Thursday, March 31, 2016

Public Voices on Violence (by ISIS, by USA . . . . )

Hiroshima: terrorism?
I was writing the other day about several related topics, including ISIS.

I wrote, "With the Brussels attacks this week, we are seeing once again that all of the attention of the West gets put onto the question of tactics ("How did they do it?") -- and its obvious counterpart, counter-tactics ("What should law enforcement do differently?" ... "Shall we respond militarily?") -- rather than the real question: what is motivating these people?"

A letter from a reader was published yesterday in The New York Times, and I re-post it here in its entirety:

Although, as your article says, the backgrounds of terrorists “are so diverse that they defy a single profile,” the murderers share a characteristic that is worth noting: a casual acceptance of causing the death of random people.

This capacity to depersonalize derives in large part from cultural and political attitudes. The modern tolerance of civilian casualties can be seen in the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. That these acts were military, not “terroristic,” is most likely a distinction lost on jihadists.

The sanctity of one person’s existence is not part of our collective wisdom; instead, we have concepts like nationalism, race and ethnicity. Violence against others to achieve group ambitions is universally accepted, at the expense of millions of lives.

In the effort to end the mayhem, it might be more useful to study ourselves than to study terrorists.


Goshen, N.Y.

Think about it:

This capacity to depersonalize derives in large part from cultural and political attitudes. The modern tolerance of civilian casualties can be seen in the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. That these acts were military, not “terroristic,” is most likely a distinction lost on jihadists.

I wish I'd said that.

Related posts

Anyone who has had to write a speech knows that the hardest part is to land on the main idea. Once you've got that right, the rest practically writes itself.

(See "The way to respond to ISIS is not through violence." )

"It's not enough to remember this just once a year; it's not enough that we make a single book -- Hiroshima -- required reading, and never go beyond that. There should be a whole canon that people study progressively, year by year, to grasp and retain the horror of this."

(See FIRE AND BLAST: A Curriculum that Confronts Nuclear Danger?)

A virus is able to be so successful precisely because it (most of the time) doesn't kill its host. I can't help thinking that we simply are not being intelligent about how to respond to violence.   How might recognizing the "viral" nature of violence help us to respond to it more intelligently?

(See Violence: Taking Over Like a Virus)

We will only deal successfully with the crimes being committed using drones when we understand them as part of the much larger war against communities of color . . . .

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color )

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Chicago asks: Where's MINE? 04.01.2016

Chicago asks: Where's MINE? #WheresMine 04.01.2016
On Friday night, October 7, 2011, I was sitting with colleagues in a restaurant in Chicago's Greektown. We were anticipating the next day's Antiwar march on the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, and we were also thinking ahead to the spring, 2012, NATO/G8 summit in Chicago.

We were talking about possible protest activities against NATO/G8, and their location relative to the summit meeting at McCormick Place. I remember saying something like, "It would be wonderful to see participation in every neighborhood in Chicago -- after all, the people in the our Chicago communities have a real beef with the elites that are terrorizing the rest of the world with war and failing to deliver for people here at home. Protests in every neighborhood in Chicago -- that would be the perfect 'welcome' for NATO/G8."

I even had a theme: #WheresMine. (Columnist Mike Royko said in his book Boss that the motto of Chicago is "City in a Garden" but it should be "Where's mine?")

OK, ok, spring 2012 may have been a little early to call for a general strike in Chicago.

Spring 2016 on the other hand . . . . 

The Chicago Teacher's Union has called for a general strike in Chicago to take place just three days from now, on April 1.

As I look back over posts (below) from recent months, it's no mystery why they'll be successful. Illinois budget cuts . . . police murders . . . abuses at Cook County Jail . . . the Homan Square black site scandal . . .   Failures of the CHA . . . . and more.

Want to get involved? It will be easy. Just walk outside your door and look for the protests on April 1.

Just look in any neighborhood in Chicago . . . .

Related posts

How might an uprising against inequality and dismantling the military-industrial complex dovetail?

