The Problem of My Generation

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

-Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Safe Space

We’ve all heard the story of the baker who refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple because he or she cannot in good conscious support something they do not believe is moral. Because of this decision, they are either brought into terrible scrutiny by the public and the media, or they are forced to shutdown their business.

In the town I live in, Orange City, IA, the public library is under fire by the conservative community for having multiple pro-LGBTQ books available for checkout. In fact, they are trying to require the public library to put these books in “safe areas” so that they will be out of the sight of children. This is particularly interesting to me considering the fact that these Christians who are creating the backlash have such a problem with the four pro-LGBTQ books but are completely fine with the books, movies, and T.V. shows available at the public library that contain graphic violence, sexual content, nudity, and language, such as HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

In other news, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid remain unsigned by NFL teams following their protests against racism and police brutality, despite the fact that they are far better players than many signed players at their positions.

Campuses all around America are creating “safe spaces” where students can go if they do not feel comfortable with a certain point of view, teaching lesson, or discussion category.

Now, I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with the decisions of the baker, the library, or Kaepernick and Reid, or that a business does not have the right to hire or fire whomever they choose. But that is not the point here.

The troubling aspect of all these stories is that they reveal an alarming problem in our world today, that I believe has infested our young generation: We are so afraid of offending others, or of other people offending us, that we sacrifice a fundamental need to separate right from wrong. Unfortunately today, many of these lines are becoming more and more blurred.

Children are no longer tough because we shield them from anything we might think is wrong. When you grow up sheltered, you cannot formulate your own ideas about the world. You just jump into the boxes the world has created.

Also, when you grow up sheltered and you hear something that goes against what you believe you can’t take it because you haven’t been exposed to the diverse range of thought that exists in this world. This is why students at colleges now need “safe spaces.”

The thing is, this isn’t just an issue for conservatives. It’s not just an issue for liberals. It is a societal problem. We cannot speak our mind about what we believe is right or wrong because we are afraid of offending someone else. Because people get offended by virtually anything they disagree with.

And for those that are my age (22) and younger, I am afraid that that fear has created in us an inability to think thoughtfully and logically, and to have patience as we come to realize what truth is. And thus, the millennial generation, without this ability to thoughtfully process right and wrong, and the overall concern of saying something others might not like has rendered us completely void of thought, nuance, and patience. This leads us to be a people absorbed in consumerism, technology, virtual reality, and social media where we can take away all the depth of what it means to be human and replace it with a pretentious, shallow, “fun” version of ourselves.

The reality is, we have lost in ourselves a certain depth. A depth that we were made for. Unfortunately, this has largely projected itself onto my generation.

I believe we must regain this depth. This contemplative spirit. As Richard Rohr (an American Franciscan Friar) says, when you are embodying the contemplative self, you are not offended. Because the contemplative self does not get offended. The deep self, the true self, the contemplative self is patient with those who see differently. It is unafraid because what matters is not the ego, it is the truth. It is resilient. It has a keen sense of where the problems are and it is unafraid of addressing the systems of injustice that exist.

The reality is, there are a lot of bad things in this world that need to be called out for what they are. War is terrible. Racism, poverty, greed, pornography, consumerism, militarism, are all so destructive to so many people in our world.

These are all systems that I believe are corruptive. They all move us to become a fast-paced technological perversion when there is so much beauty in our natural selves. I want us to regain the beauty of what it really means to be human. Not what it means to be products of technology, media, and “success.”

All of these things are that which I believe are detrimental to becoming our true selves. I know many people will not like me saying that it is an egregious sin to spend almost 1 trillion dollars of the U.S. budget on a violent military force. But I will. Because it needs to be said. We essentially are saying the only way to stop violence is with violence. I think Jesus gave us some pretty good advice with regards to war. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the early Christian church, Dorothy Day, Eugene Debs, Wendell Berry, J.R.R. Tolkien, Leo Tolstoy, Erasmus… they had really good ideas about how to address violence and war. But our egotistical selves cannot think of any solution to the problem beyond flexing our biceps of mass destruction and technological terror and stamping it with the name of “freedom.” Bob Dylan said we are “Masters of War”… He couldn’t have been more right. I believe this needs to be resisted. Whether we offend someone or not.

The same goes with many other things I mentioned. And many more which I forgot. And certainly others which I have yet to open my eyes to.

Let us rediscover our deep humanness. Let us think outside of boxes. Let there be logic. Let there be mystery. Let us not get offended by someone’s opinion. Let us explore it and have patience as we discover the truths of ourselves and the truths of others. Let us be resilient. Let us be courageous. Let us be willing to fight the systems of injustice with a complete lack of fear.

Into the Wild

ReThinking Thinking

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit.”

-Christopher McCandless

Chris McCandless

“Into the Wild” is a film that follows the story of Christopher McCandless, a recent college graduate whose plans on attending Harvard Law School are abruptly halted when he decides to donate all of his savings to charity, burn his social security card and all other forms of identification, and head west.

The film is an adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book by the same name. Heavily influenced by famous radicals Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Jack London, McCandless becomes a radical in his own right.

His ultimate goal is to get to Alaska. To…

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Into the Wild

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit.”

