A Bumbling, Stumbling Attempt at a Theology of Gender.

Lots of smart people have said lots of smart things about the ways in which our views of ourselves mirror our views on God.  I am thinking, today, about gender.

My own developing views about God’s gender are not that different from my view of gender in people.  I think I am not alone in this.  And also, I am still figuring it all out.  As I try to explain where I am at, and where I am headed, I am sure I am going to say things in a way that might be offensive or incorrect.  I hope that you, reader, can chalk this up to ignorance on my part, and not malice.  I would very much appreciate corrections, suggestions, and counterpoints in the comments below.

The most literalistic readings of scripture within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are that God is male.  So is the first person he makes.  Femaleness comes next.  It is the single alternative to maleness, a revision on that basic theme.

This parallels the world view I grew up in about gender in general.  Maleness is better.  Femaleness is the alternative.  I am trying to stay away from using the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ because it seems like part of the whole idea was that our physical bodies always mirrored how we identified within.

And this was one of the first ironies I noticed in this whole affair, as I tried to work it out for myself.  The Christian world normally wanted to proclaim the existence of a soul, and the idea that there is more than just materialistic existence.  The non-Christian/secular world was generally more reductionistic-materialistic.  Yet suddenly, the Christians were saying, “No, the physical aspects of the body is all that there is.  If you have a penis you are fully and totally male.  If you have a vagina you are female.  All the way through.”  Meanwhile, the secular world was proclaiming that their is this non-material part of us, that might identify in a way that is not consistent with our biology.

This irony was only the first thing for me.  I think what happened next was the recognition that I and so many others had, as we began to recognize that literalistic understandings fall apart pretty quickly.  God, is of course, not physically male.  God is not embodied.

People can try and suggest that it is not about the physical.  They can try and suggest that there are differences in personality between men and women.  But here we return to the irony listed above.  Because now, the question to be answered becomes, “Well, what happens when that personality doesn’t match up with the biology of a person?”

Just as the first thoughts might seem pretty simple, “God is male.”  The first pages of the bible seem pretty straight forward to.  Because at first, as suggested above, God seems to make Adam first, in his image, and then Eve from Adam’s rib.  But a couple pages in, there is a director’s cut on the creation account.  And it seems that both Adam and Eve are made in God’s image.   God, it seems, has a feminine side.

Countless images in the bible build this case, comparing the creator to all manner of feminine images.  And this only stands to reason.  He is able to be everything good, all at once.   It seems like most people, most of the time, want to find themselves somewhere along the spectrum between 100% masculine and 100% feminine.  Some people move to different places over time.   But maybe this is the fundamental difference between God and humans.  God is everywhere on that spectrum at once.  Us little people, we, at any given time, are only occupying one little spot.


Just a Cow, Chewing on Peace

Sometimes, I ponder on a thing and I start to make some headway, at least in my own mind.  Other times, though, I start to think on a thing, and what I realize first is how utterly clueless I am about the topic.

I have been thinking on peace, lately.  I filled with awe at what a bewildering topic this is.

This act of writing is an attempt to bring some order to my chaotically arrayed thoughts on the topic.  I could be wrong, in what I am writing here.  God knows I have lots to learn.  I hope you’ll drop a comment and throw some ideas around, and help me to make a little more sense about this stuff.

I think the place I want to begin is with a distinction between two different modes of peace.  Those modes are Shalom, or Godly peace, and Chill, or human peace.

Before I go very far in defining those two, I am going to suggest another distinction.  This is based on where peace lives.  Call them  internal peace and external peace.

I would like to suggest that man’s peace inevitably favors one habitat for peace or the other.   Protestors spend a lot of time and energy working for an external peace.  Mindfulness types seek after an internal peace.

Often times, there is not an explicit and obvious conflict that is going on at the surface level.  Between the protestors and the mindfulness types.  There are no rumbles between the occupy-ers and the meditate-ors.  One of the reasons for this, maybe, is that there is a fine line between avoiding conflict and avoiding violence.  I suspect we spend too much time and energy running away from all manner of conflict out of a fear that we engage in violence.  I think we ought to follow the example of Ghandi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela (at least in the second half of his life.)  and be willing to risk conflict.

