Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Money for **** and not for war

Justin Bronson Barringer - one of the editors for A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, a student of theology, a Christian mensch, and a Facebook friend - did me a good turn one time by reading my outlandishly long book and writing a pithy blurb for the jacket. So I owe him one.  This morning, he sent me a message on FB:  "Hey brother, I was wondering how much you know about public policy as it relates to the military-industrial complex. Do you know enough to write about alternative public policies that could both strengthen economy and prevent war?"

Headed out to work, I shot back a two word reply:  "big order."  But as I got to thinking about this throughout the day, the question - which I have given some thought - kept coming back, as well as my desire to do what I could to continue the conversation Justin had started. So this one is for you Justin.

It is pretty easy for me to morally justify arguments against militarism generally, against war, against violence, and against the kind of masculinity that underwrites the idea of violence as somehow redemptive.  As I said, I just wrote a pretty long book about that.  But when the question of what is to be done comes up, or more precisely, what is to be done by Americans, or even more specifically, what is to be done with public policy in the United States - here and now - then this gets complicated . . . which is why I have so little patience with sloganeering, like "Money for Schools and Not for War," or "Money for Health Care and Not for War, or "Money for Jobs and Not for War."

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sabbatical orientation & catastrophe

There is little reason to think that we are ethically superior to the Europeans of the 1930s and 1940s.

-Timothy Snyder

In his recent article for The Guardian, Timothy Snyder challenges the notion that modern Western society - post World War II - has a more well-developed "moral instinct" than the Germans who flocked to the banner of the Fuehrer.  While I agree with several of his theses in this article, I disagree with several more. These points of agreement include his claim above that we are every bit as susceptible to generalized moral failure as the Germans of the 30s and 40s.

Friday, December 25, 2015

decisions and revisions

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

Some of you know the poem.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Chickenhawk thang

Two days after the freak-show misnamed a 'debate,' facebook - where I spend entirely too much time - is being populated by a picture of the Republican hopefuls lined up on the stage, with bold white text reading: "Lots of tough-guy war talk but not one single veteran.

This is the chickenhawk thang.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How guns make people stupid

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

1 John 4:18

When I was growing up, our Mother prohibited us calling anyone 'stupid.'  I am not at all sure why, but I'd speculate this epithet was used against her when she was a child, and she remembered the hurt.  So even though I sometimes use the term now that I'm - shall we say - an elder, I am still more circumspect than many about when and how I apply it.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gaudete Sunday

Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." 

Luke 3:15-16

The signature scene in one of my favorite films - Children of Men - is during a pitched battle between British armed forces and the various rebellious factions within a massive and brutal concentration camp for refugees.  Years earlier, for reasons no one can explain, human beings lost the capacity to give birth, and the world's youngest person is eighteen years old.  In this milieu of hopelessness, the violence between people, groups, and institutions has continued and even been amplified.  Then one woman, a young African refugee in Britain, finds herself pregnant.  She has her child, with the assistance of her companion - a dissipated former political activist - in the camp, and is fleeing a shot-up building in the middle of this battle, when - as she carries the bay through the din - everyone who sees the baby stops fighting, falling silent, even dropping to their knees.  For a blessed few minutes, the mere appearance of this infant stops the fighting.  Then the child passes out of view, and a shot rings out behind our trio, igniting the battle afresh.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The T Word

Some words, even if they bewilder more than they explain, get used like an '89 Accord.  In politics - this is the stupid season after all - there are many such words, but the one that invites our negative-attention today, damas y caballeros, is the T-word: terrorism.

Most people think they know what they mean by the word, when in fact it is generally applied using an unspoken (and therefore uncritical) standard to those one despises, conveniently ignoring at least three things:  (1) whatever you are describing about an enemy is probably also true of a partisan, (2) whatever you declaring terrorist can probably be more rightly assigned to several other categories that are more specific, intellectually rigorous, and useful to increase understanding through an examination of the history and circumstances, (3) and whatever you are calling 'terrorism' is probably attributable - with at least a bit more rigor - to the phenomenon of war (dare I say it!).

I mean, please, the definition of the term 'terrorism' is "the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims."

It may seem like a peeve, but you hear this term now from left, right, and center, and given that (1)(2), and (3) are true, can we have a moratorium on this?  I know I spend way too much time on facebook, and perhaps that is why I've reached a saturation point for bumper sticker political wisdom (oxymoron anyone?).

If you can't do a better job of defining and contextualizing something than to call out 'terrorism," maybe it's time to stand down for a bit.  Reminds me of a Pee-wee Herman skit:  "I know ya are, but what am I?"

Please stop.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Emanuel, Black Voters, Clinton, Sanders

It is Advent now, and while the entire season has been commercialized and sentimentalized, it is historically a political season.  Today's lectionary includes a reading from Luke, wherein John the Baptist is raising hell in the periphery against a backdrop of imperial rule.

 photo taken by members of Chicago PD

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Veterans Day - again

At Mass this past Sunday, before we began, one of our priests asked everyone who had been in the Armed Forces of the United States to stand, whereupon those standing received vigorous applause.  With very few exceptions, I spent more time in the military than anyone there, and I did not stand.  I did not applaud.  And I struggle several times a year with this dilemma in my church, the only church building in town that does not display an American flag in its sanctuary.  There is one outside, though.  If it were taken down, there would be a scandal so scandalous that few if any would stand up to defend such an action.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The walls begin to crumble. A book review of "Catholic Women Speak"

Catholic Women Speak - Bringing Our Gifts to the Table
Edited by the Catholic Women Speak Network
Paulist Press, 2015

For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

-Ephesians 5:14

This is a remarkable, yet too often unremarked, thing about almost two millennia of history and scholarship within and without the church. Women, as subjects, as persons in their own right, are mainly invisible. . . [F]or Christians, feminism confronts us not with an ideology but with the more tangible and urgent issue of standpoint. The gift that feminism has given us is not a new set of rules but an enhanced capacity for men to know what it is like to stand in a woman’s place, to know more about what it is like to be a woman, to see women. Feminism pulls our recalcitrant hands away from our eyes and insists that we see women—real, enfleshed, breathing, hungering, thinking, feeling, loving women who are imprisoned within the structures of male power, structures both visible and invisible. Feminism calls on us to recognize real women beyond our concupiscent imaginations and outside the vast symbolic universe of that male power. As a body of work by and for women, feminism has taken the fist step by standing where women stand to look at a world that men command; and the view is astonishingly different.

from the Preface, Borderline
When I wrote that book, I wrote as a Catholic man, calling myself and other Christian men to repentance (to "turn around"). The irony, I suppose, is that I myself am incapable of providing the firsthand account of the standpoints of women. The good news is that there is a new book, by forty-four Catholic women (and one man), from around the world and many walks of life, that does exactly that.

Assembled almost on the run, with a generous fast-track assist from Paulist Press to be published in time for the 2015 Synod on the Family, Catholic Women Speak provides forty short, pithy, thoughtful reflections on precisely those concerns that are being ostensibly addressed by the Synod: sex, marriage, family. That skeptical qualifier "ostensibly" refers to the fact that voting members of the Synod are 279 males, with only 30 women as non-voting "auditors." And so this book stands (Hier steh ich?) outside the door of the Synod as a testament to those who are not at the table. All these many years, now, with a body of men, surrounded by other men, citing an ancient pagan Greek man's version of "natural law," explaining to women what it means to be a woman - a kind of two-millennia of mansplaining

I won't spoil the book by detailing each of the remarkable midrashes in this book or their specific subject matter; but we can do a fly-over.

