The Two Spies Report

The "Minority Report" from J. Michael Bennett, Ph.D, Emeritus Producer of the Future Quake Radio Show, and Author of the soon-to-be-released book series The Holy War Chronicles – A Spiritual View of the War on Terror

A Response To An Objection To My Recent Immigrants Post

Friends,

One of my old dear friends from my Future Quake days protested and disputed my positions expressed in my post on the recent immigrant caravan affair, and our American Christian attitudes in general on the subject.  She countered that a “gang kid” tried to break in to her house in California months ago after running from the police to evade them, and was eventually thrown in jail, referring to him as one of the “lost boys”, and connected the incident to the types of people in the caravan.  She referred to the caravan as a “Soros tactic”.  Earlier she had posted publicly in the comments section after the post that “You have gone off the deep end.  I can’t take you seriously anymore.  This is a paid for, well thought out plan of invasion”.  Since we had gone back so many years, and had weathered so many difficult spiritual issues together in debate, while praying for and encouraging each other, it was a particularly bitter rebuke to endure, much like I have experienced from some of my closest friends and family recently.

Since we have been dear Christian brothers and sisters to each other for a long time, I felt warranted to further clarify my views in a reply email, in an attempt to again acknowledge the realities of needing orderly and responsible immigration policies, while recognizing the glimpse of spiritual insights it provides into our own souls in terms of the spirit by which we address the issue.  My response is repeated below, with the intention of helping clarify my overall views to the greater readership, as inspired by the concerns expressed by her that may be at fault in part to my limited elaboration in my earlier post.  In response to this, she reiterated her strong support for President Trump and his policies, but in the interest of better understanding, I include my earlier emailed clarification as follows:

“Thank you for sharing more, sister – we go a way back and have been through a lot of sorting out together, and we deserve to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and understanding.  I also know that for a number of years I have been going through a transition in my thinking and pondering, and asking questions that make many (but not all) of my friends uncomfortable, and am often misunderstood as I begin a long-overdue process of critiquing the sacred conservative principles I have been spending my life following without question.  I know that at times my pendulum can swing too far the other way when I am trying to address some former strong holds in my life, and as I focus my limited time on perspectives that I feel aren’t taken seriously in my evangelical circles, I am afraid some people think that I do not think that it is only a missing perspective that needs to be added into consideration with other issues and positions we have already beat to death in our Christian circles.  Hence, the blog name “The Two Spies Report”.  I think it is healthy for Christians to intensely self-critique our views as citizens of the heavenly kingdom, and less so those of outsiders to it.  I am as committed as ever to seeking Christ and His positions as my “cornerstone” to square my positions on these difficult issues, and for me its as much a “hit or miss” art as a science.  My tone may come as extreme at times, but social media and talk radio have made Christian people dull to all but people yelling in their ear, and I make no apology for trying to shake people up and jarring them with uncomfortable perspectives (although I try to back it up with data and the Bible as I can), because when we are unsettled and borderline offended, is when we might grow, even if we don’t adopt all the views of those God uses as such, based on my experience.

I am so sorry for your recent experience, and I know the issue of perceiving crime as being an immigrant issue predominantly is even easier to occur from your neck of the woods (around here, race is also a common scapegoat).  Regarding immigration, I have no problem with thorough vetting of applicants, and an orderly processing process and one that screens out known criminals – neither have I met anyone else (including most liberals I know) who have problems with that as well.  What I and many people have problems with is the reckless manner, tone and technique of demonizing all immigrants as “rapists and murderers”, and tying them all to MS-13, and publicly and persistently painting a picture of all of them as criminals and “invaders”.  Any time you take a population pool large enough, particularly with a large element of poverty (which most immigrants have always come from), there inevitably be some component of desperate young people or those raised with no dads and from criminal neighborhoods where they are from for which that is all they know.  Most of these crowds of people are pitiful, as just as Republican governor and presidential candidate John Kasich said the other day, we should thank Jesus we are each not in their shoes, and as he says, it could just as easily be one of us in their position, and the Golden Rule is still applicable.  Strict immigration screening and a merciful and compassionate public positions and process are not mutually exclusive. If a ridiculously-expensive piece of masonry along the border could magically eliminate unapproved infiltration of our country it would be one thing, but world history has shown that walls never really work, and are naive; rather, this is a typical Trump “P.T. Barnum” simplistic medicine show sales pitches that is simplistic enough for the masses to make into a bumper sticker, like “Build that wall” and “Mexico will pay for it” (which Trump has since said he knew they would never do), or “lock her up!”.

The problems you just experienced, and elsewhere across the country, are much more complex and difficult than solved by a simple wall. It involves the breakdown of the nuclear family, poverty and crumbling communities, and the resultant breakdown in the nurturing of youth by male role models and community churches. Are our church communities doing enough, or are they mainly focused on “urgent” issues like gay marriage?  This is not just an immigrant phenomenon – there are the same types of crime and behaviors amongst our native-born population as well.  It is shown by the real crisis of abuse of reality-altering chemicals, including opioids and other prescription drugs, alcohol abuse, and suicide, which are three items that have now for the first time reduced the lifespan of 18-54 year old Americans. I feel that these things fuel crime and breakdown of communities, as well as the rampant undiagnosed mental health problems (which obviously also has a major spiritual component, and maybe even diet), and I surmise that these are at least partially the major “elephants in the room” of which the immigrant crisis is more of a symptom. As I said in the blog, the immigrant crisis also almost forces us to become “globalists” in my view, and try to intervene in a transparent fashion to raise the well being, stability and economic hopes of nations globally, even if it impacts our own standard of living, unless we just want to mow down untold numbers of desperate immigrants at our borders for generations, and as a Christian I cannot accept that as an option.

I hope that makes my view clearer, and I want to acknowledge that I know your experience “on the battlefield” versus my theoretical musings need to be considered, but we must come up with solutions together that do not violate the Golden Rule and are forward-thinking and with a holistic and long-term focus, and not just emotionally fed by demagogues, who really don’t care about the long-term problems anyway, and only seek to capitalize on our instinctive fears and weaknesses for their own benefit.

Love you sister!”

 

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A Little Something to Inspire You to Resist the “Migrant Menace” Like a Good Christian

ThisIsTheArmy

On November 1 The Washington Post reported that by that time the exodus of Honduran and other refugees fleeing deadly civil war had comprised around 4,000 persons, of which a large portion are women and children; it is not known how many of these hungry people without shelter, food or medicine will make it all the way to the U.S. border.  Also, the Mexican government, far below the U.S. in wealth and standard of living, graciously offered asylum and jobs for many of them – maybe Mexico has a better claim to being a “Christian nation” than our own.  They also note that the assembly of the poor and largely affirmed would have to march non-stop, without sleep or rest, to make the remaining 870 mile journey in ten days.

Nevertheless, President Trump is rushing to send U.S. military forces to confront them (intentionally to publicly position them as a PR stunt before the Tuesday mid-term elections), whether it violates the fundamental Constitutional prohibition known as Posse Comitatus or not, and disregarding the preferred suitability of the National Guard, if not the Border Patrol.  They also report that late at night on Oct. 31 Trump told reporters that he may send as many as 15,000 U.S. Troops – each an “Army of One” and the most sophisticated, capable and deadly military force in the world.  The article as well as other sources note that the number of these troops would be roughly equal to the number of U.S. troops now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan – combined – the places we were told were the center of the War on Terror and threatened our very way of life.  In those places, we were previously told that overwhelming numbers of troops would guarantee a “quick and decisive victory”, leading President Bush to quickly declare “Mission Accomplished”; after almost two decades of heavy troop deployments and untold repeated tours by our soldiers – after seventeen years in Afghanistan and 14 years in Iraq, as of 2018 – we are still struggling to maintain some semblance of control, and regularly stamping out new insurgence movements like ISIS or the Taliban.  How much worse would it be if our “Christian nation” were not an overtly militant one in its identity, rivaled only historically by ancient Sparta.  According to the budget-hawk Peter G. Peterson Foundation, our current annual military budget is greater than that of the seven next biggest global military budgets combined, including those of China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom.  Meanwhile, wealthy industrialized Western nations like the Netherlands spend a relatively imperceptible part of their wealth on defense, yet they remain relatively peaceful and unmolested.

On November 1, it was reported that President Trump gave a speech in the White House directing the deployed soldiers as Commander-in-Chief that if “they [the children and other refugees] want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back”, and that if do throw rocks, “I say consider it a rifle”, and thus a justification of deadly force – not only a policy that Prime Minister of Netanyahu approves for addressing stone-throwing children in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, but also reminiscent of the American policy towards Indian refugees at Wounded Knee.  Like some other American and other leaders before him, Trump would love for such a confrontation to be triggered (much as what started the Mexican War previously), and it would be a political goldmine to energize his evangelical and white-supremacist base at the polls.

An unarmed group of largely sickly children and women, desperate and cornered, would obviously be no match for the deadliest and best armed and trained military in the world, as a show of “proportionate force” (at least “proportionate” in terms of Trump’s true agenda).  And, judging by his statements regarding the “rapist and murders” comprising these souls escaping civil war both recently and since he first began his campaign, his agenda indeed is to teach these immigrant refugees and the watching world a “lesson about America, and who we are and what we are about” – and sadly, it will indeed do that very thing.

It’s not that Trump is totally against immigrants, any more than we was against using illegals for the Trump Organization, or in his lucrative low-income housing.  He revealed his “benevolence”, “America-first” style, in the RAISE Act he endorsed (and which was designed with the assistance of Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon), and was submitted as a Senate bill in 2017.  It creates a merit-based requirement for immigrants to enter the U.S., based upon a points system that requires earning 30 “points” to even justify submitting an application for submission.  I have heard many thoughtful and reasonable souls who have been willing to consider a “wall” or some equivalent, in order to facilitate an orderly and controlled processing of immigrants, if it is paired with a generous provision of substantial processing and acceptance of a large pool of lawful immigrants, which is actually needed to support our economy – particularly at this time with low unemployment and the need for a low-cost workforce.  However, the RAISE Act would reduce number of green cards by 50 percent, and refugee allowances of those persecuted down to 50,000.  It would also reduce the ability for family members to join those already immigrated – at least consistent with Trump’s policy to rip children from their mothers at the border.  Ironically, NBC News reported that  the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania – the very school who taught Trump his business acumen, and the degree for which he is most proud – announced that the enactment of RAISE would cost 4.6 million jobs and lower national GDP through 2040.                 

The “VISA GUIDE” website, known as the “Worldwide Visa Travel Guide”, provides an online primer of the point system provisions of RAISE, which certainly reflects the values of personal worth of Donald Trump.  It notes that the points-based visas will now be limited to 140,000.  You are not allowed to get points if you are 17 or younger, or older than 50, with high points given to twenty-somethings.  High points are given for those possessing doctorates, with only one point of the 30 given if you only have a high school degree.  High points are also given for a demonstrated high proficiency in English in the tests (probably tests many Americans would flunk).  Most interestingly, a “Nobel Laureate or comparable recognition in a field of scientific or social scientific study” would automatically get 25 of the 30 points needed, while those with an “Olympic medal or 1st place in an international sporting even in which the majority of the best athletes in an Olympic sport were represented in past 8 years before submitting the application” would get 15 points.  13 points are available for an applying immigrant who has been offered a lucrative job that is 300 percent of the median household income in the U.S., and 200 percent of median household income jobs would get 8 points – thus keeping natural U.S. citizens from those high-paying jobs, but leaving more menial jobs for native-born Americans than currently.  You can also buy your way here to be a “good American”; if you are “Investing the equivalent of $1,800,000 in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S and maintain such investment for at least 3 years”, you get 12 points, while if you are “Investing the equivalent of $1,350,000 in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S and maintain such investment for at least 3 years”, you get 6.   They add that “If you have less than 30, then you should not apply because your application will not be reviewed”, and to apply, you must provide a “Birth certificate or a government-issued document for your age”, “Diplomas and degrees for your education”, “Official test scores for English proficiency”, “Extraordinary achievement proof if applicable”, “Official job offer letter with compensation”, and “Documents which prove you will start a commercial enterprise in the U.S and the investment”, as well as “a $160 application fee for processing”.

I doubt that many of the refugees fleeing terror in the Honduran civil war brought all these documents with them.  Regardless, I guess they would not likely qualify anyway.  Neither would almost all of our ancestors that first came to these shores, as well as most of those who came through Ellis Island and past the Statue of Liberty, or even Plymouth Rock or Jamestown, with many fleeing persecution or deprivation with no more than the shirt on their backs, but while even not knowing our language, they built the strong and advanced nation that we now live in.  However, scapegoating immigrants for any current problems in our nation at any time has long been an election winner in America, and with the evangelicals of 2018, it will be no different.

In conclusion, I offer the following clip of the concluding musical number from the inspirational, war-selling 1943 Hollywood movie “This is the Army”, entertaining the audience with soldier-entertainers with their bayonets extended forward in a Mayday-like march, declaring they are “dressed up in win!” to “finish the job” that they didn’t do in the previous war, “so we’ll never have to do it again”.  Of course they said the same thing in the “War to End All Wars” in 1917, which led to the even-deadlier World War II and atomic devastation and “total war” on civilian populations, which just led to the Cold War, and with the Afghanistan phase leading to the War on Terror.  Will this deployment of intimidating force against these feeble refugees, as fellow North Americans on our own continent, have any different result?  Will our long-standing militant policy of “the beatings will continue until morale improves” actually lead to immigrants not seeking safety within our shores, or revenge when we turn them back to likely death, as we refuse to share our blessings?  Will we ever learn that unless we are our “brother’s keeper” and try to help them where they live, we will only alternatively have to cut them down them in waves by our machine guns, and what happens when we run out of bullets, or they counter with comparable weapons in more desperate fashion?  Will they at least still believe we are a “Christian nation”?

“This Time” – “This is the Army” 1943 (click on Youtube link here)  

ArmyEagle

 

 

 

The State of the American Christian Union, Part 2 – Hannity and Fox News: Rat Poison for Christians

rat poison

In this part we will indulge in some statistics, and reflect on the significance of the affect of conservative media on the public positions of evangelical Christians, as evidenced by their tangible actions at the ballot box.

First of all, according to those who keep track, the U.S. population currently in 2018 stands at around 327.5 million.  According to exit polling of Edison Research of the 2016 Presidential election, 128,838,342 Americans voted, of which 26% were “white evangelical or born again” Christians, comprising 33,497,969 people.  Of those, 81 percent of those evangelical Christians voted for Trump, or 27,133,355 people.  Remember the scale of this number.  According to the prestigious Pew Research Center, 25.4 percent of Americans are “evangelical Christians”, which shows that evangelicals vote in same proportion as the total U.S. population, and which would make the full evangelical population total 83.2 million.  It also shows that roughly a third (32.6 percent) of all identified evangelicals vote, which would exclude the young, many of the very old, those unable to get to the polls, and the many who are too lazy or self-absorbed to bother to go.  Not only does this third of the evangelical population represent its most engaged and activist portion, which presumably listens to some news somewhere to motivate itself enough to get to the polls, but as representing an overwhelming segment that very publicly embraced Donald Trump and his values, it also presents to the outside world of skeptical unbelievers what evangelicalism is all about, on behalf of the other 74 percent of evangelicals who did not vote for him, and thus impacts all of their abilities in evangelizing and outreach.  These evangelical Trump voters also represent 21 percent of the total voting electorate, and almost 46 percent of all Trump voters, whereas only 35 percent of non-evangelicals voted for Trump; in other words, everyone recognizes that Trump is our president because of the evangelicals, as “their” candidate.

Let’s look now at the numbers of people who listen to a few conservative media outlets, which we can assume produce virtually all of the Trump votes.  First of all, a July 2018 report in Forbes of Sean Hannity’s nightly Fox News TV show reported that he was hosting almost 3.4 million viewers nightly at the time.  The August 2018 data from Talkers Magazine shows that Sean Hannity receives 13.5 million weekly unique radio listeners, Rush Limbaugh 14 million, Michael Savage 11 million,  Glenn Beck 10.5 million, Mark Levin 10 million, Laura Ingraham 8 million, and Mike Gallagher 7 million.  This data does not include the 30 million subscribers to Sirius XM, many of which listen to talk radio.  Since sometimes these shows overlap in their time periods, are on one or no radio stations in many markets, and listeners can only hear one show at a time in their limited in-car time, it is likely that the listener overlap between these individuals is very limited, meaning that many tens of millions of conservative listeners listen to these heavily-opinionated (and many extreme) worldview formers as a “captive audience” every day in their cars, with their focused attention during their 30 to 60 minute drive times each day, as well as being on the radio at work, or shuttling kids.  Those interested in such talk would primarily be those with enough interest to go out and vote – easily covering the 62 or so million Trump voters, and the 27 million evangelicals in his camp.  I routinely hear the “talking points” and terms originating from many of these shows, either sent by communications officials from the administration or ginned up themselves (sometimes forwarded back to presidential communications officials, and in Trump’s case, when he watches them in the mornings), coming verbatim from my friends, such as the “Democratic mob” memes trotted out not long ago.

In contrast as a competing source of ideological influence, that of our pulpits (local churches, not the televangelists and other Christian media), Pew Research reports that 58% of all evangelicals (48.2 million) attend some church event at least once a week in 2014 (but is quickly declining annually), which may or may not include a sermon, and if so may be a single 30 minute or less variety, in one week (I still seem to view this as a large overestimate, based upon what I have observed in our church pews, otherwise our churches would be bursting at the seams, rather than featuring a lot of empty seats, and people who attend “when they feel led to”; other reports like those by Outreach Magazine suggest those numbers are grossly over-reported, and are actually much less).  In any case, I wonder how many of those people are listening carefully in the pews, based upon their public behavior and voting, and I doubt that (with some exception) that parishioners are being exposed to as extreme and concentrated a direct political messaging operation as they get with corporate-paid talk radio.

The punchline of this data is that American Christians are getting 14 or more intense political “sermons” of extended length each week, with motives coming from unknown people with unknown agendas paying for them, except that we know they do not comprise the non-profit, unselfish views of a Bible and Christ that is not selling anything, and is promoting sacrifice, putting others before oneself, turning the other cheek, and the pursuit of reconciliation and a future kingdom driven by love, mercy and forgiveness – all items that just would not “sell” on radio or TV, and certainly not get good ratings.  With this ratio of messaging and high-dollar public relations behind it, the poor pastor and his measly half-hour weekly sermon has no chance to offset the psychological conditioning of conservative talk radio during the week, which has become the real “church” of most conservative Christians, and where they form their real world views, as dictated by advertisers and corporate sponsors.  This is a problem that I have not seen identified anywhere that I have observed, and I think that pastors and Christian leaders (those not totally “in the can” with these hard right media outlets) need to acknowledge that they have a formidable rival for the hearts and minds of active Christians, as opposed to the “godless universities”, movies and “the devil weed”.  This does not even consider the formidable influence of online political news, with The Drudge Report reporting 33 million reads daily and about one billion a month, Youtube (with five billion videos watched each day), Facebook (1.4 billion active users), Yahoo News (175 million uniquely monthly visitors), Google News (150 million), Huffington Post (110 million) – as a juggernaut which will envelop these other media, as people in younger middle age and younger rely almost exclusively on online and social media, and can listen to it 24/7.  The age of people coming to hear an oration and speaker has ended a generation ago; people now prefer the “intimacy” of a recorded voice speaking close to their ear, sometimes while they are controlling their low attention span by doing another task, and receiving much of the message thus subliminally.  

