Wild Lectionary: We Are Animals

12289514_10153766241763739_1680757321006336246_n.jpgFourth Sunday in Lent
Psalm 23:1-3

1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2
God makes me lie down in green pastures; God leads me beside still waters;
3
God restores my soul.

By Ric Hudgens

I live in a household with a seven-year old who has no trouble connecting with her animal identity. I often awaken in the morning to hear her downstairs growling, barking, howling, or singing. She may be imitating a dog, a monkey, a bear, a lion, or a bird.  Like all young children she will eventually learn to separate her human identity from her animal identity. Mornings will grow quiet and my world will in one sense be a sadder place. Continue reading

Ready to Turn Sharply from our Present Ways

Joyce (1)Day 22 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam.”

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increased in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.
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“Slippery Words and Concealed Souls” by Joyce Hollyday (photo above), founding co-pastor at Circle of Mercy in Asheville, NC

…With speech smoother than butter,
but with a heart set on war;
   with words that were softer than oil,
       but in fact were drawn swords.
—Psalm 55:21

The year was 1983, and I was on a bus with a group of U.S. peacemakers, bumping over a rutted road from the tiny, isolated village of Jalapa, Nicaragua, toward Managua. Bursts of mortar fire erupted from the trees. A young mother riding with us held up her infant son. “Take him,” she pleaded in Spanish as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Take him to a place where there is no war.” Continue reading

The ACA and the AHCA: Understanding What is at Stake

MisakBy James Misak MD (photo right), Cleveland, OH

With efforts underway to “repeal and replace” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) with the proposed American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA), understanding what is at stake can be challenging. It is my hope that this essay will bring some clarity to this issue.

  1. The US Health Insurance System Prior To The ACA: A Brief Review

The United States is currently the only high-income country without nearly universal health-care coverage. As a result, an estimated 44.6 million Americans (representing 16.7% of the US population under age 65) were uninsured in 2013, the year before the ACA went into effect.1

Most Americans under the age of 65 receive health insurance as a benefit from their employer, but this percentage has been steadily decreasing over time, from 67% of nonelderly Americans in 1999 to 56% in 2013, or approximately 148 million people. Additionally, people in families with lower incomes were less likely to receive health insurance through an employer, and these families lost employer-sponsored insurance at a faster rate than the population as a whole.2 Continue reading

A Citizen of the World

Dee DeeDay 21 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroy, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
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“A Bootcamp Against Cynicism” by Dee Dee Risher (photo above), the former editor of The Other Side Magazine and author of the recently released The Soulmaking Room

The dynamics Dr. King names in this his Riverside address—militarism, materialism, and racism–which we are slowly journeying through this Lent, are as old as history and as sharp as flint. That these realities have been around forever does not lessen their power, nor can it lessen our own resistance to them. Continue reading

Spoken of Peace and Built up its Forces

ElaineDay 20 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam.”

Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreement concerning foreign troops. They remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred, or rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.

“Refusing to tell the Truth?” By Dr. Elaine Enns (photo above), Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries

I was born only a few months after Dr. King delivered his Riverside sermon. In today’s passage, King names American duplicity, lying and subterfuge to justify military aggressions in Vietnam. Unfortunately there would be plenty of opportunity in my life time to learn that these strategies are not exceptions but rules of American foreign and military policy. This part of King’s analysis is very specific to the diplomatic deception around the Indochina War in 1967, and at first glance it does not seem to be relevant today. But in fact, even here where King is addressing political particulars, we are seeing him unmask American government’s habit of “refusing to tell the truth” about our foreign policy objectives including fundamental misrepresentation of the enemy in order to justify domestically its military escalation.

In 1990, shortly after I arrived in California from my home place of Saskatoon, SK I got to witness firsthand the lies and propaganda of the first Gulf War. But 13 years later, during the second Gulf War, was my baptism by fire into this reality. In the spring of 2003, Ched and I were visiting professors at Memphis Theological Seminary and Christian Brothers University.  We learned quickly that many folks in the “Bible belt” South didn’t like to hear U.S. policy criticized or a war effort questioned.   I was teaching a class at Christian Brothers University; half of the students were African American women. In January our class began by looking at basic Restorative Justice theory and practice, which set the context for difficult but meaningful discussions during the days leading up to the second Bush invasion of Iraq in March. It was during this time that Ched and I first started using the King sermon to speak truth to this new chapter in American duplicity – the relentless fabrication of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Up until that time, my experience in teaching Restorative Justice had been that once students wrestled with more complex narratives of violation, and mapped them on the “spiral of violence” model they tended to question the dominant paradigm of retributive justice (see Ambassadors Vol 11). However, in the early days of this second Gulf War, the majority of my white students remained stuck in the prevailing war propaganda. Each class became more difficult for me, and I only survived because of the Black students who privately thanked me, saying “we never have conversations like this here.” In one poignant exchange, a Black mother of two small children revealed with fear and frustration that she was being deployed to Iraq; we cried together. (The fact that there is still a disproportionate number of people of color in the “volunteer” military underlines the persistence of the “economic conscription” King called out in this sermon.)

Once the bombing of Iraq commenced, Ched and I looked for ways to break the silence that had descended on the Memphis citizenry (especially the churches). King’s Riverside sermon was a powerful gift and tool we used repeatedly; it was far more effective to let this “national hero” frame issues that had suddenly become taboo in the “fog of war.” The resonance was immediate—whether it engendered embrace (in African American congregations) or resistance (in most white congregations) into which we were invited to preach. The power and poignancy of this text inspired us to use it again to engage the so-called “war on terrorism” in our Philadelphia Word and World School later that year.

Today, almost 15 years and many more military interventions later, it is obvious that we still need to revisit this sermon. Clearly, we have not yet fully grasped the key integrative elements of Dr. King’s catechism as he applied it to the Indochina war, namely:

  • To understand militarism as the war of the rich against the poor;
  • To analyze foreign policy through the lens of race and neo-colonialism; and
  • To insist that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

May this 50th anniversary review help us inscribe King’s truth spoken to power on our own hearts.

To See The Enemy’s Point of View

Wesley MorrisDay 19 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.  

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western worlds, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led this nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French Commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a unified Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be considered.

By Wesley Morris (photo above), Union Theological Seminary

Dr. King, with compassionate and nonviolent reasoning, addresses his home country in this passage from “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”. In his gathering, Dr. King goes beyond the self-interest of his nation and proclaims God’s love and justice to be inclusive of people the United States labeled enemies.

In the body of his renowned speech, Dr. King contends with a world divided, east and west, oppressed and oppressor, colonized and colonizer. He speaks from the position of a moral witness of people scattered time and time again, because they sought to be free. The history of resistance to domination by the people of Vietnam was endured, felt and embodied through the lived experience of gunfire, blood and sacrifice. Continue reading

Frighteningly Relevant

Will ODay 18 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only real party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of a new violence?
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By Will O’Brien, of Project H.O.M.E. and the Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia

The Scriptural tradition, particularly in the scrolls of the prophets, communicates the deep wisdom that human history is marked by the persistent instinct toward power, particularly in governmental systems rooted in oppression and militarism. The late Walter Wink gave powerful articulation to this Scriptural wisdom: he termed it “the Domination System,” which recurs in sundry forms at different epochs throughout history. Continue reading