In Jesuit Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator's Foreward, he writes:
In every voice there is a story.  And every story is unique. The narratives voiced by contributors to this anthology are at times joyful and jolting, consoling and painful, exhilarating and exasperating. They tell of the 'joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties' that Catholic women live and experience in multiple forms of human sexuality, family, marriage, and relationships. They lament the painful exclusion, violence, and poverty that compound these experiences, and question the institutions and structures that sustain them, but without abandoning faith and hope - that each story will be heard, received, and affirmed, with compassion, mercy, and humility.

The reflections in this book are divided, following Fr. Orobator's introduction, into four parts:  (1) Traditions and Transformations, (2) Marriage, Family, and Relationships, (3) Poverty, Exclusion, and Marginalization, and (4) Institutions and Structures.

The contributors are, in addition to Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, are Sr. Anne Arabome, Olive Barnes, Tina Beattie, Amelia Beck (nom de plume), Pippa Bonner, Agnes M. Brazal, Lisa Sowell Cahill, Anna Cannon, Catherine Cavanaugh, Julie Clague, Rachel Espinoza, Margaret Farley, Madeleine Fredell, Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, Cristina Lledo Gomez, Sr. Janette Gray, Katie Grimes, Nontando Habede, Ursula Halligan, Emma Jane Harris, Tawny Horner, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, Alison Concannon Kennedy, Ursula King, Sr. Trish Madigan, Sara Maitland, Cettina Miletello, Rhonda Miska, Sr. Mary Aquin O'Neill, Jean Porter, Carolina Del Río, Lucetta Scaraffia, Christine Schenk, Giovanna Solari-Masson, Janet Martin Soskice, Sophie StanesPatricia Stoat, Ana Lourdes Suárez, Eve Tushnet, Clare Watkins, Margaret Watson, Deborah Woodman, and Sr. Gabriela Zengarini.

The pieces in this anthology are quite short, ranging from two to five pages, making it ideal in many ways for small group book studies. (hint hint) The language is generally accessible, though there are frequent abbreviated references to various Church documents. The editors, however, have thoughtfully included an index of those abbreviations just after the Introduction.

In the part 1 Traditions and Transformations Introduction it states:
The last half century has seen a global revolution in the self-understanding of women, a dramatic change that poses many challenges to historical institutions, cultures, and religions.The Catholic Church has played a major role in the empowerment of women through education, and it remains a provider of health care to poor women and girls. Nevertheless, women are still subordinate to men in all the Church's institutions and structures.

This diplomatic tone is maintained throughout the book by all the authors.  This does not mean the content is evasive. As Ursula King pointedly writes, "Will Catholic women ever be fully recognized? Will they be encouraged to make their full contribution to the intellectual life of the Church and, more importantly still, will women become real coequals and copartners in shaping the Catholic intellectual tradition? That is what will count in the end."

In a sense, she and the other contributors to this volume answer that question.  Rather than wait another thousand or so years for powerful church men to willingly abandon their shifting rationalizations for male dominance, and eschew that power themselves in the likeness of Christ, these women are entering the spaces created (thankfully) by the fall of Christendom - a system of power that was always self-consciously male-dominant - and engaging those intellectual traditions.  Sometimes, with support.  More often, against resistance.  But that horse will never go back into the barn.

This is the hope that this book gives me, not merely in its publication, but in its intentional timing. It is holding a mirror up the male power structure within the church precisely when, in every other field, the new Pope is calling the Church to repentance for its unseemly and oftentimes corrupt alliances with power. The retrenched position of patriarchal apologists has been to criticize the flaws of liberalism (a critique I enthusiastically share), and then to put an equal sign between liberalism and feminism. This is a cynical and sly fallacy. Many of the contributors to this book are fluent in Thomism and other Catholic philosophical traditions, and they show clearly that this language can be wielded against male domination, as soon as we abandon the discredited Aristotelian excuses for male power that are stilled tucked away within the larger concept of "natural law." As many feminists have shown, as and many contributors to this book show again, one can demonstrate the errors in patriarchal intellectual traditions without resort to liberal categories. Moreover, there are abundant feminist critiques of liberalism - inside and outside the Church - that show liberalism itself to be yet another masculinist (and warlike) epoch.

Julie Clague, in her "Views from the Pews" essay in this book, quotes Sensus Fidei, a document published by the Vatican's International Theological Comission in 2014:
Problems arise when the majority of the faithful remain indifferent to doctrinal or moral decisions taken by the magisterium or when they positively reject them. This lack of reception may indicate a weakness or a lack of faith on the part of the people of God, caused by an insufficiently critical embrace of contemporary culture. [True, but all feminism is not that.] But in some cases it may indicate that certain decisions have been taken by those in authority without due consideration of the experience and the sensus fidei of the faithful, or without sufficient consultation of the faithful by the magisterium. (Emphasis added)
Which is precisely what is taking place when 279 men make decisions about the Church's "position" on matters that go to the heart of relations between men and women as men and women (and yes, the issue of "sexual orientation" is, at bottom, about sexual norms and their roles in the reproduction of male power), with 30 non-voting women on the sidelines. It is this glaring contradiction that is exposed by Catholic Women Speak, in one midrash after another by faithful Catholic women. 

The political power of the Church during Christendom is gone and can no longer serve as an outer bulwark for the citadel of male power in Rome.  What's left is this hypocrisy, these transmogrifying intellectualizations, this institutional inertia combined with control over a vast administrative apparatus. And the women outside these eroding walls are awake. 

Catholic Women Speak is calling on us all to wake up.
So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.
-1 Thessalonians 5:6

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Veterans, Narratives, and Suicide

I hate that anyone commits suicide.  My very young great nephew did just that a couple of years ago when he was informed he would have to return to prison; and that single act still ramifies with pain throughout the family.  The reasons people do this are manifold, but I want to write something about veterans of the armed forces and suicide, because there are a couple of narratives out there that have legs, and they are deceptive narratives.  I am a veteran, and I can't seem to escape that category (much as I'd like to), so I suppose I'm writing as a veteran.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

F**k (a very short blog post)

That word.  The F-bomb.  Been thinking about it, and a conversation I had about this with De Clarke years ago.

I am trying to stop using it.  It's not easy, because it was a key part of my vocabulary for so long.

It's not that I'm trying to be prudish (though prudence is a virtue) or self-righteous (how could I after having used the word around 20 million times).  I've just grown uncomfortable with how the word associates sex (it means sex in one context) and hostility or aggression (F**k you!  Get f**ked!  You are f**king me over! etc).

It can feel liberating for kids or even women in rebellion, edgy, hip, emphatic.  We use it as a way of amplifying our feelings in speech.  (I hate this f**king car!)  We can use it to intimidate.  (You got anything to say, motherf**ker!)  We can use it in the throes of passion. (Ooohh, f**k me!)  Any of you can add onto the applications from your own experience.