(See WHERE'S MINE? Inequality in the US and the Military-Industrial Complex )

People in Illinois are standing up against the attempt by Governor Bruce Rauner to gut services in the state.  Courageous people are demanding change in "Moral Monday" protests.

(See PROTESTS IN ILLINOIS: Do these people look like they're gonna back down? )

In Chicago, one of the things that means is noticing the worsening housing situation, and the failure of the City to live up to its responsibility to help people who live their have affordable housing.

(See Palm Sunday March 20 in Chicago: Occupy!)

Poll figures indicate that SIXTY-FOUR PERCENT of Chicagoans think cover-ups and a code of silence are "a widespread problem" at the Chicago Police Department.

(See #ChiPAC: It's time. (Civilian Control of the Police in Chicago))

Cook County Jail is the perfect example of the nationwide injustice that Michelle Alexander described in her groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration, focused principally one people of color, in which "crimes" (often related to drug possession or other low-level offenses) become the mechanism for entrapping people in a cycle of incarceration that is brutalizing and often begins a downward spiral of lifetime discrimination.

(See Free Them All )

People around the world reading the exposé in The Guardian today about the thousands of (mostly African-American) people denied their rights while being detained at a secret Chicago Police Department location at Homan Square might wonder if anyone in Chicago is doing anything in an attempt to get control of the police.

(See CHICAGO: Twilight Zone? Constitution-Free Zone? (What's it look like to YOU?) )

Sunday, March 27, 2016

EASTER 2016: "The darkest hour is always, always just before the dawn ...."

"Winter Storm Clouds from Lawrence Hall of Science"
(More beautiful photography of the Nature of Berkeley.)

I gathered with others from First Congregational Church of Berkeley atop the ridge overlooking San Francisco Bay at 6:00 am for the Easter sunrise service today.

As planned, our celebration began before the first signs of dawn, and I felt grateful for the reminder: in the moments before the light appears, it can feel awfully, awfully dark.

It made me think of the words by David Crosby:

But you know
the darkest hour
is always
just before the dawn. 

Crosby wrote those words, it is said, during a very long, very dark night. (You can read about "Long Time Gone" here.)

I believe the US, and the world, is quickly becoming aware of the darkness into which we are plunging.

Will we make it to the dawn?

Watch Crosby, Stills, and Nash perform "Long Time Gone":

Related posts

Every time I've heard an ambulance in the past forty or so years, I've thought, "help is on the way."

(See Christmas: "Help is on the way . . . ")

The song's lyrics alternated between "talking about the passion" and "carrying the weight of the world," over and over again. It was as if to say, "This is something we are going to keep working through, again and again, until we come to grips with it."

(See Thoughts Before Holy Week: Talk About the Passion )

I believe Easter is God's gift to humanity of victory over death, hopelessness and frailty, and I believe that God is alive and in our midst. The witness of the Guantanamo lawyers has confirmed me in those beliefs.

(See Easter Victory: The Guantanamo Lawyers )

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Salvation History: "Follow the Drinking Gourd"

[Tonight at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley, I'll be telling one of the Easter Vigil stories. The part I'll be doing is about the salvation story in Exodus, and the specific text is Exodus 4, about the way an "unexpected leader" -- Moses -- was encouraged to act. I adapted the text to tell the story in terms of the way leaders came forward against slavery in the US . . . . ]

In 1849, Harriet Tubman was a 27 year old slave in the state of Maryland - on the Eastern Shore, in the area just south of the Choptank River.

We now know a little bit about what Harriet was going through in that year, and the most important thing is that she had come to a conclusion: "There's one of two things I have a right to. One is liberty; the other is death."

The only question in Harriet's mind was -- which was it gonna be?

We don't know what went on in Harriet's mind in those days when she was still a slave.  In my imagination, it was something like this . . . .

"Flying Geese" quilt pattern

As 27-year-old Harriet Tubman stood pondering one day, hanging out the old quilts that she had been washing, and lost in thought, she hummed a song.  [She hums "Follow the Drinking Gourd"]

An old man who worked on the farm, not a slave, but a hired hand, and a friend she could trust, came along. "Harriet, what are you so lost in thought about?" he said.