An example case in point is what you will hear conservative Christians believe about Hillary Clinton.  While I am certainly no fan of hers, rather seeing her as a Washington insider (although she paid her dues as a legal activist), I am shocked to see the degree to which normally loving Christian people I know truly despise her, but when I ask for details of specific things she has done that warrant such feelings, they are hard pressed to give specifics, rather than just “impressions”, from unknown sources.  They truly would deal with any “devil” to oppose her, as the last election testifies.  In fact, I have seen repeatedly that there was no criteria or “line drawn” where they would hesitate to support a person, if they opposed Hillary and could beat her, with their votes being merely an “anti-Hillary” vote.  When I ask which specific policies of hers that she has promised to pursue that they oppose, they are also hard pressed to give specifics.  One thing many of them seem to know: that she is a bona-fide witch who operates a pedophile ring under a Washington pizza parlor – albeit without any tangible evidence to confirm such a far-fetched yarn.  These are some of the same people – many of whom I previously thought were pretty wise – who take seriously the mythical “Q Anon” legend, much like Paul Bunyan, and fashion him into whatever Guy Fawkes-type resister they want him to be (or what influential online fearmongers suggest), while pleading ignorance that similar secretive “whistle blowers” like Guccifer 2.0 were outed as Russian operatives, and not who they suggested they were, some time ago, trying to sow general discord within the gullible American public.  My dear, normally-wise and loving Christian friends cannot seem to realize that they have been conditioned to have these irrational thoughts without vetting – which all of us online are vulnerable to – and subject to “psy ops” via the mass media in conservative talk radio.  Its similar to how the same conservative media has demonized the term “liberal” to mean the vilest of all (although the Bible says that God gives to men liberally (James 1:9), and the King James Version of those described as “liberals” (such as Isaiah 32:8) are alternatively translated at “generous” or “noble”), as well as “socialist” being another term just below “devil worshipper”, although many of our Christian brethren in Europe happily live in socialist countries, and have no desire to leave.

This phenomena of conservative media on the public, and Christian community, is certainly nothing new, and was built on earlier foundations, although it has certainly “amped up” in the last quarter century.  You could say that some of its early origins were amongst the Sanhedrin, whose high priest Caiaphas was concerned that ” If we let him [Jesus] thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” – a true priority of a conservative, to conserve the public order and status quo of power and class (John 11:48), and who made false accusations of Jesus for violating conservative “traditions” (with Jesus in turn asking them ”  Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (Matt. 15:3) – which would make him not a good, tradition-loving conservative), and who used their early mass media to give “fake news” about Jesus not only in the courtroom , but among the crowds, to make him an anti-tradition, anti-conservative who needed to be stopped.  Conservative use of the public was also common among the Romans and Greeks – where the term demagogue originated – always finding a scapegoat outsider to blame for their mismanagement and woes, or even false-flag attacks, such as the Christians blamed (as a feared minority religion, having had many lies told about them) for the fires in Nero’s Rome.  Conservative Christian leaders were used to colluding with power structures, such as Constantine in Rome, to then anathematize many of their brethren having slightly different views of disputable and mysterious theological issues, and thus eliminate rival priests and help Constantine galvanize power and use Christianity to cement and stabilize the empire and control.  They worked within the Catholic church to humble independent kings (and Popes themselves by the cardinals), and provoke the masses to crusades not only against Muslims, but even rival Christian sects.  Conservative Lutherans and Calvinists soon got in the act, while those deemed liberal, like the Quakers, were seen as pacifists and non-violent, and the object of their scorn.  Conservative, unyielding and uncompromising Christians of all stripes in Europe kept the continent in flames in religious wars, with the less fundamentalist folk caught in the crossfire.  Some Christian groups were persecuted by their fellow conservatives, like the Puritans by the Anglicans, to which they fled to the New World to do some fundamentalist persecution of their own, against Baptists and Quakers.  Conservatives justified the institution of slavery, while the liberal denominations fought it.  The Protestant sects participated in a wave of anti-Catholic, anti-Mason and anti-immigrant persecution over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while at the same time the liberal Christian groups began to address poverty and social injustice.

However, conservative media and influence came into its own in the Twentieth Century, with the development of mass media, in addition to print.  Some of the early stars, like Father Coughlin, had audiences in the millions, and focused on pro-fascist and anti-semitic positions.  Others continued in the anti-Catholic tradition.  Many took up the anti-Communist cause, and some transitioned into anti-education, anti-science, or anti-socialism.  Do you detect a trend here?  We should not forget the Klan, who by the 1920s had already compiled the basic modern conservative Christian agenda of prayer in schools, the Ten Commandments in the court room, mandatory church attendance, and the promotion of “Christian soldiers”, as fifteen percent of all men in the U.S. were members of the Klan by 1925.  One thing they did take a positive position on was money – free enterprise and capitalism, and big business, and sacredized it – leading to today’s Christian emphasis on these principles (with them being in the statements of purpose at Liberty University), helping big business in overseas missionary ventures, like Dole in Hawaii and United Fruit Company in Central America, and setting the stage for the “name it and claim it”, “prosperity gospel” and televangelists in the latter part of the century.  Alternatively, they took a hard line against Roosevelt’s “Great Society” welfare and jobs assistance for those suffering during the Great Depression, and “welfare cheats” and “deadbeats” ever since.

There ultimately became various strains of conservatism, soon after it popped up in history.  One strain stood behind tradition – in power structures and the divine right of kings, and would be known as monarchists or royalists later, and protected the widespread power of the king, and the wealthy noblemen and aristocrats supporting them, and despised democracy.  Another strain soon supported tradition in religion, and its existing power structures – not only in Rome, but also in Canterbury or Constantinople, and opposed any independent expression, or resources not centralized under the hierarchy, or attempts to fill the populace with “dangerous ideas”, such as from the Bible, which would have been seen as quite liberal and progressive, and certainly not ‘traditional”.  Another strain would be the military, comprising military members who wanted a strong military not answerable to anyone, and an adventurous foreign policy.  Yet another would be “money class”, comprising bankers and big business, based upon the earlier Knights Templar and Rothchilds templates, and typified in the City of London and later Wall Street, and arguably the most powerful segment of conservatism, with its wealth buying and controlling its rival segments, and with an argument that it strongly influences the CIA, and Goldman Sachs and hedge fund managers now the most important elements.  Beyond these, we have the “fringe” elements, which can be influential at times, and often comprise hybrids of these established groups, like the John Birch Society, founded in 1958 as an anti-Communism movement often seen as a conspiracy-theory group that distrusts all global entanglements, and now sees a secret Illuminati cartel or cabal even above that of International Communism.  In contrast, the banker conservatives tend to be internationalists (for there is money to be made and controlled), and mainstream conservatives like Eisenhower would be viewed as potential Communist collaborators.  The Religious Right is another “fringe” group that is not so fringe in size, and is essential for conservative political victories, but usually ends up on the short end of the stick when getting payouts for their hard work keeping the rank and file to the polls (for example, for 28 or more years of Republican power since Roe V. Wade, they did not do much to curb abortions at all, as is always promised, although to be fair the Religious Right groups did not originally oppose abortions, including the Southern Baptists, until the Religious Right groups first formed to stop Christian school integration, and adopted the anti-abortion platform more into the 1980s.  William F. Buckley was the standard bearer of the “blue blood”, aristocratic Ivy League conservatives, with his Firing Line show (on public television, no less) being the main conservative mass media forum from 1966 until 1988, and the rise of Rush Limbaugh.   Rush took his conservative “with an attitude” radio show national in 1988, as Bush 43 was getting ready to be elected, and virtually invented talk radio as a force of societal change, and still going strong thirty years later, with no liberal rival.  Sean Hannity then became a similar force, beginning in national talk radio and the first conservative cable news network, Fox News, in 1996, in the middle of the Clinton Administration.  Around that same time, Matt Drudge began to perform the same revolution on the Internet, initially seeming more even handed in his criticism, but as he aged became more sympathetic to right-leaning positions, as well as his spinoff from Andrew Breitbart, and hard-right conspiracy trouble-maker Alex Jones.  So one can see, there is a long legacy of conservative conditioning of the public, for which the evangelical community appears most vulnerable and gullible.

As seen at the top of this blog post, I believe that outlets such as Fox News (with their veritable “HeeHaw Honeys”, with their short skirts and low cut blouses that only feature attractive, mostly young women, talking about “family values” (and which makes no surprise that the organization was rife with infidelity and sexual harassment)), Sean Hannity and their ilk, talking about despising immigrants, encouraging war and intimidation, justifying torture and secret detainment with out trial (or secret trials without defendant rights), supporting the cause of the powerful institutions (like the police) always over a populace that might have been wronged, suspicions of those of different faiths, love of money and the powerful, and veneration of big business as the saviors of society while denigrating public servants if not in the military, all with a big dose of swagger and bullying, is in effect a “rat poison” that kills the conscience, morality, character, circumspectness, mercy, humility and love for others that is essential for well-functioning Christians, and has done more to handicap the Christian cause and reputation in America than any Communist or liberal professor could ever do.   It took a long time to purge that “poison” out of my system, and I encourage all readers to take a Fox News and talk radio “break” for an extended time, instead reading the words of our Lord, and see if you don’t start having the same second-thoughts that I did – if our consciences aren’t already seared. 

In the last segment of this series, we will briefly summarize how this historical trend, leading to the Trump revolution, will influence evangelicals in the generation ahead and behind, how they are perceived, and their mission to evangelize the lost.

 

 

The State of the American Christian Union, Part 1 -Kingdom Confusion

Mike voting

Me early voting – sporting my older brother’s 1968-era patriotic sweatshirt I traditionally wear on voting days (sorry I missed the 68 Democratic Convention – what a rumble!)

 

Yesterday I went for the early voting day for the mid-term elections in my community, held inside a local church.  I expected a sparse crowd in early afternoon, when us deadbeats are available (when we’re not watching Springer).  I have to say however, that the old folks were out in force and filled the place, with a grim look of determination in their eyes (even if they did move slow and could not hear when their name was called).  I can only imagine what they thought when they saw a non-white, female Democratic state representative candidate Hana Ali campaigning outside – I am sure they thought “Muslim Brotherhood”…(it appeared that I was the only one who actually went and talked to her, and found out that she was a long-time local physician (dunno if she was Muslim, Hindu, secular or another faith) who was sacrificing her lucrative practice to advocate for free health care for returning military veterans, as her central “diabolical” campaign agenda).  I asked an older man behind me in line what his generic thoughts were about things going on in our country today, and he ominously whispered to me, “It’s best that I not speak about any of that”.

Given that I was standing in the heart of my “Red Hat” state of Tennessee, I’m pretty sure what was on the mind of himself and the sea of his senior cohorts there, and given the events of the last two years, where a now-sitting president can previously tell a rally crowd beating up a protestor, “Hit him for me – I’ll pay your legal bills!” – and the Christian crowd loves it! – I think everyone can agree with me that things are getting really serious.  As I stood in line reflecting on recent events and what was going on in my “hood” on my watch, I kept wondering how we got to where we are today; where a Falwell head of a major Christian university (Liberty) can stand in front of a Playboy cover of Trump as he takes a picture with him, asking him to speak at his Christian university (where Trump declared God would want us to get even with our enemies, but did cite “Two Corinthians” and held up his grandmother’s Bible), only mentioning his envy of Trump’s jumbo jet, and with audio of Trump admitting he molested married women sexually because he was famous and powerful, and lied repeatedly about paying off a Playmate and a porn star for affairs as his wife had a newborn at home (as later became proven), and the Christian crowd does nothing but defend him, because he serves their agenda.

I see that this is not a revelation about Trump himself; to his credit, he has always been an a_s.   But it does expose a whole lot about the real nature of the “Moral Majority” crowd I grew up respecting, and a majority of the folks in the pews.  Trying to understand their priorities when they enter the voting booth, I have to wonder if they really understand what kingdom they are a citizen of.  Do they listen when their preachers preach from the Gospels?  Do they really take Jesus seriously in the things He taught?

I have been told by certain readers on this blog (mostly just one) and even family members and old friends that for even asking these questions, I have become the one thing more diabolical than a devil-worshipper – a liberal.  I was accused on a Mother’s Day visit with my family this year that I “loved Muslims and the poor”, as a serious vice (I only wish it were more true!).  A recent visit with old Christian friends informed me of an additional shortcoming of mine that I did not recognize – in that all “the poor” and those of non-white ethnicities were all lazy and taking advantage of us working whites, mocking us and taking away our jobs and promotions.  To my knowledge, I have never extolled the virtues of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi or even the Democratic Party, but all my talk of “the poor”, “refugees” and being kind to the “stranger”, and even being so bold as to cite the “Golden Rule”, has earned me a status as an “outsider” of dubious motives, progressing from being a “golden boy” in my evangelical circles to (with the exception of a very small circle of friends) being a pariah.  It’s just like when a fundamentalist church once shunned me (even as a young member whom they could previously count on to serve faithfully there) when I read Colossians 2 verbatim in their singles group (as I was asked to do) which talked of the “false form of humility” resulting from artificial dress or food restrictions, or another fundamentalist church because I defended the Christian state of charismatics (of whom I am not one).

I still see a lot of confusion in Christian circles as to what kingdom we really belong to, what is its agenda and our duties in it, and how it affects how we respond as American citizens.  I will just cite a few verse and thoughts, of which much more can be said on it from the Bible, which rightfully deserves and entire book or more – of which I will oblige, in time.  I admit that it does get a little more confusing today because (a) we live in a Christian era when God has prescribed a kingdom for us that is not the one in which we physically exist, (b) we live in a unique age as a select set of Christians that have a participatory role in the selection of our leaders, and their resultant decisions (and responsibility for them), and (c) we do not live in a theocracy (by design), and must recognize that secular government has a legitimate agenda that is NOT identical with the Kingdom of Heaven, but through which we should non-coercively provide “salt” and light”, and “love our brothers”.  However, if a Christian today will set down with their Bible for an evening or two and focus on this topic, they could quickly be a lot more informed and achieve some clarity on the subject.  Since we live in the Information Age with a relatively high degree of literacy, there is really no excuse for such darkness of ignorance, other than that the state of being informed on a Biblical opinion on the topic is not a priority for average Christians, and what little time they dedicate to it comprising the accepting of the directives of strangers, such as evangelical leaders in the media, or the unbelievers they listen to on talk radio and cable news.

Even with what little Abraham knew about God, and having been given an earthly inheritance of land with fixed physical demarcations and the respect of his neighbors in the land, he still recognized that he was a pilgrim and nomad in that very same land, and actually looked for

“a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker [is] God. ..and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.   But now they desire a better [country], that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city…Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” [Heb 11:10, 13-14, 16, 12:28 KJV]

Thereafter Joshua, leading a nation that understood itself to be a sole earthly expression of God’s nature, agenda and presence, fell for the “tribalism” view common in Christian circles today, in that a follower of God is either with their movement and circle, or otherwise an “enemy of God”; in our circles today, it would be in the Republican party, with the “heathen” in the alternative Democratic Party.  However, God never felt the need to carry the same “buckets” of our preferred tribes, be they political parties, ideologies (left or right, capitalist, communist or socialist), nation-states, or any other affiliation; in turn, as a “jealous” God, He is not too thrilled when we carry any other identification in our own “buckets” except Jesus, as the “cornerstone” in which whose teachings all other ideologies have to be measured against (given that they may be suited for a secular kingdom without the same agendas as the Kingdom of Heaven), and certainly not when we compromise our most core Christian values from the Kingdom of Heaven taught by Jesus to accommodate and justify such affiliations.  In practice, those ideologies who have a veneer of overt “righteousness” are actually the most seductive and dangerous.  Here’s what happened when Joshua and the Hebrews confronted another of God’s men:

“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”  Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” [Jos 5:13-14 NIV]

Joshua wisely recovers from this incident, re-orienting himself to humbly ask what direction God now has for him, rather than directing this other servant of God to get in line with his movement.  You might ask me if I have difficulty in realizing that God is not obligated to get behind my own “spiritual” direction or ideas at any time, and my answer is yes, I do have a difficulty with that, and it is perpetually humbling to me to realize it; we should continuously be measuring our directions against that of the “Cornerstone” before we get too far down any road.

Daniel served in a pagan kingdom and government, and did not curse them, but humbly and gently tried to help the spiritual condition of his pagan leaders and their people, even when threatened with harm.  His denouncements of sin were not directed towards people and cultures different than him (unlike Mordechai), and rather at those of his own culture and faith, and for that Gabriel said he was “greatly beloved” in heaven in Daniel 9, and also “greatly beloved” in a visitation in Daniel 10, possibly by Jesus Himself.

I leave it to the reader to research the commandments of God, either by His own voice or through the prophets, for His people and their nation to be kind to the “stranger” of another kind of faith, because “you were once strangers in Egypt” as a religious and ethnic minority yourself, and to take care of the poor, and make sure the vulnerable (fatherless, widows and orphans) are provided for, and to make sure the poor get justice in the courts which are not controlled by money, and that the wealthy and businessmen do not take over the less wealthy with debt or confiscating sources of income (“tools”), and to even forcibly “redistribute wealth” through the Year of Jubilee, and to leave lands fallow (sources of income and provision) for the poor in intervening years, which the Jews never did, and for which God said they were sent to exile for.  When is the last time you heard politically-active Christians or media outlets make these issues a priority in the political debates and candidate evaluations, even though God makes it clear it is a priority for Him? 

Another way to understand how God intended the secular nations (like our own) and their leaders and decision makers to faithfully fulfill their duties to their people, lets hear how God rebukes the “sons of God” assigned at the Tower of Babel to administer over the “seventy nations” of earth, and how they oppressed their own subjects and became objects of idolatrous worship of their peoples, and how He will judge them in the Last Days:

“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: ‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’…I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince’. Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” [Psa 82:1-4, 5-8 ESV]

How many times have you heard these elements of God’s agenda for the secular nations also be the agenda of America’s politically-active Christian leaders today?

A lot of these commands are directed towards the leaders of nations, which gives many Christians a quick “Whew!”, thinking that they are not obligated to such responsibilities. However, the majority of historic believers of God, like all peoples, were subjects of outside reigning powers, or otherwise not able to elect leaders or influence their decisions, and therefore not responsible for their decisions.  However, when God brought His children to the Promised land, He set them up as a decentralized federation of tribes, with its leaders chosen by the people, where at the end of the Book of Joshua, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” – certainly a heresy to control-freak Christians who want to control behavior from the top down, but a libertarian’s dream that God seemed to intend as His permanent plan.  However, the Hebrews soon wanted a king to control them, like the other nations had, because it looked “cool” (they were dazzled by strong men and celebrities and “heroes”, like Christians today) and projected power; they gave up their freedom by acclamation, and God explained to Samuel that they had really rejected Him.  God gave them what they wanted – a dashing man a head taller than the rest of them, with a shining spear, but reckless in his personal behavior and character – thank goodness God’s people have gotten beyond such short-sightedness and immaturity!

However, the age of citizen-influenced government rose again, this time amongst the pagan Greeks and Romans, since the Jews rejected it.  It has been further refined, with setbacks and dormant ages, up to the period of the American experiment.  This is relevant to Christians today, I believe, because we now live in a period of alleged “self government” – where we collectively choose ‘representatives” as our proxies to rule based upon our own agendas and preferences, and replace them if they don’t.  Thus, we have in effect become our own leaders, which generations of Christians before us, under kings (even “Christian” ones) could not imagine.  Therefore, since we are now reportedly have the right to rule ourselves, I believe we have each also earned the responsibilities the Bible has said are the responsibilities of earthly rulers.  This includes an obligation to protect the poor and other vulnerable people, and make sure justice is available for all (yes, even “social justice”) – if we take God and His Word seriously.  Heaven help those who take our Lord’s expectations lightly!  We are in fact “our brother’s keeper”, and that crown of responsibility rests on each of our brows, and in particular toward the “strangers” within our gates, outside the gates wanting in, and the refugees from beyond (but within our reach) who are crying out for mercy from God.

