Of the Empire

A prose poem of Mary Oliver, passed along to us from movement elder Clancy Dunigan.

We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness

Zionism, Christian Zionism and White Supremacy

By Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, Senior Minister, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Washington, DC

People who are interested in the bible are tempted to read it literally and seek to follow its every word. This has been the conditioning of fundamentalism.  Fundamentalists have taught that every word in the scripture is true and the bible is inerrant. This point of view has permeated believing constituencies and have generally not been challenged as preachers and teachers choose to leave well enough alone; not want to rock the theological boat, or to roil up their followers. 

This means that scriptures are not questioned, and blanks are filled in where there seems to be glaring inconsistencies in the text or where the prophecy is yet unfulfilled. This has resulted in Christians believing that Jews are God’s chosen people, gentiles are grafted into the promise of God, and the land of Israel belongs to the Jews as promised to them by God. Furthermore, it is argued that not only does the land belong to the Jews, but Jews must be repatriated for Jesus to return, and then Jesus will judge the righteous and unrighteous, and Jews must recognize Jesus as the Christ so that the promise of the reign of God can be fulfilled.  In general, this is known as Christian Zionism, and Christian Zionism is a distortion of scripture used for advancing a colonial Zionist state in Palestine.

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Earthy Stories with Heavy Meanings

An excerpt from William Herzog’s Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed (1994).

…the parables were not earthly stories with heavenly meanings but earthy stories with heavy meanings, weighted down by an awareness of the workings of exploitations in the world of their hearers. The focus of the parables was not on a vision of the glory of the reign of God, but on the gory details of how oppression served the interests of a ruling class. Instead of reiterating the promise of God’s intervention in human affairs, they explored how human beings could respond to break the spiral of violence and cycle of poverty created by exploitation and oppression. The parable was a form of social analysis every bit as much as it was a form of theological reflection.

Flags, Guns and Briefcases

By Tommy Airey

For the duration of the Derek Chauvin trial, Lindsay and I posted up just north of Panhe, an Acjachemen burial and ceremonial site in modern-day Southern California at the coastal border of Orange and San Diego counties. The Acjachemen people are not recognized by the federal government—despite archaeological proof that they lived sustainably on that land for more than 9,000 years before European Christians, with their flags and guns, invaded it and stole it and forcibly converted them to the cult of Jesus, the white conquistador.

To add insult to injury, the white Christians raped their women and infected them with their diseases. Panhe was the epicenter of a genocidal cocktail of disease centuries before the novel coronavirus came for a country trying to make itself great again in every colonial way possible. The people of Panhe were victims of a COVID-19 on steroids. As more than 90% of the Indigenous population of Turtle Island were killed off, white Christians spurned social distancing for profit-making.

Panhe is the crucified wound of a people still surviving, but totally unrecognized. In fact, its sacred quality is soaked in the surreal statistic that .0001% of those who call California home drive by Panhe thousands of times and never even know it exists. Some of the ancient Oak and Sycamore trees of Panhe remember a time when white people were not around. They are still standing despite the encroachment of a military base, nuclear power plant, state campground and Trestles, one of the most legendary surf beaches in the world.

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Breathing room

By Ken Sehested

As I pulled out of our driveway, the NPR radio host said that the jury in the Derek Chauvin murder trial had reached a verdict and would be announced shortly. I immediately felt my stomach tighten and swallowed an inhaled “oh no.”

Like most, I thought the evidence against him in the death of George Floyd was irreproachable. But history said otherwise, particularly given the massive loophole provided by the Supreme Court’s ruling granting “limited immunity” to law enforcement, for “breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/the-supreme-courts-message-on-police-misconduct-is-changing/618193/

Each Tuesday I perform taxi service, getting my granddaughter to and from her gymnastics team workout. I was grateful the news didn’t break until after dropping her off. That came as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot on the way home, to pick up an item for dinner.

Entering the store, it seemed I was the only one who knew that a rare moment in US history had been announced. If I were more of an extrovert, I might have shouted out a few exclamation points.

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Part of a Long Line of Prophetic Perishing

An excerpt from Dr. James Perkinson’s 2001 essay “Theology and the City: Learning to Cry, Struggling to See.”

The Christian tradition that underwrites the theology elaborated here offers — as its primary icon of “how” and “where “God is present in the world and “who” God is in the world — an image of a human being hanging on an instrument of state torture, crying out to God, against God (Mark 15:34). That God is not ripped down miraculously from that piece of wood (Mark 15:29-30). That God does not make it into comfy old age. While still alive “in the flesh,” that God did not always have a full belly (Matt. 12:1-4), did not live in the posh quarters of the city (Luke 9:58), was not greeted with acclaim by the movers and shakers of his day (John 7:45-52), did not have a good retirement policy. “He” regularly angered the foundations like the Sanhedrin or the Herodian Temple Corporation that would otherwise have funded his ministry (Mark 3:11-6). He publicly blessed the welfare queens, hookers, day laborers and beggars, and other assorted “rabble” who had been downsized out of legitimate livelihoods (Luke 6:20-23). He publicly cursed the banquet-givers (Luke 6:24-26), and conference-goers, and upright, uptight stalwart citizens, who, as the pillars of their community, continuously expropriated land from the “people” by means of the debt-code in order to reemploy them as tenant farmers on their own lands (Matt. 20:1-16; see Herzog, 1994, 79-97). He loudly and loquaciously denounced the lifestyle supported by such exploitative practices and labeled “abomination” what the elites claimed as “God’s blessing” (Herzog, 1994, 53-73; 2000, 90-108; Myers, 1997, 125). He openly charged the scribal ideologues and their judicial patrons with privately wrestling widows’ last pennies away from them (Mark 12:38-44) even as they were publicly encouraging the sons to give their mothers’ estates away “to God” through the Temple apparatus called “corban” (that, in effect, transferred such endowments from the marginalized elderly to the Temple’s rapacious high-priestly high-livers) (Mark 7:5-13).