-Christopher McCandless

Chris McCandless

“Into the Wild” is a film that follows the story of Christopher McCandless, a recent college graduate whose plans on attending Harvard Law School are abruptly halted when he decides to donate all of his savings to charity, burn his social security card and all other forms of identification, and head west.

The film is an adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book by the same name. Heavily influenced by famous radicals Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Jack London, McCandless becomes a radical in his own right.

His ultimate goal is to get to Alaska. To escape the bonds of society in the vast, uncharted northwestern wilderness. As he heads west, driving some of the way, hitchhiking and walking most of it, he realizes he needs to take some time to gain some extra cash and study up on how exactly to survive when he gets there.

He works at an elevator in South Dakota for awhile, kayaks the Colorado River into Mexico, and lives with a variety of different people in various places. The characters he meets are unique, as all people are, but always radiate something upon Chris.

Chris, who at this point has actually changed his name to Alexander Supertramp, eventually arrives in the Alaskan wilderness. He survives on berries, roots, and squirrels.

Living alone in the wilderness is difficult however. Nature is not always forgiving for McCandless. At one point he mixes up two very similar roots, one being extremely poisonous, causing starvation. He dies a slow death, yet in his final moments, he has a realization:

“Happiness is only real when shared.”

He changes his name back to Christopher McCandless. Yet, he does not regret the life he has chosen.

“I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!”

With this, McCandless passes away. Before we dismiss McCandless’s story as ridiculous, naive, or immature, I request that we try to make something of this fascinating man.

The story of Christopher McCandless does not resonate with me simply because it shows how a man tried to break the chains society had on him and escape into the wilderness, only to find that he desperately needed that very society in which he left. Nor does it resonate with me just because it is an inspiring story of a man that realized people are machines that society has guilefully formulated to fit the proper, the standard, the consistent.

I resonate with McCandless’s story because I feel like it is an exaggerated take on every man’s life. Society frustrates me. I want to be me. Not society’s projection of me. I don’t want the rules, the walls, the little boxes we all put ourselves in. I want the experience of life in its fullest. I want the spiritual. This was the desire of McCandless, and I believe it is deep down the desire of every person. Some of us have been or will be hardened over time by the mistakes we’ve made, the times we’ve been screwed over, or the times we haven’t lived up to expectations. But I truly believe this desire that so overwhelmed McCandless is in us all. I do not believe it is random. This desire is truth. Yet, as in all things, truth can go different ways.

While man needs the wild, the unstructured, he also needs community. He was made for community. Throughout his journey, McCandless meets people of a vast range of backgrounds and finds a certain beauty and truth in each one.

Each person at one time or another teaches McCandless a thing or two, and McCandless often returns the favor. He helps them, they help him back.

This combination of community, society, and structure with the wildness of life is not merely random desires that we have. It is what it means to be human. We are held in bondage to the structures of society. We are at the mercy of mother nature. But through each we can also experience the most breathtaking beauty that life has to offer. We can experience ourselves.

Society can be daunting and relentless. But we need it.

The wilderness can be frightening. But we need it.

McCandless’s story reveals this to us.

In all the suffering we experience in life, don’t lose sight of the beautiful. Because its here. Sometimes you just have to look for it.

Be wild. Break free from the bondage, the rules, the expectations, the norms of society. Explore. Experience the world in its most primitive form. Send yourself on a journey into the wild. Into mankind’s ancient past. See your relation to all things. To the trees towering up out of the ground. To the four-leggeds who walk on land. To the wings of the air. To the flowing streams teaming with fish. To the wind that rustles the leaves. Don’t lose sight of the wildness inside of you.

Be community. Do not let the suffering you experience, the pain that others may cause you, the expectations that others place on you hinder your desire to be brother and sister to all. Hear someone’s story instead of giving your own. Take some advice rather than give it. Share a laugh. Give a hug. Drop a task and be a friend. Work less, play harder. See the beauty in someone, rather than the ugly. Don’t complain about someone who annoys you, learn from them.

Be grace. Be love. Be beauty. It is the community of all people, and the wildness we each possess that allows us to dive fully into the depths of these three things, and ultimately explore our humanness.

 

 

The Struggle of American Christianity

A huge religious marketplace has been set up in North America to meet the needs and fantasies of people just like us. There are conferences and gatherings custom-designed to give us what we need. Books and videos and seminars promise to let us in on the Christian “secret” of whatever we feel is lacking in our life: financial security, well-behaved children, weight-loss, exotic sex, travel to holy sites, exciting worship, celebrity teachers. The people who promote these goods and services all smile a lot and are good-looking… We have become consumers of packaged spiritualities. This is idolatry. We never think of using this term for it since everything we are buying or paying for is defined by the adjective “Christian.” But idolatry nevertheless: God packaged as a product; God depersonalized and made available as a technique or program. The Christian market in idols has never been more brisk or lucrative.

-Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places

59726

I recently started reading a book by Brian Zahnd called “Water to Wine.” The book tells of his personal journey from a “watered down” preacher of religious fundamentalism, pop Christianity, right-winged evangelicalism, and program/seminar driven religion which seeks to tell us how to be successful, the best parent, the best leader, the most biblical man or woman, all in the name of Christianity.

