Preparing to Confront Fascism

Stay ready or get ready, think things through, act accordingly. This piece by Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder is making the rounds on Facebook. I would amend or supplement his reading list but his points are well-taken:

“Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”

Snyder is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (which includes former Secretaries of State), and consults on political situations around the globe. He says, “Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. DO NOT OBEY IN ADVANCE. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. DEFEND AN INSTITUTION. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. RECALL PROFESSIONAL ETHICS. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. WHEN LISTENING TO POLITICIANS, DISTINGUISH CERTAIN WORDS. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. BE CALM WHEN THE UNTHINKABLE ARRIVES. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. BE KIND TO OUR LANGUAGE. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. STAND OUT. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. BELIEVE IN TRUTH. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. INVESTIGATE. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. PRACTICE CORPOREAL POLITICS. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. MAKE EYE CONTACT AND SMALL TALK. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE FACE OF THE WORLD. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. HINDER THE ONE-PARTY STATE. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. GIVE REGULARLY TO GOOD CAUSES, IF YOU CAN. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. ESTABLISH A PRIVATE LIFE. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. LEARN FROM OTHERS IN OTHER COUNTRIES. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. WATCH OUT FOR THE PARAMILITARIES. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. BE REFLECTIVE IF YOU MUST BE ARMED. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. BE AS COURAGEOUS AS YOU CAN. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. BE A PATRIOT. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Pops

I never learned Pops’ name. Everyone just called him Pops. He was happier than any man had a right to be who was living homeless in the parks or under the bridges. I wondered if he was simple minded, truly spiritually disciplined, or  was just born happy. Scientists tell us that people’s happiness centers in their brains develop differently in the womb. At any rate, he took the lessons his mama taught him seriously! If he couldn’t say something nice, he wouldn’t say anything at all. He wasn’t homeless for being lazy. He was always busy. He had a big shopping cart. He used it to collect recyclables to turn in for cash.

He would go around to the renovation and demolition sites and ask for any of the metal they would part with. Many times the union men would have him go in and do some of the particularly dirty work, up in the vents, etc., in exchange for the metal and all the wire. They usually didn’t get much, if anything for the wire, unless it was stripped. Pops would recycle all the aluminum, steel, copper and tin. He would keep the wire. He also snagged cords from the blinds on these jobs. Pops would then painstakingly strip the used copper electrical wire. He would then wind it into crosses. He used the salvaged cord from the blinds to tie necklaces for them. He always wore one and had several more on his person. He was in the habit of giving these cross necklaces away. He would say, “Just trust Jesus” or “Jesus loves you” and offer you a cross. If you told him he had already given him one, no matter, please accept another.

Over the years, Pops offered me four crosses. I passed three of them onto others. Pops eventually did succumb to the dementia that comes with Alzheimer’s. He spent his last year or so living on the street in a large crate with a loving community of four other men living in adjacent shipping crates under a parking ramp bridge. These men looked after him with sensitivity and love rarely seen in nursing homes with all the amenities. They knew just how to deal with him when he was present and when he ‘went off’. It was tragic, yet also beautiful, to witness. Pops was reaping loving care in the roughest of circumstances from the most unlikely caregivers after sowing a lifetime of simple love and cheer.

I have to say, though, to witness this in the USA in 2002, and to have no way to intervene to get him to a properly heated space with proper treatment, because we as a people lack the compassion to muster the political will to provide universal, easy to access healthcare as a basic human right, was heartbreaking.

Cross Pops made for me.
Cross Pops made for me.

When I was chrismated in 1999 in the Orthodox Church, my godfather, Alex Smerkanich, gave me a very nice, shiny, real gold cross, on a gold chain. I lost it, one dark winter night, while serving the homeless at 18th and Vine. So I had Pops cross blessed on the holy table at St. Philip’s and I started wearing that instead; in memory of Pops and for all my homeless brothers and sisters. When I started to tear out the wiring to rewire our house, I saved the old wire. I strip it and I make crosses like Pops did and give them away, for people to remember Pops and his simplicity; to remember all my homeless brothers and sisters; to work to end homelessness; to work for universal healthcare. It’s pro-life!

