Archive for August, 2006

Jesus’ Third Way (Chapter 5, Wink)

August 31, 2006

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

In the first four chapters of Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be,” we’ve established that there are unseen forces that govern the world, forces the Bible refers to as “principalities and powers,” that these forces have morphed together over time into a complex system of domination held together by the Myth of Redemptive Violence, and that Jesus fought against this system, rejected its methods, and proposed a radical new way that breaks the spiral of violence – a way that doesn’t demand blood. In chapter five, we are introduced to this “third” way.

Before explaining a “third” way, however, I guess we need to identify the other two: (1) the way of violence (the myth of redemptive violence), and (2) nonresistance (pacifism, as commonly understood). The latter, Wink argues, is often presented as what Jesus teaches, a way Wink describes as “impractical, masochistic, and even suicidal.” In this approach, turning the other cheek encourages the doormat metaphor, and going the extra mile has been reduced to going above and beyond the call of duty.

Instead, Jesus’ “third way” is much more radical, and therefore much more interesting.

Wink writes, “Jesus counsels resistance, but without violence… Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil, but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. We are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. He is urging us to transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive and yet nonviolent.” [Note: if anyone wants Wink’s analysis of the Greek word translated resist in Matthew 5: 39, I’ll be happy to pass it along.]

THE THREE ILLUSTRATIONS FROM JESUS:

#1: TURN THE OTHER CHEEK: Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek…” Go ahead and get a volunteer in your office and try this one out. Try to punch him/her on the right cheek with your right hand. Not easy, huh? Not easy because Jesus has a point to make with the right/left emphasis here. Wink mentions that at Qumran (a religious community in the days of Jesus), left-handed gestures were forbidden (punished by exclusion and penance). Thus, Jesus isn’t referring to a fistfight among equals: instead, the strike to the right cheek was a degrading backhand to an inferior (e.g. master to slave, husband to wife, parent to child, Roman to Jew). The point was to keep someone in her/his place. Jesus’ advice, then, is not to “take it” as popularly perceived. Instead, Jesus counsels defiance (and to be sure, trouble to follow) by offering the left cheek as a punching bag. Jesus, in effect, proposes a social revolution.

#2: STRIP NAKED: The second example from Jesus involves legal matters. As a result of Roman imperial policy, debt was a HUGE problem in 1st century Palestine. Heavy taxation led the rich to seek ways to hide their wealth, with the procurement of land being a popular choice. Herod Antipas, in particular, regularly pried the Galilean peasants to whom Jesus spoke from their land by his predatory tactics (read: his own high taxation). [Note: Wink mentions that it was no accident that the first act of Jewish revolutionaries in the year 66 was to burn the temple treasury where the debt records were kept!] This debt problem often left the poor Jewish families in danger of being sued down to their outer robes (see Deuteronomy 24: 10-13). So what does Jesus advise? Give them your outer robe, then give them your underwear, and march out of court naked! Imagine the reaction from Jesus’ audience at this teaching! But also imagine the effect of actually doing this: as Wink writes, “The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked…” by “deft lampooning.”

#3: GO THE SECOND MILE: The Roman soldiers could force anyone on the street into service (e.g. Simon of Cyrene and the cross of Jesus), but there were restrictions. They could not force anyone to carry their packs for over one mile. Jesus advises going for two miles. Why? This wasn’t a tactic to express your love and lifelong desire to be a doormat. Instead, the very act was in fact an infraction of military code (with the disciplinary action at the decision of the centurion). Can you imagine the Roman soldier’s reaction when the impressed laborer keeps walking and whistling along? Can you imagine the scene where a Roman soldier is begging the peasant to give his pack back to him? The listeners of Jesus could imagine this, and must have had a rollicking laugh at the very idea. Jesus was not encouraging an act of piety, but an act of revolution where a despicable practice was exposed and neutralized, and people at the bottom of society recovered their very humanity.