"Joe," she said, "I don't know what to do. I think I've gotta make a break for it. But I don't know if I can do it. I mean -- if God was gonna lead me to freedom, like His people he took out of Egypt, there'd be some, I don't know, some signs, or miracles, or . . . ."

"From the way you're talkin', sounds like you've gotten your first sign already," he said.

"North Star" quilt pattern
"Joe, I wouldn't even know how to start."

"Harriet," said Joe, "what's that I heard you humming?"

"Oh," she said, "it's just that old song you taught me, the one whose words don't make any sense."

"How does it go?" said Joe.

[SHE SINGS -- "Follow the drinking gourd, Follow the drinking gourd, for the old man's waiting for to carry you to freedom, follow the drinking gourd."]

"I think you've been carrying around what you need with you all along," said Joe. "The drinking gourd is the Big Dipper, and it points the way north."

[SHE SINGS AGAIN -- "Follow the drinking gourd, Follow the drinking gourd, for the old man's waiting for to carry you to freedom, follow the drinking gourd."]

She looked at Joe.  "I don't know," she said. "How will I survive? I won't even make it through one night . . . . "

"What's that you're hanging up?" he said.

"Just an old quilt - just a jumble of old pieces of cloth."

"Remember to take it with you. That jumble of old pieces of cloth will keep you warm at night."

"Joe," she said, "the worst part of it is: what about my family? How can I go without them?"

"Log Cabin" quilt pattern
"You won't be going without them," said Joe. "You'll be going AHEAD of them. There's a difference. Your real job is learn the way, and then come lead them to freedom."

"All by myself??" she said.

Joe reassured her: "How does that song go again?"

[SHE SINGS AGAIN -- "Follow the drinking gourd, Follow the drinking gourd, for the old man's waiting for to carry you to freedom, follow the drinking gourd."]

"So get going. I'll be right there with you."

"Alright, Joe, alright." (resigned)

"I'll meet you in the morning," she intoned, "I'm bound for the promised land."

Harriet Tubman escaped to Pennsylvania. She returned to Maryland to help others escape, and over the years she led so many individuals from slavery that people gave her a special nickname. Her nickname was "Moses."

You can read about Harriet Tubman on Wikipedia to see the origin of some of the references in the imagined conversation above.

Listen to Richie Havens sing "Follow the Drinking Gourd":

I first learned about the drinking gourd song when I read and performed the picture book version of "Follow the Drinking Gourd" (with story and pictures by Jeannette Winter) over 20 years ago for my son's first grade class.  Here's a reading of the Winter's book:

And here's an adaptation of "Follow the Drinking Gourd" that's unforgettable - The Ishmel Sisters, arranged by Darnell Ishmel, with poetry by George L. Davis, II:

The quilt designs that accompany this post are so-called "Underground Railroad" quilt patches. There is abundant information about the patches on the Internet, though historians have come to doubt their authenticity. I have included them to remind us that secret communications systems, to the degree they existed, were by their very nature obscure and hard for outsiders to decipher. There is so much to this story: we need to open ourselves to possibilities and imagination and myth in order to continue to grasp further aspects of it.

Related posts

What would Christians think if someone proposed carving out a slice of their Sunday services to worship the God of Entombment? Wouldn't they think that was absurd? After all, if Christianity is anything, isn't it the religion of "UN-entombment"?

(See When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"?)

For the next three months, people will be talking about the film 12 Years a Slave and its Oscar prospects. And well they should. The film is about the experiences of the free man, Solomon Northrup, who was seized and enslaved for twelve years, and it may be the best thing ever to come along for enabling us to confront the true meaning of our history of oppression and racism in America. But it's not just about history. 

(See 12 Years a Detainee)

I think they are sending a message to their adherents: "We're in a struggle. Not everyone is with us -- yet. But we know what we stand for. And we're not alone!"

(See Shen Yun: Performance Posters as Resistance Art )

Friday, March 25, 2016

Three Phenomena: Hitler, Trump, ISIS (You're Invited to Think . . . )

Now would be a good time for people in the US to see if we can actually engage in some thinking about politics.

