Friday, July 30, 2010

Instructive new kitten

We came home about three weeks ago and met a 10 week old kitten waiting at the front door. I picked him up, and he adopted us.

They say that you can pick your friends but not your family. Hospitality means you don't necessarily get to pick your friends either - anyone who comes under the shadow of your roof can likely claim your protection.

So it's true of God that we have not chosen him but that he has chosen us, as Jesus said, and as Paul wrote in Romans 11 and elsewhere. But it's also true that whoever comes to Jesus he will in no way cast out. Just as that kitten got to adopt us, we get to adopt God if we want.

Stephen named him Squeak, which indeed he does. He has also sometimes been called Littledick when he steals Maggie's food, which is bad for him. Maybe he reminds somebody of Little Richard. The color isn't too far off.

He also does furious battle with a shoelace, Gayle's shoe, a piece of plastic wrap, or a scrap of paper thrown at him. When God looks at us, how often does he see us fighting similar battles, and against like things? And does it entertain him as Squeak entertains us? I think so, and I believe that Proverbs 8 backs me up.

Squeak likes to sleep behind me on the chair when I'm working. When he climbs up, it's better when I'm wearing a shirt. He thinks I'm Dad. Never mind that I'm overlarge and have only two feet, among other ways in which I differ from his kind. He takes a broader view of such things than many people, who fail to recognize kinship due to such differences as degree of suntan, language spoken, citizenship in some national entity, or whatever.

As Isaiah says, the ox knows its owner and the ass his master's manger, but that's more than God's people know that really don't know him. And like those animals, Squeak, too, is a good example.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How the other side lives

Like everyone else, I've been shocked by the devastation caused by BP's folly and reckless conduct in the Gulf of Mexico, and how the lives of millions of people will be wrecked for keeps. And like lots of others, I haven't really noticed that so many others have had to suck up the same devastation of their lives at the hands of Texaco and Royal Dutch Shell for decades - and did we really care about them?

Ellen Cantarow, writing in Asia Times:

In so many ways, large and small, we keep getting reminded that when we're indifferent to the plight of others - especially when our willful blindness serves to let us profit at their expense - we're asking God to serve us what we prescribe for others. And these prayers are sometimes answered. For our own good, let's learn to pray differently, both in word and deed!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What we lose when we win - Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

See his post here:

It's not clear to me that LeBron James was the bad guy portrayed here, because what did he owe Cleveland except 7 years of the best hoops he could deliver, and didn't he do that?

But although I think the rabbi is wrong on this detail, he's definitely right on his larger point:

Yes, we all want to win, and no, none of us enjoy losing. But the price we're prepared to pay for our victories is that which will determine our essential character.

So in all contests, there are two. The smaller contest is with the opponent. The larger, the one that counts, is over who we are. We need to fight the small fight in such a way as to win the big fight. To make everything clear, God will sometimes ensure that the cost of winning for real is to choose to lose the little one, no matter how big it feels.

The details of this truth in each of our lives I leave as an exercise for the reader; for the writer, too.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Winning hearts and minds

It's fun to kill in Afghanistan, says top US commander

- The story in the Independent, UK newspaper

See some video here, which everyone is watching, now that he is being appointed commander of Central Command.

I'm not outraged, as some are. I just wonder how the people managing these invasions and occupations think that this is going to improve their prospects of making the natives love their American overlords, especially in Afghanistan, where all occupiers find the audience to be a pretty tough room in the first place.

How do you like paying for this nonsense at around a billion a day? You wondering why there's no money for schools, or infrastructure, or good medical care, or even unemployment benefits for those whose jobs have been lost by wrecking the economy so war contractors can get rich, congressmen can get their campaign contributions - their quid for their quo - and Obama can look tough?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Anguish of the Age - Robert Jensen

Jensen's piece below calls to mind a good deal of biblical teaching. In the first place, it gives some details on how at the end of the age, men's hearts will fail them for fear (Luke 21:25-26). In this, Jesus was drawing on Psalm 46.