As Zahnd highlights, for him this was never a faith that had any depth to it. It was always very much well-intentioned, and he never claims that he had been worshipping a different God. But he makes the analogy of his former faith being water and how he needed a major change in his life to transition that watered down faith into wine. He speaks of his former faith:

In the days of my certitude there was no room for me. I learned how to parrot the party line. To say what was expected. What was expected was a mixture of fundamentalist biblicism, word of faith success, and religious right triumphalism. None of that was me. The real me had always been more complex than that. But in the world of religious certitude there is no room to think, no room for nuance and complexity, no room to nurture the soul of a mystic.

I have been fascinated reading this because it seems eerily similar to my personal experience. I say that as humbly as possible. Brian Zahnd is someone I deeply respect and my faith is so weak in so many ways. But I did experience a transition from when my faith seemed to lack any real substance. And I searched and searched, and doubted and questioned, and believe I have slowly been transitioning out of a watered down faith and into something much more substantive.

Zahnd was the pastor of a church that was named one of the fastest growing churches in America. But when he reached his mid-forties, he felt that his faith lacked substance. So he started on a journey of discovering a more authentic faith. A journey that began with 22 days of pure fasting and prayer and an extended hiking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. As he made this transition, he speaks of the great struggle that it was. He had many members leave the church, while others approached him in criticism and tried to get him back to the “real Brian.”

What Zahnd realized about his former faith, and the faith that he believes is rampant throughout the United States, is that it so often leads down a path of either ignorance or certitude. As Zahnd says, “Ignorance is bliss, but so is certitude.”

I know that often I fall under the temptation of pretending to know for sure what is “truth” when I’m not really sure. It’s easier to look at the Bible or a difficult question and assume you have a key to the secret knowledge.

Even if we might say doubting our faith can be good, no one likes going through the process. We like certitude. We like people who are going to give us word for word the “truth.” We like a pastor who tells us exactly how to believe and how to live. We like a Bible that does the same. And we follow that blindly. There is no nuance.

I believe this is one of the reasons why biblical fundamentalism has become so prominent in American Christianity. It very blatantly explains the strict rules for understanding the faith.

I also believe this is why conservatism has become so popular among American Christians. It is about right and wrong. It is about law and order. It is about keeping people within certain parameters deemed acceptable based on some “indisputable” knowledge.

I am well aware liberals do the same thing. But we cannot deny that the right is the side of law and order, militarism, protection and security from foreign “enemies,” or aliens. They are very much proud of that. They are the side that says this is how to live and this is how not to live. And Christians make up a very large portion of the right.

As Christians, we need to stop assuming we have the answers. Our faith needs more nuance. It needs more questions, more doubt, and less security. We do after all, worship the man who, in his last moments apparently doubted by saying, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We need more searching and more reliance on God. Following Christ’s doubt he proclaimed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Christ shows us the very essence of faith. Sometimes that involves doubting. But it always ends in giving ourselves up to the Lord.

We must be aware of the temptation in us all to box ourselves up. To make ourselves a part of a side that assumes to have all the answers. Or to make ourselves part of any side at all for that matter.

It’s funny, most people who hear someone questioning conservative religion or conservative politics will immediately label them as “liberal” (as if that is an evil name for someone). But it seems in America we have no other way of understanding the world besides in little boxes.

To say that as Christians we need more nuance, less certitude, more questioning, does not mean that there aren’t any universal truths. It does not mean we can’t believe anything at all. We must! But as broken humans to assume that we ever hold the key to the almighty truth and that that truth can’t be found anywhere but in the Bible is ridiculous.

Truths often come from those we might find little common ground with. Or from places we might least expect. For me, nature often speaks truth. But it isn’t so obvious like the verses we like to pull out from scripture. It is more nuanced than that. It requires a deep searching.

Sometimes it can be found in someone of a different faith. I’ve also been very influenced by the life of Mahatma Gandhi. But he was a Hindu (though he did say he would be a Christian if it weren’t for Christians).

The point is, truth can be found in a lot of places. The Bible… the wilderness… a book… a drug addict… a conservative… a liberal… a Muslim…

We just need to open our faith to complexity.

I will end by sharing a poem that Zahnd wrote.

Turbulance

I was once so sure
So sure of myself
So sure that what I wanted
Was one in the same with what God wanted
How could it be otherwise?
Child of God that I am

I was once so sure
I was taught to assert my will
In the name of the Lord, to be sure
For the name of the Lord is a talisman
To endorse and empower my will to be done
For what else could my god have to do
But to make all my  wishes and dreams come true

I was once so sure
That I knew what was good for me
And what was good for me
Was good things for me
Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.
Oh, I knew better than to say it just so
I knew how to dress it up in altruistic robes
And how to crown it with chapter and verse
Nothing like a plucked verse to make you so sure
(Yet it and I weren’t all bad, oh no, far from it)

But the point of this confession is
I was once so sure
That I knew good and evil, right and wrong
In me, in thee, in theology, in policy
But there’s a snake that lives in that tree
Is original sin a sin of epistemology?
To be sure
Certitude in doctrine and politics
And just where the dividing line runs
Safe in the certain knowledge
That I’m on the right side
Of the right-and-wrong line
I was once so sure
And it’s fun being so sure
People like it when you’re so sure
(If they share your certainty)
And isn’t that what faith is?
Being so sure?
Well…
I’m not so sure
Cock-sure, can’t-miss certainty
Is not the faith that I see
When I look at the patriarchs, prophets, and poets
And Jesus
(“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”)
At the cross faith and hope find their finest hour
But arrogant certitude is proved to be an imposter
(Did I hear the cock crow?)