I do think that for so may people, though, where you are going to focus your energy in working for peace is incredibly important.  A person who fights for peace in the outside world would be tempted to act dismissive, I think, toward some one who is working only on the internal.  Similarly, imagine a monk.  Feel free to choose his religion.   It seems that often, he might be dismissive toward somebody working at changing laws, fighting for human rights.

When I began writing this, the thing I was thinking about was that the difference between Shalom and Chill is that Shalom recognizes that peace is contagious.  Internal peace will spread to the external.  And external peace will spread to the internal.  Because, ultimately the world above is the world below; the world within us is the world outside of us.

But as I began writing that paragraph above, the one that began “often times” I had this realization.  I didn’t try to set this up.  I didn’t, in fact, even see this coming.   I found myself looking for examples of people who were unafraid of conflict though they resisted the urge to practice violence.  As you read, I came up with Ghandi, Jesus, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela.  The thing I am struck by, now, that I did not see coming is this: each of them had a profoundly spiritual bent to their practice of peace.

It seems to me then, that to practice Shalom is not only about a conviction that internal peace and external peace are opposite sides of the same coin.  Maybe more importantly, to practice Shalom is to be willing to navigate the difficult path separating conflict from violence.  It is to realize that peace with out conflict is impotence, and peace done with violence is self-defeating.

Lurking somewhere in the midst of all these thoughts is this picture I have in my heart about the Kingdom of Heaven.  I think the Kingdom of Heaven bursts out in these places where we engage in conflict with out violence, somewhere between the boundary of the internal and external.  I think I am going to be better able to articulate this if I spend some time with all these thoughts, chew them up, maybe even swallow them and regurgitate them back up.  So, I, a cow chewing his (err, her) cud, am going to end here, and leave you with that image.

Uhm, Would You Explain How that Whole Militia Thing Works Again?

Early weapons models, such as the "Fat Ma...
Early weapons models, such as the “Fat Man” bomb, were extremely large and difficult to use. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m only meaning to be a little provacotive when I say this: We all believe in  gun control.

Somewhere, there is probably somebody who seriously holds the position that private citizens have a right to own any weapon imaginably.  They might believe a person is entitled to any kind of munition or ammunition, any type of rifle, cannon, grenade, chemical, or nuclear weapon.

If you are “that guy” then I suppose I will have to have some other debate with you.  A person who affirmed others’ rights to bear any and all arms is wrong, I think.  But I’m not going to go there in this post and discuss that person.

I’m going to focus on what I hope is the vast majority of Americans.  I would like to believe that there is a line that nearly every one draws, a point where we say, “No, that kind-of weaponry should not be in the hands of regular people.” 

Presumably, most people who believe that people have the right to automatic weaponry, for example, do not believe that we should be able to own mustard gas.  Or a hydrogen bomb.

The question I have for this person is “Why do you get to draw a line?  What is your criteria?”

And I think we can and should have rich debates about where that line belongs.  But I think it is important to recognize that nearly everybody will draw that line somewhere.  Our differences are quantitative, not qualitative.  It’s not about people who believe in no limits vs. people who believe in lots of limits. 

I don’t think the 2nd ammendment is going to be very helpful here.  What it says is:
“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Based on the historical circumstances, it seems like the most obvious meaning of this statement is that the founders did not envision the U.S. keeping much of a standing army.  They envisioned our defense from external foes would need to managed by groups like The Minute Men.  This, I think, doesn’t get anti-gun control forces very far.  The fact of the matter is that we’ve got one of the world’s largest standing armies.  The need for civilian militias is moot.

But suppose I grant the meaning that seems to be floating around.  I don’t see where you get this meaning from the words in the 2nd ammendment, but let me just sign off on this growing revision: the idea that the founders wanted the people to be armed so that they could have the ability to defend themselves from their own government.  Suppose, for the sake of argument, that this less obvious meaning is what was meant:

It does not help.  The constitution says “bear arms” it doesn’t specify “guns.”  It seems like if you’re wanting to give pause to the government, wanting to prevent all your others rights from being trampled, then even automatic weaponry won’t be much good when they call in the air strikes.

If you’re going to use the constitution to justify your firearms, I don’t see how you can avoid affirming somebody’s rights to have missile, or an atomic bomb.