Underneath the ISIS Phenomenon

"A man reacts at a street memorial following
the bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium."
(Source: The Independent (UK))
I have written numerous times about how events in the Middle East, particularly the rise of ISIS, call for us to try to understand motivations, rather than just give in to the urge for violence. (See "The way to respond to ISIS is not through violence.") With the Brussels attacks this week, we are seeing once again that all of the attention of the West gets put onto the question of tactics ("How did they do it?") -- and its obvious counterpart, counter-tactics ("What should law enforcement do differently?" ... "Shall we respond militarily?") -- rather than the real question: what is motivating these people?

(Put aside for the moment that the week saw attacks in multiple locales [Turkey, Côte d’Ivoire], but the only place that existed for Westerners was Brussels . . . . )

True, there was some note in The New York Times that the Brussels attackers included brothers. But it doesn't take too much reflection to realize that it is simply the case that siblings frequently engage in joint enterprise. (Groucho Marx to Warner Brothers: "even before there had been other brothers - the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamazov; Dan Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit; and Brother, Can You Spare a Dime") The "brother angle" does not have explanatory power here . . . .

I was encouraged to see an article entitled, "Why Join ISIS? How Fighters Respond When You Ask Them" (The Atlantic, December 9, 2015) I am grateful for information like this, but I think it is important to point out that it is not obvious how to see the forest for the trees. Diverse motivations -- among a very diverse set of respondents -- are identified. Making sense of this will require insightful synthesis. The cheapest and easiest explanations -- "blame it on Islam" -- will get a lot of attention and will be the least accurate and useful.

The Atlantic has published a series of articles to try to illuminate the ISIS phenomenon, including:

"What ISIS Really Wants" (March, 2015)

"What Motivates Terrorists?" (June 9, 2015)

All of these help suggest the range of questions that must be considered to get our arms around the phenomenon.

And then there is the Trump phenomenon.

The Trump Phenomenon and Us

Donald Trump: "Make America Great Again"
The rise of Donald Trump in the US is baffling, and epochal, and it similarly tempts us to attend to tactics (especially Trump's rhetorical style) when we should be attending to motivations.

Several weeks ago, I was reflecting on the Trump phenomenon in light of a book I had been reading, and I said, "It's not his personality that's really at issue; it's actually not really about the fringe views he espouses, either.  It's not even the outward behavior of the supporters of different points of view. What's at stake is: There are a lot of people who are so enormously disillusioned and frustrated and fearful that they are actually finding relief in identifying with all this. What have we got to offer them?"

I found reinforcement for this view in David Brook's column a few days ago:

"Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else. . . . Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country." ("No, Not Trump, Not Ever," March 18, 2016)

(Rather a startling mea culpa.)

Well, of course, it is not just the man, and not just his followers, but also the way they both work together with an ideology to (possibly) bring a horrible reality into being against all common sense.

The Hitler Phenomenon  and Arendt

Hannah Arendt: "Niemand hat das Recht zu
gehorchen [No one has the right to obey]."
(Patrik Wolters - see Wikipedia)
So it is that after reading 1924: The Year That Made Hitler, in the hopes of finding clues to how 2016 is turning out to be the year that is "making" Trump, I found myself watching the film Hannah Arendt. (The film tells the story of Arendt's coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961.) Within a day, I was plowing through Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem (and The Origins of Totalitarianism on hand as a follow-up).

As I read, I realize that what Arendt was so interested in is just how hard it is for people to think; particularly, to think in the face of abundant evidence, ranging from the behavior of a particular charismatic leader . . . to the conditions of the masses who follow . . . to the ideology (or perhaps ideologies, both explicit and tacit) that give motive to the phenomenon . . . to the atrocities of the moment . . . and ultimately to the way all of these are reflected in the lived experience of "ordinary" participants.

Some questions . . . 

It seems to me there are four or five important questions to ask, and they need to be asked about each of these phenomena (Hitler, Trump, ISIS):

"Us" vs "Them" - In what ways do see the "us" vs "them" psychology being exploited? Why is the exploitation successful? Isn't there a countervailing norm in each of these settings? What is out of whack?