I painted Pops from memory. I made him younger than I ever saw him to reflect his childlike faith and unsinkable optimism. Yet I included his white hair and long white beard to reflect what a gift of wisdom this was. I made a small cross out of salvaged doorbell wire and fastened it to the canvas on the necklace.

“Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God” – a book review

whycoverWhen I read this title, my first thought was that people are going to think this is a kitchy attempt to evangelize atheists or to teach people how to evangelize atheists. However, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at a conference with the author, Frank Schaeffer, last fall, and I know that he is the kind of man who comes at you straight on,  full frontal, with no guile, with his understanding of the world or politics or life, not like a breath of fresh air, but like an ocean breeze that just blows the blinds open and clears out all the cobwebs! I read this book in two sittings. It is that wonderful. I did have to come up to take a look around and check in with my family, once.

This book is not about the debate between theists and atheists and it is all about the debate between theists and atheists. Frank takes us to a different space in that debate, however. He reveals why this is so emotional for so many; why it is so “hot button.” It is really a debate within each of us. What Frank is doing in this deeply personal book of self-examination is calling us to stop shouting at each other long enough about what we claim to believe, whether that be Christianity, Judaism, Islam, atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or whatever, to listen to our own doubts and insecurities; then look honestly at the inconsistencies in our own systems of belief.  All of the world’s religions have changed over the centuries, and evolved. Just read the words of Jesus to see how radically he changed the Israelites’ religion. Paul tried to walk back some of Jesus’ more revolutionary ideas by silencing women in the church after Jesus encouraged them to speak. So we are whatever religion we are, or are not, mostly by accident of birth. Let’s be humble about that. If we read the words of Jesus, we are not supposed to judge, so let us not put other people in hell, not even for a little bit. Sometimes atheists make the best Christians. Sometimes Christians don’t know where God is. “My God! My God! Why has thou forsaken me?” “Lord I believe. Help thou my unbelief.”

The words “objective reality” are just a metaphor for something I’ll never encounter. …

Anyway, since no one is ever just one thing, who are we planning for? Which “me” should be running the show? We’re all in the closet, so to speak. We barely come out to ourselves and never completely to others. I’ve never met an unequivocal atheist or religious believer. I’ve only met people of two, three or four or more minds—people just like me. Atheists sometimes pray and eloquent preachers secretly harbor doubts. The evangelist Billy Graham preached certain salvation and heaven guaranteed yet privately told my dad, a friend and fellow evangelist, that he feared death and had many doubts.

We’re all of at least two minds. We play a role and define that role as “me” because labels and membership in a tribe make the world feel a little safer. When I was raising my children, I pretended to be grown-up Daddy. But alone with my thoughts, I was still just me. I’m older now, and some younger people may think I know something. I do! I know how much I can never know.

Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Christian, you are that because of where and when you were born. If you are an atheist, you are that because of a book or two you read, or who your parents were and the century in which you were born. Don’t delude yourself: there are no good reasons for anything, just circumstances. Don’t delude yourself: you may describe yourself to others by claiming a label of “atheist,” “Jew,” “evangelical,” “gay” or “straight” but you know that you are really lots more complicated than that, a gene-driven primate and something more. Want to be sure you have THE TRUTH about yourself and want to be consistent to that truth? Then prepare to go mad. Or prepare to turn off your brain and cling to some form or other of fundamentalism, be that religious or secular. You will always be more than one person. You will always embody contradiction. You—like some sort of quantum mechanics physics experiment—will always be in two places at once.

It came home to me personally on a number of levels. I have always loved church. I have been ordained four or five times in five or six churches. (The disparity is due to whether you accept my infant ordination at my baptism in the Episcopal Church. The bishop gave me the laying on of hands of Peter. No one knows why.) I currently cannot attend. I suffer PTSD from being bullied and having my life threatened by clergy. I have also discovered that I have a developmental defect in my brain, and subsequent strokes in my right parietal lobe. Limited blood flow and damage to that part of the brain tends to make the ‘victim’ more religious. So the fact that there is such a defect effect could be considered evidence for the existence of God as this is all part of the design; or it could be an explanation for my quixotic quest to find the church that would not betray me, all my life. Christian me believes one. Atheist me  believes the other. Simultaneously.