A couple of side points need to be made:
(a) These tactics from Jesus could be used vindictively, but are instead to be tempered by a love for the enemy that Jesus will shortly teach as well. The intent is to expose the evil, and in so doing, also redeem the oppressor.
(b) These tactics from Jesus could rarely be repeated. It wouldn’t take long to outlaw nakedness in court or pass a new law to punish those who “carry” packs over one mile. Followers will have to be creative.

But the great news from Jesus in this “third” way is that a social revolution is underfoot. Slow, to be sure, like leaven working through dough or a mustard seed beginning to sprout, but the sign of life is there: where those oppressed by the “powers that be” have begun their liberation.

The world has long been familiar with two ways: fight or flight. Jesus offers a third, however. And those who have “ears to hear” (like Gandhi and Martin Luther King) stand as beacons to a world that continues to need social transformation today.

(NEXT POST: Chapter Six, “Practical Nonviolence”)

The Quaterly Book Report, In Which Nary a Book is Mentioned

August 30, 2006

I got a letter from Pepperdine about a week before I was supposed to be back here for some of those before-school meetings. I was ready to come back, although I could have used a day or two more of notice. But I had a good summer. I got to spend a good amount of time with my nephews, walk with my parents most mornings, hang out with JU a few times, as well as eat lunch with Al, and watch the first two seasons of The Office with Terry (a regular commenter) and Terry’s family.

I also got to spend quite a bit of time with one of my uncles and cousins on their watermelon farm. Since I’ve been back in California, I’ve been thinking a lot about this summer’s watermelon harvest. Mostly because it’s an interesting conversation starter, but also because there are a lot of complicated issues involved in the harvesting of watermelons. Economics. Migrant farm workers. Technology. Environmental issues. Science. Don’t worry, though, I won’t talk about all of those things.

Anyway, for no other reason than I don’t have a book review written that I’m overly excited about, I thought I’d share a couple of observations about farming. I may take Al’s lead and do this over the course of a couple of weeks, as to save you from reading too much nonsense at once. I’ll probably also just start by describing a few things and then maybe try to analyze them later. What I’m posting today would cover a time frame of 3 hours: roughly 6:00 in the morning until maybe 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning.

K. was a thirteen year old girl. M. was seven. They got to the warehouse at 7:00 every morning, with M.’s mom, and started sweeping the place out. A warehouse in the middle of a field acquires a lot of sand and dirt everyday, so they spent a good 2 hours sweeping out the warehouse before their real work began. They wouldn’t leave the warehouse until around 10 at night. (That sounds horrible when I type it out, as though my uncle runs a sweat shop — but these were family members, so it probably wouldn’t fall under any type of labor issue — K. and M. didn’t have to work, necessarily, but they did have to be there, so they worked.)

The watermelon crews got to the fields around 5:30 or 6:00 every morning. Anywhere from 30 to 40 men and women. Three of them would start walking through the field and cutting the melons. Then rest of the crew would stand around waiting for their particular task. The lucky ones got to drive a bus or a tractor. (Odd fact – old school buses are used for harvesting watermelons. The buses are gutted and the windows are all broken out, so you essentially have this really long, covered wagon with it’s own engine. They also have the advantage over tractors of being able to go faster on the highway, so lots of time is saved between field and warehouse. Plus, I mean, it’s just kind of neat to see old beat-up school buses loaded with melons.)

I’m not sure if many people know what a watermelon field looks like. So, a short description. Rather than imagining an entire field, I’ll just describe a single pass through the field. A “pass” is the road, more or less, that the bus or tractor drives down. On either side of it are roughly 6 rows or watermelons (I’m guessing at that), each spaced 3-4 feet apart (again, I’m more or less guessing). Although, there are weeds everywhere, so it’s kind of like walking through a really short, really thick forest – you get tangled up and tripped and the weeds cut and scratch and it really isn’t a pleasant experience. Anyway, a field is, oh, say, about 10 or 15 of those “passes” side-by-side.

So the bus takes off down the field. On each side are 4 or 5 crew members. 1 or 2 are standing in the bus on both sides. They “walk” the fields, picking up the watermelons cut by the cutting crew and conveyer-belt style pitch the melons to the bus. The melons weigh between 18 and 35 pounds each. There’s no shade. They’ll do this for the next 12-14 hours.