But at the end of the day, it is its sexual meaning that gives the term its special force.  And this is the problem I see with it.  We do associate sex with domination and aggression, and given the way that women and men are seen as do-er and done-to (even though sometimes we have androgynized the term - "Let's f**k."), it makes the do-er into the aggressor, the hater, and it makes the done-to the "receptive" one, the aggressed-upon, the dominated, the despised.

I wonder if we aren't reinscribing this association every time we blurt out this word.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Notes on Laudato Si

Seek Truth.  Make Peace.  Reverence Life.  The trinity of guidelines for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, my friends and part-time employers.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thanks, Johnny Walker

Not the whiskey.  Whoever wrote that nice review for Amazon.  Reposting the review with gratitude:

It's likely that only Stan Goff could have written this book - and thank God that he did. Reading through the some 400 pages of Borderline is akin to sitting with your doctor as she relays diagnosis after diagnosis of your sick and failing body. The pages are often jarring and unsettling, disclosing secrets you'd rather remain blind to, yet they are desperately needed and therapeutic - even if the therapy is painful. Whenever someone committed to the church and its Lord exposes the ways the church has failed to be faithful to God's gracious Word, we ought to humbly receive this chastisement as the merciful discipline of God. To confess Christ as Lord is to stand under his judgment, which, as Rowan Williams puts it, is to receive the truth "about us as human beings implicated in a network of violence and denial" (OCT, 81).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Muscle dysmorphia

Jot that down.  Another excellent example of how the radical medical monopoly - with psychiatrists now as our priests - uses naming to achieve its power.  An improvement, we might suppose, over the Adonis complex, what this so-called personal "disorder" used to be named in our post-Freudian period.  At least the language of the psychiatrists has made space for the non-Adonis women who exhibit the same behaviors described for men in this diagnosis.

But the pathology is not individual.  It is cultural; and this complex or disorder is, in fact, a symptom of that cultural pathology, this indeed very sick social order.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Future, Donald Trump, and 9-11 - bits and pieces

Monsignor Ivan Ilich's phatic outburst:  "To hell with the future.  It is a man-eating idol."

What's in the future is death.  At least part of it.  On my mind lately. People I love are sick or dying.  It's not a unique situation.  This is what getting older is, apart from the more self-involved stuff we notice about our declining personal vigor and and fading good looks.  Time, in this world, will always bring loss.  Life, in a broken world, is often loss.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Orgasmic Whump - an excerpt for Hiroshima Day

Two bits from Borderline today, the anniversary of the first atomic bomb being used to kill tens of thousands of men, women, and children.

Weapons are masculine threat displays:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Anti-Essentialism = The New Essentialism

Venturing into dangerous territory here.  There is this term which has become embedded in a kind of academic dogma to such an extent that it can be used as an epithet.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

142-45, Borderline


Karl Polanyi described disembedding as the ready relocation of people away
from a network of nonmarket relationships and direct participation in the
community into un-familiar (sharing a word root with family) surround-
ings. The person is resituated in an impersonalized milieu determined by
money, market abstractions, and industrial monoculture. 9 Polanyi said we
are re-embedded in that more impersonal milieu, where the market rules
as the only form of economy, and where we are now captive to that mar-
ket—which leaves us metaphysically disembedded in the sense used by Ma-
cIntyre. Instead of being embedded in community, kinship, and tradition,
we become “resources,” which can be bought and sold on the market. We
live in a society where nearly everything has been converted into a com-
modity, including ourselves. Want, even hunger, now impels us from place
to place like interchangeable parts. 10

Sunday, June 21, 2015

NCR's Colman McCarthy reviews BORDERLINE

from National Catholic Reporter, June 19-July 2, 2015

Pacifism, feminism - and Catholicism
Former soldier's essays reveal a truth-seeker

Reviewed by Colman McCarthy

Borderline - Reflections on War, Sex, and Church
by Stan Goff
Published by Cascade Books

In his pre-Christian past, which is most of his life, Stan Goff was a career soldier who stoutly carried out American foreign policy by obeying orders to inflict violence on human beings in Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, and other combat zones.  In two Army tours between 1970 and 1996, the San Diego native was a paratrooper who leapt from planes more than 400 times, a sniper; and a member of Airborne Ranger  and Special forces groups.

Monday, June 1, 2015


This morning I did an interview with WBAI at 6:30 AM.  I will not to that again.  I am not awfully bright about a lot of things at any time of the day; but I am pretty dim about most things at 6:30 AM.

The interview was about my book, Borderline, and I had some notes with which to summarize the book itself - a Good Thing - but when it came to answering questions, I was processing things pretty ... haltingly?


or groundhog... depends on where you were raised, I guess.

This is a brief post about an ear-worm.  Backstory:  I am building a community garden in an open field; and yesterday I saw a woodchuck - a teenager (yes, they are called that when the pups are about the size of a pug and begin to seek out their own spots to build burrows).  The pup was no more than twenty feet from where I was working, laying in paths and mulching beds.  The garden won't be open for business until about mid-June, but seeing a juvenile woodchuck - while charming (little, furry things are charming) - is not a good sign for a garden.  These little charmers eat like pigs (ergo, the term ground-HOG), and they love the same things we like to grow in vegetable gardens.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Top 20 & other uproots

Today my facebook feed sent me an article entitled, "Top 20 Places to Retire."

Based on what?


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Pastor Fride and his idol

On Palm Sunday of this year, Reverend Edward Fride, of Christ the King parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan, made himself temporarily famous by announcing during the Mass that the parish would be conducting qualifying classes for parishioners to carry concealed firearms. This announcement was met with some resistance from parishioners, to which Fr. Ed responded with a longish letter explaining his position. That letter exploded across the internet, with titles like, “Priest tells flock to pack heat.” This dust-up, in turn, compelled the Bishop of Lansing to issue a (sensible, in my view) cease-and-desist directive to Fr. Ed on gun training in the parish.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hondo Hillary - 10

The Colonial Surrogates
If you want to understand who is the true power behind the Honduran coup, you need to find out who is paying Lanny Davis.

-Robert White, former US Ambassador to El Salvador
If you begin with the military sector, the Honduran coup makers can be sub-divided generally by tasks: military tasks, financial tasks, political tasks, and media tasks. The old “send guns, money, and lawyers” trope. Just add, “send well-heeled media.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hondo Hillary - 9

The Coup in Tegucigalpa

There’s a lot of work to do for a coup to be consolidated.

The consolidation phase had failed in Venezuela – in large part through the strategic error of listening to a few bought Generals telling the coup-makers the armed forces would follow the leader. It didn’t hurt that this is what the coup-makers wanted to believe. The young officers and the rank-and-file stood by the new popular Constitution, and one of the three legs to the coup collapsed.
It’s formulaic in the extreme to break coups down this way, so I’ll declaim early.