The one thing I know for sure is that I need to serve the poor in Jesus’ Name. I don’t care who joins me as long as they are not there to save anybody but themselves.

Thank you, brother Frank, for letting me know I am not alone in this insanity we call human life. Let us dare to “create beauty, give love and find peace!”

God, whoever he, she or it may or may not be, bless you, Frank and Genie Schaeffer!

Peace,
Cranford Joseph Coulter

 

Tithing: 10% of what?

comic_greekfortitheIn recent years there has been a lot of talk in different circles relating to the tithe principle of the Mosaic Law. People think that a flat tax sounds fair.  Those who earn more would pay more. Those who earn less would pay less. This seems to make perfect sense on the surface, but when we examine the reality in the light of Scripture, it is not so simple.

Many evangelical churches and cults teach that one should give 10% of one’s income to the church. The Mormons require members to file an income tithe return to the church. Among evangelicals there is always the discussion of whether this tithe is to be on net or gross income. The practice of ‘tithing’ has now spilled over into the Antiochian Orthodox Church as Metropolitan PHILIP introduced it as a prescription for stewardship. Many people have rebelled against it, saying that it is not biblical, since it is from the Old Testament and we are not under the Law. Apparently, they have carried over their dispensationalism with them into Orthodoxy.

The tithe pre-dated the law of Moses. Moses only codified it for the Israelites and for our example. However they would be correct to say that a tithe on income is not biblical. It is, in fact, found nowhere in either testament. The concepts of measuring annual income and of income tax are quite modern, and thus, of necessity, measuring and giving a percentage of income must be modern as well. To be fair to Metropoiltan PHILIP, he was just trying to get Orthodox Christians to support the Church, on a level on par with how the “schismatics” support theirs. He was actually going easy on most members relative to what the New Testament standard for giving truly is. Dues paying is hardly New Testament, after all.

This is where things get exciting. For years, demagogues have been citing the Bible to support a flat tax, claiming that it would be fair, all the while knowing that it would favor their rich supporters, while shifting more of the tax burden onto the middle class and working poor. They got many people to support the concept, because it sounded fair and it sounded simple, and it resonated with what they ignorantly claimed the Scripture taught. The tithes of Moses (yes, there were three!) were on property, not on income. Furthermore, they were not the only taxes. No, they were not voluntary.

It always sounds fair and simple that everyone just pays 10%. What is interesting is that churches that teach “tithing” only receive on average about 2% of their members’ average income in offerings. That percentage is lower the wealthier the members are; a bit higher, the poorer the members are. People who have more money tend to hold onto it more tightly. The New Testament pattern for giving and that taught by the Church Fathers, most notably and most eloquently, St. John Chrysostom, is not tithing, but rather jubilary giving. It is not based on what one starts out with, but on what remains once one has given. What is right to give is determined by what is left. The goals are to further the Kingdom, to live in the Kingdom, to recognize that we own nothing, to use everything as stewards to further the will of God and His Kingdom, knowing that his mercies are new every morning. The Mennonites, Brethren, Amish, and Brethren in Christ used to all teach jubilary giving. When they did, their average giving compared to their members’ income was over 5%. This is still not great, but more than double the “tithing” churches.

I said that the Mosaic tithes were on property, not on income. This is an extremely important detail. This makes them much higher taxes. Every year, a tenth of the crops was to be paid to the Levites. Do not be distracted by the language in some translations that say the “increase” of the wheat, etc. to think that that means the net increase. It does not. It just means the yield of the land. There were no deductions for hired labor, for purchases of tools, for land rental, feed for draft animals, tool repair, work clothes, medical expenses, legal expenses, etc. It doesn’t even matter if there was a drought and one harvested less than one planted. 10% went to the Levites. That was not all. Actually before the harvest was taken, the first measure of grain was harvested and presented to the Lord as a wave offering. The harvest was also not done in such a way as to squeeze every last bushel of grain or fruit out of the field. It was an abomination before the Lord to harvest the corners of one’s field and not leave them for the poor to glean. It would result in being ejected from the congregation, in other words, losing one’s citizenship and inheritance and land.