Instead of brashness and bravado
The poet of hope said
“In quietness and trust”
So now when I’m not so sure
I try to be quiet and trust
Not myself, my mind, my kind
But in the mercy of God
In his severe salvation
A salvation that is sweet as honey
And severe as the cross
Though he slay me
Yet will I trust him
Surely
Goodness and Mercy

 

What the Doctrine of Discovery Teaches Us About Ourselves

ReThinking Thinking

To state the facts… and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important – it should weigh very little in our final judgements; it should affect very little what we do in the world. (Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 8).

Doctrine of Discovery

We weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and…

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What the Doctrine of Discovery Teaches Us About Ourselves

To state the facts… and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important – it should weigh very little in our final judgements; it should affect very little what we do in the world. (Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 8).

Doctrine of Discovery

We weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit — by having secured the said faculty, the said King Alfonso, or, by his authority, the aforesaid infante, justly and lawfully has acquired and possessed, and doth possess, these islands, lands, harbors, and seas, and they do of right belong and pertain to the said King Alfonso and his successors.

Pope Nicholas V, Papal Bull Romanus Pontifex, 8 January 1454

In fourteen centuries the Church of Christ had undergone the most dramatic evolution ever imaginable by a group of people. For Christ, it was “blessed are you who are poor,” and “woe to you who are rich.” (Luke 6)

It was “do not judge, do not condemn, forgive.” (Luke 6)

“Love your enemies… bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” (Luke 6)

“Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor…” (Luke 18)

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25)

“For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26)

How is it that a people who claim to worship the man that preached over and over again a profoundly radical message of peace, servitude, compassion, and care for the poor, imprisoned, marginalized, and stranger, could wish to “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue” and to “reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit”?

As the great Russian authors Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy point out, it is not because the Church has lost the name of Christ, but that it has lost the radical and often uncomfortable message that comes with Christ.

In 1454 the Doctrine of Discovery was in its developmental stages. Christopher Columbus had not yet “sailed the ocean blue” as we so patriotically like to say it. But the Church nonetheless had already become the perfect candidate for such successful “discoveries.”

It had developed a mission. A mission in which any enemies of the church, pagans, muslims, or any form of non-believers should immediately be subdued, captured, and enslaved in the name of Christ and profit.

The mission proved to be quite successful. In 1492 when Columbus did in fact discover the West Indies and the people already living there, he realized how easy Pope Nicholas V’s mission for the Catholic Church might be to obtain. He wrote in his journal:

They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want. (Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1).

The atrocities committed against American Indians in the early days of conquest can powerfully be summed up in the words of a Dominican priest, Bartolomé de Las Casas in his History of the Indies in 1528:

The Indians [of Hispaniola] were totally deprived of their freedom and were put in the harshest, fiercest, most horrible servitude and captivity which no one who has not seen it can understand. Even beasts enjoy more freedom when they are allowed to graze in the fields… I sometimes came upon dead bodies… and upon others who were gasping and moaning in their death agony, repeating “Hungry, hungry.” And this was the freedom, the good treatment and the Christianity the Indians received.

To me the last line of this excerpt from Las Casas is quite profound. “This was the freedom, the good treatment and the Christianity the Indians received.”

It is easy for us to look back into history and make claims about how sad it is that the Christian faith would have done something like this. And while the genocide of millions of Natives, done partly in the name of Nationalism, partly in the name of Christendom, but mostly in the name of a deadly concoction of the two, will never happen again, it should keep us ever on the alert.

This is in fact the past that has created the present. To claim that we have completely disowned the ever-tempting desires that so indulged the conquests of early America is to lose oneself in the ignorance that plagues our progression as a democratic society.

The reason we tell stories of these atrocities is not to condemn or judge those who engaged in them. It is to recognize, for the sake of the victims (that are, perhaps not surprisingly, struggling at such an alarming rate today), that they happened. But also, to ask ourselves how we, a people largely influenced by the same religious, nationalistic, and moral implications that early conquerers were, might be engaging in the same behavior in the world today.

When, in the name of Nationalism, do we support violent military excursions? When, in the name of Christendom, do we withhold basic rights from those we disagree with? When, in the name of morality, do we label the poor as “lazy individuals that got what they deserve?”

When we understand the sinful desires that are so deeply embedded within all of us, and are so numerously displayed throughout history, we can better re-examine ourselves and the way we think about the world.

As Christians, we have lost Christ in the name of Christendom. As Americans, we have lost the meaning of freedom in the name of Nationalism.