As a Christian who was groomed to vote as a good Republican through my upbringing, which I did until the last few national elections (having voted third party), I understand how Christians were seduced by them with a veneer of righteousness and Christian virtue, which was backed by Christian leaders I used to trust, but led to make a priority not the unborn or other issues of Christian mercy, but rather tax cuts for big businesses and business handouts, and paying for the “warfare state” (and the windfall of profits and welfare for defense contractors) rather than for the poor and medically needy, or the refugee.  A classic example is President Trump, who suckered people into a tax plan “for the middle class” which increased the standard deduction (which people who itemize for home mortgage or charitable gifts cannot use) while taking away their exemptions, and only giving temporary deductions, while making permanent the almost halving of business taxes, with the huge increase in the annual deficit and adding national debt to necessitate a further reduction to programs for the needy – all with Christian support.  His first act as president – mere minutes after his inauguration – was to sign an executive order to eliminate the need for financial advisors paid for by individuals to act in their fiduciary interest, or disclose that their recommendations serve the best interests of the financial firms and their products rather than their paying client.  I see Christians today primarily concerned with what they think is their own pocketbook (not necessarily a bad thing, to keep in check a gluttonous government budget spent on cronies and businesses rather than the needy), and in the end get fleeced by the far-savvier business scoundrels they put in office or advisory roles they greedily trusted to “get rich quick”, while further adding to the suffering of those less fortunate, which is not even part of the conversation.  They are not worried about the people better off than them getting their money; they are only concerned about those worse off than them getting their money.  Jesus of Nazareth, whom American Christians reportedly say they follow and heed His commands, had the following advice for them:

“‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’.  The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.  What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight’.” [Matt. 6:19-21, Luk 16:13-15 NIV]

Jesus made clear to the secular government official Pilate that His movement was not about seizing the “seven mountains of culture” or government, or overcoming those who think differently than them, or any rule here whatsoever, but rather laying the groundwork for a future kingdom, based in another sphere, that poses no necessary threat to secular powers in this age.  He said,

“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.  But now my kingdom is from another place’…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” [Jhn 18:36-37 NIV]

Sadly, most professing Christians today don’t listen to Him.

Paul understood this.  He also understood that God’s people could not only fight physical “holy wars” to try to overcome secular governments (like the Zealots, or the Maccabeans before them), but even “culture wars” against their fellow citizens outside the church, as moral crusaders.  He had to address this regarding sexual immorality inside the church, which many Christians tolerate or overlook today in their Christian leaders if they are charismatic enough.  He writes:

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.  In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler.  Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.  ‘Expel the wicked person from among you’.” [1Co 5:9-13 NIV]

The Christian “culture wars” are the exact opposite of Paul’s admonition.

Paul would remind us that we are citizens of another Kingdom, where our real interests lie, and with a Great Commission to be “fishers of men” and to demonstrate our love for our neighbors, and of which our necessary political participation is an element, while not certainly the main agenda, but geared towards an expression of love toward the downtrodden, and not the control of others.  We are indeed “ambassadors” of a foreign nation, as Paul writes:

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands…Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.  What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience…For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died…So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” [2Co 5:1, 11, 14, 16, 18-20 NIV]

Does this sound like our Christian politically-active leaders today, and their front-burner agendas?  It is an agenda with the world, which will always have a political component in any social interaction, based upon compelling love, gentle persuasion, lack of worldly judgment, and far-reaching forgiveness and reconciliation, in its emphasis, tone and overall spirit, as opposed to judgement and adversity, much less selfishness.

Paul set a good example for us American Christians.  He was privileged to have Roman citizenship, as well as citizenship at Tarsus.  He did not use his rights to feather his own bed for financial enrichment or other privileges, to oppress others, or change Rome for his own group’s agenda or betterment.  He did use his legal rights to facilitate a heavenly agenda to preach the Gospel in Rome, and along the way, rather than die short of the goal in Jerusalem and the hands of Romans and Jews.  His rights of citizenship were not a tool for his own personal use, but only to complete his Kingdom of Heaven assignment, which did not restrict (for the Golden Rule still applies) but only blessed others.

Paul gave one other similar admonition to “keep our eyes on the prize”, and also warning that there will be those around us who don’t “get it” (probably even some professing Christians in our circles, whose recent elected official choices may show that “their god is their stomachs” and embrace leaders who, with them, do “glory in their shame”):

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.  And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained.  Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Phl 3:15-20 NIV]

I will leave my thoughts on this topic at this, but thinking of being “ambassadors” of another kingdom, maybe we should consider Christ’s teachings of the Kingdom and the Sermon on the Mount, and the amplification of the Apostles, to love our enemies and be a neighbor to those of other faiths and cultures in need (like the Good Samaritan), and exhibiting mercy and forgiveness as “agents of reconciliation” to “rescue the perishing”, and eating with “sinners”, as our Christian “foreign policy” (also seen in our politics as well as personal behavior and interactions), while exhorting our fellow Christians to lives of love, purity, holiness, prayer, faithfulness, encouragement, wisdom, learning, and body ministry as our “domestic policy” of the Kingdom, devoid of outside political parties or ideologies (or evolved doctrines) and their influence, or any other Kingdom we should otherwise not owe any allegiance to.

Having said that, many Christians have spent uncountable years in innumerable sermons and heard Christian teaching, yet typically do things far counter in their public statements and political activity than what we just discussed.  So what leads them to proudly take opinions and views demonstrably counter to the clear teachings of Christ?  That will be covered in the next part of this series.

 

Think our technology gurus will save us? Think again!

I came across a splendid article a couple of days ago, on of all things, the business news website CNBC.  I thought the author, although a secularist, wrote about a fascinating experience he had recently, and his insight on their significance I thought was quite enlightened.  I shared it with my closest friends, and upon further ponderance I thought it might be of some merit for the readers of this blog.  You can currently read it in its entirety at this highlighted link.  It is so well written that I will quote much of it, followed by a little commentary of my own.

I should first explain a little bit about what I just learned about the author, Dr. Douglas Rushkoff.  Although he is a professor, he is best known as being the cutting-edge visionary at the dawn of the Internet Age, at its beginning in the early 90s, before it really took off, and coining terms such as “viral media”.  He has had an interest in modernizing and reforming Judaism, and getting it back to its supposed “open source” roots (to use the cyber-culture vernacular)  An abbreviated sampling of his bio includes some of the following things said about him:

Douglas Rushkoff is a writer, documentarian, and lecturer whose work focuses on human autonomy in a digital age.  He is the author of fifteen bestselling books on media, technology, and society, including Program or Be Programmed, Present Shock, and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.  He has made such award-winning PBS Frontline documentaries as Generation Like, Merchants of Cool, and The Persuaders, and is the author of graphic novels including Testament and Aleister & Adolf…Named one of the world’s ten most influential intellectuals by MIT, he is responsible for originating such concepts as “viral media,” “social currency,” and “digital natives.” Today, Dr. Rushkoff serves as Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at CUNY/Queens, where he recently founded the Laboratory for Digital Humanism and hosts its TeamHuman podcast.  He is also a research fellow at the Institute for the Future…Winner of the Media Ecology Association’s first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Dr. Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other’s values.  He is…technology and media commentator for CNN…and a lecturer on media, technology, culture and economics around the world…His previous best-selling books on media and popular culture have been translated to over thirty languages….His other books include CyberiaMedia VirusPlaying the FutureNothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism,…Rushkoff also wrote the acclaimed novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy and graphic novel, Club Zero-G.  He wrote the graphic novels Testament and A.D.D., for Vertigo.  He has written and hosted three award-winning PBS Frontline documentaries – The Merchants of Cool looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture, The Persuaders, about the cluttered landscape of marketing, and new efforts to overcome consumer resistance, and Digital Nation, about life on the virtual frontier…His commentaries have aired on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s All Things Considered, and have appeared in publications from The New York Times to Time magazine. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times and Guardian of London, as well as regular columns for ArthurDiscover Magazine and The Feature…He also lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.”

“He has served on the…the United Nations Commission on World Culture, and as a founding member of Technorealism…He has been awarded a Fullbright Scholarship…He served as an Advisor to the United Nations Commission on World Culture and regularly appears on TV shows from NBC Nightly News and Larry King to the Colbert Report and Bill Maher….Rushkoff is on the board of several new media non-profits and companies, and regularly speaks about media, society and ethics to museums, governments, synagogues, churches, universities, and companies.  Rushkoff earned his PhD in New Media and Digital Culture from Utrecht University with a dissertation entitled Monopoly Moneys: The media environment of corporatism and the player’s way out. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts, a post-graduate fellowship (MFA) from The American Film Institute, a Fulbright award to lecture on narrative in New Zealand, and a Director’s Grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  He has worked as a certified stage fight choreographer, an SAT tutor, and as keyboardist for the industrial band PsychicTV.”

Sounds like a real underachiever.  I hope his credibility is sufficient that we can trust the following things he shares with us in his article.

I’ll let him explain the incidents that led to his unique experience and interpretations of its significance:

“Last year, I got invited to a super-deluxe private resort to deliver a keynote speech to what I assumed would be a hundred or so investment bankers.  It was by far the largest fee I had ever been offered for a talk — about half my annual professor’s salary — all to deliver some insight on the subject of ‘the future of technology’.  I’ve never liked talking about the future.  The Q&A sessions always end up more like parlor games, where I’m asked to opine on the latest technology buzzwords as if they were ticker symbols for potential investments: blockchain, 3D printing, CRISPR.  The audiences are rarely interested in learning about these technologies or their potential impacts beyond the binary choice of whether or not to invest in them.  But money talks, so I took the gig.  After I arrived, I was ushered into what I thought was the green room.  But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me: five super-wealthy guys — yes, all men — from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world.  After a bit of small talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had prepared about the future of technology.  They had come with questions of their own.”

“They started out innocuously enough.  Ethereum or bitcoin?  Is quantum computing a real thing?  Slowly but surely, however, they edged into their real topics of concern.  Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska?  Is Google really building Ray Kurzweil a home for his brain, and will his consciousness live through the transition, or will it die and be reborn as a whole new one?  Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, ‘How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?’  For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future.”

“The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.  This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour.  They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs.  But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless?  What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader?  The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew.  Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival.  Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.  That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology.  Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion.  For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.”

“There’s nothing wrong with madly optimistic appraisals of how technology might benefit human society.  But the current drive for a post-human utopia is something else.  It’s less a vision for the wholesale migration of humanity to a new a state of being than a quest to transcend all that is human: the body, interdependence, compassion, vulnerability, and complexity.  As technology philosophers have been pointing out for years, now, the transhumanist vision too easily reduces all of reality to data, concluding that ‘humans are nothing but information-processing objects‘.  It’s a reduction of human evolution to a video game that someone wins by finding the escape hatch and then letting a few of his BFFs come along for the ride.  Will it be Musk, Bezos, Thiel…Zuckerberg?  These billionaires are the presumptive winners of the digital economy — the same survival-of-the-fittest business landscape that’s fueling most of this speculation to begin with.  Of course, it wasn’t always this way.  There was a brief moment, in the early 1990s, when the digital future felt open-ended and up for our invention. Technology was becoming a playground for the counterculture, who saw in it the opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future.  But established business interests only saw new potentials for the same old extraction, and too many technologists were seduced by unicorn IPOs.  Digital futures became understood more like stock futures or cotton futures — something to predict and make bets on.  So nearly every speech, article, study, documentary, or white paper was seen as relevant only insofar as it pointed to a ticker symbol.  The future became less a thing we create through our present-day choices or hopes for humankind than a predestined scenario we bet on with our venture capital but arrive at passively.”

“This freed everyone from the moral implications of their activities.  Technology development became less a story of collective flourishing than personal survival.  Worse, as I learned, to call attention to any of this was to unintentionally cast oneself as an enemy of the market or an anti-technology curmudgeon.  So instead of considering the practical ethics of impoverishing and exploiting the many in the name of the few, most academics, journalists, and science-fiction writers instead considered much more abstract and fanciful conundrums: Is it fair for a stock trader to use smart drugs?  Should children get implants for foreign languages?  Do we want autonomous vehicles to prioritize the lives of pedestrians over those of its passengers?  Should the first Mars colonies be run as democracies?  Does changing my DNA undermine my identity?  Should robots have rights?  Asking these sorts of questions, while philosophically entertaining, is a poor substitute for wrestling with the real moral quandaries associated with unbridled technological development in the name of corporate capitalism.  Digital platforms have turned an already exploitative and extractive marketplace (think Walmart) into an even more dehumanizing successor (think Amazon).  Most of us became aware of these downsides in the form of automated jobs, the gig economy, and the demise of local retail.  The future became less a thing we create through our present-day choices or hopes for humankind than a predestined scenario we bet on with our venture capital but arrive at passively.”

“But the more devastating impacts of pedal-to-the-metal digital capitalism fall on the environment and global poor.  The manufacture of some of our computers and smartphones still uses networks of slave labor.  These practices are so deeply entrenched that a company called Fairphone, founded from the ground up to make and market ethical phones, learned it was impossible. (The company’s founder now sadly refers to their products as “fairer” phones.)  Meanwhile, the mining of rare earth metals and disposal of our highly digital technologies destroys human habitats, replacing them with toxic waste dumps, which are then picked over by peasant children and their families, who sell usable materials back to the manufacturers.  This ‘out of sight, out of mind’ externalization of poverty and poison doesn’t go away just because we’ve covered our eyes with VR goggles and immersed ourselves in an alternate reality.  If anything, the longer we ignore the social, economic, and environmental repercussions, the more of a problem they become.  This, in turn, motivates even more withdrawal, more isolationism and apocalyptic fantasy — and more desperately concocted technologies and business plans.  The cycle feeds itself.  The more committed we are to this view of the world, the more we come to see human beings as the problem and technology as the solution.  The very essence of what it means to be human is treated less as a feature than bug.  No matter their embedded biases, technologies are declared neutral.  Any bad behaviors they induce in us are just a reflection of our own corrupted core.  It’s as if some innate human savagery is to blame for our troubles.  Just as the inefficiency of a local taxi market can be ‘solved’ with an app that bankrupts human drivers, the vexing inconsistencies of the human psyche can be corrected with a digital or genetic upgrade.”

“Ultimately, according to the technosolutionist orthodoxy, the human future climaxes by uploading our consciousness to a computer or, perhaps better, accepting that technology itself is our evolutionary successor.  Like members of a gnostic cult, we long to enter the next transcendent phase of our development, shedding our bodies and leaving them behind, along with our sins and troubles.  Our movies and television shows play out these fantasies for us.  Zombie shows depict a post-apocalypse where people are no better than the undead — and seem to know it.  Worse, these shows invite viewers to imagine the future as a zero-sum battle between the remaining humans, where one group’s survival is dependent on another one’s demise.  Even Westworld — based on a science-fiction novel where robots run amok — ended its second season with the ultimate reveal: Human beings are simpler and more predictable than the artificial intelligences we create.  The robots learn that each of us can be reduced to just a few lines of code, and that we’re incapable of making any willful choices.  Heck, even the robots in that show want to escape the confines of their bodies and spend their rest of their lives in a computer simulation.  The very essence of what it means to be human is treated less as a feature than bug.  The mental gymnastics required for such a profound role reversal between humans and machines all depend on the underlying assumption that humans suck. Let’s either change them or get away from them, forever.”

“Thus, we get tech billionaires launching electric cars into space — as if this symbolizes something more than one billionaire’s capacity for corporate promotion.  And if a few people do reach escape velocity and somehow survive in a bubble on Mars — despite our inability to maintain such a bubble even here on Earth in either of two multibillion-dollar Biosphere trials — the result will be less a continuation of the human diaspora than a lifeboat for the elite.  When the hedge funders asked me the best way to maintain authority over their security forces after ‘the event’, I suggested that their best bet would be to treat those people really well, right now.  They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family.  And the more they can expand this ethos of inclusivity to the rest of their business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution, the less chance there will be of an ‘event’ in the first place.  All this technological wizardry could be applied toward less romantic but entirely more collective interests right now.  They were amused by my optimism, but they didn’t really buy it.  They were not interested in how to avoid a calamity; they’re convinced we are too far gone.  For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future.  They are simply accepting the darkest of all scenarios and then bringing whatever money and technology they can employ to insulate themselves — especially if they can’t get a seat on the rocket to Mars.  Luckily, those of us without the funding to consider disowning our own humanity have much better options available to us.  We don’t have to use technology in such antisocial, atomizing ways.  We can become the individual consumers and profiles that our devices and platforms want us to be, or we can remember that the truly evolved human doesn’t go it alone.  Being human is not about individual survival or escape. It’s a team sport. Whatever future humans have, it will be together.”

Beyond the wisdom shown by this man, marinated in the cyber-culture ethos, his chilling description of these powerful figures already committed to planning to “check out” and giving up on humanity has been warned about in the past by conspiracy figures such as Alex Jones and Tom Horn, but none have been able to so holistically and articulately put all the pieces together and in context as this author (whose credibility makes his astonishing testimony all the more disturbing).

Unfortunately, in my view these other cited figures and others have in many ways “sold out” to supporting the authoritarian figures in riot gear and political partisans that they warned about previously, riding the current fad of nationalistic or immigrant-hating fervor, or hitched their wagons to and promoted laughable charlatans and snake-oil prophets (better make that “profits”).  It takes a relative secularist to rise above such buffoonery and to see the “signs of the times”, which Jesus said the religious leaders could not see; wouldn’t it be great to have such visionaries on our Kingdom of Heaven “team”?  He “gets” that we are “our brother’s keeper”, and even if conservative Republicans hate the idea of “collectivism” or even “socialism” (as practiced by our Book of Acts early church forbearers), it becomes obvious that if we do not embrace social norms, mindsets, practices and policies that “raise all boats”, before long, the elites with their ever-increasing centralization of wealth, and while the environment continues to be trashed and refugees continue to stack up worldwide, will soon raise their barbed-wire walls of their castles with guards to “shoot to kill”, while the desperate remainders (including us) will die killing each other, or storming their gates.  Couldn’t we as Christians at least consider assisting someone like this author, and help with the process to exploit these technological opportunities to aid all our brothers and sisters, rather than a free-market, Darwinistic “survival of the fittest” approach we have praised in our churches and discourse?  Shouldn’t we be willing to try out the principles Jesus already said would be the eternal “Kingdom of Heaven” ground rules of unselfish use of societal and global resources to benefit all, even if checkered by failure due to our fallen natures, and try to “set the bar” as examples for the rest of the moral and upright peoples of the world, to inspire them? 

If we don’t, and rather munch on popcorn as we deem the world’s wars and destruction as “entertainment” (as I see in the “emojis” of the posts of so many Bible prophecy message boards), then our “apocalyptic fever” will only be trumped (excuse the pun) by a hyper-paranoid elite, and their heralds in the hedge-fund community who are here to “play hard ball” in this full-stakes game on behalf of their unnamed super-rich, who will in effect bring on the very apocalypse of which they suggest they are so afraidWill Christians get their act together to see the real “signs of the times”, and lead the exodus out of “Babylon”, and “rescue the perishing” as much as possible, or just stay in their own bunker, out of touch with the real issues, and in effect just be part of the problem?   

As a Christian who was raised in a conservative Christian home, I realized how in that culture, businessmen and the wealthy were considered “successes” to emulate and heroes and role models of a type, as the saviors in a conservative view of society, and holding the keys to fix society and solve problems as opposed to non-profit enterprises (including government); we even pick our leaders based on their perceived business “success”.  This article shows that we should not look to these businessmen to be a “Moses” to lead us through the desert of an uncertain future, via technology.  I repeat, the big question to me is whether Christians, as individuals and corporately, will even recognize these things as a moral and spiritual issue, and their duty to provide an honest and non-agenda seeking source to help everybody, or rather focus on their own trivial or selfish issues, as they normally do.