I think my uncle has 6 buses. So the crews work until the buses are all full. Then my uncle has 6 trailers that are pulled by tractors. After the buses are full, they fill the trailers. And then the operation moves back to the warehouse. Except for the cutting crew, who remain in the field to cut more melons. Because the buses and trailers will come back empty in a couple of hours.

As I mentioned earlier, farming is an amazingly complicated ordeal. I might try to tackle some of the economic issues next week. Or I may just talk about the level of organization and the technology involved (old buses notwithstanding), because it is almost bewildering. Seriously, we had people come and just watch how it all works. For no reason other than it’s just plain cool. The process is stramlined to the point that once the melons leave the field, they could, theoretically, be on the aisle in the grocery store within 24 hours. I’m not sure how often that actually happens, but it is very possible that they could actually be there more quickly than that, if everything is working properly. I’ll try to get the melons off the buses and onto the trucks next week. Although, with the beginning of the school year, and given my tendency to post once every three months, it might be Easter before you hear anything more about watermelons.

What Ever Happened to the 40 Hour Week?

August 28, 2006

Have I ever mentioned to you guys how much I hated law school? It was such a miserable place. There were many reasons for that, but one of them was that I felt I was in an alternate universe. It was completely alien to anything I had ever known, and I did not belong there. It was also an atmosphere that was wrong and abusive, but I could not call it by its right name. I was immobilized by self-hatred, wishing I could just for one day be good enough to sit among my classmates and talk to my professors.

Later, a classmate of mine compared our law school experience to being in abusive relationship. Abuse victims develop what’s known as “dual points of reference,” which means, as I understand it, that they believe in two sets of standards for what’s acceptable – one outside the relationship, and one inside. Even though they know that what’s going on inside the relationship would be considered outrageous and unacceptable to anyone outside it, when in the company of the abuser they accept and even embrace this second, deviant standard.

I found this a perfect metaphor to describe my law school experience. And now, I find it almost as applicable to the way a lot of people in D.C. (and many other places, I’m sure) think about work, family, and what’s important in life. It’s like I’m Alice and have gone through the looking glass and nothing is recognizable to me.

The simple way to say it is that people work too much. But there are so many important details embedded in that concept, and I feel it is important to enumerate them.

1. Hours. When I was growing up, my parents were home every day by 5:30. (Granted, they also left very early in the morning). When I lived in Mississippi, typical office hours were 8 to 5. It was practically unheard of to be at work after 5:30 p.m. I even talked to a woman who works at a big law firm in Jackson two years ago. She said they told her that “family comes first.” That would never happen here. At my job, I feel guilty – guilty!!! – if I leave before 7 p.m. Leaving at 5 is unheard of, no matter how early you come in. Many of the lawyers don’t come in until 10 a.m. or later. I do not like this later schedule. I do not like working more than 40 hours a week. The labor movement fought for the 40 hour week, and here we are, pissing it away. What a f**king waste.

2. Communication. There is an expectation of being available by phone and email on evenings and weekends. It is quite common to get emails from people I work with that are time-stamped after 11 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays (or both). I find this disgusting – don’t these people have lives?

This weekend my boss called me on Saturday and on Sunday. I have learned not to answer the phone, so I didn’t talk to him. It was not anything urgent. He just can’t stop thinking about work and expects me to be thinking about it all the time too. He has two young children (10 and 7) and a wife who doesn’t work. I guess he doesn’t use his weekends to buy groceries, do laundry, and cook. I’m sure they hire a maid to clean their house even though his wife is not employed. What kills me is that we do sex discrimination work on the plaintiffs’ side. What kills me even more is that none of the associates in our office have children yet. This job is utterly incompatible with having children – even day care requires that you pick up your child by 6. Sorry, I’m getting far afield here. I’ve been dealing with these frustrations for a long time. My laconic tone may convey how sick I am of dealing with them.