The three-leg theory of coup-making is necessary but certainly not sufficient to explain this highly complex enterprise. Those three legs are the three dimensions of destabilization: economic disruption and imposed scarcity, political turmoil, and the willing participation of the most powerful military/security institutions.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hondo Hillary - 8

Reagan’s Raiders

Beginning with Haiti, we can work back to the Reagan years; and we will see that many of the coup cadre under review on Honduras worked for both Reagan and the Bush dynasty.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hondo Hillary - 7

Anatomy and Sequence of the Modern Coup

The Murder of Luis Rolando Valenzuela Ulloa


On July 1, 2010, Adrienne Pine, and American academic and activist working in Honduras, penned her suspicions in an article for the online site “Honduras Culture and Politics,” called “Honduran suspicions of US complicity in the coup.” (Part 2) With the coup still shrouded in official secrecy, she was simply recounting what she heard on the Honduran street. One of the stories on the street was that Rolando Valenzeula had been murdered.
The North American ambassador accredited to Tegucigalpa, Hugo Llorens, did know about the coup d’Etat against Manuel Zelaya Rosales, the ex-minister of the Zelaya administration, Roland Valenzuela, revealed days before his death, in an interview broadcast by the journalist Ernesto Alonso Rojas, in a local radio station of the city of San Pedro Sula.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hondo Hillary - 6

Another One-Trick Pony (The Coup Cadre)

We have talked about how the Fed has but one trick to command the economy (raising and lowering interest rates).  Recently they discovered one more trick that is a form of temporary trauma management in the wake of 2008, called quantitative easing, which basically puts off the inevitable - making the rich richer in the meantime (the Dow as I write this is soaring past 18,000 as the printing presses roll) - and ensures it will be much worse for the rest of us when the trick hits its limit.  That is not the topic of this series, but there is much being said about it elsewhere.

Hondo Hillary - 5

[A] Hillary Clinton coronation would mean a Democratic nominee with close ties to Wall Street and the neoliberal wing of the party. . ."

-Noam Scheiber

Neoliberalism – A Short History

The notion that a great expansion of the size of ‘capital markets’ is a symptom of positive trends in capitalist production is as false as imagining that a vast expansion of the insurance industry is a sign that the world is becoming a safer place.

-Peter Gowan
In the Beginning…

Hondo Hillary - 4

"If Hillary Clinton is a feminist, I'm a Franciscan fighter pilot.  She's a me-first, mean-spirited male impersonator."

-Philomena Foat

(Last episode, we began our explication of neoliberalism.  Going to motive . . .)

The Neoliberal Theology

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hondo Hillary - 3

Introduction to a Different Story

This is a story, based on some facts… different than the stories we hear from the media.  Facts can be arranged to make a story.  The media had one story.  This is another.

On June 28th, 2009, the legitimately elected and popular President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was dragged out of bed in his pajamas by Honduran soldiers, bound and beaten, flown out of Honduras using the US military’s Soto Cano airfield, and sent into exile. There was immediate and universal condemnation of the coup, including from the United States. President Barack Obama condemned the coup (without ever calling it a coup). So did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The story faded from the news. The Hondurans had some kind of election. Everything is okay now.

Hondo Hillary - 2

This page is incomplete, but we will continue to add the photos and links as we go.  This is simply preparation for the rest of the series, which we will begin immediately.

Cast of Characters
(alphabetical order)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

War, Sex, & Yoder

Today's National Catholic Reporter - Online carried an article announcing that the Mennonite Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana has officially apologized (to victims) for its role in evading the issue for decades of pacifist theologian John Howard Yoder's actions as a serial sexual predator.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Study Guide: 'Borderline - Reflections on War, Sex, and Church'

This study guide for Borderline - Reflections on War, Sex, and Church is for two different kinds of people who might study what they read. Some might be obliged to study as formal students in a college or university. Others might study on their own initiative outside any institutional setting. As a result, the book might seem to "talk up" to the average reader with twelve to fourteen years of formal education, even as it seems to "talk down" in its explanations of various ideas and terms to a graduate student in history, philosophy, or theology.  So there is something there to irritate everyone. The intent, however, is not to talk up or down to anyone, but to be accessible enough to both to be a bridge between these two worlds - between those who are very well-schooled and those who are not, but who on their own initiative are raising the kinds of questions that sociology or history or philosophy or theology might raise. So I ask both groups to be tolerant of the book on those accounts. In a sense, the book is intended to be a small contribution to breaking down what a friend once called "the intellectual division of labor."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Haughty Spirit – The Long Fall of Petraeus

The higher the monkey climbs, the more it shows its ass. - Haitian proverb

Once upon a time, back in 2007, I referred in a pretty vitriolic opinion piece to David Petraeus as “Bagwan Petraeus,” such was his mystical swami-status with politicians and media-flaks alike. He was portrayed as a military genius, a warrior-poet, a possible future candidate for the highest office in the United States government.

He is today portrayed as the great man with hamartia, a fatal flaw . . . in the case of Petraeus, lust.

The classic tragedy narrative will probably hold sway now and in the future, because to admit that he was never that great man would expose the group-think stupidity of all those who claimed to see this au naturel emperor's exquisite ensemble in the first place. That would include most of the nation's legislators and most of the nation's well-paid commentariat.

The bald truth is that Petraeus never had an original thought in his life, and every one of his military operations – seen now from comparatively brief hindsight – were worse than failures.

His “genius” book on counterinsurgency was an Army Field Manual – which is to books what a middle school venereal disease warning film is to a documentary. Counterinsurgency doctrine has never worked, except where the strategy was tantamount to genocide, but Petraeus managed to convince any number of people that his boring, overgeneralized, and useless field manual was the work of a martial wunderkind. One honest military critic called it “unreadable.” His military career was relatively undistinguished, and yet people were comparing him to Grant, Pershing, and Eisenhower. He was shot once during a training exercise by an accidental discharge, and he broke his pelvis once when his parachute malfunctioned during a stateside training jump.

Then he was elevated by hype to the Grand Poobah of Iraq, whereupon he initiated a media-strategy called The Surge. The essence of The Surge was, in fact, to bribe the people who were most effectively fighting American troops. He paid them to stop shooting at Americans – for the time. Many of his Surge allies among the Sunni are now fighters with ISIS. The Surge scheme was ultimately aimed at reunifying Iraq (failed), by de-Ba'athification (backfired), and revision of the Constitution to reconcile Shia and Sunni (resulted in civil war). In fact, with The Surge, the Sunni-Shia slaughter massively accelerated, and the victorious Shia so maltreated the Sunni that the recruitment process for ISIS might be said to have begun with The Surge. Pure genius.

David Petraeus is a perfect example of what Alasdair MacIntyre once described with regard to most bureaucratic “experts.” “[E]ffectiveness [is] a quality widely imputed to managers and bureaucrats both by themselves and others, but in fact a quality which rarely exists apart from its imputation.” This explains why bond traders continue to run the world economy, even after they have contributed so substantially to its rot; and it explains why people – past and present – can say something as preposterous as “David Petraeus is a military genius,” without being ridiculed into a fetal position in the closet.

MacIntyre compares the transient signs of managerial success to a jackleg preacher lucky enough to publicly pray for rain at just the moment when a drought ends. Military “science,” just like other social “sciences,” is no science at all, since it cannot formulate the kind of certainties as, for example, the boiling point of water or the trajectory of a satellite's orbit. Expertise, then, is not reflective of predictive knowledge, but of the ability to convince people that one is an expert.

Petraeus's not-so-worshipful acquaintances from the past describe him as a calculating political creature, disliked by subordinates who felt used by him for his own career advancement, exquisitely attuned to the egos of his superiors, and always on the lookout for recognition and advancement. In the psycho-babble of our age – a narcissist, a man for whom others were looking glasses with which he could constantly slake his own insatiable need for affirmation. Perhaps lust is too superficial a verdict, when, with fascinated revulsion, we picture him and his hagiographer, Paula Broadwell, under his oaken desk making the beast with two backs.