It's important to recognize that although Jesus says he is coming like a thief in the night, the signs of his coming are obvious and cause men to lose heart precisely because you don't have to have any special spiritual discernment to see how it is and draw the lessons that we can't go on this way. Not to see requires a solid commitment to full-time self-deception - finding "peace" in the refuge of lies.

Indeed, without God there really is no hope, but that doesn't mean that there is no hope, and it doesn't mean that God can only be found in tidy little Christoid religious systems. And that's not new: Jesus explained to the woman at the well in Samaria that you didn't have to go to Jerusalem to find God with the help of the scribes and Pharisees, because he could be found by anyone in spirit and truth.

None of this has to reach the question of when Jesus is returning. We don't know that, but the end of any civilization looks and feels close enough to the end of the age that we can learn the right lessons from the experience, just as though the Lord is in fact returning - lessons which always apply. Whenever the Lord may return, let's prepare by getting it right in rehearsal.

That, reader, is now.

Finally, the kind of anguish Jensen speaks of here is the proper attitude of any biblical Christian - as it is written, "Blessed are those who mourn." What was right in the life of Lot, in which it's hard to find anything right, is that his "soul was vexed every day" at the iniquity he had to live with in Sodom, even though he sat in Sodom's gate. Rejoicing in unceasing pain, as Job put it, is the tight and narrow path that few find.

Why does Jensen, who is not even clear that the God of the Bible exists, have it a lot more clear and biblical than the average Christoid populating our churches? Well, I think that's obvious. He's pursuing the truth, rejoicing in unceasing pain, while Christoid religion is all about taking the broad and easy way by hiding from these unpleasant truths - that is, rejecting the cross. And rejecting the cross, especially when such rejection is wrapped in religious devotion, is service to Satan, as Jesus made clear to Peter (Matthew 16:21-23).

Enough of my warm up. On to Professor Jensen.

The Anguish of the Age: Emotional Reactions to Collapse

by Robert Jensen

We live amidst multiple crises -- economic and political, cultural and ecological -- that pose a significant threat to human life as we understand it.

There is no way to be awake to the depth of these crises without an emotional reaction. There is no way to be aware of the pain caused by these systemic failures without some experience of dread, depression, distress.

To be fully alive today is to live with anguish, not for one's own condition in the world but for the condition of the world, for a world that is in collapse.

Though I have felt this for some time I hesitated to talk about it in public, out of fear of being accused of being too negative or dismissed as apocalyptic. But more of us are breaking through that fear, and more than ever it's essential that we face this aspect of our political lives. To talk openly about this anguish should strengthen, not undermine, our commitment to political engagement -- any sensible political program to which we can commit for the long haul has to start with an honest assessment of reality.

Here is how I would summarize our reality: Because of the destructive consequences of human intervention, it is not clear how much longer the planetary ecosystem can sustain human life on this scale. There is no way to make specific predictions, but it's clear that our current path leads to disaster. Examine the data on any crucial issue -- energy, water, soil erosion, climate disruption, chemical contamination, biodiversity -- and the news is bad. Platitudes about "necessity is the mother of invention" express a hollow technological fundamentalism; simply asserting that we want to solve the problems that we have created does not guarantee we can. The fact that we have not taken the first and most obvious step -- moving to a collective life that requires far less energy -- doesn't bode well for the future.

Though anguish over this reality is not limited to the affluence of the industrial world -- where many of us have the time to ponder all this because our material needs are met -- it may be true that those of us living in relative comfort today speak more of this emotional struggle. That doesn't mean that our emotions are illegitimate or that the struggle is self-indulgent; this discussion is not the abandonment of politics but an essential part of fashioning a political project.

I would like help in this process. I've started talking to people close to me about how this feels, but I want to expand my understanding. By using the internet and email, I am limiting the scope of the inquiry to those online, but it's a place to start.

My request is simple: If you think it would help you clarify your understanding of your struggle, send me an account of your reaction to these crises and collapse, in whatever level of detail you like. I am most interested in our emotional states, but any exercise of this type includes an intellectual component; there is no clear line between the analytical and the emotional, between thinking and feeling. An understanding of our emotions is connected to our analysis of the health of the ecosystem, the systems responsible for that condition, and the openings for change.

