Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

The Party of Values, Thoroughly Bankrupt

Republican’s fancy themselves to be the party of values.  They profess to love God and country.  They believe themselves to be the real Americans.  They are the absolute definition of righteous patriots.  They see themselves and their families basking in the light of a celestial exceptionalism.  They occupy the center of a universe anointed by the invisible hand of free market capitalism, governed and sanctified by the benevolent love of their heavenly father, Jesus Christ.

Their values are based on a fundamentalist foundation of the King James Bible and the US Constitution as it was originally conceived and authored by the Founding Fathers in 1787.  They are resolute in the belief of the correctness of their interpretation of this hallowed literature and remain adamant in how the instruction of these sacred tomes should be applied and implemented to shape and govern our Federal Republic.

If you question the basic supposition of their position they will tarry your thrust by questioning your love of country and your belief in God.  Those same questions must be asked of them.  The virulent defenders of the cross and crown of liberty consistently undermine the spirit of both. They serve the corporate objectives of church, military and industrial institutions that have formed an unholy alliance to rule and exploit the hearts and minds of an enslaved consumer market that cannot discern the difference between political liberty and a have it your way experience at Burger King.

America’s political ignorance is a poverty exploited by the oligarchs; giving them full sway to control and manipulate the levers of power to secure and advance selfish interests.  They cloth their motives in priestly robes, medal adorned military uniforms, Rotarian flannel suits and Joe “the wannabe” Plumber overalls feigning a martyrdom of being crushed by the menacing liberal elites by standing for the values of free markets, Christianity, class mobility and a military spreading the global march of democracy.

The GOP presidential debates provided some telling political theater of how the party of values advanced the cause of individual liberty and governance informed by moral precepts. In one session a gay officer serving in Iraq asked the candidates “now that DADT has been repealed and gay service personnel can serve in the military would they support  same sex marriage”.  The gay serviceman unselfishly serving his country in a theater of war was roundly booed by the uber patriots sitting in the audience before Rick Santorum piled on and asserted not only would he not sign a same sex marriage bill into law, he would also reinstate DADT.

In another session the question concerning the mandatory requirement to purchase  health care insurance was raised.  The moderator asked a hypothetical question, “if a person failed to purchase insurance and required a life saving procedure who should pay?”  One of the more compassionate conservatives shouted “let him die”.   This was undoubtedly the same guy who condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.

Another high water mark of GOP moral turpitude occurred when the debate moderator questioned Rick Perry about the State of Texas position as the leader in capital punishment executions.  The audience erupted in cheers.  The United States is home to the worlds largest penal colony with an inmate population that exceeds 2,000,000.   This belies the myth of the United States as the land of the free; particularly for the people of color who account for the largest proportion of the inmate population.  This is good news for the free marketeers as the privatization of prisons is a growth industry.  The profiteers of misery require the judicial apparatus of the states to maintain a prison occupancy rate of 90% to assure profitability for private investors.  The threat to a fair trial has never been more at risk.  This is a business opportunity right up the GOPs free market alley. The devaluation of the rule of law an unfortunate consequence.  The value of money trumps the grace of justice.

The GOP’s deep investment in the culture of death mirrors a country thoroughly committed to the continued militarization of the economy regardless of its cultural cost.  Republicans eagerly beat the drums of war and use the poetry of destruction  to articulate a cutesy point.  Remember John McCain using the melody of  Barbara Anne to sing, “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”  The neocons ate it up.  The peacemaker may be considered children of God,  but in the GOP the business of war and righteous crusades are divine.

Republicans pledge undying fealty to the Constitution and the rights of citizens.  One would think that this would encourage vocal opposition  to President Obama’s Executive Order to execute suspected combatant citizens without due process in respect  to the right of a trial by a jury of their peers.  Not a single word has been raised against this grievous violation of a basic constitutional protection.  Where are all the freedom loving, constitution waving Teabaggers?  It’s a natural extension of Republican’s refusal to recognize the full civil rights of  citizens.  As in the case of LGBT civil rights, the GOP’s vision of America protects civil liberties only for select citizens they deem worthy.  The rights of the republic’s citizens and the rule of law be damned.

It is in this light that we can understand Rush Limbaugh’s misogynistic characterization of Sandra Fluke as a slut.  Dehumanizing a group of people as “the other” or “less then”  because they hold a contrary position is a dangerous sedition that undermines democracy.

Democracies need its citizens to reach an informed consensus to function.  Consensus requires dialog to assimilate disparate views from multiple viewpoints and perspectives.  This presupposes that the participants in the discussion recognize and value the rights of citizenship for all participants in the dialog.  The highest value in a secular democracy is respecting the equal rights of all citizens.  Without this value democracies crumble.  Our democracy is in shambles.

This weekend Rick Santorum sat upon the alter at the Greenwell Baptist Church to accept the endorsement of Pastor Dennis Terry for the upcoming Louisiana primary.   After laying his hands on Santorum to bless his candidacy,  Pastor Terry delivered a sermon that spewed fire and brimstone onto the reprobate head of our secular democracy.  “America” he said “was a Christian Nation ruled by Christ the King.  He said American’s don’t worship Buddha, Allah or any other false Gods.  He said American’s worshiped the God on High, Jesus Christ.  And if they don’t like it they can get out.”  As a Christian I can’t tell you how much I loathe this blatant bigotry.  Jesus was all about inclusion and tolerance and I’m sure he would make short work of this Pharisee.  As an American citizen, I can’t think of a more ignorant and damaging characterization of  America’s promise and the democratic values it professes to uphold.

GOP wunderkind Paul Ryan, yesterday unveiled a budget that assiduously accounts for the price of every tax loop hole, generous corporate welfare allocation and tax reduction for the wealthy while demonstrating a chilling indifference for slashed social programs and its impact on human beings.  Republican’s know the price of everything and the value of nothing.  The party of values is thoroughly bankrupt.

Music Selection:  Sen. John McCain, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran

Risk: democracy, values, political culture

March 20, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Christianity, conservatism, culture, faith, gay rights, goverment, Iran, LGBT, McCain, Obama, politics, prayer, religion, republicans, values | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Then They Came For Me

The ones shouting loudest with greatest vehemency for liberty are ironically the proponents of its gravest threat.   Rep. Peter King, the Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee has scheduled hearings on the radicalization of the US Muslim community and its threat to the homeland.  Mr. King said the hearings are the result of a growing concern by law enforcement officials that the US Muslim community has not been cooperative in rooting out the home grown terrorists multiplying within their midst.  In service to liberty’s highest ideals, the ever vigilant Mr. King looks to initiate an assault on the civil liberties of our brother and sister Muslim citizens.

A group calling themselves The Liberty Alliance  are in full support of Mr. King’s ethnic profiling and the grave threat it poses to the civil liberties of all citizens.  Mr. King’s committee hearings will be a resplendent grand standing platform for him to play to the basest prejudices of his constituency and stoke up the fear of American angst already overloaded with a symphony of terrors.  Muslims, like the LGBT community and illegal aliens, labor unions and teachers make convenient scapegoats for the myriad problems confronting the nation.  Mr. King and The Liberty Alliance would like us to believe that labor unions have plundered the wealth of the nation.  Teachers have destroyed the schools.  The poor have bankrupted our federal treasury while the LGBT and foreigners continue to undermine the true American Judeo-Christian culture by defiling the purity of its heritage.