Look at me, he says, during his refractory interludes, showing her his “black books.” I am the leader of the Central Intelligence Agency. I know all the big secrets. I am powerful beyond measure.

His first big move in life, upon graduating from West Point – that finishing school on the Hudson – was to marry the Academy Superintendent's daughter, Holly Knowlton – now humiliated by his famous affair with a younger woman.

He is in the news again now, many months after the scandal broke, because he has plead guilty to sharing state secrets with his courtesan – a scandal to civil libertarians, because Petraeus received a slap on the wrist for showing his black books and his peepee, while civic-minded whistleblowers – like Manning, Snowden, Kiriakou, et al – got prison or exile.

I suppose that is a scandal, though I honestly don't care if every state secret there is gets splashed across the front page of every paper in the country. I'm not a patriot in any sense of the word. It's hypocrisy, yes, but is the association between hypocrisy and power really all that shocking? People are raising hell about Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton playing cache-cache with her emails, but few care about the deadly and pivotal role she and her henchman, John Negroponte, played in consolidating the 2009 coup d'etat in Honduras (because it is okay for Democrats to overthrow governments and make war abroad, just not Republicans).

Hypocrisy is not my takeaway from the final impact of King David's fall.

Petraeus is not pathological. He is the norm for all those who can and do rise to power in our time and place. What is closer to a pathology is the way we – regardless of where we fall on anyone's political spectrum – are constantly on the lookout for saviors and experts and Great Leaders. We have surrendered our agency to be clients.

Just as Petraeus was the hopeful Great Leader for some, those of us who aren't casting our gazes along the horizon for a General are casting those same gazes for a Progressive or a Populist or a principled Libertarian. It's the same con. We are, I am, the Client in search of the Great Manager, that someone somewhere who can be “effective.”

The epiphany we should have as we picture David and Paula grunting on the rug is that thinking of Petraeus as the exception is our collective delusion. They are all emperors without any clothes. Their effectiveness “does not [can not] exist apart from its imputation.” A corpse will not be resuscitated no matter who is the chief among the flies.

Only God can do that.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

My book, Borderline – Reflections on War, Sex, and Church, is available from Wipf and Stock Publishers at .

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

the manly lie, or DWFD

So much could be said about the Robert McDonald and Bill O'Reilly flaps.  The former is the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the latter is a professional prevaricator for Fox News.  Actually most Secretaries of Stuff for the federal government are also professional prevaricators, but in this case the two gents in question committed a special kind of sin.  They presented themselves as Dudes Who Face Danger (DWFD) in slightly dishonest ways.

DWFD is a boy-trope.  We men become more manly men when we "face danger," especially the dangers of War.  God save us from probative masculinity, but just as urgently, save us from these adumbrations of manly-men-ness via media-generated archetypes.

Friday, February 20, 2015


the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.

As usual, I am spending too much time on Facebook.  It was twenty below zero this morning, so today I have an excuse.  One of the posts that popped up today was from Benjamin Corey (hat tip to Justin Bronson Barringer), a fairly well-known Christian thinker and blogger, as Christian bloggers go, who has a site called Formerly Fundie.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lenten Links

A note from the Pope for Lent.

A few other links to get us started on Lent.  First, from The Upper Room:

Lent 101

Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.

When is Lent?
It's the forty days before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like a little Easter. Basically, it's about one-tenth of a year (like a tithe of time). Mardi Gras is the day before Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday. This year it's from February 22-April 8 (Easter) 2012.

Mardi Gras? What does that have to do with JESUS?? 

Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday." It refers to the day before Lent starts. Since Lent always starts on a Wednesday, the day before is always a Tuesday. And it's called "Fat" or "Great" because it's associated with great food and parties.
In earlier times, people used Lent as a time of fasting and repentance. Since they didn't want to be tempted by sweets, meat and other distractions in the house, they cleaned out their cabinets. They used up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started, and fixed meals with all the meat available. It was a great feast! Through the years Mardi Gras has evolved (in some places) into a pretty wild party with little to do with preparing for the Lenten season of repentance and simplicity. Oh well. But Christians still know it's origin, and hang onto the true Spirit of the season.

So the real beginning of Lent is Ash Wednesday?
Yes. Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, usually begins with a service where we recognize our mortality, repent of our sins, and return to our loving God. We recognize life as a precious gift from God, and re-turn our lives towards Jesus Christ. We may make resolutions and commit to change our lives over the next forty days so that we might be more like Christ. In an Ash Wednesday service, usually a minister or priest marks the sign of the cross on a person's forehead with ashes.

Why ashes?
In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust/ dirt/ash/whatever. Repentance, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear "sackcloth" (scratchy clothing) to remind them that sin is pretty uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.

Where do the ashes come from?
On what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem while people waved palms and cheered him on. Less then a week later, Jesus was killed. The palms that were waved in joy became ashes of sorrow. We get ashes for Ash Wednesday by saving the palms from Palm Sunday, burning them, and mixing them with a little water (like tears) or oil. It's symbolic.

What do Christians do with ashes?
At an Ash Wednesday service, folks are invited to come forward to receive the ashes. The minister will make a small cross on your forehead by smudging the ashes. While the ashes remind us of our mortality and sin, the cross reminds us of Jesus' resurrection (life after death) and forgiveness. It's a powerful, non-verbal way that we can experience God's forgiveness and renewal as we return to Jesus.

So what is LENT?
At Jesus' baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased." Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit. Where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. During his time there he was tempted by Satan and found clarity and strength to resist temptation. Afterwards, he was ready to begin his ministry.

Next, a short reflection from Debra Dean Murphy.

Here is Amy Laura Hall's piece on having chocolate for Lent on J. Kameron Carrer's blog.

Since this post is mostly for our RCIA folks, and since they are all women this year, I will link to Marie Shebeck's Lenten Reflection on Being a Woman.

A Facebook friend sent me this link for Lent, that highlights social justice.

...and this with the emphasis from Pope Francis on the environmental crisis.

A poem entitled Ash Wednesday, by T. S. Eliot

Luke 4

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”
And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written,
He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’
11 and,
On their hands they will bear You up,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”
12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Men with Guns

They are in the news every day.  Cops, open-carry wingnuts, murderers, career criminals, gangs, military (around the world).  They are an entertainment staple.  You have to sift through television dramas and films and written popular fiction to find the stories that do not prominently feature a man or men with guns, who use the guns to move the story along, and more frequently than not, to redeem the story.  Men with guns are like the water and we are the fish.

Friday, February 13, 2015

We have a book.

Praise the Lord, and thanks to everyone who had a hand in it, directly and indirectly.  You are far too numerous to count.

Borderline, my book on gender, war, and church, rolled off the press today for the first time.   It is a behemoth, numbering 472 pages, so the unit cost is $52 (with an online discount from Cascade Books down to $41.60).

Saturday, February 7, 2015

America, Snipers, and History

Then Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.'

-Matthew 26:52

Sunday, January 18, 2015


This is a very abbreviated history of the last hundred years or so, with a concentration on the last fifty.  It attempts to unpack several seemingly arcane and related topics that have overwhelming significance on our lives and the lives of everyone in the world, even though we often know little about them.