Let us get back to freedom. Not freedom for ourselves, but freedom for our sisters and brothers who have been neglected, forgotten, and buried underneath a wealthy, worshipping chorus of the “American Dream.”

Let us get back to Christ. Not the Christ that the Church has chosen to recognize over the last seventeen centuries. But the radical Middle Eastern peacemaker that so vigorously challenged the wealthy, the defenders, and the powerful.

(Image – From a stamp engraved on copper by Th. de Bry, 1590: “Discovery of America, 12 May, 1492, Christopher Columbus erects the cross and baptizes the Isle of Guanahani by the Christian Name of St. Salvador.”)

Why Bother with Politics?

In The Republic, Plato imagines human beings chained for the duration of their lives in an underground cave, knowing nothing but darkness. Their gaze is confined to the cave wall, upon which shadows of the world are thrown. They believe these flickering shadows are reality. If, Plato writes, one of these prisoners is freed and brought into the sunlight, he still suffers great pain. Blinded by the glare, he is unable to see anything and longs for the familiar darkness. But eventually his eyes adjust to the light. The illusion of the tiny shadows is obliterated. He confronts the immensity, chaos, and confusion of reality. The world is no longer drawn in simple silhouettes. But he is despised when he returns to the cave. He is unable to see in the dark as he used to. Those who never left the cave ridicule him and swear never to go into the light lest they be blinded as well.

-Chris Hedges

Politics

There is a sector of the American population in which politics – at least in the current American system – have little impact on their lives. These people are usually well-off from a money standpoint, and likely live in a nice neighborhood with a good family– the iconic “American Dream” scenario. To these groups, politics just means unnecessary conflict and disagreement. Politics are disruptions to the otherwise stable and joy-filled lives they already inhabit.

Then there is another sector of the American population which cares very little about politics. This is the group that doesn’t realize the impact it has. Whether that be because of their economic situation – lacking the proper resources to stay engaged in the world – their lack of education, or perhaps just plain apathy, this group fails to understand the importance of their role in a (semi) democratic state.

On the other hand there are those that care deeply about politics. These groups can come from a variety of different bases. Some choose to wrap themselves up in the emotions of nationalistic pride. For these people, the love of military, defense, and security keeps politics of the utmost importance. These are the individuals that have to conceal-and-carry their gun to church or out to eat because they are so afraid of who might attack them. This group also thinks this way from the standpoint of the country as a whole. They believe that any cut to the military budget, even though America already spends more than the next eight countries combined on their military (that includes authoritarian/nationalist governments like China and Russia), will immediately render America susceptible to foreign crime. This is interesting to me considering the United States has military bases in 63 countries worldwide, as well as by far the most military spending of any country in the world. Yet that did not stop 9/11 from happening. It lends one to believe that perhaps maybe American global imperialism and militarism provoked 9/11 more than anything else. Beyond this, Americans own by far the most guns of any other country. Interestingly enough, we also experience an extraordinary amount of mass shootings in comparison to any other countries. For some reason, many Americans hold dear to this idea that more military power will mean less violence. Unfortunately, it has only led to large amounts of mass murders and millions and millions of innocent civilian deaths. Confusing as it may be, there is a large number of the population that defines America through the lens of the military.

Another group finds politics important because it can be a tool for maintaining and enforcing values that they might find important. This is the conservative evangelical wing. The group that showed unprecedented support for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. While this group shares much overlap and can often even be combined with the nationalistic sector, they have other issues that are more important. Since Ronald Reagan, this group has fought relentlessly on three issues: Abortion, gay marriage, and crime. For some, being pro-life is all that a candidate really needs to be. Well, pro-life is somewhat misleading. Pro-life for unborn babies. Not pro-life for undocumented immigrants and children, drug addicts, poor folks, criminals, minorities, Muslims, the environment and its wildlife, or the innocent civilians that are killed in American military excursions. So, in other words, not really pro-life at all. Again, strange as it may sound, this group has found value in politics through its joining of the idealistic crusade of preserving their Christian ideals.

Another group that finds politics important is those of the free market. These are the millionaire and billionaire corporate powers and rich individuals throughout the country that can never have enough money or power. In reality, these are the people that run America. It is not the people or the legislatures or even the president. It is this group. The group that gives millions and millions of dollars to the politicians that create laws, allowing them to have less regulations, less taxes, and more wealth. This does not have an effect on the upper middle class and beyond, which is why nobody complains about it. What this means is that America is no longer all that democratic. People might help vote individuals into particular positions. But once they are in, they have don’t have any say on policy. The billionaire cooperations have the say. And it is quite consistent that in the American government, legislatures do what those billionaire cooperations tell them to do. Thus, this is quite an important base.

There is however a small base that believes politics are important for something other than greed and corporate power, military prowess, and religious conservatism. This viewpoint, I believe, is why every person should engage in the world that we live in and find value in politics, even if it might mean disagreeing with a friend or family member. Because, in truth, politics affects the lives of individuals throughout the world. By neglecting to act and engage in what is true and beneficial for others, just for the sake of maintaining your own satisfaction and comfort with those around you, seems to be a very selfish way of thinking. On top of that, not being able to engage happily with someone who shares a differing view also seems quite childish.