I am not saying that I think people have a right to a missile or an atomic bomb.  I am saying that if somebody located their right to have whatever gun they want in the 2nd ammendment, I fail to see why they could tell somebody else they have no right to a missile.

I think that there are legitimate justifications for firearms.  I get it that people have a right to sport, to defense, to hunt.  I just don’t see how it makes sense to root this justification in the second ammendment.

Yeah, I went there.

English: One of the symbols of German Women's ...
English: One of the symbols of German Women’s movement (from the 1970s) Deutsch: Ein Logo der deutschen Frauenbewegung (aus den 70er Jahren) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recent statements and counter-statements around abortion, rape, and feminism have given me pause for reflection.

I want to start today with 3 disclaimers.

#1) I consider myself a feminism and think it’s a good thing to be one.

#2) I think the movement that calls itself pro-choice and the movement that calls itself pro-life both have some severe problems.

#3) I’m betting this post is going to tick a lot of people off.  But that’s not my intent.

Having said those things at the outset, the overall conclusion I want to assert is this:

Opposing the practice of abortion might turn out to be more feminist than supporting it.

Before I get to that conclusion, I feel like some explanation is in order.

First, some explanation around my issues with both the so-called “pro-life” and the “pro-choice” movements.

It would be more accurate to name the pro-life movement the pro-fetus movement.  Because it does not seem that they are consistently in favor of supporting all life.  It seems more like they are interested in ensuring that a fertilized egg get born.

In practice, this becomes an emphasis on the quantity of life.  A desire to see the overall population increase.  At best, this movement tends to be neutral around the actual quality of life.  A burden I haven’t really seen met by the pro-life movement is a coherent plan for what happens if there desires are met:

Suppose they are succesful.  They prevent not only legal abortions but all of them.  What then?  A pro-life group once cited that a number equal to the population of Texas is aborted every year.  If this is true, I have not yet seen even an attempt at a plan to account for this added population.

I can accept the idea that some pro-life advocates believe strongly in lots of programs to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.  I’ll accept the idea that they might even cut the number of pregnancies in half.  But even granted this success, the same question presents itself: How are you going to ensure the ongoing quality of life for the millions that you have saved?

The vast majoirty of these lives are coming into nearly impossible situations.  That is why the parents sought the abortions in the first place.  Dodging the responsibility for it does not do much more than ensure the next generation is going to pepetuate these problems.

Perhaps the more important question to ask is how this will play out on an individual level.  Even if we are succesful in convinving just one person to not have an abortion, what then?

I guess I am saying that the term pro-life needs to be earned by taking a stance which promotes the health of families which don’t choose abortion; not just physical health, not just for the nine months of pregnancy, but every layer of health across the whole life of the family.

On the other hand, there is the pro-choice movement.  These people have ironically colluded with the pro-life movement.  They have expended all this energy and time resources on one important moment in a person’s life.  There has been minimal work done on creating a menu of viable choices.  While it is true that at this point,  women can make a single choice: to abort or not abort a fetus, this choice is weighed down with the reality that they can not choose to expect to be supported by the society they live in if they are bring the pregnancy to term.  They can not choose to live in a world where the father will have an equal hand in raising their children.  They can not make that most fundamental choice of every parent every where: they can not choose, in many cases, a better life for their kids than they had.

I reject the labels “pro-choice” and “pro-life” because I don’t see that either side earned the name.

I recognize there is an important, perhaps fundamental question.  That question is “Is it right to terminate a pregnancy/ Abort a fetus.”

I am going to side-step that question.  I don’t think I’ve got anything to add that debate.

I’d like to observe though, that the knee-jerk response of feminists is to ally themselves with the pro-choice movement.  I understand the arguments for this.  But I think there is another argument worth considering.

As I was reflecting on this, I was thinking about every single “liberation” movement you might name.

Nearly every time, the opressed group, early in the fight, stresses the idea that they are just like the opressor.   Almost with out fail, the “other” eventually comes to a different claim.  The second claim is that their group has some important differences.  These differences, though, are worth claiming and asserting.  The group has a right to these differences and society as a whole will be pushed foreward if these are embraced by the group.