Because I may draw on this material in public discussions and for writing projects, please let me know how you are willing to have your words used. Your writing could be: (1) "on background," not to be quoted in any forum; (2) "not for attribution," permission to be quoted but not identified; or (3) "on the record," permission to be quoted and identified. If you don't specify, I will assume (2).

My plan is to report back to anyone interested. If you would like to be included on that distribution list, let me know. Please send responses in the body of an email message, not as an attachment, to

Whether or not you write to me, I hope everyone will begin speaking more openly about this aspect of our struggle. If there is to be a decent future, we have to retain our capacity for empathy. Most of us can empathize with those closest to us, and we try to empathize with all people. The next step is to open up to the living world, which requires an ability to feel both the joy and the grief that surrounds us.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film "Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing," which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist. Information about the film, distributed by the Media Education Foundation, and an extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff are online at

Monday, July 05, 2010

Independence Day

Jesus got into an argument with some people that believed in him (John 8). He said, "If you continue in my word, you will indeed be my disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

They responded that they had never been the slaves of anybody - never mind that they were under Roman occupation as their mouths were moving.

Jesus replied that whoever commits sin is the slave of sin. Freedom then involves freedom from sin. When we're dependent on sin, for example, in bondage to the love of money or swollen with pride, we're slaves. Always. Bragging about our independence is just as nuts as those believers in Jesus under Roman occupation boasting that they had never been slaves of anybody.

Like them, who were slaves of sin but also of men, Americans today are slaves of men in every way and far from independent in any way. Being addicted to petroleum, we are slaves of those from whom we must import it. We are slaves of the Chinese, the Japanese, and everyone else that we must depend on to lend the US $2 billion a day, since as it is written, "The borrower is the slave of the lender."

We are slaves of those who buy the federal Congress and all of our state legislatures with their bribes, who do everything to lead us to medium term, never mind long term, destruction in order to make the most possible profit this quarter. We are addicted to war, so that we can't walk away even from stupidly following the Soviet example of self-destruction in Afghanistan, returning like a dog to its vomit to our own march of folly in Vietnam 50 years ago.

We are slaves of a stupid and fanatical ideology of "democracy" and the "free market" , which has demonstrated its impracticality, worthlessness, and total divorce from its stated principles as much as Soviet Communism did back in the day. Promoting democracy means invading, bombing, subverting, and starving those that vote wrong - for their own interests - instead of voting to be dominated and exploited. The free market means corporate domination and rip-offs of whole nations including our own - the freedom to be robbed.

This insane ideology doesn't even work for us, never mind those robbed and murdered in our names. Our jobs are disappearing forever. Our homes are being foreclosed on. Our services are being taken away. Our infrastructure is falling apart. And all of this so that the banksters and their pals who have trashed and plundered the American economy for short term gain can make even more money at our expense. Are we any less bewitched than those who always had an explanation for the failures of Communism?

Jesus said, like all that came before him, that those who humble themselves willl be lifted up, and that those that exalt themselves will be abased.

I saw a lot of proud Americans yesterday - so declared their T-shirts. Proud of what? Who among us that saw any other nation behave as ours does would think that that nation had anything to be proud of? When our deeds and condition are shameful, shouldn't we put away our pride and be ashamed? Or as Jeremiah said, is it a virtue that we are unable even to blush? Did it go well for those people to be that way?

Perhaps if we put away our conceit and bombast and learn to be ashamed - being in so many ways the shameful nation that we are - if we hear and declare the truth before our God, then we might find mercy and escape from the trouble, unlike what we've ever seen before, that is quite obviously coming our way. If we continue in our scoffing and audacity, surely then, "Pride comes before stumbling, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

The only real independence, as Jesus said, is found in submission to and dependence on the truth. The independence that Americans celebrate is proud self-assertion and empty boasting, and that is dependence on sin - the way of death, although it seems right in our delusion. We have gone very far down that road, and professing Christians deepest of all in this insolence. Let us pray, for real, and turn from our ways.