Its a grand irony to witness self styled libertarians mobilized into action to attack civil liberties and right to privacy of their fellow citizens.  They clamor for disclosure and transparency with the diabolical refrain,  “if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to be afraid of.” Such seditious thinking undermines the spirit of liberty.  It is a direct assault on a  society governed by laws and its citizens shielded by due process and protected by a Bill of Rights.  These democratic virtues once distinguished America as the shinning  city on a hill.  Now The Liberty Alliance denigrates it with an Orwellian platitude believing civil rights, privacy and due process are covers for terrorist cells that must be dispensed with at all costs.

It is not difficult to divine that  Peter King’s committee will encourage a number of informants to come forward to meet a specified quota for stool pigeonry.   A legion of rats and informants are the armies of despots not agents of democracies.  But these are the same Real American Freedom Fighters who led the charge against American Muslim’s right to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero.  Ask them about religious tolerance and the freedom to worship as guaranteed in the US Constitution and they’ll concede the point with the promise to serve Halal meals and build a mosque with extra capacity at Gitmo.

The ones shouting the loudest for liberty do indeed pose the greatest threat to it.  The libertarians who opened the door to 527 llcs have turned Lady Liberty into a common prostitute hiring her out to the highest bidder.  The zealots waving the Constitution with the fervor of a Red Book sprouting Maoist, forms a reactionary vanguard eager to deny the very same sacred civil liberties and rights to fellow citizens in their deranged constitutional republic of unfree and unequal citizens.

Despots and non-democratic societies do not offer or practice universal rights, freedoms and liberties for all its citizens.  Pitting one group against another, scape goating, delineating special classes of people or dual classes of citizenship are hallmarks of repressive societies.  Mr. King’s committee hearing of racial and ethnic profiling divides citizens and denies the constitutional  rights and liberties for Muslims.  This is apartheid.  Gov. Walker’s and Chris Christie’s attack on labor unions and teachers as the source of our economic debasement obfuscates systemic inequities and masks the identities of the perpetrators who plundered the wealth of this nation.  The economic elites are trying to beat the rap by forcing their public elected shills to make the working people of America pay the price for their own victimization.

Peter King’s sons of liberty are complicit agents of enslavement to the power and privilege of corporate oligarchs; hiding behind the billowing smoke of America’s civic strife and brewing internecine struggle.  They are gravely mistaken in believing that they are safely ensconced behind the golden walls of their enclaves the piles of cash allowed them to build to protect themselves  from the seething masses. Mubarak nor Gaddafi’s moat protected strongholds could protect them from the volatile tide of history.

Peter King opening up hearings on radical Islam and its role in creating home grown terrorism is of course just in time for the 2012 election.  It will provide some red meat for rabid Teabaggers screaming for blood.  Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin and other righteous Falangist Crusaders can use the grist of Peter King’s xenophobic fear mill to paint our Mau Mau  loving President and any progressive opponent a Fifth Columnist for the new Caliphate they are working to establish in the last stand of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

You Tube Video:  James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy

Risk: tolerance, politics, civil liberties, Bill of Rights

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Civil Rights, class, conservatism, culture, democracy, economics, ethnic, faith, gay rights, government, labor unions, LGBT, Muslim, Palin, psychology, race, republicans, social justice, Tea Party, teaching, unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Go Tell It On The Mountain!

The suicide of Tyler Clementi was more then a personal tragedy for his family, friends, those that loved him and the greater LGBT community. It was an event that forced America to hold up a mirror to itself and take a long honest look. It provided an opportunity for a nation that professes to uphold cultural tolerance and civil liberties for all its citizens to truthfully search its heart to determine how well America upholds these sacred ideals. I believe America found itself wanting.

The practice of self examination is not one of America’s strong points. We are much more comfortable living a life of convenient denial. The military practice of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) codified the plausible deniability of institutional ambivalence. It sequestered the need to act to address a nagging injustice. It held the truth hostage so as not to suffer the consequences of an inconvenient truth. It revealed a country in deep state of denial refusing to shatter the myths and the untruths it believed about itself. It pandered to the ugly fears and violent temperament of intolerant zealots that unleashed waves of hateful vindictiveness against the marginalized and most vulnerable. A lie in service to a myth creates and perpetuates a culture of delusion. It allows all citizens to hold tight to our national deceptions, celebrating broken ideals with the untruth of meaningless flags.

America took an important step this weekend with the repeal of DADT. The personal truth of who we are as individuals is now aligned with open and truthful institutions. This landmark legislation corrected a legislative injustice by addressing an institutional discrimination. America must be a place where civil rights for all citizens lies beyond compromise. That is the easy part. Now the hearts of American’s must change and learn to accept the justice that the repeal of DADT upholds.

God apportions equal amount of love to all his children. All are accepted, none denied the grace of light God asks us to walk into. All are fully enfranchised citizens in God Kingdom. The Perpetual Potentate governs over all in perfect justice. The People of the Way are called to be upright citizens in the City of Light. Citizenship requires the beloved “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patients, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

God is a radical affirmation of self, free to live in the unity of the Holy Spirit as we have been called. We are called to speak our truth to the power of earthy principalities as we are called to be the truth in the living power of God. Our freedom compels us to “Go Tell it on the Mountain”.

The earthly principalities may have lost the exquisite melodies of Tyler Clementi’s music; but the earthly silence is a resounding reminder to weave harmony into a cacophonous world crackling in ugly dissonance. Tyler’s violin may now lie entombed in its case; but it continues to implore us to sing the sounds of joy, enlightenment, revelation, and transcendence to those who refuse to listen to the symphonies of understanding, acceptance and appreciate the celebration of love. The beautiful music Tyler created and brought into the world will forever resonate from the highest peaks of joyous affirmation to the lowest valleys of pedestrian dread. The melody of his life will always be with us. This Advent we sojourn to the mountain to sing the wonderful harmony of Tyler’s life. We pray with expectant hope that those refusing to listen and those most needing to hear will open deaf ears and join the earthly chorus of all the beloved singing in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

absolution is sweet
vindication better
affirmation divine

Selah

Peace and prayers to all the beloved,

You Tube Music Video: Mahalia Jackson, Go Tell It On The Mountain!

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December 20, 2010 Posted by | Bible, Christianity, Civil Rights, culture, faith, gay rights, institutional, LGBT, politics, social justice | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Triumph of the Willfulness

This little ditty on NPR this morning about the Smithsonian Exhibit,  Hide and Seek, an exhibition of Gay portraiture.  Seems  Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor and Bill Donahue, President of the Catholic League is upset that taxpayer money is being used to showcase what they consider to be unacceptable art.  Here’s the link:

Gay Portraiture Exhibit  at Smithsonian.

Smithsonian Hide and Seek Website.

Its a doubled edged sword when government underwrites the creation of art. Exhibitions can confer a type of sanction  that promotes censorship  in service to state sponsored propaganda.   From my perspective that is not  the issue at stake here; but  if you listen to the audio Bill Donahue condemns museums as “liberal elite institutions”.  Mr. Donahue probably considers Hide and Seek as the latest subversive initiative by Obama’s Politburo to undermine American Family Values.