When it came to the animals, they were all put in the corral and driven through a cattle shoot under the Levites’ rod. Every tenth one went to the Levites. This is interesting. It is by nature not regressive. It is not going to take a man’s lone cow. The tax only starts on a minimum herd of ten. Again, it matters not if the herd has increased or decreased during the year, or what the rancher or dairy farmer paid for feed; or how much he may have had to pay his hired help or what it cost to feed, house and clothe his slaves. One in ten went to the Levites, randomly. If he wants to redeem his prize bull from the offering, he must give an equivalent plus 20% as a substitute. This is all spelled out in Leviticus 27.

It is very interesting that there are going to be many who will read this and start screaming about ‘how is this relevant to a modern society’ and ‘do you want to drag us back to the stone age’ before giving up their concept of a flat tax that they claim to be just, because they think they took it from the Law of Moses or it resonates in peoples minds that it is from the Mosaic Law. You can’t have it both ways. Just because it is 10% or just because it is a flat tax, doesn’t mean it is fair. It all depends on what you are taxing to begin with.

Who decided that what happened last year is the only thing that is important? You could have a very good year and get nailed with high income tax, even though you had several years before where you had terrible years of losses and expenses. By the same token, you could have loads of money and no income at all last year, millions of dollars of assets. Is it right that you should be afforded all the privileges of protection and citizenship and community without paying your fair share? No. Not according to the Law of Moses, which was the only  model handed down to us by inspiration of God for a pattern for human government. The model we are given in the Mosaic Law for taxation is not an income tax at all, but a tax on actual property, so that everyone who has means bears their fair share.

A Saint for Our Time

Verily, we celebrate the memory of thy Prophet Nahum. Through him we implore thee, O Lord, save our souls.

By the mid 14th century the Byzantine Empire had accumulated quite a few enemies both external and internal. They had forgotten to let their theology inform their economy and government as in earlier days and it had cost them the empire. They had lost most of their territory to the Ottoman empire and most of their people to Islam. Then there was the civil war with Serbia, where they lost most of the remaining territory to Stefan IV. 100 years later Constantinople finally fell. When it did, the nobles and church leaders could not even raise an army among their own people, because they had neglected them for so long. Why should they come to the aid of the elites? It wasn’t their war.

It was during this time that there was a significant devotion to Prophet Nahum in the rural areas of Europe, in areas that felt oppressed and neglected by the powers that were vying for dominance. St. Nahum wrote a beautiful prophetic song about Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. It came to pass very specifically then. We are told that the Old Testament is given to us for our admonition and instruction. There are lessons and warnings for us so we do not repeat the mistakes of those nations. The Byzantine Empire fell and it is not coming back, just as it was prophesied to Nineveh: “trouble will not come a second time.”

There was a cult of the Prophet Nahum as the Byzantine Empire was waning and that is interesting. The parallel is not as compelling as it is to the USA today, however. The Byzantines were basically enjoying their privileged position and trying to hold on to the vestiges of a bygone era without understanding and applying the elements of the faith that had given them that greatness. The US, through its corporations, its banking, and its massive military presence and 10 to 15 active military engagements at any given time, controls, colonizes and oppresses an overwhelming majority of the world’s population and consumes the lion’s share of the world’s natural resources. The US likes to think of itself as bringing freedom, but it does not. In Yugoslavia, we brought death and elimination of most of the Christian population. In Iraq, the Catholics and Orthodox and Jews who had been living and worshipping there safely and undisturbed for generations have been killed or driven out and their temples burned. In Afghanistan, the heroin producers are the only ones who have benefited by the US occupation. In Syria, we are supplying arms to massacre Christians. Our plants in India and Africa pollute and kill the ground. We export death in our GMO seeds and Round-Up. We are the only nation that openly discusses and approves of torture methods. Internally, we incarcerate more of our own people than any nation in history, with a strong racial bias against blacks and Latinos. Income disparity is well beyond the tipping point at which other empires (including the Byzantine) have fallen. Upward mobility has vanished. Elections have become a sham due to gerrymandering and dirty tricks and corporate ownership of lawmakers. So-called Christians have been more concerned with being blue or red than being Christian, so have lost effective witness.