In a recent Facebook conversation, these topics came up, and it occurred to me that Christians have a particular need to discern these issues, because while we are called to direct our actions toward friendship, compassion, and peacemaking, these kinds of actions are often difficult to determine how to take without understanding the context.  This lecture began as a research article I was doing for a publication that went belly-up in 2006, and I updated the piece when I was invited to Penn State to talk about Finance, Food, and Force, the F-words to which the post title refers.  In this post, I will add a few bracketed remarks that further update or clarify the history and the issues.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

RCIA Class - Who is Jesus Christ?

Opening Prayer:

Lord, open our minds and hearts to receive your truth and grace, make us grateful for your abundance and for each other, and govern us with your Holy Spirit.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Let’s talk about context.

“Get down on your knees.”

When you hear that phrase all by itself, what does it mean?  It is a command to kneel, but who is saying it?  Why is he or she saying it?  Where and among whom is this person saying it?  These are questions that provide the context, or the circumstances that give some kind of meaning to this command.  It means something altogether different when it is said by a priest during the liturgy than when it is said by an executioner, or when you are removing bubble gum from your child’s hair.  In each case, there is someone saying, “Get down on your knees,” but the context is different.

When we study the Bible, we need the context.  When we try to glean from the Gospels who is Jesus, we can’t just take what we read at face value, because when these Gospels were written, they were the written form of an oral story that was being passed from person to person, and they were addressed to a specific audience during the first century AD.  Mark was the first Gospel written, and it was addressed to both Jews and Romans at a time when they were at war with one another.  Scholars note that there is some Latin in Mark, indicating contact with Romans.  Matthew was addressed to primarily a Jewish audience as far as scholars can tell.  Luke was addressed to Greek speaking people, many of them Gentiles, because scholars note how he has to explain several Jewish customs.  John was probably addressed to Gentiles who were familiar with both Greek and Aramaic.  In Matthew, Jesus is described most forcefully as the King of the Jews.  In Mark, he is described most forcefully as the Great Servant of God.  In Luke, he is described most forcefully as the Savior of Humanity.  In John, the emphasis is on his status as Son of God.

In our Creed, we say:

For us men and for our salvation
he [God] came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man [Jesus].
For our sake [Jesus] was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.

In this overview in the Creed, between “he was born” and “he was killed and resurrected,” there is a big gap.

What happened in between?  Who was this Jesus of Nazareth, who would be called the Christ, which means the anointed of God, God’s appointed king?  Context:  crucifixion was the Roman punishment for political insurrection, capital punishment for rebels. Why was this man who never carried a weapon, never killed anyone, never called people to armed rebellion, crucified?

Let’s go back now and see who this guy was.  Father Shaun, in his most recent homily, quoted the Jesuit priest James Martin from an article entitled, “Ten things I wish everyone knew about Jesus.”  I’m going to hit his main points, and we’ll look at the a few Bible passages along the way, but look at them in their context as first century Palestine.

1. Jesus was poor.

Poverty does not simply mean without money.  Many people, before money was the main means of exchange, were able to flourish through subsistence activities, hunting, gathering, and growing food for themselves.  Poverty is created when money becomes necessary to live, but money is made scarce to some people.

In first century Palestine, Jewish people had to have money for three things:  Roman taxes, Temple taxes, and debt.  They might have needed money for other things, but many people grew food and traded locally for other goods without using money.  But for these three things, they had to have money.

The Romans demanded money in the form of taxes that were fees for various activities.  To fish in the Sea of Galilee, for example, fishermen had to pay a tax for something like a license to harvest fish.  The Romans used Jewish collaborators to collect these taxes, which were very burdensome.  To be a tax-collector was to be a Jew despised by other Jews.

Temple taxes were paid annually to the Jewish Temple authorities, who were organized as a governing body of judges from two factions – Sadducees and Pharisees – who were like the rich party and the working-class party, and that governing body was called the Sanhedrin.  The taxes they demanded from every Jewish household in Palestine were also very burdensome, and like Roman taxes, they forced people who were farmers, or peasants, to find money which they didn’t make from subsistence farming.  In other words, they had to grow extra to sell or work for someone else to get the money for the taxes.  Finally, there were rich Jewish households who loaned money to poorer households at interest.  Over time, the rich took land from peasants who couldn’t pay their loans and became big landowners.  Then the estates of the rich grew, and landless peasants were forced to work the same land as laborers, or even to live on the land as unpaid slaves.  Some landless peasant families took work in the towns to get the money to pay for food and for taxes.  They became wage laborers.

Jesus’ family were landless peasants in Nazareth, a very small town – perhaps 300-400 people – and it is likely that Jesus and Joseph were wage laborers.  They were described as tektons, a Greek word for day laborers or construction workers, which was somewhat inaccurately translated for some time as “carpenters.”  King Herod was building a Pharaoh-like project, an elaborate ego-driven city, called Sepphoris, which was around four miles from Nazareth, over a mountain.  This was a city of around 30,000, huge by the standards of that day.  In all likelihood, Joseph and Jesus and other men from Nazareth, peasant families who had lost their land and had to work for very low wages, hiked over that mountain six days a week, where they worked in Sepphoris all day, then walked back over the mountain to eat and go to bed.  Men started working when they were twelve, so Jesus probably did something like this for around eighteen years before he finally went to the Jordan River to be baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist.

Here are two passages, from Mark and Matthew (Matthew was based a lot on Mark) where Jesus is called a tekton – a day laborer who did construction.

Matthew 13:53-57

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there. 54 He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s [tekton] son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”

Mark 6:1-3

Jesus went out from there and came into His hometown; and His disciples followed Him. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands?Is not this the carpenter [tekton], the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.

They took offense!  Who was this dirt poor day laborer presuming to teach in the synagogue!?  Why is he given this power?  We know this guy, and his low-ranking family, too.  He does grunt labor over in Sepphoris.  He’s nobody.


Jesus was probably skinny and strong, and he probably had heavily calloused hands.  Palestinian Jews kept their hair relatively short to manage lice, so he likely had fairly short hair, and men typically wore their beards quite long.  Their complexions were generally olive-brown, like those we see on modern Arabs and some North Africans, and their faces and hands were very dark from sun exposure if they worked outdoors.  It’s very unlikely that Jesus looked like the blue-eyed actors that have played him in the movies.  The average height of men of that time and place was just above five feet.


Men and women wore a similar undergarment, a tunic called a chiton, basically a pullover shirt that hung down to about knee-high for men, ankle-length for women, and made of wool for poor people, linen for people of greater means.  Over that tunic, men wore a mantle (himation), a kind of poncho-cloak that reached almost to the ground, which had notches along the “hoodie” edge that were pulled onto the head during prayer.  People who might be caught out after dark, when it got cold, also sometimes had a chlamys, or a coat, that was also poncho-like, and which was sometimes pinned at one shoulder to make walking easier.  We know very little about the colors of clothes then.  Leather sandals were standard footwear.

So Jesus was a poor man from a poor family, who wore simple wool clothes, and who marched around eight miles a day, twice over a mountain, to do strenuous manual labor in a cosmopolitan town, where the inequality between rich and poor was on obvious display.  He probably did this for around eighteen years.

Luke 6:27-29

27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat [chlamys], do not withhold your shirt [mantle-himation] from him either.