"Enough for 'us'" - It seems as if each phenomenon has a deep current of "this is the only way we can be assured of getting enough for 'us'." Acquisitiveness is part of human nature; so what is different about this? What allows acquisitiveness to become harnessed in a pathological way?

"Wrapped in the familiar" - How is each phenomenon normalized (made palatable to participants) by being wrapped in reassuring, familiar culture? (Why does this have the power to lull people's consciences to sleep in these situations?)

"Awful but necessary" - Sometimes leaders "lock in" followers by doing something counter-intuitive: by embroiling them in some kind of truly awful behavior. How exactly is it that people acquiesce -- either through direct participation or complicity -- in group behavior that is intentionally awful?

I hope that by looking deeper into each of these I may find some answers about these three phenomena.

Related posts

Anyone who has had to write a speech knows that the hardest part is to land on the main idea. Once you've got that right, the rest practically writes itself.

(See "The way to respond to ISIS is not through violence." )

It's not his personality that's really at issue; it's actually not really about the fringe views he espouses, either. It's not even the outward behavior of the supporters of different points of view. What's at stake is: There are a lot of people who are so enormously disillusioned and frustrated and fearful that they are actually finding relief in identifying with all this. What have we got to offer them?

(See Have a Conversation with a Trump Supporter Today)

I wonder if, years from now, we will be thinking back to today and feeling surprise at how little we thought about some of the developments in our world, and in our country, and how we talked about them even less. Someday will I have to explain to my kids, or to my kids' kids, why it was that "people just weren't talking about it" . . . ?

(See Why Weren't People Talking About It? )

I wonder if the outrage that many Muslims seem to feel at the suffering of other Muslims doesn't put us Christians to shame.

(See Fighting Back: It's alright as long as you're a Christian, right? )

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

SOUTH CHINA SEA FACE OFF: Does this make ANY sense?

"World War III's First Shot:
Will It Be Fired in the South China Sea?"
I pick up a Chinese language newspaper at the corner store in my Berkeley neighborhood every day, and almost every day there is an article about:

(a) US Navy activities challenging Chinese positions in the South China Sea; and/or

(b) China's activities to establish sovereignty in areas of the South China Sea; and/or

(c) China's military and naval buildup to try to get into the same league with the US.

The mainstream Western press has been reporting on these developments at an increasingly frequent rate.

Unquestionably a lot is going on in the South China Sea. I think we can choke on the detail if we don't try to step back and gain perspective on the situation.

What's the right way to think about what's going on in the South China Sea? I wrote a short post on this several years ago ... but I think it's time to address the question a bit more thoroughly.

The "Law and Order" Paradigm

USA as global policeman -- ever since TR.
(More on The Federalist website.)
On the face of it, there should be no controversy. There are laws about this sort of thing, and everything should be decided according to international law, e.g. the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

So it can be very easy for US people to cast the US and its navy as the "white hats" who stand ready to "police" the situation, keeping things fair for everyone. One problem: "the United States now recognizes the UNCLOS as a codification of customary international law, it has not ratified it." Well, that's awkward . . . .

In other words, before we say "Who is China to think they should be entrusted with being the traffic cop in the South China Sea?" we should first ask the question, "Who is the US to think they should be?"

The "Befitting a Global Power" Paradigm

Teddy Roosevelt with his "big stick" in the Caribbean.
As I look at what China is doing in the South China Sea, I can't help thinking of a cartoon of Theodore Roosevelt treating the Caribbean Sea as a private lake belonging to the US.

[Not a bad time to make this comparison - President Obama just visited Cuba this week to attempt to reverse some of the effects of the past 50 years of antagonism between the US and Cuba.]

The US history of imperialism in its own backyard does not justify China in taking the same attitude; nonetheless, the fact that the US has really not come very far from its "We're a global power and what we say goes" attitude makes it a little difficult to wonder that China may think they should be following in the US' footsteps.

I think one thing we all need to do is notice the double standard that is applied to China. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. China can legitimately be asked to exhibit a 21st century form of non-militaristic global power when the US decides to even make a head fake in that same direction.