We have become a pariah state.

Judgment is coming.

Nahum 3

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies,
full of plunder, never without victims!
The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels,
galloping horses and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears!
Many casualties, piles of dead,
bodies without number,
people stumbling over the corpses—
all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute,
alluring, the mistress of sorceries,
who enslaved nations by her prostitution
and peoples by her witchcraft.
“I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty.
“I will lift your skirts over your face.
I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.
I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle.
All who see you will flee from you and say,
‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’
Where can I find anyone to comfort you?”
Are you better than Thebes,
situated on the Nile, with water around her?
The river was her defense,  the waters her wall.
Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength;
Put and Libya were among her allies.
10 Yet she was taken captive  and went into exile.
Her infants were dashed to pieces at every street corner.
Lots were cast for her nobles, and all her great men were put in chains.
11 You too will become drunk;  you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy.
12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken,
the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.
13 Look at your troops—
they are all weaklings.
The gates of your land  are wide open to your enemies;
fire has consumed the bars of your gates.
14 Draw water for the siege,
strengthen your defenses!
Work the clay,
tread the mortar,
repair the brickwork!
15 There the fire will consume you;
the sword will cut you down—
they will devour you like a swarm of locusts.
Multiply like grasshoppers,
multiply like locusts!
16 You have increased the number of your merchants
till they are more numerous than the stars in the sky,
but like locusts they strip the land
and then fly away.
17 Your guards are like locusts,
your officials like swarms of locusts
that settle in the walls on a cold day—
but when the sun appears they fly away,
and no one knows where.
18 King of Assyria, your shepherdsslumber;
your nobles lie down to rest.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
with no one to gather them.

19 Nothing can heal you;
your wound is fatal.
All who hear the news about you
clap their hands at your fall,
for who has not felt
your endless cruelty?

Rent Party

We organized a “rent party” last week. I have been wanting to do this for some time. It is a practice that comes out of 1920s Harlem in New York City. Fats Waller and James P. Johnson used rent parties to help get by. When someone was going to come up short on their rent, they would throw a party to raise the rent. You clear the furniture out of the main room, invite all your friends and neighbors. Tell them to invite all their friends and neighbors. Charge a cover charge at the door. Provide some food. Have some musician friends play and sing for their supper and free drinks. Have some cheap beer and wine available for more contributions to the cause. This is where line dancing was invented. The most famous of these is the Electric Slide. These parties would be so crowded that, in order to dance, you had to synchronize. It was only later that Nashville expropriated it to turn the Electric Slide into country line dancing. It was a good way to have some fun on a Friday or Saturday night; for less money than at a bar or nightclub, with people you knew, while helping someone out of a tight spot.

Hard times are here again. But unlike during the Great Depression, most of us are unaware of one another’s situations. We are used to being anesthetized by the internet and by cable TV and by constant, on demand entertainment, infotainment, news and propaganda. We have been conditioned to think that anything that is not packaged and branded and sold to us is inferior, and possibly suspect. We get upset about the statistics we see on whatever “news” outlet we prefer, and we will argue about politics that ultimately will benefit the rich regardless of which party is in power, because, let’s face it, they’re all rich and out of touch with any personal sense of neighbors in need. A lot of people on the right are screaming that government is not the answer. A lot of people on the left are crying that the government is too slow to respond. Yet most, on both left and right, just continue to holler at each other while we could actually be doing something to address the suffering and the poverty about which we all say we are concerned.