This is true of feminism.  The early feminist movement made the claim that men and women are roughly the same.  Later feminisms, though, focused on some inherent differences between men and women.  They often (rightfully) claim that th overbalance of masculine values at the expense of feminine ones has lead to many of society’s problems.

Interestingly, the whole pro-choice movement is built on claiming pregnancy belongs in the same categories of other individual health decision.  It is a move toward saying that men and women are not just equal but are in the fact the same.  There is nothing unqiue about pregnancy.

The capacity to bear life might be one of the most profound differences between men and women.  Rather than minimize this, I believe it should be siezed on and emphasized.  The importance of the event of a human birth out to be shouted from the roof tops.

This thought is still forming itself.  I’m aware that a real problem is even if the importance of child birth is asserted, if others get to control this gift, it is a false victory.  If the feminists grasp on to child birth as the powerful event that it is, and then others say “It is more powerful than you have the right to control” the war was lost at the expense of winning the battle.

I guess my real conclusion, if I’ve got one, is this thing is too important not to think carefully about.  It is too important to allow us to the luxury of grabbing conveninent labels, grouping ourselves like a bunch of Neanderthals in an us-vs-them mentality.

A rose, by any other name…

English: This is an image of the sign in front...
Image via Wikipedia

I’d like to begin with a couple of principles:

1.  We can tell what is in our hearts based on what comes out of our mouths. 

2.   We can tell what we believe in based on how we save and spend our resources.

  Personally, I find both of these ideas to be fairly profound.  Somebody else might not agree with whether or not they are true.  And that is fine.  One of the awesome things about the world is that we don’t all have to agree.

An issue I would say that has less room for argument is the question of whether Jesus believed these things.   It seems quite clear to me that Jesus did.  I hardly paraphrased at all.  These ideas are pretty much straight out of his mouth.

There is a third principle I’d like to mention.   This idea is the idea that names have power.

Jesus did not explicitly ever say this.  But he implies it in many of his interactions, particularly when casting demons out.  The demon that identifies itself as “Legion”, for example, at first seems to think that Jesus will have no power of it, because it does not give Jesus an actual name.  Conversely, numerous demons seem to think that they will have power over Jesus, simply because they know his name.

Jesus himself renames “Saul” as “Paul” as a way to draw a distinction between his pre-Jesus and post-Jesus life.  God renamed the person who would come to be known as “Isreal.”   Adam’s first task is to give names to the animals.  Clearly, names are important things.  This does not imply some sort-of magical belief.  One could say that the power in names is rooted in the fact that we believe names have power.  We could suggest that it’s something of a self-fufilling prophecy.

This is why groups from street gangs to summer camps give members special names.  This is why some people get so persnickety about whether they expect to be called the short version of their name (e.g. “Rich”) or the long version of their name (e.g. Richard.)  This is why many tribal societies have given members multiple names, often a public one and a second, more secret one.

I believe the evidence a couple paragraphs makes a pretty strong case for the idea that Jesus recognizes the strength of names and titles.  But I realize it’s a little more open to interpretation than the first couple principles mentioned.

This absurdly egg-headed introduction gets me to the point I was considerng today:

 Taken together, I’m submit that those 3 principles mean that titles and names are powerful things, and they, much like the words that come out of our mouths, provide a picture of what is going on in hearts.

This has been a long-winded and egg-headed introduction.  The real point I want to make is that the way we name our churches in America says something about us.  And what it says isn’t very nice.

Consider a church with a name like “1st Lutheran Chuch  of Doofustown.”

A claim to the primacy and age of the church is the very first part of this title.  Jesus tells us that the 1st shall be last.  It would be a pretty cool act of guerilla art (or maybe vandalism; you say tomato, I say tomatoh) to run around to all the church signs that start with “1st” and write “Last.”  This of course is a biblical statement.  If the first shall be last, then all these churches bragging about their first status are indeed last.

That biblical idea aside, it is still telling that some church names start with that sort of claim.  The fact that we put it first suggest that the fact that we are first is more important than anything else. 

After we thump our chests, gorilla like, by asserting that we are first, we move on to a denominational title.  Placing this second suggests that it is the second-most important thing.  Placing it before the word church suggests that the things that divide us are more important than the things that unite us.  It suggests that whether one is a Lutheran or a Baptist (or whatever) is a more important question than whether or not one follows Christ.