Mr. Donahue, still smarting from Andreas Serrano’s Piss Christ gets off his best shot in America’s escalating culture war by asserting that “working people, like himself, (read real Americans) don’t go to museums. He says they go to WWF wrestling matches.” He sarcastically suggests that perhaps government funding of the arts would be better spent underwriting WWF ducats for the masses. Beholden to his dogma, Mr. Donahue fails to recognize the difference between pedestrian commercial camp and artistic pursuit. He confuses the spectacle of bread and violent circus with aesthetic encounter, discovery and contemplation.

Mr. Donahue’s insistence that his position should be viewed in the same light as Muslims reaction when depictions of the Prophet Muhammad appear in visual art presentations is disingenuous.  Muslims prohibit all visual representations of the Prophet Muhammad.  The same prohibitions of promoting visual images of Jesus Christ is not a common practice of  Christian denominations.   Secular democracies also do not sanction fatwas and post bounties for jihadists to take out apostates and infidels.  That is a unique blessing of secular societies that fundamentalists, religious zealots and Mr. Donahue fail to perceive.

File this one under the dumbing down of America Series, Triumph of the Willfulness.

Walt Whitman: Calamus Poems

You Tube Music Video: Aaron (Gay American) Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man

Risk: culture, censorship, homophobia

December 2, 2010 Posted by | art, Christianity, culture, democracy, LGBT, Muslim, photo, poetry, politics, psychology, secularism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Deserve Better (Part 1): Tea Party Fundamentalism

You hear it all the time.  All the candidates running for office are horrible.  The democrats and republicans both stink.  But this guy ain’t as bad as the other guy.  “He is the lesser of two evils”.  So we make our choice based on two evils.  We deserve more then the lesser of two evils.

When you think about it, a lesser evil is still an evil.  Even if its a lesser evil, the essence of its nature will soon enough turn on us as it seeks to actualize the essence of its nature.  It brings to mind Aesop’s Fable of the scorpion and frog.  The scorpion comes to a river that it can’t cross and calls on a passing frog to let it ride on its back to the other side of the river.  The frog was suspicious because it knew of the scorpions venomous nature but finally relented and let the scorpion mount its back for the ride across the river.  When they were halfway across the river scorpion delivered a fatal sting to the frog, dooming them both.   As the deadly venom took its hold, the frog asked the scorpion why it delivered its sting that would destroy them both?  The scorpion answered “it is my nature to sting.”  In a nutshell that is the nature of evil.  It will eventually deliver its sting.  So if we want to be safe we must avoid evil whenever we can.  This is most true when we are considering political candidates.

In many respects The Tea Party has done this country a favor.  They have energized the country by reigniting passion back into the political process.  Their raucous demonstrations and appeal to populist sentiments has served to remind America of its activist heritage and the many protest movements that have been central to the creation of our republic.  America, the great democratic experiment,  is the result of a history of struggle to claim and extend democratic rights and privileges to all citizens.  The great social justice struggles that fought for universal suffrage, women rights, living wages and labor laws, civil rights, environmental protection and antiwar movements are important chapters in America’s story that are often neglected and too often forgotten.  The Frederick Douglas admonition that “power concedes nothing without demand” is a keen wisdom that Tea Party activists have taken to heart.

The Tea Party has adamantly asserted that the elite class of professional politicians is beyond reformation.  The political elites cannot change their nature.  The Democrats and Republicans are well beyond redemption.   A more astute truism has never been spoken.  Here the Tea Party rhetoric diverges from their practice because they advocate support for GOP candidates.  So the first lesson we can learn from the Tea Party is to do what the Tea Party says “don’t trust either party,” not what they do, support the GOP.

I am convinced that both parties are totally bought and controlled by big money channeled through K Street lobbyists doing the bidding of large corporate interests. The final nail in the coffin was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  This decision has altered the democratic scales of our Republic.  They have been dis proportionally tipped against the individual citizen.  The law of the land  has codified this inequity by protecting the right of deep pocketed corporate institutions to purchase the favor of political elites that rule America.  This will further strengthen the entrenched class of the two party monopoly.  This leaves the citizen to content themselves in the illusion that America is still a participatory democracy.  Dressing up in Minuteman costumes to pretend we are racing off to meet the dreaded enemies of our republic; and proclaiming an intention to water the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants makes for amusing political theater in a land where  the value of one man one vote is severely distressed.

Here the mendacity of the Tea Party’s populism is made clear.  Tea Party candidates are the principal recipients of corporate money.  This money finances expensive media campaigns that flood the airways of critical electoral districts with advocacy ads  in support of Tea Party sponsored candidates.  This money is also used to attack liberal Democratic Party opponents.  The populist claims of the Tea Party are bankrupted by the heaps of corporate gold flowing into their campaign war chests.  This prompts conservatives to parrot “global warming is a liberal fiction” and “God placed oil on this earth for our use and its our divine right to extract it.”  They condemn government regulations as an assault on the economic liberties expressly protected in the Constitution.  It is as if they believed the  natural resource of the land was theirs and not the property of a faceless global corporate entity.

We can also be thankful to the Tea Party for revealing how the core values of conservatism are put into practice.  Property rights trump all rights.  Militarism and nationalism is our salvation.  Tolerance is the hallmark of ignorance.  Compromise and negotiation is a sign of weakness and consensus born from a democratic process must be repressed.   The stridency of their pronouncements seep with homophobia, Islamophobia and insistence on closing the southern border and eradicating illegals within our midst expresses deep cultural and racial fears born from an eroding cultural supremacy.

The geopolitical reality of the changing demographics of America’s ethnic and cultural landscape fuels a desire to arrest the democratic political process.  The populism of  the Tea Party is based on summoning the support of the declining population of Caucasian America.   They give voice to the anger of  the ebbing dominance of a demographic group;  screaming, crying and cursing its economic, political and cultural pain.  Barack Obama manifests the threat in a stark contrast of black and white.  He fuels the fear that gives pointed political focus to the racial aspects of Tea Party politics.  The nations first Afro-American President conveniently offers cover to an undercurrent of racial animus prevalent in Tea Party slogans and images.

The Tea Party’s professed love of the Constitution is disingenuous.  I ask where was their righteous outrage as Bush and the Republicans violated some of the basic tenants of the Constitution.  Most were out front cheering him and his fellow Republicans on.  Their support of positions that deny the basic civil rights to the LGBT community; the clamoring silence concerning violations of privacy rights under the Patriot Act; the failure to recognize religious freedom and the right of Muslims to build mosques; their practice of advocating the selection of circuit judges on the basis of ideological commitment to the GOP and the endorsement of torture and unlimited imprisonment without due process for enemy combatants in the war on terror are examples of their disdain for constitutional protections and basic human rights.