A rent party is the perfect blend of free enterprise spirit and socialist concern! It’s a cheap date with live entertainment, good, home-cooked food, spirits, laughter, and friendship. Or you can choose to give more with the expectation that when you are short, the others will come to your aid. Another thing I want to say is that there is no shame in coming up short some times. “Events conspire” as they say. Kids get sick. Hours at work get cut back. Utility prices change. Oil and gas prices change. Appliances break or wear out. Expected Christmas bonuses are not given or are miserly. There are dozens of nickel and dimey things that can get a household behind the 8 ball before you can say, “Bob’s your uncle!” Then there are the salesmen and bankers who can paint a rosier picture of the future to get one to finance things one shouldn’t and acquire more debt than one should. Then there is student loan debt. When people are working hard and still not able to make ends meet, there is no shame.

We had a great time. The duo of Kevin Paige, who teaches music at Clemmer Music in Harleysville, PA, and Jeff Bonnet, who usually is part of a classic rock cover band “Out of Touch”, provided most of the entertainment. They were joined on some of the numbers by Dr. Raymond Acker, known to some as Deacon Herman, who also did some solos on guitar and vocal, both originals and some by Bob Dylan. His two sons did a beautiful medley from The Lord of the Rings acapella. April made a leafy salad, rice and beans, veggies and dip, chips and salsa, and coffee. Bethann made chicken breast, potatoes and peppers, orzo and spinach, pigs in a blanket, and wacky cake. Uncle John tended bar with a box of Merlot, a box of Chardonnay, a case of PBR, a case of Icehouse, and a mixed case of Mike’s Hard. We bought way too much alcohol. We have lots leftover. I guess we need to have another party. Thankfully, somebody bought some of the leftovers.

Unfortunately, it was a foggy night, so a number of people did not feel confident to travel. We charged $10 cover and $3 suggested donation for beer or wine or hard lemonade. We had a great time! We raised about $700 to help a young couple with their mortgage. Everyone said we should definitely do this again.

I hope the idea catches on. We could use more live music in our homes. We could use more joy and happiness. We could use more helping one another in hard times.

“What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?”

That was the question Nick Lowe asked in his song made popular by Elvis Costello. It is a serious question that  needs to be pressed especially hard to professing Christians these days. Jesus is proclaimed as the Prince of Peace! At Christmas we sing songs of “glad tidings of peace and good will among men.” Of course, in recent years, with the rightward turn of many in the pulpit, it has been stressed that “a more accurate translation of the Greek would be ‘peace to men of good will.'” I don’t know how this revision sits with Jesus’ message of turning the other cheek and going the second mile and forgiving those who have wronged you 70 times seven times in a day. I really don’t think he was worried we were going to be overzealous in our peacemaking. I wonder what the original Aramaic said. I’m sticking with the Christmas carol and the King James Version on this one, and the testimony of the whole direction of God’s word and Jesus’ ministry.

God came into the world not just to bring peace to good people. It’s a good thing, because none of us are that good. Christ is our peace, not only with God, but to bring peace to the nations:

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:14-18)

The first petition of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom of the Orthodox Church is “For the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” This is foundational, because the Scripture says “God does not hear the prayers of sinners.” The second petition where our real work as a kingdom of priests starts is: “For the peace of the whole world; for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all mankind, let us pray to the Lord.”

What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding, indeed!? We pray for them, right there at the beginning of every Liturgy: the peace part is obvious; love: when the churches are in good order, they are sharing the love of God through good works and breaking down walls of discrimination and ethnic and national hatred; and bringing all to unity in mutual respect and equality under God.

So why are so many of my Christian brothers and sisters so nationalistic and promoting the use of assault weapons to overthrow a government that might make you buy insurance for your employees? Why are so many of them racist? Why are so many talking of secession and stirring up anger and hatred just because their candidate didn’t win an election? Why do so many people think its OK to follow a bitter, atheist, immoral, hypocritical Ayn Rand as a moral leader in economics and totally ignore the teachings of Moses, the Prophets, Jesus and the Apostles? Or divorce them, by saying one is for private life and the other is for public life? How very De Peche Mode of you? You have your “own personal Jesus” but He has nothing to say about how we conduct civic life? The slave holders of the 19th century would solidly agree with you. It was the abolitionists who held that Jesus and the Prophets were going to call the nations to account, that dragged this country, kicking and screaming, into the modern age.

