Stay in Love With God – Wesley, Haiti, and the Withered Hand

In 1991, the United States Central Intelligence Agency worked behind the scenes with members of a mafia-like organization in Haiti called the FRAPH to organize a coup d’etat against the popularly-elected government of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The President of the United States at the time was George Herbert Walker Bush, père of the recently retired. At that time, I was working as a military adviser to a Peruvian infantry battalion that was attacking Indians and political dissidents around Huaichipa.

In 1994, as the operations chief for a Special Forces A-Detachment of nine men, I went to Haiti as part of a US invasion force, ostensibly to restore President Aristide to his rightful office and to end the bloody regime of Raul Cedras, the U.S. client who had become the de facto head of state after the 1991 coup.

Between the lines of the carefully crafted double-speak of the Department of Defense – a dialect I understood very well after 15 years in Special Operations – we understood that this benevolence was a mask for the very real concern that the Cedras regime’s depredations were about to cause a popular uprising in Haiti that would escape the control of the U.S. State Department. The return of the legitimately-elected Aristide – a key demand being made by popular movements there – was being choreographed to tamp down popular ire, at the same time ensure that Aristide was hemmed in by the United States in such a way that he could not pursue his original agenda of national self-determination for Haiti.

This is, of course, a much longer story, about which I have written volumes over the years, including a memoir of my participation in the 1994 invasion, entitled Hideous Dream – A Soldier’s Memoir of the Invasion of Haiti (Soft Skull Press, 2000).

The title of that memoir comes from Brutus’ line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (2.1.63-69):

Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma or a hideous dream;
The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council, and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.

This line is the interior monologue of a man about to step past the point of no return in a dangerous political act – the assassination of a head of state, and his former ally. Brutus compares his mental state – the inescapable anxiety of a dangerous act to which one has committed – to the anarchy of a political state suffering an insurrection. The irony, of course, is equally inescapable.

Oddly enough, I found myself in a similar position while in Haiti during the 1994 invasion, ergo the title of the book.

At the end of a military career that started in Vietnam in 1970, I had been exposed to enough of my country’s foreign policy as an insider to know how perfectly cynical it was, and I was in a state of moral turmoil about my own participation in this history. This included fairly extensive experience in the Reagan-Bush-era predations against Latin America.

In the sequence of activity that unfolded during the Haiti invasion, and in the chaos of poor planning by the task force that oversaw the invasion, I found myself for almost three months with an unprecedented degree of autonomy to take decisions on my own. The intersection of this autonomy with my destabilizing personal and moral fault lines created the conditions for a series of actions that I could be fairly sure – on my more rational days there – would lead to a collision with my own chain of command.

I began to intentionally-interpret the intentionally-vague language of our mission statement – to create stability – in a very specific way that I knew very well was inconsistent with the between-the-lines meanings of my government. I bent a Special Forces A-Detachment to my imperfect understanding of the popular will of the Haitian poor.

The outcome is not what I’m getting around on here, but for the record, my efforts were rewarded with summary relief from my position of authority and came within a whisker of landing me in a federal penitentiary.

One of the points I am sneaking up on is a living image, for my fellow first-worlders, of what Haiti was like.

That is, what Haitians were like, are like, as a peasant society, under the debilitating parasitic pressure of co-located urbanization resulting from extra-territorial, imperial domination. That’s a mouthful, but it’s a summary with an analogy that we’ll get to by-and-by.

Let’s start with what’s different in the daily lives of Haitians – different, that is, from what we generally know.

Daily life is daily. What I mean is, the direct struggle for survival for the majority of the population is renewed each morning with an immediate concern for water and food.

Kinship bonds are critical in this day-to-day struggle. Family ties are extended and Byzantine to the unpracticed foreign eye.

There is little of what we call infrastructure – vehicular roads (the overwhelming majority has no gas-powered transport), electricity, potable or even running water, sewage systems, medical facilities, etc.

The main construction method for houses is called the kay-pay (grass house), a method of interlaced bamboo or wood, plastered in with mud, and roofed with long-grass. People are packed into these houses at night, where they sleep on woven reed mats. Bathing is accomplished with a bucket and cup. Food is prepared – with rice and beans as staples – on fires, fueled by deadfall in the countryside, and by more energy-consumptive (and deforesting) charcoal in the city slums. Babies remain at the breast as long as possible.

Chickens, goats, pigs, bony horses, oxen and cows, donkeys and mules, and semi-feral dogs are ubiquitous.

The best land is used for export crops to get dollars to service US-based debts; and though Haiti could easily be self-supporting, they are forced to rely on expensive goods – including food – often produced in the United States.

People are thin, a consequence of strenuous life, little food, and gastrointestinal parasites, the latter responsible for the pot-bellies on most of the otherwise skinny children, many naked until they are 8-10-years old.

People are also very talkative, loud, and sometimes verbally combative.

Gossip is a major pastime, and the means of distributive communication. Perhaps the two most important means of general information sharing are street markets and riversides. Washing clothes at the riversides is a culture of women, who see this activity as far more than utilitarian. As children play in and around the water, this is where women talk with each other, take off their shirts to cool down, and to rage and laugh together about life.

Haitians are largely poor and illiterate, but their knowledge of their environment – physical and cultural – is manifold and deep. During my 21 different visits to Haiti (I returned often after I left the military), my own ineptitude at pretty much everything was always a source of amusement – especially to women and children. They are illiterate for the most part; but they are far from stupid.

Now with this snapshot as a backdrop, I want to describe a couple of incidents during the invasion.

Not long after we arrived, a handful of teams was sent to the port city of Gonaives. When I arrived on the second lift of helicopters, a crowd of easily 10,000 people had pressed in from all sides, and our teams were incapable of traveling the 200-or-so meters to the police caserne where we were to encamp. The crowd was curious and emotional, sometimes breaking into spontaneous political songs with African rhythms that set the place dancing.

Desame lame nou mande nou mande desame lame (Disarm the army, we demand. I can still hear it.)

The crowd had smeared its face with lemon juice from local trees to kill the sting of the teargas that the Haitian police had used on them moments before our arrival, and the helicopter blade wash had blown dust onto the lemoned faces, which stuck, making it appear that everyone had painted their faces pale gray – like a strange scene from a bad imperial film. Our teams were suddenly and fully occupied holding crowds back enough to maintain the circle of space necessary to land our supply helicopters.

Now inside this circle were a dozen or so of the hated Haitian FAdH (Force Armee dHaiti, police), the very ones who had teargassed the crowd, and – as we would learn – who had been beating the population down throughout the last three years of the Cedras regime, including a massacre in the nearby slum of Raboteau. The FAdH carried four-foot wooden batons, thick as the neck on a baseball bat. I had seen the film footage, before we left Port-au-Prince, of FAdH troops wading into civilian assemblies with these batons and mercilessly beating men, women, and children.

On an impulse, while I was part of the perimeter of US troops holding the landing zone, I stepped over to one of the FAdH, snatched the baton out of his hand, and threw it on the ground, precipitating one of the most memorable and startling experiences of my entire life.

With that little action, the collective voice of the crowd exploded with an expression of approval for my action and high-pressure rage against the FAdH, and the crowd spilled past our perimeter, advancing almost instantaneously to within few feet of the now terrified FAdH soldier. Thirty or so men were now pushing back against an agitated mass of ten thousand, and had we not barely contained this, the FAdH soldier’s body would have been distributed amongst that mass in an orgy of longstanding hurt, humiliation, and vengeance.

What was also revealed by this action and reaction was that our puny numbers with our guns were protected more than anything else by psychological barriers a truth that is a source of anxiety to ruling classes everywhere and at all times.

While barely contained in that instance, this incident made me a kind of popular hero among the Haitians, and that friendly disposition followed me to Fort Liberte in the Northeast, near the Dominican Republic, where I would spend the next three months.

I had seen with my own eyes what popular discontent in a peasant society looks like when it is let loose, and gained an idea of how deep the anger and resentment of systematic humiliation goes even when it is not manifest. It seethes under the surface, tamped down by the weapons of the authorities and the dependence on the system and its money, until an opening appears, whereupon the psychological barrier crumbles, and the rage erupts like a volcano.

When we finally got settled and the crowd went to bed that night, a U.S. officer rebuked me, calling my action a stupid stunt. And I sensed that I had jumped off onto a dangerous path in demonstrating this solidarity with the Haitian crowd… a poor crowd, an uneducated crowd, the kind of crowd that all authorities find extremely frightening and dangerous. My own authorities included.

I had a real sense now of that anxiety described by Brutus, of preparing to enter the unknown yet inexorable consequences of that “first motion” in an insurrection. And what would put me in the spotlight – so to speak – was the fact that I was using large assemblies of the unwashed – mobs, to the authorities – to do what I was doing.

I did so again and again over the next few weeks, first in Ouanaminthe, a border town, and finally in Fort Liberte; and I had learned to manage crowds – manipulate them even which gave me little pause, even as they continued to scare the crap out of Haitian policemen and rich people.

I was charged with creating and maintaining stability, and with nine people left by the time we arrived in Fort Liberte, my calculation was that we couldn’t control a million people without the most draconian methods or without re-arming and re-empowering the hated FAdH… unless we simply put the majority on our side. That majority was overwhelmingly the Lavalas movement of Father Aristide.

Not to be disingenuous, I was also already in a state of insurrection, because I was refusing to read between the lines. When the task force commanders dictated that we should re-arm the remaining FAdH and put them back in their casernes and on the street, I gave them their weapons, but refused to give them ammunition and threatened them with dire consequences if they so much as looked cross-eyed at anyone without clearing it through us. The FAdH in Fort Liberte then spent three months playing dominoes under a big shade tree.

I’ll only burden the reader with one other description of an event there, then I will get to the main point – which is a report on my attendance for a bible study last week (January 19-23, 2009) at the Bartimaeus Institute in Oak View, California.

After arriving in Fort Liberte, and summarily arresting the chief Cedras thugs in town, as well as the former ambassador to France under Francois Duvalier (for which I was later reprimanded), I had made contact with the partisans of Aristide – organized loosely as the Comite du Lavalas – and informed them that I would hold a public meeting with them, with the de facto (Cedras) local officials, and with the FAdH commander, at the small public library (not what you might imagine, but a large two-room cinder block facility with a couple dozen books).

In that meeting, we would hear all the grievances from popular representatives against the de facto officials and their bullies, and we would then announce the reinstatement of Aristide-era officials, including the mayor, a woman with whom I would become close friends, named Adele Mondestin.

This announcement was met with trepidation by the de facto officials and their allies, and with skepticism and not a little fear by everyone else – so accustomed had they become to the power of the de facto regime and the well-placed mistrust of any representative of the U.S. government… which I was. On this account, in a town of perhaps 2,000 souls, about 3,000 jammed up against the library on the appointed day to push and shove for a view and a listen through the open-air windows of the cinder-block building.

We had to fight our way through, two of us from the team, Adele and her cohort, the FAdH commander, and several anti-Aristide representatives who were selected by a process that remains opaque to me to this day.

The room, of course, was packed, also using a protocol that I left to Adele and those who understood the social hieroglyphics of Haiti.

The temperature, as it is every day in Fort Liberte, was in the 90s. The mass of bodies pressed in and cut off the ventilation. The air was still and stifling inside. All of us stank, me in particular because I was wearing a full uniform with all my “battle-rattle,” and sweating as only a blan can sweat in the tropics. The chatter of the mass was a kind of constant din, and we had to interrupt the proceedings again and again to temporarily quiet the rowdy onlookers. The FAdH commander, an overfed crook named Pierre Ulrich, had the aspect of a man about to be led to the electric chair as he surveyed the hostile sea of aggrieved faces now looking him smack in the eye.

Picture this, and you begin to appreciate how dangerous anyone can be who can mobilize a crowd of the oppressed.