Now you are walking around in your underwear, your chiton.  With the context, you can see how outrageous the things Jesus sometimes said were to his own contemporaries.  Jesus said and did things that provoked reactions.

2. Jesus saw income disparities firsthand, and he condemned them.

Jesus is compassionate and forgiving, but he can get angry.  His anger never translates into killing people, but he offers stern rebukes, and in the cleansing of the Temple, he actually runs around flipping tables over and stampeding livestock.  He called the moneychangers, who were a major revenue stream for the Temple, a den of thieves.

One subject that comes up again and again with him is money and poverty, and he is at his harshest on this account.

James 5

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbath. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

Whoa!  Pretty tough language, no?  Listen to this from Matthew 19:24, when Jesus himself speaks:

"Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Jesus said that.  When Pope Francis said, just after becoming Pope, “I want us to become a poor church,” he was talking about our salvation as a community.  We see this all through the Jewish prophetic tradition, with which Jesus is identified.  A very important point about who Jesus was when he was embodied as a human being is that he was Jewish.  Here are passages from the Prophets Amos and Isaiah:

Amos 5:11-13, 21-24

11 You levy a straw tax on the poor

and impose a tax on their grain.

Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,

you will not live in them;

though you have planted lush vineyards,

you will not drink their wine.

12 For I know how many are your offenses

and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes

and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.

13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,

for the times are evil.

… …

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

your assemblies are a stench to me.

22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

I will have no regard for them.

23 Away with the noise of your songs!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

24 But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Then there is Isaiah 1:11-17

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—

what are they to me?” says the Lord.

“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,

of rams and the fat of fattened animals;

I have no pleasure

in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

12 When you come to appear before me,

who has asked this of you,

this trampling of my courts?

13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

Your incense is detestable to me.

New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—

I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals

I hate with all my being.

They have become a burden to me;

I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,

I hide my eyes from you;

even when you offer many prayers,

I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds out of my sight;

stop doing wrong.

17 Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow.

When Jesus says, in Luke 4:19-20, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” he is reading from the Prophet Isaiah (61:1-2):

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because God hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

2 to proclaim the year of God's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn…

The “day of the Lord’s favor” is a reference to the Jubilee, a Jewish law that was no longer observed, which required that every seven years all debt would be forgiven, and every 50 years (the year of the Lord’s favor, or Jubilee) all land that was acquired in payment of debts be returned to its original families.

Leviticus 25:8-10

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.

When Jesus calls for the reinstatement of Jubilee, he is calling for an economic leveling, a correction of wealth inequality.  Property is used by people, but it belongs only to God.

Here is Luke 16:19-31, The Parable of Lazarus:

19 “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen [there is that linen instead of wool], joyously living in splendor every day. 20 And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Moses and the Prophets.  Context.

We will learn about Jesus transfiguration during Lent, but during this episode, Jesus take three disciples up a mountain, where they witness a miracle in which Moses and Elijah appear.  When Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries heard these two together, Moses and Prophets, or Moses and Elijah, they knew exactly what it meant.  Moses is associated with the Law; and Elijah with the Prophets.  The Law included the forgiveness of debts, and it was a Law that was abandoned.  The Prophets were those who warned Israel, God’s People, that the Law had both a letter and a spirit, and the spirit of the Law was not blind obedience, but justice.  The Law and the Prophets, that is, the letter and the spirit of the law needed each other to be meaningful.  We’ll see Jesus revisit this theme more than once.

3. Jesus had close friends.

For this one, we’ll just leave what Father Martin said:

“We tend to think of Jesus as interacting with his apostles, disciples, and followers. But he also had friends. The Gospels describe, for example, Jesus’ relaxing at the house of his good friends Mary and Martha, who lived in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. The Gospel of John says, quite plainly, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister.” And when their brother Lazarus is found to be sick and dying (this is the man whom Jesus will raise from the dead), the news is relayed to Jesus with a telling phrase. The message from the sisters does not say, “Our brother Lazarus is ill,” or “Your friend Lazarus is ill,” or even “Lazarus of Bethany is ill.” Rather, in the Greek, Jesus is told that hon phileis is ill: “he whom you love.”

“It’s a window into the deep relationships and intimate friendships that Jesus enjoyed. He was not simply Messiah; he was a good friend.”

4. Jesus instructed his disciples not to judge.

Here is a tough one, but Jesus said this without any equivocation.  Everything in our surrounding culture says we have to judge others.  It’s very difficult not to do it.  Try it for one day this week.  Stay conscious of it all day.  Every time you think of someone else, ask yourself, am I judging him?  Am I judging her?  Father Martin writes:

“Something in us feels not only inclined to, but obliged to, judge. “Well, but that means anything goes, doesn’t it?” is a common response. “Of course we have to judge other people,” say others. No, Jesus says, we do not.

“We are called to live moral lives, and invite others to lead moral lives, but we do so primarily through our own example and by gentle persuasion — not by judging and condemning them. Judgment is left, as Jesus reminds us, to God.”

Are we beginning to see how different Jesus is from our own culture, and even from his own?  In the Pater Noster, or “Our Father,” or the Lord’s Prayer, we recite the following:

…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Trespasses means “wrongs,” but even more importantly, in the original Greek, the word here means “debts.”  Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us.  Wrongs and righting wrongs were seen as debts owed, and debt was also seen as a wrong.  Revenge is even understood as a kind of debt.  But the main point here is, this doesn’t “say forgive us AND we’ll forgive others.”  It says, “forgive us AS we forgive.”  In other words, I will be forgiven by God to the exact extent that I am willing to forgive other human beings who have wronged me.  Think on that… and monitor how many times you catch yourself judging others.  That is not to say you cannot recognize wrongs; but it is to say you aren’t the one with the gavel who knows the appropriate sentence.  Prophets called out wrongdoing by power all the time.  But God was left to pass judgment.

5. Jesus didn’t say anything about gays and lesbians.

From Father Martin’s pen to your ears:

“In all his many utterances about many social situations and human conditions, Jesus never said one word about homosexual persons. Admittedly, St. Paul speaks about that topic, but many contemporary scholars believe that Paul was probably speaking not about homosexuality per se (the word itself is of relatively recent vintage) but about the evils of male prostitution. [and sexual slavery]

“In any event, Jesus himself spoke a great deal about helping the poor, forgiving one’s enemies, and even divorce (which he condemned [in its first century form]), but nothing about, and certainly nothing against, gay and lesbian men and women.”

6. Jesus always reached out to those on the margins.

Father Martin:

If a Gospel narrative introduces a marginalized person, it is a sure bet that Jesus will reach out to him or her. The examples are too numerous to mention. He meets a Roman centurion, and rather than forcing him to convert to Judaism, he heals the man’s servant. He meets a Samaritan woman (someone viewed as a foreigner or even an enemy for Jews of Judea and Galilee), and rather than condemning her, engages in a friendly conversation. He meets Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” in Jericho and therefore the “chief sinner” of the area, and even before Zacchaeus offers to repent, Jesus offers to dine with him, a sign of acceptance.

This business about the margins has both real and symbolic significance in figuring out who Jesus was and is.  He is baptized in the Jordan River, which is where the Israelites crossed into their promised homeland.  From there, they established a kingdom that was centered in Jerusalem.  After the Temple was established, observant Jews were expected to go from the margins throughout Jewish Palestine to the center, where payment to the Temple and homage to God in the Temple fulfilled the requirements of their faith tradition.