And finally, that little word: church.  Much has recently been made about the fact that church is not a building.  While I agree with this, as long as we continue to write it on the side of the buildings, there will be a disconnect.

As long as we wax eloquently about the “big c church” or the “global church” but continue to call the individual buildings by this name, we will lose some credibility, and deservedly so.

There are other ways to title a church.  Some great names are simply not lived up to.  A friend told me about a local Baptish congegation.  They rent space from another Baptist congregation.  This second congregation owns the land and buildings and what not.

The punchline here is that the renting congregation calls itself “The United Baptist Church of …”   While it’s good that they are not bragging about being first or whatever, this leads to the question: what precisely are they united with, if they can’t join with their landlord and worship together?  (The picture above is not from this church; it’s a snap shot I found in the public domain.)

I know that there are traditions and rules around these things.  I know that probably lots of people haven’t given a whole lot of thought.  Jesus calls us out, though, to buck tradition when it doesn’t work, we’re told to ponder and meditate and think over things, so that we can most efficiently do his work.

Religion, Pseudo-Religion, and Charlie Brown

Once, commercials promised us a list of things that they would do.  The focus was on the fact that they were new and improved.  That they could out-clean the others in lab-tests.  They were the ultimate living example of what that sort-of product could be.

Starbucks logo
Image via Wikipedia

This is only half to the destination for modern advertising.  The focus, now, is not just on what they do.  It is what they do for us.  Whether it’s a product, a service, an idea being spread through a PSA, a political commercial, advertisers can’t trust us enough to apply their products to our own lives.  They’ve done that hard work for us, painting a picture that is most often full of hyperbole, exageration, and lies around how our life will change if only we’d adopt product/idea/politician X.

We think this is the sort-of world where we have to drink mediocre coffee.  If we would just embrace the knowledge that our local Starbucks has good coffee, then our existence would be limitlessly better.

We think that our current car isn’t doing something we need it to do.  If we just had the new Porsche, we would get to places faster, and we would look so much cooler.  Our lives forever would be changed.

We think that the system is waited down by parasites and big-government types.  If the government just got out of the way, and people could spend all the money they earn, everybody would be hard-working and would contriubute and we would all be living happilly ever after.

We think that the rich have too much power.  Education and oppurtunities for the lower classes are just a myth.  If the rest of us could just sieze back the power that we ought to have in a democracy, all of societies’ ills would just work themselves out.

When the bible talks about idolatry, some of us see this as a wider picture than just other religions.  In this day and age, other ideaologies stealing the devotion we owe to God can be more threatening than world views which are obviously, openly, and clearly religious.

Though I have come to disagree with much of the rest of his theology, I am increasingly fond of John Hick’s definition of religion and his use of the word pseudo-religion.

According to Hick, a religion is a world view which begins with the observation that we are self-centered, prescribes a view which will make us reality-centered, and promises through the adoption of this view that we will experience a limitlessly better existence.

Though I am quite familiar, and even sympthatic to the camp within Christianity that says following Christ isn’t a religion, I think that this is just a little disengenuous.  I can see how Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc. have fallen short of what they should have been.   I can relate to the idea that we might want to distance ourselves from our spiritual ancestors as well as others who claim to represent various religions.  I know that people say following Christ is a relationship, not a religion.  But I disagree.  Sort-of.

Symbol of the major religions of the world: Ju...
Image via Wikipedia

I think that the fact that we can see so many idealogies, commercial products, philosophies, economic schemes, world views, etc fufilling Hick’s definition of religion is suggestive. 

 From those annoying toilet paper adds where animated bears promise us a world where toilet paper works effectively, to Right-Wing promises of a laissez-faire eden where everybody pursues their own interest, to Left-wing day dreams of a world where all are protected and safe and have thier needs met, religion has a formula that works, because we are built to see that truth: we are self-centered, we are in desperate need of reality-centering, and once we get there, we can expect a limitlessly better existence.  Even the constant failure on delivering is not enough to get us past our deep-held belief that somewhere, there are truths that will move us away from self-centeredness, toward reality-centeredness, and deliver a better existence.

Even the most pessimistic of us is like Charlie Brown, going after Lucy’s football, over and over and over again.  Even after products disapoint, idealogies disapoint, politicians disapoint, we know that there is some truth out there.