This had been Aristide’s unforgivable sin, this ability to connect with the Haitian poor, and no policy concession would ever divest him of that sin. That’s why, after he won another fair election, he was again deposed in a coup blatantly organized by the U.S. in 2004, orchestrated for the Haitian independence bicentennial as a special form of humiliation, with Colin Powell presiding over the process. (I was there until the day before the coup, and I can report that every mainstream media outlet in the U.S. was knowingly complicit in this coup… another story.)

Returning to the library meeting, when we concluded the grievance session – a process that ground on for hours, punctuated by raucous affirmation from the entire crowd inside and out – I announced, like a little Caesar from the north, that heretofore the officials of the Aristide government were to resume all duties, and that any interference from the old armed actors, both FAdH and FRAPH (a right-wing death squad network, in the pay of the CIA) as well as a network of thugs called attaches, would be met with ominous consequences from my detachment and implicitly by the entire task force as far as the Haitians there knew.

Of course, that implication was a lie, and I was the liar.

The response to this announcement was riotous and celebratory; and it touched off three consecutive days of demonstrations, street theater, music, dancing, drinking, and satirical provocation against the former oppressors, who cowered in the caserne as my own team guarded them by sittingon the front porch of the caserne to be entertained by the parade of festivities.

For that time, at least, the old order had fallen. And my gut told me that I was further and further out on a limb.

Eventually, my team rebelled against my agenda, the task force got wind of my foolishness, and I was paid a surprise visit by a Humvee one morning that packed me off as a detainee in something called an Article 15-6 investigation, where among other things, it was suggested that I had become “seditious.”

* * *

Back to the present…

For some time over the last year, Steve Taylor, Director of Mission for the North Carolina United Methodist Conference, had been insisting that I attend the Bartimaeus Institute – a biblical study forum under the auspices of Bartimeaus Cooperative Ministries in Oak View, California.

I will say this now, and with emphasis, I recommend this institute for anyone and everyone who can go; and I suggest that every congregation routinely solicit scholarships to fund these trips to bring Bartimaeus’ special insights back into our congregations.

The intellectual parent of Bartimaeus is theologian Ched Myers, who I had seen speak here in Durham less than three years ago at the Hayti Heritage Center – an African American cultural center. I still identified as a secular activist then, and my main efforts were then directed against the bloody occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. armed forces.

Ched did a riff on Luke 7:36-50, the story of Jesus having his feet wept upon and kissed by a woman described as “a sinner,” much to the chagrin of his hosts and even his disciples. In this riff, Ched did what the original authors of the Gospels meant to have done: He narrated the story aloud, with the proper dramatic inflections and gestures to bring the story to life; and he contextualized the story with some socio-economic background history.

I had been earnestly studying feminism in order to write my third book, Sex War, a study of gender and militarism, and I was thoroughly taken aback by the radical feminist content of this Bible story, given the social conditions that prevailed with regard to gender in 1st Century Palestine.

In the crux of the story, which we have generally and mistakenly taken to be simply at attention-getting clause, Jesus asks those around him, “Do you see this woman?”

Do you see this woman?

I had been writing for the last two years about the invisibility of The Inconvenient Other in systems of social domination, and here was that entire theme packed into a single question… 2,000 years ago, by a man who would eventually be executed for his ability to stir up crowds. And I had walked through life, including an activist’s life dedicated to fighting oppression, with Bibles lying all around me unread.

That turned out to be one of the key moments that would lead me to my own baptism on Easter Day 2008. I didn’t know it at the time, but there is a name for this kind of reading of the Scriptures: biblical animation.

So now, at last, let me get to the experience at Bartimaeus and what it has to do with my title, which includes the surname of John Wesley, the founding parent of Methodism. Wesley’s way of living has been condensed in a little booklet by Bishop Reuben Job, called Three Simple Rules – A Wesleyan Way of Living, which is widely circulated among Methodists. Those three rules are: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.

And ever since I read that little pamphlet, I had found the first two fairly easy to understand, and the last one very difficult. Because God is incomprehensible to me, not simply because I am a personhood formed within skeptical modernism, but because God doesn’t show her face. (In the Aramaic and even in the Muslim appellation Allah, the term that has been rendered as Father for us is actually a non-gendered noun that translates very roughly to the origin, or the “womb” of the universe.) When even a scientist like Stephen Hawking says that the origin of the origin, the precursor to the “singularity” of modern cosmology, is the point at which all theories collapse, and that if we could know that, only then would we “see the mind of God,” then how is an ex-soldier supposed to understand, much less “love,” God?

This is really a testimony to how obtuse I can be; and I’ll explain why.

When we were together, 13 of us, at the Bartimaeus Institute, Ched facilitated an acting class for the translation of the story of Jesus and the man with the withered hand.

For two days, we had poured over the similarities between the ministry of Jesus and the non-violent ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King – not for the apotheosis of King, but as a living and recent example of discipleship. And we had compared the circumstances of the Judeans under Rome with African Americans under legal apartheid in the U.S. South. We had been introduced to maps and pictures and descriptions of the social system into which Jesus was born, in order to contextualize the Gospel of Mark – our subject of study.

As we went along, I came to think of Herod Antipas as Cedras, because even more than the segregated South, the culture of 1st Century Palestine was a peasant culture deformed and oppressed by an imperial project, and overseen by a colonial surrogate ruler. Palestine was a dusty, broken place populated by the same kinds of animals, the same kinds of houses, the same pot-bellied, naked babies, the same kind of people as Haiti – with the same kind of unnamed but explosive discontent gnawing at their guts alongside the parasites.

Apocalypse Now small group – Part Two – 28 Days Later

Apocalypse Now Small Group
For Lent — from February 25 (Ash Wednesday) to April 11 (Easter is the 12th)
All Saints United Methodist Church


Apocalypse Now Links:
Part One – Volcano
Part Two – 28 Days Later
Part Three – Children of Men
Part Four – The War of the Lamb
Part Five – Revelation

Part Two 28 Days Later

Showing at the All Saints UMC Ministry Center, 7 PM, Friday, March 6
CHANGE – THE FILM WILL BE SHOWN AT STEPHANIE AND JEFF NELSONS HOUSE -contact me at [email protected] for directions

Directed by Danny Boyle
Produced by Andrew Macdonald
Written by Alex Garland
Starring Cillian Murphy (Jim), Naomie Harris (Selena), Megan Burns (Hannah), Christopher Eccleston (Major Henry West), and Brendan Gleeson (Frank)

[All quotes and images are employed under Title 17, “Fair Use” law, and no portion of this study is for profit.]

Notes on 28 Days Later

Note (1)

Something to think about

History is a process. One of the theologians we are using to study apocalyptic stories is John Howard Yoder.

The usual way we think of history is as a chronolog of facts and dates and names. So when we hear the word history in this section or later, we need to bear in mind that we are not talking about history in the usual way, but in the same way as John Howard Yoder; because that is how the word is being used here.

Yoder in the same way as many theologians sees history as the actual, located process of human existence, a process with which theology must struggle. The idea that human society has the freedom to sin (and its corresponding burden of responsibility) is not compatible with the idea that God moves us around like were a puppet show.

Yet theologians like Yoder confident that God didnt write us like a stage play continue to insist that the process of human history is inextricable from the cosmic direction leading to a final, great attractor telos is the Greek word. What Yoders point of view says about discipleship is that it is active, and that discipleship happens historically in identifiable and unique times and places and forms.

Think for a moment about time.

We need to get philosophical for a second.

We can think of it as an unraveling universe the terminal entropy idea. Or we can think of it in synonyms: past equals regrets, future equals anxieties. Or as emergent forms that enter and leave like ghosts leaving no visible footprints.

One way that we can try (a heuristic device, again) is to plot time along one horizontal line, and form intersecting at any point along that line. The historical process is such that at any intersection there was or is a total form for the known universe. As far as we know, every instant along this time line is absolutely unique; yet the present never leaps over the past into something New. We are creatively unique, yet we are also all vestiges of a specific, located history (a process that includes past and present).

Existence is the Now the totality of forms at the absolute present.

^ >>>>>>>> TIME >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

So time and history move together, and never apart. When people take a birds eye view of history as process they frequently find certain apparently stable forms that bind together chunks of time. We can identify something called the American Civil War. We have time brackets for something called The Enlightenment. Others will date something called the age of industrialism, the Han Dynasty and so forth.

If we think of history as traveling in a kind of trajectory, we can also identify certain periods wherein some dramatic change actually alters that historical trajectory. The inertia of chronological time and chronological history is knocked off course by these transformative interruptions of what we can call thanks to the Greeks again kairos time. Kairos time irrevocably bends the trajectory of history. Kairos is also called Gods time.

These kairos shifts were recorded by people in the time of John of Patmos as marking the beginnings and ends of ages. Telos is the unfathomably distant point to which all things are being drawn.

The telos is further down the road than a mere age. Yoder says that the church is to be a community apart, an exemplary community, and a teleological community. Our particular connection to all other kairos periods is through our story, a story in which we believe and a story that takes place in a particular time and place because it is the story of God crashing through infinity to become flesh.

In our own day, and in our own lives, we do not always record time chronologically. We record periods between events, whether it was while Grandpa was alive, or during this administration, or when we still had the kitchen yellow. This is closer to a kairos conception of time than a chronological one, because the events are more prominent than metered time.

In 28 Days Later, we reiterate that we are using the heuristic standpoint of the Ecology-Personhood-Culture Triangle. With the introduction of time as something to observe in unpacking these stories, we put that triad in motion. In discerning the historical process now (and by strong inference, in the past), we have to be aware of the ways in which the past was dramatically, almost inconceivably different. Then, and only then, we can begin to try and understand the how of that difference.

I have made many trips to Haiti. Anyone from the industrial metropolitan cultures of the US, Western Europe, and Japan that spends even a few days living with Haitian peasants, far from the road, has glimpsed the different-ness the asymmetry of historys contingent forms. We were together once (about 50 Haitian peasants and me), sharing the same actual social space. Yet, it constantly occurred to me as I looked around, our universes in personhood, the experience of being an embodied individual were very distant from one another in place and time. Their ecology, their culture, and the personhoods that derive from that ecology and culture, are not miniatures or embryos of us.

The modernist perception of historical time includes the myth of progress. This progress is seen as the telos of history (making it an idol!). Contained within this ideology of progress is the notion that Haitians or whomever are just backward, under-developed, a more adolescent form of the our very own very adult culture, inevitably and with proper instruction from we adults becoming like we are.

Not actually the case. Everything those Haitians do the day-to-day actions that make them who they are are completely different. Yet we co-exist in 2009 as part of the same Now. Not so the past. If we are to see into 1st Century Palestine, for example, we may have to find a Haiti now to remind us how far we live from the people we study in the past. Because both are peasant cultures. The ecology is different way different for us.

No particular central point here just placing a few landmarks for later.

Quote from Sondra Higgins Matthaei, author of Making Disciples – Faith Formation in the Wesleyan Tradition:

Christian identity and vocation are shaped not only by Gods work in us and participation in our faith community but also by our culture and the events in the world in which we live. We are Christian in a particular place and a particular time. The way we see ourselves as Christian is affected by our cultural inheritance, including family of origin, the region or country of our birth, racial or ethnic identity, gender, class, and age. We are affected by the events of the world in which we live, especially those events that raise questions about what it means to be faithful disciples.

This was true in 100 AD, too.


Note (2)

The opening scene of 28 Days Later is a montage of newsreels of the most horrific kind of mimetic violence. The newsreel montages of police riots, lynching, and other disturbingly realistic mayhem we discover are being broadcast on multiple television sets to captive chimps in some kind of lab the plot leads us to suspect a bioweapons lab. The chimps biochemical reactions to the mimetic-violence images is used somehow to create an actual virus, to be named simply Rage.

The virus will soon escape the lab as you have seen or will see where it spreads in seconds from person to person, placing them in a total and irreversible state of vicious schizoid aggression. The episodic (mimetic) violence that was being portrayed in the newsreels of mob violence directed at the laboratory chimpanzees is no longer transitory. Its a biological uber-bomb that hits humanity like a nuclear war.

28 Days Later is a quantum leap from Volcano, the idealized apocalyptic with the Hollywood conventions. 28 is a Girardian nightmare mimetic violence transformed into an unstoppable biological epidemic.

Rene Girard is a Catholic theologian who calls the spirit of the accuser in a lynch mob a Satanic spirit. But in this leap from mimesis to biological catastrophe, we only get our first glimpse of the Satanic in the fact that the lab exists at all that anyone would engineer such a thing as a lethal hyper-epidemic. Satanic in that such a real application of science would be an attempt to substitute our own sovereignty over that of God.

I think you can steer clear of most trouble by never (1) retaliating, (2) dominating, or (3) humiliating. The central message of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was peace. Peace requires more than chanting peace. It implies a lot of do-s and dont-s. The dont-s are a good way to start. They are not easy just because they are dont-s.

Apocalypse Now small group – Part One – Volcano

Part One Volcano
Showing at the All Saints UMC Ministry Center, 7 PM, Friday, February 27

As we enter into the season of Lent we are called to reflection, repentance, and [renunciation]. Lent is a time of preparation when we look beyond human frailty and the brokenness of the world to resurrection, hope, and new life. We are reminded that our faith does not rise and fall with the financial markets but resides in the enduring love of God who is present with us as we struggle and strive to love God and our neighbors. This Lent can be a time when we recommit to practice every day the Wesleyan values to do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.

-Council of Bishops, UMC

Reflect – pay attention and think
Repent – turn around (from Jerusalem – the city – back into the wilderness)
Renounce – compulsions, empty pleasures, and addictions; renunciation demonstrates that you are free

[All quotes and images are employed under Title 17, Fair Use law, and no portion of this study is for profit.]

REQUEST FOR PARTICIPANTS – You decide whether you want to watch the movie first, then review one, some, or all of the Notes; or whether you want to review Notes then watch the movie afterward. Then share a bit about whether and how the order of viewing and reading might differ.

Notes on Volcano

Note (1)

The idea for viewing Volcano, which is neither the worst nor best of the genre, came about because it placed such emphasis on Los Angeles as its setting. Several years ago, I picked up a copy of Mike Davis superlative book Ecology of Fear Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. This book comes with a strong endorsement for both content and style. Peculiar at first, the book is a mesmerizing page-turner of revelation about the reality and the myths of the effects of urbanization (an ecology) on culture and personhood.

Note within a note: Though Davis and others (like Matthew Lassiter, who wrote about Southern suburbanization, another facilitator-recommended book, The Silent Majority), would call themselves radical urban theorists (RUT), their actual research and publications place them in a more prophetic role in society today.

(A must-read for anyone who lives in the suburbs and wants to know how we got here.)

Reviewer Walter Kern wrote of Davis book,

Davis sixth chapter The Literary Destruction of Los Angeles, explores LAs destruction in novels and film by hordes, nukes, quakes, cults, monsters, bombs, pollution, gangs, terrorism, floods, plagues, riots, aliens, volcanoes, sandstorms, mudslides, freeways, distopias, and more (pp. 280-281). I took the significance of Davis account this way: the fiction is an obsessive exploration of unconfronted dangers in fantastic terms, and it perhaps reflects a desire to break through the denial locking LA in a system of doom.

Here is a key point about many extremity stories; they are a public imagination of breaking out of inertia inertia experienced as a system of doom.


Note (2)

From: A Dictionary of Sociology |
Date: 1998 |
© A Dictionary of Sociology 1998,

originally published by Oxford University Press 1998.

heuristic device Any procedure which involves the use of an artificial construct to assist in the exploration of social phenomena. It usually involves assumptions derived from extant empirical research. For example, ideal types have been used as a way of setting out the defining characteristics of a social phenomenon, so that its salient features might be stated as clearly and explicitly as possible. A heuristic device is, then, a form of preliminary analysis. Such devices have proved especially useful in studies of social change, by defining bench-marks, around which variation and differences can then be situated. In this context, a heuristic device is usually employed for analytical clarity, although it can also have explanatory value as a model.

Using films, readings, and cultural criticism to study social phenomena is employing them as heuristic devices.


Note (3)

Volcano is a Hollywood production. It follows Hollywood formulas. Its story contains a handful of pretty standard film conventions. It idealizes many aspects of reality, and it reproduces idealized archetypes, characters polished and idealized to give us some recognizable essence as viewers and participants in the film.


Note (4)

Hollywood produces films that are generalized cultural commodities. Cultural because they are expressions of our social life, generalized because they are now almost universally available in American society, and commodities because the primary motive for making them is to accumulate monetary wealth.

(This does not mean that these films are reducible to any one of these characteristics, or that there are not elements of the films that have to be described independently of these three categories this is a heuristic breakdown.)

The scale of the industry which makes these cultural commodities has made it into an effective transmission belt of social values. Not necessarily an originator of values, but certainly a transmission belt. (There is, however, a value-degradation inhering in the production of film-as-commodity. Like the competition to produce junk food for kids, the competition at the heart of market relations creates an arms race of over-stimulation and sensationalism that makes jaded emotional junkies of us consumers.)

What differentiates the disaster or apocalyptic genre(s) of film from other films is the condition of extremity that is the setting and background.

So in addition to, and often mixed with, the transmission of social values which may be diverse and situational, there is a circumstance that forces greater moral questions to the forefront of the story, often presented as ethical dilemmas confronting the protagonist(s).


Note (5)

Before the film begins, there is the well-known 20th Century Fox intro, with the skylights and triumphal trumpets. Can we think about these recognizable corporate logos in any way as idols? If yes, then what does that mean for us, as church? How do we define idolatry?


Note (6)

Background music and emotional intelligence.

Linda Kintz wrote a book called Between Jesus and the Market – The Emotions that Matter in Right-Wing America. Kintz is an alumnus, that is, from a right-wing evangelical (dispensationalist) family of origin; and she is not interested in demonizing the right, but in understanding people with whom she still retains powerful attachments of love.

She speaks of an emotional (or affective) intelligence that is inextricable from other dimensions of intelligence, of an enculturated emotional response what she calls resonance that undergirds an elaborate, emotionally-resonant belief system that might be visualized as a closed set of concentric circles stacked one on top of the other and ascending heavenward: God, property, womb, family, church, free market, nation, global mission, God.

Intelligence recognizes; and emotional intelligence recognizes patterns of thinking because a pattern of thinking is simultaneously associated with a pattern of experiencing, or feeling.

Our affective intelligence operates, even in our most instrumental and impersonal relations, in the same way background music operates in a film. Background music cues us on how we are to participate, as a member of the audience. Background music mobilizes a targeted feeling. It helps us know how to behave (even if it is our psychic behavior as viewer-participants). The emotional resonance of our own beliefs, in a similar way also cues us how to behave.

An experiment: Watch one scene from Volcano, whichever whole scene. When youve finished, switch to English subtitiles and mute the sound. Watch the same scene again. Youre still getting all the information, but the absence of the background music that seems in the background when we watch uncritically is dramatically apparent, and even felt as a minor kind of loss.

Resonance leads us places; so wed be well advised to investigate to whose tuning fork we are responding.


Note (7)

During the opening scenes of Volcano, there is a revealing series of social conflicts represented. [Think again of revealing revelation as a process of unmasking.] In the business, these are called, oddly enough, reveal scenes.

There is protagonist Mike Roarks marital conflict; he is separated from his teenage daughters mother.

There is racial conflict in the confrontation between the young Black man who is seeking assistance for his neighborhood and a white policeman.

There is class conflict depicted in the public transportation demonstration and counter-demonstration, where Norman Calder (played by John Corbett), a wealthy financial speculator, confronts a Latina maid over the proposed route of a commuter train. Further along, Norman abandons his wife, the higher-minded emergency room physician who refuses to submit to Normans directive: I dont want my wife treating gunshot wounds. I want her treating tennis elbow.

There is even gender conflict, though they softballed it more than the other social contradictions by having it played off with stoic humor by female protagonist, Amy Barnes, the government geologist, played by Anne Heche. Tommy Lee Jones Mike takes a very mildly (and therefore easily forgivable) macho tone with Barnes in their second encounter. (More on gender further along)

The almost bulleted precision of these conflicts obviously part of a writers checklist of social contradiction present this list of conflicts as constitutive of a general state of conflict, perceived as impending, like doom. This is an aspect of extremity used in apocalyptic (revelatory) literature and film, extremity to reveal (unmask) the characters true selves and the correct answers to the terrifying moral questions. The other aspect is for the condition of extremity to be understood as necessary to break up the doom of inertia moral sloth atomization oppression sin.

The serial presentation of these conflicts in the set-up phase of the film is foreshadowing the kairos moment that is about to interrupt this condition.

We know that; because weve seen many movies before. Someone with a different history in a different place, untrained as a participant in the movie experience, might not recognize all the ideas that we recognize in common, nor the emotional reactions to those ideas. We have all, as persons, learned in our interaction with culture and our own ecology, to experience the same resonance in reply to the same ideas.


Note (8)

Apocalypse is Greek for revelation.

One of the most memorable and culturally inscribed reveal scenes in film for us is in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothys dog, Toto, sniffs out the pathetic man behind the machine that was The Great Oz.

In Revelation we will see a similar reference to actual idol-machines used by the Romans in the time of John of Patmos.

The process of revealing is the process of unmasking, unveiling. Every society we know uses stories to reveal how we are supposed to be. The stories themselves can be radically different, because stories are part of culture, and culture is determinative of and determined by personhood and our surroundings (ecology). Thats why local stories have such richness of detail; because a de-localized (cosmopolitan) ecology is abstract and so personhood is abstracted, as well as the culture being homogenized.

Personhood, ecology, culture.

Stories are a universal cultural production, even though there is wide difference between stories. Stories are universal in spite of the fact that some stories are organic and some are commodities. The stories you tell about something that happened within the family, like the stories told at family reunions, funerals, and weddings, are stories told inside the family. These stories are never conceived of as anything except the preservation of the story itself. Thats an organic story. When a story is a means to make money, then that story is being commoditized. A commodity is a thing-for-sale. The objective of the commodity is not what the commodity does thats only an intermediate concern for the producer its that the commodity will produce a return on a monetary investment.

No matter whether some stories are organic, some are commoditized, and many are both or somewhere in between, the central fact remains that stories are part of the formative process (of personhood, culture, and ecology) in every society. Many stories may be wrong; and many may even be stupid; but the story-itself is powerful because it has this proven formative ability.

Volcano is a Hollywood commodity. A car is a commodity, too; but that doesnt mean that I dont use my own car for what it does transport me to places way beyond my walking ability at outrageous speed. This movie is also a story that does what stories do, like a car does what a car does. This story tells us how to be when we participate as a non-critical audience. To the critical viewer, however, the story tells us a good deal about who we think we are.

The story we live into as followers of Jesus is one of selflessness, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

The story in a television ad for womens depilatories is that you are unhappy, but that with the acquisition of this product you can make yourself more valuable and without it, you will continue to be un-valuable.

Each of these stories tells us how to be.


Note (9)

The story presented in Volcano, in a very contradictory way, contains strong elements of a specifically Biblical understanding of the world.

The formative story for the Hebrews was captivity. The unique thing about the story in that place and time was that the captives themselves, and not the conquerers, were the protagonists of the story.

This begins what culminates with the Incarnation the preferential option for the social underdog. With the primitive church, this anti-oppression bias was potently combined with a doctrine of spiritual equality (between master-slave, man-woman, Jew-Gentile).

In Volcano, this essentially Christian message of spiritual equality (though few people understand or acknowledge it) is mixed in with a fair amount of modernism (what Illich calls perverted Christianity) and a lot of patriarchal archetypes. The important thing to understand, however, is that the elements of selflessness, sacrifice, and forgiveness are not completely effaced in Christianitys encounter with modernism.

This core belief in redemption through love however it has been tortured in the service of agendas has shown a remarkable resilience, even though epochs of absolute horror.

In this film, the savior is not the shabby little shaman from Nazareth with the burning empathy for everyone he met. The savior in Volcano is a government man; and his disciples are bureaucrats and technocrats, along with uniformed armed services.

The gospels spell out the exact opposite message that the powers have been supplanted by the Kingdom of God, in cross and resurrection. Jesus of Nazareth was executed precisely because he refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of the principalities and powers. His was a political not a religious crime. But solely taking Volcano to task is inadequate. What can we find of the good? There is another grain of Christian sensibility (service) even in the disingenuous language about politics and government, called public service.

One apocalyptic theme in this film is the good of human solidarity. Another well-known theme within that is the theme of money becoming useless or meaningless. The unhesitating plot line crushes cars and explodes superstores in order to save a living humanity.

Remember the scene where the little boy, ash-stained in the opening scene of the films denouement. He looks for his mother among the similarly ash-stained and scrupulously diverse rescue workers. Look, he says, pointing. They all look the same. This highly manipulative scene is the commoditization process tapping into a shared and resonant belief in the good of human solidarity, and in equality before God of every human being spiritual equality

once a violently divisive claim, especially as it had to do with gender. The most emotionally resonant scenes in this film are all without exception about the transformative power of human love and solidarity.

That the film industry in the real world operates on an absolute opposite, Spencerian, dog-eat-dog ethos, is not an embarrassment to the storys representation of solidarity-as-good. It is a contradiction. It is an embarrassment to the industry establishment and dominant classes of people more generally in the face of an un-erasable Judeo-Christian communitarianism the vision of which industry producers must admit into the story to achieve an emotionally resonant participation by the buying audience. The audience is a consumer; but the audience is also still human, still in search of meaning, and that meaning abides in the holy spirit that we believe to be manifest in authentically caring human fellowship.

This little boys scene is a story convention with its origins in antiquity; but alongside these ancient beliefs in good, the films story gives us conventions that are only recent reflections of the human condition. That is, there are conventions that are reproducing beliefs that are distinctly modern.

Man-Conquering-Nature is a huge (MODERNIST) cultural thought-cluster in this film, of course;

Apocalypse Now small group – Introduction

No, its not the Francis Ford Coppola war movie. But yes, there are movies. A good part of this small groups activity is watching and thinking about and talking about movies.

This small group will organize an online and face-to-face series of comparative studies for three contemporary films and two readings (one somewhat contemporary and one from Scripture).

The genre of the contemporary films is variously called science fiction, catastrophe, or apocalyptic, depending on whos talking. The latter two are also called dystopian.

The films are:


28 Days Later,

and Children of Men.

The readings are (1) the last chapter of The Politics of Jesus, by late theologian John Howard Yoder, the chapter entitled The War of the Lamb;

and (2) the Book of the Revelation of John (from the New Testament).

By viewing and reading these cultural productions in this order, and following brief cultural critiques (analyses) of each, we hope to develop an understanding of how storytellers and story-hearers participate in meaning-making together.

Since our own direct experience is contemporary, we will study how we participate as an audience in these three films, how values and norms are magnified and transmitted in these stories of extremity, and how stories of extremity are used to present then resolve big ethical questions.

We will also study the films for ethical norms that have Christian origins, even in contemporary stories that are not explicitly Christian.

With the Yoder chapter, we will read about the Revelation of John as an apocalyptic genre used by John of Patmos to reiterate the proclamation of Christs good news for his contemporaries (in 2nd Century Asia Minor) in the face of actual extremity. Yoder provides us with contemporary language to unpack past meaning-making in literature; and provides a perfect seg at last to reading and understanding the most misunderstood and often misinterpreted Book of the New Testament.

This study, during Lent which traditionally emphasizes penitence and reflection on mortality hopes to develop among its participants a shared basis of understanding of the experience of our own culture, the experience of the culture of the early church, and how this emphasis on mortality and penitence came into the world as a direct response to conditions of actual and intense extremity. This is important to us, in particular, because our daily lives in our own suburban culture have in so many ways been insulated from real austerity and extremity. Like Lent, extremity of circumstance often demands renunciations.

Ivan Illich said:

The certainty that you can do without is one of the most efficacious ways of convincing yourself, no matter where you stand on the intellectual or emotional ladder, that you are free. Self-imposed limits provide a basis and preparation for discussion of what we can renounce as a group of friends or a neighborhood. I have seen it, and I can witness to it. For many people who suffer from great fears and a sense of impotence and depersonalization, renunciation provides a very simple way back to a self which stands above the constraints of the world.

And such renunciation is especially necessary in the world in which we live. Tyranny of old was exercised over people who still knew how to subsist. They could lose their means of subsistence, and be enslaved, but they could not be made needy. With the beginning of capitalist production in the spinning and weaving shops of the Florence of the Medicis, a new type of human being was being engendered: needy man, who has to organize a society, the principle function of which is to satisfy human needs. And needs are much more cruel than tyrants.

We are those needy ones. And one form of renunciation for Lent is to renounce our disengagement by looking into our own culture and into scriptures with the real intent of better understanding who and whose we are.

It is also our hope that this small group will finish the study with a far keener appreciation and clearer understanding of the Revelation of John, as well as a deeper understanding of our own culture and how it interprets and misinterprets Scripture. There is no requirement to read the phenomenal exegesis on this Book of Scripture that has been done by Mickey Efird, one of our own nearby at Duke Divinity School, but he needs to be acknowledged up front as the thinker whose critique of dispensationalist accounts of Revelation was extremely helpful for the latter part of this study.

* * *

Materials required:

Books (1) The Politics of Jesus, by John Howard Yoder. (2) The Bible

Films (1) Volcano, (2) 28 Days Later, (3) Children of Men.

NOTE: The reading from Yoders book is only one chapter. For those who do not have or do not purchase the book, we will make hard copies of the single chapter.

* * *


The method of the group facilitator does not restrict or oblige any particular approach by other participants. I will make suggestions about the sequence and forms of participation; but you will determine what works best for you, how deeply you delve into the subject, and how to fit your participation into the other tasks and obligations of your lives.

We will view three films first, one per week. Buying or renting the films (Netflix anyone?) to view at home is sugggested, so the film can be viewed more than once. We will also have a group showing of the film at the Ministry Center. The order of viewing is Volcano, 28 Days Later, and Children of Men.

* * *


The Ecology-Culture-Personhood Triangle a different kind of lens

Throughout this small group program, participants are challenged to keep the idea of a Ecology-Culture-Personhood Triangle in the back of their minds. This triangle is a notion I am borrowing from anthropologist Alf Hornborg, author of a very good albeit academic book called The Power of the Machine. The idea of the triangle is that three macro-forces in our lives are in constant interaction ecololgy, culture, and personhood and that each reciprocally influences the development of the other. Our personhood the experience of being one person is shaped by our general physical environment (ecology), which in turn is changed (and often abused) by culture (technology, economics, art, religion, language, et al), which is shaped by place (an aspect of ecology), etc, etc, etc.

In reality, theseparts of the triangle never exist independent of one another and are inextricable from one another. But we can break them down to provide us with a particular analytical perspective a way to think outside of the box.

Three Basic Terms

In addition to using the ECP Triangle as an analytical standpoint, there are three terms that are not universally familiar, standing for three ideas, that participants need to understand: epistemology, heuristics, and cultural criticism.

Epistemology: Theory of knowledge; also, the way we think we know.

Heuristics: Methods that help in problem solving in turn leading to learning and discovery.

Cultural Criticism: Analyzing and describing aspects of culture from one or more critical perspectives.

How It Works

You figure out how to acquire and view the films. Ideally, you will watch the films in sequence, and have each of them available for possible re-viewing throughout each films respective week. During that week, I will post something called just Notes, e.g., Notes on Volcano. Read over the Notes before, during, or after one or more viewings, as works best for you. We all have different schedules and learning strategies. One evening a week, those who can will meet any place agreed upon to watch the films together. Tentatively, that will be Friday night at the Ministry Center (not etched in granite yet).

Feb 27 – Volcano (showing – discussion through comments section of web site)
March 6 – 28 Days Later (showing)
March 13 – Discussion
March 20 – Children of Men (showing)
March 27 – Discussion
April 3 – War of the Lamb Discussion
April 10 (Good Friday) – Revelation Discussion

We may supplement with Sunday discussions before services, if people want to.

REMINDER: This is not a study that requires anything. The depth of participation is your choice. It can be an occasional pastime, or a a college course. It is also free to share with anyone and everyone; and it is not restricted obviously to Lent. Comments sections are also now open (but will be moderated, so comments will not go up immediately). CHANGE TWO with apologies Comments are disabled here, and will all go to the Feral Scholar web site linked here. Click it on, and comment away. Again, apologies while I work out the glitches.

Sabbath as Interruption

Much has happened in the last couple of years, including the necessity for me to look for, take, and hold a job… not a position, a job. Even then, when I started searching at 55, after a decade of politics and all the infighting, and all the inflammatory statements, and all the travel, and all the public stuff…even before the great burst of the great bubble, the non-profit world was not looking for a middle-aged man with things like sniper and communist tucked away in his CV. No craft experience, not even a clue about the latest cubicle-work divisions of labor, no accounting experience, no nothing…55 mattered, too, and 57 matters now. Having a couple books on one’s resume then creates the “overqualified” stigma, because people think writers earn good money. So there were three tries before I settled into the job I have now.

I worked with a landscaping crew for $10 an hour, the only Anglo besides the boss. On the first day, I cut around 15 very large, well-landscaped lawns, running the mower in neat rows to give them the striped effect. We pulled weeds, raked, shaped fill dirt, hauled and scattered mulch, shoveled and mattocked through clay… grunt work. Plenty of it. I admit I hated it; and I was learning fast to resent the very people without whom we’d have no jobs – the people in the big houses who could afford landscapers.

Then I was given a job for the same pay by a stone mason – a damn good stone mason, Brooks Burleson, old school, who I believe could cut stone with a claw hammer if need be. Another hard job, and one that went through summer before last when we had three straight weeks of triple digit temperatures. By 10 AM each day, I was soaked in sweat all the way down to my cuffs, sun-poisoned, with blackening nails from hitting them with stones, and inflamed hand joints from the hammering. I would go home, eat a full meal, and follow it with a half-gallon of ice cream, and still my weight barely stayed above 165 pounds (I was 180 a year before).

Then I found a job, this time with bennies (I had some dental problems that were giving me fits), working with a deconstruction crew (we take buildings apart to salvage materials for re-use). That’s where I am now. And it’s not the drudgery of landscaping, nor does it have the plain physical intensity of stonewalling, but still it’s a hard, dirty job that leaves me pretty emptied out at night and pretty stiff when I get up in the morning.

A lot of folks from my pre-laboring past are asking why they hear so little from me these days, and there are a number of reasons for that – including burn-out – but one big reason is that when I’m not working now, I am really just tired. Mornings were always my best writing times, my head unscrambled by the discharge of dreaming and my circuits lit up with caffeine. Now, if I get up at 5:30, along with preparing my breakfast and lunch, packing up for work, and driving my beater across town to get there, I can squeeze in 30 minutes to answer mail, moderate the Feral Scholar blog, and maybe read a bit of news.

Prior to this proletarian interlude, I was lucky enough to have a few people paying me to write and speak and organize, so I had been freelancing for about three years, and during art of that time Mike Ruppert’s online publication, From The Wilderness, was sending me a living-wage check each month to produce exactly the kind of thing that I most enjoy doing anyway – synthesizing news and events into a kind of intelligence analysis, something that satisfies the undead Special Forces intelligence sergeant that still resides in my head, the wannabe academic that missed the boat a long time ago, and the writer still trying to grow up.

In that time, however, I also became obtuse about day-to-day reality (particularly what was going on in my own family), sectarian at times, inappropriate with people I liked and didn’t like, and a wee bit bipolar (a descriptive not diagnostic term in this context). So, in a very real sense, I needed to be brought down to earth by grit and grunt work and fatigue and the economy of time that starves most of us in “civilization” these days.

I also started to find a lot more time to spend with someone Id been missing: my spouse, Sherry.

I set Sundays aside for church and family (always including Sherry) now; which is one reason I don’t even consider going out of town anymore for speaking gigs, even though I was making from $500-$1,000 a day when I did that (for the trip, the rate drops considerably when you factor in the travel preparations, working on a presentation, and catching up after you’ve left town). My pay now amounts to around $390 a week, after the tax collectors take their cut.

If I were calculating my circumstances from a shopkeeper’s perspective, I suppose this “withdrawing” from that public sphere could look foolish; from the perspective of my old political colleagues, the criticism has been explicit – I have abandoned “the struggle.” These are serious concerns. I do not like being in debt (and we are); and the state of history and politics on a day-to-day basis assaults my sensibilities and conscience in some way nearly every waking moment.

On October 26th, however, I had a very good day. We, Sherry and I, had a good day. I think that day merits a description, because were it not for all of the above circumstances, October 26th wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t remember that it was my dad’s birthday until later (October 26, 1906).

Sherry and I went to church, which is a rented elementary school gym actually. All Saints United Methodist Church, in the exurban borderlands between Raleigh and Durham, along the approach and take-off azimuths of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. It’s dead in the heart of an upscale and immensely destructive development called Brier Creek (These developments always take the name of the nature they destroy, like army helicopters take the names of slaughtered nations – Apache, Blackhawk, Kiowa – cruelly stealing the names to retain some essence of what was lost by “developing” or waging wars of conquest).

Across the street from the building that houses the gym/church, there is a scene I have called a Hieronymus Bosch landscape. Bosch did paintings depicting a surreal vision of Hell. He did peaceful kingdom paintings, too, but his Hells are more memorable. Bosch paintings are a peek into the religious psyche of Central Europe in the late 15th early16th Century period. What remains so striking in Bosch now – with his emphasis on the “un-naturalness” of evil, depicted in monstrous combinations of life – is that we too are seeing landscapes devoid of any natural process… except that we needn’t visit our own imaginations to see this un-naturalness… we live in it. We’ve actually accustomed ourselves to them, at some terrible cost.

So maybe the comparison with Bosch is overdrawn, but that scarred ex-forest across from the school/community center/gym is where we do church, so you can see some deep-down brokenness as you walk out the front door.

Around 25 acres has been bulldozed down to the red clay and rock, pancake flat where the wooded watercourses formerly provided a fractally curvaceous elevation and relief. The lots have been slabbed, and the PVC sewage inlets stick up out of the ground like a field of white plastic stumps. When the ground was freshly skinned and fleshed, what stood out from this landscape was the silence.

There are no birds singing here, an acoustical void that jars me. But here on the outer limits of this country club community, the economic crash that’s been cooking away since the latter years of the Vietnam occupation came to its head, several trillion dollars of fictional value suddenly evaporated, and the construction halted on those lots.

Now, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” (Dylan Thomas’ great phrase for a universal creative essence underlying life) has begun its re-encroachment. Weeds, so-called, have taken root… small phalanxes really of biome reconnaissance troops that are reorganizing the complexity that was sheared off the skin of the earth here by the bulldozers. With the new overgrowth, and the cessation of the machines, some of the birds’ voices have returned.

Resurrection is always in the offing; but we have to leave things be for it to happen. I think we surely need to turn off all the machines from time to time, but that’s a minority view.

Greg Moore and Laura Fine Ledford are the pastors at All Saints. Emily Scales is the intern pastor. Here in the middle of Consumer Mecca, across the street from where the plants and birds are trying to reanimate the land of the dead, we talk with others during Sunday School about the challenges of marital cohabitation. We rise and sit and rise and listen and sing our way through the liturgy. Then Greg does his sermon.

Greg is young, 30-ish, white, a former athlete with a haircut that would pass muster in the Marines. He was a philosophy major and a soccer player. He is recharged with enthusiasm from some event this week, and the Spirit is on him, riding him the way Haitians say a ti loa rides a human like a horse. He channels Yoder and Hauerwas today, because he gives a sermon – here in the middle of Privilege and Alienation Central – that proclaims the church to be “a movement.” Few in the congregation understand the implications of what he is saying, I suspect, but he puts it in their heads like an earworm, simple and memorable, this notion that the church participates in history… that is, that the church is as political as it gets.

Some get it. I see the heads nodding; I see some faces that register the impact.

He is suborning treason in the �?burbs.

He cites Jesus’ story of the vineyard workers – wherein the last shall be first, and the first last – here, with the Land of the Dead across the street, speaking directly to the inhabitants of Consumer Mecca. The Spirit passes through me; the hair on my body stands up; I almost shudder. He has invoked the sovereignty of God against the sovereignty of the powers.

After forgiving, we eat the body and drink the blood; we “send forth,” and we put away the chairs.

Sherry and I have decided that we are going to Umstead State Park nearby. It is a fine October day, with the leaves just turning, highs in the 60s, filled with benevolent sunlight. Armed with two bottles of water and the leftover communion bread, we get a couple cups of cappuccino at a gas station, and we drive into the park.

Sherry has her drawing pad and pencils; and I’ve agreed to take her on a trail with a great many opportunities to sketch.

This trail reminds me always of Haiti, for an idiosyncratic reason.

Since 1994, I have visited Haiti 21 times. On some of those trips, I stayed with country people – peasants – who lived vary far up in the mountains without roads, necessitating a brutal hike (at night, for security, after the last US-engineered coup) over some 13 kilometers straight-line distance, albeit along the serpentine line of rocky footpaths follow not lines-as-seen-from-above (the abstraction and deception of a map) but the actual geologic contours and fractures of a steep mountain landscape. This is a very challenging walk for a middle-aged blan, and I had to prepare before these trips.

Umstead State Park is where I did that.

The park is full of trails, well-marked ones that are nonetheless left mostly to themselves to form under the foot traffic – making the trails themselves a rich mixture of granite and quartz and hardwood roots lined with deep, long-term accumulations of crackling leaves. The whole park has retained a high tree canopy with a lot of biological diversity. So the sky is a kind of vast, illuminated overhead kaleidoscope. Sycamore Trail can actually be walked continuously – in a great teardrop on a string – for almost eight miles.

Near a bridal trail in the park, also near the highest ground in the park at all, Sycamore Creek Trail is accessible from a gravel road. Around half a mile from that entry point, there is a precipitous plunge in the trail from a heavily wooded ridge down into Sycamore Creek valley, with rocky switchbacks along a short stretch of steep terrain.

In addition to the Sycamore Trail loop, when I was “training” at Umstead Park, I would go up and down this steep stretch ten times in a row to get as accustomed as possible to climbing with weight on my back (a 30-pound pack). I switched up routes and directions to diversify my time there – from little Pot’s Branch Trail, to Company Mill Trail, Sal’s Branch, Loblolly… names that evoke the passages of time in these particular places.

This is how I learned this park, using it as a training ground for a bunch of political business that kept me for months out of my own home and away from my family. In learning a thing, however, one learns to love it. And Umstead State Park is very lovable.

I prepare to take Sherry to the bottom of this steep trail, the off trail for a brief distance to settle in below one of the small dams on Sycamore Creek. She interrogates me before we go.

“Jessie [her son, my stepson] told me that you walked seven miles in here just to find a fishing hole. Are you about to do something like that to me?”

It’s a joke… I think. Jessie exaggerates. It wasn’t more than three miles, tops. Jessie and I occasionally go to Umstead, and have since not long after we moved to Raleigh twelve yeas ago, to fish. We know a crappie hole on Big Lake and one below the dam along the southeastern turn of Big Lake. We have found bass all through Sycamore Creek, and sun fish, and bluegill, and channel catfish.

Sherry and I park near the equine trail head, and strike off east and south to intersect Sycamore Trail… marked by discrete little blue plastic triangles tacked into the trees at inter-visible points along the way.

Before we traverse the first couple of hundred meters, she begins commenting on various things in the park to sketch. She likes the fallen, weathered trees, and the knotty-rope designs emerging as tree roots along the path. Even puddling along as we were, the descent into Sycamore Creek Valley was accomplished by the time we warmed up.

Below the dam at the southeastern point of Sycamore Lake, there is a giant cascade of stone blocks and ledges – stones the size of buses, airplanes, whales – that layer themselves like a piece of the earth’s spinal column along a turn from the spillway to the resumption of Sycamore Creek below. The creek restarts itself as a 500-square-foot pool that flashes with ravenous bream. Across the pool from the trail side, there is a very old, dry-stacked stone wall, bonded together now by great masses of moist moss, lichen, insect dens, roots…

In the wall there is oldness; but in the rocks there is direct contact with the ancient, time measured in millions of years.

Sherry settles in at water’s edge, at the end of a long whaleback of gray stone, decorated by quartz seams from half an inch to a foot wide. The pool forms a big mirror of the sky that backlights her, even though her back is now to me. I climb up higher to look quietly down; and when I get as high as I can, right at the dam’s edge, Sherry forms this painter’s image, her seated form punctuating the smooth stoniness of smooth stone and the reflective wetness of a pool right where they come together. The same light hits everything. She looks new to me right that moment. We never have time to get to places that have the kind of space where we can see one another from a distance new.

Sitting above her like that, I looked closely – with my reading glasses on – at a bright lichen pattern on a boulder. It looked like a Mandelbrot design, repeating boundary designs on smaller and smaller scales, until I realized that a single line tracing the border of this lichen might stretch out for a mile. Right there, lit up in the middle of the day, and all I had to do was walk out there, sit down, and put on my glasses.

I had Sherry – washed in a new light – and this place where a serene complexity is still a manifestation of God’s voice. I ate a little bread. Then I got the notion of feeding fish.

Sherry and I started rolling dough-balls and tossing them into the pool, where the fish would rise up into view and attack the crumbling bread.

I remember reading Norman Wirzba on the subject of Sabbath… recently, in fact, so some things were fresh in memory. The bread ran out. Sherry sketched, and I meandered around, even climbing a wooded hillside to pretend I was spying on her… her down there, at water’s edge, sharing the light with everything, apparently alone and apparently content. She was paying attention to rocks jutting out of the creek; and they were in turn paying attention to her. Wirzba said that Sabbath is a time set aside to just be in Creation. God, in the first book of the scriptures, says that Creation is good. The Rule is remember the Sabbath. Let everything and everyone rest for a day, just one day out of seven. Interrupt yourselves.

Now I find myself out here, laying back and looking through the leaves at the sky, or gazing down through the vegetation at Sherry and the pool and the old stone wall… at peace.

Wirzba also emphasized another aspect of Sabbath: “Sabbath observance is what we work toward.”

And a lot more… interrupting is important on its own account.

“So what is at stake,” says Wirzba, “in Sabbath observance is not simply that we manage to pause and refuel enough to continue in our frantic and sometimes destructive ways. The real issue is whether we can learn to see, and then welcome, the divine presence where we are. Can we link up as servants of God’s covenantal love and see in that service our unending joy? …If we can do this truly, without the anxiety, worry, fear, competitiveness, and aggression that otherwise punctuate our life patterns, then we will have caught a glimpse of heaven…”

Nowadays, with the financial sword of Damocles hanging over us, we are witnesses to the pain and injustice at the end of a period of unceasing and completely restless competition. Everyone talks about policy in these historic pre-election days; but now the association of Sabbath and Jubilee are clearer than ever… as a way of life, as the embodiment of the kingdom of God. God said to interrupt things, frequently – every seven days, every seven years, every seven-times-seven years; and it seems pretty apparent to me that there were some very good reasons for this constant interruption. Without it, all manner of evil becomes joined with power. Sabbath and Jubilee are an embarrassment to those of us who live in this time as Jews and Christians, with secular modernism’s apotheosis of wealth accumulation. Sabbath and Jubilee, for human beings, is designed to place tight limits on hyper-accumulation as an evil in itself.

What party do you belong to?

The Sabbath and Jubilee Party. Does that make me a theocrat?

We have to start somewhere. Here I suppose. Sherry and I will be checking weather reports on Sundays. We want to do this every time we get the chance. We need to practice at creating interruptions. If we learn to make these little interruptions, then maybe we’ll figure out how to make the big ones.

When we got ready to leave, we decided to climb a small bluff to take a shortcut. Two old fifty-somethings about to do some dumb stuff. We survived the ascent, after sacrificing our dignity to scrabble for hand-holds on tree roots, grunting and laughing like hyenas.

Along the shortcut, smartass Sherry starts on the mendacious seven-mile story of Jessie’s… “you’re not walking me seven miles, too, are you?” It’s easy to be goofy out here in the woods.

That evening, we did something – for us odd. We laid down together and watched three consecutive episodes of the documentary, “The History of Rock and Roll.” The content was not the important thing, even though it was fun and interesting and nostalgic. We had stepped into Sabbath, into a mode of reception that requires interruption of the rest of life’s obligations and obsessions; and we weren’t ready to come back yet.

Politics is Food is Politics

BY D. A. Clarke and Stan Goff

In recent days, we have seen the rising price of oil and the crash of the financial sector create two quantum shifts in the economy: the beginning of the collapse of the air travel industry and a global crisis of food-price inflation. These are related in ways that are crucial to understand because we are seeing the outlines of an historic opportunity to change the terms of theory and practice for a politics of resistance.

As air carriers have gone bankrupt, the knock-on effects on travel agents, airports, airport-colocated hotels, package vacation resorts, etc. are considerable. This is how one cascade pours into another. The manifold contradictions of our global system merge and co-amplify.

Tourism was supposed to be a relatively benign, non-extractive industry for colonized nations an alternative to brutal extraction and cash cropping. It turns out to have been just as extractive all along due to the climate (and cultural) damage done by commodified air travel.

The end of cheap air tourism may seem like a good thing at first glance, from a metropolitan-green point of view. And yet the collapse of tourism, in economies where the culture and scenery have become a last-ditch cash crop, can have effects just as disastrous as the collapse of any other external commodity market in a country that has been sucked into the undertow of global capitalism. The marginal suffer first, most, and longest.

And they starve. How much more devastating is the catastrophic cascade of food price inflation than the collapse of some airlines?

Food riots are also directly related to the plateau of global oil production in the face of relentless expansion of demand. Theyre intertwined; the downsizing of air tourism reduces money income for populations dependent on the global capitalist economy for staple foods, just at the moment when scarcity, uncertainty, and rampant speculation are causing staple food prices to spike.

Its not a pretty picture, and the mainstream media are reporting on it with breathless alarm and utterly unjustified surprise; commentators from various perspectives (left, environmental, anti-colonialist, even libertarians) have seen this coming for a while.

Why Us? Why Now?

The airline industry has been very forthright about their problems. They are saying, We were neither tooled nor organized for $120-a-barrel oil.

Most of us get this, because we associate transport technology with fossil hydrocarbons. We drive cars; and we buy the gas to put in those cars. Planes run on No. 1 Jet Fuel; and if oil prices go up, so does the cost of jet fuel.

Most of us are less likely to associate oil prices with food prices. We buy food at the supermarket; so we dont generally experience directly the association between fuel and food.

The connection, however, is every bit as central in the current food production regime as the link between aircraft engines and their fuel. Industrial monocropping for global distribution is neither tooled nor organized for oil at $120-a-barrel. It is not just the far-flung food transport network (much of it refrigerated and fuel-hungry) that creates the intimate dependency on oil; it is the whole scheme called industrial (or corporate, or modern) agriculture.

This oil/food link during the onset of what some call the Peak Oil event has resulted almost overnight in steep food-price inflation, hitting peripheral economies like a tsunami. Half the worlds population survives on less than $2 per person per day. Even an increase of a few pennies for a kilo of rice can threaten survival on such a slender margin. That on the surface is why we are witnessing an outbreak of food riots around the globe. The unexamined assumption, however, is that its somehow natural for human beings to be in the position of abject dependence on cash money to obtain food.

We said that we are seeing the outlines of an historic opportunity to change the terms of theory and practice for a politics of resistance. In a real sense, however, we are suggesting a return to a perennial politics of resistance: the defense of peasant (smallholder, local) agriculture against imperial profit-takers.

We are embarking upon an epoch that might best be called imperial capitalist exterminism, in which billions of people may be left through calculated villainy or sheer stupidity to the tender mercies of war, pestilence, and famine as externalities of the so-called free market.

In this new world order, the old class antagonisms across the axis of employer-employee have been replaced by debtor-creditor and producer/processor. In this new (dis)order, material contractions in the economy have transformed the reserve army of labor into surplus people a Darwinian nightmare leaving billions of souls at risk.

The brunt as always is now being borne by the most marginal and fragile. The over-developed industrial metropoles, however, are not escaping the impact of this crisis.

In the United States, the culmination of a decades-long crisis of capital accumulation which has heretofore been exported to the rest of the world is coming home to roost in the form of a severe credit crisis at the same time as the oil price spike. We are entering a protracted period of stagflation: economic stagnation (recession) combined with price inflation (due in part to the impact of oil prices on virtually all economic sectors).

We in the US are more deeply in debt, personally and nationally, than at any time in our history. And the key products that are driving up our cost of living even as our net worths falter and fall back are gasoline and food.

Americans panic when we contemplate the possibility of becoming unable to afford our private automobiles. This is not just because of our legendary ego-attachment to the car. The primary reason we panic is because we need our cars to get to our jobs in order to survive. At least one study has suggested that Americans spend 20 percent of their take-home pay on their cars, so we are working one day out of five to pay for the car so we can drive to the job. And we need our jobs.

Its a given: people need their jobs. But why? We dont mean to be overly pedantic, but the obvious has been ignored. We need the jobs because without the income from those jobs, we and our children dont eat. Our access to food is totally mediated by money which we can only obtain by working (for the ruling class) or by becoming wards of the state (which, increasingly involves coerced labor).

Reiterating, petroleum and food are inextricable from one another and they are completely enmeshed with all our dependencies. This is the basis of our obedience to bosses in a totally-monetized economy.

Most people cant eat without participating in the money economy because they we have been driven off the land, and live in high-density people storage buildings without any access to living soil; or because, despite living in the suburbs or semi-rural areas with ample access to soil, they (we) lack the skills and knowledge to produce their own food; or the soil they (we) do have access to has been killed by industrial farming practices and can only produce by means of massive external inputs that must be purchased from the money economy (and the extractive industries). The fossil/extractive industries and the money economy have built fences all around the food supply, from production to consumption.

We play the game or we dont eat.

Now their game is coming apart at the seams.

Food is Not What it Once Was

Now it may be time to take a longer view and recall how these fences around food were built.

The story of the last 200 years can be told many ways, but one way we can tell it is as the triumph of the extractive industries and their mindset and their methods over all other human activities. The masters of mining and metallurgy, and of the colonialist exploitation that corresponds to extraction, have the following fundamental premise: a reductionist approach that isolates the valuable in any resource base, separates it from the dross, and discards externalizes the dross while selling the high value extracted product for the best price possible.

With the rise of industrial capitalism (itself built on intensive colonial extraction) this premise became definitive of all human activities by the dominant imperial culture including those where such a premise is more than merely dysfunctional, it is (eventually, if adhered to rigorously) fatal for its practitioners.

We now practice farming as an extractive industry. Farming, furthermore, is supported by other extractive industries: mining topsoil and fossil water, growing only a handful of predetermined high value crops and discarding/exterminating all other cultivars, and seeking best price in markets regardless of distance and appropriateness.

If it makes more money to grow palm trees for biofuel to ship to wealthy customers overseas, then by all means destroy peasant smallholdings that produced food for local people, or forest that maintained water circulation and climate stability, in order to establish massive monocrop palm oil plantations.

The mindset and praxis of mining has been superimposed on all other activities: fishing is now practiced as stripmining by factory trawlers gargantuan, destructive bottom draggers. The bycatch phenomenon, decimating hundreds of species as collateral damage in the hunt for select high-value species, is directly analogous to the proliferation of slag piles and acid pools around mining operations. Dairy farming is now practiced like stripmining, pumping external inputs (hormones and other drugs) into heifers to force maximum production and extraction of the high value product (milk), and discarding the dross (a cow burnt out as a milk producer by the age of 3 and sold for cheap meat).

This extractive praxis inherently destroys biotic systems whether it be the body of a cow, or an entire ecosystem because no biotic system can survive being stripped for specific high value parts. Ecosystems, like animals, function as a whole. The rates of return demanded by finance capitalism are inherently incompatible with the rate of solar return expressed by natural growth patterns in biotic systems.

We are biological biotic creatures, and all our food is the product of biotic systems. The extractive mindset that capitalism requires to provide its fantastical rates of return is incompatible with biotic reality. Capitalism and food have been on a collision course from the beginning.

The forcing of higher rates of return out of biotic systems to satisfy finance capital and to conform to the extractive metaphor, requires doing such violence to individual organisms and to entire ecosystems, that very soon grotesque amounts of tinkering and external input are required to maintain (temporarily) an unsustainable harvest.

In animal husbandry this translates to the need for massive doses of antibiotics and other medications to enable animals to (barely) survive the cruel and pathogenic conditions of factory farming; in agriculture it translates into the systemic weakness of monocrop plantations which similarly require massive doses of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc. to compensate for what is effectively a sickly biotic system with a compromised immune response, low resilience, no robustness.

These massive external inputs are all fossil-based: they come from the extractive/chemical/synthetic sector (the sector of human endeavor that, in the advanced West, has dominated culture and industry since the early 1900s). That sector in turn is the product of is wholly dependent on cheap fossil energy.

The maintenance of factory farms and feedlots like terminal patients on perpetual life-support has proven very profitable for the chemical/fossil sector. It has proven, temporarily, profitable for agribusiness which reaped record returns. And it has, as a side benefit, improved the efficiency of farming to such a startling extent that fewer than 2 percent of Americans still work on the land producing food.

This means from an industrial capitalist perspective that 98 percent of the population can be held to ransom for money, being unable to produce their own food. (And even those two percent of Americans who still farm often get all their household food from a corporate supermarket, since what they grow on their vast overcapitalized monocrop spreads is not edible by humans but merely the feedstock for industrial processes.)

The Official Story

The dismal quality of factory food has been ably documented by the Slow Food Movement, watchdog groups, and medical associations as well as by mavericks like Weston Price. Why do we tolerate it and the near-totalitarian control exercised over our food supply by a handful of giant agribiz combines? In part we tolerate monopoly and lousy quality in our food economy because the public believes industry propaganda that (in Margaret Thatchers infamous phrase) There Is No Alternative. The industry has cranked out a relentless barrage of propaganda for the last 50+ years, the gist of which can be summarized as follows:

**Industrial farming (aka the Green Revolution, one of historys more painfully ironic misnomers) has increased yields per acre

**Given the pressure of present and future population growth, only industrial farming can feed the world

**Industrial farming is hygienic, scientific, smart and safe; all earlier farming techniques were dirty, primitive, ignorant and inferior

However, present circumstances impel us to ask what is smart or safe about a farming praxis that destroys topsoil and depletes millennia of subterranean water accumulation in a matter of decades; what is hygienic about a farming praxis that notoriously contaminates soil and watersheds with industrial chemicals, or creates lagoons of unmanageably concentrated animal urine and manure, or produces food that routinely generates health scandal headlines; and what is scientific about a farming praxis that routinely disregards the most basic principles of ecosystem theory and management. Add to the mix the fragility of a farming praxis utterly dependent on a fast-depleting finite resource like fossil fuels, and it looks more and more like folly or a con game.

According to the industry propaganda line, only industrial farming can feed the world because industrial farming increased yields, and previous methods of farming were inadequate. Therefore, according to industry propaganda, the solution to the present food crisis is to throw more technology at it namely, genetic modification to produce organisms (GMOs) that can somehow survive or even thrive in the cruel and pathogenic conditions of factory farming.

The fact that intellectual property law related to GMOs could then be used to extend the centralized control of food production into a completely enclosed monopoly is, of course, merely coincidental.

To deconstruct this seamless no alternative story we have to return to the first big lie: that the Green Revolution (chemical/factory farming) improved agriculture, increasing efficiency/yields, reducing pest losses, making the best use of land, etc.

In the short term some of the claims appear to be true: you can grow larger vegetables if you salt the soil with artificial fertilizers, and this appears to improve yields per hectare. However, several studies confirm foods produced biotically (organically in the somewhat confusing US idiom) are more nutritious than the larger and more cosmetically perfect factory-farmed equivalent; not only are they uncontaminated with chemical poisons, but they are more nutrient-dense, ounce for ounce, than the industrial product. In this case, what yield means to the industrial ag-nexus is not food not nutritional value for people to eat but hundredweight of marketable commodity.

In terms of efficiency, industrial agriculture does indeed look efficient from the finance capitalist point of view: using large mechanized devices to plant, harvest and process uniform, engineered monocrop from vast regimented plantations means that labor can be minimized: fossil fuels and machinery substitute for human labor, so that the wages/subsistence of workers/peasants are eliminated as an operating cost.

So long as fossil fuels are dirt (so to speak) cheap, this practice is efficient (in terms of realizing maximum profit on a hundredweight of commodity); and it creates a large alienated, captive labor pool of people who at one time had some kind of food self-sufficiency as agricultural laborers and smallholders. Not so when thrown off the land and into the industrial/money economy. This is the essence of dependency.

In the long term, however, and by any measure aside from profit, it seems patently absurd to call any farming method efficient if it invests 10 fossil fuel calories to produce one calorie of food; or if it uses up a inch of topsoil for every 13 years or so of farming the same fields. (F. H. Kings Farmers of Forty Centuries documents practices which permitted Asian peasant farmers to plant and harvest on the same land for four millennia without exhausting the soil; North American topsoil 21 inches deep or more prior to European colonization is now down to 6 inches or less in many areas after only 200 years.)

In the long term, even the initial successes of the Green Revolution (GR) are hollowed out by diminishing returns and inconvenient facts: losses to pests are now higher per hectare than they were before the GR, despite the application of more and more costly high-tech pesticides. Monocrop plantations are simply too sickly, and pests are too rapidly-evolving and adaptive, for anything other than an endless treadmill of escalating cost and increasing toxicity. The artificial fertilizer and heavy machinery treadmill is very similar: for the first few years, yields may seem to improve, but soon the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides kills the soil, over-irrigation and heavy equipment compact it into hardpan, and what was fertile farmland becomes, essentially, semi-desert a near-sterile growing medium requiring more and more chemical inputs to support plants in a kind of gigantic outdoor hydroponic garden.

The Happy Ever After story of the Green Revolution and Better Living Through Chemistry is not wearing well. Moreover, contrary to industry claims, there is an alternative; and the alternative has potentially profound political implications which is precisely why the finance capital/extractive nexus wishes to eliminate it from public discourse.

Another Agriculture is Possible

Many well-substantiated studies show that intensive biotic polyculture that is, the cultivation of many species of food plants in a small footprint, using biotic soil amendments and nutrient recycling produces far more food per hectare than factory farming; uses far less water; and builds, rather than destroying, topsoil. Although more human ingenuity, care, and attention are required, the adoption of permaculture principles and techniques reduces the drudgery of food production considerably; the permaculturist is assisting food to grow rather than forcing it to grow, which is much less work all round than our cartoon cultural memory of dawn-to-dusk backbreaking peasant labor. The labor only became backbreaking when smallholders had to pay tribute and debts to people with weapons and ledgers.

What intensive biotic polyculture does not do is maximize money profits, minimize labor inputs, or facilitate large-scale extractive cash-cropping. For these reasons not for any failure to produce food for eating it is derided by industrial agribiz experts as impractical, inefficient, inadequate, etc. In fact, poly/permacultures abundant success in producing food for eating is one of the things that makes it a frightening prospect for those who control people by controlling peoples access to food.

What they dont want us to know is that it works.

Eisenia foetida the red wiggler earthworm under ideal worm-farming (vermiculture) conditions double their volume through reproduction every 90 days. Each individual worm can eat approximately half its body weight each day. A pound of E. foetida, then, can consume a half-pound of non-oily, vegetable kitchen scraps each day. The majority of that mass is excreted as an extremely high quality compost, with a bit of fluid (worm tea) left over (considered by many to be the organic uber-fertilizer). So, potentially, one pound of worms can convert around 180 pounds of kitchen scraps each year into the highest quality organic soil additive. Every five pounds of worm-castings can convert one-square surface-foot of soil into a super-producer for a four months. So one pound of worms can sustain 12 square surface-feet of garden throughout the year for the highest levels of productivity.

My own [Stans] anecdotal evidence, without using worm castings but using simply composting mulch on organic compost over non-compacted soil, is that in 12 square surface-feet, one can grow three species of food, with six plants each producing okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, bush beans, etc. Mixing them, and adding a couple of marigolds and aromatics (like mint or parilla) seems to keep the little critters from taking more than their share. Last summer I had one cucumber vine that produced around 50 mature cucumbers, totaling well over 20 pounds of food, for around three months. By rotating seasonals, it is easily conceivable to take a 12 square-foot plot in a temperate zone and raise 100 pounds of food a year being very conservative. Neither Syngenta, nor Cargill, nor Archer-Daniels-Midland want you to know this.

They want to sell you mass-produced food, for money which you have to work for. Let us not forget that Enclosure (forcing people off the land, or separating them from their land) was the method used to compel people into the monetized industrial economy in the first place.

A 12-foot garden bed is three-feet by four-feet. How many of these can you build on a half an acre?

The key is always in the design. But by design, we mean learning as in the design philosophy of permaculture how to work with nature, and not to attempt the vain conquest of nature. The key to that design aside from the mechanical tricks of trellising, water catchment, etc. is to create the conditions for increasing dynamic biotic complexity, beginning at the micro-level with the soil itself.

We are not accustomed, especially on the political left, to thinking about such practical activities as political. We are still trapped in a strategic-theoretical model that equates power with policy (policy flowing from the Program), and policy is then undertaken as a purely ideological struggle. The persuasion of the word and the concept is given primacy over the persuasion of actual conditions and deeds. Metaphorically, we have constructed a line, running from left to right, and we use a constellation of policy-issues to place both people and discourse along that line.

The system, however, reproduces itself most earnestly through facts-on-the-ground. Fighting a system with nothing more than ideas is the most Quixotic, and ineffectual, form of struggle. Before we can suggest ideas, we must first have some facts-on-the-ground of our own to point to.

Fortunately, we do. Some of them have just been recited above. We just need to point to them with more urgency now.

Because the facts-on-the-ground of the present capitalist system, as we can see, have slammed into something like the end of an unexpected cul-de-sac. The epidemic of dollar hegemony has spread through the world like a plague; but plagues burn themselves out when all who are susceptible have been wiped out.

The airlines have run into a deep impasse of tooling and organization and so has our food system.

Our system has arrived decisively at what Ivan Illich called its second watershed: all our cures have become the disease. We are in a state of accelerating iatrogensis. The capitalist/extractive/technomanagerial system can only prescribe more of the same medicine that is killing us or new medicines to treat the symptoms of the last medicine. This is not a metaphorical treadmill, but a downward spiral and there is a bottom.

This may look gradual and incremental in the daily chronos of our lives; but in the larger sweep of historical kairos a time that punctuates and disrupts chronos the convergence of a crisis in dollar hegemony with the energetic limits to growth has been concentrated on the reality of food a reality from which no one can escape.

Those in the commanding heights of the world food regime are watching their edifice begin to crumble. Meanwhile, we already have our facts, our examples; and we have an opportunity through sheer necessity driven by empty bellies to expand those facts while the toppling food regime falls into its inexorable disarray. This is a teachable moment if ever there was one.

What is a Food Issue? Why Do We Need a Politics of Food Praxis?

At the policy level, because we would never eschew that, there is a nascent opposition to the Farm Bill a massive annual government giveaway to agri-business. The left is not alone in its opposition to this. Libertarians oppose it, too. Does it matter why? The grotesque dysfunctions and injustices of the Farm Bill are visible to people across the political spectrum: more importantly perhaps, so is the unsatisfactory quality of the food and pseudo-food produced by the agribusiness cartels coddled by the Farm Bill.

This is a food issue.

Free-trade agreements are ultimately designed to convert foreign economies into dollar-generating export platforms; and agriculturally this means monocropping at the expense of peasants, the urban poor, and the globes disappearing forests.

This is a food issue.

US agricultural dumping is facilitated by massive government subsidies to agribusiness, which also facilitate the competitive destruction of local small producers. This same dumping introduces patented and GMO foods and seeds into the Third World to extend the reach of intellectual property lawsuits (a prime weapon of the extractive nexus against small producers).

That is a food issue.

36 million households in the US are food insecure, because food is largely available only on the monetized economy; and poor people have very little money.

This is a food issue.

The food we do eat is filled with chemicals and contaminants because the regulatory agencies (like the Food and Drug Administration) have been converted into industry advocates by the determining role of money in politics (Ethanol, for example, is a vote-buying scheme, with ADM behind the scenes). And because the industrial methods of farming require chemicals and contaminants to compensate for their pathogenic and violent treatment of creatures and biotic systems.

These are food issues.

Health authorities increasingly acknowledge that the western diet, especially the western/industrial junk-food diet, is associated with the onset or the exacerbation of many debilitating diseases and conditions. Meanwhile, our medical care system is in crisis, in an endless death spiral of increasing demand and increasing cost. Our hospitals contain McDonalds franchise outlets.

These are food issues.

Our children are subjected to crap-food propaganda in school; and they eat crap food there. Corporations are behind this; and they intentionally addict our kids to crap-food. Some schools have begun to grow their own food; and the gardens are used as practical pedagogical tools as well as a source for clean food, with great success. Behavioral problems drop dramatically when kids eat clean, fresh food.

These are food issues.

Anal-retentive white homeowners associations, who associate (pun intended) vegetable gardens with (eewwww) immigrants and dark-skinned folks, prohibit vegetable gardens in their neighborhoods (in the belief that veggies lower property values).

This is a food issue.

The agribusiness cartels are already trying to crack down on CSAs, farmers markets and other direct producer-to-eater convenyances of real food, usually under the banner of public health. They have already managed to leverage well-meaning public health and safety laws as weapons against small dairy and meat producers, and are even now trying to leverage the E. coli scares into a weapon against organic salad greens producers.

This is a food issue.

One of the imperial fiats issued by Proconsul Bremer during the early occupation of Iraq was Order 81, the imposition of US intellectual property law on the subjugated nation; and one of the earliest aid initiatives was the marketing arm of the GMO seed vendors, attempting to force Iraqi farmers to use US patented GMO strains of wheat and barley. The American invaders may or may not intentionally have destroyed Iraqs premier national seed bank of traditional, varietal cultivars.

This is a food issue.

There is no aspect of our existence, locally, regionally, nationally, or globally, that does not have a direct connection to food. We are what we eat. What we eat is who we are.

Resistance is Fertile

In India, there are already mass movements of farmers against agribusiness. In Brazil, there is a mass movement of peasants against agribusiness. Even in Europe, there is mass resistance to genetically-modified crops and US monocrop dumping. Other regions will evolve their own forms of resistance, out of their own cultures.

The job of Americans is to work with other Americans; and the more locally, the better. This is where we know each other culturally. This is the belly of the beast. This is where we can make some facts-on-the-ground; where we can break out of the impasse created by these agribusiness behemoths and create practical alternatives first cell-divisions of new social forms in the interstices of a decaying system.

Practical alternatives, skill sets and designs not alternative abstract ideologies can give us the wherewithal to resist control when the ruling class tries to bully and bluff its way out of the crisis unfolding around us. Moreover, the fact of food independence is something tangible that people can and will defend.

Food dependency has always been the most essential weapon of the oppressor.

That applies to the abused wife who will be cast into penury if she leaves her abuser (we ask, How will she eat?); and it applies to the alienated suburban technodrone, who knows deep down that he doesnt know how he would eat without money. It applies to the indigenous population forbidden to grow their traditional crops by colonial masters; kicked off the best arable land by colonial masters; made dependent on second-rate food exports from the colonizing nation; etc. It applies to the yeoman farmer deprived of common land and forced into the pool of desperate, hungry, deracinated wage-slaves who staffed the first industrial factories. It applies to citizens of Zimbabwe forbidden by President Mugabe and his political clique to keep vegetable gardens in the yards of their urban and suburban homes.

Self-determination, that shopworn phrase used by right and left alike, is not practically feasible in any guise whatsoever without food independence. If someone else controls your access to food then you have, by definition, no self-determination. You cant hold a strike without a strike fund. Why do you need a strike fund? So you can eat.

Food independence food autarky is not possible without greater separation of food from the monetized economy: (money is a weapon of control, an entitlement against others). There is quite simply no independence, and little hope of a sustained resistance, without food security. Nor is there any way to get there (to a state of food democracy or food security) without relocalization as our most fundamental precondition.

What is To Be Done?

This is primarily a design-task, and only secondarily an ideological one which bears the truth historical materialism should teach us above all others.

In the United States and the other metropolitan nations, there is an emerging food movement. It involves everything from fighting prohibitions on raw milk to farmers markets to community-supported agriculture to community gardens.

This practice, which is coalescing into a movement, constitutes the original facts-on-the-ground referred to above. It is a hungry movement (another pun intended); and it craves expansion not into a bureaucratic behemoth, but through organic expansion (another pun intended) at the local level. It is connected, through inextricable chains of implication, with a commitment to social justice, to environmental responsibility, to community-building, to fair labor practice, to fair trade. It connects people to these issues through the positive attraction of hedonism good food tastes better and the pleasures of engagement in community: it connects people to these issues through their urgent concerns about their own food security and the cleanliness/honesty/safety/responsibility of their food supply. And it cannot by its very nature fail to critique industrial capitalism as a system.

The argument from the archaic left, i.e., that the Food Underground is individualistic voluntarism, has copped to the idea that all practical, local palliatives are somehow ineffective. This is a deeply fallacious argument. It means we still see the world exclusively through our left-to-right, linear, and purely ideological continuum. We still see politics as the persuasion of the word, and our deeds being limited to either symbolic expressions of resistance or aiming some mythical mass blow (a military metaphor, which implies military organization and discipline). Support our Program, and we will win Political Power, and change the Policies, and all will be well.

The fact that this strategic approach has a history of the most dismal failure or hideous distortions of original goals doesnt faze true believers.

And so, as counterpoint to the overwhelmingly complex and dynamic facts of the system, there is no concrete alternative we can show. We can only tell, or consult the historical archives. We need less telling and more showing.

Food autarky and relocalization are not symbolic acts of resistance, but actual resistance the basis of resistance, the precondition of resistance.

Past revolutions began not with ideas in isolation; they began with facts-on-the-ground. By the time the French overthrew their aristocracy, that aristocracy was already moribund except for its political power. In every other realm, the businessmen who led the revolution were already dominant. The revolution evolved through the kairos of history through slowly maturing metatrends which then interjected itself into the here-and-now chronos of politics.

The kairos of history, in our time, is the long arc of fossil fuel depletion and the inevitable collapse of intricate profit-taking systems and hyper-extraction strategies predicated on unlimited cheap energy. Just throw petroleum at it is not going to work any more.

This means that deep contradictions and crises papered over by desperate energy-intensive bandaids will become visible and painful (and they are, already). The industrial food system is riddled with such crises and contradictions, barely papered over by throwing ever-more petroleum at it. It has reached a breaking point, and popular discourse is not unaware of this (as we may infer from the groundswell of popular nonfiction books highly critical of the system).

The exposure of these fault lines and the intimate nature of food, for us social primates can be highly politicizing for large numbers of people; and whatever the ideological effects, the praxis of food autarky and community-through-food can only enhance our chances of survival and resistance during a period of (potentially) extreme dislocation.

The kitchen garden the victory garden represents not only the ability to sustain resistance (or aggression) against a foreign enemy, but the ability to resist domestic authority and to withdraw, at least partially, from the money economy and the wage-slavery and debt on which it is based.

Here is a point that needs to be made again and again to any would-be revolutionary: People will not fight to break a system upon which they utterly depend. Never have. Never will.

Capitalism began by kicking people off their land and forbidding them to grow their own food; the end of capitalism may come when people who grow their own food and share it with neighbors are able to say a resounding No to capitalisms end-phase exterminism.

We need not start from scratch in order to return to a perennial politics of resistance: the defense of peasant (smallholder, local) agriculture against imperial profit-takers. The Food Underground is already here. It has been invisible to many of us, because our eyes were fixed on higher ideological struggles while the basis of effective counter-ideology skill and design quietly passed us by. It is time to change that.

Political resisters need to learn and apply the skills and designs of the food underground; and the food underground needs deeper, more focused and intentional politicization. The Left may even learn something about organizing and social change from the permaculture principles; it may be that in the long run, we do not grow revolution any more than we grow plants; it may be that social change is not forced, but is assisted to happen by creating the preconditions for an explosion of vitality, diversity and robustness in our (counter)culture. It may be that successful social change is more like gardening, and less like war, than our rhetoric and our habits of thought assume.

In summary, the Left and the food underground need each other; because historys kairos has interjected itself into our chronos and opened a path, a teachable moment for all of us. It is an unfamiliar path, perhaps, but not nearly so perilous as standing still.

Holloway on Christianity, feminism, and more

Most people in our culture appear to have decided that being a Christian means inhabiting a kind of consciousness that is no longer possible for them, so they have abandoned it and rarely ever think about it. They are fortified in their rejection by the Christians they hear most about today, because they agree with their estimation of Christianity, though they draw diametrically opposite conclusions from it. Both groups believe that Christianity is emphatically committed to a specific way or ordering human relationships that was decreed by God and cannot therefore ever be changed.

Is that it, then? Christianity has already been pushed to the edges in our society as an eccentric type of consciousness that is profoundly antipathetic to contemporary values. Are we to witness its slow but inevitable death, apart from a few refugee encampments here and there?

There is another group in the game – though whether it will be sent off the field is still an open question, since it tends to be despised by both the other groups as traitorous.

This group believes that it is possible to be a Christian and post-modern, to be a member of a church and a supporter of feminism and the rights of sexual minorities in spite of Christian tradition.

It is a radical position, which has uncoupled Christianity from absolute claims about the status of the Bible and tradition.

And what broke the chain, as the traditionalists rightly foresaw, was the emancipation of women. Having embraced the ethical imperative of feminism, those of us who are members of this group came to realise that we were now reading the Bible as a human not as a divine creation.

The issue for those of us who find ourselves in this position is whether we can discover new ways of using the Christian tradition that will deepen our humanity, our care for the earth and for one another. That was the agenda I set myself in this series of lectures.

The Emergency Wormcasting Network

Is it an emergency yet?

Well, it has been for a long time, but more people are starting to notice. The symptoms cant be papered over as easily as they get more severe, frequent, and ubiquitous. Peak Oil climate derangement authoritarian movements rollback of womens rights food contamination scares concentration of media owmership species loss water shortages runaway incarceration megafires resource wars financial meltdowns Seems like things are going more wrong, more rapidly, more generally than were used to. Whats to be done?

A natural response is survivalism: how am I gonna get through this? But theres more than one kind of survivalism: if you are worried about how your community your tribe, your extended family, your township, your county, your neighbours and friends are going to get through this together then were working on a radio show for you. The Emergency Wormcasting Network has two basic premises: (a) we believe theres a real emergency, and (b) we believe there are things you can do about it both to influence public life to soften the landing, and to safeguard the health and freedom of yourself and your community.

The Emergency Wormcasting Network is just getting off (or into) the ground. Segment Zero was recently completed and is available online, as streaming audio and mp3 download. Segment Zero discusses home food production, the politics of vegetable gardening in the suburbs, why certain social forces like HOAs oppose visible food growing in suburban hoods, why food security is at the heart of autonomy and popular resistance, and many other related issues. DeAnander interviews Stan Goff on his local struggle to save his familys food garden from the HOA. Wed like to get comments and feedback at the EWN thread at Feral Scholar what do you think about this segment?

Future topics on the table as of Nov 2007 are: Local Currencies; Sustainable Transportation; Safe Humanure Composting; introduction to the essays of feral philosopher Ran Prieur; Industrialism, Warfare, and Gender you are invited to suggest some more!

We could respond to this growing state of emergency with gold under the mattress and guns in the attic or with bicycles in the neighbourhood and veggies in the yard. Adventurism, or autarky? Our feeling at IA and FS is that Option B offers more lasting prospects for resistance and social change. Were trying to offer the practical and strategic tools, resources, and inspirations for a distributed and growing culture of Option B. Peak oil, environmental degradation, class, capital, gender, race, energy, land, food and water well try to connect the dots, and help listeners move beyond despair into action.

Bordo Katz – The politics of food

We are pleased to feature, with the authors permission, front-page links to two very important books: Susan Bordos Unbearable Weight and Sandor Katz The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. IAs core beliefs that (1) the politics of food maps onto virtually every other issue, and that (2) no politics can be serious that does ignores gender analysis, are the reason we are featuring these tomes. Sandor Katz overview of a broadly emerging and ever more revolutionary underground food movement is not only a remarkable bit of research and analysis, it has multiple and extremely useful bibliographies for the people who are writing, thinking, and ding these things. Susan Bordos book is absolutely essential to understanding the contradictory relationship that many American women have with food and for beginning any serious conversation about feminism and-or food-politics. A public shout-out to both authors thank you, to two insurgent Americans.

Southeast Permaculture Gathering

The Permaculture Gathering
Celo Community, North Carolina
August 3rd-5th, 2007

The Permaculture Gathering every year is a reunion of friends-family welcoming new friends – a time of retreat rejuvenation, of fun, joy, magic learning.

Ceremonial village – Self-organizing “open space” agenda – Permaculture and Sustainable Culture – Fantastic Organic food – Plant walks – Drum circles – Cool temperatures – Cold mountain swims -Seed and Plant Exchange – Healing Tent, Saturday night fun…. MORE!

Go to our website For the printable registration page, information, schedule. You will also find some links, comments from participants and more!

Early Bird Discount! Register by June 25th!

Number of Participants limited!

Yahoo group: (to subscribe, simply hit the Join this Group button on the group homepage)

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