That being said, politics are important because they have an impact on other individuals. As I Christian, I celebrate the fact that I live in a country that, despite its limitations, enables me to speak out for the livelihood of others in a peaceful and loving way. For most of my life, the Christian message of “loving your neighbor” was just something that you do within your community. It meant being kind to others in the community, volunteering for certain community services, maybe adopting a child, donating money to charitable Christian organizations, or many other great things like these. These all are awesome and amazing things that each person should maintain as fundamentally important. I have a deep respect for anyone who has chosen to adopt a child, engage in community service, participate in work trips, donate large sums of money, etc. These are amazing acts of love.

But often, engaging in politics gets pushed to the side. This leads us to having little knowledge of politics and the world we live in, and eventually, either not really caring at all about politics or hopping on one of the two sides with little knowledge of the implications of the policies that the side may stand for.

This is when, for example, Christians might take the message of Christ and intermingle it with the message of military, wealth, or religious conservatism. The reality is Christ was a radical proponent of peace. He was radically critical of large, wealthy institutions. He was highly critical of nationalism. And most of all, he was immensely critical of those who continually engaged in persecution. All things that are phenomenally prominent in the conservative political atmosphere. But, because we make our Christian lives all about how we act in our community and our personal lives, we just hop on the political bandwagon that all other Christians are on. Yet when we sit down and examine the teachings of Christ, often they are completely contrary.

For me, politics are important because it impacts whether we are going to airstrike communities and kill innocent people. I don’t know the people that we might be killing, but I feel for those who lose their lives or those they love, no matter what flag they live under. Brotherhood and sisterhood goes beyond borders.

Politics are important to me because they decide whether or not a child from an undocumented family will have his/her mommy or daddy ripped away from his/her life. Politics are important because they determine if the 80-year-old widow in the house down the street will get the proper health coverage she needs. They are important because they decide whether we want to rehabilitate drug addicts and treat them for it (like seemingly every other country does), rather than send them to prison. Politics decide whether we are going to kill a criminal or allow them to have life, even amidst their mistakes. It decides whether all people will be told that they will be helped when they get injured or sick, not just those who are wealthy enough to pay for it. It decides whether we will say to those that we may disagree with,that they have a right to the same joys and freedoms that many others have. It decides whether or not we are going to knowingly continue to destroy wildlife and the environment. It decides whether we are going to help victims and those who have been wronged.

This is why politics are important. And this is why I encourage you to engage in the world around you, to contact your political representatives, to vote for people that will help others, not just yourself or the wealthy and powerful. You see, that is the great thing about being an American. We have the freedom to be active. And a world that is active and engaged will see the world beyond the self. It will see into the lives of the other.

What Do We Do About Terrorism?

ReThinking Thinking

Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: Stop participating in it.

-Noam Chomsky

My_Lai_massacre

My Lai, 1968

I have written several times in critique of the United States and its inclination to become a police or military force in the world. I’m sure that this has made many uncomfortable. A lot of Americans have grown up with the belief that the United States can solve the problems of other nations and will do so in a just way. This is because most of us have been fed a nationalistic version of American history. The kind that minimizes the conquering of American Indians, slavery, racism, and oppression, and in turn praises victories in war, military excursions, discovery, and invention.

My call for us to question U.S. military action comes not only from an essential aspect of my Christian faith, peace, but also from my reading of history through…

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What Do We Do About Terrorism?

Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: Stop participating in it.

-Noam Chomsky

My_Lai_massacre

My Lai, 1968

I have written several times in critique of the United States and its inclination to become a police or military force in the world. I’m sure that this has made many uncomfortable. A lot of Americans have grown up with the belief that the United States can solve the problems of other nations and will do so in a just way. This is because most of us have been fed a nationalistic version of American history. The kind that minimizes the conquering of American Indians, slavery, racism, and oppression, and in turn praises victories in war, military excursions, discovery, and invention.

My call for us to question U.S. military action comes not only from an essential aspect of my Christian faith, peace, but also from my reading of history through the lens of the “other.” I can already hear the challenges from my patriotic readers: How is the United States supposed to fight terrorism?

First, let me say this. In 2017, politifact did a fact check on violent extremists in the United States since 9/11. The results showed that there have been 85 attacks, with 225 deaths. Of those attacks, 23 were conducted by Islamic extremists, killing 119 individuals. 62 attacks have been conducted by right-wing extremists, killing 106 individuals. For reference, about 750 people have died from lightning strikes since 9/11.