I would submit that following Christ is both a relationship and a religion.   Because the way we make the jouney from self-centeredness to reality-centeredness is through relationship with and in Jesus. 

This relationship-religion is the archetype that causes us to chase after all those other pseudo-religion shadows.  It is the only one that will not, in the end, disapoint.  After all this time, we as Charlie Brown, finally get to kick the football.

Charlie Brown
Image via Wikipedia

Time is Money

#55 - Time

One of my favorite uses of science fiction is when it is used as a mirror, reflecting things about ourselves we might not have otherwise realized.    Orwell’s novel 1984 is an example of this; he wrote in 1948 and simply reversed the two numbers to give it a futuristic gloss, but one of his aims was not just to warn about the future but also to comment on his present.

This was one of the things I found compelling about “In Time.”  Visually, it looked a bit like “Gattaca” a sci-noire, futuristic-1920’s kind-of feel.

As for the message itself?  That, to me was a mixed bag.  In fact, as I ponder it, I realize that my ambiguity around the movie was in fact rooted in my wider ambiguity around capitalism as a whole.  I think Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other form of government.”  This mentality kind of expresses my feelings about capitalism; it is perhaps the worst economic system, except for every other economic system.

The Passage of Time
Image by ToniVC via Flickr

Note the word perhaps.  That’s an important point of what I’m trying to say here.  I’m really not sure.

Because I’m just working through this, because I just am not sure, I’m violating my self-imposed moratorium on blogging political.  I don’t have an axe to grind here, it’s more like I have some ideas to ponder.

So first off: “In Time.”  The previews do a pretty good job or stating the premise.  The idea is that money is no longer our currency: time is.  We work to get more time added on to our lives.  We spend this time on shelter, food, etc.   The very “richest” have thousands of years on their hands.  The very poorest live day-by-day.  Enentually, many people just die in the street, having literally run out of time.

The protagonist is thrust in to a situation where he becomes a sort-of Robin Hood; he robs time from the rich and gives it to the poor.  This provides ample oppurtunity for some waxing philosophic around the nature of theft and justice.  For example, the film’s equivalent to a police officer has a really interesting speech about how he doesn’t care about justice, he just cares about the law.   When confronted with the theft he’s engaged in, the main character says to the robber-baron types that they are theives, too.

The power of allegory is it’s ability to sneak up on us.  In the bible, Nathan confronts David with his unjustice by dressing his actions up in symbolism.  It wallops David, right upside the head, that there is truth in Nathan’s story.

Similarly, my initial reaction was “No, the metaphor doesn’t apply, here.  Having a bunch of money isn’t like having a bunch of time added to your life.”  But actually, as I considered it more deeply, the metaphor actually does work.

The rich live in safer neighborhoods.  They can afford safer transportation.  Better health care.  Healthier food.   When things get challenging to the wealthiest among us there wealth serves as a net in all kinds of ways.  They have access to all sorts of assistance, guidance, and help through their wealth.  They are able to access schools that do a better job of preparing their kids for life, not just in teaching academic facts, but also schools which reinforce broader life lessons about the value of hard work.   The rich have easier access to healthy stimulation and entertainment, giving them broader possibilities of de-stressing and mantaing wellness,

I am not denying that charities don’t do amazing things.  I’m not saying that there are no stressors associated with being wealthy.  I am not denying some measure of personal responsibility.

But it seems to me that it’s hard to deny that wealth does not equal in an increase in time; if not an an increase in time as measured by the clock, at least an increase in the quality of the time we have access to.  Perhaps the point even more compelling than this is the idea that in fact, we do have enough resources.  Our money-based economy has created a delusion of scarcity, an image that it is a necessary evil that some people starve.

Having said all that, I do believe that the film engaged a bit in the Myth of the Noble Savage.  In the end, none of us are noble.  Acting like the under-resourced have some inherent goodness that the wealthy are with out doesn’t help anybody.

For example, when the time is freed up and passed among the poor, there is enough to go around because everyone takes exactly what they need.  In my experience, greed cuts across income.  Ultimately, greed is the same for the rich and the poor.  All of us face the risk of greedy hearts when we submit to the fear of not having enough.   While it’s true that the rich can hoard their wealth, it’s equally true that those doing with out can turn themselves over to greed, and sell out their beliefs in order to have percieved needs met.