My close friend Paul in Texas, a long-time Future Quake listener as well and thoughtful sage in my circle, provided the following comments to the article we just reviewed:

 “I found it a little amusing to assume that the small group the author spoke to were all old white guys.  If that assumption is true it seems like another case of conflating the end of their white imperialist world with the end of peaceable life on earth.  Much like the mentality encountered within christian evangelical groups.  I find that I agreed with this author on all accounts including his positive outlook on the future.  It’s a nice reminder that we’re not alone in the fight to bring the values of Jesus into the light.”

I find a lot of spiritual wisdom to unpack in those brief, laconic words.  I look forward to hearing what other readers say, beyond my lengthy and stumbling manner of trying to put them into a real Jesus-view perspective.

How Fear Has Written the Story of Evangelical Experience in America

U.S. President Trump addresses the March for Life rally by satellite in Washington

This story out today from Prof. John Fea of Messiah College well encapsulates what I wrote in my manuscript I drafted for Volume 4 of my book series a few years ago on the history of Christianity and its interaction with outsiders, particularly in America.  I thought it might give readers some food for thought,

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/06/a-history-of-evangelical-fear/563558/

 

 

Musings on Anthony Bordain, Suicide, and Being “Together”

AnthonyBourdain

Just this week, there was a report that came out about the growing crisis of the rise in suicide rates over the last two decades – a topic to add the broader mental health crisis that undergirds almost every major problem we have in our society today, in some form.  This report from the government, as stated in various news media outlets, states that “Suicide rates increased by 25% across the United States over nearly two decades ending in 2016, according to research published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30%, the government report finds.  More than half of those who died by suicide had not been diagnosed with a mental health condition”.  Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, added that “Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the US right now, and it’s one of three causes that is actually increasing recently”, also noting that “The other two top 10 causes of death that are on the rise are Alzheimer’s disease and drug overdoses”.   They note that in 2016 alone, about 45,000 lives were lost to suicide.  The rapid increase is not limited to one culture or region of America, but rather spread across it, with the biggest increase being noted in North Dakota, and the highest increases in diverse places such as Idaho, Utah, Vermont and New Hampshire.  Montana has the highest rates of suicide per capita, at over four times the rate of the lowest place – Washington D.C.  They note that about half are accomplished via firearms, with strangling or hanging the second, with about 31% of the victims having opioids in their system.  It notes that suicides are highest in men, but women are rising faster, and that 18% of all suicides were among veterans, even though they only make up 8.5% of the population. Another expert they cite notes that it is particularly problematic in rural areas, where mental health services can be scarce, and even if available, may be too expensive, difficult to reach due to transportation limitations, and subject to the reduced privacy in small towns whose residents observe who is parked at the one mental health clinic in town, and the stigma associated with it.  They note that the occurrence of suicide is even affecting the bulk data of the overall life expectancy of Americans.

Within about a 24-hour period on either side of the release of this report, two celebrities – both seen as being highly successful and still effectual in the culture, and having overt successful personal relationships as well – committed suicide.  Ironically, both purse designer Kate Spade (whom I knew nothing about) and Anthony Bourdain (whom I was fairly familiar with) chose the mode of hanging – a type of death fiercely avoided as a means of capital punishment, including by known criminals, for its grisly and unsavory nature; this includes the clever Nazi second-in-command to Hitler, Herman Goring, who cheated the gallows at Nuremberg in desperation, willingly choosing poisoning by his own hand.  Others who chose this form of death by their own hand included comedian Robin Williams, actor David Carradine, the “D.C. Madam”, and a host of others.

So what is going on here?  I am told that Kate Spade was sort of “on top of the world” in the designer field of fashion purses, not only in high society but amongst the everyday women we all live around, and a beloved figure throughout the clothing world.  She and her husband had founded a successful handbag (supposedly “very affordable” at $150 to $450, I am told) line, and launched into a wide array of products, boutiques worldwide, and she even wrote three books on the subjects of etiquette, entertainment, and fashion—Manners, Occasions, and Style.  She and her husband sold the business for a lot of money as she was the darling of the business world as well, to then focus on raising her daughter, and then started a new fashion company of footwear and purses with other investors, called Francis Valentine.  In other words, she had found success, money, fame and wealth in her own creative venture, still popular and with business and creative clout, and able to express herself creatively in many forms, and yet finding time to create a family.  She was only 55 years old, married for 24 years to Andy (brother of comedian/actor David Spade), and mother to a 13 year old daughter.  However, her husband released a statement to the New York Times after her suicide, an excerpt of which is quoted below:

“…Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years.  She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease…We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy.  There was no indication and no warning that she would do this…There were personal demons she was battling…For the past 10 months we had been living separately, but within a few blocks of each other.  Bea was living with both of us and we saw each other or spoke every day.  We ate many meals together as a family and continued to vacation together as a family.  Our daughter was our priority.  We were not legally separated, and never even discussed divorce.  We were best friends trying to work through our problems in the best way we knew how.  We were together for 35 years.  We loved each other very much and simply needed a break.  This is the truth…She was actively seeking help for depression and anxiety over the last 5 years, seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety.  There was no substance or alcohol abuse.  There were no business problems.  We loved creating our businesses together.  We were co-parenting our beautiful daughter.”

Ironically, the aforementioned CDC report mentions that chronically depressed people are typically not those who tend to lose their life to suicide.  One thing that is not mentioned in her husband’s statement or other narratives of her lifestyle is any evidence of active religious participation on their behalf.

I am much more familiar with the story of Anthony Bourdain.  As a “news hound” who typically has cable news on in the background (with sound either on or off) for all hours of the day, in recent years it always seemed to be plastered with Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” television program, running almost continuously on CNN.  He came to CNN supposedly in 2013, bringing his combination travel-and-food show to the network – an unorthodox fit, but in tune with the new management’s desire to do more lengthy background news pieces like documentaries.  It served as an offbeat, irreverent forum to visit far-flung places, or those in our back yards, and probe mysterious cultures, seeing exotic places and its common folk in action, and seeing the search for the culture’s gourmet and common street food as a backdrop to understand their cultural mindset.  It talked to its local authors and journalists (sometimes under fire from their own governments) as well as chefs, street vendors, and mothers in their kitchens and dining rooms, discussing aspects of their cultures and daily lives heretofore unknown to average Americans, and the pressing political and cultural issues and dangers they were facing.  It has been smashing ratings hit and recognized for its artistic merit, garnering five Emmy Awards, and certainly raising Bourdain’s respect and mystique, and allowing him virtual carte blanche and clout at the ailing network as a type of flagship program that added to their prestige.

With Bourdain’s show, viewers were able to see life in little-known places in all parts of the world, often traveling by austere means to very remote sites, seeing those for whom meeting Western visitors was not common, and explaining how food and its preparation helped explained their cultural history and their day-to-day life, while he chatted with locals (as seen in the pictures above), or their regional chefs, writers, politicians or even street vendors.  Sometimes the political hotbeds he visited made news in and of themselves, as when he visited both Israel and Palestine, or Lebanon in the midst of their civil war.  Sometimes, those who interacted with him paid a steep price for their honest public discussions with the plain-spoken Bourdain.  Russian dissenting senior politician Boris Nemtsov, himself a brilliant scientist and successful reform politician, spoke honestly with Bourdain in 2014 about the gangster-like nature of Putin and details of his and the government’s corruption, as well as his understanding that his life was in danger; mere months after the show’s airing, Nemtsov was gunned down on the street with four slugs in his back, with later investigations suggesting government complicity.  Similarly, Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post Tehran, Iran bureau chief, was arrested and jailed with his fellow journalist wife by authorities (for “propaganda against the establishment”) just a few weeks after Bourdain interviewed him with a frank but restrained discussion of the good and bad aspects of life in Iran (a show which also featured Bourdain hanging out with Iranian youths with hot-rodded American cars drag racing and eating pizza, in a typical (for him) type segment), and after much campaigning by Bourdain and others publicly, he was finally released around 18 months later.  As a response, Rezaian (in the above linked article about him) says that Bourdain “changed his life”, calling him “one of the most beloved television personalities, and people, of our generation”, who “raised awareness in a different kind of way that nothing else could have”; he also said Bourdain helped him privately to re-integrate back into society after his arrest, and decided to have Bourdain publish a book about his experience.

On occasion, Boudain sought out those he idolized, drawing on his “bad-boy”, New York punk rock-loving past (which he still loves) by seeking out and finding punk rock legend Iggy Pop in Miami, discovering him aging quietly (and still amazed to be alive after his drug-addled younger life, like Bourdain) and eating healthy food, and enjoying the serenity of a modest breakfast and a quiet beach.  Another icon of his he corralled was comedian Bill Murray, who shared his somewhat pedestrian yet offbeat lifestyle in his adopted Charleston, South Carolina.    More likely, though, were the celebrity fans who sought out the “coolness” of Bourdain, and one of those evidently was President Barack Obama, whose staff arranged for Bourdain to eat with him in a “dive” in Hanoi, Vietnam, while there for a summit shortly before his departure from office.  The experience of meeting and eating with Obama there was shared by Bourdain himself in an article he wrote, the following excerpts of which will give the reader a feel for the lack of pretense in Bordain himself and devil-may-care attitude, yet seriousness regarding things befalling the common man:

“Some people at the White House had reached out and hinted at the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we might find a time and a place where the two of us could sit down to a meal together.  These discussions were, out of necessity, very closely held until the very last minute.  CNN didn’t know.  The producers, even the camera guys who were to shoot the scene, were not told until the day before.  At no point did the White House, CNN, or anyone else, offer guidance, suggestions or ground rules for what I might talk to the President about.  There may or may not have been an offer of a ride on Air Force One at one point.  But I figured we’d look totally in the bag if we did that.  You ride in a man’s car — or his plane — you owe him something.  And it just seemed weird.”

“I’m not a journalist.  Or a foreign policy wonk.  My politics are my own.  Contrary to the assertions of angry Twitter warriors who think I’m getting regular guidance from the “Communist News Network,” I’ve never once received a phone call or an e-mail or had a conversation that contained the words “wouldn’t it be a great idea if…?” or ” how about?” I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had as dining companions over the years everybody from Hezbollah supporters, communist functionaries, anti-Putin activists, cowboys, stoners, Christian militia leaders, feminists, Palestinians and Israeli settlers, to Ted Nugent.  You like food and are reasonably nice at the table?  You show me hospitality when I travel?  I will sit down with you and break bread.”

“So I wasn’t going to “interview” the president.  And though I may admire him, I wasn’t going to be a platform for discussion of a particular foreign policy agenda.  Barack Obama was apparently interested in sitting down for a meal with me — and I intended to speak to him only as a father of a 9-year-old girl, as a fellow Southeast Asia enthusiast (the President spent time in Indonesia as a young man), and a guy who likes a bowl of spicy, savory pork and noodles with a cold beer…Various locations were discussed.  But when Vietnam came up, as one stop on a multi-country state visit to Asia in May, I knew where I wanted it to be.  I love Vietnam.  Everybody on my crew loves Vietnam.  We have a lot of experience working there, we have friends, connections, favorite dishes, favorite restaurants.  It’s beautiful…Bun cha is a beloved local specialty of Hanoi.  It’s basically bits of marinated, charcoal-grilled pork patties and pork slices in a room-temperature dipping sauce with rice noodles and herb garnishes. It’s delicious.”

“It’s always seemed pointless to me to go all the way to someplace as extraordinary as Vietnam and spend time in an air-conditioned, Western-style restaurant with tourist-friendly food. The President, I guessed, had spent more than his share of time in the banquet rooms of major chain hotels, slogging through long state dinners, eating representative menus of “national dishes.”  Bun cha is NOT a national dish.  And the second floor of the small, family-run, decidedly working class Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant, in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, is not exactly the kind of place the President was likely to be taken by his hosts on any official state visit.  I got the definite impression that the Secret Service was initially less than delighted with our choice of venue.  The location was … sub-optimal, as far as they were concerned.  It was tight, with minimal exits, not particularly clean — and set off a narrow street.  But they persevered.  I’d like to thank them.  They were, all of them, very nice guys with thick necks.  Many of them had to spend a lot of time standing stoically in the driving rain.”

“What can I tell you about what it’s like to sit across from the President of the United States and drink beer from the bottle?  I can tell you that Barack Obama was, in spite of having had a high-ranking leader of the Taliban whacked in Pakistan a few days previous, very relaxed and at ease.  He seemed to enjoy himself sitting on a low plastic stool eating noodles and pork bits with chopsticks.  I talked to him as a father, as an enthusiast for the region, and he responded with real nostalgia for the Indonesian and Hawaiian street food of his youth.  When I asked him if it was OK that I get along with Ted Nugent, who has said many, many deeply offensive and hateful things about him personally, he responded “of course” — that that was exactly the sort of person we SHOULD be talking to: the people who disagree with us.  He was oddly resigned to and forgiving of his enemies.  And when I asked him if — given the very likely ugly and frightening contents of the daily intelligence briefings to which he is privy — if it was “going to be OK” for my daughter as she grew up, he replied with confidence that on balance, it would.”

“In general, he spoke with the lack of careful calculation of a man who is no longer running for office.  My hot dog question might have been diplomatically problematic for a first-term president.  He answered without hesitation — like a Chicagoan.  He was funny, quick to laugh.  When I asked him if he ever missed being able to go out to a bar, sit down by himself and have a cold beer while listening to old songs on the juke, he smiled and said “in about six months.”  He put my crew at ease.  Was kind to them.  So much so that we were not nervous while we were with him.  Only afterward, when he had gone, did we all look at each other and say, “Did that just HAPPEN?””

“The next day, I was suddenly recognizable to the Vietnamese who rode their scooters and motorbikes around me.  They’d seen me in the newspapers and again and again would point at me, shouting “Bun cha! Mister Bun Cha!”  A few young Vietnamese who spoke English approached me and told me, with tears in their eyes, how incredulous they were, how shocked — how proud — that the President of the United States had come to their town and eaten not pho, or spring rolls, which they would have expected — but bun cha.  Bun cha! It was THEIRS! Their proud local specialty! And Hanoi beer too!  They couldn’t get over it. And on a low plastic stool, in the kind of place they always ate.  The effect was extraordinary.  I cannot possibly overstate the warmth with which he was received by the Vietnamese — particularly the young ones…”

“Vietnam may still be a communist country.  But you can hardly tell from the streets.  Money flows in and out in a raucous, free-market scrum of Western brands and materialistic expectations.  Buildings are going up everywhere, private enterprise having long ago outpaced ideology.  As in Cuba, the toothpaste is out of the tube. And there’s no putting it back.  And as the show will remind you, Vietnam remains an extraordinarily beautiful place.  It is enchanting. Its people, for as long as I’ve been going there, warm, food crazy, hospitable and proud….At the end of the show, I quote Gen. William Westmoreland’s notorious quote claiming life is valued less in the East than in the West. A statement so stupid and ignorant that it still shocks today…I will sure as shit remember this trip to Vietnam.  Not very long ago at all, I was a 44-year-old guy still dunking French fries with no hope of ever seeing Rome, much less Hanoi — much less EVER sitting across from the President of the United States, talking about hot dogs”.

Bourdain himself did not cast a shadow as the stereotypical “Chef Boy-r-Dee”, with an intimidating accent, off-putting air of perfection, or smug demeanor towards all things plebeian.  All you had to do was look at him – a body covered in tattoos (and always adding new ones, even to commemorate special good times on various episodes), a long, lean body that looked like it experienced more intake from the intravenous needle and long neck bottle rather than a fork, and a long, infinitely craggy face that was too weathered for Mount Rushmore – which all told a tale of a man who had experienced much in life; maybe too much, even for a 61-year-old.  At times, often when he was drinking on the show (which was about every five minutes), he might share, in a voice-over, snippets of his past.  Such as being born in New York City and being raised in New Jersey, unmistakably contributing to his “tough guy”, “take no guff” persona.  His being born to a Catholic father and Jewish mother, and (not surprisingly, having heard many times the same tale from celebrities raised in similar locales and family situations), being raised in a non-religious home.  His untamed youth, in which he left the prestigious Vassar College, sowing his wild oats (in an early 70s that featured lots of rampant wild-oats sowing) in the seafood kitchens of Cape Cod restaurants with fellow reckless youth (later saying he learned the most about life while washing dishes).  Eventually graduating from the American Culinary Institute, and paying his dues in famous New York City gourmet restaurants, while getting hooked on LSD, heroin and cocaine in those lawless days, being a user while on duty along with his youthful chef peers.  Although he eventually became a respected chief of a prominent New York restaurant for decades, it was his 1999 article for The New Yorker about the foul deeds that carried on in the kitchens of the country’s finest restaurants, and a subsequent book of his war stories in the field, which became a best-seller, which led him to his meteoric rise at the dawn of the 21st century.  Additional books of cooking and his culinary experiences during his adventurous travel expeditions, and subsequent popular television programs which documented his experiences, led to his penultimate contribution via his CNN series.

Bourdain was on “top of the world” himself as 2018 rolled around, as everyone wanted to be around him, and was much beloved by CNN personnel, his staff and show participants, and his legion of fans, with a show that was a consistent ratings success while being critically acclaimed and oft-awarded.  For a nomadic loner of extreme experiences and views, he had seemed to find a soul mate (as he himself described her) in 2017 in a fellow “bad girl” Asia Argento, the daughter of one of the most famous cinematic directors ever (Dario Argento) and a successful actress and director in her own right, and whom he met on one of his show productions in her hometown of Rome.  Their mutual rough exteriors and wizened, cynical views seemed to dovetail into each other, and he strongly defended her in the press when she was one of the first actresses to charge Harvey Weinstein with sexual harassment.  Bourdain had finally achieved undeniable success, respect, a beloved reputation, and finally, personal love in his life.

Thus, no one expected what occurred suddenly in June 2018, while Bourdain, his best friend, the French chef (and often sidekick) Eric Ripert and his staff were in a scenic vista on the north French coast to produce a show of Alcasian cuisine – a “recipe” to certainly enliven and warm Bourdain’s heart.  When Bourdain did not join Ripert for dinner one night, as well as breakfast the next morning, his good friend knew something something wasn’t right, so he and one of the hotel staff entered his room, finding him hung by the belt of his hotel bath robe from the bathroom door, and Ripert himself finding him unresponsive, necessitating them to notify his crew to cancel the photo shoot scheduled nearby mere minutes later.  According to a report by The New York Times, Bourdain’s mother told them that “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this…He had everything.  Success beyond his wildest dreams.  Money beyond his wildest dreams”, and said that his friend Ripert told her that “Tony had been in a dark mood these past couple of days”.  Another fellow TV chef stated that “He told me he’d never been happier. He felt that he had finally found his true soul mate in Asia”.  The Times quotes him in describing his earlier days in the Cape Cod seafood restaurant scene, saying that “I saw how the cooks and chefs behaved.  They had sort of a swagger, got all the girls and drank everything in sight.”  They add that after his first divorce, he married Ottavia Busia (identified elsewhere as a mixed-martial arts fighter), and had a daughter Ariane, who is now eleven; he separated from Busia two years ago, and last year began dating Ms. Argento.  They also added a quote from himself when he stated, “I should’ve died in my 20s.  I became successful in my 40s.  I became a dad in my 50s.  I feel like I’ve stolen a car — a really nice car — and I keep looking in the rear view mirror for flashing lights.”  On a Massachusetts episode of his “Parts Unknown”, which covered the opioid crisis in New England, the normally-guarded Bourdain actually participated in a drug recovery group, giving his testimony of early drug use that should have killed him, and how having a daughter, and a need to raise her, motivated him that life was worth living, and to proceed at it for her benefit.