We need to revisit the Scriptures to unearth our sense of justice. We have lost our way. We have left Christianity and become Americans only. We have bought into the myth of the rugged individual. We think that if we can choose wisely, and get the right education, and land the right job, or invent the right gizmo, we can end up on top. Reality check. America now has the second lowest chance of upward mobility after England. Our middle class is disappearing at an alarming rate. Our income disparity between employers and workers is many times that of Mexico’s. That wall we are building will soon be keeping us in, if we do not do something quickly to correct things.

American Christianity has been very pietistic and individualistic to the point that modern evangelicalism is so disembodied as to be gnostic. Christianity’s roots, however, are not so. Hebrew did not have separate words for just and right or justice and righteousness. The singular and the corporate or the personal and the societal were so intertwined. The Bible is not just concerned about personal morality; it is concerned about social responsibility. God is not just going to judge individuals for their personal stewardship. He is going to judge the nations for their economic justice: their treatment of the poor. Read the Prophets. They still apply. Jesus did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Our righteousness is to exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, not mimic Rome.

We will examine the tithes of the Mosaic Law. Yes. There were more than one. We will look at the sabbath years, the gleaning rules and the Jubilee, to see a pattern of second chances, economic redistribution, and social justice, that God was setting forth as a pattern for the nations. We will see how God reinforced this message through the captivity and the warnings of the prophets to the nations. It was no accident that Jesus used the Jubilee song of Isaiah to introduce his earthly ministry. It was also not surprising that the entrenched political powers immediately wanted to stone him for preaching that kind of radical redistribution. St. James preached economic equality, as did St. Paul. We will include a few quotes from the Fathers and some examples from the Byzantine Empire. The point is not to push a particular party’s agenda. The point is to get people to think about economic justice and social justice in a more Christian way and bring that to the debate. We need to do like the old preacher told us to do: “Quit your meanness!”

Bush, McCain and Palin’s Holy War

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin taught in her “Bible study” class at the Assemblies of God Church in Wasilla, Alaska, that the US troops in Iraq had been sent “out on a task that is from God.” 1 She also taught the School for Ministry graduates that it was God’s will that the natural gas pipeline be built across Alaska. “God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that,” she said. The fact that this pipeline would make BP, Shell and Alyeska Pipeline, sponsors of her inaugural celebration, that much more profitable was only a side effect, I guess. Of course she also said that the war in Iraq is about oil. She told BusinessWeek: “We are a nation at war and in many [ways] the reasons for war are fights over energy sources.” 2 So I guess she is saying that it is God’s will that we start preemptive wars to kill people to get oil.

To be clear, there is no such thing as a holy war. Neither the Bible, nor the Orthodox Church teach that any war is just. James tells us clearly where wars come from, and he makes no exceptions for so-called Christian countries who are running out of gas. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:1-3)

President George W. Bush claimed to hear from God that he was to strike down Saddam. 3 This is while he was lying to the world about WMD’s, pressuring the CIA to come up with the right intelligence that would match his aims, and his own father, former President George H. W. Bush was telling him not to go there. If you are hearing from God, why should you listen to the CIA, the UN or your dad? Praise God and pass the ammunition!

John McCain has expressed on numerous occasions, including most recently his acceptance speech that we have a sacred obligation to win any war we engage in. This includes a preemptive war started on falsified intelligence based on a document planted by the Bush White House, because Fearless W. Leader heard the voice of God telling him to take out Saddam. By the way, intentionally targeting an individual, even in time of war, is a crime. Targeting a head of state is a war crime, a violation of the Geneva Convention (which W. claimed we are not subject to, because this is not a war), and is stupid and counter-productive, as are torture, and indeterminate, incommunicado imprisonment. John McCain used to oppose torture, but this year he voted to authorize its use in order to get the full support of the Republican Party. That one vote disqualifies him for office and would leave him open to charges of crimes against humanity in the civilized countries of the world. I guess when you are on a mission from God, you are allowed to bend the rules.