*** Spoiler Alert*** Don’t keep reading if you want to keep some of the surprises of the end of the movie*****

This implication was bothering me just a little.  Then, near the end of the movie, their police-like force is watching the overturning of the system; so much time has been given away that it has lost all value and the formerly wealthy now have no power over the workers. 

One cop says to another “What do we do now?”

The other cop puts his gun down and says, “We go home.”

The putting down of the gun is such a small thing.  But it’s also huge.  I don’t think I’m reading into the film to say this implies the idea that they were on the verge of a whole new order, and in this new order, there would be no need for police officers.

Religious scholar John Hick classifiued Socialism as a pseudo-religion, partially based on the idea that there is this promise built into the theory, this promise of a homecoming to a limitlessly better existence.

I think to some extent, this is why we end up signing on for so many faulty idealogies.  Laissez-faire capitalism also promises an Israel for us to return to; ironically, it’s not so different than the communist one; government becomes an anachronism, people naturally do what’s in everybody’s best interest.

I think that we are wired to look for this promised land.  As far back as the Garden of Eden, we tried to approach this promised land under our own power.  And history is nohing if not the chronicle of continuing failed attempts at returning to this promised land.  We can’t do it on our own.  I wonder when we’re going to get that?


Angora Goat
Image via Wikipedia

I think we’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing injustices when they occur between individuals.  Some injustices are built into the fabric of the way we operate, though.  And I think we have this tendency to ignore what the bible has to say about these.   We’ve become a culture so obsessed by individualism we want to deny the fact that an entire society can sin.

The current political climate is feeding into this.

And I was contemplating a story from the bible, I got this insight into what God thinks of our injustices built into the system.

Judah is one of the people who the 12 tribes of Israel were named after.  He seems to have been the “brains” of the operation in the whole selling Joseph into slavery affair.  Later, he has sons.  One marries a women named Tamar.  Then the son died.

A systemic injustice within their society was that a widow would not have many options, freedom, or possibilities.  It had become traditional for the husbands family to care for the widow, often by remarrying her to younger siblings.  Judah promises to do just this.  He tells Tamar that he will have her marry his younger son, once the son is old enough.  But he doesn’t actually follow through on this plan.

Time passes.  Tamar masquerades as a temple prostitute and sleeps with her ex father in law.  The fact that Judah doesn’t recognize her suggests one of several things.  None of them are pretty.

It could suggest that so much time has passed since Judah made the promise that he forgot what she looked like.  It could mean that having to fend for herself took such a toll on her that she didn’t look anything like she used to.  It could mean that Judah didn’t give temple prostitutes a second glance, didn’t think of them as real human beings worthy of looking closely.

Or maybe he was just a dummy.

Whatever the reason, Judah didn’t recognize her.  And she talks Judah into leaving the symbols of his office, power, and prestige with her as an I.O.U.  The agreed payment was a goat, and Judah didn’t seem to have a goat in his wallet.  (Seems to me that a goat in the room while the transaction was done might have been a little creepy, anyway.)

Tamar reappears, months later.  Pregnant, and baring Judah’s sceptre.  It’s only then that all the pieces fall into places and Judah realizes what he’s done.

The thing about systemic injustice is that we can rationalize that we don’t have a meaningful part in it.  Judah’s failure to honor his word with Tamar, to do the honorable thing and protect his daughter-in-law, this might have felt like a small thing.

But this failure could easily have lead her to no alternatives except becoming a temple prostitute.  If Tamar had never found Judah, and he found out about what Tamar had become, he might rationalize, “Well, it’s not really my fault.  It’s not like I’m one of her customers.”

The bible does not tell us if Judah bought the services of any other temple prostitutes.  But he does seem quite non-challant about the whole thing.  I’d suggest it’s likely that temple prostitutes were a part of his life.

It’s easy for us to avoid connecting the dots, sometimes.  We can think, “Well, I’m not responsible for the fact that those women are prostitutes, because I’m just their customer.  I didn’t force them into the situation that lead them to become prostitutes in the first place.  In fact, I’m helping them.  If I didn’t hire them they’d starve.”