(By the way, there certainly must somewhere exist a really clever cartoon updating the Caribbean-as-US-lake concept, i.e. South-China-Sea-as-China-lake, but everything I've seen so far is predictably based on boring dragon and Great Wall imagery.)

The "Neoliberal" Paradigm

To many people, it probably seems that the issues in the South China Sea should just be viewed as a matter of property rights. Stuff (e.g. oil) is there for people to exploit, and everything has a price; in light of overlapping claims, the parties simply need to define rights and compensate each other accordingly.

In other words, "we should be happy with the solution, as long as it smells like capitalism."

Oil and gas in the South China Sea
(Source: Grenatec)

But aren't the assets that lie under the South China Sea precisely the kind of oil and gas properties that are rapidly becoming valueless in light of the carbon bubble?  Given that the oil companies already have five times as many reserves as they can ever put to use without breaking the planet, aren't those South China Sea hydrocarbons destined to stay beneath the sea where they belong?

"A Piece in the Larger Puzzle"

US Military in the West Pacific
(Source: Thomson-Reuters)
I can't help believing that, from a Chinese perspective, the question of whether it is "right" for China to grab (and militarily build up) bits of land in the South China Sea can only be considered in light of the precedent established by the US in grabbing (and militarily building up) bits of land in strategic locations through the Pacific (and worldwide).

Looking at a map of US military installations in the Western Pacific brings to mind the old quip, "How dare they put their country so close to our bases?"

Moreover, of at least equal importance to bases is the terrifying firepower of US carrier strike groups. Is it any wonder that China is building up its navy? Though it may never come close to the strength of the US navy, China's navy may have the ability to close the gap in its own part of the world.

Maybe the South China Sea is just a sideshow.

Maybe what we should really be talking about with China is a military stand-down, followed by a military build-down.

(To be continued . . . . )

Additional resources:

Map showing overlapping claims in the South China Sea

Related posts

The problem: the U.S. "pivot to Asia."

The opportunity: asking ourselves, "What would we do differently if we revised our myths of Asia?"

(See U.S. Militarism in Asia: THINK DIFFERENT!)

What people in Asia (and others) have seen for the past century is that something is happening in the Pacific, and it's being driven in part by advances in naval (and, subsequently, aviation and electronics) technology, and in part by powerful nations (principally, but not limited to, the U.S.) proximate to the area.

(See The Imperialized Pacific: What We Need to Understand)

Strategic analysts are pointing out that the South China Sea is an area through which a vast amount of the world's trade passes.  And some of them have made the modest suggestion that it would be a good idea for the U.S. to dominate it now, in much the same it dominated the Caribbean at the turn of the 19th century.

(See SOUTH CHINA SEA: No End of American Grand Designs)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Finding Accidental Saints in Berkeley (Reading Nadia Bolz-Weber)

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All
the Wrong People
by Nadia Bolz-Weber
I was part of a small group at the church I attend in Berkeley -- University Lutheran Chapel -- where we read and discussed Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber. (Actually, the whole congregation read the book -- discussions took place in a variety of settings.)

I am here to report that, at least in our experience, Accidental Saints proved to be a wonderful springboard for discussion.

I'm tempted to share some of my favorite lines from the book, but maybe it would be better if I invite you to pick the book up and find them for yourself.

(Well okay -- here's a clue -- you might want to start by going to chapter 12 where Nadia is puzzling over when the cool people are gonna start showing up. Classic.)

Perhaps what makes a book good for a discussion group is that it combines startling candor, brevity, and the courage to leap again and again into the middle of mysterious questions.

What we discovered is that all of us were interested in the questions she was raising, and we found the courage to share things about ourselves, and that made it compelling to listen carefully to each other.

Accidental Saints is great. Our only question now: what do we do for an encore?

Related posts

I believe when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine and said "Remember me this way," he was much more interested in encouraging us to keep having conversations -- conversations that really matter -- with others . . . and finding ways to be in relationship with our neighbors . . . all the while reminding us "never underestimate the power of food" . . .