3. Vacations. There is an expectation that you will be checking and responding to email while on vacation. I have been told as much. I’ve taken to saying that I will not have access to email, as if I am out in the woods, even when I am in a place where I could check email if I wanted to. Is it just me, or is it not a vacation if you’re working? I thought the point of a vacation was to get away. These people are insane.

4. Thinking. These other expectations convey to me that I am always supposed to be thinking about work. Work is supposed to be my raison d’etre. Nothing else is supposed to matter as much. This is my own personal version of hell.

5. Family, Friends, Personal Relationships, Leisure Time. These are always to be secondary to work. For me, that will never happen. So it’s this set-up where in order to be a valued worker, you can’t have a personal life, or if you do have one, it has to be your last priority. It’s just a Catch-22 that I can’t deal with. I value my time with the people I love. I value my leisure time. Sometimes you just need to sit and have some quiet. To read something not work-related. To take a nap on a Sunday afternoon. To go for a walk in the park. To wile away an afternoon doing not much of anything. To be able to pursue a hobby. To play with your dog or your children. To be able to get the appropriate amount of sleep and exercise to be able to do these things. To have the time to cook healthy meals. And on and on.

The worst part of all this is that I can’t say anything, lest I be branded as lazy and uncommitted. I cling to the hope that there are others like me, that in fact this place where I am is as rarified as Yale Law School and that everyone outside of it will think that these things are as outrageous and unacceptable as I think they are.

In the absence of any confirmation of this, I always say to myself this very trite, hackneyed thing that is also very true. At the end of the day, when all of these people come to the end of their lives, not one of them will wish that they had worked more. They will wish that they had spent more time with the people they loved. They will realize that they squandered years worrying about things that didn’t matter. They will realize they were wrong to dismiss people like me who knew what was important.

But that’s then. What do I do now?

Stay the Course

August 26, 2006

Since Bush 41, it’s become the idiom of choice for politicians of either party who wish the country to continue pursuing their pet policy. “Stay the course,” they urge, gravely. The implicit negative seems to be, “Don’t panic. Don’t be a quitter.”

At the moment, I’m not interested in the merits of those policies. I just want to know: does anybody know what “stay the course” means?

I can tell you I’ve heard or read at least 4 different accounts of its origin and meaning. First, there’s the one its political invokers presuppose: it’s a nautical metaphor, meaning don’t change course. Second, there’s the one those politicians’ opponents offer: it’s a nautical metaphor whose origin was a phrase for tying off the wheel or rudder so the ship could be left to steer itself without veering off course; in other words, it means nobody is at the helm. Third, there’s the one offered by the New York Times’ resident grammar and etymology crank, William Safire, who agrees its a nautical metaphor, but adds with a chuckle that it can mean either don’t change course, or stop going in the direction you’re going. And lastly, there’s the one that says it doesn’t come from sailing at all, but from horse racing, where it doesn’t refer precisely to direction, but to just finishing the race.

In true Mikeyan form, I have no point here. Unless it’s that I’m the kind of person who finds this kind of thing interesting and amusing. If I tried, I think I could make a point about original intent arguments, or where meaning lies in a text or phrase. But it’s a lazy late-summer Saturday in the South, and I’m not inclined to think about it quite that hard. I’ve accomplished exactly nothing all day, and if there’s one thing I can say with absolute confidence, it’s that I intend to stay the course.

Natural Disasters – Past and Present

August 24, 2006

As we come up on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, with all the controversy over the preparedness and response of various groups, it might be instructive to look back in history at another disaster which happened on this day, 1,927 years ago. Some of the similarities with Katrina are interesting.

About noon on August 24th 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius, on the southern edge of the Bay of Naples, erupted. The two towns most effected were Herculaneum and Pompeii. In light of our recent experience with Katrina, some of the facts surrounding this earlier disaster sound a little like the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Bay of Naples, especially around Herculaneum and Pompeii, was a resort area, with many summer villas owned by wealthy Romans.

Many artifacts found in the Pompeii area pointed to a significant gambling and prostitution industry.

