, and Going Back Home

Helen Thomas just quit. Which is fine by me. Not for the reasons that it’s good with many of her detractors. I’m a fan of strong, intelligent women that voice the plight of the oppressed. And that’s what Helen Thomas was. And I would say still is. I am fine with her leaving her post in the White House Press Corps because she has done her time, and now she should be allowed to freely speak her mind (even if she was the rare one doing so in the face of the presidents or their lackeys and we will now miss that beat).

What she said that caused her a bit of a trolley is that Israel should go back home to Poland, Germany and the US. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the context which she had in mind in speaking that way. First, Thomas has a thing about empires occupying other lands (which she makes a note of whenever she got a chance at the WH in regards to Iraq and Afghanistan). And that is exactly what has been happening in this section of the MidEast for the last sixty years.

Secondly, the state of Israel is running a pogrom of their own against the Palestinians. The situations of which were so inhumanely horrible, the events that we are all rightly recalled to never forget, the huge, mechanized ethnic cleansing that European Jews were forced into roughly three generations ago, are being repeated and conveniently forgotten by those same people whom were attacked in the first place.

The victims are now the victimizers. This is tragic human history, an epoch that continually turns again and again. But saying that doesn't excuse the state of Israel for its crimes against humanity.

The Holocaust was a large-scale setting (a horrible exaggeration) for what Zionists are putting the Palestinian people through now. Instead of using trains, they’re using bulldozers. Instead of establishing ghettos, they’re instituting blockades . Instead of gas chambers, they arm settlers*.

Many Palestinians may *say* that they want to wipe Israel off the map, but Israel is *actually* wiping Palestine off the map.

As per the flotilla, it would be best if Palestinians and their allies (and certainly their governing bodies) practiced non-violence. They would certainly win more support for their side if people could see how they are being victimized.

But then again, I would like for MY government to practice non-violence - as well as Israel. And if you send soldiers to attack a boat flying another nation’s flags in the high seas, why shouldn’t you expect to get attacked? That’s a bit like forcefully entering someone’s house and complaining that they shot you.

*Those very same settlers, in turn for cheap property, are turned into agents of the state. I blame the state and those that blindingly support the state for that action. Brother should never be turned against brother.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Lazy Sunday Reading: Sex and Sin

Today's passages come from Fred of Slacktivist fame. It's not a classic... yet. But it'd be a shame if some version of this weren't:

A few times a week I get an e-mail or a drive-by comment from someone very upset that I'm defending or advocating for a position they regard as contrary to the Bible. This happens often. Regularly. Constantly.

Yet as often as it happens, none of my accusers has ever been angry that I seem to be "glibly dismissive" of the clear biblical teaching of Luke 3:11. No one has ever suggested on the basis of this Bible verse that I am a fraudulent sham and an enemy of the true faith. Nor have they ever suggested that my failure to heed and revere it's clear instruction constitutes an attack against the sacred "authority of the scriptures."

And that's odd, because I would seem to be vulnerable on this point.

"Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none," the Bible says in Luke 3:11. And I have a lot more than just two coats. I have a closet full of coats, jackets, suits, shirts, dress pants, jeans, sweaters and nearly a dozen different pairs of shoes. My wardrobe would seem to be a sinful extravagance that's biblically indefensible...

It's not just bug-eating John [the Baptist] who gives us this teaching. Variations of his statement can be found throughout the entire Bible, in the law and the prophets, the Gospels and the epistles. This is a unified, unambiguous, relentlessly repeated commandment not just of John but of Moses, Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul, Peter ... of everybody, really.

We're not talking about just a handful of scattered verses -- not just a few obscure texts plucked from the lists of Leviticus and one or two Pauline tangents. This is a major, dominant theme of the entire Bible: Whoever has more than they need must give to whoever has less than they need.

And yet as I said, despite regularly receiving angry condemnations for the ways in which I supposedly deny "the authority of the scriptures," I have never even once been challenged on the matter of my personal superfluity or my advertising and enticement urging others to acquire.

None of my interlocutors has ever accused me of flippantly disregarding Luke 3, or Matthew 6, or Amos, or 2 Corinthians 8 -- even though my lifestyle is clearly and wholly incompatible with what those texts have to say. I have never received a single question from these Guardians of Biblical Truth as to how I manage to reconcile my lifestyle with the vast multitude of scripture passages condemning it as sin. My supposedly conservative inquisitors have never challenged me on this point or accused me of promoting a "liberal" approach to the Bible that hand-waves away the clear mandates taught in the more than 2,000 verses dealing with wealth, possessions and the poor.

Instead, they're mainly just upset about the Gay Thing.

That's odd. Because the Bible doesn't actually have a whole lot to say about homosexuality. The sum total of all it says on that subject is just a tiny fraction of what the Bible has to say about sex in general and even all that put together is, at most, a minor sub-theme.

Think of it this way: Picture a seesaw. Take all of the passages you can find in the Bible that might possibly be construed as condemning homosexuality and gently place them on one seat of the seesaw. Now take all of the passages and parables and sermons and stories in the Bible that deal with wealth, possessions and the poor and drop them onto the other seat.

That seesaw just became a catapult, launching that little collection of verses on homosexuality high into the air.

The popular emphasis on biblical teaching on homosexuality distorts and inverts the emphasis of the text itself. When my e-mail accusers cite the Bible, or when it is cited by the loudest of the evangelical advocacy groups, they're almost always talking about sex, usually gay sex, and almost never talking about wealth, possessions or the poor. They've allowed the tiny fraction of the minor sub-theme to eclipse the importance of the major theme discussed throughout the text itself. That's backwards. That's contrary to what the actual book says...

The Bible is not a book about homosexuality and it will not allow itself to be treated as a book about homosexuality. Nor is the Bible a book about sex. But the Bible is, in fact, very much a book about wealth, possessions and the poor. That is not the central theme, but it is a massively important theme that pervades every portion of the book. If you don't agree with that then I don't know what it is that you've been reading, but it surely wasn't a Bible.

Did that work? That last sentence was deliberately confrontational and accusatory -- did it make you angry? Because I want you to get angry. I want you to become so angry that you won't rest until you prove me wrong.

So please do that. Prove me wrong. Go for it. Take all that anger and angrily go back to your Bible. Open it at random or start at the beginning and channel all that anger into a determined search to prove that wealth, possessions and the poor is not a major theme of the entire book and that the Bible does not contain anything like 2,000 verses on the subject. Get angry and don't stop until you've proved, conclusively, that this isn't an overwhelming, obsessive theme in the Bible...

Why do [my accusers] insist on the strictest and harshest application of rules governing other people's genitals while blithely refusing to apply any rules governing their stuff? (Including, for example, the rule that says there's really no such thing as "their" stuff.)

This inconsistency creates the unpleasant suspicion that they are simply people who happen to enjoy having lots of stuff but who don't happen to enjoy gay sex and who have, therefore, conveniently decided to read the Bible in such a way that it blesses the former and damns the latter. There's a strong aroma here of the old speck-and-beam hypocrisy. That sort of self-serving manipulation of the text seems irreconcilable with their insistence that they are acting as the guardians of "the authority of the scriptures."...

Show me an American willing to abstain from luxury and indulgence and that person earns my attention. Show me a straight person expecting to be commended for abstaining from gay sex and that person earns only my pity. (That's not an achievement, that's a tautology.)

The Bible is not a Rulebook for Other People. If you're going to insist on treating it as a rulebook, then you're going to have to pay attention to the rules that apply to you as well as to the rules that apply to others. I'd suggest starting with this rule: Don't treat the Bible as a rulebook.