The Jesus was baptized, in the Jordan River, then he went not to Jerusalem, but to the wilderness – way out in the margins – where he was tempted by power in three forms:  the ability to turn stones to bread (Romans gave their own citizens in the capital free bread to keep them compliant), the ability to jump from high walls and survive, in other words, the ability to dazzle the population with a spectacle, and the physical means of political power, which then meant having great armies.  The devil offered him all three forms of power, and Jesus refused.  Then he began his mission, but he did not go to Jerusalem first, but everywhere else, then back to Jerusalem, then back to the margins, then back to Jerusalem again.  He went out to the geographic margins, and he went to the most marginal of people.  Only when he had finished his mission among the marginal did he make his final trip to Jerusalem, where he would first be cheered then later killed.

When John was baptizing, he used the word “repent.”  In Greek, this word means, “turn around.”  Don’t go from the margins to the center.  Don’t face toward power.  Go from the center to the margins.  Face toward “the least of these.”

7. Jesus can’t be tamed.

One of my favorite theologians once said, “We don’t often appreciate the wildness of the God we worship.”  What does Father Martin mean when he says “Jesus can’t be tamed?”  What is it we do when we domesticate an animal?  We try to make it stay inside our own fence.  We might want to teach a pet to speak and sit and fetch on our command.  Sometimes, people want to domesticate Jesus.  Since Jesus will not be domesticated, they will tell stories of a kind of pet-Jesus, one that stays inside our fences, speaks, sits, and fetches on our command.  A common way we try to do that is by trying to tone down his most difficult examples and teachings; and that can be a problem.  I think one of the most insidious ways we try to domesticate Jesus is by pretending that being a good Christian is synonymous with being conformist and respectable.  When we learn about Jesus, he was not a conformist, and he was definitely not respectable by the standards of his place and time.  That’s not saying to be non-conformist for the sake of non-conformity, nor am I saying to be unrespectable just to be shocking, and I’m definitely not saying to be dis-respectful.  But when following Jesus goes against the cultural standards of conformity and respectability, then we might be called to break with conformity and defy the rules of respectability.  I am thinking now of the civil rights movement in this country in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  People followed Jesus right into jail cells.

8. Jesus really did perform miracles.

Father Martin:

“Many people are uncomfortable with Jesus’s supernatural power and other signs of his divinity. But an immense part of the Gospels is taken up with what are called “works of power” and “signs” — that is, miracles. In fact, some of the sayings that people take for granted and quote approvingly — even by those who do not accept Jesus’s divinity — occur within the context of the miracle stories. Remove the miracles and there is no context for many of Jesus’ most familiar sayings.

“Jesus’ ability to perform miracles was never in doubt in the Gospels. Even his detractors take note of his miracles, as when they critique him for healing on the Sabbath. [There is that disconnect between the spirit and the letter of the law.]  The question posed by people of his time is not whether Jesus can do miracles, but rather the source of his power. The statement that Jesus was seen as a miracle worker in his time has as much reliability as almost any other statement we can make about him.”

9. Jesus struggled, even in prayer.

Again from Father Martin:

Jesus was fully divine. But he was also fully human. That’s a basic Christian belief. It’s also a mystery, that is, something not to be fully understood, but pondered. And one of the most telling windows into his humanity comes in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he is confronted with his impending crucifixion. Jesus asks God the Father to “remove this cup.” He is saying, in essence: “If it’s possible, I don’t want to die.”

Eventually, Jesus accepts that his coming death is his Father’s will — but not before struggle and prayer. Later, when hanging on the cross, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” [Again, he falls back on his Jewish roots, and repeats a prayer of lamentation from the Psalms]  This is not a person who does not struggle: Christians do not relate to a person who cannot understand our own human struggles.

Psalm 22:1

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?  Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?

10. Jesus rose from the dead.

Here is a story about Flannery O’Connor, a Catholic writer who lived in Georgia:

As a very young and unknown writer, she was visiting New York and was taken to a party at the home of Mary McCarthy, ex-Catholic and ex-believer, a sophisticated and accomplished novelist, essayist and critic. What follows is O’Connor’s description of the encounter:

We went at eight and at one, I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing in such company for me to say.... Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them. Well, toward the morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater [Mary McCarthy] said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most “portable” person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” That was all the defense I was capable of.

In 2005, two sociologists did a survey of young people in the United States with regard to religion.  Their results showed that most young people had not undergone any form of catechesis, and that they shared some vague beliefs which the researchers summed up as “moralistic therapeutic deism.”  That is, they believe (1) that there is a God of some kind who wants us to be nice to each other, and (2) that our religion is supposed to make us feel good about ourselves – which is the goal of life, and (3) that nice people go to a nice place called heaven after they die.  Nice, of course, meant that people were polite and followed most of the rules around them; and there is no disconnect between what the general culture teaches us and what religion teaches.

There are many people today, even some clergy, who want to domesticate Jesus into a therapist, and who also want to fit in with secular society. They don’t want to seem crazy or weird, and they say things like, of course the miracle stories and the story of the resurrection are just symbolic.  They didn’t happen really, and they didn’t have to happen.  This is not a Christian belief, it is a quasi-Christian belief.  Paraphrasing Flannery O’Connor, if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, what the hell is the point?

The resurrection is the most pivotal event in our story.  The Catholic scholar Rene Girard explained that Jesus was the scapegoat, the innocent one who was sacrificed by his society as a way of relieving the build-up of conflict within that society.  And Jesus, who could have commanded legions of angels to save him from this violence, went without a fight to the cross.  Jesus had the faith, the radical trust in God to let God determine the outcome.  The Romans and the Temple authorities won, and the men among the disciples scattered in fear.  Their leader was dead.  It was over.  Jesus’ broken body was in the tomb. The devil, who is associated with earthly powers, represented by Pilate here, had won.

But then, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb on Sunday morning, after the Sabbath has passed, and the tomb is empty.  Jesus is standing in the garden, and she cries out, “Rabbouni!” – my sweet teacher.

In this moment, the first person among his followers sees that Satan, Prince among the Powers, has been defeated, and the world has turned.  A new realm is established, one that is based on this radical trust in God, called the Kingdom of Heaven, and its citizens – that would be us – no longer side with the powers, they side with the scapegoats, the despised, the broken, the meek.  Satan is defeated, not by violence and death, but in the resurrection of life.  Pastor Barrett Lee writes:

Jesus is still “sacrificed for our sins” but the wrath he is appeasing is not the wrath of God, but the rage of sinful, selfish humans.  He substitutes himself in the place of all other scapegoats who endure the unjust violence of society.

In the resurrection, God intervenes to vindicate the scapegoat, unmasking and disarming the patterns of mimetic violence.  Christians, as followers of Jesus the willing and vindicated scapegoat, are called to side with all future scapegoats and end the cycles of violence and exclusion, even if it means being crucified ourselves.

This is the meaning of the resurrection, and if it hadn’t actually happened, as Flannery O’Connor would say, “What is the point?”

When Jesus foresees this event during the commissioning of seventy new disciples in Luke 10, he falls back on an image of Isaiah about the devil being defeated.  He says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning.”  As Jesus came back to life, the devil was unmasked and his power came crashing down.