Fundamentalism is a strain of thought that is psychologically appealing in a complex world with no easy answers.  With fundamentalism the cosmology is all figured out.  There is no need to ask any questions because the answers are self evident truths that confirm the ideology before the question is asked.  The Tea Party raises the US Constitution with a fervor that rivals any Bible thumping Born Again Christian or Quran fueled Taliban operative.  I heard a Tea Party member once advance the idea that no new legislation can exceed 30 some odd pages in length because that was the length of the original US Constitution.  This thinking fetishizes the Constitution.  It believes the original document to be a holy tablet that the Founding Fathers brought down from the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains.  It fails to take into account that the United States of 2010 is a vastly different place then it was when it emerged on the world scene as the first democratic republic in the late 18th Century.  This fundamentalism fails to remember that some of the original framers of the Constitution were slave holders, considered people property, disenfranchised women and perceived Native Americans as savages and worthy targets of genocide to annex their lands for the new and growing republic.   No the reality of the 21st century nation state and the rights and responsibilities of its citizens in an interconnected global ecosystem has evolved and is vastly different from the time when the Constitution was authored.  The foresighted crafters of our Constitution sat through a sweltering Philadelphia summer and sweated out this hollowed document  through intelligent compromise and a respect for consensus and the democratic process.  It is a vital lesson lost on Tea Party zealots content to wave copies of the document as some righteous proof of their love of country while they profane the spirit and enduring truths of the Constitutions essence.

The Tea Party’s political fundamentalism is mirrored in many respects by the religious fundamentalism held by many of its members.  If the Constitution anoints true believers with political righteousness, religious fundamentalism provides theological justification for a social agenda advanced with nasty intolerance, celebratory bigotry and cultural exclusion.  Religious fundamentalism has long been the cornerstone of the conservative movement.  They attack secularism as an obscene manifestation of the liberal welfare state.  It threatens civil liberties for everyone as it seeks to exclude the full rights citizenship  for all citizens.   It is a dangerous foil aimed at the heart of public education.  It is a tool employed by education reformers to underfund school programs, transfer monies to charter and private schools and transform humanities based curricula. It seeks to replace science in our public schools with stories from the Bible.  Evolution, natural selection, and big bang theories are replaced with creationism and  a 6,000 year old world that was created in 6 days.  Civil law and cultural mores will be guided and enforced by a moral code of prohibitions written 3,000 years ago to bring order to a nomadic tribal people assembling the nation of Israel.

The future competency of our nation and its ability to compete in a complex world is at stake.  America cannot hope to maintain its leadership in the world economy if it allows science to be politicized, its schools to crumble and a segment of its people not fully enfranchised with the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.  The greatest danger is the installation of a bifurcated society where well to do Judeo-Christian Caucasians are in a position to purchase the best education, access health care services and enjoy a full pallet of rights and freedoms not available to the growing stable of “others” lawfully excluded from their rightful inheritance of citizenship.

The Tea Party has crystallized the choice in the coming election.  Beware of the Bible thumper.  Beware of the Constitution waver.  The stridency of  Tea Party proponent’s and their religio-political fundamentalism may stand like “Old Hickory” on a timely quote from their sacred tomes but  resorting to such a defense reveals an inherent weakness in their argument.  No dialog, no consensus, no possibility of arriving at a democratic resolution to problems.  Tea Partyer’s may offer factual recitations from the books but no understanding and less truth can be found in pronouncement of their words.

You Tube Music Video: Art Tatum, Tea for Two

Risk: Constitution, secular democracy, education, civil rights

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Bible, Christianity, Civil Rights, class, culture, democracy, elections, government, labor, LGBT, politics, Quran, religion, republicans, social justice, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fundamentalist Politics in Nevada

Political operatives  circulate this photo in an attempt to taint the reputation of candidates running  for office in highly contested elections.  It has surfaced again in the Nevada Senate  election  campaign of Harry Reid and Sharron Angle.

I recently received an e-mail with this lovely image. The e-mail states that this is a photo that captures the 1889 public execution of Remus Reid for horse stealing and other crimes in the Montana  Territory Prison.  Remus is an ancestor of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  Mr. Reid is running for reelection and is locked in a campaign battle with Teabagger darling Republican Sharron Angle.

The e-mail stated that a professional genealogy researcher (read: political hack) discovered this photo and asked Harry Reid if he cared to comment on it.  Mr. Reid’s reply maddened the author of the e-mail, stating that Mr. Reid’s reply is a typical example of his Bull Shit.  To quote the e-mail on this disingenuous genealogical inquiry:

“Believe it or not, Harry Reid’s staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

“Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”

NOW THAT’s how it’s done, Folks! That’s real POLITICAL SPIN, or typical Reid “BS”

The real BS of this story comes from Sharron Angle and her political propagandists.  This Teabagging wind bag asserts that she has been anointed by God to save Nevada and the Union from socialists, liberals and terror loving anti-Americans (read democrats).  God officially came out for Ms. Angle’s candidacy a few weeks ago.  Not surprising since Jesus Christ has been the unofficial head of the GOP since at least the Reagan Administration.  The breaking news of God’s endorsement of Sharron Angle was scooped by that hard hitting team of journalists at the 700 Club.  You can see the story here:

Interesting this deeply Christian women says nothing about repealing gambling or legalized prostitution in her state or ending the wars but will make it her first order of business if elected to repeal the health care bill that extends coverage to all citizens.  Curious that God would direct this deeply religious woman to deny health care to the poor and give a free pass to the wealthy riding their camels through the golden eye of the needle.  Somehow I don’t think Ms. Angle’s positions are something that Jesus would support.

To make a point of righteous indignation, we get Ms. Angle circulating photos of a public hanging of Mr. Reid’s ancestor.  I don’t believe Jesus would approve of this either but Ms. Angle no doubt knows a side of Jesus Christ I have yet to discover.  So Mr. Reid responds with some amusing political satire to the inanities of Rovian inspired Teabagger politics and the point becomes the political spin of Mr. Reid.

I imagine Ms. Angle is trying to hold Mr. Reid accountable for the crimes of a distant ancestor that was dead before he was born.  Theologically this is not very Christian of Ms. Angle.  According to Jesus everyone is responsible for their own salvation.  The sins of my father and great great uncles may be visited upon me but I am not responsible nor accountable for those sins.  Christianity teaches people are active agents in their own salvation.  Ms. Angle should go back to Sunday School.  There are loop holes to this belief.  According to Pat Robertson, the CEO of the 700 Club, the only exception to this New Testament precept is if you are Haitian and your ancestors made a pact with the devil to rid Haiti of French colonial rule.  But as far as we know Mr. Reid is not Haitian (though at press time we understand that Rush Limbaugh is reviewing Reid’s birth certificates) and so would not fall under this rule of being guilty for your ancestors sins.

This e-mail campaign is typical reactionary Rovian electoral tactics.   It is born from the same virulent partisan attacks of Andrew Breitbart that demonstrates no allegiance to truth and less to the guidance of any moral compass in journalistic pursuit.  Again in my estimation a most Un-Christian practice.  Attack an opponent to raise an emotional response using lies and racist symbolism are Tea Party practices that is rife throughout the movement of these little neo-fascist Christian Falangists.

The less said about issues and substantive programs to address the deep rooted problems of our country the better for the Teabaggers and the GOP.  The Party of No got their Brown Shirt Shock Troops motivated around no taxes, no social welfare, more guns and prayers.  It is the sycophantic mantra for a white middle class movement that patronizes class distress and offers no solutions to their pressing economic and cultural constriction.  Nothing about issues. All about raising an emotional response with cliche, platitudes and negative symbolism.