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Tax Resistance 101

An excerpt from a recent interview with Howard Waitzkin on his fifty-year history of tax resistance. Waitzkin is a medical doctor, a professor focusing on social medicine, and an activist. He is the author of The Rinky-Dink Revolution.

There are two key things to remember: First there’s nothing illegal about saying to the IRS, “I conscientiously do not believe in paying taxes for war, and I’m not going to do it. Here’s what I earned as income. Here’s what I’m paying as income tax, which is half of my calculated income tax, as required. This money that I am paying as income tax is not for war but rather for the other half of taxes that I hope goes into the good things that are done for people by governments rather than killing people. I’m going to use the half that I’m not paying specifically to help people and communities in need through the alternative funds that are set up by tax resisters.” The IRS may try to disagree with you, but there’s nothing illegal as long as you file your income tax, and are honest about what you earn.

There are rare problems that people get into with the IRS in terms of legal assets being taken away like homes and cars. The last examples that we know of happened more than 20 years ago. But there are people, usually right-wing people, who because of libertarian views, refuse to file their income tax, or cheat on their income tax by giving inaccurate information. Those things can get you into trouble. Although obviously, given the ways that billionaires and big corporations get away with not paying taxes, this happens all the time also.

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Countering Myths

From The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 Years After The Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Racism, Poverty, The War Economy/Militarism and Our National Morality (April 2018).

The Souls of Poor Folk is an assessment of the conditions today and trends of the past 50 years in the United States. In 1967 and 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., alongside a multiracial coalition of grassroots leaders, religious leaders, and other public figures, began organizing with poor and marginalized communities across racial and geographic divides. Together, they aimed to confront the underlying structures that perpetuated misery in their midst. The move towards a Poor People’s Campaign was a challenge to the national morality: it was a movement to expose the injustice of the economic, political, and social systems in the U.S. during their time.


50 years later, The Souls of Poor Folk challenges us to take a look at how these conditions have changed since 1968. The stark findings draw from a wide variety of sources, including primary and secondary data as well as interviews with and testimonies by people who have been living through and responding to these changes on the ground. Their words offer deep insight for understanding these conditions and why these leaders feel compelled to call for a Poor People’s Campaign today.

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Conjuring Freedom

From Johari Jabir’s Conjuring Freedom: Music and Masculinity in the Civil War’s “Gospel Army” (2017).

Conjure is the black cultural practice of summoning spiritual power as an intentional means of transforming reality and involves a belief in an invisible magical power that can be used for healing and/or harm…

…For soldiers in black regiments during the Civil War, freedom was not simply found, it had to be forged. They found themselves forced to conjure freedom out of the materials made available to them as soldiers who had been slaves but were not yet citizens. In much the same way that the coping religion of the slaveocracy became transformed into the enabling religion of the slaves, the forms of soldiering and citizenship made available to former slaves that were designed to assimilate them into a masculinist hierarchical, exploitative, and racist society became something else in practice. These tools of domination became conjured into new forms of masculinity, solidarity, and social membership that promoted democratic and egalitarian change in society at large. Just as conjurers healed the slave body with a mixture of efficacious materials, newly free Africans in America attempted to heal the body politic and cure society’s ills through a tradition of organized protest with musical accompaniment that expressed alternate social visions of democracy.

An Eternal Quality

By Matthew Wheelock

At the beginning of March of 2020, just before the nation and the world began shutting down due to the pandemic, I was able to realize a long held desire to visit the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY. My wife and I had planned to visit the Abbey one afternoon and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University the next day. While our visits to each were brief, they made a lasting impression and especially informed the direction I saw myself going with creative projects. 

My spiritual and creative journeys seem to have been closely intertwined throughout my life. I had gone from chanting with the devotees of the Hare Krishna movement as a teenager to sitting silently with the Quakers, as well as entering into the deep quiet of the Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox church. I grew attached to certain images and themes in all of these paths: the two headed clay drum called a mridanga, used in the Krishna Bhatki tradition; the rhythms of the liturgical calendar, prayer ropes and the veneration of icons in the Orthodox church; from Quaker spirituality and later Centering Prayer, a love of silence in many forms. I began experimenting with drawing and touching on some of these themes, especially ideas of rhythm and repetition, back in 2015. Using a kind of spontaneous process, I connected lines on the page. Patterns emerged, but also nods to experience. More recently, I’ve committed to a series of ‘prayer rope’ drawings. While these pieces do have a visual beginning and end, I’ve also understood them to have an eternal quality. Seeing that kind of changed everything about how and what I do as an artist.

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