But let me offer some food for thought on this issue and what would be my response to this challenge. If we are ever to decide how we should deal with terrorism, we should first look at how other countries should have dealt with terrorism by the United States. So, lets look at some specific examples: How should the Japanese government have dealt with the United States dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which murdered over 225,000 Japanese civilians. School children, mothers, fathers, teachers, bankers, farmers, grandparents. Akiko Takakuro, who was 20 years old when the bomb was dropped, speaks of what happened:

Many people on the street were killed almost instantly. The fingertips of those dead bodies caught fire and the fire gradually spread over their entire bodies from their fingers. A light gray liquid dripped down their hands, scorching their fingers. I, I was so shocked to know that fingers and bodies could be burned and deformed like that. I just couldn’t believe it. It was horrible. And looking at it, it was more than painful for me to think how the fingers were burned, hands and fingers that would hold babies or turn pages, they just, they just burned away. For a few years after the A-bomb was dropped, I was terribly afraid of fire. I wasn’t even able to get close to fire because all my senses remembered how fearful and horrible the fire was, how hot the blaze was, and how hard it was to breathe the hot air. It was really hard to breathe. Maybe because the fire burned all the oxygen, I don’t know. I could not open my eyes enough because of the smoke, which was everywhere. Not only me but everyone felt the same.  (http://www.hiroshimaremembered.com/history/hiroshima/page14.html)

Not only were many killed instantly, but for decades after, Japanese people have suffered deformities and cancer because of the harmful effects of the bombs. What would have been the appropriate response of the Japanese in that situation?

Or how about in World War II when British and American forces firebombed the completely non-military target of Dresden, killing as many as 135,000 civilians in the process. Victor Gregg, a survivor, recounts his experience:

As the incendiaries fell, the phosphorus clung to the bodies of those below, turning them into human torches. The screaming of those who were being burned alive was added to the cries of those not yet hit. There was no need for flares to lead the second wave of bombers to their target, as the whole city had become a gigantic torch. It must have been visible to the pilots from a hundred miles away. Dresden had no defences, no anti-aircraft guns, no searchlights, nothing. (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/15/bombing-dresden-war-crime)

Or what about American ventures in Vietnam, where we thought we would intervene because we couldn’t stand the thought of communism. It is estimated that some 2 million Vietnamese civilians died throughout the war, and another 5.3 million injured. One of the most horrific events in all of American history occurred in a village in Vietnam called My Lai, where around 450 unarmed civilians – women, children, and the elderly – were murdered, raped, and mutilated by American soldiers. Efforts by the U.S. military and government were quickly undertaken to prevent any word of this getting out. In part, they succeeded. Lt. William Calley was the only member of the American troops to be charged with a crime. His sentence: Three and a half years of house arrest.

What must have been the appropriate response of the Vietnamese people after this act of terrorism?

And we can go further, to the Contras in Nicaragua, where the Reagan administration funded and sent military backing to fight alongside the right-winged terrorist group, known as the Nicaraguan Resistance. This resistance, with the help of the U.S. military, fought against the socialist backed Nicaraguan government, committing over 1,300 terrorist attacks, with more than 70,000 political killings in El Salvador, 100,000 in Guatemala, and 30,000 in Nicaragua. Father Miguel D’Escoto, who lived through the experience during the 1980’s, describes his feelings for Ronald Reagan:

First of all, let me start out by saying that, of course, Reagan is now dead. And I, for one, would like to say only nice things about him. I’m not insensitive to the feelings of many U.S. people mourning president Reagan, but as I pray that god in his infinite mercy and goodness forgive him for having been the butcher of my people, for having been responsible for the deaths of some 50,000 Nicaraguans, we cannot, we should not ever forget the crimes he committed in the name of what he falsely labeled freedom and democracy. (https://www.democracynow.org/2004/6/8/reagan_was_the_butcher_of_my)

How should the Nicaraguan government have responded to this act of terrorism by the United States?

And finally, we arrive to today, where American anti-Islamic airstrikes have plundered the Middle East for the past several decades. And contrary to its efforts, has ironically not solved the problems to attain world peace. Different terrorist groups are rising up, and each has a deeper hatred for the United States than the next. American politicians hype up the success of these military actions but downplay the innocent killing of civilians, brushing those off as “collateral damage.” It doesn’t matter if we killed a few hundred innocent people in an airstrike, at least we are ending terrorism! Shockingly, the fighting terrorism with terrorism tactics have not been as successful as most think.

While we can continue going down the line on horrible atrocities committed by the United States, we can also choose to look at the amazing individuals who have chosen to fight for peace. People like Martin Luther King Jr., who not only fought for civil rights, but was also extremely vocal about fighting against the Vietnam War. Or Eugene Debs, a socialist presidential candidate who spoke out against military involvement in World War I and was sentenced to ten years in prison for speaking out against the American government. Or Dorothy Day, a Catholic social justice activist who was beat, clubbed, and imprisoned for her protests against World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. And of course, Bob Dylan. Listening to his songs (“Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “With God on Our Side,” the list goes on and on…) one will quickly understand the role he played in the peace movement.

There are many others who have been willing to suffer the consequences that come from fighting against the military regimes of the world’s greatest power. Because of this, we have hope. Our nation is filled with those willing to take a stand for peace, even in the face of immense persecution, hatred, or ostracization.

For us, we need to be those people. The people willing to come out against military action. To say that the answer to terrorism is not terrorism. And when we come to the ever so difficult question as to what to do about terrorism, we must first ask ourselves how we believe other nations should have responded to American terrorism. Because the boy in Hiroshima is our son. The girl in My Lai is our daughter. The families who face the continuing military barrage by American forces are our brothers and sisters. They are not as politicians like to say, “collateral damage.” When we can address this question reasonably, then, maybe then, we might obtain the right answer and truly begin the long road to peace.