(See Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Have A Conversation Today (Welcome to the Ministry))

So as I watched Ziggy for the first time last night, I asked myself, "What is it? What is it? What is the frisson that one feels? It's part charisma, part sexuality, partly the thrill of gender-bending, partly adolescent rebellion . . . . But what is it that Ziggy did (and does) for so many people?" (It can't be a single thing, can it?)

(See "You're NOT alone!" (Ziggy the Subversive) )

Monday, March 21, 2016

Where the Church-In-Becoming Meets the Issue of Palestine

Where does the issue of Palestine intersect with the Church-in-becoming?

I am preparing to tend the Friends of Sabeel Conference North American (FOSNA) conference in Santa Cruz at the end of April, and this question is pressing on me.

Where is the Church headed?

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time playing games of pick-up football with friends. I remember quite vividly the huddles where someone acting as quarterback would give each of us instructions about the pattern to run, tracing a shape in the palm of their hand -- a "J" or an "L" or a "U." None of it came naturally to me, especially the throwing part; when it came my time to be the passer, I required some pretty graphic instruction on how to get the ball to the other person.

I remember someone actually had to explain to me, "When you're throwing to a receiver running downfield, don't throw the ball to where the person is, throw it to where they're gonna be -- throw it out toward the direction where they're headed."

"Don't throw the ball to where the person is, throw it to where they're gonna be!"

This is very much on my mind as I think about what we might hope for the Church to become, and where that might meet the issue of Palestine. I am emboldened to say that the challenge to the Church today is to stop thinking in terms of what's in front of our eyes on Sunday mornings -- our brick-and-mortar past -- and start thinking in terms of how our calling can possibly be embodied -- our young-people future.

I recently saw this put in a slightly different way -- and perhaps even more bluntly -- by the Rev. Stephen P. Bauman in the Fall, 2015, edition of Reflections. Pastor Bauman was writing from the standpoint of his New York City congregation, and the ways in which they need to behave differently in order to move into the future. He said,

"This cohort of Christians will not exist two or three decades from now unless it meaningfully recommits itself to the city -- and loves the city's inhabitants more than itself." ("Readying for Radical Change")

I would only generalize his statement for the rest of us by asking, "What does 'city,' as used by him, mean for us in our context?"

Why Palestine?

There is a strong tendency in church communities to approach the issue of justice for Palestine from the standpoint of "the Holy Land." We all care about the Holy Land right? So here's something we should naturally care about . . . .

Bethlehem: Wall ["Separation Barrier"] Art
(Photograph from my March, 2015, trip with
 Faith in the Face of Empire group.)

I have long felt that owning up to our Christian heritage requires us to own up to the centuries of Christian obsession with the Holy Land, and to the direct impact of that obsession upon the political developments that have led to the current predicament of the people in that land. (The Bible and the Sword, by Barbara Tuchman, is a book I would commend to those who have any doubt about this.)

I've personally witnessed how existing church communities in the US can find time and energy for Palestine -- in the midst of a blizzard of competing demands -- in no small part because there remains an attraction to, and fascination with, anything having to do with the Holy Land.

However, I think the time has come for us to change our approach. I think the relevant question is no longer, "How is the historical church tangled up in this thing?" but "Where does justice need to be done?"

Posters based on Wall Art -- used by the Metro Chicago
Synod Working Group on the Middle East at the
34th Annual 8th Day Good Friday Justice Walk
("Palestine: The Women Weep")
I was profoundly influenced by a presentation for Lutheran leaders last summer, asking people to think deeply about the connections between our work for justice in Palestine and our anti-racism work.

A major development in the past year or so has been the number of congregations that have come to understand that working against institutionalized racism in our society ("anti-racism work") is a priority -- because the Church is in society, and because the need is urgent, and because we can.

I hope that a major development in the coming year will be a larger number of congregations coming to understand that working for peace and justice in Palestine is similarly a priority -- because the Church is in the world, and because curing the violence and injustice being experienced in Palestine is foundational to curing the violence and injustice being experienced in much of the rest of the Mideast, and around the world.

What can congregations do?

I used to think that the role of congregations was to hold events whose nature was to say, "Come and hear what you should think and do about Palestine."