And then we look at the situations we did create.  We look at the Tamars in our own lives.  And we say, “O.K.  so I made some decisions that lead her down that path.  But I’m not supporting her decisions on a day-to-day basis.”

Further when we’re removed from the people who suffer these injustices, we can dehumanize the victims, we can rationalize that things aren’t that bad, that maybe they deserve it.

Judah’s circumstances confronted him with the brute fact that he was both the initiator of this injustice and the enabler of it on a day-to-day basis.  It brought it close to home, and forced him to recognize that he’d once known and cared for the victim.

   We can always blame the other perpetrator of injustice.  But the truth is that both are to blame.  We can always try to dehumanize the victim.  But the truth is that they are a child of God.

 The hard part of all this, I think, comes in wrestling with it in our own lives.  Owning that having either role in systemic injustice is wrong is tough and uncomfortable.  But I think it’s what we are called to do.

God, the tree-hugger

Image via Wikipedia

Suppose you were reading a book.  Early on, a character happens across a muder scene.  This character– who is perhaps a detective– states that the ground itself is crying out. 

 About halfway through that book, some other hero– perhaps that rare ethical politician–  has been speaking to people to people about their lousy decisions.  Part way through his speech to the people, the politician speaks to the land itself.  He tells the land it has been mistreated.  He paints a word picture of how amazing it will be for the land when people start acting right.

Then, near the end of the book, somebody else is talking about how messed up everything is.  This character says that it runs deeper than just people wanting healing.  Suppose this guy went so far as to say the universe itself is crying out to be restored.

I think many people would begin a rant that would go something like this, “Those evil leftist neopagans are pushing foreward their pro-environment agenda, trying to turn everyone to their new age philosophy which suggests that the earth itself is divine.”

Maybe you saw through my little mental exercise and recognized that the book described above is the bible.  When Cain slays Abel, God describes how the Earth is crying out with his blood.  Three quarters of the way through Ezekial, the prophet switches gears.  He is no longer rebuking the people of Isreal.  He appears to be talking to the land itself.  And in the New Testament, Paul tells us that creation itself is groaning in anticipation of Christ’s return.  (These, by the way, are not isolated examples.)

I am not suggesting that we ought to go out and actively worship the trees themselves.  I am not denying that people smuggle their metaphysics into what they say and do and think.  (Sometimes on purpose.)

I am saying that God is an environmentalist and the issue of where nature ends and God begins is a complicated one.

A young radical on the evils of blueberry muffins

It is so easy and sanitized in that kitchen.

A trail of misery, a web of terror.

The baker’s disconnection does not absolve him.

It does not change the fact that he is the arachnid at the center of it all.

Consider the blueberry muffins he is making this morning.

The sun is not yet up, and yet…

Already the brutality, the brutality.

The powder clings to him like blood on Macbeth.

The smell, can’t you smell death beneath that sweetness?

The ingredients come together

and lose their independence,

that last measure of dignity.

Somewhere, in the wilds of Maine.

Stand blueberry bushes stripped of their fruit and their dignity.

The fruits that they were once so proud of…

They are now in a glass container on a stainless steel shelf.


And there are fields somewhere that are now barren.

It was not enough, that reaper-like

We scythed them all down.

We crushed them up next.

Boxed them up.  Called it flour…

A homonoym to a symbol of living beauty.

We robbed the cows children of their mothers milk.

With uncaring machines.

Can’t you hear that haunting, pained, longing

“MOOOooooo.”  Trailing off into nothing,

because it is pointless to resist.

It is all so pointless.

When they come and take your milk away.

And the eggs, oh the eggs.

They could have been somebody.

They could have been some chicken.

If only they’d been fertilized.

They would not sit in that styrofoam container,

terrible in their simalarities.

And the sugar…

We did indeed raise Cane.

Only that it might be chopped down, down, down.

It is speciesism only

that prevents us from calling it what it is

Vegetable Genocide

How could something so sweet come from this.

Do not hide

behind the fact

that it was all made for this and raised for this.

Does that make it better

or worse?

Your blueberry muffins.

They are a symbol of your decadence.

They are the epitome of your arrogance.






We must stand with our muffiny brothers.

We must rise up with our confectionary sisters.

Join me!

The revolution is now.