Another report notes that his show that just aired a week ago from Hong Kong was directed by his girlfriend Argento, with camera work (in a pinch, since his regular camera man fell ill) by famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle.  Of the episode, Bourdain was reported to have said (days before his suicide) that “It was the most intensely satisfying experience of my professional life and a show that I am giddily, ecstatically proud of.  I plan to get a Du Kefeng tattoo, in the original Mandarin, as soon as possible.  As you might have guessed, I already have an Asia Argento tattoo.”  Bourdain’s publicist was reported to say that “He was effusive and happy about the Hong Kong episode—that was all he could talk about weeks leading up to it, how it was like a high water mark for him…I didn’t talk to him this week but all I know was he was so happy last week.  I mean giddy.  He was texting me and emailing me, which he doesn’t normally do, about publicity for episodes, but he was like, ‘This is a high water mark, this is the best thing I’ve ever done.'”

Another report notes that actress Rose McGowan, already a troubled soul and the central figure in exposing Weinstein and headlining the “Me Too” movement, with a similar “in your face” style to Bourdain and Argento, Bourdain having provided hands-on support to McGowan and her friend Argento in their travails of confronting sexual harrassment, stated that Bourdain had been fighting depression for a long time.  The report noted that she stated that Argento had asked her to speak out about Bourdain’s struggles publicly on her behalf.  She wrote that “In the beginning of their relationship, Anthony told a mutual friend, ‘He’s never met anyone who wanted to die more than him.’  And through a lot of this last year, Asia did want the pain to stop,” McGowan continued. “…thankfully, she did the work to get help, so she could stay alive and live another day for her and her children.  Anthony’s depression didn’t let him, he put down his armor, and that was very much his choice.  His decision, not hers.  His depression won.”  They also add that “Before his death, Bourdain “reached out for help” but didn’t take his doctor’s advice, McGowan said, advising fans and followers not to blame Argento”, and asked the public to rather rally behind her.

Having said all that, I want to discuss what impressions I personally gathered from Mr. Bourdain, particularly since he seemed to be staring at me through the television virtually non-stop for some time, as maybe the most frequent visitor to our home, even if usually casually ignored.  I would first like to talk about some things I really admired about him, even though our cultures were vastly different.  First of all, even though he was instantly recognized everywhere, and everyone thought he was so “hip” and “cool” and wanted to tag along, beside his residual New York/New Jersey gruffness and cynicism, he certainly was not a “diva”, although he had every right to be.  As I casually observed him, he seemed to go to every God-forsaken place on earth, and squatted down in the midst of flies and Lord-knows what types of meat or food, and he always complimented the chef, and the cultures of those he visited (I have read that his meal of “unwashed warthog rectum” may have been his worst meal, but he received it gladly, I am sure).  And he not only complimented the cook; he told the viewer about all the noble aspects of even the poorest and most remote peoples, and the things that really appealed about them, or their unique contributions.  Many of these peoples may have had bad impressions of Americans in general, but one could see he put them at ease, and proud of their own humble home kitchens or roadside shacks.  Bourdain could be at home in the most provincial five-star French restaurants, totally familiar with the cooks as well as all the items in each dish, but also in the homes of toothless mothers cooking in their sinks for their families, and he seemed to enjoy it even better.

One of my most impressive displays from him was recently, when this New Yorker went to the unsung state of West Virginia, to discover the joys of “mountain food”, put together from what was cobbled together or scavanged from local mountains, as he reveled in “vinegar pie” and explained how cuisines all over the world are developed by what was within reach.  He has explained over the years how “peasant foods” remain his favorite foods to eat, along with anything prepared fresh on the side of any street (he said that the most disgusting thing he ever ate was a “Chicken McNugget” – in essence not knowing in what infernal laboratory it was created, or its contents).  In all cases, he set down with locals, at least heard their stories and hung out with them, and asked about why they liked their culture and locale so much, and what had become so hard about preserving it.  Even the lowliest have noted that he always cheerfully had time for pictures and discussions, and evolved into a champion of the common people; one person noted that he spent 15 minutes off camera talked to a restaurateur who had served him canned food, and went to bat for a waitress fired on the spot by her management (he also had a hankering for Popeye’s fried chicken and macaroni and cheese).  Christians could learn a lot about respecting different cultures from a guy like him.   

I have come to embrace my personal adage that “an opinion reveals as much about the opiner as it does its subject”, and the following is a case where my observation about Bourdain is as much a revelation of where my head has been in my upbringing.  One thing about Bordain on his show that stood out to me, based upon my cultural upbringing, is that he drank alcohol – a lot, and always.  It was ever-present any time he sat down, to eat or to carouse in the wee hours, or basically anytime.  It was as much a part of the show as the food itself.  In some shows, it appeared he was in a competition with his new companions (such as in Japan) to see who could stay upright while drinking the most.  He must have been VERY experienced in the art, because I don’t know how he still performed his duties with his apparent consumption, any more than how he kept his leanness with such a parade of sumptuous food.  He almost seemed incomplete without an alcoholic beverage in his hand, as an essential part of the conversation.

The other notable matter was his clearly apparent secular worldview.  This is not uncommon in television, which has a legacy of performers from secular Jewish or lapsed Catholic backgrounds, or other non-evangelical varieties, as opposed to evangelical-types who otherwise would parade their religious views into every topic they discuss (and in many cases, should), but which is deemed to make “bad television” by being too divisive or “heavy” (it doesn’t help that evangelicals have tarnished their image so badly, or go over the top with their proselytizing in such a manner as to lampoon their otherwise serious positions, that it inhibits their opportunities to participate in general public “reality television”).  However, in the case of Bourdain’s show and his topics, he covers heart-burning issues that just scream for a learned, spiritual insight, and his legitimate compassionate views would be so under-girded with a sound spiritual reality and mandate behind it.  As such, he comes off to one like myself as a hard-partying drinker with a confused but sometimes noble mish-mash of values.  As one curious example, when he came to the Jerusalem Temple’s “Wailing Wall”, the proprietors there found out he was of Jewish heritage, and promptly ushered him to the wall, clad in a yamulke; he admitted to the viewers being awkward being there as an unbeliever in God – an honest admission to not want to be a fraud, I believe – and looked awkward, not knowing what to do there.  Even though his popularity and admiration has been unmatched, maybe this tension is part of the roots of what mysteriously took it all away, or left him unsatisfied by it.

I was raised in what Bourdain, and many readers, would view as quite a cloistered culture, although it certainly was not intentionally so, as with many in some heavy fundamentalist cultures.  I was raised in a blue-collar family on the outskirts of what is well known as a “church town” (Louisville, Kentucky), and our culture centered on the activities of our small Baptist church.  While our family vacationed together (often with the pastor’s family), not to France or Italy like the Bourdains but to the local lake, or went for jaunts for ice cream and such (often in my father’s and brother’s cool Bucket-T roadsters they built), our social life was centered on the many social activities at our church, with simple, humble families much like ourselves. This included a number of worship services each week, as well as softball, youth lock-ins and mission trips, and the annual trip to King’s Island amusement park in the rickety youth bus.  While I was kept pretty close to home aside from that, by my latter teenage years I had a good corral of buds to hang out with, all from my church, except for one from my Christian high school whose friendship I renewed in college.  None of us drank alcohol (at least that I knew of, while we were together), nor did our folks.  We would have been well out of place in a bar, and in hindsight, pretty bored, and even our teenage testosterone probably would have cooled off quickly with some of the girls we might have met in them.  We loved going to see the bizarre midnight cult movies on Saturday night at the downtown sleazebag Vogue theater, seeing how the wilder half lived (I remember stepping over a couple having sex in the aisle before the movie started once), and then returned unscathed to our suburbs and ready for church choir the next morning (albeit a little sleepy).  I remember one memorable trip with the gang while in college on Spring Break to Florida, and we also realized the humor of how the relatives of one of the guys we were staying with obviously saw us as such nerds for not hitting the clubs each night.  We loved comedy in poor taste, movies, cruising around, pizza and everything other people liked in the “pre-Internet” world (even starred in three feature-length movies I produced that have been seen around the world), but we didn’t see much for us in the bars but did in doing stuff at church; obviously, the cool chicks stayed away from us.  Remarkably, with some inevitable checkered history, we all have been fairly successful husbands eventually and at times, and able to function independently and not be too much of a burden on society; thankfully as we age, the “uncool” albatross around our necks doesn’t seem to pack the same wallop.

That is not to say that I (and I presume the other guys I knew) were not aware of our “uncoolness”, in how we differed from people our age we saw in movies or on TV.  I was constantly made aware that “cool” guys hit the bars, could hold their liquor, and had hot chicks hit on them, of which one they had to pick to take home that night – a typical life of a young person, I was told.  And it looked so cool to get plastered!  Those guys seemed to have all the great stories.  I was exposed to that environment more first-hand when I went to a secular university, although my fellow students in engineering school could usually at best muster a Friday night drinking themselves silly, and maybe a beer to two at lunch or after classes, because there was just too much studying to do (maybe “idleness is the devil’s workshop”).  When I began my work career, the younger guys (newly minted lieutenants and captains) went more for that sort of things (because they did have a lot of idle time), as well as a perverse, crude boss who drank his lunches (a mean drunk afterwards; I learned to never brief him then) and then hit on the ladies at night (thankfully I only had to go on a business trip with him once).  Thankfully, in my long work career and even as a consultant with some very different international companies afterwards, I was always able to avoid having to go bar-hopping with them (although I’m sure they would have liked to have me as a designated driver), and particularly not have to go to the “gentleman’s clubs” (a misnomer if I ever heard one, and containing companionship there that no true gentleman would ever want).

My point here is not to shame or shake my finger at these people, but to confess that while I knew all the spiritual answers why that type of life was indeed lifeless, there was always a small part of me in the back of my mind that wondered why I didn’t “get it”, and why it sounded like their lives were closer to the coolness I saw on TV, while I was sitting alone in my hotel room, maybe reading a Bible.  Television, movies and advertising has a remarkable way, along with peer pressure, to implant urges and understandings subliminally in all of us, which our rational mind otherwise could dismiss.  How many of you have seen those couples on the beach in the “Sandals” or “Beaches” all-inclusive beach resort commercials, and not had a fleet thought of why our lives don’t look like those people, in skimpy swimsuits swinging each other around in the surf in carefree fashion, or drinking cocktails while the flames roar from the surf side gourmet kitchen, which then requires your rational mind to dismiss the thought?  Why do at all the places I vacation, nobody looks like that?  How come I don’t climb mountains (or even mountain bike) like those cool people on TV, and run the rapids in a raft with all those fun-loving people, who all look like models although they seemed to down a lot of beer, and rather still be a loser and hang out at church all the time?  Although I’ve had my share of globe trotting, how come I don’t do it all the time, skipping from one exotic hip restaurant and bar to the next, rather than just sitting here in the same frumpy living room in Tennessee night after night, when every one knows the former is the real way to “live”?

I know my ruminating sounds pitiful, and I may not be communicating effectively and just giving TMI (too much information) about myself and the cobwebs of my memory, but I want to reconsider what state “pitiful” really is.  I know many people get so enamored with the carefree lifestyle of the beach fantasy, that they sell everything, quit their promising job, leaving their relationships and “head for the beach”, prepared to live life to the fullest, and endless nights of excitement and passion, from one hip nightclub to the next.  Then reality sets in.  Bills have to be paid, rent has to be met, people get sick, cars still break.  Even the night life gets a little monotonous.  The people at the hip clubs don’t seem to be interesting much any more, and certainly not as fulfilling as our hopes had let on, or reliable friends when you’re down and no fun, any more than those who spent the Prodigal Son’s money for him.  All our satisfying relationships and interesting careers were back home.  Its hard to develop one’s life sitting on the beach or in the bar all the time.  Before long you become a beach town local, paying the bills by trying to accommodate tourists to have their own fantasy.  I knew some young guys who worked in the defense industry like me who headed to Southern California to find exciting jobs and “where the action is” for young people, like on TV.  When I went to see them, all they did was work around the clock, so they they could pay insane rent along with a number of roommates (same thing in Washington DC).  They still hit the bars and drank (just like the old geezers I traveled with), but it was because they had nothing else to do, and no other communal connections.  Some “exciting life” to envy.  In all my business travels with such people, over dinner or on flights, I never heard them talk about the spiritual truths that underwrote their motivations in life, their spiritual goals, or even an afterlife that scripted their priorities today.  Mostly just where the next bar is, and something else to buy, to fill the void.  I have also seen professing Christians falling into the same dead end path.  Most such people cannot direct their life based upon spiritual goals, and often become nomadic, with minimal regular relationships, their lifestyle almost entirely dictated by their jobs, business travel, and maybe a distracting hobby; they couldn’t imagine carrying on a series of meaningful, deep conversations with the goal of learning spiritually from each other, apart from the “liquor doing the talking” in some uninhibited, incoherent scattershot philosophy shared in the wee hours at a bar.  Part of the reason is that they do not frequent ‘un-hip” places where such people might possibly be found (although they may find “philosophers” who may grasp in the darkness just like they do), and they do not stay still long enough and make the sacrifices to build community locally, particularly if they are transplants like me.  But they do look hip to others, doing all those exciting things they supposedly do.   I have decided that those who live such a “fast-paced life” do so typically because they are “running” from something.

I’m probably reading way too much into this, but I see this mindset typified in spades in Anthony Bourdain and others of his ilk.  Other sources I read said he traveled at least 250 days a year, although he tried to spend a few days with his daughter between trips.  Others said he was mentally and physically exhausted – the common “reward” for being a “success” in worldly pursuits and business.  He said he was a big “doubter” that did not believe in certainty regarding religion and God; I wonder how much energy he put into trying to resolve that most important issue in the universe?  Did he pursue people who might have had some ideas on how he could resolve it? Was it so important an issue to him – will he have a life after this earth – that he put great effort to its resolution, including making such great efforts to get the answer directly from God, or rather tried (like many) to distract themselves with other pursuits to bury the nagging spectre?  We can take comfort in knowing that our Lord says that “He who seeks, will find”, when those who pursue answers to the real meaning of life and the knowledge of God and their role with Him, do it like the one who lost the sheep or the missing coin, ignoring all other matters until they get it resolved.  From this we should try to stimulate a desire for answers to those questions in those we know and meet (starting with the general mystery of “where consciousness comes from”), and encourage them to become honest and dedicated “seekers”; they should also be gently reminded that all other pursuits – including even careers, and the seduction of early success and the accolades that come with it – all always have their conclusion at the grave, regardless of accomplishment, and even the general and honest skeptic of God should recognize, and be motivated by that.

A lesson I take from this musing is that I should be supremely grateful for the lowly, unremarkable, and mundane upbringing I experienced, and in particular being exposed to the most important truth in life – that I was made for a legitimate and important purpose, that life exists beyond the grave and for eternity, the decisions I make here matter in that regard, and I have an eternal destiny to fulfill, and labors to be performed now that will carry over into the next world.  To be honest, I did not really have to resist the fast-paced lifestyle, including the early experiments in sex and drugs, because in His grace God simply protected me from it, by giving me good parents, siblings and friends to hang out with apart from that scene (and maybe an inability to attract that kind of girl, anyway).  The price I paid for at the time, was feeling inadequate, bored, unnoticed and not fulfilling my potential (at least as seen on TV), but what I got in return was a healthy upbringing, few regrets and life baggage, real friends and a meaningful life that grows in satisfaction, rather than less.

Another lesson I learn from this, and has been on my mind more so lately, is that even with the most successful people in worldly terms like Mr. Bourdain, or other celebrities or businessmen of lesser character, the apparent futility of all their hard work, dedication and resultant short-term success, and lack of personal satisfaction it provides, which suggests to me that the best use of my time today, and any time, is to focus on activities and pursuits that will survive into the world to come.  We all need time in our decaying physical bodies and mental states for periodic diversions and recreations to rest our bodies and minds, and spur inspiration, creativity and fellowship, but they should play a supporting role, not be the main function.  Those of us Christians “in the know” as to the limited data we know of the emerging “Kingdom of Heaven” would be even more foolish than the “Mr. Bourdains” of the world by not letting this knowledge, which we purport to believe by faith, to dictate how we spend the activities of our days, and our thoughts when we are still.  We believe that there are some things, and some works, that will not decay or burn with this world; why are we not more about doing them?  Why is our sacred, eternally-important rescue mission not more of a premium?  Why not more “cups of cold water” in Christ’s name, and invitations to the Kingdom to all who will hear, and burdened in the heart?  Are we not so much more blessed to be aware of the genuine lasting meaning behind such endeavors, rather than those who have no such illumination, and who rather stumble in the darkness of not just uncertainty, but rather utter ignorance of the things eternal, even though they seem to have this world on a “string”?  What lasting lessons can we learn, people we can assist, and good works we can accomplish that we could carry with us into the next world?

Lastly, this latter contrast between the believer who has been privy to secret revelations since the Cross that even the exalted angels “desire to look into” as to God’s “end game” and our ultimate destiny, and the “hipster” whom the world loves today and who receives much adoration, but it being short lived and at great price, and ultimately unsatisfying to the secretly-insecure recipient, should cause us to pity such popular and “successful” figures – even presidents – and not to envy them, yet nor despise them.  Christ called the rich, successful hipsters at Laodicea blind and poor, from a heavenly perspective.  Those who seek good times in drink or drugs – even casually – or seek truth with God on the outside, may seem like divas and arrogant at times, but they really are pitiful and in need of our spiritual help, even if it is resisted by them.  Many of the most intimidating people we meet may just be a step away from throwing in the towel on life, and unlike the world, see themselves as a dismal failure, or wondering when it is going to stop, and the world gets tired of them or asks, “What have you done for me lately?”, or have their fears recognized that they are eventually discovered as being a talentless fraud.  Robin Williams, the comical genius, had those same feelings, and worked himself to death and despair to dig out of the hole he had gotten in to, both financially and relationship-wise.  Who was there with a wise spiritual word for him, and patiently waited while he wrestled with it?

Learning from the pitiful example of Mr. Bourdain, one possessed of many virtues, we need to stop adoring these high-profile figures or trying to emulate them, and also not despise them for any “despicableness” (as a mask for our envy), but rather to pity, in a non-judgmental and non-demeaning way, just as our Lord would do, rightly ascertaining the real spiritual struggles they face, and a lack of a spiritual grounding we take for granted.  These types of people in our circles should be subjects for our prayers and ministry of intervention, and not our adoration.  And we better be thankful for our boring humble lives, with time to think, pray, fellowship on a real spiritual level with our family members and friends, and participate in our local church and greater spiritual community, as opportunities to be real “successes” in life.

 

 

 

 

Field Trip Report: The Anawim, and The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

“But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek [anawim] of the earth”  Isaiah 11:4

“For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor [anawim] shall not perish for ever.” Psalm 9:18

 

 

One Sunday some time ago my pastor preached a sermon that included a mention and discussion of the “Anawim” – a category of people mentioned in the Bible.  My recollection is that he pointed out that they were the people Jesus said He came to minister to and represent, and whose issues and concerns were paramount on God’s mind, and the concept never left me.  He used several Bible passages that used the Hebrew word (or its Greek word by similarity) to to describe them and God’s thoughts on them, and among the definitions he cited of them, including “the poor ones”, or “the humble” or “meek”, one of the most interesting is “the lost and forgotten ones”.  I have had great difficulty finding “official” definitions of the term (even the Jewish Encyclopedia doesn’t seem to include it), but numerous religious citations online use this latter definition as well.  An article by the Catholic News Agency gives a pretty standard working definition of who they represented:

“The anawim of the Old Testament were the poor of every sort: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status without earthly power. In fact, they depended totally on God for whatever they owned. The Hebrew word anawim (inwetan) means those who are bowed down.”

A review of the old trusty Blue Letter Bible reveals that the Outline of Biblical Usage of the singular form anav describes it in scripture as meaning “poor”, “needy”, “humble”, “afflicted” or “meek”.  A similar entry for the related term anah includes the ideas of being “wretched”, “stooped over” (as in oppression or because of one’s humble estate before others), or to be “depressed”, “downcast” or “humiliated”.

When one reviews the different ways in which the Bible uses the terms, you pretty quickly get the picture that it represents the people who are the opposite of the “movers and shakers” of the world, and those who “have connections” either financial or political.  This would comprise the overwhelming portion of people who have ever lived on the earth, including slaves, peasants, serfs, and indentured servants, and their modern variants.  The pages of history ignore these nameless people, even though they built walls, cities, bridges, dug canals, rowed ships, constructed monuments, fought the wars on behalf of the rich, blasted through mountains for the railroads, and generally built the world that we enjoy, not to mention do housekeeping, car washing, janitorial services, lawn care, fast food work and some combination thereof for most of us.

They are lightly regarding in advertising and business ventures, because they are not seen as having deep enough pockets of disposable income to be targeted, in comparison to image-conscious and fad-addicted yuppies and other middle and upper classes, who are easy pickings to feed their vanity; the former’s lot is to be earmarked for liquor, cigarette and lottery ticket inducements and advertising.  While we’re at it, we should include other categories that are the “lost and forgotten ones” in our society, most of whom are in some form of institutional or pseudo-institutional care outside their total control, including the elderly and home-bound, the disabled, those in homeless shelters, on the streets, mental care facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, detention homes, prisons and jails and the like.  It’s as if these people didn’t exist – Madison Avenue doesn’t care about them because they don’t have enough disposal income to spend, Wall Street doesn’t because they don’t have enough to invest, politicians don’t because they can’t contribute to campaigns and often can’t even get out to vote, and, sadly, even many churches don’t because these people can’t contribute to their coffers.  No one is representing their interests except God, and a few groups of limited resources – these people can’t even afford a lawyer to look out for them.  You normally don’t see these people in TV shows, advertising, or the focus of the public discourse, and seen as real people – even though many of us will join their ranks eventually.  In the meantime, these are the people we see as a “burden” and being “in the way”. 

Many American Christians deride any whiff of socialism or attempts to “redistribute the wealth” to lazy low-income people, with programs such as “equal opportunity” and credits or tax breaks for tuition and the like (although they quietly avail themselves of such programs when no one is looking).  However, one the earliest efforts of historical national income redistribution was not by the Communists, but by God Himself in the only government He established in detail, in ancient Israel under the guidance of the Mosaic Law.  God knew how fallen man – even the “chosen people” – in societal environments would result in an inevitable exploitation of the anawim and stratification of wealth into a feudalistic system, and thus instituted many novel civil rights and policies to protect the underclass.  He prevented lenders from confiscating the income-earning tools of their debtors, and even their cloaks used to keep them warm, and many other means to restrain the coercive power of income disparity.  The chief of these was the jubilee year, in which the wealth (expressed in real estate) gradually confiscated by the wealth class had to be returned to the original historical families in the jubilee year, with all debts forgiven, as a command of the Law itself.  While that occurred every fiftieth year, every seventh year the land was to experience a sabbath jubilee and rest from being cultivated, while the food the grew wild in its place was to be shared by the whole community that year, and not just the land owners.  Furthermore, Hebrew slaves were released from servitude at that time, so as to not create generations of slaves.  God also instituted wise prescriptions to accommodate the socially-beneficial aspects of the Jubilee, while not unnecessarily exploiting temporary owners between their observances, such as letting them buy land on a pro-rated basis of remaining time before the jubilee.  This is in stark contrast to what they observed in Egypt, which was the confiscation of a nation’s wealth due to a temporary famine – under the direction of Joseph, no less  – who first confiscated the people’s land and working tools in exchange for grain, and then put them to work on government land, in government housing, and afterwards provided them seed to develop long-term wealth for the State, as recorded in the late chapters of Genesis, and was repeated by the American government in 2008, as I wrote in How to Overcome the Most Frightening Issues You Will Face This Century.

A Jewish Christian writes online that “In the ancient world, owning land was greatly prized because it was a source of food, income and security.  In that economy where people depended on the crops they raised, if a family had a bad harvest and ran out of food, they were forced to go into debt or even sell their land.  If they couldn’t recover but fell further behind, they would have to sell themselves into slavery or leave the country, like Naomi and Elimelech in the book of Ruth.  People did not borrow money and sell land for business purposes, they did it only out of desperate economic need.  So the Jubilee was for one main purpose – to provide for the poor who had gone into debt or lost their land, so that they would be able to start over again.  Without it, the wealthy would always do better in bad years, and the land would tend to move into their hands while those who had lost their land would become permanently enslaved”.  She adds that “Another effect of the Jubilee would be to stop the destruction of families.  If a man lost his land and sold himself and his family into slavery, or if he moved out of the country, he would be likely to never see his family together again.  Part of the reason Naomi was distraught was because not only had she lost her hope for future descendants, but by leaving Israel, she also lost her family and past.  When she returned, she was reunited with her family.  So the year of Jubilee was to be a year that people returned home and families were brought together again”.  She laments that “Did Israel ever actually observe the year of Jubilee?  The evidence suggests that they never did.  It says in 2 Chronicles that they never let the land have its Sabbath years every seventh year, and if they never did that, they most likely never observed the year of Jubilee either.  Several of the prophets lament the exploitation of the poor by the rich, which also hints that they never observed a Jubilee year”.

God in fact warned the Hebrews when He gave them the Law what would happen to them if they did not honor the sabbaths and jubilees, and harness their greed by letting the land rest, sharing the excess after the years of saving with the members of their community, and eventually forgiving debts and intentionally re-distributing wealth, as God prescribed for a healthy society.  He wrote them in the Torah in Leviticus 26 that if they did not honor the sabbaths and other aspects of the law, they would be driven outside their promised land and into captivity, and “I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.  Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye [be] in your enemies’ land; [even] then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.  As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it” [Lev 26:33-35 KJV].  The people of Israel evidently did not believe God or like His idea of restraining the wealth accumulation by their elites in competition, because it appears they did not obey the Jubilee sanctions in the Law, and as a result they were led into captivity in Babylon for as long as it took for the land to experience it lost jubilees.  In 2 Chronicles it is written of this Exile in Babylon, “And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: [for] as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years” [2Ch 36:20-21 KJV].  Ironically, the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar was the one who not only honored Jeremiah by raising him from the latrine his Jewish leaders had thrown him in, but also re-distributed the wealth to the poor Jews remaining in the land; no wonder God called pagan Nebuchadnezzar “my servant”, and gave him the land (Jer. 27:6).  Even before that time when the situation was desperate, the Jewish nobility got the idea that they would curry God’s favor by releasing their fellow Jews from slavery as servants, since they had not done that before as commanded, but not long thereafter they missed having the servants wait on their every need (much as we exploit immigrants today), and soon re-subjugated them, which made God only madder.  God is serious about the poor getting relief from exploitation and “another shot”, and if His people won’t do it, He’ll send in outside invaders to get it done, and I assume He still has the same attitude.       

The Jewish Encyclopedia adds some further details.  They write that the Jubilee began with the blowing of the shofar at the Day of Atonement – which could signify that the release of debt of everyone in society was an extension of the release of eternal debt God granted to the people each year at that day, similar to how Jesus portrayed us as receiving forgiveness of “great debt” from the Master, but then immediately being hesitant to grant forgiveness for small debts from others.  They add that during the seventh year rest of the land “one shall neither sow nor reap as hitherto for his private gain, but all members of the community—the owner, his servants, and strangers—as well as domestic and wild animals, shall share in consuming the natural or spontaneous yield of the soil”.   They add that the fiftieth year Jubilee included “the compulsory restoration of hereditary properties…to the original owners or their legal heirs, and the emancipation of all Hebrew servants whose term of six years is unexpired…The regulations of the Sabbatical year include also the annulment of all monetary obligations between Israelites, the creditor being legally barred from making any attempt to collect his debt (Deut. xv. 1)”.  They add that “rest from labor is an absolute necessity both for animal and for vegetable life; that continuous cultivation will eventually ruin the land.  The law of the Sabbatical year acts also as a statute of limitation or a bankruptcy law for the poor debtor, in discharging his liability for debts contracted, and in enabling him to start life anew on an equal footing with his neighbor, without the fear that his future earnings will be seized by his former creditors.  The jubilee year was the year of liberation of servants whose poverty had forced them into employment by others. Similarly all property alienated for a money consideration to relieve poverty, was to be returned to the original owners without restoration of the amount which had been advanced”.

The authors also note that in the rabbinic era the leaders began to trim the provisions and shrink the utility of the jubilee, as they turned to more of a mercantile society.  Furthermore, they note that as Jewish colonists returned to Palestine in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, “The leaders of the movement…claimed that the law is now obsolete”.  Because this caused a guilty conscience in the religiously observant portion of the people, they write that the issue “was submitted to the chief rabbis in Europe and Palestine.  Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spector was inclined to be lenient, and advocated a nominal sale of the land to a non-Jew and the employment of non-Jewish laborers during shemiṭṭah”.  Make sure you understand this – the Israeli rabbis – who teach that the “land cannot be divided” and never fall under the hands of their Gentile neighbors in Gaza, the West Bank or elsewhere due to the sacred nature of the land and God’s promises, and Talmudic prohibitions from selling it to the goyimwillingly sell the land of Israel for a year or more before the Sabbath to an uncircumcised Gentile in order to skirt God’s commands to let the land rest a year, and still greedily demand more output from it, as a type of Mosaic “loophole”.  That’s what you get when you have a religion based on law: a religion dominated (and exploited) by lawyers – a lesson our Christian ideologues and theologians would be wise to learn from.

Another website by a rabbi states that when Israel became a nation, it found complying with these Mosaic Laws impactful to the “bottom line”, so “In order to avoid the cancellation of all debts, a serious hardship in our commercial society, the device was introduced even in Talmudic times of handing the debts over before the end of the Sabbatical year, to a temporary court consisting of three persons, the debts then being considered to have been paid to the court beforehand”.  The rabbi further writes that “Because of all this and the great difficulty in keeping the law, the official Rabbinate in Israel adopts the legal fiction of selling the land to a Gentile on the analogy of the sale of leaven before Passover.  Many have felt, however, that, while legal fictions have their place in Jewish law, it seems more than a little absurd to effect a merely formal sale of all Jewish land to a Gentile”.  This process continues today in Israel.  In a 2007 article in the Jerusalem Post, the author wrote that “Under Heter Mechira Israel’s agricultural fields are sold to a non-Jew for two years.  The halachic basis is that when land is owned by non- Jews some work that is otherwise forbidden is allowed”.  He writes that Rabbi Yosef Rimon acknowledges the deception involving, writing himself that “One of the most discomforting aspects of the Heter Mechira is that it reminds us of a loophole that allows the criminal to walk free…In a normal legal system, as soon as a loophole is discovered, the law is amended in order to ‘seal’ the hole that went unnoticed when the law was first legislated.  In civil law, had the legislature foreseen that a certain loophole would be exploited, it would have sealed the hole from the outset, rather then leave a breach that it invites the criminal to commit his offense.  God, however, is prescient and all-knowing.  If a breach is found in the Torah, it cannot be that God was not aware of it from the very beginning.  A loophole in the Torah must have been intentionally included so that it might be used at the appropriate time”.   According to the conservative Israel National News, this technique allowed Israeli Jewish farmers to work for the Gentile owners they temporarily sold the land to rather than letting it rest or be used by the poor, and when the Ashkenazi rabbis would not support it, the farmers found Sephardic rabbis to sell the land for them.  Another 2007 article in the New York Times showed that the practice was being affirmed by the Israeli Supreme Court, in a case involving the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.  This clever tactic by their “lawyer rabbis” was not just a deception and cheating of the poor – it was also a deception and cheating of God.  How do we in our Christian community rationalize things like that today? 

A cursory review of some of the Bible verses using these terms tells a lot about how God views the poor, meek anawim, as opposed to the world:

“They turn the needy out of the way: the poor of the earth hide themselves together.” [Job 24:4]

“Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.” [Psa 10:12]

“But the meek [anawim] shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”. [Psa 37:11]

“When God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth.” [Psa 76:9]

“The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.” [Psa 147:6]

“He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy [is] he.” [Pro 14:21]

“Better [it is to be] of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” [Pro 16:19]

“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” [Deu 15:11]

“Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant [that is] poor and needy, [whether he be] of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that [are] in thy land within thy gates [i.e., “undocumented workers”]:” [Deu 24:14]

“Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and [him that had] none to help him.” [Job 29:12]

“But I [am] poor and needy; [yet] the Lord thinketh upon me: thou [art] my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.” [Psa 40:17]

“He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. …For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and [him] that hath no helper.” [Psa 72:4, 12]

“Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.” [Psa 82:3]

“Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” [Pro 31:9]

“The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully.” [Eze 22:29]

“Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry.  The LORD looseth the prisoners:…The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.” [Psa 146:7, 9 KJV]

The Bible even notes that the government is not the only power of coercion on earth; the rich have power over the poor, in the marketplace and even the courts, if government is not used to restrain them.  God did not believe in the libertarian ‘buyer beware” policy that did not regulate the marketplace, when the poor are so easily manipulated and exploited by the lender and the merchant, and it is a consistent “big deal” to God, as the many following verses attest:

“Thy princes [are] rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.” [Isa 1:23 KJV]

“Her heads judge for a bribe, Her priests teach for pay, And her prophets divine for money.  Yet they lean on the LORD, and say, “Is not the LORD among us?  No harm can come upon us.” [Micah 3:11 NKJV]

“The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower [is] servant to the lender.” [Pro 22:7 KJV]

“The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich [hath] many friends. [Pro 14:20 KJV]

“Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.” [Exo 23:6 KJV]

“Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, [nor] of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge” [Deu 24:17 KJV]

“Divers weights [are] an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance [is] not good.” [Pro 20:23 KJV]

“A just weight and balance [are] the LORD’S: all the weights of the bag [are] his work.” [Pro 16:11 KJV]

“Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small.  [But] thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” [Deu 25:14-15 KJV]

“Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn?  and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?  That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; [yea], and sell the refuse of the wheat?” [Amos 8:4-6 KJV]

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what [is] good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?…Shall I count [them] pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights?  For the rich men thereof are full of violence, and the inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue [is] deceitful in their mouth.” [Mic 6:8, 11-12 KJV]

 

God even said He would judge the “sons of God” He assigned to rule over the 70 nations of earth, over how they treated the poor in their own realms, saying to them:

“How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?  Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.  Deliver the poor and needy: rid [them] out of the hand of the wicked.” [Psa 82:2-4 KJV]

 

God was not just “talk” about the poor; He was “action” in how high He regarded them.  For example, He apparently sent Jesus Himself to come minister to the unwanted, poor immigrant slave girl Hagar, when ‘God’s people” sent her and her baby son out to wander the desert – like many who cross into our country – and twice came to comfort her, leading her to say, “I have seen Him who sees me” (Gen. 16:8) – possibly one the first humans to see Christ face to face.  Likewise, God looked after the immigrant Moabitess Ruth, leading her to Israel as an undocumented immigrant to find deliverance at the hand of a citizen of Israel (even though Ezra had commanded the Israelites to send wives and children of Moabite and surrounding nationality immigrant origin away to an unknown fate in exile), and later the Moabitess Ruth served as a descendant of Jesus Himself.  Jesus Himself was born into a poor, blue-collar family, having been born in an animal pen, and did hard manual labor, probably for a long time under a single mother, in almost certain poverty.  Jesus was homeless, too – He had “no place to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20).  His first “fans”, who witnessed a privileged display of the heavenly host, were the lowest of low classes – shepherds doing their work on the fringes of society.  His closest friends were “unschooled fishermen” (Acts 4:13).  The ones He thought were the greatest “went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated–the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” [Heb 11:37-38 NIV]

Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1 when He stated, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).  These were the first words out of Jesus’ mouth when He inaugurated His ministry at the local synagogue, thereby defining the priority of His ministry and intended recipients, moments before his religious leaders and neighbors proceeded to try to kill Him.

The early church watched Jesus’ emphasis on the poor and stranger, and His insistence that it was His Father’s will as well, and in some cases they “passed with flying colors”, such as their sharing of resources to the point that the community took notice, as we saw in the Book of Acts, and their generosity throughout the Roman world as the scattered Gentile churches raised scarce funds to help their Jewish Christian brethren in the Jerusalem church who were suffering from the brutal famine in the region.  However, in other instances they got a “goose egg”, such as when they neglected the “outsider culture” Gentiles in their own ranks in the form of the Grecian widows, prompting the apostles themselves to take action, and their selfishness and display of privilege by flaunting their envious food spreads at their “love feasts” communion events, while the poor in their own churches had little to eat there – a food display that was “to die for”, after the Lord intervened.

The New Testament, including statements by Jesus Himself, does add some further thoughts on the issue of the poor, of which we’ll share here a few of its statements:

“Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor [thy] rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.   But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” [Luk 14:12-14 KJV]

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” [2Co 8:9 KJV]

“Only [they would] that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.” [Gal 2:10 KJV]

The Book of James was written to Jewish Christians who left Jerusalem (“the twelve tribes scattered abroad”), and James evidently thought they had to deal with a cultural issue they had with desiring and respecting wealth, because he spent a good part of his epistle addressing it, in passages such as these:

“For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?  Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?  But ye have despised the poor.  Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?” [Jas 2:2-6 KJV]

Having said these things, the following two passages best express Christ’s view towards the poor, and that which He wishes for His followers:

“And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed [be ye] poor: for yours is the kingdom of God…But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.” [Luk 6:20, 24 KJV]

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment [justice], mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” [Mat 23:23 KJV]

I know I have spent a lot of your time (and patience) in reciting all these Bible verses, but the key point I am making is that, even though conservative evangelicals (like those of my culture, and maybe yours) don’t talk about the poor very much, it appears to be a “big deal” to God!  In fact, the latter verse suggests that much of our forms of outer piety, which may include regular church attendance, faithful service with the fellowship there, prayer and even testifying, are things that should not be “undone”, but that God really does have “front burner” issues (of what Jesus calls “the weightier matters of the law”), and “justice” is one of them, whether it fits our politics or not!  We are not to have “doctrinal churches” or “service and social justice churches” or any debate between them, but all churches that do both, so others can see our real love for them, and God’s love for them as well, and thus believe our message.  Jesus was a perfect example of this: His “stool of ministry” had three legs – doctrinal teaching of the kingdom, spiritual warfare to release people from demons and spiritual bondage, and ministry for the people’s needs of hunger and hurting, and without all three the ministry would have been lacking, and so will ours!  Think about this: each of these three “legs” ministers specifically to the three parts of our nature – soul (intellect), spirit and body, each one seeking its own “salvation” of justification, sanctification and glorification; which one should be left out?

Even though “justice” is one of the “weightier matters of the law”, my friend Micah points out that Christians have seemed to usually prefer “charity” over “social and economic justice” for the poor, and now I see his point.  This is like the “trickle down economics” crumbs that fall off the rich man’s table that he let the beggar Lazarus eat in the Bible; we all know how much God was impressed with the rich man’s generosity and compassion of Lazarus (actually, the dogs were more compassionate in licking Lazarus’s sores – sort of a low-cost Republican health care alternative to Obama Care).  There was a move in the Christian community, mostly beginning in England in the second half of the nineteenth century, to see the “huddled masses” in the teeming cities in the early days of the Industrial Age, and begin to notice their squalor and hopeless situation, and recognize some Christian duty to provide homes for orphans, and basic food and shelter for the needy, but those involved were certainly the minority.  The “social justice” movement began to take hold in the U.S. in the early twentieth century, but it was dominated by ‘liberal” Christian factions, and sometimes even had (gasp!) women ministerial leaders!  This movement faded as well, as conservative and fundamentalist Christian communities were suspicious of the motives of such supposedly “Christian” groups; their view of such Christians as “socialists” was akin to then (and now) viewing them in a similar way to “devil worshippers” – an artificial association that must be intentionally programmed by others into a person or community.  I believe that the inadequate movement by the church in Europe to minister to the exploited workers in Industrial Age Europe – not only assuring their basic needs were met but also pushing on their big business capitalist buddies to provide some form of union representation and balance to their exploitation, led the masses to be ripe for the (relatively) compassionate (but atheistic, in terms of Marxism) communist message to represent the workers, out of desperation.  Similar to when the French Church defended the military and government establishment in knowingly sending an innocent Jewish military officer Dreyfus to Devil’s Island to maintain the social order and their position, when the American church pulled away from their responsibility to the “working man” of the Industrial Age and to hold capitalism in check, the liberal secular humanists, and those of them in government, filled in the moral void of compassion, and have done the job of providing the basic social safety net ever since.  In recent days, the Mormon Glenn Beck (a favorite of conservative Christians) has made “social justice” the new “n-word”, and a concept of total contempt and distrust – presumably he’s never read God’s opinion in His word on the subject.

 

Roughly a week ago on Mother’s Day, I spent the day with my mother and family members out of town.  The close family members I visited are clearly good Christian people, have raised solid Christian families, and have been compassionate with those around them, and I respect them.  However, for some reason the topic of the current administration came up, and “what has happened with me” in the more liberal views they think I have recently espoused than those we were raised on.  In short order I was accused by the group of being a “Muslim lover” (having been told that “they all want to cut our heads off”) who did not favor the eradication of the aggressive Iran (a people I pointed out whose democratic secular government was overthrown by ours in a secret operation in the 1950s), weak on “standing with Israel” (to which I asked them to be specific as to who were the “sons of Abraham” specified in the Bible that would be subject to such promises (and if it included the 80 percent of Israelis who are atheists and do not believe in any “God of Abraham”, joined by a religious minority who will bomb the homes of Christians there, or attack them in the streets (except for Christian tourists with money to bring))), and finally being willing to just give away all our hard-earned money to the lazy underclass who seeks to exploit us – views that do all have a common association.  I briefly mentioned that the phrases they used I recollected as being virtually verbatim from certain cable news networks and radio talk show hosts.

To be fair, even as a blue collar, working class family we were raised in, in an old neighborhood and of modest means, the culture persisted (amongst Christians and within our community) of the concepts of the poor and underclass as expressed in the song of the time “Welfare Cadillac”, that being of (largely in the inner cities, and of certain races mostly) people who expected handouts and a refusal to work, and an expectation to have freely given to them and without consequence a standard living above us ‘hard working people”.  We saw some of those kids get free lunches or breakfasts at school, and swore we saw people at the supermarket buying T-Bone steaks with food stamps.  We actually had no idea what standard of living people could support with public assistance (nor can people today unless one has been on it, but almost always grossly over-exaggerated), but there were not-so-veiled references to women in such slums having additional babies merely to gain the extra welfare checks.  There was some modest help provided for those we knew and thought were “deserving”.  Enforced school busing of children from the inner city to my school, and the turmoil that caused, did not help attitudes much, leading us to be sent to a modest Christian school, ironically in the poorest and most depressing part of the inner city.  As talk radio grew, we began to learn better that the Democratic Party always went for the ‘deadbeats” in giving them free stuff, as a way to garner their votes as a winning coalition.  Tax credits for the poor and single parents were always resented, and many Christians today would assume those folks still “have it too good” and are big beneficiaries from their man Trump’s tax cuts (designed to help ‘the working man”), even though reality shows that the poorest had their taxes raised by 20% (from 10% to 12%), while the wealthiest corporations had their taxes almost cut in half; now there are the inevitable rumblings in Congress that social programs will have to be cut significantly to prevent expanding deficits from the huge tax cut to the wealthy.

It is sad that the main preoccupation in most churches is in securing annual revenue sufficient to keep their “Christian Life Centers” and matrix of lavish campuses operating (and admittedly, to justify maintaining large staffs and impressive salaries requires displaying a big operation), with mortgages and maintenance costs paid, rather than in estimating what their resources could do to impact the poorest in their community.  Ironically, my pastor told me once that data he came across suggested something to the effect that is all of America’s Christians merely tithed their income, there would be enough funds to pay for adequate food and health care for the entire world.  However, if our churches obtained such faithful income from their parishioners, for reasons I just described I doubt it would be put to that noble use.  My wife and I found out personally, that one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship churches in our city’s downtown, to which we were members for a time, got tired having us and another couple escort homeless men inside the door of the church to be fitted for clothes to go to interviews and to obtain work, because they expected it “looked bad” to the yuppies in the new condos moving in downtown that they wanted to court (thankfully, our church today has some heroic members who support Room in the Inn, which helps the homeless in a modest way and shows them love, and puts them in our face in the suburbs to remind us they are still there and not forgotten).  I also have to confess that having worked with such needy individuals on the fringes of churches for all my church life of many decades, it is a frustrating task for me and for many, since many have issues of various types that lead them to not heed good advice and to make their own problems and exacerbate them, and try one’s patience when trying to help.  As I say this as one who thinks of himself as trying to “keep his own act together” and not be a burden on others, but routinely ignores it when both the discipline and presumption on others is an issue in my own life.  I do think that some form of accountability and reward for healthy behavior is prudent, both to truly help the individual to get on their feet if that is possible, and to not bring those helping to anguish and cynicism.  However, I don’t notice the church, at least the conservative side, talking about the poor much at all.  And if Jesus required me to “shape up” and put my screw-ups behind me before He continued to bail me out, I would be in deep trouble myself. 

Why do people we try to help keep falling into repeated bouts of trouble?  Well, new data seems to suggest the stress of poverty produces its own inability to make good decisions, at a time when the afflicted need it most.  According to a May 2018 article in The Atlantic, “several recent studies suggest that having less money can actually affect thinking and memory for the worse. In the most recent of these papers, scientists found a link between being lower on the socioeconomic ladder and changes in the brain”.  They add that “Past studies have also suggested that being low in socioeconomic status can affect the way we think.  A paper in Science in 2013 found that ‘a person’s cognitive function is diminished by the constant and all-consuming effort of coping with the immediate effects of having little money, such as scrounging to pay bills and cut costs’.  The cognitive cost of poverty, that study found, was practically like losing an entire night of sleep.  Another study from last year found that people who had lived in poverty performed worse than those who had never been poor on tests of verbal memory, processing speed, and executive functioning”.  They quote an expert who said that “Previous views of poverty have blamed poverty on personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success … We’re arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function.  The very condition of not having enough can actually be a cause of poverty”.  A 2013 study by Princeton found that

“Poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life, according to research based at Princeton University.  As a result, people of limited means are more likely to make mistakes and bad decisions that may be amplified by — and perpetuate — their financial woes…The researchers suggest that being poor may keep a person from concentrating on the very avenues that would lead them out of poverty…Thusly, a person is left with fewer ‘mental resources’ to focus on complicated, indirectly related matters such as education, job training and even managing their time.  In a series of experiments, the researchers found that pressing financial concerns had an immediate impact on the ability of low-income individuals to perform on common cognitive and logic tests.  On average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibited a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ…The poor are often highly effective at focusing on and dealing with pressing problems.  It’s the other tasks where they perform poorly.  The fallout of neglecting other areas of life may loom larger for a person just scraping by…Late fees tacked on to a forgotten rent payment, a job lost because of poor time-management — these make a tight money situation worse.  And as people get poorer, they tend to make difficult and often costly decisions that further perpetuate their hardship.”

Many in my conservative Christian circles have adopted an argument they have heard on talk radio, cable news or social media that the government systematically re-distributes the wealth from the rich and middle class to the poor.  While I do agree that its programs do accomplish a re-distribution of wealth, my look at the data and government intrusion from a more holistic view of its overall impact on society would suggest that its re-distribution is actually from the poor and middle class to the rich, and the data seems to bear that out.  With large government programs for welfare and”‘equal opportunity”, how could that be?  One needs to consider the overwhelming largesse from enormous government contracts to businesses of taxpayer money, lucrative tax credits, and investment in education and infrastructure that largely benefits the big business and investor class, not to mention the booty and spoils from wars, fought on the ground by the poor on private’s salaries, to secure oil fields and retain overseas markets for investors and big business.

Does the data show this to be plausible?  Well, an article in The Washington Post in December 2017 stated that “The wealthiest 1 percent of American households own 40 percent of the country’s wealth, according to a new paper by economist Edward N. Wolff. That share is higher than it has been at any point since at least 1962″.  The author adds that “From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the 1 percent shot up by nearly three percentage points.  Wealth owned by the bottom 90 percent, meanwhile, fell over the same period.  Today, the top 1 percent of households own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.  That gap, between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else, has only become wider in the past several decades”.  They cite that

“In 2010, Michael Norton and Dan Ariely surveyed more than 5,500 people to find out how they thought wealth should be distributed in this country… On average, respondents said that in an ideal world the top 20 percent of Americans would get nearly one-third of the pie, the second and middle quintiles would get about 20 percent each, and the bottom two quintiles would get 13 and 11 slices, respectively.  In an ideal world, in other words, the most productive quintile of society would amass roughly three times the wealth of the least productive”.  In reality, they found that “The top 20 percent of households actually own a whopping 90 percent of the stuff in America…The fourth quintile of households gets literally nothing: no pie.  But they’re still doing better than the bottom 20 percent of households, who are actually in a state of pie debt: Their net worth is underwater, meaning they owe more than they have.  Combined, the average net worth of the bottom 40 percent of households is -$8,900…There’s the top 1 percent, gobbling up an astonishing 40 slices of American pie. The next 4 percent split 27 slices between them, while the next 5 percent take another 12 slices (a little over two slices per person)…The top 1 percent in the U.S. own a much larger share of the country’s wealth than the 1 percent elsewhere. The American 1 percent gobble up twice as much pie (40 percent) as the 1 percent in France, the U.K., or Canada”.

In November 2017 CBS News reported that “The top 1 percent of global citizens own 50.1 percent of all household wealth, up from 45.5 percent in 2000, the study found”.  They add that “the wealth gap recently spurred credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s to warn that worsening inequality could hamper long-term economic growth by dampening social mobility and creating a less-educated workforce.  In October of 2017 The Business Insider reported that “The top 0.1% of households now hold about the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90%”.  In terms of total amount of wealth increase, the London Guardian newspaper reported in December 2017 that “The richest 0.1% of the world’s population have increased their combined wealth by as much as the poorest 50% – or 3.8 billion people – since 1980…The report, which drew on the work of more than 100 researchers around the world, found that the richest 1% of the global population “captured” 27% of the world’s wealth growth between 1980 and 2016.  And the richest of the rich increased their wealth by even more.  The top 0.1% gained 13% of the world’s wealth, and has garnered “as much of the world’s growth since 1980 as the bottom half of the adult population,” the report said. “Conversely, income growth has been sluggish or even nil for the population between the global bottom 50% and top 1%”.  They add that “The economists said wealth inequality had become ‘extreme’ in Russia and the US.  The US’s richest 1% accounted for 39% of the nation’s wealth in 2014 [the latest year available], up from 22% in 1980”, with much of that going to the top 0.1 percent.  The economists note that one of the main remedies of the ever-widening gap between the one percent and the middle classes globally is a more progressive tax bracket structure, but admits that its ability is minimized that ten percent of the elite’s wealth is protected in offshore tax shelters.  In 2017 The Huffington Post reported that “New research suggests that the top 0.01 percent — households with over $40 million in wealth — are manipulating trusts, offshore bank accounts, and various other opaque mechanisms that mask ownership to evade 25 to 30 percent of what they owe in personal income and wealth taxes”.  Importantly, they add that “Our current estimates on wealth inequality in the United States come largely from tax data. These estimates, given the billions upon billions the wealthy are hiding from U.S. tax collectors, now appear to grossly underestimate how much wealth actually sits concentrated at America’s economic summit.”

Another report revealed that the 70% of the world’s population in 2017, with a net worth under $10,000, owned 2.7% of the world’s wealth, while the 0.7% worth $1 million or more controlled 46 percent.  They report that 56% (and rising) of the world’s population is considered “low income” (make less than $10 a day), and another 15% as “poor”.  The biggest wealth disparity they show is in the United States, where “the median top 5% household wealth has more than 90 times the wealth of the median U.S. family“.  Because of this, the middle class in the U.S. has half the proportion of national wealth of their peers in other industrialized nations, as well as half the net worth of the median family there.  Yet another report stated that “If established trends in wealth inequality were to continue, the top 0.1% alone will own more wealth than the global middle class by 2050”.  Even the hard right, libertarian Alex Jones’ website reported that “more than 40 percent of households cannot afford the basics of a middle-class lifestyle, including rent, transportation, childcare and a cellphone”, finding “a wide band of working U.S. households that live above the official poverty line, but below the cost of paying ordinary expenses”

Now let me ask you – does this sound like a healthy society, and state of affairs?  Is this the “triumph” of capitalism, or just Darwinism?  Does this sound more like a growing feudalistic society?  Given the Bible verses we have reviewed, do American Christians have any responsibility here? Are we “our brother’s keeper”?  Do we ‘love our neighbor”?

Almost all American evangelicals absolutely despise Hillary Clinton, with a hatred only rivaled by that for Satan himself.  However, they considered her rival Bernie Sanders as just a nutcase.  But this ‘nutcase” was the only candidate to point out this “elephant in the room” of the expanding gap between the economic elite and the rest, and the crisis that it would present that would soon dwarf the threats of ISIS, Islamic extremism, North Korea or even the Soviets – a clarion call that largely fell on deaf ears.  Evangelicals and those of their ilk are not known to be students of history (or students of much of anything for that matter, generally not being readers of serious subject matter), but if they were it would be greatly apparent that many great empires and cultures fell in time over the growing inequality of wealth, and the inability of the underclass to survive with their plight, with violent rebellion becoming their only option – think of the slave revolts of the Roman Empire, the French monarchy, the Russian tsar, and the like.  When people have nothing left to lose, they will take desperate measures, and in the mayhem, the greedy elites will lose everything they clung to.  Evangelicals have long sided with the Wall Street Republicans, including the current New York City billionaire president, who has placed Wall Street hedge fund managers and CEOs into the key cabinet positions over the financial well-being of the citizenry; it is no surprise that the first Executive Action President Trump took on Inauguration Day was to provide that financial managers did not have to disclose to their consumer clients that they are actually representing the interests of the financial product companies they represent, and not that of their paying customers.   They place in office those who actually raise their taxes in subtle ways beyond their comprehension (like increasing standard deductions that are useless to most with mortgages, while quietly removing their exemptions to offset any benefits), and while cutting the taxes of wealthy corporations almost in half, and increasing the taxes on the poorest by 20 percent.

Of course, just like there’s no such things as “peace profiteers”, those people (even popular ones) who take up the cause of the poor find it a quick way to lose whatever popular support they otherwise had.  As one example, recently The Intercept reported regarding Martin Luther King, Jr. that “in 1966, 63 percent of Americans held a negative view of the civil rights leader, while just 32 percent held a positive one.  This was a marked reversal from five years earlier, when 41 percent of Americans gave King a positive rating and 37 percent a negative one.  King’s slide in popularity coincided with his activism taking a turn from what Americans largely know him for — his campaign for civil rights in the American South — to a much more radical one aimed at the war in Vietnam and poverty.  They note King stating publicly that “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death”, while noting that “Many in King’s inner circle warned against making the speech and publicly campaigning against the war”.  Afterwards, he lost the support of many liberals and the press, as they note that  even The New York Times denounced him as doing a “disservice” to civil rights, while they note that “The Washington Post editorial board said King had ‘diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country and his people’, as ”A political cartoon in the Kansas City Star depicted the civil rights movement as a young black girl crying and begging for her drunk father King, who is consuming the contents of a bottle labeled ‘Anti-Vietnam'”.  They add that “In all, 168 newspapers denounced him the next day”, and even the other civil rights organizations he helped get on the ground such the NAACP, National Urban League, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, formally distanced themselves from King.  They also explained that

“Also that year, he launched the Poor People’s Campaign, aimed at providing good jobs, housing, and a decent standard of living to all Americans.  More than 40 years before American protesters took to the streets of New York City and other locales to “occupy” space to protest inequality, King proposed a massive tent encampment in Washington, D.C. to demand action on poverty.  King was assassinated during a campaign to organize sanitation workers in Tennessee in April of that year, before he was able to set up the encampment.  His widow Coretta Scott King, as well as fellow civil rights leader Ralph David Abernathy, went ahead with the plan to create what they called Resurrection City.  The camp lasted six weeks until police moved in to shut it down and evict all of its inhabitants, pointing to sporadic acts of hooliganism as justification.  Andrew Young, the young civil rights leader who later went on to be Jimmy Carter’s U.N. ambassador and a mayor of Atlanta, was horrified, saying the crushing of the camp was worse than the police violence he saw in the South.  ‘It was worse than anything I saw in Mississippi or Alabama’, he said.  ‘You don’t shoot tear gas into an entire city because two or three hooligans are throwing rocks’.”

They add that “Bobby Kennedy, who once authorized the wiretaps of King’s phones, attended the funeral” (in which King’s casket was pulled by a mule-drawn wagon), saying that “He gave his life for the poor of the world — the garbage workers of Memphis and the peasants of Vietnam” (King was shot while helping the Memphis sanitation workers in their strike, which he saw as part of the Campaign).

The Poor People’s Campaign culminated in a six week live-in camp called “Resurrection City” in Washington, DC (like the Bonus Army in the “Hoover City” camp a generation earlier) with 3,000 protest residents in the summer of 1968, right after King’s death.  The Nation reported comments by Dr. King, who originally conceived of the Campaign, including his statement that he thought the Apostle Paul would tell American Christians that “Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes…God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty”.  He stated that ““If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.  He merely exists”.  He wrote that “New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available”.  King wanted to bring the actual poor people to D.C. to let the politicians see them, stating that “We ought to come in mule carts, in old trucks, any kind of transportation people can get their hands on.  People ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say, ‘We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way…and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it’”.

He was invited to bring the protesters to the city by Senator Kennedy himself.  The other politicians in D.C. felt threatened by all these poor people coming, with one calling it “A Mecca for migrants”, while presidential candidate Nixon told Congress not to capitulate to their demands.  20,000 Army soldiers were mobilized to occupy the city just in case, while the FBI began Operation POCAM to stop King’s effort on poverty, falsely telling protesters there they would lose welfare benefits if they came, and set up local city intimidation campaigns, even teaming up with the John Birch Society to operate the TACT (Truth About Civil Turmoil) propaganda campaign.  The FBI even planted the story that the Campaign was in direct competition with the Quakers, according to released FBI files.  What King sought was an Economic Bill of Rights, with the following five planks:

  1. “A meaningful job at a living wage”
  2. “A secure and adequate income” for all those unable to find or do a job
  3. “Access to land” for economic uses
  4. “Access to capital” for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses
  5. Ability for ordinary people to “play a truly significant role” in the government

They sought protection for Mexicans, other Hispanics, Indians and immigrants from police abuse, and food stamps and school lunch programs to use otherwise wasted over-produced food, job training, living wages, help for poor farmers of all races, medical care for the poor, programs to allow the poor to construct and rehabilitate housing, re-commitment to the Full Employment Act of 1946, and similar reforms.  The people formed caravans all over the country to come to Resurrection City (even mule teams), under the watchful eye of the FBI; the group in Detroit was clubbed and stomped by mounted police when their van stalled.  The military intelligence community also spied on the City, posing as journalists and wiretapping their phones there on the National Mall.  Resurrection City had a university, a psychiatrist and a city hall on site.  On a nearby campus, Chicanos, Appalachian whites, blacks and Indians stayed together, marching to the Supreme Court about fishing rights.  Their Solidarity March had between 50,000 and 100,000 people.  After weeks, the police began firing tear gas canisters into the City, and arrested the remaining people while they were singing.  Its results were modest, but it did lead to the release of food to poor communities, and increases in school lunch programs and Head Start.  There was also a Resurrection City II at the 1972 Democratic Party Convention in Miami.