I now think the role of congregations needs to be to say, "Come and help us learn how this Church can support your work for Palestinian liberation."

Activism at UC Berkeley: "Students for Justice in
Palestine set up faux security checkpoint on Sproul."
(Source: The Daily Californian, February 25, 2015)
There is truly a widespread movement for justice being led largely by young people. (To get a sense of this, Google the name of a university near you plus "SJP" or "Students for Justice in Palestine.") A simple "to do" for church congregations is to figure out how to lift up these young people's leadership, and support it.

One thing anti-racism work and Palestine solidarity work have in common: it's hard work. It involves confronting with real world conflict -- conflict that often involves all kinds of violence -- and the stakes are high. There's an urgent need for more conversations -- and those are almost always difficult conversations. (Sound like a place for the Church?)

When congregations begin to understand their calling in terms of inclusion, anti-racism, justice in the Middle East, and war abolition, and when they join hands with others in the community to accomplish these goals, they will no longer need to figure out how "outreach" and "evangelism" and "community-building" should happen. They will be facing much more pressing questions. Such as, "How are we going to feed all these people . . . ?"

Related posts

Can there be any more clear illustration than the one at left to remind us that the work of the Church is liberation?

(See Christian "Church"? How about Christian "Liberation Organization"? )

This exchange has always stuck with me, because once you peel away the hopeless competitiveness and lack of compassion of these two characters, you are left with a grain of truth: if you want to succeed, you need to go where the conversation is taking place. The question for us: are we willing to check our egos at the door and get busy talking to people?

(See Antiwar Agitation in 2014: Less Mercutio, More Larry Levy )

As I walked home from today's service, I replayed the service in my mind. "The part about the visitor card was pretty good . . . " I thought, "and yet . . . visitor card . . . ? Maybe it's not really a visitor card . . . . Maybe what we should be calling them is participant cards."

(See Being Church in Logan Square, Chicago: An Ecclesiophilic Reflection )

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Happy Spring! (Take a peek at this . . . . )

DC eagles and their new pair: "DC2" and "DC3"

In less than an hour, I'll set off for church, and I'll call my sister on the way.

She will say, "Have you looked at the eagle cam yet?"

She will be referring, of course, to the camera in DC that allows all of us to follow the progress of a pair of bald eagle eggs that are hatching.

That is, unless she's already off bird-watching at Mt. Auburn Cemetery . . . .

Mt. Auburn Cemetery

I can still remember the precise spot on which I was standing in spring, 1979, when I said to my friend Julie, "Whatcha doin'?" and she said, "I'm going bird watching in Mt. Auburn Cemetery."

At the time, I wasn't cool enough to know that bird watching is cool, and Mt. Auburn Cemetery is one of the most beautiful settings in the country.  (Over the course of the past 35+ years I've gradually gotten hip.)

Since 1979, Julie's devoted her efforts to observing, caring for, and depicting birds and other creatures, and she's published a lot of books of her art. Her newest book -- just in time for the first day of spring, 2016 -- is Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest. (See "Baby birds in all their beauty" in the Boston Globe.)

Happy Spring!

(If anyone's looking for me, I'll be at Mt. Auburn, watching birds . . . . )

Related posts

One of the really interesting things about looking at how Rachel Carson used her writing to wake the world up -- particularly with her prophetic Silent Spring -- is that we can then go back to some of the earliest parts of the Bible and see them as living and urgent. And reading Silent Spring as well as Biblical stories like the account of The Flood points to the urgency of changes that need to be made here and now in the way we all live our lives.

(See Looking at Rachel Carson (at St. Luke's "School for Prophets") )

Chicago has a tremendous head start in being a place that is inspired by the beauty all around us to do the difficult things that are needed. And Chicago is so beautiful all summer long, there's no reason to leave the city. Think of all the carbon emissions save on car and jet travel!

(See "One Word: Wildflowers" on Zero Carbon Chicago)

I love to walk around North Pond here in Chicago and notice the asters as September stretches into October. They make me think of my mom . . . .

(See Asters for Eva )