 

A Response to the State of the Union

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

-Howard Zinn

Trump

On Tuesday night I watched President Trump’s State of the Union address. While I didn’t cringe at everything the President said during his address, I found a large portion of it quite unsettling. I thought I would address a few of Trump’s comments that I found quite troubling. Keep in mind this is not just what I find troubling about President Trump but where I see fundamental problems in American society as well.

In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is “in God we trust.”

In 1782, Congress officially established the phrase E Pluribus Unum – Out of many, one – as the official motto for America. But, in 1956, Congress passed a new act which made the phrase “In God We Trust” the new official motto. Through PBS’s American Experience, an episode was done called “God in America.” The show addresses how this phrase, “In God We Trust,” had become America’s national motto in 1956. At the heart of the issue was the overwhelming support in Washington for a rebellion against the godless, communist, Soviet Union during the Cold War, and an alliance between the powerful church leader, Reverend Billy Graham and President Dwight D. Eisenhower to combine the message of God, with the message of patriotism. As historian Frank Lambert explains, “the motto reclaims this notion that we’re a chosen people and that we were conceived under God and that we flourish under God, and we turn our backs on God at our own peril.”

As Americans, we should be ever weary of our nation’s tendency to intermingle faith and nationalism. Not only does this give way to a watered down version of what faith is, but it also lays the foundation for the violence, hatred, and oppression of the idealistic crusades that have been the embodiment of American history. Native Americans, African Americans, communism, abortion, drugs, Islam, homosexuals, undocumented immigrants, and many others.

The American nation is not a chosen nation. Our motto may be “In God We Trust,” but when I see that, I see a god of power, military, security, wealth, and law and order. I don’t see the God that prays forgiveness for those putting him on a cross. Or a God that says “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I see a giant military beast, ready to use any tactics of violence and oppression to make sure everyone is behaving the way it thinks they should. If that is the god we are supposed to trust in, count me out.

Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

This was a great thing that this young boy did. So many have sacrificed so much for our country, and they deserve the honor and respect that Preston chose to give them. But Trump had to make this boy’s kind deeds into an attack on Black NFL players who protested during the national anthem.

I hope a day will come when white people can find it within themselves to understand that a white individual’s understanding of American history (and thus, the flag), is a lot different than a Black individual’s understanding of American history. Everyone knows that we had slavery and that was a bad thing. But, of course, we’re past that, right? Well, no, we are not. As white people, we have to live with the mistakes that our ancestors chose to make. And the mistake wasn’t just slavery. It was slavery followed by decades of hateful oppression, violence, and injustice. And as descendants of this troubling history, we have to deal with the consequences of our complicated past. Today, black individuals find themselves in higher poverty, higher incarceration, and much less likely to find work than the average white individual. But to deal with this troubling issue, is not to spit back in the faces of those whom have experienced these consequences. To me, it is troubling that we have a president that refuses to understand anything beyond the white, nationalistic vision of American history.

We are defending our Second Amendment, and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.

I found this so interesting, yet telling that the defending of our Second Amendment is lumped into the same category as protecting our religious liberty. Here, Trump, who is clearly speaking to his conservative evangelical base, is essentially saying, “We are allowing you to keep your assault rifles, and protecting and enforcing the fundamentals of Christian ethics in America!”

To me, this is sickening. First, the hidden claim that somehow Christianity in America is under some sort of attack. First of all, not one of America’s presidents in all of history have been an atheist, and one could make a strong case for every American president being a Christian. The American people will not elect a president who does not carry the title “Christian.” At least for now. Also an overwhelming majority of the U.S. population identifies as Christian. According to a Pew Research Center study, 70.6% of Americans identify as Christian (http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/). Oh, and the U.S. motto is “In God We Trust.” In other words, Christianity is not under any sort of attack like many Christians like to make it sound. While it likes to make itself sound like a persecuted minority, it is quite clearly the majority. Unfortunately, a majority that, throughout history, has continually found itself being the persecutor, rather than the persecuted.

We have ended the war on American Energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.

Most conservative politicians have now at least accepted that climate change is happening. They just claim that it is caused by natural occurrences instead of human pollution, CO2 emissions, and high releases of methane. But Donald Trump refuses to accept that climate change is happening at all. Moreover, he is willing to take an active part in polluting and destroying the natural world, and taking over lands of native peoples for the sake of the power and wealth of big American cooperations.

My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.

Here’s the crusade against the non-American (unchosen) children that did not choose to be born here.

Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.
For this reason, I am asking the Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.
As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression. Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.
To me, this is the most troubling of all. That as a nation we have gotten to the point where our attempt at peace is not to rid ourselves of the materials that actively and continually delay the peace, but to make more weapons, so that everyone will be afraid of us. Our solution to peace is to become the almighty power, the worldly beast.
It is at times like this that we would do well to listen to the words of a man that walked the earth 2,000 years ago, when he told us, “those who live by the sword die by the sword,” and “if someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.”
The economy is doing very well. More people have jobs. For this, I am grateful. But the state of our Union will never be something that we can be proud of until we finally choose the poor over the wealthy. Peace, over violence. Humility and understanding, rather than power and nationalism. And love, over security.