Many of the original western settlers had a hand in the violent displacement that stole land from the Native Americans.  Did Ms. Angle’s ancestors occupy Native American land as they colonized the West?  Did Ms. Angle’s ancestors rightly compensate Native American’s for their land when they took control of the hood?  If Remus Reid horse stealing ways is a valid campaign issue perhaps we should examine the genealogical lines of other westerners to determine how they got control of the land that they currently occupy.

One last point about the e-mail that I found curious was that “Politically” was misspelled in the subject line.  The subject line read: Politicaly correct? I wonder if the ignorance born from people who quote words like “refudiate” are seen as badges of honor.  These badges (kind of like Rush Limbaugh’s imaginary medals of honor that adorn his puffed up chest) are worn only by True American’s who hate pin headed liberal intellectuals who know how or care enough about the quality and “correctness” (there’s that word again) of communication to use a spell checker.  Correctness, accuracy, truth and morals means little to the authors of these e-mails and the Andrew Brietbarts of the world.  Its all about the preservation of their cosmology that protects the fundamental truths of political party, social class an eroding culture of privilege and  a warped theology.

Who ever is sending this stuff out, Joseph Goebbels would be proud of you. Keep repeating the Big Lie. Pretty soon you’ll begin to believe it yourself and swear its true.

My response  to this dangerous nonsense:

Kristallnacht in America

Il Duce’s Ghost

American Evita

You Tube Video: Paul Robeson, Ballad of Joe Hill

Risk: culture, politics, religion, truth

July 27, 2010 Posted by | Christianity, culture, democracy, democrats, elections, faith, republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

A few years ago I caught Jimmy Cliff at BB Kings. What a party. He was terrific as he went through his expected repertoire of liberation songs to a very Reggae beat. For his last tune Cliff pulled out this giant bass drum the likes of which I have never seen. As he got into the tune the drum strike would send a soul penetrating sound wave reverberating into a frenetic audience bopping in unison. The vibe tickled as it pierced the body and continued to resonate after the sound wave passed through your heart. I imagine it was like getting zapped with a cosmic ray gun. The sound wave united artist with audience bringing them together into a unified vibe similar to the collective experience of the Holy Spirit that brings believers into a shared spiritual communion.

The recent performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass) by The New York Philharmonic Orchestra at NJPAC was a similar experience only multiplied by a factor of 10. The Orchestra led by Alan Gilbert fronted a 80 person choir and four vocalists that sang the libretto. Immediately, one is struck by the genius of Beethoven to score a composition of such massive dimensions and ensembic scale in service to the dramatic sweep of a divinely inspired vision. One is also left to wonder how a conductor can order a unified musical presentation by such a massive assemblage of singers and musicians? Mr. Gilbert acquitted himself very well and delivered a musical experience the likes of which I have never encountered most certainly in a live setting. This type of music is not listened to it is more of a full body experience.

The choir and orchestra engaged a dynamic dialectical interplay throughout the 75 minute piece with the choir often getting the upper hand. The vocal proclamations ascended with declarative force while the orchestra evoked a counterpoint of reasoned consistency that absorbed and controlled the power of the choir. The interplay of the piece suggested to me an image of an absorbent God that reigns in a celestial habitat. The multitudinous evocations, prayers and petitions from humanity are folded into the massive divinity that challenges and defies a human comprehension. The brute scale of the presentation’s momentum and the avowed certainty of the pieces direction remained unquestioned suggesting a cosmological predestination at work absorbing any loose ends of free will by performers or the comprehension of the audience.

Beethoven wrote the Missa Solemnis in 1814. It was a time of great upheaval and political uncertainty throughout Europe. The rise of nation states were eroding the political and institutional power structures of the aristocracy and a theocratic ideology that held it in place. The Missa Solemnis was commissioned by Arch Duke Rudolph who was appointed Cardinal and Archbishop of Olmutz. The piece was to be played at a solemn mass to commemorate the occasion. Though billed as a solemn mass, solemnity is not an adjective I would use to describe the piece. Beethoven assaults us with an overpowering forced conversion experience.

A Beethoven contemporary Prussian General Karl Von Clausewitzt stated, “pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.”Missa Solemnis seemed to take the great generals advise to heart. The power and scale of the piece, its careful orchestration, and the continual exchange of the orchestra and choir also seems to suggest another Beethoven contemporary, the master dialectician Georg Hegel, may have been an influence in the Missa Solemnis. I raise this observation because the pieces structure suggests that the composer utilized Hegel’s dialectic method to arrange a conceived cosmology. The piece earnestly sought a divine experience but failed to transcend the bounds of an inspired institutional theology jealously guarding its eroding political power and ebbing sovereignty by co-opting the denying a transcendent experience to the audience. In my mind, the dialectic of the Missa Solemnis, never synthesized into a satisfying higher apotheosis. The piece seemed to continually fold back into itself. It lacked a needed reform of subtlety, reflection and space for a personal ubiquitous transcendence of the listener. It seemed to exclusively rely on the quality of the absolute force of its statement.

The Missa Solemnis scale and force of proclamation condemns the audience to a fixed position in a staid universe. It reinforces the quiet solemnity demanded of an inert audience required by the art form. I may have yearned for some Pentecostal action from the likes of Charles Mingus’s Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting only to be handed some very white bread Episcopalian homily affirming the fixed hierarchical cosmology. Absent of a voice of protestant reform and no ubiquitous inflection points, that allowed for the soul to escape the earthly barrage of the musical assault. All becomes controlled and incorporated into a catholic exegesis. Yes there was passion, tragedy, expectation and hope but save a small interlude of a bubbling choral evocation the transcendent moments always get dragged back to earth by an authoritarian dogma intent on maintaining the earthly order of things, through ruthless power, stringent conformity and submission to a mysterious all powerful opaque hierarchy. I know that this conflicts with Beethoven’s democratic sympathies beautifully articulated in his Ninth Symphony, but the two pieces dramatically diverge and one lies prostrate before the kingdom of heaven while the other celebrates the secular promise of humanism. I liken Missa Solemnis to Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Songs of the Forest. Drowning itself in the mass conformity of Soviet Social Realism the human voice is heard and articulated as a singular chorus whose greater aspirations are ultimately subsumed by the “Great Gardener” Joseph Stalin.

In the age of The Avatar, the majestic architecture of grand cathedrals, the power of mass choirs and the aesthetic elation of classical art forms has lost its awe inspiring impact. The grandness of the Missa Solemnis is indeed awe inspiring and beautiful to behold; but in the age of technology the mass availability of individuated 3D multidimensional events eclipses universal catholic corporatism negating the individual by channeling and controlling a personal connection to a transcendent experience.  Jesus Christ was not about palaces, power structures or propping up potentates. The ministry of Jesus Christ was about real people with real problems solved with abiding love that encouraged thoughtful engagement. It is the only way that mortals can transcend earthly trials and touch the divine. There is no coercion or sacred cows to protect only an abiding practice of unconditional transcendent love.