Let’s be clear about the Bush administration’s request to give the CIA an exemption from the U.S. Army’s Field Manual on Interrogation. It was opposed by the Pentagon. It was opposed by career State Department officials. It was opposed by career CIA people. Why? Because torture is inhumane and counter-productive. It does not generate reliable information. It dehumanizes us in the eyes of our enemies, thus it is an added recruiting tool for extremist groups. It endangers our people as it increases the possibility that they will be tortured upon capture. These are the reasons that torture was outlawed by the Geneva Conventions. Bush, McCain and Palin don’t need to heed common sense or history or international law, however, because they have God on their side.

The Iraq invasion was a preemptive war. America has never before rationalized such an act. The only leaders in modern history who have tried to justify such preemptive strikes are Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, Stalin and Golda Meir (though Stalin and Meir thought better of it and decided against it). McCain has embraced the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war. 4 He hasn’t chosen very honorable role models.

It’s very hard to argue with someone who says God told him or her to do something. Hitler was establishing the Third Reich to usher in the coming of the Lord. George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden are intent on starting Armageddon to bring on the coming of the Lord. Hirohito didn’t need to hear from God. According to Shinto practice, he was god. Palin’s Assemblies of God background should be troubling to any sane voter. Pentecostals believe in personal, special revelation from God on anything, and then fit the facts of the world around it. The two most prominent AG members in politics thus far have been Secretary of the Interior James Watt and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Watt didn’t have any problem with clear-cutting national forests of strip-mining in national parks, without any concern of sustainability. He felt we only needed to make sure there were enough resources for the few generations left until the Lord returned. The largest ever petition to remove someone from office was delivered to President Reagan regarding Mr. Watt. He was finally forced to resign after he made an insensitive remark about his staff in a public address. One of his more quotable quotes is: “If the trouble from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used.” 5 John Ashcroft anointed himself with Crisco before taking the oath of office. He was known for his opposition to desegregation and proposing the TIPS program where Americans were to snitch Soviet-style on their neighbors for unpatriotic behavior.

I am not saying that because James Watt and John Ashcroft were Pentecostal wackos that Sarah Palin is also. But it’s scary to think that she thinks that the war in Iraq is a task from God and that God assigned her the task of building a gas pipeline. Also, I have to question the judgment of anyone who names their children: Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig. Especially since they are all obviously boys’ names and three of them are girls.

People are all excited that McCain and Palin are “pro-life.” Preemptive war is not pro-life. They just don’t like paying for abortions. This isn’t pro-life. It is just cheap. Gov. Palin doesn’t like paying to help prevent teen pregnancies or care for teen mothers so they can have their babies either, as evidenced by the use of her line item veto. Bush, McCain and Palin have opposed any plans that would guarantee prenatal care for every expectant mother and healthcare for every newborn. This isn’t even cheap. It is just mean-spirited, as providing this care would prevent so many birth defects, diseases, and handicaps that it would be cost beneficial. Not to mention how many infant deaths would be prevented. Every civilized country has universal healthcare. The infant mortality rate in our inner cities is the same as that of the poorest third world countries. Shame on us! Shame on the Republican Party! Universal healthcare is pro-life.

During the Reagan and GHW Bush years abortion rates increased. During Clinton’s two terms, abortion rates and numbers went down every year. After Bush II took office, the numbers and rate started to increase again. The culture of endless war, out of control govt. debt, lack of care for the poor and working class, no hope of meaningful increase in minimum wage, cuts in WIC funding (a program which the GAO concluded was the most cost-effective program the federal govt. ran), all contributed to a hopelessness and culture of death in which more mothers chose to kill their babies than to let them come into such a world. Not discounting any of his other faults, Bill Clinton promoted a climate and vision of hope. More mothers were willing to let their babies live, as they were entering a world where there was hope for a better tomorrow.

War is never holy or pro-life.

Hope is pro-life.

Universal healthcare is pro-life.