All of this brief introduction was a mere preamble to the real purpose of this blog post.  Lately I’ve been on the lookout for appearances by Dr. Cornell West, who received his Ph.D from Harvard, and has been a professor at a large portion of the major Ivy League Schools, as well as in Paris and Union Theological Seminary.  With his old-school Black Afro hair and intense manner of discourse on social issues, not that long ago I would have chalked him up to being just another scary black radical like the Black Panthers, and ignored him.  However, over time, I noticed that he spoke more about being a follower of Jesus and a Christian which supremely defined his ethics and actions, more so than anyone else I heard on TV, and consistently brought up his Christian faith.  In fact, I read that while he admired the can-do activism of the Black Panthers, his Christian faith restricted him to local breakfast, prison and church programs.  Nevertheless, he is reviled by the Right.  He calls himself a “non-Marxist socialist”, because he does not believe that Marxism and his Christianity can be reconciled.  Most interestingly, I found out that he co-founded the Network of Spiritual Progressives, along with Rabbi Michael Lerner and Sister Joan Chittister.  From that organization, I discovered that they would be part of a larger confederation of groups hosting a new Poor People’s Campaign – A Call for Moral Renewal in cities across the country, including Nashville, on the day after Mothers Day – a half century after Dr. King’s originally-planned event.  I finally decided to get my rear off the sofa and not just think about defending the poor and defenseless, or just talk about it, but actually show up for once, and at least provide a witness of Christian support and encouragement.

I had to drive through the manic traffic to downtown Nashville, away from my suburban paradise, and begin the stressful process of finding an (expensive) place to park, and then try to find my way to the site of protest.  I had been warned of the propensity of panhandlers in the area, who might give trouble, and indeed it appeared they were out in force (at least my paranoid mind thought so), so I found myself walking on the opposite side of the streets from them to avoid trouble.  Of course, I was disturbed by the irony that I was going to an event on behalf of the poor while avoiding them personally, but I rationalized that I had to get there safely first, and that encouraging panhandlers (while being concerned where what loose cash I had was being used) vs. promoting organized programs that carefully controlled how needs were being met were on two different levels, whether I was right or wrong, but people who have helped people on the streets will know where I am coming from. 

When I finally found the place, I did not see a sea of people locked in arms like I have seen in the news reel footage of the Washington Mall in 1964.  What I saw was a modest group of maybe 100-150 people (although I am a poor judge), all of a very motley sort, with me sticking out like a tourist from suburbia.  The picture at the top of this post is from the group speaking front and center on the steps, with a small crowd on the ground.

I looked around to see how big the evangelical presence was at the event – here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and home to the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters and other evangelical groups – but I did not recognize a single evangelical type group or person in the bunch.  I saw a handful with clerical collars, but that was it.  When I realized the pitifulness of the small crowd in a city known for its Christianity, and that I could not see any evangelical witness there anywhere in support of the poor, for some reason I just started to weep – pretty significantly, and uncontrollably.  I just bowed my head and prayed, and asked God audibly for forgiveness for not caring enough for the poor up until now, and I felt a hand on my shoulder in support.  When I looked up I found out it was one of the men in the clerical collar, who comforted me as I confessed my sin of insufficient care for the poor, and he prayed with me.  I did not have anything to write down information there (Radio Free Nashville would be so disappointed in me), but I seem to recollect his name was something like Bro. Jake Morill, and I think he came all the way from Oak Ridge, Tenn. (the Campaigns were being held in state capitals simultaneously across the country).  I asked him what denomination he was with and he said the Unitarian-Universalist Church; the others I met there from other places were also from the Unitarians.  The Unitarians – “showing up” us evangelicals.

I heard women preachers speak, a Muslim woman speaker, and saw older men waving Vietnam Veterans For Peace flags.  I didn’t have a clean short-sleeve “Future Quake” shirt available for the hot weather, so I had to wear my only short-sleeve, clean white T-shirt I could find, which was emblazoned with a white flag with blue stripes, and a statement in red letters stating, “STAND WITH ISHMAEL”.  A group with a banner asked me what my shirt meant, and I told them it was food for thought, that God had also given blessings and promises to Abraham’s other son Ishmael in addition to Isaac, and to “bless the seed of Abraham” meant to bless all of his sons of faith; they found that very interesting, and the Muslim woman in particular.  I gave all the people there a blessing in the name of Jesus, thanked them for their compassion, and confessed the error of my earlier ways, and the need of a follower of Jesus to support their cause, which was well received by all, including the woman dressed up like The Handmaid’s Tale, whom I suddenly discovered when they turned around was a trans-gendered person; I asked them if they knew our friend Roxy Fox of Nashville Gender Talk on Radio Free Nashville, and they said they did.

I also talked to a dignified woman in a medical lab coat, who was there from Chattanooga as a doctor or nurse, as part of a group seeking health care for everyone.  I looked hard for someone representing my old radio station Radio Free Nashville, because this event was ideal for them, and I finally found an older gentleman sporting one of their shirts and covering the event, and I made his acquaintance.  The main event of the second stage of the event was a sit-in on one of the streets downtown, singing songs and such, which was only permitted by those who had been trained beforehand to be behaved and non-violent or resistant to law enforcement.  They sang spirited songs as the buses and traffic stopped in front of them.  Of course, this was the only thing that brought the local TV cameras (actually, one station) to cover the event and promote the cause, and everyone knows how that game is played.  While I was there I noticed the police being very restrained and patient, for it was clear that this small group had no intention of endangering the public safety – rather trying to help it, in a totally unselfish manner, unlike the self-centered presidential cabinet officials we see on TV.  As I was leaving a couple hours later, I saw a woman wearing a clerical collar looking at her texts, and I introduced myself.  It turned out that Rev. Joy Warren was a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church!  She and her husband served there in Murfreesboro, TN – “ground zero” in the battle between the hard Right anti-sharia Christian movement and the new Muslim center there.  I found out that their church led groups where Christians and Muslims locally could meet each other and help each other out, and she worked hard to get her parishioners active in social events.  She mentioned that her kids told her at school that many of the kids there harass the Muslim students, whispering things like “9-11” in their ears.  She told me her denomination normally does not wear clerical collars, but she wore it to that event because she wanted the other people there to know that at least some Christian presence was there.  She is absolutely right, but isn’t that sad that such an overt act was even necessary, due to the evangelical “no show”?   

In recent years I have attended the evangelical-dominated Value Voters Summit with all the Republican candidates before the presidential election, and a major anti-sharia law conference at one of the major churches here in town, as well as a number of major Bible prophecy conferences.  Upon reflection, I noticed some striking differences between this and those events and the participants:

  1.  In this event, I noticed that the participants, unlike the others, did not feature participants that seemed to have much if any money to them, or dress with impressive tastes.
  2. This event looked like it had no money for impressive facilities to hold their event, with lavish receptions and hotel mixers, unlike the “Christian” ones (usually provided by wealthy benefactors of unknown agendas).
  3. Unlike the other events, I did not notice the participation or organization by members of the Israeli government.
  4. The military members at this event did not look like they were still involved in intelligence agencies or mercenary security firms like Blackwater.
  5. This event did not seem to be a veiled attempt to promote particular political candidates.
  6. Unlike the other events I listed, this one featured speakers always speaking about Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount and even repentance, which I never heard at those other “Christian” events.
  7. Without the deep pockets and public relations firms there, the media didn’t seem much interested in covering it.
  8. Unlike the other events, the poverty message led the evangelicals to being a “no show”.

 

The following are some pictures I took of the event itself:

This is Brother Jake, who laid his hand on me and prayed for me.

    This is Minister Joy Warren, the Presbyterian minister.

These people were interested in my T-Shirt.

 

This is me, with a suspect T-shirt in question (I needed an alibi picture)

 

One of the folks with the “Veterans for Peace” sign.

 

A lot of singing and spiritual songs going on.

 

One of the “Veterans for Peace” friends: He would certainly not be allowed in the other conferences I cited.

 

My buddy from Radio Free Nashville.  Low power to the people!

 

My new friend, who happens to be a Muslim (never once tried to kill me, either).

 

The “sit-in” begins!

 

Stopped the Fed Ex truck!

 

Although the police were well-behaved while I was there, I found out later in the local paper that 21 people, from ages 17 to 21 and from all over Tennessee,  were arrested at the event after I left.  You can tell that they look like some pretty sinister people that were a threat to the public.  Of course, the arrests are necessary for the media to show up and take notice of their cause, without expensive public relations firms to do the job.  The article mentioned that the weekly events nationwide are part of a 40 day movement of events.  Upon reflection, my evangelical peers at the other events I have gone to like to “talk tough” by parading guys in fatigues and former special forces guys and mercenaries at their events, and talk about “spilling the blood of patriots” and the like, but I believe that most of them are too coddled and cowardly like the comfy establishment group they pretend not to be to ever have the courage to spend the day in “pokey” or the paddy wagon, like these folks.

The London Guardian newspaper reported on the founder of the new Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, who stated that “There is no religious left and religious right.  There is only a moral center.  And the scripture is very clear about where you have to be to be in the moral center – you have to be on the side of the poor, the working, the sick, the immigrant”.  They add that

“Barber leads an ascendent grassroots movement that is trying to turn the national conversation to what they believe are the core teachings of the Bible: care for the poor, heal the sick, welcome the stranger.  The Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of Martin Luther King’s final effort to unite poor Americans across racial lines, last week brought together activists from several faiths, the Women’s March, the labor movement and other liberal organizations to launch 40 days of civil disobedience and protest against inequality, racism, ecological devastation and militarism.  As many as 1,000 people were arrested during the first wave.  More expect to be held in future…’They [the Religious Right pastors and leaders] say so much about the issues where the Bible says so little, but they speak so little about the issues where the Bible says so much.  Jesus set up free healthcare clinics everywhere he went.  He healed everybody and never charged a leper a co-pay’”.

I saw the following blog post the day after the event, entitled, “Why Would I Do This?”:

“This week I was arrested. I was in jail for over 14 hours.  At times it was so hot I was sweating.  At times it was so cold I was shivering.  And at all times it smelled rancid.  We sat or huddled in the women’s cell atop either hard cement benches or hard metal bunks (with no mattresses) covered by dried and crusted bodily fluids and years of dirt.  A guard saw our sunburns and assumed we had contracted a rash from being in the cells.  Without windows or clocks we were deprived of our sense of time.  The fluorescent lights lit everything into a brightly illuminated nowhere.  It took over 9 hours until we had access to our phone call.  From the architecture, to the way guards ignored or yelled at us, everything was designed in a way to strip us of our sense of self and power.  At one point, I overheard a guard saying ‘A beating would not harm that one’.  It was a very long 14 hours in jail.”

“Why did I do this? Why would I go through such an ordeal, stripped of my freedom and dignity?”

“Because I am a Christian.”

“I follow a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew named Jesus. The Jesus who preached “blessed are the poor” and who was poor himself. The Jesus who told the parable about the Good Samaritan, defying the racism of the time…The Jesus who died on a cross executed by a conspiracy between the religious elite and the mightiest military power of the ancient world.  The Jesus who risked arrest for his witness.  I am trying to follow Jesus in naming the evils of poverty, racism, environmental degradation, and the military industrial complex.  The same evils that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out in the original Poor Peoples Campaign right before he was killed.”

“As I followed Jesus by risking arrest, I met him in jail.  I met Jesus in the woman who shared her jacket with me when I was shivering.  I met Jesus in the woman who gave me a look of utmost gratitude when I offered to walk behind her in line to cover her because her pants ripped open exposing her bum when the police took her in.  I met Jesus in the woman who was arrested for crying too loudly and uncontrollably at her brothers hearing.  I met Jesus in the woman who was so inspired by the Poor Peoples Campaign and that we were there with her in jail;…Those 14 hours in jail were intense, worldview shifting, hours.  I was humbled, honored, helpless and hopeful.  I joined the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival because I wanted to follow Jesus, and I was surprised to meet him in the putrid overcrowded jail cell.”

 

The problem of poverty cannot be solved merely by just throwing money at it.  And yes, whenever you provide assistance to the public – even through the local church – you will find abuse and exploitation.  There are ways to improperly apply assistance that not only make matters worse by means of providing money or goods for barter to support drug habits and alcohol abuse, and (I guess) even promote unhelpful behaviors and character traits such as sloth and lack of self-initiative, or other destructive behavior, or even reinforced feelings of inferiority.  Maybe many of us have witnessed the “welfare cadillacs”, or the food stamps used to buy premier items we do not think we can afford.  However, few of us have very found out how little public assistance really is (and those I know who work with such people can confirm this), and that it is just basic sustenance, much like Social Security.  We need to promote the ideas of self-sufficiency, hard work and financial discipline in people.  However, have we got those principles mastered in all the members of our own households?  Do the rest of us have any problems availing of the government to get tax deductions and credits for our families and mortgages, or even financial aid and grants to send our children to school, yet look down on others who get other forms of government assistance?

Are there ways to give people hope, and still foster good societal and moral behaviors?

Why do people have problems with school free breakfast and lunch programs – is it really the children’s fault for their family’s financial plight?  Are those meals really going to be mis-used?  Better yet – why not feed all our school children that way, so that the poor will not feel isolated when they use those tickets?  Don’t laugh – you may never have felt that shame unless you’ve been on such forms of public assistance for some time – the shame may be as bad as the poverty.  I hear some say cynically that our nation is the only one where our poor people are fat – they never seem to realize that the waistline girth may be due to the unhealthy, fattening food that is all they can afford, or all that is offered in their inner city corner store while the big chains stay out of the neighborhood, or maybe just the lack of education on home economics and nutrition in homes where a competent parent is missing.

Martin Luther King, Jr. recommended radical ideas for his economic plans at the time, including a living wage, guaranteed jobs for all and a minimum income in any case, to avert poverty and to spur consumer spending.  Now, these ideas are chic and are being considered in several states, and are already deployed in places in Europe and elsewhere.  The abuse factor is certainly present, but would reducing poverty-based crime, drug abuse, domestic violence and suicides be worth the price?  Why do the people in those places that offer free health care and similar “welfare state” provisions not want to adopt our Wild West, Darwinistic approach of unbridled free-for-all of “dog eat dog” capitalistic competition?  Are those countries actually “progressing” as a civilization, and is ours a throwback to the Dark Ages of feudalism, and going more that direction every day?  Do churches have a role in providing the moral underpinning to assist the State in lifting its lower rungs of society out of poverty, and to teach them good virtues of responsibility and self-worth?  Would churches take time away from their pet topics of financial success, gay marriage and Muslims to assign resources to such tasks?  Why do you almost never hear churches ever teach about Biblical directives of hard work, stewardship, and wisdom with money, and why are its parishioners (often with decent incomes) some of the worst role models in these regards to show to our neighbors who have grown up in disfunctional homes?

When the nation finally comes to its senses and nominates me to run for President, I think I would emphasize in “investing” in people – particularly those we have talked about in this blog.  Like Neegan properly says on “The Walking Dead” – “people are a resource”.  When society “invests” in people in need of help, “investments” are intended to reap returns – improved productivity, creative output, tax revenue, children for future our labor force, and the like.  It needs to be done smartly, and with accountability measures, while never totally eliminating the risks that come with investments – only managing them.  With some people – the severely disabled, the elderly, the mentally ill, the hopelessly addicted – the only “return on investment’ may be in our souls, and in elevating our civilization, and putting our thumb in the eye of old Darwin.  To fully round out my campaign slogan, I think I would go with, “Investing in People – with Compassion and Accountability”.  Who would find fault with that, other than some greedy so-and-so, or someone who doesn’t believe in the Golden Rule?  Of course, it will cost us – we may have to get flat screen TVs that are two inches smaller diagonally, or the smaller monthly plan on Netflix or our cell plans (it will really cost the well-to-do; less Monet paintings and import luxury cars, Cuban cigars and money laundered off-shore for their “necessities”, using their new-found drastic tax cuts that were supposed to “trickle down”, like the crumbs from the rich man’s table to the beggar Lazarus).  Would it be worth it?  Even to the point of putting less money into our overseas military adventures that entertain us and make us feel proud and exceptional? 

I, for one, am ready to consider new, bold ideas to turn back this “feudalization” of our society, and to comply with the Biblical mandates to place the poor and “justice” on the ‘front burners” of our discussion as the “weightier matters” of God – even with all the risks involved, or at least the ones the nay-sayers talk about all the time.

Wouldn’t it at least be an improvement if our churches talked about poverty some time?

Are we “our brother’s keeper”?

 

I’m really glad I went to the Poor People’s Campaign.

John Calvin 3:16

 

Woke up with this thought from my slumber this morning – not sure how the inspiration came about, but I assume I was meant to share it.

 

JOHN CALVIN 3:16

“For God so loved the elite exclusively, that He gave His only begotten Son only to the elites, that whosoever in that pre-chosen elite club that believeth in Him (forcibly, regardless of their consent, which does not even exist anyway) should not perish but have everlasting life (in an eternity of totalitarian compulsion, while the bulk of those “created in His image” are forcibly driven into the Lake of Fire and eternal agony without choice, for which they were evidently expressly created to reside, as is “God’s pleasure”, according to Calvin*).

[* “Scripture clearly prove this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction.” Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 21, par. 7

“Those, therefore, whom God passed by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children.” Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 23, par. 1

“because by his eternal providence they were before their birth doomed to perpetual destruction…what will they be able to mutter against this defense?” Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 23, par. 3

“Now since the arrangement of all things is in the hand of God…he arranges … that individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction.” Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 23, par. 6]

 

Given this psychological/spiritual foundation, we should thus not be surprised in how the Calvinist Puritan colonists treated their neighbors (be they other professing Christians or not), since it is certain that they also believed (within their understanding) the Biblical mandate from Christ to

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

 

BELIEF LEADS TO ACTIONS

 

Politico Article Provides a Good Snapshot of Liberty University, Falwell Jr. and the Religious Right

FalwellPlayboy2

The well-respected POLITICO journalistic outfit has just published [CLICK HERE] a new fascinating article about Falwell’s son Trey’s (also a Liberty vice president, and heir apparent to the empire) Miami hostel his daddy bought him to own for $4.65 million, with Falwell’s real estate company owning it being based on property owned by Liberty University, where the front door says that RELIGION is not to be discussed there, but the bar is pouring the booze there as fast as it can, in addition to the property having its own liquor store (all violations of the “Liberty Way” that it applies in Inquisition-fashion to its students and faculty).  It also gives a glimpse of how the “Liberty racket” plays fast and loose with non-profit laws, and is the nation’s largest recipient of federal handout money from taxpayers, which certainly helps Falwell’s $900,000 a year salary.

I encourage you to read the article carefully, and like other postings here, see what it reveals about the “spirit” of this flagship of the Religious Right.  Our blog friend here from “My American Mind” also knows where some of the “bodies are buried” at the school, having been on the inside at the university, and whose stories have even shocked me.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I did receive an offer of a scholarship to attend Liberty University in 1987, but I turned it down, because my walk with the Lord was too important to me, even though I knew little then of what I know now.

ADDENDUM: It was just announced that Religious Right role model Anthony Scaramucci will be speaking at Liberty University in November.  I hope you uses the same language he used with journalist Ryan Lizza – Falwell Jr. will love it!