Yet for me an irony of the Missa Solemnis remains. I came away from the performance unable to remember a single melody or consistent theme from the score. Beethoven never repeats the theme throughout the extended work. We are enraptured into the immediacy of the experience like Moses’s encounter with God in the form of the Burning Bush on Mount Sinai. Like God the Missa Solemnis is what it purports to be. “I am that I am.” In this respect Missa Solemnis succeeds as a call to an existential engagement of a divinity that passes all understanding.  Reggae may synchronize the human heart beat to The Beneficent Ones finger taps; while the Missa Solemnis envelops the soul in a cascade of sound capturing the communicant with an overpowering force that leaves little doubt of the providence of a divine sovereign.

As a simple truth, Reggae’s beating drum may be a bit more prophetic and democratic. Jimmy Cliff  confronted me with an undeniable truth of his resonating drum. Beethoven assaulted me with an overpowering forced conversion experience. If religion is about informing our conscience and heart to conquer free will by liberating it from the earthly tyranny of the flesh you must be allowed to dance to the beat of many different drummers. That is what liberation is all about. Perhaps dancing to the drum of a Shamanic Rhasta Man is closer to my idea of a Missa Solemnis.

You Tube Music Video: Beethoven Missa Solemnis (D-Dur, Opus 123) Kyrie

Risk; culture, institutional

June 30, 2010 Posted by | Christianity, culture, democracy, music, politics, psychology, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Convergence and Innovation Inhibitors: 011110

As we start the second decade of the new millennium, innovation is understood as a critical driver to overcome the economic malaise plaguing the global economy. Economic stasis and political factionalism has made it increasingly evident that faltering economic and social institutions cry out for sweeping reform. These reforms can only be achieved with innovative approaches in policy and practice. Innovation is realized by giving flight to uninhibited thought and the clear application of ideas with decisive action. Though most agree that we badly need reform, we remain at painful odds as to what those reforms should be and how to implement them. The destructive legislative debates on health care and the ugly political theater of town meetings that occurred in the United States over the summer accomplished little in regards to meaningful reform. The exercises  only served to drive a deepening wedge into the ability of a democratic culture to form a transformative consensus.

Our society is a complex ecosystem comprised of many competing interests. The classic definition of politics, “the means to decide how limited resources are allocated to disparate interests” is clearly a truism that must be applied if we are to realize the reform that we desperately need. In a post scarcity society that definition may seem a bit crude or antiquated. America’s history is marked by a culture of innovation and the incubation of industry. Innovation and its commercial expression in entrepreneurialism is a national asset that tempers the hard edges of stringent allocation or resources and has been the source of our great social wealth. Democracies continually require citizens to arbitrate how competing interests are reconciled and converge. As a self professed democracy the United States must break down the barriers that inhibit innovation by confronting the challenges posed by convergence.

Convergence has been the watch word in the tech industry for the past few years. Convergence aggregates, joins and aligns discreet trends, competencies, technologies and missions to spawn innovation and progress. Masters of business innovation understand that a precondition of convergence is the ability to collaborate. Collaboration requires extended conversations and dialog to understand how competing interests can be reconciled and brought together so that innovation and progress can be achieved. Marketeers invent neologisms like coopetition to brand the idea and lend heft to its thrust. We believe that innovation borne from convergence is the path to rebuild our economy, heal cultural wounds and take a step toward political maturity the United States needs to sustain the great experiment of our democratic republic.

With that in mind we offer a list that outlines the inhibitors to innovation. It is hoped that our nations leaders and people can begin an earnest conversation to address these barriers to growth. Maybe I’m wrong with offering this modest list but I remain willing to discuss it, hopeful that people of good will with a different viewpoint will be open to correct my thinking and contribute to my enlightenment.

1. War: War is inherently wasteful. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are grievous examples of waste and national distraction that hampers the United States economic recovery. At an  Ecumenical Memorial Service held at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 terror attacks  a Buddhist Monk stated that  he believed “it was wiser to drop refrigerators on Afghanistan then bombs”.  Almost a decade later and two wars on I can’t help but to think what a meager $100 billion investment in Afghanistan would have returned to the United States tax payers.  More importantly it would have shown the world that above all else America values the sanctity and preservation of life.  It would have also minimized the rising toll of casualties of both citizens and soldiers.   We developed some great bunker buster bombs but we can’t figure out a way to stop a suicide bomber with exploding underpants.  We succeeded in stirring up a hornets nest of angry insurgents and failed to build innovative pathways to peace with steadfast bridges to secure allies and pacify combatants.

2. Politics: To be sure politics is omnipresent  but the politicization of faith institutions and government functions is a great separator of people. When politics infects faith institutions their ability to breach the social divide and  join people together is seriously compromised or downright destructive. The Catholic Church’s practice of denying the Eucharist to parishioners based on political biases of the communicant places politics at the center of the Lords alter.  The recent occurrences of  radical Islamists burning down Christian Churches in Malaysia  is tragically ironic.  The violence, a response to the Christians appropriation of the word Allah as a name for God; is  a violent rejection of  language convergence of two great faith traditions.  It would seem that unity is a  threat that God cannot abide and is a growing threat that must be abolished.  In the secular world government agencies  were instructed to withhold scientific climate change research of the National Science Foundation because it did not conform with the politics of the party in power.  The extent of the politicization of the judicial branch of government under the Bush Administration was a seditious move worthy of dictatorships.  Innovative application of constitutional law in defense of civil liberties is one of the greatest challenges the war on terror poses to this country.  The creation of kangaroo courts to support the politics of the ruling party would undermine our system of justice.  It would  transform our judiciary  into a repressive apparatus of the state, our laws into  stale dogmas ill suited to meet the legal challenges  of our time and a  justice system that is indistinguishable from the justice offered by our opponents.

3. Ideology: Only good ideas need apply. Deng Xiaoping said it best “does it matter if its a communist or capitalist mouse trap. The question is, does it catch mice?” Seeing this as a threat, Mao Zedong unleashed the cultural revolution and routed the capitalist roaders as a threat to the Great Proletarian Revolution. After the death of Mao, Deng would be rehabilitated and play a key role in China’s adoption of a market economy and its current ascendancy as a world economic power.  In my mind there is a striking resemblance to the debate about heath care.  Socialized medicine is bad.  Do you want to turn into France?  Canadian health care is too expensive.  UK heath care system is overloaded and can’t cope with demand.   These problems would be solved however after the death panels had a chance to meet  and decide who shall live and who must walk the plank.

4. Entrenched Commercial Interests: Though we are ardent believers in capitalism as an engine of innovation the dictatorship of ROI, entrenched concentrations of capital and an unwillingness or inability to adopt longer term investment horizons hamper innovation. The failure of the United States automobile industry to develop fuel efficient vehicles is a good example of market intransigence. The development of junk bonds by Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert dismantled the manufacturing base of the US economy accelerated the countries decline as a net exporter of products creating the foundation of a debtor nation. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter solar panels were installed on the roof of the White House. The succeeding administration had them removed. Imagine where the alternative energy industry would be today had it developed this leading edge idea and capitalized on this first mover advantage.

