Best Dog Grooming Clippers for Thick Coats

06 Best Dog Grooming Clippers for Thick Coat

For dogs with a thick coat, it’s hard to groom them properly. Indeed, they are the reason for the pup shedding all over your house. Don’t worry! The best dog grooming clippers are great solutions. They can help. They can be able to help trim your pet’s coat. At the same time, they also can keep your dog comfortable. There is a wide range of options for you when choosing a clipper for the thick coat. In this article, we will give you a few basic things you should consider before making your decision.

Double Coat

In fact, these dogs have more fur. For instance, A Great Pyrenes is a breed with a thick coat. These coats have the purpose of preventing your dog from the elements, bugs, as well as insects. They also can help to keep your dog warm in the cold weather.

Matted Hair

A dog that comes with more hair normally gets their hair matted as well as tangled frequently. It’s hard to groom around these mats. So, when grooming dogs with matted hair, it’s hard to avoid pulling the hair as well as hurting your dog. That’s why you should use a scissor for a matted hair. It can help to remove all of these mats and tangles before you use clippers.

Shave in the right direction

It’s necessary to clip your pet’s hair in the right direction. By this way, you can keep your dog’s coat looking neat.

Sharp Clippers

With a thick coat, it’s difficult to use clippers to cut through your pet’s hair. Especially, if your dog owns a so thick coat, you will have to take a lot more times for this. It even can cause pulling. It’s best to check the sharpness of the blades often. Then, you know when you need to replace them.

Remember to keep these points in mind. Then, you can take less time to groom your dog’s coat. It’s necessary to groom your dog’s coat regularly. Here are some key features you need to know when choosing clippers for a thick coat:


Normally, clippers come with various speeds. But, some lower-priced clippers may be available in only 1 or 2 options of the speed. Of course, anyone wants to get ones with multiple speeds. These units can be able to cut your pet’s thicker coat effectively. There are some options coming with five speeds that give you more customization. It’s best to look for a unit with the highest number of speed setting.

Blade Type

When choosing clippers for your dog, you also shouldn’t ignore this point. It’s not a great idea to choose metal clippers. They can be able to get hot quickly, especially when grooming dogs with thick coats. We recommend you to choose ceramic blades instead. They are great choices for dogs with thick hair because they don’t get hot quickly.


You may not know your furry friend has a very sensitive hearing. But, some clippers make a loud noise. So, you need to look for a good middle ground that suits your dog. It’s great to choose ones with the lower stroke. They actually offer the lower sound.


Nowadays, there are many dog clippers coming with clips or combs guide. Some of them allow you to customize for the desired length. They are ideal for many breeds.

Thick Coat Power

Many clippers can tackle thicker dog coats, for example, The Wahl brand. It comes with a power drive cutting system. It can be able to cut through thicker hair easily due to 30% more power.


Self-sharpening blades help your clippers stay razor sharp. You need to change these blades eventually.

These things above are essential to consider. Last, we want to introduce 2 considerations, including cordless and corded. They can be able to impact directly on your grooming.


This type can sustain the power the entire time when you groom your pet. With a corded clipper, you can groom your dog at a higher level of precision. Indeed, you needn’t stop until the end of the process.


The cordless clippers are great. But, they require a little more diligent when looking for one. These clippers offer much greater movement and range. They also allow you to do the job more easily. But, the power may be a problem. It may become weaker. It means that the battery starts to drain. Then, you need to stop your job in order to charge it. So, your grooming is interrupted.


Again, there are many choices of dog grooming clippers for dogs with a thick hair. Most importantly, you need to consider a few pertinent things as the durability and warranty. If you are keen on a cordless model, don’t forget to consider the overall runtime. Also, determine the time you need to charge it. In addition, there are many accessories when choosing a dog clipper. Besides, there are some extras, including oil, clips, scissors, carry case, etc. Thanks to these units, you can trim your dog’s hair quickly.

Adopt a Pet from a Shelter or Rescue

It’s very interesting when bringing home a new pet. Also, this is a feel-good experience. By adopting a pet from a shelter, you can save this dog’s life. Nowadays, it has become more and more popular as well as accessible. In fact, there is a wide range of different ways that can help you look for the proper adoptable pet for your family. And, this is also considered as the best way to add a new pet to your home.

How to Find Animal Shelters

It’s not hard to find an animal shelter. Indeed, each pet just has to wait for someone to come as well as take them home. In the beginning, you should check your local websites for provisions for housing homeless pets. Then, you will have more idea of what animals you should wait for your home. In addition to city and county animal shelters, you will have to pay for nonprofit organizations that you want to adopt a pet to your home.

Reasons to adopt from an Animal Shelter

There are some reasons to adopt a pet. For examples, pets for adoption from shelters are neutered or spayed, microchipped, and vaccinated. That’s why we recommend you to adopt a dog instead of buying one. In fact, you may have to pay hundreds of dollars for these services. Of course, you can save both a life and a lot of money. It’s best to look for small dogs for adoption. This can also break the cycle of dog overpopulation.

Adopting a dog shelter can stop cruelty in mass breeding facilities throughout the country. Aside from that, you will also get the advantage of adopting an adult animal. Indeed, you will have the opportunity to see the personality of the adult animal without seeing what you get.

What’s wrong with Puppies for sale

One of the most common choices for people includes designer dogs and purebred dogs. They are truly a great choice for people who are interested in getting a new dog. But nowadays, people tend to choose shelters or rescue groups in search of a dog in order to bring home.

Many people choose to get a puppy for sale. They are different from puppies for adoption. However, you can purchase from a pet store, a dog breeder, and anywhere else.

Consumers may think about a lot of things they purchase such as caring more about the places they buy from as well as how they’re made. In fact, they are not all the difference with pets.

When it comes to choosing to adopt a pet, you can find adorable, fun, unique, and sweet dogs at local shelters as well as animal rescue groups. In addition, you can also become part of the solution for the homeless pet.

Dog breeding and dogs for sale

If you want to choose adoption, we recommend you to choose one from a shelter or rescue group. We shouldn’t buy from a breeder. Many people choose to buy a dog for sale online or from a pet store. But, you can also see many adorable dogs from many pet finder sites. They wait for homes in shelters as well as rescue groups.

Find a pet

If you want to adopt a pet, you need to find the proper one to fit in with your family. And, it’s best to think about the best match for you. If you have a lot of time, you need to be patient to dedicate yourself to training classes. Remember that adopting a puppy is also being prepared for messes, the danger of things chewed up, and potty training.

In fact, it may be the worst option for looking for a new pet when it comes to buying dogs online or choosing from a pet store.

You may get a great help from shelter staff or rescue group volunteers. They will help you match up pets with the right families. In addition, they will help to pick out pets that are a good fit as well.

Adopt from a shelter near you

No-kill communities

Best Friends is a great organization. This is one of the no-kill organizations. Moreover, it works together in order to end the unnecessary killing of pets as well. The pet shelters have to save at least 90 percent of the animals. There are some successful no-kill models such as Kansas City, Austin, Portland, and Brown County.

There are many groups in building a no-kill community. They will come together to deal with homeless pet problems. Tactics include economically targeted neuter, high volume adoptions, making adoption the first choice, helping families keep their pets, as well as many other programs.


You will surely get joy from bringing pets. In fact, you can find the favorite breed from a local shelter or search online for a group. You will get the right pet there. Hope our article is useful and helps you when adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue.


The 3,000 Milestone is the most recent essay on the war by Stan Goff. It is written as US troop fatalities in Iraq have passed 2,950, and 3,000 will likely be reached by New Year’s Day or shortly after… before the Democrat-majority Congress is seated on January 20th. We want people to use it as they see fit throughout the alternative media to support and bolster the case for immediate and unilateral withdrawl of all US military forces from Iraq.

The 3,000 Milestone

by Stan Goff

As the grim milestone of the 3,000th American troop death approaches in Iraq, what can we say about the war that hasn’t been said before?

On September 7, 2005, I wrote a lengthy analysis-from-afar on political and military developments in Iraq, called The Danger of Iraqi Partition. On that same day, we were approaching the 2,000 US-dead-in-Iraq milestone, 1,892 to be exact. Just as today, in the United States these figures of US troop deaths garner the attention of the media, that still pretends the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, wounded, and displaced are a mere footnote.

It reminds one of the old Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, where the entire world exists as a background within which a white European male protagonist can have an adventure about which white males can fantasize. The media in the US is still completely the captive of the White Man’s Burden narrative, even though the term, “White Man,” has now been supplanted by “American.” This is evident in the reflexive valorization of American life over the lives of dark foreigners — which, admittedly, is necessary to sustain circulation and political clout in a culture of national chauvinism. It is also evident in the seeming inability to visualize any “solution” to the whirlwind reaped by US policy in Iraq that does not require the continued employment of US troops to occupy Iraq.

While this milestone will be used — as it should be in my opinion — to mobilize emotional support for the redeployment of US troops back to the United States and the end of the US military occupation of Iraq, I am going to take this opportunity — which it is — to introduce a more clinical account of what is happening with this war. It is fairly obvious now that most Americans want to be rid of this war. In a sense, then, the campaign to build opposition has achieved momentum in a direction that seems unlikely to be reversed. The question that arises now, and the one for which there is little satisfaction in mainstream commercialized or Democratic Party discourse, is what do “we” do? How do “we” get out?

The principal reason there have been no satisfactory answers to that question is that the majority of people rely on professional pundits and news models to acquire the baseline impressions of what is actually happening in Iraq. The account that is being propagated is one that is shallow, simplistic, largely inaccurate, and widely believed by the pundits themselves. They themselves are the captives of their own chauvinist assumptions and of the cosmic vacuums in their heads where the politics of war should be.

In the article cited from September 2005, I wrote:

I, and others, have said for some time now that Muqtada al Sadr is not merely a complicating peculiarity in Iraq, but that he may end up being the canniest of all the current well-known Iraqi leaders – politically and militarily.

Furthermore, I said:

The Bush administration’s principal preoccupation ever since April 2004 has been the question of Iran. If Iraq breaks up, the US will be faced with Southern Iraq – including a huge fraction of its oil – becoming a protectorate of Iran. Meanwhile, the US has attempted to build its bases – which were always the primary goal of the invasion – in Ba’athist strongholds. This was partly the result of tactical necessity as the Anbar, Nineva, and Saladin provinces were consolidated as centers of nationalist resistance to the occupation. The US base at Mosul, along the Tigris River, has become almost a city unto itself with a 65-kilometer security perimeter and a giant airfield.

This base exists in a sea of hostility, surrounded by an increasingly sophisticated guerrilla resistance, adjacent to Kirkuk where the Kurds are attempting to establish their future national capital through a de-Arabization campaign. The headquarters for this base, however, is located in the Green Zone – Baghdad, and the only seaport to the entire country is in Basra Province, which would become part of a post-breakup Iranian protectorate…

I went on to describe the physical infrastructure of the only hope for any group in Iraq for the development capital required to conduct future reconstruction — and satisfy the restive popular bases of the many ethno-geographic divisions: oil.

…The primary forces remaining in the Iraqi “government” are semi-puppets. On the one hand, they are dependent on American military power for the time being to maintain the current balance of forces in their favor. On the other hand, they clearly have an agenda that is designed to consolidate that long-term power through a pact of some sort with Iran.

This has created a polarization between current direct participants in the Iraqi government and the minority – strategically located and well-armed – Sunnis/nationalists in the north. That is not a cultural polarization but a political one that further entrenches the Faustian alliance between the government and the US occupiers each day, though there is no inhering reason among the general populations – who have for years seen inter-ethnic and inter-denominational marriage, etc. – for any pressure to partition the country.

The so-called Iraqi government does not in fact exercise real governance over any but a fraction of Iraq, and the “city-state” phenomenon throughout the country is setting the stage for a universally unacceptableBalkanization of Iraq, at the same time that it is developing the probable (and yet largely unknown) future local leadership of Iraq.

At some point in the future, most of these actors will have to deal with one another politically.

The Shia interim government and the US have maneuvered themselves into the same corner with antagonistic goals if and when they ever find their way out. The Sunnis and nationalists of the north have no stake in partition, and with the withdrawal of occupying forces would be freer to negotiate a political settlement with the south. This leaves one hugely influential local leader in the most flexible position in Iraq right now – Muqtada al Sadr.

He is the man to watch in Iraq for now.

Since this article was written we have seen the resignations of Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton, two of the bigger macho assholes of this administration (which is a tough distinction). The Republicans were swept out of the Congress on the issue of the war. And the putative Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, was just forced by Muqtada al Sadr to embarrass his patron Occupier-in-Chief, George W. Bush, by standing him up for a meeting for one day.

The point of reposting so much of this past article is not to exercise bragging rights about some mysterious prescience. It is to point out that this “prescience” is based on the rejection of those aforementioned mainstream assumptions that Iraq consists of three tidily demarcated ethnic groups who hate each other and need to be controlled by a poorly managed, but basically benevolent US occupation.

The reason it seems important now to take this clinical approach to a very sanguinary war is that the failure of the general US public to grasp the significance of what is unspoken in commercial and ruling class discourse is precisely what prevents that public from recognizing the perfidious current position of Democrats, their vulnerability between now and 2008, and the decisions that we have to extract from them, by force if necessary.

The establishment narrative is that Sadr is a pro-Iranian; he is not. The fact is his base is more like Hezbollah. Sadr has always endorsed Iraqi unification. Bush’s engagement beginning early December 2006 with Abdul Aziz al Hakim — practically an Iranian expatriate — who is the political commander of the former Badr Brigades, a 4-10,000 strong militia whose officers were trained in Iran, is an indication of how little the US understands about the real divisions inside Iraq. It is also an indication of the sense of desperation pervading the White House… and the US foreign policy establishment as a whole.

The balance of forces has changed dramatically in Iraq in favor of Sadr, whose popular base is approximately 3 million working class Iraqis living in a massive slum approximately three kilometers from the Green Zone, Iraq’s main US military installation, and the only safe haven for the so-called Iraq government of Maliki, the inheritor of the Prime Minster’s portfolio from fellow Da’waist Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Maliki serves at the pleasure of Sadr, because without Sadr’s support to make a thin parliamentary majority (Maliki is part of the Nasiriya-based Da’wa Party), Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) would control parliament as its largest faction. The Da’wa militia’s exact size is less than 2,000, and it is restricted to Nasiriya and is not populated or equipped to challenge either the SCIRI or Sadr’s Mehdi militia. Numbering 10-15,000 when its field leadership was bloodied in the fighting with the US in 2004, Sadr’s immense popularity since then is believed to have swelled the ranks of the Mehdi Army, though the various estimations are too broad to have any meaning. No one except the Mehdi commanders themselves knows.

While the pundits continually refer to Iraq’s “sectarian conflict” as a Sunni-Shia division, the most important divisions from the point of view of the US occupation forces and the US foreign policy establishment are inter-Shia. In November 2006, the decision was made to withdraw Marines from the highly nationalist and Sunni-majority Al Anbar Province, to reinforce Baghdad. What is seldom mentioned is what precisely they were reinforcing, and how.

Once we understand that one faction, led by one leader, who has consistently called for Iraqi national unity and the expulsion of the US military and US control over the development of Iraq’s post-occupation foreign affairs orientation… and that this same leader is harboring a militia that exceeds the size of the American occupation itself within the radius of Baghdad and environs… within a stone’s throw of the Green Zone… the answer to the question becomes blazingly clear.

Neither Hakim nor Maliki can afford to appear too cozy with the American occupation or the Bush regime, without risking wide scale abandonment by their respective popular bases. Stating that the American occupation is “unpopular” might be the understatement of the year. At the same time, neither Hakim nor Maliki has the power to control Baghdad, the symbolism and practical political value of which is inestimable, without the American occupation (They are, in fact, unable to do it with the occupation’s assistance.). SCIRI has its main offices located in Iraqi Kurdistan (in the north), with its popular base in the south along the Iranian border. Ayatollah al Hakim, then, does not even have a safe haven for his militias co-located with his zone of greatest geographic influence. The only thing they are co-located with are the American armed forces.

It is not surprising that the Badr Army (Hakim’s SCIRI militia), then, has largely operated jointly with Americans outside Shia areas (against Sunnis) often using the same modus operandias the former death squads of US proxies in Latin America. The facts on the ground, then, include that Muqtada al-Sadr now controls the only viably independent Iraqi armed force in Baghdad; and that force has popular support as well as massive home court advantages. It is, in a word, embedded.

What all Iraqi armed actors have in common is the relative inability to project their force far afield of their respective geographic bases. Sadr has no capacity to attack anyone in Samarra or Ramadi (though the Mehdi have ventured some distance from home in the south). The Da’wa has no capacity to leave the city limits of Nasiriya. SCIRI cannot move its troops without US escorts. The Sunni factions are limited to their areas of operations (and there are numerous reports that Sunni nationalists are engaged in occasional heavy fighting against a small but stubborn number of foreign Wahabbists). The only force in Iraq that has the mobility required to do more than defend ones own zones of influence and project very limited offensive operations beyond that… are the Anglo-American occupiers. The only way to move long distances across the country as an armed unit passing through multiple militia “jurisdictions,” is with helicopters, or heavily armed and armored convoys.

The current civil war is taking place not for Iraq, but for Baghdad, and the catalyst remains the US occupation.

Poor Maliki, called to an audience with his King George in Amman, is faced with Sadr’s threat to withdraw from the Parliamentary majority coalition with Da’wa if the meeting with the Occupier-in-Chief happens. The resistance is targeting Iraqi troops for collaboration, the Badr Army is fomenting a civil war with straightforward attacks on Sunnis and false flag operations against fellow Shias, and the US is demanding Iraqi troops assist them in attacking Sadr City.

One day, Maliki stands George Bush up to show his own people that he is not a puppet; the next, he has to go crawling back to Dubya, even as the infamous Hadley memo calling Maliki a dolt is released and replayed in the media again, and again, and again.

Seeing this as purely power politics, the mistake that got the administration to where they are now — disregarding the roles of the Iraqi masses themselves — Bush then turns to Hakim, thinking he has now split Sadr off from Maliki. Hakim himself is now trapped, faced with the same specter that haunts the Green Zone, possibly tens of thousands of combatants, embedded deeply in their own community near the heart of the second largest city in Southwest Asia, and the capital of Iraq… led by a leader whose popularity is increasing with the “Iraqi street” with each passing day.

That Bush would find himself turning to Iran’s strongest ally in Iraq in his hour of need, an ally who seeks the partition of Iraq against the wishes of the US, to subvert the growing power of the most powerful voice of Iraqi unification and independence outside of Anbar, alas, is a world class irony. Sadr has consistently held out one nationalist hand to the Sunni regions, be the resistance fighters secular or political-Islamists. A condominium between Sadr and the Sunni resistance — which has already tactically defeated the US occupation — would spell the end of Hakim’s power unless he joined the SCIRI with a generalized armed struggle to expel the Americans.

Those who posit conspiracy theories, by the way, about a US desire for civil war and partition, are the victims of their own compartmentalized thinking. Te very first thing that happens with partition is open war between Turkey and Kurdistan… an utter political disaster for the US. We hear little of this in the news or in official communiqués, but Turkey is already turning into the newest regional tinderbox of anti-Americanism, at a time when everything that could go wrong, as the irascible Murphy noted, has gone wrong… most significantly, the ascendancy of Iran.

None of the war’s planners, nor even those who sat nervously on the sidelines while the Feiths and Wolfowitzes fantasized, ever anticipated that they might transform Iran into the regional power.

US forces have already begun drawing down into Baghdad for their struggle with Sadr. As Baghdad becomes the Americans’ new Kabul — a one-city occupation in a vast country — Afghanistan promises to grow into a deadlier quagmire. This is the stillborn dream of George Bush’s mad mentors; and this is the power of Muqtada al Sadr.

In order to understand why Sadr is so dangerous to the US, and why there is consensus on this issue from Republican, Democrat, conservative, and liberal alike, as well as the capitalist media, cannot be understood properly without deconstructing two other tropes that define public discourse about the war: The Global War on Terror, and the protean “mission” of the invasion and occupation.

The Global War on Terror (GWOT) is a quantum juridical leap on the international scene; and whether or not it will put down any roots remains to be seen. Its basis is a radical departure from the foundations of Post WWII international and national jurisprudence and the corresponding norms of diplomacy. It is not merely an open-ended war against an ill-formed taxonomy, like the War on Drugs. That “war” was still constrained by geography and manipulation of existing legal norms. The GWOT, which it must be said is a term accepted by both Republicans and Democrats, is based on a unilateral declaration by the United States that the entire planet has now become an indefinite battlefield. This creates the basis for over-riding civil standards of law and international treaties with the tempo-task loosening of norms that, in the past, has exclusively applied to antagonists engaged presently and directly in combat.

The putative existence of such a “war”– which is under vigorous legal challenge — has formed the juridical predicate of the invasion of Iraq against the UN Charter. The fact that the GWOT has been widely adopted and accepted, as both a “fact” and a universalized rhetorical premise, is going to make backing away from this abyss incredibly difficult, even for Democrats. They have participated into conjuring this notion into the public perception. What they had not anticipated, given the limited attention spans of elected officials, is how this prevarication has created a kind of one-way ideational valve that, having passed through it, one cannot go back. Once you acknowledge a Global War of any kind, accompanied by enemies that have been revalidated again and again in the public imagination, then there is the expectation that someone will fight it.

The problem for even those who oppose this transformation of legal norms is that the taxonomies of power applied to the military prior to 9-11were already obsolete. There may not be a way to return to the good old days of technocratic administration for international relations.

The neocons mounted challenges to the past order that were a profound escalation of conflict and American unilateralism, but the uncomfortable fact is that they did so based on very real changes in international reality. That their prescription has failed does not make some of their points — admittedly contained inside the logic of empire — less valid.

Mohammed Atta, they point out, engaged in a military attack against the United States. Until boarding the plane, however, he did not meet any of the criteria we normally apply to the definition of “enemy combatant.” Aside from a box cutter, he was unarmed, dressed like a businessman, and traveling legally inside the United States. Regardless of the provocative etiology of such attacks (US support for Israel and the House of Saud, for example), the isolated fact is that there are people who are organized in ways that transcend international boundaries, and who cannot be directly associated with an existing state, who have the will and capacity to mount military attacks against the US and its military-diplomatic allies. It is true that existing criminal statutes, national and international, are probably adequate to address this issue after the fact. Like any criminal conspiracy, the perpetrators can be sought out, captured, and put on trial. Atta was already in violation of a host of laws before he boarded. We cannot escape the fact, however, that military operations (which 9-11 clearly and unequivocally was) can and will be mounted against states and societies, and the scale of the consequences can only be equated to “criminal” through the exercise of shocking disingenuousness. Bank robbers do not kill nearly three thousand people, and they have no political motive.

The only way forward in mounting a critique of the neocons’ logic on this count is to go outside the boundaries of general acceptability, and become a partisan of curtailing US global power. This is, in my view, a completely correct approach. From a pragmatic standpoint, however, which is the standpoint that electoral politics invariably takes, this is a conundrum. Liberals find themselves forced to argue for conclusions that differ from their opposition, but refuse to depart from the opposition’s premises. It is not the neocons who have bankrupted liberalism — and it is bankrupt — but the bankruptcy of unacknowledged imperial power itself. The conservatives have come to embrace that power openly, and left the liberals in a position to deny the obvious and confirm their essential nature as world-class equivocators.

There is a logic to this equivocation that everyday folks may not be able to unravel intellectually yet, but it also has a smell. They may not be able to deconstruct it, but by 2008 they are likely to vote with their noses.

The only way past this for the people, unfortunately, is the long hard slog of public persuasion; and for all the reasons just stated, we have to make the difficult case that US power is instrumental and not moral, and that this power is malignant.

This slog begins by unmasking the mission of the invasion and occupation.

The mission of the occupation — even as its public face has changed to mask serial setbacks — has never deviated. There may not be any such thing as predestination, but in global politics, the US attempt to implant a permanent military presence in this region as part of its post-Cold War reshuffle is about as close as we’ll get.

The mission is to accomplish the post-Cold War re-disposition of US imperial forces. Given that the chief competition is likely to be for strategic resources (nothing new there), and given that US power now flows out of its debtor and not creditor status, the shift to a more military emphasis within US foreign policy is the only alternative to accepting a long, slow decline in US global power, similar to what the United Kingdom experienced. The prior disposition of US imperial forces was designed primarily to contain the Soviet Union, which abruptly vanished. The irony that the re-disposition has generated a fresh US-Russia conflict was among the unintended consequences. Oil is not only a key resource, the fact that the swing fraction is located in one geographic region makes it theoretically susceptible to military control, especially by sea. (That is the reason overland pipelines — about which we hear next to nothing in the media — are the basis of numerous backroom diplomatic wars right now.) Iraq was seen as the place where the US could build its new bases; and the purpose of the invasion was just that: bases. Big, permanent ones.

When the Bush administration threw the dice, the Democrats happily went along with the program. All of them recognize the necessity — from the imperial standpoint — to re-situate the pieces on the grand chessboard after the last checkmate. This looked as good as anything. So they hooked up with some “advisors,” the Rendon Group and their Iraq Liberation Salesman, Ahmad Chalabi, and started the engines of war.

Rumsfeld, whose resignation recently rocked the Department of Defense, fully expected to draw down to 35,000 troops by August 2003, a permanent and bucolic garrison residing in a peaceful kingdom of grateful Iraqis, presided over by Chalabi. This would be accomplished by a swift and overwhelming victory — shock and awe — that would serve the dual purpose of installing an acquiescent Iraqi government and demonstrating the futility of fighting Americans. The neocon advisors had predicted what they called a “democratic domino theory,” wherein the establishment of toy democracies within the Washington Consensus would begin in Iraq and then sweep through adjacent countries — where the grateful brown children would embrace their new rulers along with McDonald’s and The Gap. The target of their bizarre theory was none other than Saudi Arabia, though reality has driven the US again back into the arms of the despotic Royal Family.

As this is written, December 2006, there are at least 25,000 mercenaries — almost Rumsfeld’s original prediction of troop levels for August 2003 — augmenting a US force exceeding 140,000.

Rumsfeld’s recently “leaked” memo attempts to salvage his reputation as a fighter and shift the blame for the defeat in Iraq to politicos.

Not only did the whole US political establishment purchase this snake oil, they all made the same error. They made grotesquely ill-informed assumptions about the people of Iraq. The fact that they have replaced former misapprehensions with new ones does not auger well for them. This is the basis of their underestimation of Muqtada al-Sadr. It is the basis of their failure to see the emerging world historic defeat of US military power, and the approaching obsolescence of conventional military power. And it is the basis of the inability of the US military or diplomatic establishment to keep pace with the shape-shifting battlefield they themselves had a big hand in creating.

One place the battlefield has shifted is to Beirut.

Hassan Nasrallah and Muqtada al Sadr have two things in common: (1) They are both genuine grassroots leaders, and (2) they are both capable of playing weak hands into strength. Lending credibility to this thesis, there are numerous reports that Sadrist militiamen have visited Lebanon where they have received training from Hezbollah fighters who recently delivered Israel a stunning tactical defeat.

As this is written, Hezbollah has achieved popularity across Lebanon, well beyond its southern Lebanese Shia base, and has spearheaded a campaign to topple the US-puppet government of Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora. The actions of the Israelis — arguably the only country that has a stake in seeing a protracted Iraqi civil war — in destroying Lebanon during the conduct of their defeat at the hands of Hezbollah, has unified Lebanon beyond the dreams of any faction in the past. The gratuitous brutality of the Israelis valorizes anyone who successfully confronts them.

As always, the two-dimensional Bush administration analysis of everything led them to believe that anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon is as powerful as anti-Israeli sentiment — a wild miscalculation that has led to the definition of pro-American in Lebanon being “anti-Syrian.” Siniora followed his masters’ directives, appointing the majority of his cabinet based on enmity toward Syria, and summarily lost the support of a huge fraction of Lebanese Sunnis. He also sidelined Christians who seek continued ties with Damascus. (Oddly enough, Siniora served as Minister of Finance during the Syrian occupation.)

Siniora had shepherded through the resolutions to end the Syrian military presence in Beirut in 2005, in accordance with US desires, and had given assurances that this would increase Lebanon’s security. His American patrons, however, gladly supplied Israel with war materiel to shatter Lebanon in this summer’s horrific attacks across the whole country. Now it is the former anti-Hezbollah General Michel Aoun (a Christian) who is challenging Siniora for power, and he has clearly recognized Hezbollah’s clout, and welcomed cooperation with them in this task.

In early December’s anti-Siniora demonstrations in Beirut, numbering at times close to a million, it was not uncommon for women in Western garb with fully exposed hair to gleefully wave posters of political Islamist Hassan Nasrallah.

The only oil in great supply in Lebanon comes from olives. Yet it is now a crucial front in the Energy War of the United States, that same war to implant bases in Iraq as the key element in a post-Cold War imperial military re-disposition.

The country most nervously eyeing the ascendancy of Iran, via the Iraq occupation, and the increasing influence of Iranian ally Hezbollah on Israel’s doorstep, is Saudi Arabia, which as good reason to see these developments not only in geo-strategic terms, but in the simplified terms of Shia versus Sunni. Regionally, Saudi Arabia has always been the US Arab proxy, giving it tremendous leverage through the oil patch.

Internally, Saudi Arabia lives in perpetual fear of its own substantial and restive Shia population. They are only 5 percent of the overall population, but they are almost half a million strong, and concentrated in the oil-bloated Eastern Province.

The strengthened position of Iran and now Syria will force a more contrite American foreign policy establishment — after an appropriate period of macho bluster — to seek engagement with Tehran and Damascus. This will diminish Saudi influence, at a time when the Saudis’ domestic situation is growing daily more tense and their need of American favor has never been so great. For now, at least, the greatest overlap of Saudi-US interest is in Lebanon.

The expression of that linkage was the US-Saudi initiative to establish a tribunal to try the assassins of the anti-Syrian, former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. It was this tribunal, designed to go after Syria, which pushed Syria more decisively toward Iran, and mitigated toward Sunni-Shia alliance in the anti-Siniora campaign. Hezbollah, by the way, had also warned Siniora not to support the tribunal — which they see as an American political stunt (a fairly accurate account).

It is within this great-power struggle involving Washington, Tehran, and Riyahd that socially-embedded non-state actors like Nasrallah and Sadr — with their greater native agility, unencumbered by states of their own — are now positioning themselves to lead movements of their respective nations to chart a course independent of Washington in the future.

There is no sin, <>a href=””>in the eyes of Washington, more mortal than independence.

That is the reason that US forces are now being concentrated to go after Sadr — who they accuse of being pro-Iranian — a preposterous bit of disinformation, which nonetheless is swallowed easily by a gullible US public unschooled in complexity. With the SCIRI (the genuinely Iranian-based movement) still dependent on the US occupation forces, and the Sunni provinces now being abandoned in a broad tactical retrenchment, the conquest of Sadr City, a slum with the population of Chicago, has become the latest strategic priority.

Sadr’s Mehdi militia was as bloodily ruthless as any actors in Iraq when they were attacked during the latest round of provocations, even occasionally fighting the SCIRI between bloodletting with the Sunnis. They have staked out their territory, and their defense of it will be furious and terrible. But Sadr is the lone voice among the Shia, and still the voice with the most popular appeal, calling between battles for a rapprochement… and for Iraqi unification against the occupation.

There is no single force among the Iraqis capable of conquering territory much beyond the city limits. Yet the infrastructure for the oil (and not just the wells) runs across the whole country. The Kurds and Shia sit atop the lakes of black gold, but the easements for the pipelines run across the borders between Syria, Turkey, and Iran.

The popular clamor once the occupation is ended, to all the leaders in all the city-states now emerging across Iraq, will be for reconstruction, and the oil is where the capital will come from. The Sunni will require a compact with a Shia unification advocate; and it seems likely that the Kurds will continue their cautious march to independence, yet remain dependent on southbound pipelines to get their product to market. Turkey is unlikely to assist the overland transport of independent Kurdish oil to the Istanbul Strait.

This resolution cannot begin, no matter how painful it may inevitably be for a period of time, until the US occupation ends. As long as the occupation force remains, some faction will be joined at the hip to it, and with them a popular base that will themselves become targets. We hear much about sectarian violence, but very little about collaboration violence. Yet collaboration with the occupation continues to exert a hugely distorting gravitational field in Iraqi politics, and is the ultimate source of inter-Iraqi violence.

At the end of the article cited (at the beginning of this one), I concluded that “the greatest impediment to a political solution to post-invasion Iraq is not some cauldron of inter-ethnic rivalry. It is the politico-military distortion produced by the American occupation.” I have no reason, more than a year later, to recant that conclusion.

I have good reason, unfortunately, to expect as much dissembling as possible by politicians of every hue, as well as the imperial US press, to cast about indefinitely for ever more elliptical reasons not to leave. The plain fact is, the stars of empire are inexorably aligning against the US; and there is no place left to go outside Southwest Asia to gain the leverage required to simultaneously employ the US military to geo-strategic advantage and support the US military-industrial-service contract economy that papers over the deep economic malaise that is settling in on the United States.

The other plain fact is that until 2009, there is no President who will stop the war, so the only established body that can stop it is Congress. That is the task before us, then, no matter how difficult it may seem. We have to begin now, at the milestone of 3,000 to see our mission as one of saving what lives we can, as quickly as we can, American and Iraqi, and doing so in the most instrumental terms. Denunciation and lamentation will get us nothing, and we don’t need more trips to the Washington DC mall for mass demonstrations. Every member of Congress has to be targeted, locally, in her or his own district; and the process is educate, recruit, and target that member of Congress for unrelenting and increasing pressure. How much? As much as we can.

The senseless report from the Iraq Study Group, that had the press and Congress (especially Democrats!) palpitating for the wisdom of bipartisan imperial saviors, did not even consider an immediate, unilateral withdrawal. That is why it was welcomed in such a bipartisan way. The ruling class in this country knows how serious the challenge presented by Iraqi resistance to American global power is.

Our job is to tell first our neighbors, then Congress, that we want to divest ourselves of that power, and reclaim our place in the whole human family.

Midrash on Money

Stan Goff

He that puts not out his money to interest, nor takes reward against the innocent. He that does these things shall never be moved.

-Psalm 15:5

And now, you rich people, listen to me! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches have rotted away, and your clothes have been eaten by moths. Your gold and silver are covered with rust, and this rust will be a witness against you, and eat up your flesh like fire. You have piled up riches in these last days Your life here on earth has been full of luxury and pleasure. You have made yourselves fat for the day of slaughter.

-James 5:1-3,5

The detached observer is as much entangled as the active participant.

-Theodor Adorno


Introduction: Show me a sign.

It’s what people will say in times of painful indecision.

God, show me a sign.

What do people mean by that?

And does God respond?

And if God does respond, do we always recognize the sign?

It becomes apparent very quickly that this word – sign – may, like Mary Poppins’ handbag, unpack far more than we might believe by outward appearance.

Here’s Google™ on the word “sign:”

• a perceptible indication of something not immediately apparent (as a visible clue that something has happened); he showed signs of strain; they welcomed the signs of spring
• a public display of a message; he posted signs in all the shop windows
• signal: any nonverbal action or gesture that encodes a message; signals from the boat suddenly stopped
• mark with ones signature; write ones name (on); She signed the letter and sent it off; Please sign here
• signboard: structure displaying a board on which advertisements can be posted; the highway was lined with signboards
• approve and express assent, responsibility, or obligation; All parties ratified the peace treaty; Have you signed your contract yet?
• sign of the zodiac: (astrology) one of 12 equal areas into which the zodiac is divided
• be engaged by a written agreement; He signed to play the casino on Dec. 18; The soprano signed to sing the new opera
• (medicine) any objective evidence of the presence of a disorder or disease; there were no signs of asphyxiation
• engage by written agreement; They signed two new pitchers for the next season
• polarity: having an indicated pole (as the distinction between positive and negative electric charges); he got the polarity of the battery reversed; charges of opposite sign
• communicate silently and non-verbally by signals or signs; He signed his disapproval with a dismissive hand gesture; The diner signaled the waiters to bring the menu
• augury: an event that is experienced as indicating important things to come; he hoped it was an augury; it was a sign from God
• place signs, as along a road; sign an intersection; This road has been signed
• a gesture that is part of a sign language

No matter what the vast differences between these various definitions of “sign,” what stands out is that these are all media of communication or ideas about media of communication.

Communication… another word pregnant with many offspring. Two separate beings are presumed by the idea of communication; and signs always presume the existence of two subjects. Subjects – unlike objects – do not merely exist. We dwell.

We live in a world that is abuzz with signs and communications; we dwell in a world that is abuzz with signs and communications. We are part of it. In those times when we can grasp that connectedness, we have a sense of embodied transcendence, a moment of dwelling within something that is sacred.


Molecules signal to molecules, like species to like species, unlike species to each other, minerals to other minerals and to animals and vegetables, which also sign to each other, and the lion’s share of our own physical activity (brain and somatic activity, etc.) involved in communication with each other is non-verbal, and even non-linguistic.

We leave traces of ourselves wherever we go, on whatever we touch. One of the odd discoveries made by small boys is that when two pebbles are struck sharply against each other they emit, briefly, a curious smoky odor. The phenomenon fades when the stones are immaculately cleaned, vanishes when they are heated to furnace temperature, and reappears when they are simply touched by the hand again before being struck.

An intelligent dog with a good nose can track a man across open ground by his smell and distinguish that man’s tracks from those of others. More than this, the dog can detect the odor of a light human fingerprint on a glass slide, and he will remember that slide and smell it out from others for as long as six weeks, when the scent fades away. Moreover, this animal can smell the identity of identical twins, and will follow the tracks of one or the other as though they had been made by the same man.

We are marked as self by the chemicals we leave beneath the soles of our shoes, as unmistakably and individually as by the membrane surface antigens detactable in homografs from our tissues.

So begins the chapter entitled “Vibes,” in Lewis Thomas’ fine little book, The Lives of a Cell (Penguin Books, 1974).
In all this activity at every scale of existence, how do we discern the signs that hold together our natural universe, our culture, and what we might call our personhood?

Are we exchanging sings right now?

We are.

This is the point-of-view of semiotics. Our talking and especially our writing are but the latest instantiations of sign exchanges, along a continuum from the tiniest microcosm to the most vast macrocosm.

This midrash on money is based on the premise that money – this thing that dominates our lives in so many, often mysterious, ways, is just that: a sign.

At some point I will call money a language. But modern money is much more. Modern money is an extra-linguistic, culturally-and-politically constructed “sign.”

We seem as a species to be driven by a desire to make meanings: above all, we are surely Homo significans – meaning-makers. Distinctively, we make meanings through our creation and interpretation of signs. Indeed… we think only in signs. Signs take the form of words, images, sounds, odours, flavours, acts or objects, but such things have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when we invest them with meaning. Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign, declares Peirce (Peirce 1931-58, 2.172). Anything can be a sign as long as someone interprets it as signifying something – referring to or standing for something other than itself. We interpret things as signs largely unconsciously by relating them to familiar systems of conventions. It is this meaningful use of signs which is at the heart of the concerns of semiotics.

(Daniel Chandler, “Semiotics for Beginners”)

Energy-matter flows constitute the universe. So does the flow of signs. Every atoms signals to its neighbor, every photon carries messages, every being – organic and inorganic – is aware and responsive in some way.

If you observe an urban street scene on Saturday night, the streets are filled with people in motion. Yet without much talking to coordinate their motions – in fact, many people are talking to someone else while they navigate the crowds – these flows of people manage to weave in and out of each other. There are millions of flowing signs being passed among the people in these “rivers” of human foot-traffic, most non-verbal, not linguistic at all. Language is just one aspect of signing. That’s why it is very appropriate for someone to say, when they are faced with a dilemma, “Lord, give me a sign.”

God does communicate with us.


Anthropologist Alf Hornborg, writing about the destruction of Amazonian rain forests by international commercial interests, said that “ecosystems are constituted no less by flows of signs than by flows of matter and energy.”

…nature and society [are] interconnected systems, both of which are simultaneously material and communicative.

Christians will sometimes say things about “dwelling in Christ.” It’s an old notion, dwelling, and one that we understand viscerally – what philosophers call the dimension of experience that is “being-in-the-world.” When children gleefully enclose themselves in big cardboard boxes, in what appears to be an ancient den-making instinct, they are experiencing – and celebrating – their sense of dwelling-ness.


Modern money – global currency, the dollar – is a sign that becomes “hegemonic,” that is, wielding “preponderant influence or authority.”

But what are the effects of this predominance of influence?

One effect we need to emphasize is the effect of general-purpose money on understandings of the Sacred. General-purpose money has the tendency to desacralize (profane, remove from the realm of the Sacred) our relationships with nature and other people. As Hornborg’s own studies in Amazonia showed, money was the sign, the language, the medium, the entitlement… that allowed foreign contractors to mow down vast swathes of rain forest, land that then sprang up with American soft drinks being peddled at stands along the barren landscapes.

“General-purpose money,” said Hornborg, an anthropologist, “is what allows tracts of rain forest to be traded for Coca-Cola.”

Human beings are meaning-makers; and that is how the door is opened between us and God. We are too capable of good to accept an abject servitude to money, or to refuse to take action to direct and limit its flows.

We have learned collectively what ecology means in the last few years: the relational, systemic character of biomes. Now we need to get our heads around a less popularized way of knowing: semiotics.

Ecosemiotics can be defined as the semiotics of relationships between nature and culture.


Semiotics… is the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols, both individually and grouped into sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is constructed and understood.

“Ecosemiotics” is Hornborg’s way (borrowing the term from W. Noth, 1999) of saying to be aware that Creation is alive and communicating, not the dead thing of the post-Enlightenment. When we see that the universe, the world, is alive, we know how to treat it as sacred. When we treat the world as a dead thing, we profane it.

Money commodifies. Things-for-sale are not seen as sacred.

Creation, whether viewed through scientific inquiry or contemplative retreat, is full of wonder, constantly creating and revealing. One of the reasons Sabbath is such a central notion to our faith tradition is that we need to stop and appreciate that wonder once every seven days without being interrupted by work. Work concentrates our attention on details. Contemplation and open questioning require us to throw open the doors and windows of consciousness and let the breezes blow through.

The itemization of consciousness that is created by the phenomenon of monetary pricing is, likewise, an obstacle to contemplation of wholes; and the attachment of a price to anything profanes it… removes is from the realm of the Sacred. That’s true whether we attach a price to a “nice view” or sell indulgences.

Money Masks

In this midrash we’ll jump from the Book of James to the arcane – to the term “securitized finance”? We are bilingual; we speak past and present.

In the beginning there was money, then money began putting on masks. It puts a mask on itself, and a blindfold on us. It is self-camouflaging.

Money blinds us to the unjust and un-Christian social relations involved in the production of anything. It also blinds us to the fact that money itself is not a constant.

I reach in my wallet and take out a twenty-dollar bill. I give it to the cashier, who bags up my kiwis, my oranges, my stew meat, my bag of sweets.

Neither of us sees the trucks rumbling across a Latin American landscape desiccated by poverty and want, the abattoir or the cruel feedlots, or the broken families of former farmers, or the wreckage of the biome created by the production of high-fructose corn syrup in the sweets. I give the cashier money; the cashier bags up my food. Money puts distance between the consumer and producer; and distance masks reality.

Neither the cashier nor I see the money as anything but routine either. We don’t think about how many times currencies have been drained of value by hyperinflation and economic collapse; and we wouldn’t understand why even if we thought about it. This is not taught in schools, not even to economists.

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

– Proverbs 23:4-5

Insecure Securities

Simple secular math: As of November 2008, the total assets of the Federal Reserve System (the Fed) – the central bank of the United States – were $73.4 billion.

It is difficult to estimate total exchanges in global financial markets; but in the foreign currency exchange market alone, there are almost $2 trillion of exchanges each day. In one day, financial exchanges of currency alone exceed total Fed assets by a factor of 27.

In March of 2009, the Fed announced that it was going to buy $1 trillion in securities, after more than $50 trillion (with a T) had been “wiped out.” We just said that total Fed assets were $73.4 billion. But the Fed is “buying” a trillion dollars of something called “securities.” That is like me buying a $1,000 boat, when my net worth is $73.40.

You sure can’t buy a $50,000 boat with $73.40. And this particular boat is sinking.

This is a stark example of how utterly toothless the Fed – and by inference, the US government – is to salvage a collapsing pyramid of debt built over the last 35 years.

So what are these “securities”? Are they actually secure?

Wikipedia says, “A security is a fungible, negotiable instrument representing financial value.”

Well, that clears everything up.

Let’s try a different tack. Actual, stable wealth is what we call an asset. Cash flow is money that moves into and out of an enterprise. It “flows.” It is not an asset. Securities – composed of odd and impenetrable-sounding things like bonds, equities, investment funds, derivatives, structured finance, and agency securities – have come to be dominated by “instruments” that treat cash flow as an asset which can be sold.

These are paper claims on wealth; but they are not based on real assets. These paper claims have vastly exceeded real wealth. This excess has been usefully called “fictitious capital.”

Fictitious Capital

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with that income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast one’s eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether eating little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, or wealth lost through some misfortune Naked a person comes from the mother’s womb, and as one comes, so one departs

– Ecclesiastes 5:10-15


Fictitious capital has far exceeded real wealth through a system ever more dominated by “securitized finance,” the domination of the global economy by speculation in these “instruments.” Securitized finance permits potentially infinite credit, which translates into potentially infinite debt.

This has been accelerating since the Nixon administration; and it has created an inconceivable and unprecedented pyramid of debt… which is now imploding.

You cannot buy a thousand-dollar boat with $73.40. This is not a cyclic problem, but a structural one. The boat that is sinking may cost $100,000.


The problem for us all with this fictitious capital is that it is directly connected to money, while we are all dependent on a social grid, one that is navigable only by money. Our most basic needs, which God provided for with the earth, have been captured by a system dominated by money. We cannot eat without money. We have nowhere to sleep out of the weather without money. We cannot clothe ourselves without money.

The all-pervasiveness of the money-grid, which has literally transformed nearly every available space into a commodity – a thing bought and sold, leaves us no choice to be on the money-grid or off the money-grid. We are on it, captured by it.

The formative story in the Old Testament is that of escape from captivity, and reliance on God’s bounty. The first turning away from that freedom was the worship of a gold idol (raised out of fear for the future).

The only time Rabbi Yeshua, or Jesus of Nazareth, is reported to have displayed physical aggression was when he stampeded livestock through the tables of money-changers at the Temple. He constantly warned his followers that money would make them captives, and that money has the power to alienate us from God and God’s Creation.


Then there are the seeds which were sown among the thorn bushes. These are the people who hear the message, but the worries of this world and the false glamor of riches and all sorts of other ambitions creep in and choke the life out of what they have heard, and it produces no crop in their lives.

– Mark 4:18-19

Money is a claim on the effort and time of others. If I have the money for a meal at a restaurant, the need of others for that money causes them to serve me, to cook the food, to harvest the food, to grow the food, to make the pots and pans and dishes, to air condition and heat the restaurant, etc. etc. I, in turn, have to work to get the money.

Most of us have to work at jobs where we’d rather be someplace else. Our dependency on money holds us captive there. We are captives to our cars to get us to work, and to the clothes we are required to wear at work, and the insincerities we feel are necessary to keep our jobs… and all this is dependency on money. To relieve the stress of work, we “need” things that require money, and so we are again captives of the money-grid.

On the money we use, it says “legal tender.” What that means is that we have to use money to pay our taxes. The state runs on money, too. In fact, without money, the modern nation-state – as an institution – would collapse. Every institution we know is captive of the money-grid.

Even churches.

Tunnel Vision and Totalities

Tell those who are rich in this present world not to be contemptuous of others, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth but on the living God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in kindly actions, to be ready to give to others and to sympathize with those in distress. Their security should be invested in the life to come, so that they may be sure of holding a share in the life which is real and permanent.

– 1 Timothy 6:17-19


We spoke above about fictitious capital – a concept necessary for us to discern the specificities of our own age. This totalizing perspective, this Big Picture view of the global economy, is not a perspective that is understood by the captains of finance. They are completely focused on what they call their portfolios. That focus made them rich; and that focus acts as set of blinders to the terrible storm approaching. That is why they do not know what to do now. Their “knowledge” is constrained by their standpoint… by the view from where they stand.

They have tunnel-vision. It’s structural.

Those who saw this coming – and they were many – were marginalized, excluded from the inner sanctums of finance and government. People with unrecognizable names like Ellen Hodgson Brown, Michael Hudson, Henry C. K. Liu, Susan Strange, Peter Gowan, Mike Whitney, Loren Goldner – and many, many more – warned about what was about to happen, and explained it in plain language, but that was a language that experts and economists had learned to exclude from their frame of reference.

The captains of Wall Street and all their disciples, however, were too personally invested (no pun intended) in their own orthodoxies, and too focused on an every accelerating cycle of return-on-investment to see the big picture. Ambition, competition, and groupthink blinded them, and continues to blind them.

It blinds us, too, because we are dependent; and because the business class owning the means of production means the business class also owns the means of cultural production (including what and how we “know”).

If we don’t get hold of money fast enough, then we are threatened with homelessness and starvation… or more immediately, with the loss of security for our children – who are hostages of the money-grid.

If we lose the jobs we have, now, at the advent of a long crisis for which we have arrived without any preparation whatsoever, we are more captive than ever to money. We don’t know how to live without it. We might say we are captive to our ignorance.

The first step in overcoming this ignorance is to get the Big Picture. Face the facts. $50 trillion dollars now (and perhaps twice that much at the end of this long road) has disappeared (it never existed, it was a speculatively-raised phantasm); and our plan to replace it via printing press will lead us to something that gives economic historians chills: hyper-inflation.

Too much money circulating against too few goods raises prices. When this happens in periods of closing enterprise and high unemployment, and in the face of crippling household debt, it is a social catastrophe.

The Fed was part of the high-tempo, tunnel-vision sector. The Fed had a singular way of controlling the economy. If inflation was advancing too fast, they raised the prime interest rate to put the brakes on. What this really meant was that they deliberately created an increase in unemployment, in order to lower the going rates for labor.

The Fed treated fictional capital as if it were real, then moved that excess around from one “bubble” to the next. Each time the bubble burst, masses of people were left broken while a small elite feasted: Mexico, East Asia, the dotcom bust, the housing bubble. Each time, Washington made Wall Street whole again.

But when securitized finance blew out this time, the accumulation of vacuity in the system created the ultimate dilemma for the one-trick pony that is the Fed: stagnation combined with inflation – stagflation. Last year, fuel and food prices soared – slamming most people into the financial wall, as the economy – in the oblique metaphorical language of the pundits and economists – “contracted.”

Kenneth Boulding, the Quaker economist and philosopher, said, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

But this is part of that Big Picture that is invisible to economists, professional investors, and to politicians. Against this backdrop of the impossibility of infinite growth, first stagflation hit, then the tsunami of the so-called credit crisis. We were… are… utterly dependent, rich and poor, on this elaborate, global financial architecture; and the great wave slammed into it like it was a grass hut in front of the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake.

The one-trick pony, the Fed, tried lowering interest rates to stir some activity; but the last time they’d done that – in the wake of the dotcom bust – mortgages were refinanced at the lower rate… and equity loans were encouraged. Houses became ATMs, and household debt exploded into the whole illusion of infinite growth.

The fictional capital bubble was reflated into the housing market.

The wave hit the edifice of finance.

Interest rates hover now at zero; and the wave keeps coming. The one-trick pony has run out of tricks. So it’s printing more money, even as the global basket of commodities to which it is supposed to correspond has not changed.

We know what happened. Or at least we experienced it. We need to know. Because we have to find our own way out.

This is a totality.

Loss of Faith

The belief that money retains value is an article of religious faith. It is an idolatrous assumption; but there it is, nonetheless.

It’s not like the faith that Jesus mandated for his disciples, to “consider the lilies of the field.” His admonition there was to have no fear (and this was specifically about money).

Have no fear. God’s got your back. Radically trust… God.

The false faith that money retains value – even in the face of historical evidence totally to the contrary – is a false faith born of desperate fear, not radical trust. It is denial. It is collective self-delusion.

Self-delusion corresponds to arrogance; and much arrogance is based on the deepest kind of insecurity, the kind of insecurity that needs the security of accumulation as its balm. This kind of security requires domination and control… of people and Creation. Pride and self-delusion are inseparable twins.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

– Proverbs 16:18

It is this self-delusion that led us into this impasse; and now we need to abandon it wholesale. We need to practice the faith that considers the lilies of the field. The faith that God can and will provide when we abandon our captivity, cross the Red Sea, and head into the wilderness of an evermore de-monetizing society.

Give this Vile Idol Back to Caesar

John’s Apocalypse is not a prediction of the future.

Jesus’ encounter with the Herodians and Pharisees is not a call on disciples to pay taxes and obey the government,

And the Parable of the Talents is not Jesus telling disciples to become good investors.

These three heresies – or call them bad scholarship – have become the three-legged milking stool of biblical accommodation to the present worldly order.

To the Heordians and Pharisees, intent on trapping Jesus on the question of paying taxes:

“Whose picture is on that coin?” asked Jesus.


“Well, give it to Ceasar then.”

Rabbi Yeshua knew. The graven image was an idol. The gold was an idol, the very material of the calf-idol constructed by a demoralized people of God who were wandering – disoriented and frightened – out of bondage and into the “wilderness” of freedom.

The very valuation of the gold was idolatrous.

Daily bread. That’s all that’s needed. As a devout and observant Jew, Rabbi Yeshua remembered Proverbs 30:8: Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

It’s there in His prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

It is more than a little interesting that Jesus counter-posed food to money. The Kingdom of God is called a meal, a banquet table. Faith is seen as the ability to walk on water; as the ability to renounce one’s fear of living without money.

The faith of the desperate sees living without money as tantamount to walking on water.

You can’t serve God and money at the same time, Jesus said.

The reaction of the disciples: Rabbi, are you nuts? How would we eat, clothe ourselves, find shelter? You can’t live without money!

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

– Matthew 6:28-30

Show some trust. God’s got your back. Your fear is lack of faith.

Post-Constantinian Christianity failed to come to terms with this rather obvious and consistent theme in Scripture, Old and New Testament, and especially the teachings of Rabbi Yeshua… a construction worker who had matured and developed in a militarily occupied land seething with rebellions and sectarian bickering, and crushed by Roman enclosure that forced the population into dependency on money.

The moneychangers were in the Temple because Jews were forbidden to use the graven image of Caesar, and so changed Roman money into half-shekels, the only assured-weight silver coinage approved by Jewish religious authorities. The Temple was trying to have its cake and eat it, too. Faith had abandoned that place, driven out by the peculiar character of money that imbricates us into a grid of dependency on the very powers we are commanded to confront.

The powers are not sovereign. God is the only sovereign.

They will wage war against the lamb, but the lamb will conquer them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those who are called, chosen, and faithful are with him.

– Revelation 17:14

This is not prediction, but prophetic poetry; not prophecy seen as fortune-telling, but prophecy seen as unmasking. “Apocalypse” does not mean “catastrophe.” It means revelation. It reveals.

It says, “That emperor capering down the street is butt naked.”

We non-millenarian Christians should learn to lose our fear of this book that tells us, assertively, that only God is sovereign.

Discernment versus Accommodation

Once the church began making accommodation with power in the 2nd Century – leading to the “conversion” of Constantine, a ruler who slaughtered even his own family members after that so-called conversion, and who profaned the sign of the cross by superimposing it on a sword – that accommodation masqueraded as discernment.

Money is an institution, subordinate to the Powers. What John of Patmos told the so-called “primitive” Christians, a tightly knit and defiant network of believers who proclaimed God sovereign over all, and who shared so thoroughly that none accumulated individual goods, was to hold out in the face of Domitian’s persecutions (Domitian portrayed in Revelation as the re-born Nero).

This gift-economy community was so attractive to many “middle-class” Roman women that they were converting, and giving away their goods to the small, intimate churches spread around the Mediterranean. The “primitive” Christians were not only preaching a gift economy, and the sovereignty of God over the Powers, they were teaching a radical doctrine of spiritual equality between men and women. In Roman ideology, women were not seen as moral subjects. Even in Paul’s most patriarchal epistolary language, the question of moral agency (the test of spiritual fullness, and therefore full humanity) is always implicit in his directions singling out women; and women were co-apostles – apostasy among the Romans.

So while Nero attacked Christians out of political opportunism, Domitian attacked them because they represented an actual political and ideological threat.

With the Constantinianization of the church, however, the discernment of the difference between God’s sovereignty and state sovereignty was effaced, and elaborate scholastic rationalizations were constructed to persuade people that there was a chain-of-command that started with God, passed through the state, and was mediated by the state for the people.

It was inevitable that with the state as mediator, and its money as the solvent that dissolved the bonds of personal relationships and replaced them with dependency on the money-grid of the day, someone would eventually begin selling indulgences.

Perversia optimo est pessima.

The perversion of the best is the worst.

Accommodations were passed off as discernment, the exclusive province of a church authority that no longer structured itself as a human family, but as an authoritarian, patriarchal state.

Acting Our Way into Right Thinking

There is a common saying in 12-step programs: “You can’t think your way into right acting. You have to act your way into right thinking.

It’s counter-intuitive, because we have been taught that actions reflect our thinking, when in actuality the opposite is true.

This is very important for our discernment, and for the practices we choose to live into our faith. What kinds of things do people do that create changes in how they think and feel?

In 1973, Stanford University tried an experiment with college students. They had them play roles, as prisoners and as prison guards. Within days, they had to end the experiment, because the guards had become so utterly sadistic and arbitrary. It was called the Stanford Prison Experiment. Look it up.

The actions implicit in their roles changed their “minds.”

Lived experience is reflected in our consciousness. Experience becomes our frame of intellectual reference, and experience provides us with our stories and metaphors.

First-ness, Second-ness, Third-ness, and so on-ness

To the extent that our lived experience is mediated and abstracted, our perceptions and ideas are mediated and abstracted.

(a) I till the soil. I plant the seed. I tend the garden. I harvest and eat.

(b) I work at the office. I get my weekly paycheck. I drive to the store. I buy something called food.

There is a first-ness to the planter’s consciousness. The experiences are direct, hand-to-ground, hand-to-mouth… unmediated.

There is a third-ness and fourth-ness to the office worker’s experience. Layers of mediation between any possibility of an I-Thou experience, mutual recognition, fusion… communion.

Work gets the money. Money is carried to an institution (a supermarket). Food is sold as a commodity – something created primarily for the purpose of valorizing capital, and only secondarily for its actual use. The food producer doesn’t care if you eat it or throw it away. The producer – a corporation – just cares if you buy it. The exchange takes place between intermediaries, with a cashier who is an alienated worker, working for a manager who bosses for money, performing for a higher boss who holds money over her head… etc. The buyer (you) and the cashier generally don’t know or care about each other. Their relationship is mediated by power and money.

The experience is mediated; so the perceptions and conceptions are mediated, are third-ness and fourth-ness, abstracted and superficial, not first-ness, like the hand in the soil, or the direct gift of the garden’s abundance.

Discernment is the ability to dig down from third-ness and fourth-ness back into first-ness.

The elaboration of rationalizations, that remain in the third-ness and fourth-ness, is accommodation masquerading as discernment, masquerading even to the elaborator.

Economics, for example. Massive, elaborate rationalizations. Book-length riffs on third-ness and fourth-ness.

Money is a sign and an instrument of third-ness and fourth-ness. The fruit of my garden no longer passes from my hand to yours in friendship. The fruit of an “industry” with an absentee-institutional owner is shipped to a chain store, where its exchange is mediated by an abstraction called money.

We need discernment about money; because money – unexamined – locks us into third-ness and fourth-ness, and conceals the first-ness of our own lives and the realities of power.

Money is a universal solvent. It makes everything the same. It replaces the complexity and diversity and richness of Creation with cold simplicity. It dissolves qualities into mere quantity.

This characteristic of money is the most important thing we can know about it. It is why money is so dangerous.

So what is it that we need to understand about money to make good decisions about how we interact with money.

Two Types of Money

Theology concerns itself primarily with our relationship to an original and all-inclusive power. Jesus’ life took on a very political character, which means that Jesus was living into the story and history of a rabbinical Jewish prophetic tradition at a particular time and place in actual human history.

Incarnation means this life – Jesus – was in the world and in history. And He constructed His life to make himself a Rosetta Stone, a translator between the creative God of that prophetic tradition and the actual circumstances of 1st Century Palestine.

The basis of His message was peacemaking – an active verb. The message can only be delivered by someone’s hands… and, not surprisingly, He understood that this message is generally delivered into someone’s stomach.

He identified violence, retribution, and domination as central to the character of the Spirit of Malevolence… the name for this wandering spirit according to Job… is Satan. In Luke 10:1-3, it says:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.

Jesus commands the most perilous way: provocation with peace. Lambs among wolves. Let your fear fall away, and the temptations of Satan – to violence, domination, and retribution – fall away with it.

Luke 10:18-20:

I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

And so Jesus provoked authority, again and again, and refused the temptations of power inhering in his own movement; and that approach led him to the cross, “like a lamb among the wolves.”

How he concretely provoked that power, however, was not a template for all time. He did so in the situated context of 1st Century Palestine. He had to discern the details and trends and contexts of that actual place at that actual time.

We live in a different time and place, inside a different emergent reality from the environment where Jesus lived… as a human being.

So we have to understand our own milieu… zeitgeist… moment… conjuncture… world.

I think that Jesus understood money very deeply – epistemologically, sociologically, semiotically… even when thee concepts were not yet formalized into academic sub-disciplines. He had an intuition from his own experience, focused as it was through his empathy for those on the margins.

Money had then, and has now, a two-fold character: commercial and political.

First, it has a commercial character. Commercial money is used to facilitate exchange of unlike items through a desirable like item. It is, therefore, one degree more abstract than straight barter. It can be gold or corn seeds or cowry shells. It can be, and often is, local. As Manuel DeLanda points out (A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History), in prison, cigarettes become local currency.

Second, money that has begun to universalize based on migrations and overlapping social meshworks is subject to political control. This process moves money further away from spontaneity and toward being “planned.” Planned money is both more political and more abstract.

States and empires use planned monetary systems as mechanisms for population control. As a necessity (to pay taxes, or – in our ultra-dependent case – to live at all), money binds us. Yet as a dead thing, an abstracted thing, an apparently unresponsive thing, money is impervious to our grievances; and it presents itself to us without apparent correspondence to real human beings controlling real political systems.

We recognize money uncritically. It’s “just money.”

And so money facilitates the power of elites even as it keeps elites invisible. Money creates the illusion of choice and freedom; and it makes power invisible.

Planned money is not merely a stimulant to trade. It is a social regulation institution.

“Whose image is on that coin?”

Money Talks

We said at the beginning that “money masks.” Now we need to think about how “money talks.”

Money masks; and money talks.

Money homogenizes everything under its banner. It is a cosmic blender.

We know from the Old Testament that unification through homogenization is a problem. We see that in the story of the Tower of Babel.

The disguised name for Babylon is hardly subtle here.

Egypt. Babylon. Rome.

The great city and the empire are inseparable. In fact, the great city is the embryo of empire. Ferdinand Braudel, in Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800, wrote:

[T]owns… represented an enormous expenditure. Their economy was only balanced by outside resources; others had to pay for their luxury. What use were they therefore, in the West, where they sprang up and asserted themselves so powerfully? The answer is that they produced the modern states, an enormous task requiring enormous effort. They produced the national markets, without which the modern state would be a pure fiction.

Empire needs to be defined. It is difficult to do so without veering into polemics, because naming empire is itself a political unmasking.

But empire can be described empirically (which is not quite synonymous with “abstractly”). Empire is the systematic exploitation of the periphery to support the center; and this exploitation has a two-way dynamic. It draws consumables from periphery to center; and it exports waste and disorder to the periphery.

This is actually a thermodynamic process, and so can be described empirically without resort to moral norms. In our day, for example, we can see quite clearly that the US – with 5% of the total world population – consumes more than 25% of the world’s fossil hydrocarbon energy production.

Exploitation of the periphery by the city-center was well understood by Jesus of Nazareth, who – as resident of a highly exploited and marginal area (Galilee) – saw goods flow toward Jerusalem (the city-center of the Herodian colonial surrogate government) and more generally from Palestine to Rome, even as economic, ecologic, and social disorder were exported from the centers back to the margins.

Jesus’ use of the term “repent,” in meeting with John the Baptist in the countryside along the Jordan River, is extremely significant.

“Repent” means “turn around.” The flow of people, of goods, and even of the of the Zealots’ quests to overturn imperial power, were movements from margin to center… in other words, along the imperial current. But Jesus says to “turn around,” whereupon He himself heads not to Jerusalem, but to the wilderness. And His ministry was not to power, not to the center, but to the marginalized.

In the Tower of Babel story, God’s correction involves not only the destruction of the tower to human hubris, but perhaps even more significantly, the division of peoples into separate, local, linguistic communities.

If money is a language, it serenades the top, it speaks to the center, and it curses the margins.

Language to Describe Language

Christians’ discernment of the process of history unfolding around us ought to speak at least two languages for describing our own epoch – (a) the language of Scripture, rendered intelligible by scholarship as a responsibility of discipleship, and (b) the language of the present.

In our modernist idiom, we might describe money using a physiological metaphor.

Money is a solvent that dissolves the connective tissue of community.

Scripture language:

But Peter said to him, May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain Gods gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.

– Acts 8:20-22

The Magic Ring

In the classic Tolkein trilogy – now also a movie trilogy – a kind, humble, decent protagonist comes into possession of a magic ring that does two things at once: It renders him invisible to everyone around him when he dons it; but by doing so, he becomes directly visible to the malevolent gaze of the uber-demon, Sauron, and his relentless ring wraiths.

Tales involving invisibility are recurring imaginary constants in many cultures. Because we are all subject to the temptations inside this fantasy – of being invisible, we are alert to the correspondence of invisibility with a moral hazard.

We know what we imagine we would do if we could be invisible.

We are broken, and so we can know broken-ness, temptation. If I were invisible for a day, I would ____ (fill in the blank).

Invisibility-as-moral-hazard cuts two ways: Invisibility of power opens the door to power without accountability; and amoral instrumentality in the individual causes “the least among us” to become invisible.

Money plays a key role in both aspects of invisibility. Like Sauron’s magic ring, money contains a dangerous paradox in its very composition and existence.

The exchange of money in the marketplace puts a retail worker and a buyer in contact with each other. The social networks and character of life of the buyer are invisible – and of little interest – to the retail worker, and vice-versa; and behind the retail worker is also a completely monetized network of relationships – instrumental relationships – relations that would not exist except for a monetary (contractual) interest. This deeper network that, in effect, controls the encounter of the retail worker with the buyer, involves vast and unequal relations-of-production; and the built environment itself in which this exchange takes place is the product of money-“making” enterprise.

I drop by the store and buy a gallon of milk. In-and-out in five minutes.

And that’s what I saw. That’s all. The rest is invisible, even though it is manifest in the most basic and profound way. Power invisible is power unaccountable. Money invisiblizes power.

And the single-mindedness that accompanies a single magic key to survival in our actually-structured society – money – bends our personalities to instrumentalism (even with other people) by constant practice. In that process, we learn not to see the casualties. We know who they are: the ones we have to pretend not to see, and thereby do not see.

Time is money, money time. That’s what “they” say.

I don’t know if we can throw money – like the magic ring – back into the fires of Mount Doom. But we can know that the more general-purpose and de-localized the money, the more effective it is as a solvent eating away at the connective tissue of community. We can not simply dismiss the need for a deep critique of money, even if raising the question can seem more perilous than opening Pandora’s infamous box.

More specifically, we need to take a hard look at the currency that dominates the actual world-system economy, and the currency that is at the heart of the economic crisis we are inside of.

Dollar Hegemony

In 2002, investment analyst Henry C. K. Liu penned an article for Asia Times entitled “Dollar hegemony has got to go.” In the small circle of people who were then paying attention to the widening contradiction between the financial economy and the real one, Liu’s article popularized his term, “dollar hegemony.”

Dollar hegemony is a description of global economics that describes the impact of the dollar as the recognized, universal, international currency, since the dollar abandoned the gold standard in 1971, then decoupled from the fixed currency exchange rates of the post-World War II Bretton Woods agreements in 1973.

In brief, from Liu:

…World trade is now a game in which the US produces dollars and the rest of the world produces things that dollars can buy. The worlds interlinked economies no longer trade to capture a comparative advantage; they compete in exports to capture needed dollars to service dollar-denominated foreign debts and to accumulate dollar reserves to sustain the exchange value of their domestic currencies. To prevent speculative and manipulative attacks on their currencies, the worlds central banks must acquire and hold dollar reserves in corresponding amounts to their currencies in circulation. The higher the market pressure to devalue a particular currency, the more dollar reserves its central bank must hold. This creates a built-in support for a strong dollar that in turn forces the worlds central banks to acquire and hold more dollar reserves, making it stronger. This phenomenon is known as dollar hegemony, which is created by the geopolitically constructed peculiarity that critical commodities, most notably oil, are denominated in dollars. Everyone accepts dollars because dollars can buy oil. The recycling of petro-dollars is the price the US has extracted from oil-producing countries for US tolerance of the oil-exporting cartel since 1973.

By definition, dollar reserves must be invested in US assets, creating a capital-accounts surplus for the US economy. Even after a year of sharp correction, US stock valuation is still at a 25-year high and trading at a 56 percent premium compared with emerging markets… [This was written in 2002. –SG]

… A strong-dollar policy is in the US national interest because it keeps US inflation low through low-cost imports and it makes US assets expensive for foreign investors. This arrangement, which Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan proudly calls US financial hegemony in congressional testimony, has kept the US economy booming in the face of recurrent financial crises in the rest of the world. It has distorted globalization into a race to the bottom process of exploiting the lowest labor costs and the highest environmental abuse worldwide to produce items and produce for export to US markets in a quest for the almighty dollar, which has not been backed by gold since 1971, nor by economic fundamentals for more than a decade. The adverse effect of this type of globalization on the developing economies are obvious. It robs them of the meager fruits of their exports and keeps their domestic economies starved for capital, as all surplus dollars must be reinvested in US treasuries to prevent the collapse of their own domestic currencies.

The adverse effect of this type of globalization on the US economy is also becoming clear. In order to act as consumer of last resort for the whole world, the US economy has been pushed into a debt bubble that thrives on conspicuous consumption and fraudulent accounting. The unsustainable and irrational rise of US equity prices, unsupported by revenue or profit, had merely been a devaluation of the dollar.

And so it came to pass.

The moral of this tale, and this extended quote, is that money has consistently been used as a weapon for imperial power; but that the more abstract, universal, and general-purpose the money is, the more destructive its payload.

I don’t agree with the idea that ignorance is like a closed room. Ignorance is unprotected. Ignorance is not matter; it is space.

We are not hurt by ignorance per se, but ignorance leaves the door unlocked to let the devil in. We need to know as much as we can about money, and be fearless in facing the implications of what we learn.

Money and Scripture

Master, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours.

-Matthew 25:24-25

A hard man (like the heart of Pharaoh, hard). Rewarding usury. Money-making as virtue. A man who “reaps where he does not sow.”

Many interpretations read this passage as if it were a tract from Murray Rothbard. Usury was a sin among Jews. In Jesus’ story, the virtuous man, who the Master – an absentee landlord, the kind Palestinian peasants knew well as oppressors – throws into the darkness (unlike the merciful God that Jesus represented), takes this money (a talent was an extraordinary amount for a servant) and buries it.

Money allows many to reap where they do not sow. This is the most basic description of material injustice. The appropriation of the work of another.

Jesus was an observant Jew. The law was no usury between Jew and Jew. The law was no interest more than 12% to outsiders. Yet the servant commended by the master in this story – by this absentee landlord “who reaps what he does not sow” – has cashed out at 100%.

A charismatic Jewish renewalist in 30 AD Palestine, preaching to the poor, does not mean – nor his listeners hear – in this tale of the talents, that a despised figure (the exploitative landowner) is a stand-in for God, the bank manager; nor does he use a clearly-understood violation of Jewish law as an example of the virtue of successful usury.

Jesus told his listeners that discipleship is hard. A warning to his own disciples, Jesus – who will be nailed to the cross – lets them know in this parable that following him will lead the world – represented by this absentee landlord – to throw them into the darkness to wail and gnash their teeth.

Discipleship is not cheap or easy, this parable warns. And the question of money emerges again and again in these examples Jesus provides.

This story of the Parable of the Talents is frequently cited today as Christ’s personal blessing, nay, encouragement, of successful monetary return-on-investment schemes; just as Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees and Herodians is portrayed as a call to obey secular authority.

Both of these wrong ideas have great popular currency; and both are clearly based on the evasion of rigorous scholarship.

Confronting these opportunistic (and anachronistic) interpretations of scripture is a critical task in the struggle to reclaim a church with the Beatitudes as its constitution.

Just as important as the kind of contextualizing scholarship that reminds us of what 1st Century Palestine was actually like, the way social relations were actually structured, and the implications of context on text, is discernment of our own age. We have to understand and deal with money in ways that reflect deep discernment and avoid rationalization and simplification.

Paul Tillich described sin in its structural aspect. Social structures can force us all into complicity; and as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove pointed out, when the Bible says “you,” the meaning is “y’all.” Not merely a person, but a people.

Out entanglement in structural sin is a function of dependency; and no dependency is so thoroughgoing as dependency on money.

When I was in the Army, I was trained to use explosives. At least within the ken of the military mindset, there were times when explosives were necessary. But they were used when nothing else would get the job done; and we were taught to use them with great care. The potential for destruction was too high to handle them any other way.

I think we should begin to understand money with the same sense of extreme precaution. Money may be necessary to do some things… now. But our cavalier and undiscerning use of it contributes to massive destruction, so ubiquitous and frequent that we call it part of life, worse… part of God’s plan. We are getting better at naming people who are careless with the lives of others and Creation; but we still haven’t looked deeply into money’s role.

Gun culture is fond of saying that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” True, and a truism. But a partial truth, and an intentionally partial truth, worse than a lie. Put people into bad circumstances and introduce guns and things get a lot worse a lot faster. Guns add that special lethality.

But how often do we pass around money and call it service, and how self-critical do we need to be in light of the deeper dynamics of money, about our advocacy for the poor, for example, when we demand more money instead of more independence from the money-grid and more inter-dependence on the community?

I have lost track of how many times I’ve seen money – funding, it’s called – put service and advocacy organizations into structural antagonism, an economy of scarcity, in which people are talking like Jesus and acting like Hobbes.

Can we at least seek a non-monetary answer first, instead of reaching for the blasting caps and time fuse?

The implications are mind-boggling, because money is so thoroughly imbricated with every aspect of our lives.

I think that Jesus knew this. I think that in the best way it could be said to the peasantry of 1st Century Palestine, He explained it. I think we’ve been running from the implications ever since, because money makes things easier, more convenient… until it doesn’t.

You can’t serve God and money at the same time, He said.

Without the most convoluted rationalizations, how do we explain what he meant? I mean really.

I am not saying that we declare war on the money-form, or that we discontinue giving money to the poor. Jesus told people to do precisely that.

The poor use money for necessities, like a soldier uses explosives when nothing else will do. But do we tell the poor, your salvation (healing) is in a steady income, i.e., money?

I put these thoughts and questions out there to start a conversation. Structural sins may demand structural redemptions.

Last Word

Luke 6:17-49:

17 and he came down with them, and stood on a level place, and a great multitude of his disciples, and a great number of the people from all Judaea and Jerusalem, and the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases;

18 and they that were troubled with unclean spirits were healed.

19 And all the multitude sought to touch him; for power came forth from him, and healed them all.

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.

22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of mans sake.

23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.

25 Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you, ye that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.

26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets.

27 But I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you,

28 bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.

29 To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also.

30 Give to every one that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.

31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

32 And if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? for even sinners love those that love them.

33 And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? for even sinners do the same.

34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much.

35 But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil.

36 Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

37 And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released:

38 give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.

39 And he spake also a parable unto them, Can the blind guide the blind? shall they not both fall into a pit?

40 The disciple is not above his teacher: but every one when he is perfected shall be as his teacher.

41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brothers eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

42 Or how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brothers eye.

43 For there is no good tree that bringeth forth corrupt fruit; nor again a corrupt tree that bringeth forth good fruit.

44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.

45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

47 Every one that cometh unto me, and heareth my words, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like:

48 he is like a man building a house, who digged and went deep, and laid a foundation upon the rock: and when a flood arose, the stream brake against that house, and could not shake it: because it had been well builded.

49 But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that built a house upon the earth without a foundation; against which the stream brake, and straightway it fell in; and the ruin of that house was great.


Unpacking the Lords Prayer

Most of us raised Christian have memorized one version or another of the Lords Prayer, or the Pater Noster. A version appears in two Gospels, Matthew and Luke.

The most popular version goes:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

This sounds almost mundane. It is overused without any real thought being put into it; but there is also a great deal that has been lost on us because our hearing is not attuned to what it said to Jesus’ band of Jewish followers in Roman Palestine.

Let’s take this prayer apart and hold the components up to a long-distant light.

“Our Father” obviously speaks to us of a male parent, albeit a cosmic one. This is a little unsettling to us, because we have raised a couple of questions about this gendered kinship. Why a male God? This is a fair question. And there is the simple biological question: If God is more than human, more even than mere material, and in need of no physical anatomy, what need does God have of a sexual assignment? This is also a fair question, to us.

We have to understand, however, that the idea of God – then and now – can only be approximated in language. We agree now with the ancients that God is incomprehensible, or else God could not be God. But the ancient Hebrews, from whom Jesus was descended, of whom he was one, and to whom he constantly referred, did not share our ideas about science, about objectivity, or about ideas like church-state separation. These ideas did not emerge among people, as we understand them, until much later in history. So we can’t rightly make demands of the past based on the ideas of the present. More importantly, however, we still find God incomprehensible, and we are still forced to represent God the way God has always been represented – through a story.

That story is the story we can read today in the Hebrew Bible. When that story was written, it was written for a group of pastoral nomads trying to find a home in the world. “Father” was the person these patriarchal nomadic people understood to be a provider. In their attempt to capture the idea of God, a unitary being responsible for the world that provided life, it is not surprising that this figure was represented as a patriarchal parent.

But it is still not so simple. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and in Aramaic what he said was not “Our Father,” but �?Abwoon.” When this term is traced back, through its actual Hebrew antecedents, it begins as a genderless term that means something akin to “blessed with children.” The patriarchal inferences came later. The original term connoted a creative life source, even a cosmic womb.

Moreover, when Jesus spoke this word, “Abwoon,” he and his contemporaries used this term as a call to prayer. It was telling those within earshot, stop what you are doing and turn your thoughts and hearts to the one who made you.

“Abwoon,” Jesus prayed, “who is in heaven” – a spiritual realm over, under, around, and through material existence. Attend all who hear to the essence that precedes and constitutes your existence. Then he declares, “hallowed be thy name.” So what is God’s name?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, speaking on an interfaith panel on the environment, hosted at Duke University in April 2009, talked at length about God’s name. God is written, he explained to the audience, in the Hebrew as YHWH, some people pronouncing this Yahweh.

Among observant Jews, this name is not spoken aloud in accordance with the Torah. But Rabbi Waskow pointed out that the name in Hebrew is written without vowels.

In Genesis, in its original language, the word spirit does not signify a ghost. It means breath. Earth, or soil, was enlivened with breath… life. Human beings are dust, given God’s breath.
In the early Christian church of the first two centuries, not only did they see themselves as Jews or converts to the Jewish sect of Jesus, these followers greeted each other with the conspirato kiss. They kissed each other briefly on the mouth, exchanging breath. They were exchanging the holy spirit. The word “inspire” today, means both to be taken by a spirit and to inhale.

Rabbi Waskow went on to explain, he demonstrated actually into the amplified microphone, the sound that YHWH makes when pronounced without vowels and spoken in a whisper – not said aloud. The word is stretched here, as he did, to make his point. Whisper it: YHHHWWWHHH. It is the wind. It is a breath. The name of God is the Breath of Life.

“Hallowed be your name” comes to mean “hallowed is the Breath of Life.”

“God who is in heaven, hallowed is your name…”

“Your kingdom come,” Jesus continued.

Jesus’ led a real movement. It was called the “kingdom movement.” But there was an irony when Jesus used this term, because for every one of that time – and most of us, for that matter – a kingdom is a place ruled over by a despot, using violence when necessary to preserve that power. Yet in the same passage of Mark where Jesus teaches his prayer, he has made a claim that peacemakers are blessed, and that the meek – not the powerful – shall inherit the earth, or humanity’s home provided by God.

“The kingdom of God” was a claim that put a God who hated injustice – a theme throughout the Jewish prophetic tradition of which Jesus was a part – above the earthly powers, both the kingdom of Herod and the empire of Rome.

We see this irony, this political parody, on display during Palm Sunday when Jesus led a march through Jerusalem, himself proclaimed king and perched on a donkey colt, a provocative act that parodied the Roman show-of-force march that was taking place simultaneously in the same city. It was political satire of the most dangerous kind, and its result is now widely known.
The kingdom of the meek is placed over and above the warlike one, the power of the Breath of Life over the power enforced by the fear of death.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth…”

On Earth! Wait a minute! Most of us tend to think that the kingdom of heaven comes after death, in the spiritual realm of heaven, but this says “Your will be done on earth… Your kingdom come on earth… as it is in heaven.”

This raises a question about this Kingdom of God on earth. How do we make this Kingdom of God on earth? What do we do?

Well, we get some basic instructions.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

More than once, Jesus exhorts his followers to quit worrying about the future. Worry is tantamount to a lack of faith. A daily portion of bread is enough: not more, just enough. Jesus exhorts his disciples again and again not to worry about tomorrow, to have faith that God will provide, and to be satisfied with enough. Not more. Enough.

There is a very readable book on faith called, “Longing for Enough in a Culture of More,” by Paul Escanilla. This term “daily bread” is a reference from the Hebrew Scriptures, as is much of what Jesus is reported to have said. Theologian Ched Myers once said that “abundance is the divine gift, and self-limitation is the appropriate response.”

“Forgive us our trespasses.” The actual, original term is not trespasses, but “debts.” In Aramaic, sin and debt are the same word.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

During Jesus’ time, as now, debt was a means for taking people’s land. The Bible contains prohibitions against usury, and calls debt-servitude a state of sin.

Jesus and his contemporaries understood something about debt, because as pious Jews, they knew that usury was against the law as written in Leviticus. In fact, old Jewish law required a periodic leveling of the economy through a practice called Jubilee. Jubilee was general debt forgiveness every seven years, no longer practiced in Jesus’ time, but a practice Jesus was calling for again in this passage of his prayer. Not only every seven years, but every seven times seven, 49, marked the Jubilee year in which all land that had been accumulated and lost was returned to its original families.

Jesus’ kingdom-movement was a Jubilee movement, or a jubilary movement.

Debt was the instrument of oppression used against Palestinian peasants – which Jesus and his own family were, un-landed and forced to work as tektons (often translated as carpenters), manual wage-laborers, quite probably at Herod Antipas’ pyramidal ego-project of urbanizing Sepphoris, not four miles from Nazareth. Through debt, the land of the peasants was appropriated, and the landless peasants forced to work for bare survival wages in the city.

Holding someone in debt is sin, and the state of debt distracts and diverts us from the contemplation and enjoyment of God’s creation – Sabbath. Debt forces people to break the commandment to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Debt is a sin, because it creates the temptation – among the poor – to fail in the observance of Sabbath, to steal, and to covet that which is not theirs.

Understanding the jubilary import of this prayer, then, we can understand why the very next phrase is, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus observed all around him that there is no greater temptation to violate the law than poverty; and there was no greater provocation to sin than grinding people down with debt.
So how does this apply to us, and to the extreme emphasis Jesus put on forgiving those who did sin? Think of it as you think of how you might pray your gratitude.

One of our prayers of gratitude every day ought to be thankfulness for the absence of temptation.

Jesus suggested that when we judge a poor person for breaking the law, we forget what Anatole France later summed up by writing: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich as well as poor from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets, and stealing bread.”

We might consider praying our thanks every day for all the ways in which we have been immunized against temptation, for all the ways in which virtue this very day comes easy. Then we might show a little more understanding for those who have not been so “virtuous.”

Forgive our sins against God in the same measure we forgive those of sins against us. Forgive our debts in the same measure we forgive the debts of others.

Apocalypse Now small group – Section 4 – The War of the Lamb

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 Four The War of the Lamb

Notes on The War of the Lamb

One rendition of historical Jesus (long hair was not the custom of the day for men, and Jesus is here portrayed as a fairly typical Palestinian Jew, circa 30 AD)

Note (1)

In the section for Week 5, when we are reading the Book of the Revelation of John, we will spend a fair amount of time unpacking the historical context, and interpreting both Greek language nuances and genre-specific symbolism for Jewish apocalyptic writing. Chapter 12 of John Howard Yoders book, The Politics of Jesus, the chapter entitled The War of the Lamb (reprinted below, Note 7), will not prepare us for that kind of scholarly investigation, but will deal in advance with the modern ideas with which we are more familiar treating the series of visions described in Johns Apocalypse as if we have already accomplished the scholarship.

Yoders chapter will look into John of Patmos (the seer of Patmos one who sees visions) visions for what they mean to us now.

This reversal of the usual academic sequence working out from the original source and finally into our own experience we are doing the opposite is a reversal of that method. Instead of jumping into the deep end and swimming back to shore, so to speak, we have been wading into the shallow end and taking steps toward the deeper water, getting used to the water as we go.

First, we used a B-movie, an entertainment commodity, that attaches itself to certain familiar cultural conventions, and which we normally consume passively light-mindedly, participating in the story uncritically; and we tried to become critical about the film Volcano as a way of practicing critical thinking about these cultural conventions. We were knee-deep.

Then we studied a film that was more innovative an independent film and one that was a good deal less light-minded: 28 Days Later. Character development was more nuanced. The imagery (as we will see in Revelation, too) is more violent and disturbing. The direction and editing is edgier. The moral dilemmas are more stark (Selena killing Mark, for example). The intermediate themes are more controversial (military as rape culture, for example, or science and the attempt to control nature, as far less benign than Volcanos portrayal of the Man-conquers-Nature trope).

By the time we studied this film, we had already begun to familiarize ourselves with some epistemological questions. Those questions bear on the ethical dilemmas raised in these conditions of extremity; and we had already practiced looking through our heuristic device of the Ecology-Culture-Personhood Triangle, as a way of giving ourselves a dislocative jolt out of the passive acceptance of our day-to-day, 21st Century way-of-knowing. By now, we were waist-deep in the water.

Finally, we watched Children of Men, a film based on a dystopian novel written by a Christian author, a film with very original production values, and a film with cristological overtones that were very apparent, beginning with the title (a play on Jesus title, the Son of Man meaning the human one in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), and ending with a miraculous birth (of hope) in the midst of an extremely broken and seemingly hopeless world.

Here we stepped further away from the familiar shore. We are in the water to our chests.

Yoder will hold our hand as we wade out to our necks, and we begin to let our feet release the bottom a bit as we experience our own buoyancy.


Note (2)

Theologian Ivan Illich who we have also followed in this study said that modernity (and its stepchild, postmodernity) and its vagaries were not anti-Christian, but that they are the outgrowth of a perversion of Christianity a distortion of the call to discipleship exemplified by the Samaritan as friendship across social boundaries (in the case of the Samaritan, a member of an enemy people) and a constant choice of fidelity or infidelity to that friendship.

This distortion of the message of the Samaritan began with the Constantinianiztion of the church (an alliance with the Powers) and the criminalization of sin. It culminated in the depersonalization of service, and the creation of a new personhood one characterized by alienation from ones own body, and by incessant attention to our own needs with respect to that divorced body.

This loss of the sense of our own carnality (fleshiness) is reflected in an idea of Christ that is no longer incarnational no longer wet, warm, throbbing, alive, centered in our skins, experiencing suffering and joy that is physical and in the world. This depersonalization corresponds to an instrumental and objectifying approach to both culture and ecology. We stand apart from ourselves, looking in from the outside; and we stand apart from our dis-enchanted environment (reducing it to a supply of resources), and we stand apart as a culture. We become a culture of abstraction, of general laws, of categorical imperatives, of conformity, and all the boundaries that were effaced by love when the Samaritan took the beaten Jew off the road and into his home all these boundaries that were broken on the cross, are redrawn. We begin to talk about values (a rather abstract concept) in place of right and wrong good and evil. We go down the endless and pointless path of relativism (relativistic being far different from relational).

[Illich also said that we have entered a new period, post-instrumentalist, wherein we conceive of everything including our own selves and bodies as systems an array of feedback loops, or an immune system. Treating others instrumentally, however, seems not to have passed, but become more and more normative and malignant. All others are seen as a means to some self-serving end in the medicalized language of psychoanalysis, narcissism.]

Yoder takes on the same subject Christianity versus Christendom the latter being that alliance of the church (and its perversion) with the Powers (e.g., the state and-or its dominant classes) and with the instrumentality that plays the chicken to the Powers egg.

In Stanely Haeurwas book, After Christendom?, in an essay entitled Why There Is No Salvation Outside the Church, he notes, anticipating our reading of the visions of the seer of Patmos:

God in Jesus has defeated the powers so that as disciples we can confidently live as a cruciform community in a world that has chosen not to be ruled by such love. Thus as John Howard Yoder suggests, The Church precedes the world epistemologically. We know more fully from Jesus Christ and in the context of the confessed faith than we know in other ways. The meaning and validity, and limits, of concepts like nature or a science are not best seen when looked at alone but in the light of the confession of the lordship of Christ. The church precedes the world as well axiologically, in that the lordship of Christ is the center which must guide critical value choices, so that we may be called to subordinate or even to reject those values which contradict Jesus.

If we say, outside the church there is no salvation we make a claim about the very nature of salvation namely that salvation is Gods work to restore all creation to the Lordship of Christ. Such a salvation is about the defeat of powers that presume to rule outside Gods providential care. Such salvation is not meant to confirm what we already know and/or experience. It is meant to make us part of a story that could not be known apart from exemplification in the lives of people in a concrete community.

(emphasis added)

Something to ponder: the word sovereignty. An exclusive right to control. What Yoder and Illich emphasize in their writings, that comes directly from the scriptures, is that God alone is sovereign. To claim, as Rome does (as the United States of America does), sovereignty, sets us up to recognize that claim, and therein become idolatrous. To claim, as classical liberalism does, that the lone individual (the self) is sovereign is idolatry.


Note (3)

Leo Hartshorn has written a nice summary of key points from The Politics of Jesus, reprinted here to help us understand what preceded Chapter 12, The War of the Lamb:

John Howard Yoders classic book The Politics of Jesus (Eerdmans,1972; reissued 1994) has had a profound impact on how many Christians read the Bible and understand Jesus. James Wm. McClendon, Jr., a theologian within the Anabaptist tradition, was highly influenced by the book. McClendon describes its impact as being like a second conversion. In turn, as Jims friend and pastor, I was influenced by his passion for Anabaptism and subsequently became a Mennonite.

The Politics of Jesus taught Christians how to read the Bible and Jesus politically. By that I mean it opened up a way to read Jesus as a nonviolent revolutionary who confronted the religious and political powers of his day and had an explicit social agenda grounded in a vision of Gods reign [emphasis added that agenda was jubilary -SG].

Since The Politics of Jesus was published, many others have read the Bible through the lens of the social sciences, political theory and new understandings of the social situation of first-century Palestine under Roman occupation. New studies have brought to the foreground even more political implications of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I have tried to compile and simplify a number of the implications of these political readings of the Gospels. These readings make it difficult to deny that Jesus and the Gospels have a social and political vision. These insights into the Gospels and Jesus provide the peacemaker and justice-seeker with a vision and model of social and political engagement.

The birth of Jesus

* Jesus birth is presented in royal images to intentionally contrast with the violent rule of Roman political leaders (Matt. 2).
* Jesus mother, Mary, proclaims his coming in the Magnificat as subverting and inverting the politics of injustice (Luke 1:46-56; a song of the anawim or poor ones).
* Jesus birth is heralded as the reign of peace and witnessed by shepherds, social outcasts (Luke 2:8-14).

The life and teachings of Jesus

* Jesus temptations in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11)

Jesus resisted the devils temptation to rule the nations, which in the context of first-century Palestine under Roman colonial domination could only be practically and politically achieved by means of violent revolution (insights from Yoder).

* Jesus preaching/teaching ministry

Jesus first hometown sermon was a definitive moment for his continuing mission (Luke 4:16-30). It was based upon Isaiah 42: 1ff. The Spirit was upon Jesus for the purpose of proclaiming good news to the poor (i.e., a suggestion of economic transformation, not simply pie in the sky), release to the captives (such as those in debtors prison), recovery of sight to the blind (i.e., resulting in the restoration of the dependent and marginalized to economic self-sufficiency and community [emphasis added]), freedom for the oppressed (i.e., the victims of injustice), and to proclaim the year of the Lords favor. Scholars suggest this last may be an allusion to the year of Jubilee, a time of restorative economic justice; see Lev. 25. Jesus ends his sermon with a prophetic challenge to ethnocentricity that almost gets him killed!

In Matthews Sermon on the Mount, which reveals some of Jesus core teachings, Jesus blessed the peacemakers (5:9) and taught love of enemies (5:43-48), as well as a way of nonviolent challenge to injustice over retaliation (5:38-42).

Jesus central teaching was the reign or kingdom of God (Matt. 4:17). This was a social and political metaphor that spoke to, among other things, a covenant, or faithful way of life among Gods people.

Jesus parables, which reflect the unjust social conditions of first century Palestine, frequently served as social commentary and critique (e.g., The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16, or The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, which uses a person from a despised social group as its hero).

Jesus taught the way of nonviolence and peace (e.g., Jesus rebuked James and Johns desire for revenge and the violent destruction of a Samaritan village, in Luke 9:51-55).

* Jesus healing ministry

Jesus made healing contact with the unclean and social outcasts (e.g., lepers). The Temple purity system kept the unclean from social interaction and in economic dependence. In his healing acts Jesus brought back into the community the socially marginalized. His healings had wider social implications.

Jesus healing freed many from financial dependence.

Jesus offered healing free from its brokerage by an unjust Temple system.

Jesus exorcism, in the symbolism of Marks gospel (5:21), points to an overcoming of Roman political oppression (i.e., pigs=the unclean; possession=physical occupation; demon=Legion=Roman military unit).

* Jesus prophetic ministry

Jesus challenged the religious and social boundaries of his society, which defined holiness as separation, by having table fellowship with tax-collectors and sinners (labels for a distinct social group of outcasts deprived of certain civil rights). This prophetic act got Jesus labeled as a social deviant, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. Meals can be seen as a microcosm of the larger cultures views on social boundaries (whos in and whos out). Jesus act of table fellowship was a form of social protest, symbolically proclaiming that the Reign of God included the disenfranchised (Matt. 9:11-13).

Jesus challenged the purity/holiness system of his society, which ostracized those who could not observe its detailed regulations.

Jesus juxtaposed justice, mercy and faith(fulness) over against meticulous observance of ritual law (Matt. 23:23).

Jesus broke down socially constructed gender barriers by associating with women (e.g., the Samaritan woman in John 4) and having women as disciples (e.g., Mary in Luke 10:38-42).

Jesus challenged Roman occupation and tribute/allegiance to Caesar and Rome with the bigger issue of tribute/allegiance to God (Matt. 17:24-27).

Jesus prophetically critiqued the injustices of the Temple system and its elite leaders (e.g., the story of the widows mite, which must be understood in its immediate context of Jesus critique of Temple officials, who devour widows houses, and his saying on the destruction of the Temple; see Mark 12:38-13:2). Jesus questioned the Temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27). He carried out a public protest, or political street theater, in the tradition of the symbolic acts of the prophets, by overturning the tables of the moneychangers, which represented the economic injustices of the Temple system (Matt. 21:12-13). This act may have been the precipitating event of his crucifixion.

The death and resurrection of Jesus

* Jesus intentionally headed for Jerusalem, the seat of the coalition of religious and political power, to confront the injustice of the system and its leaders (Matt. 20:17-19).
* Jesus entered Jerusalem with political theater lampooning the peoples expectations of a violent, military messianic kingship by riding in on a donkey instead of a warhorse (i.e., re-enacting Zechariahs vision of a coming king who would bring peace among nations; see Zech. 9:9-10).
* When he was arrested, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matt. 26:51-53). Jesus could have called upon a heavenly army to protect him, but violent resistance to Rome was not on Jesus political agenda.
* Jesus was crucified as a political criminal, as an enemy of the state, between two bandits (most likely social bandits, who violently resisted economic injustices; Matt. 27:38). He was accused of political subversion: 1) refusing to pay taxes to Caesar (Luke 23:2; if we are to give to God what is Gods, as in Matt. 22:17-21, what is the implication for Caesars tribute?); 2) threatening to destroy the Temple (Matt. 26:61 and Mark13:1-2); and 3) claiming to be a messianic king (Matt. 26:63-64).
* At Jesus trial, the people are given a choice between Jesus bar Joseph, the nonviolent revolutionary, and Jesus bar Abbas, the violent revolutionary (Matt. 27:16-17).
* On the cross, a Roman political instrument of torture for revolutionaries and insurgents, Jesus identifies with the forsaken and abandoned.
* Gods resurrection of Jesus is a vindication of his life, including his way of peace and social justice.
* In Johns gospel (14:26), the resurrected Christ leaves his disciples with his way of peace, unlike the world gives (e.g., the Pax Romana, the Roman peace through violent suppression). Finally, Jesus offers his peace and breathes his Spirit, his way of life, forgiveness and peace, upon the group of disciples, the prototypical Church (John 20:19-23).


Note (4)

In preparation for Good Friday and Easter, as we go through Lent, we have pointed to the subject of renunciation, and we have made the claim through Illich first that renunciation is an exercise of freedom.

A while ago, I wanted my dog to go outside. My dog is a sensible being, like us. But if he is reluctant to go outside (its cold today), all I have to do is wave a biscuit in front of his face, then throw it outside, and he will follow. He is powerless to choose, moreso because he doesnt recognize he has a choice. The difference between that dog and us is that we can choose, and we are therefore inescapably moral beings.

The degree to which we are controlled by fears or by appetites once we have been shown that we can renounce them is the degree to which we might fail morally.

Everything in modern society tells us differently, because fears and appetites are marketable and we live in a society that has raised the market as an idol, from be all that you can be, to Pantene, because Im worth it, to a popular magazine entitled Self. This ideology has led to a culture, an ecology, and a personhood characterized not by choice, but by addiction. Addictions are our new rulers. The market throws a biscuit out the door, and we run outside after it.

What Yoder explains in The War of the Lamb is that Jesus three times in a row renounced the temptation to dictate and dominate. When he goes to be tempted, the temptation is political power. When the crowd cheers his entry into Jerusalem, he could have taken power, but he didnt. When he again whips up the crowd by running the bulls through the tables of the moneychangers at the Temple, he stands down. Then Jesus shows us what the renunciation of power looks like on the cross. He renounces the appetite for power; and he renounces the fear of death.

Here is Yoder from The War of the Lamb, referring to the visions of Revelation and meaning:

What Jesus renounced was thus not simply the metaphysical status of sonship but rather the untrammeled sovereign exercise of power in the affairs of that humanity amid which he came to dwell. His emptying of himself, his accepting of the form of servanthood and obedience unto death, is precisely his renunciation of lordship, his apparent abandonment of any obligation to be effective in making history move down the right track.

But the judgment of God upon this renunciation and acceptance of defeat is the declaration that this is victory. Therefore God has greatly exalted him and given him the title, which every creature will have to confess, the Lord. Lord in the earliest Christian confessions was not (as it is in so much modern piety) a label to state a believers humility or affection or devotion; it is an affirmation of his victorious relation to the powers of the cosmos [italics added]

this text affirms a philosophy of history in which renunciation and suffering are meaningful

The renunciation of the claim to govern history was not made only by the second person of the Trinity taking upon himself the demand of an eternal divine decree; it was also made by a poor, tired rabbi when he came from Galilee to Jerusalem to be rejected.

Jesus did not show us the freedom of God in his renunciation. He showed us the possibility of our own freedom, and in that showing He gave us a new being.

A question to provoke a closer reading of Yoder here: How does this explanation of renunciation relate to Yoders pacifism, his renunciation of violence?


Note (5)

In the first section of The War of the Lamb, Yoder critiques the idea of a thread or handle on history, by calling into question three assumptions:

1. It is assumed that the relationship of cause and effect is visible, understandable, and manageable, so that if we make our choices on the basis of how we hope society will be moved, it will be moved in that direction.

2. It is assumed that we are adequately informed to be able to set for ourselves and for all society the goal toward which we seek to move it.

3. Interlocked with these two assumptions and dependent upon them for its applicability is the further postulate that effectiveness in moving toward these goals which have been set is itself a moral yardstick.

If we look critically at these assumptions we discover that they are my no means as self-evident as they seem to be at first.

Another question to ponder: What is the significance here of the term effectiveness? Does that mean Yoder eschewed taking action in the world?

Apocalypse Now small group – Part Three – Children of Men

“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 Three — Children of Men
Showing at the All Saints UMC Ministry Center, 7 PM, Friday, March 20

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Produced by Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Iain Smith, Hilary Shor, Tony Smith, Thomas Bliss, Armyan Bernstein

Written by Novel: P. D. James, Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Clive Owen (uncredited)

Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston, Peter Mullan, and Michael Caine

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


Note (1)

Before reviewing the film itself, lets hear what Ivan Illich (from The Rivers North of the Future) had to say about renunciation, a key theme for Lent as we prepare ourselves at the end of Lent to re-live into the story of the Passion.

I think I would start a little bit too high if I began now to speak about Jesus absolute request that, if you come from the solid, middle-of-the-road, practicable Judaism into this little sect, you renounced the freedom to separate from your wife. You renounced an opportunity which the Jew had [in the parable of the Samaritan]. You renounced the need to belong to the we in order to fine your I. The place outside of Jerusalem, Golgotha, where the cross was put up, became the symbol of this renunciation. As in the Temptation, he renounced changing the world through power. Christians who imitate him soon discover that little practices of renunciation, of what I wont do, even though its legitimate, are a necessary habit I have to form in order to practice freedom.

What a beautiful, innocent world it was when people could still practice this renunciation by not eating chicken soup on Friday. I still remember that world. It made no sense in Europe during the Second World War when meat was rationed anyway, and I forgot about it. But when I came to New York, I found that people really were concerned about not eating meat on Friday. And, during the six weeks of Lent, they would give up something that was hard for them in order to learn how to give up other things. I remember my boss on the first days of the first Lent which I spent in the United States. When we sat down for breakfast, and he was grouchy as anything. And I asked him twice, Sir, did I do something wrong? No! Did I offend you? No! Do you feel badly? Yes, its Lent, and Ive given up my cigar. Well, punishing me was a funny way of going about his renunciation, but I love to think of it because it reminds me of the things which, in the modern world, we can give up not because we want a more beautiful life, but because we want to become more aware of how much we are attached to the world as it is and how much we can get along without it. These unnecessary tings have now multiplied to such an extent that you cant easily give a social shape to them. Some people will give up writing letters on a computer not because its bad, and not because they dont like to have to answer letters at the speed of email. Others will give up the services of physicians or, as somebody whom I know has done, guaranteeing that each of his children will get a college degree.

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 a 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 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.


Note (2)

Movie Review

By Gregg Tubbs (for the United Methodist Church – link here)

(—The Bible says, faith is the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV). But what is left to believe in when you remove all hope? What is there to strive for when there is no future ahead? In director Alfonso Cuaróns dark and dazzling futuristic thriller, Children of Men, we see the results of a world stripped of hope. Here, the death of a single 18-year-old is devastating world news, not because he was a prince or pop star, but because he was the youngest person on the planet. The film introduces us to a future without children or the hope of children in a world where all women are infertile and where just one birth could change everything—even the soul of man. This is definitely a nativity story of a different kind.

Based on P. D. James dystopian novel, and directed and co-written by celebrated filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Children of Men transports us one generation into the future when mass infertility has plunged the world into despair, paranoia and chaos. Rioting and anarchy have overtaken the globe, with the exception of England. Although wracked by violence between warring political and racial factions, Britain has marshaled on by instituting a series of progressively repressive measures. The government installs a brutal Homeland Security force, closing borders and detaining foreign refugees (derisively called fugees) in squalid, dangerous compounds.

As the film opens, disillusioned political activist Theo (a beautifully understated Clive Owen) is in a London coffee house watching the news of the death of the earths youngest person at only 18. News of this unexpected death sends a grim ripple throughout the world, adding a final punctuation mark to humankinds death sentence. Theo, like millions in England, sleepwalks through a hopeless, meaningless existence. As one character eloquently put it, Once the sounds of the playground faded, the despair set in.

Then Theo is confronted with the one thing he could never have expected—a lone pregnant woman named Kee (newcomer Clare-Hope Ashitey).

Kee is a wanted woman, pursued by groups determined to claim her and the miraculous child for their own political purposes. Shes also a hated fugee from Africa, and Theo knows that the wildly nationalistic government would never accept that the child who could restore meaning and hope to the world could be anything but British. Theo and his aging, hippie friend Jasper (Michael Cane) must wage a desperate race against the clock, and perhaps even fate, to deliver Kee to safety with the mysterious Human Project.

Despite its sci-fi trappings, Children of Men succeeds by portraying a fully realized and completely believably alternate reality, one that echoes current reality. Cuarón eschews Hollywoods current penchant for frenetic editing and instead builds his action around intricately staged, extended shots where the camera never cuts, weaving in and out among the characters, putting the audience in the center of the action. Far from empty showmanship meant to impress film buffs, this technique has a startling, visceral impact and helps add to the storys almost overpowering emotional wallop.

No empty-headed action flick, this film is rife with social and spiritual subtext. Its theme is hope: how we thrive in its presence and wither in its absence. Theo undergoes rejuvenation—even redemption—when his hope is restored through the promised new birth. The change in his character is powerful, as is the change in everyone who encounters the pregnant woman, Kee. Her very presence-the tangible symbol of a future—restores their faith and inspires them to kindness, courage and sacrifice. The symbolism is not lost, as she walks, Christ-like, through a crowd and the people clamor to touch even the hem of her garment.

The film explores a number of societal and social ills. Mass infertility functions as a catalyst for the story, representing any cataclysmic event that shakes a society loose from its principles and shared humanity. We see how a climate of fear and despair can drive a society (and individuals) inward, erecting walls in its desperation for protection and sacrificing true freedom for perceived security. We are shown how easy it is to slip into us and them thinking-dehumanizing and demonizing those who are different in appearance, speech or beliefs. Issues of immigration, racism, terrorism, the environment and rampant nationalism all come into play.

It was fitting that this film opened on Christmas day because it represents a kind of post-apocalyptic nativity story—a rebirth of hope and new life for a lost people. And although it focuses on the birth of one miraculous human child, Children of Men also powerfully reminds us that we are all children of God.

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.


Note (3)

The ECP Triangle, ecology-culture-personhood, is on stark display in this film. In the human ecology of fascism and civil war, we see how each of the characters has her or his personhood bent or broken, how each person has adapted within the cultural role available or assigned or chosen out of this milieu. As a mental exercise, choose three characters, and for each of them imagine what they might have been like had the infertility and social chaos not happened. How is each affected by the impending extinction of humanity? Is this condition of extremity re-creating them into something they were not, or is it magnifying something that was latent in each personality?

What about that dissipated character, Nigel, Theos cousin the bureaucrat, who arranges for the travel papers? What do you make of the scene in which is ensconced in a palatial suite, with his pharmaco-cyborg son, surrounding himself with iconic world-renowned art, exotic animals, and extravagant furnishings? Does his character say anything pertinent to our own actual condition? Are there Nigels among us? What makes them?

Try another mental exercise. Describe the culture, as culture: what is the music, the economic activity, the religion(s), the fashion, the media, etc.? Then, describe the ecology, as a physical surrounding objectifying and externalizing it describing other people as simply another species that has behaviors. How does this kind of dissociation, this objectifying detachment, do to you as you practice it? Does it give you some relief, some distance from the implication of responsibility that resides in empathy? Some rest from the effort of concern?


Note (4)

The original author of the novel upon which the movie is based is Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, P. D. James being her nom de plume. The Wiki entry for her says:

James began writing in the mid-1950s. Her first novel, Cover Her Face, featuring the investigator and poet Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, was published in 1962.

Many of Jamess mystery novels take place against the backdrop of the UKs vast bureaucracies such as the criminal justice system and the health services, arenas in which James honed her skills for decades starting in the 1940s when she went to work in hospital administration to help support her ailing husband and two children. Two years after the publication of Cover Her Face, Jamess husband died and she took a position as a civil servant within the criminal section of the Department of Home Affairs.

James worked in government service until her retirement in 1979, and her experiences within these bureaucracies add a complex stratum of insiders knowledge to her writing. Her 2001 work, Death in Holy Orders, displays a grasp of the inner workings of church hierarchy: she is an Anglican and a Lay Patron of the Prayer Book Society. Her later novels are often set in a community closed in some way, be this in a publishing house or barristers chambers, a theological college, an island or a private clinic as with her latest work. Her prose is very clear and precise. Her new Adam Dalgliesh novel, The Private Patient, was published in August 2008 in the U.K. by Faber Faber and in November 2008 in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf.

During the 1980s, many of Jamess mystery novels were adapted for television by Anglia Television for the ITV network in the United Kingdom. These productions have been broadcast in other countries, including the USA on its PBS channel. These productions featured Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh. In 2003, the BBC adapted Death in Holy Orders for a one-off drama with Martin Shaw as Dalgliesh.

Her 1992 novel The Children of Men served as the inspiration for Children of Men, a feature film released in 2006, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine. Despite its substantial changes from the book, James was reportedly pleased with the adaptation and proud to be associated with the film.

James once said of writing Children of Men, When I began The Children of Men, I didn’t set out to write a Christian book. I set out to deal with the idea I had. What would happen to society with the end of the human race? At the end of it, I realized I had written a Christian fable. It was quite a traumatic book to write.


Note (5)

Ralph Wood, writing for Theology Today, said:

The key to P. D. Jamess fiction, especially her later work, is her Christianity. She regards our cultural malaise as having theological no less than ethical cause. The murder in A Taste for Death occurs in a church, for instance, and the murderer is not only a sadist but also a nihilist who revels in the god-like power inherent in the threat of death. He kills in order to prove that the cosmos is empty of divinity. Like Dostoevsky, James is determined to ask whether, if there be no God, all goodness is vacated and all evils unleashed. As a Christian, James knows that the answer is yes. But as a novelist, she has sought to make her faith implicit rather than overt. . . . James is an artist whose moral instruction is conveyed indirectly through aesthetic appeal, not a prophet who seeks our conversion by directly declaring the divine Wor

Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Note (6)

In director Alfonso Cuarons words:

[I]nfertility we use just as a metaphor. In a science fiction movie you would have gone into the whys and the mystery of infertility. We decided to not even care about it and just take it as a point of departure. So based upon that, taking that as a point of departure, to try to make an observation about the state of things. [Someone mentioned the story in terms of its connection to] Homeland Security and stuff, but the movie is not about that. That is part of the observation of the reality that we are living. The whole idea with that is to try to bring the state of things, what is happening outside the green zones that we happily live in and what happens if we bring the world into the green zones. We experience for an hour and a half the state of things, and then try to make our own conclusions about the possibility of hope.

What does Cuaron mean by Green Zones?

Here is an article I wrote two years ago about Suburbia as Green Zone, though not in those terms, but as Dark World and Safe World. This was before my conversion, but definitely well down this present path. A short excerpt:

The media have assumed a totalizing role in our lives. Evidence of how effective this role has been is the fact that most of us still believe that the “reputable” media (NYT, Washington Post, CNN, etc.) merely reflect (imperfectly) the realities about which they “report.” Yet the Finkel hagiography is a perfect example of fitting a narrative to cultural conventions (especially the conventions of the film script) in ways that actively participate, and invite the audience to participate, in the reproduction of the racism and patriarchy inherent in those conventions. The Safe-World is somewhere in the suburbs, ringed with layers of defense: lawns, fences, homeowners associations, bands of strip malls, interstate highways, contract security, cops, the oceans, the aircraft carriers and nuclear armed submarines….

Outside the layered defenses of Safe-World, surrounding it, are dark, unpredictable, primitive Others. Inside Safe-World, when stability reigns, men can provide and rest at the hearth. But the real rite of passage for Men is to leave the safety of the hearth to confront this Dark Otherness outside Safe-World. Having done their duty disciplining the teeming periphery, they can return to the hearth, where Woman stands by, waiting, appropriately grateful for her security to this bloodied Man. In exchange for his security (also against other men), she is dutiful.

And one more excerpt for the media who still feign surprise at our current financial debacle (remember, this was written two years ago when reputable economists still denied the existence of a housing bubble):

As our cultural distinctions have collapsed under the onslaught of megamerger monoculture, we have seen wholesale uniformity imposed on our constructed environment. All the distinct cultural meanings of past communities have gone under the wheels. But human beings cannot live without meaning.

Meaning-making is a distinctly human need. We are the only species that can see the cosmic abyss that surrounds our incandescent islets of awareness. With the enclosure of Middle America™ into the constructed spaces of the work cubicle, the strip mall and the suburban living room, meaning-hunger is being answered in exactly the same commodified way as actual hunger: with taylorized, mass-produced cultural meanings, disseminated as “entertainment.” Journalism has been swept up in this process, now obliged by The Market™ to be “entertaining.” (Big-money journalism has always been generally obedient; it’s the adoption of glitz that has changed it.)

Life, at last, must imitate art. And with only one monocultural art, we will be truly one in our imitation.

That’s the danger to stability of cultural criticism. It identifies the patterns, mapping and deconstructing them until they are drained of their authority.

The durability of these norms and conventions is the constant Nemesis of social change agents. They still think a simple, well-constructed argument should be enough to “change one’s mind,” such a pale linguistic marker for what this proposes. Enough to begin demolishing the foundational structures of one’s entire worldview, and with it every decision taken on behalf of that worldview, every emotional attachment developed within its framework, and every single thing that gives them meaning as a safety rail along the Abyss. The Big Dark-World. Infinity that swallows us up. This is always the preoccupation of those who understand themselves as simply individuals

The beauty of this new Panopticon is not that it simply takes our eyes off the real war, the real plunder, the real system; it is that it stations a pernicious little watcher inside our individual brains. We become aware that we are under surveillance all the time, and this surveillance constitutes not the one discipline of the edict, but the implanted discipline that a complex society requires of its subjects to police themselves.

Finkel is not a dupe, any more than Judith Miller or Wolf Blitzer. They are all active agents of the war establishment. They are collaborators. It is this disciplinary process with which they collaborate. They teach us that Dark-World is real, and there we might be, but for our protectors: the cop, the soldier, the mercenary, the prison guard, the surveillance camera—the rat mentality that urges some of us to police others for conformity.

But suburbia is not safe. This is the central illusion.

While suburbia has had its eyes fixed on threatening images of Arabs and Persians and Latinos and deepest, darkest African America, the same establishment that makes war and builds prisons and gazes into our lives has picked suburban pockets with one hand and gripped the �?burbs as loan sharks with the other.

Suburbia is not being protected; it is being saved for dessert.

It is this sector with its fragile, technological, disembodied living standard that will now come under attack. In the short term, that is already happening through financial manipulation and the further disappearance of living-wage jobs. The tremendous personal debt burden that is mounting in the American “middle class,” fueled by past low interest rates and cash-out equity loans, was the latest maneuver to prop up this sector’s role as global consumer—a time bomb that will explode directly under Suburbia’s feet.

Meanwhile, the liquidation of the commons—from Medicare to Social Security to public services—constitutes a massive transfer of wealth saved by these working people directly into the speculative money pit that is Wall Street. Suburbanites are workers in the truest sense, even though they seldom stand on the factory floor now. They don’t know it, but they are weak, dependent, high-maintenance workers in a consumer mill.

The bill for the United States from Treasury loans to other nations—already impossible to pay—grows exponentially to support the cost of the military now conducting the war, those we see as the guardians of civilization. Our children are inheriting this impasse. We have witnessed what happens when the suburbanites are fleeced; with the taxpayer bailout of the savings and loan criminals, the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund, these burdens will invoke the “too big to fail” principle. From Chrysler to Enron, the so-called middle class will pick up the tab.

The real threat will not appear as an Arab with a bomb or a 16-year-old with brown skin and a Glock. It is already present. It has appeared as pension funds disappearing in strategic bankruptcies. It has appeared as sub-prime lending and subsequent foreclosures.

“Thank you for buying all these houses,” the banks are already saying. “Now we can take them back and rent them to you.” [and the government will bail us out, because we are too big to fail]

As Suburbia works harder and faster to keep up with the mounting debt, as it is forced to further ingratiate itself to Suburbia’s employers, as it learns to kiss more ass, get personality makeovers to fit itself heart-and-soul to the boss, it is obliged first and foremost to purchase the bare minimum of status markers (like stage props) that validate this new personality. To call narcissism in this age a “disorder” is a cruel pun. It is a cultural mandate—the norm.

Outside the �?burbs, the treatment of the others as Dark-World has become a kind of local self-fulfilling prophecy. Blending of police and military functions corresponds to an increasingly uniform (urban, unemployed, young) and crisis-ridden global human ecology. Nonetheless, the imposition of a garrison state on people who have been previously privileged as a core political base (like Suburbia) is no simple matter.

If an openly warlike state is to impose control without the middlemen, it requires Spectacle as camouflage.

Soldier and SWAT spectacle soldier and SWAT reality. They are not the same, the spectacle and the reality.

Spectacle conceals reality.

Spectacle requires publicity and amplification.

What better publicity, what better amplifier, than Finkel’s crude reduction of this war to an adolescent docudrama for The Washington Post? Ever since the neocons came to power, most of the so-called reputable press has been so craven in its collaboration with our government that it might as well be assigned a formal position on the Pentagon staff.

The Dark-World set of establishment publicists like David Finkel and political consultants like Karl Rove is like a movie in one other respect. The light you see is on the screen. The story you see is framed in shadow. Remain passive. All will be well.


Note (7)

Since the financial crisis hit this year, calls to suicide prevention centers have risen by 40%. In Children of Men, there is a ubiquitous ad in the background with a Madison Avenue-style ad campaign for Quietus, a pharma-corp engineered suicide pill, available on demand. How might the very original (in two senses) story of Children of Men be an aspect of new (and very old) cultural conventions that simultaneously (1) look fearlessly at the depth of brokenness of the world and (2) maintain a disciplined hope in the midst of it?


Note (8)

In our last biological apocalypse film, 28 Days Later, there was a small band surviving in a world where society disappeared in very short order. Tempo tasks drive the films action from the very beginning. In Children of Men, humanity remains by the billions, now to slowly die off into a hopeless future. Protagonist Theo (played by Clive Owen) is not involved in any tempo task at all. On the contrary, he seems a resigned, cynical bureaucrat riding out the end time with a bottle in his pocket (and some good ganja from his friend) and a caustically foul mouth. His involvement in the intrigue of the plot comes only when he is offered money. His emotional investment an investment he has avoided since the death of his own child happens only when he finds out the shocking truth that a woman has been discovered who is pregnant.

It is interesting that Theo does not display courage as Jim did in 28 Days Later through some form of redemptive violence. In fact, the fishies, the revolutionaries who are harboring Kee (the pregnant women), are devotees of redemptive violence (even as absurd as it seems in the face of human extinction) and will become his hostile pursuers.

Remember the scene where Theo uses the contents of his precious bottle of booze to sterilize his hands for the babys delivery? This is one of those turning points (Theo has several). How does this compare with Jims turning point in 28 Days Later, where he resorts to the violence he had heretofore eschewed?

When we read Revelation critically, we will find that the core message of that series of visions is for Christians then a persecuted sect to hold fast to their non-violent mission of proclamation in the face of a hostile world.

Yet the images in Revelation are brutally violent thousands of corpses being eaten by vultures in the fields and the like.

How does Children of Men compare to this message of proclamation (of the sole sovereignty of God)? Does the violence of Children of Men serve to contextualize any such message? Is Theo in the end a saint?

In the stories of saints, it is quite common for them to be extremely dysfunctional and broken characters who are called by extremity to perform a service for God. Martyrdom is frequently part of those stories.


Note (9)

Jasper (played by Michael Caine) develops a touching relationship with Kee in a very short time. What does each of them see in the other that makes this a credible relationship inn the story? Is Jasper himself a kind of saint? After all, he grows and smokes weed and farts after having people pull his finger.

He also cares lovingly for his catatonic wife.

What is a saint? We belong to a church called All Saints. Our pastor frequently calls members of the congregation saints. Is this hyperbole?

What if we define saint simply as a human being who has been called to holiness?

What can we possibly mean by the word holy?

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;

1 2