As with Katrina, much of the early relief response was the result of individual initiative. A fellow named Pliny the Elder was in charge of the government fleet in the bay. On his own authority, he went with several ships across the bay to investigate the phenomena and help, if he could. He was unable to reach Pompeii but managed to evacuate some people from Herculaneum and Stabiae before they were destroyed and buried by pyroclastic flows rolling down the side of the volcano. Unfortunately, Pliny himself died in the attempt – most likely of a stroke or heart attack.

Even though the eruption came as a surprise, the 10,000 to 20,000 residents of Pompeii had almost 18 hours to escape before their town was buried under ten feet of ash. Recent excavations have shown, however, that at least 10% of the people decided to “ride it out” in their homes and died where they lay. Sound familiar?

Also like today, the Roman government, in the person of the new emperor Titus, realized that a natural disaster on such a scale required more assistance than local and private groups could provide. Even though he was dealing with the expense of finishing up the ten year project of the Flavian Amphitheater [Colosseum], begun by his father Vespasian, Titus used the Roman treasury to contributed substantial “Federal Disaster Relief” funds to the rebuilding effort.

The 79AD incident is the first volcanic eruption in history for which an eyewitness accounts survives. A 17 year old named Caius Plinius Caecilius, whom we call Pliny the Younger, wrote two letters describing the Vesuvius eruption (and the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder during his rescue attempt) to his friend, the Roman historian Tacitus. In Pliny the Younger’s case, the disaster had an up side. Since his uncle had adopted him as a son, he inherited Pliny the Elder’s estate and became a very rich young man. He entered politics, became a member of the Senate and eventually Consul. Probably his most famous letters are those asking guidance on dealing with Christians, written around 110 AD when he was The Emperor Trajan’s ambassador to Bithynia and Pontus.

Coping with natural disasters and other “Acts of God,” as the insurance companies like to phrase it, are a common human experience. Unfortunately, many of the lessons learned are soon forgotten.

Happy Hurricane Season 2006

BTW: History Trivia Alert!

Regardless of all the claims and counter claims in recent political history as to military experience – or lack of same – by candidates from both parties, today is also the anniversary of the only time in American History that a sitting president actually excercised his powers as Commander in Chief to personally command troops in combat.

Who? When? Where?

Personal note:
I’ll be off the grid for a couple of weeks, so I guess you kids will be unsupervised for a while. Vacation out West. History Geek’s holiday. Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood, Custer Battlefield, Yellowstone, Santa Fe, Billy the Kid’s grave site etc.

Breaking the Spiral of Violence (Wink, ch 4)

August 22, 2006

In the first three chapters of Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be,” we’ve established:
#1: There are unseen forces that govern the world, forces the Bible refers to as “principalities and powers.”
#2: …that these unseen forces are good, bad, and salvageable, all at once, and have morphed together over time into a complex system of domination held together by the Myth of Redemptive Violence. This, Wink claims, is the dominant religion of our world (where people turn for salvation).
#3: Jesus fought against the Domination System, rejected its methods, and proposed a radical new way.

BREAKING THE SPIRAL OF VIOLENCE

13: And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14: having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15: He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him. (from Colossians 2)

Jesus died like everyone else who challenges the Powers, but in Jesus’s case, from the Powers’ perspective, something went awry. According to Paul, their execution of Jesus exposed them for what they are, and in so doing, gave Jesus the battle victory.

In chapter four, Wink notes that the violence of the Old Testament has long been a scandal to Christianity. He cites the statistic that violence is the most often mentioned activity in the Hebrew Bible, then goes on to argue that this river of blood is neither to be ignored nor embraced, but understood for its purpose: to expose violence as inadequate.

In particular, Wink hones in on what he calls the “scapegoat mechanism,” the idea that violence is perpetrated against a single victim in order to prevent a greater amount of evil from engulfing a society (cf John 11:50). The death of Jesus served to expose and completely revoke this concept.

Wink goes on to explain that the problem came when the early church didn’t quite get it. Before long, the concept that God demanded Jesus’s blood took precedence (as opposed to God triumphing over the Powers, who were the ones who had cried for blood). Jesus declared people as forgiven, so why did he need to die to forgive them? In fact, Jesus had declared the sacrificial system no longer necessary. Paul didn’t help clear things up. According to Wink, Paul was unable to make the distinction between Jesus being the end to sacrificing (correct) and Jesus being the final sacrifice to appease God (incorrect). And the church has suffered ever since.

“The God whom Jesus revealed as no longer vengeful, but unconditionally loving, who needed no satisfaction by blood – this God of mercy was changed by the church into a wrathful God whose demand for blood atonement leads to God’s requiring his own Son’s death on behalf of us all. The nonviolent God of Jesus becomes a God of unequaled violence, since God not only allegedly demands the blood of the victim who is most precious to him, but holds humanity accountable for a death that God both anticipates and requires. Against such an image of God the revolt of atheism is an act of pure religion!” (Wink, pp 88-89)

Wink argues that the early Christus Victor theory of atonement proclaimed release for those held captive by the Domination System (through Jesus), but that the conversion of Constantine and the ascendancy of Christianity to a position of power led the Christus Victor theory to fall out of favor. Atonement became individualized, abandoning the idea that God had radical ramifications for society at large. So over time, Jesus became more divine and less political, Mass became a perpetual system of sacrifice instead of a celebration of the end of the need for appeasing God, and the scapegoat mechanism was reclaimed in the form of anti-Semitism.

Wink claims that Jesus broke the spiral of violence by exposing the scapegoat mechanism, and that this unique accomplishment of Jesus needs to be recovered in a world still clinging to that notion as the best defense against violence.

Finally, Wink concludes chapter four with a discussion of “dying to the powers.” In short, he argues that liberation from the Powers comes not by frontal attack, but from a willingness to die rather than submit to their control. The model from Jesus is the Cross. He states that we need to die to pride and greed, to racism and gender discrimination, and to homophobia and false patriotism. Breaking the spiral of violence requires the willingness “not” to respond to violence with violence, but with the willingness to respond with the “third way” offered by Jesus, which is the subject of chapter five.

Playing Tag

August 18, 2006

The email read: “YOU’VE BEEN TAGGED! If you haven’t already done so, answer the following on your blog! Thanks for playing along!”

Here were the questions:

1. One book that changed your life:
2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
4. One book that made you laugh:
5. One book that made you cry:
6. One book you wish had been written:
7. One book you wish had never been written:
8. One book you’re currently reading:
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
10. Tag five others:

So here are my answers…

1. One book that changed your life: “Living Faith” (Jimmy Carter)
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: I usually don’t do such things, but I’ll say “The Giver” (Lois Lowry)
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: “A Practical Guide to Shipbuilding” (old C. S. Lewis joke!)
4. One book that made you laugh: “Bird by Bird” (or anything else by Anne Lamott)
5. One book that made you cry: “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” (Mitch Albom)
6. One book you wish had been written: “Why I’m an Al Sturgeon Fan” (by Jesus Christ)
7. One book you wish had never been written: “Achieving Your Dreams” (by Jerry Falwell)
8. One book you’re currently reading: “The Powers That Be” (Walter Wink)
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: “A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” (Annie Dillard)
10. Tag five others:

#10 is where I have trouble. Most of the “blog folks” I know either are on this blog or have already been tagged. I’m going to tag three folks PLUS encourage everyone here to respond to the questions on the comment board if they have time… Maybe that qualifies…

I’m tagging:
* Troy Gramling
* Mystique Free
* Larry James

Plus all of you!!!

The Sound of America Getting Dumber

August 18, 2006

Just a brief note on the state of broadcast news, so called. I’ve been sitting here in my den at the computer for the past 45 minutes, listening to CNN from the other room.

An enormously important decision was handed down in a U.S. District Court in Detroit today. A decision that, whether overturned or upheld, is going to be historic. It could clamp down like a vice on executive authority in the U.S. It could open a gaping hole in our ability to defend ourselves from terrorism. It could lead to a constitutional crisis so severe, it makes the Watergate crisis look silly. One way or another, 50 yrs. from now, people will look back at it and say, “There’s the turning point. There’s when our society started becoming what it is now.”

So in the first 45 minutes of the nearest thing to a real news program still aired on CNN, Anderson Cooper’s 360 (and I have to stifle a giggle when I say that), they have said not one word about it. It’s wall-to-wall JonBenet.

I have to admit it: I’m surprised. I should know better. I really should. And, in my defense, I normally don’t even watch CNN. It hasn’t been a real news organization in years. But there’s nothing else on at 9:00 on most weeknights, so it’s usually what’s providing the background noise for whatever else I’m doing. All that to say I have very low expectations of CNN, and still I’m surprised. For me, today is a brand new low water mark for a network that used to be America’s best, most reliable practitioner of broadcast journalism.

No wonder most Americans don’t know anything about . . . well, anything that matters.

Chapter Three: "The Powers That Be" (Walter Wink)

August 17, 2006

In the first two chapters of Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be,” we’ve established:

(1) There are unseen forces that govern the world, forces the Bible refers to as “principalities and powers.” The Bible claims that Jesus fought against these powers, and that his followers will continue the fight, but religionists today differ as to the forces themselves and the nature of the fight.

(2) Wink claims that these unseen forces are good, bad, and salvageable, all at once, and have morphed together over time into a complex system of domination held together by the Myth of Redemptive Violence. This, Wink claims, is the dominant religion of our world (where people turn for salvation). This myth/religion is perpetuated by our popular culture from childhood to adult (e.g. Popeye, Jaws, John Wayne, James Bond, Star Wars, etc.).

I’m now going to skip over the last couple of sections in chapter 2 and try my hand at chapter 3, “Jesus’ Answer to Domination.”

INTRODUCTION

In chapter 3, Wink claims that almost every sentence Jesus uttered indicted the Domination System or disclosed an alternative way. He divides the chapter into eight categories Jesus addresses before offering his conclusion. I will discuss six:

#1: DOMINATION: Jesus proclaims the greatest are those who serve. Jesus instructed followers to reject titles and seats of honor as well as the power that comes with wealth. Jesus is the one who washes his follower’s feet (an act too degrading for Jewish slaves), while instructing his followers to do the same for one another. In short, Jesus rejects using power to dominate.

#2: EQUITY: Jesus and his followers lived from a common purse. The rich were not given special status in Jesus’ company. Instead, the poor were elevated to equal status, with the same privilege of table fellowship. In short, Jesus offers everyone an equal spot at the table.

#3: NONVIOLENCE: Jesus rebukes James/John’s request to call down fire. Jesus stops Peter’s attack of Malchus with the accompanying proclamation, “…all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus taught his followers to bless those who curse them, to pray for those who abuse them, and to do good to those who mistreat them. The lone instance proponents of redemptive violence turn to in the cleansing of the temple in fact shows no example of harm to a human being; instead, the very driving of the animals from the marketplace saved their lives. In short, Jesus never advocates the use of violence as a path to redemption.

#4: WOMEN: Wink points out that every single encounter Jesus had with women broke the rules of his time. Jesus spoke with women in public, was touched by women (by a prostitute no less) and touched them (e.g. a woman with a spinal disease). In the last example, Jesus refers to her as a “daughter of Abraham,” an unparalleled expression that gave her status as an equal with men before God. Although we tend to point out today that Jesus’ twelve apostles were men, we neglect to notice the unprecedented fact that women traveled with Jesus as full-fledged disciples. Also, women were not considered trustworthy witnesses, but it was women to whom the witness of the Resurrection was entrusted. In short, Jesus rejected the idea of women as “less-than-equals.”

#5: PURITY & HOLINESS: “Holiness” literally meant “separateness,” and for those who broke the purity codes, their position in society was clearly delineated from the rest. Jesus broke all these rules as well by sharing the table with those considered impure. In short, Jesus rejected the very idea of lower status for the “impure.”

#6: FAMILY: Jesus never really says anything good about the “family” (much to the embarrassment of those who champion “family values” today). Jesus instructed followers to “hate” their families. Jesus taught that he came to divide families. Jesus even went so far as to renounce genetic family structure and redefine the concept entirely. Wink writes, “Why is he so extreme? Even allowing for the Semitic fondness for graphic overstatement does not account for Jesus’ persistent critique. I believe Jesus was so consistently disparaging because the family in dominator societies is so deeply embedded in patriarchy, and serves as the citadel of male supremacy, the chief inculcator of gender roles, and a major inhibitor of change. It is in families where most women and children are battered and abused, and where the majority of women are murdered. In a great many cultures, men are endowed with the inalienable right to beat, rape, and verbally abuse their wives. The patriarchal family is thus the foundation on which the larger units of patriarchal dominance are based.” Read closely Mark 3:35, Mark 10:29-30, and Matthew 23:9, and you will discover that Jesus continually dethrones the power of the patriarch. In short, Jesus rejects the patriarchal system.

CONCLUSION

Wink’s conclusion to chapter three contains probably his most famous line, “If Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.”

In context, this quote refers to his claim that Jesus was not a reformer OR a revolutionary (who conquers one dominating oppressive power with another), but instead one who envisioned a transformation of the world where both the “powers that be” and all humanity are committed to the general welfare of all. He goes on to claim that the world (and the church) “had no categories for such fundamental change…” and so the church soon watered down the message (continuing today), but that the truth has proven inextinguishable.

So in closing, my reading of chapter three establishes the idea that Jesus rejected the system of domination that runs the world and proposed a radical new way. Wink discusses that new way in chapter five. Before getting there, however, he discusses “Breaking the Spiral of Violence” in chapter four, which will be the subject of my next post.

Love Me Tender

August 16, 2006

Another edition of Where Were You Then?

Where were you 29 years ago today?

I had been flying for FedEx for four years and was on a trip to California – Burbank, I think. I had flown most of the night and slept most of the day. When I got up late that afternoon, I turned on the TV and heard that Elvis Presley had died in Memphis, at the age of 42. I flew back to Memphis that evening, landing just after midnight. At the time, I lived about 5 miles from Graceland. It wasn’t on my usual route to and from the airport, but I had heard something on the radio about some fans gathering there for a vigil of some sort, so I went a little out of my way to see for myself.

As I neared the house on Elvis Presley Blvd. (What else would you call the street that went by Elvis’ front door, after all) there were people as far as I could see! It was 1:00am and there were literally thousands of folks jammed into the little strip shopping center parking lot across from Graceland and more – the lucky few, I’m sure – crowded against the rock wall and large iron gates with musical notes on them that was all that kept the crowds from swarming onto the grounds and up to the front door. I heard the next day that a drunk driver had come by about an hour after I was there and veered into the crowd and killed one of the fans. Some time later, after the crowds finally died down, they had to sand blast the rock wall in front of Graceland because it was completely covered with people’s names and other graffiti.

For some reason, I was never a big Elvis fan. Not sure why. Maybe because he hit the scene a little before my peak teenage years. When he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, he caused a sensation with the young girls and a panic with their parents. By his third appearance, Sullivan would only show him from the waist up. All that seems a little silly today, but back then, it was serious business, and not just with the ignorant backwater Southern evangelicals.

Fast forward to 1977:
Needless to say, Elvis’ death was front page above the fold news in Memphis, and an invitation to the private funeral service was the toughest ticket in town. I knew a couple from chruch who were friends of Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father, and Vernon’s 2nd wife, Dee. They were invited, and the sermon was done by a well known local C of C preacher. He told me, years later, that the only recording of the service was made by him on a little cassette recorder that he put on the podium. He supposedly refused very lucrative offers over the years to copy and market it. He died recently, and I’ve wondered what became of that tape. As for Elvis, I hear that he is making more money now than he did when he was alive. He might have gotten very weird toward the last, but the Colonel and now the marketing team at Graceland were – and still are – very shrewd.

Were you (are you) an Elvis fan?
What’s your favorite Elvis song? Favorite Elvis movie?
What do you think of him as a cultural icon
Why do you think he turned into such a lonely and troubled soul and ended so badly?

As The King would say:

Thank you … Thank you very much!