5. Unbridled free markets: The economic carnage of the banking meltdown is a startling example of the excesses the pursuit of profit will create. The boom in commercial and residential real estate construction created massive stocks of unused inventories that misdirected and wasted enormous resource. The energy and capital expended on these wasteful endeavors misdirected funds and created huge social hazards that requires massive amounts of capital to mitigate. Also worth mention is the development of video gaming. Lots of energy and creativity is being expended on the best techno music to use while your Mafia Avatar bashes open the head of your opponent with a baseball bat. We are not suggesting censorship or a prohibition of video games nor centralized economic planning. Its a compensation and social value issue.  Perhaps a communicants denial of participation at the Lord’s Table lead them to leave the church and miss the message about social values.

6. Technology: It may seem odd to include technology as an inhibitor to innovation but technology for technology sake may inhibit the development of innovative applications solutions that are not technological in nature. The technorati of the world is transforming technology into a religion. Deprived of its human dimension it can become a dogma that grows in an antagonistic relationship with its human masters. The United States continues to trumpet its technological prowess as the deciding factors in its war in Afghanistan. But that paradigm was explored during the war in Viet Nam where pungi sticks ultimately trumped napalm bombs. The power of an idea and how it connects and motivates people is force that is mightier then the sword.

7. Fundamentalism: The Pharisees once asked Jesus, “is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” Jesus answered that it was always the right time to heal those who are sick. The world recoils in horror at the capacity for destruction fundamentalism regularly visits upon the world. The denial of equal civil rights to LGBT people creates a  bifurcated system of citizenship.  It is an ugly stain on our democratic heritage.  The gravest peril to democracy is the abridgment and denial of civil rights to any group of citizens. Democracy necessitates that all republicans enjoy equal access and rights in order for it to function. The denial of that right based on a fundamentalist reading of religious scriptures makes it particularly abhorrent because civil rights of citizens in a secular democracy is not an issue that is decided by theologians or the adherents to a particular theology.

Tolerance and consensus are both antithetical to the precepts of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is not the sole province of religion. It has its secular and ideological adherents as well. Fundamentalism is a pillar of dictatorship; either of a political or theocratic nature both are enemies of secular democracy. Secular democracies require tolerance to respect the diverse ideas and competing viewpoints require in the democratic process. Secular democracies require the trust to converse and hash out the best ideas that serve the greatest good. This is only possible if consensus can be achieved. It is how “out of many becomes one”. It is the true genius of America. It is a worthy innovation of governance that every freedom loving citizen should jealously guard and consciously pursue.

8.  Public Education:  The public education system that the United States built is the true arsenal of democracy and the nations source of wealth and its many contributions it has made to the world.  Without the vast network of learning institutions built and supported by successive generations of Americans the worlds great experiment in representative democracy would have long ago perished.   The public schools sole charter is to create an enlightened citizenship with the skills to discuss, discern and decide in a civil and constructive manner the ever evolving dialectic of a democratic consensus placed at the service of the republic.  It is one of the true geniuses of America and remains her enduring strength.

Today public schools are under attack by forces whose agendas are the pursuit of parochial goals that first and foremost seek their enrichment and interests at the expense of the greatest good of the republic.  The charter school movement is a trend that threatens the public school system by privatizing some of the systems assets and draining away much needed resource and financial support.  It forces public schools to dispense with curriculum offerings like music and arts, sports programs and civic excursions that will convey an understanding of how institutions  interact and support the greater social good. This aspect of the educational experience is supplanted by an exacting examination regime that destroys the love of learning.  Secular learning is also being threatened through the introduction of theological precepts like creationism into the science curriculum of public schools.  Religion and faith are important precepts to offer in a public educational curriculum;  however theology that masquerades  as   science  is an ideological stricture that has no place in public schools.    These  trends are pose great challenges to the  public  schools mission to form enlightened citizens free to think and free to act in the sole service of liberty and participatory democracy.  Innovation and progress is in danger of becoming a secular sin a disease of the soul that needs to be eradicated from the public schools as its threatens to infect the greater body politic.

You Tube Music Video:  Louis Armstrong, I Get Ideas

Risk: innovation, convergence, progress, tolerance

January 11, 2010 Posted by | 9/11, business, Carter, China, Christianity, culture, democracy, economics, faith, history, institutional, manufacturing, Muslim, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, sustainability, terrorism, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prison Ministries: Speaking for Those Without a Voice

MARK 13:1-8 – Restorative Justice Sunday – November 15, 2009

Submitted for the John Hines Preaching Award by the Rev. Pamela Bakal

I recently came back from a Prison Ministry conference and one of the exercises that the participants were asked to do was, “Build the kind of prison that Jesus would want.” They gave us all wooden blocks and we worked together to come up with the ideal prison. We thought surely there should be a large worship space, and a place for multiple classrooms so that the inmates could learn job skills and education. We created an area for a garden so that the splendor of God’s creation would fill both guards’ and inmates’ souls with beauty and peace.  We constructed bridges so that the men and women could physically walk through the emotional changes and transitions they would be making in their lives. No matter what we tried the presenter kept shaking her head. And then it dawned on us; Jesus would have torn down the walls of the prison and set the captives free.

In a perfect world there would be no prisons. Building prisons is not the answer. If punishment really worked the recidivism rate would not be at its present statistic of more than 50%. The problem is so much more complex than using the crime and punishment formula. If we are going to solve the problem of our enormous prison population (There are as many in the prison population as there are Episcopalians – 2 ¼ million!) we are going to have to change the way we structure our prisons, and all work together to support our less fortunate neighborhoods.

How do we redesign a society that needs to put so many people in prison? That is precisely what the work of Jesus is about – changing the world and the way we understand it, so that all might be free.

Most of you have probably never seen the Essex County Jail, on Doremus Ave in Newark, New Jersey. Whenever I visit there I feel like the disciple who said to Jesus, “Look, teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”  (Mark 13:1) That jail is huge! There are 3200 inmates housed there!  And what is Jesus’ response…” Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Could this be the prison that was conceptualized in the Prison Ministry conference?

This Scripture passage is what we call apocalyptic Scripture. It is about the end time. It can create fear and trembling in some people because one way to read it is that the end of the world could be imminent, and when it arrives we will witness the terrible wrath of God. Those who are good and faithful will be saved, and those who are sinners will be damned forever. They say that when it comes to apocalyptic Scripture, there are two kinds of people; those who love to scrutinize it for symbols and hidden meanings, and those who pass over these texts as quickly as possible. For me apocalyptic Scripture passages contain tremendous hope. Apocalyptic Scripture tells us that God has a mission which God is in the process of fulfilling and perfecting. God is shaping our future, this world’s future, toward an end that is grace filled and loving. When we read and hear these scripture passages about “the end time,” we are challenged to bring them into a meaningful perspective of how God’s reign, God’s Kingdom will be brought in.

And who would not look forward to the end of a world that binds people and keeps them from living out their God given gifts.

Apocalyptic Literature has something in common with Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is a process that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior, both to the victim and society. It is best accomplished through a cooperative course of action involving victim, offender, community, and government. Rather than viewing the current system of justice as reparations being doled out in dollars and cents, and the “penal” system as punishment for a crime, its focus is to be a system of healing for all parties concerned. These principles are the principles of Jesus: repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal, healing. We speak of these all the time in church, and as Christians it becomes our mission to bring these values of Jesus into fruition in the world.

Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray.” (Mark 13:5) Haven’t we indeed been lead astray by our retributive system of justice? Punishment is equated with revenge and revenge only multiplies anger and violence. These times look like the end time. We have “kingdoms rising against kingdoms,” (Mark 13:8) such as we might see in gang wars.  Violence is creating a vortex that drags our children into the criminal justice system, and any attempt to climb out only gets swallowed up as a tenuous earth cracks beneath them.

Ah, but these might in fact be “the beginning of the birth pangs”. (Mark 13:8) As we see that retributive justice does not work, we will begin the change. Jesus’ sense of justice asks us to respond to evil with love. God’s love for us in Christ Jesus extends grace to all; even those we do not think can be loved. Grace is unearned forgiveness and unearned generosity of spirit. Restorative justice allows a place for grace. To discover how grace operates in the justice system might just bring about the change and transformation needed. As we come to realize the old ways no longer work, as we tear down the old institutions, we allow for grace to enter in. Grace naturally focuses on the future and how things can be changed for the better, both for the victim and for the offender and the community.

Followers of Jesus do not need to fear such a time when all will be thrown down, or wonder what it all means. What might at first appear to be foreboding and anxiety provoking is now transformed into hopefulness and anticipation. We can face the troubles and anxieties of this age because we know that this is not the final state of things. We have reason to be excited that the salvation of the world draws near, and that we too can join with Christ in bringing in a time when the walls of our prisons will be cast down, and our prisoners set free. I thank God that the day is coming when Jesus will make all things new, all things right, all things just, all things infused with grace.

This is very good news.

 

The Rev. Pamela Brownlow Bakal is Rector of Grace Church in Nutley, NJ and President of Prison Ministry, Diocese of Newark.

Mark 13:1-8 (NRSV)

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” [2] Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

[3] When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, [4] “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” [5] Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. [6] Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. [7] When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. [8] For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

You Tube Music Video: Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues

Risk: social justice

December 26, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Christianity, community, culture, faith, family, prisons, social justice | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Oasis: Let the Circle Be Unbroken

I stand at the door and knock

I stand at the door and knock

On May 30th my wife and I were blessed to attend “Let the Circle Be Unbroken”; a Festival Eucharist celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Oasis. The Oasis, a sanctuary ministry for the LGBT community took form and was founded by the humble and holy saints of the tiny but mighty in spirit All Saints Episcopal Church in Hoboken, New Jersey. Two decades ago, as the AIDS epidemic continued to cast a pall over the gay community and the World Health Organization still considered homosexuality a disease, All Saints realized the crying need for a ministry of inclusion for the LGBT community. The foresight of their loving witness of a radical hospitality of inclusiveness and joyous celebration of diversity; still stands as a blessed light to an LGBT community that continues to be excluded, attacked and oppressed by religious bodies, governmental decrees and cultural practices throughout the world.

The Sermon was delivered by Bishop Shelby Spong. Bishop Spong was instrumental in the formation of The Oasis ministry. He has long been an advocate of reform in the church by ordaining women, Gay and Lesbian priests and for his theological writings on scripture and his apologetics of a Christianity that transcends the limited bounds of fundamentalism.

I expected that Bishop Spong would exhort the gathered to continue the fight against the denial of full equality for LGBT people. I feared the forces of reaction were gathering following the California Supreme Court action to uphold the legality of Proposition 8 that prohibits same sex marriage. This judicial affirmation seemed to energize momentum for a movement intent on withholding a basic civil right to LGBT people. But true to his nature as an optimistic contrarian, Bishop Spong exhorted service celebrants to “claim the victory” in LGBT civil rights. He refused to empower the forces of reaction instead acknowledging the ascendancy of enlightenment and change during the twenty years of the The Oasis ministry.

Bishop Spong began his homily stating “by the time a cultural or institutional injustice is debated in public, its power is waning”. He recounted the struggle and process to ordain the first openly gay priest, the late Rev. Rob Williams who was instrumental in the formation and establishment of The Oasis Ministry. Spong reasoned, religious orders throughout history were rife with homosexual clergy. Yet homophobic public pronouncements condemning the practice were vehemently upheld with a theology interpreted through narrow lenses of biblical certainty. Bishop Spong noted that the ordination of an openly gay priest was an indication that the church was finally becoming honest with itself by acknowledging that homosexuality has long had a presence within the church.

Institutional transformation is not easy nor painless. Prophetic leaders that effect change by standing on plainly evident truths more often then not find dishonor in their homeland. Bishop Spong went on to explain how this ordination led to his censure by the Episcopal House of Bishops. Its a fascinating retelling of the fallout from Bishop Spong’s action and an example of the fiat of institutional power. Censure is exclusion and its more then a little ironic that the House of Bishops would resort to the tool of exclusion to block and forestall gay clergy and The Oasis ministries that witness for the absolute necessity for faith communities to be inclusive.

Bishop Spong spoke of the painful process the diocesan clergy committee went through as it sought to reach a decision on the Ordination of the Rev. Rob Williams. The shackles of culture and long held beliefs forged in furnaces fueled by misconception and prejudices are a strong chains to loosen. Bishop Spong spoke of a 4 hour luncheon meeting rife with high emotions, threats and finally a resolution. After much debate and heated discussion committee members were moved to conduct a reasonable and dispassionate examination of the candidates qualifications on the content of Rob Williams character not on his sexual orientation. This empowered some committee members with the strength and courage to change their negative vote to an affirmation of Rob Williams as a worthy priest that can bring his unique gifts to serve all Gods children.  It was a milestone in the history of the Episcopal Church. It opened the door to numerous ordinations of Gay and Lesbian clergy and the eventual call of The Right Reverend Gene Robinson by the Diocese of New Hampshire to become their Bishop.

Gene Robinson’s installation as bishop has forced the church to reexamine its institutional DNA. It is a reexamination that is not complete and has created fissures in the Episcopal Church and in the broader worldwide Anglican Communion. Gene Robinson’s exclusion from last summer’s Lambeth Conference was as astonishing for it’s pettiness as for it’s cowardly subservience to political expedience. Clearly the reexamination needs to proceed. The Oasis, it ministry and supporters stand at the door and knock. Asking that the reexamination open doors to a radical interpretation of what it means to live into the inclusive love and hospitality exemplified in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Oasis Ministry calls us to return to the simple precept of Jesus instruction to love God with all your heart by extending that love to others.

That is the only way the circle can remain unbroken. The unbroken circle informs our faith practice and commands us to recognize and extend all rights and privileges to all Gods children regardless of sexual persuasion, gender or race. A justice denied is an abomination God’s wisdom corrects. To be sure, God is faithful to the beloved and our faith in God’s wisdom is our sanctuary.  Our heart felt prayer and fervent wish is that those who have hardened their hearts through the practice of exclusion will see the light of God’s wisdom and understand that it is an abomination that God’s children can no longer suffer.

On this Gay Pride Day of 2009, marking the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we pray that the Lord continues to richly bless the ministries of The Oasis. We lift up all those who remain burdened and injured by the oppression of injustice to be freed from those unjust burdens and be healed and made whole from their wounds inflicted by those acting in ignorance of God’s abundant and all encompassing love.

God Speed Oasis

You Tube Music Video: Joan Baez, Let the Circle Be Unbroken

Risk: civil rights, God’s love

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Christianity, Civil Rights, faith, gospel, institutional, LGBT, love | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments