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Mystical Seeker

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  1. I remember the Darell Stingley incident. It is true that football is a very violent sport, even more violent than a lot of people realize. The San Francisco Chronicle did a story yesterday on those who played on the 1981 49ers. Most of the people who played on that Super Bowl championship team live daily in pain, or have otherwise serious medical problems. For example, the article says: That being said, I am a child of my culture, I guess. I haven't watched football all season, but yesterday I found myself getting caught up in the Colts-Patriots game yesterday, probably in no small part because I used to live in Indianapolis. As a spectacle, I have to say that was one of the most exciting games I've ever seen.
  2. There is no point in having a platform whatsoever if it just boils down to "everyone can believe whatever they want to so we won't take a stand on the issue." That the Democratic Party platform on Iraq in 2004 took no position on the morality of the war in Iraq--which I considered to be the single most important issue of that campaign--and it was a travesty. To me, it epitomized what is wrong with the Democrats in a nutshell. I couldn't agree with you more. I have never said that the people can't fight back against the corruption of the two-party system that rules the American Empire. On the contrary, I have said just the opposite. What I am arguing is that we cannot take back the system through means that involve being part of the corruption ourselves, or by becoming enablers or apologists for those who commit abuses. And that means being willing to speak truth to power regardless of which faction of the ruling elite--Democrats or Republicans--happens to hold power at the time. It means not being an apologist for a party when it commits abuses. In an earlier posting, I cited some recent examples of corporate whoring by the Democrats that have taken place in my own state. I do not believe we should stand silent when any party commits such abuses. To do otherwise is to lose one's way as an independent voice of resistance against the Empire and for the Kingdom of God.
  3. Jim, I agree that we need to make good happen. But I also believe that it will never happen if we throw our lot in with the Democrats, the party that is trying to "out-right the right". I understand what you're saying about the frustration with having seen how the hoped-for revolution never happened back in the 1970s. I think that this highlights the ultimate problem with having a social conscience in a world that is not on board with one's deepest aspirations. This creates, to me, a kind of existential anxiety for the activist. In the face of few possibilities for building the kind of world you want to see, what do you do? Knowing that failure lies in the short term future is daunting, it is like an existential abyss. But I am not willing to throw in the towel and give up believing in the need for kind of change that I think is required to build a better world. Like Camus's Sisyphus, I think we need to roll that stone back up the hill. To me it isn't a matter of mere "warts" for the Democratic Party; I see it as a fundamental problem with institutional structures that corrupt the whole process. Jesus didn't compromise with the Roman Empire, and I won't compromise with the American one either. I cited in my earlier message examples of how the Democratic Party has whored itself to corporate interests. I cannot accept this or make excuses for it. Put another way, as I see it, the ultimate example of powerlessness is to say that "we have no choice" but to support the Democrats. And that is really what progressives who support the Democrats keep telling us. They tell us that the Democrats are all we've got, we have to support them because third party movements always fail, and so on. I look at the history of the party's collusion with corporate interests, its corruption, and I see a weak progressive wing that has no power or influence in the party as a whole. As for the progressive wing, how much of Kucinich's ideas were on the 2004 Kerry platform? Why wasn't single payer health care on the platform? Why did the platform say that it didn't matter whether you supported going to war in Iraq or not? Why did the platform say that it should be left up to the states to decide on gay marriage--oh, and by the way, when Kerry was asked about Missouri's referendum on gay marriage, he said that that he favored banning it? At the national level, the progressives in the party are simply swallowed up and spit out. Why does this happen? I think the answer lies in a corrupt system. Even the "good Democrats" are part of the political machinery; they know which side their bread is buttered on, they know where their funding and campaign apparatus lies, and they must be loyal to that machinery over and above any matters of principle. But, as Eugene Debs once said, "I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than for what I don’t want and get it". And one thing is sure--the Democrats are not what I want. And I think we will never get what we want if we settle. The problem with the Democrats is that they just keep moving to the right with every election cycle. And I wonder what it is about the political process that leads this to take place. Could it be that our institutions lend themselves to this process? How can we make our society more democratic? To me, if Jesus refused to compromise with his Empire, then I would argue that perhaps it behooves us to follow his lead and refuse to compromise with our own Empire. That is why I will be voting for no Democrats in tomorrow's elections. I will condemn the Democrats for their sins just as I will condemn the Republicans for theirs. I feel that I owe that much to Jesus.
  4. There are those who have power in our society--the corporate ruling class, and their patrons in the Democratic and Republican parties. And there are the powerless--those who live on minimum wage, or for that matter any of us who struggles to make a living. Power is not evenly distributed in our society. That is a simple fact of life here in America, just as it was the case when Jesus resisted the Empire of his own day. What the rest of us, the powerless have in opposition to them is our numbers, and the ability to have power if we want it. But that doesn't mean that we have power now. Political parties do not act in a vacuum. The people who are in those parties, no matter how well meaning, have to play the game according to the rules. What we have is a system, and it is a system that is broken. I agree completely that we the people, who don't have the power, need to speak truth to power. That is why I oppose so vigorously identifying myself with either of the two political factions that are part of the power elite in this country. The way we speak truth to power is by being voices of conscience who will serve as independent critics outside of the political elite, just as Jesus did--not by joining the political establishment ourselves. Only if we really democratize the system can there ever be hope for bringing on the Kingdom of God. That kind of democracy--political and economic--simply doesn't exist in the present system. Here's a little trivia quiz. Which of the two political parties in my home state of California has done the following: Accepted $1.7 million dollars in campaign donations from AT&T and then voted into law a telecommunications bill that AT&T wanted. Held a party convention this year that was chaired by a paid lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, who had worked to defeat a ballot measure last year that Big Pharma wanted defeated. Allowed oil company lobbyists to pressure them to tie up in committee or otherwise kill various considered hostile to the oil industry. If you guessed the Republicans, you would be wrong. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported a few weeks ago that the Democratic Party has been trying to "out-right the right" (those were the exact words.) Reuters reported that "War on poverty slips from U.S. election agenda". Reuters also reported that "Democrats use strategy of ambiguity on Iraq" (a continuation of their 2004 platform that said that "people of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq", which is, to those of who have passionately rejected the war as a pointless exercise in death to pursue the interests of Empire, just plain wrong.) No agenda of a war on poverty, no agenda on immediately ending the war on Iraq, a party that is trying to "out-right" the right. If we are going to speak truth to power, then we must condemn the Democrats for their own sins just as we condemn the Republicans for theirs. We have no choice if we are to carry out a prophetic message. I have quoted William Sloane Coffin before, and I will quote him again--"A liberal is a person who thinks other people need help, and a radical is one who knows we're all in trouble." I don't apologize for using the word "radical" in this context. The power belongs to the people indeed if they want it--not to an Empire and its stinking corruption of economic, social, and political dominance.
  5. I think you've put your nail on the head. The real problem with this country is a dearth of bona fide democracy, both economic and political. So much of what happens in our society is based on political and economic institutions that are not democratic. Our economy serves the interests of profits rather than human needs. We are powerless in the face of government and corporations. Both of the major political parties are part and parcel of this undemocratic system, and both parties serve the interests of big corporations. Radical economic and political democracy can only be brought into being from below; the duopoly of the two major parties will not bring it to us out of the goodness of their hearts.
  6. I agree with you, Russ. I think that both major parties are just tools for corporate interests and for the Empire. I also think that our entire political process is corrupt, and that the solution does not lie in faithful progressives throwing their lot in with one faction of the Empire's ruling elite. As William Sloan Coffin once said, "A liberal is a person who thinks other people need help, and a radical is one who knows we're all in trouble."
  7. Something I meant to point out in my earlier posting and I somehow ended it in mid-sentence was to note that the Nicene Creed is not in the New Testament. It is a formulation that came long after the books in the New Testament was written. I know that Borg has no problem reciting the Nicene Creed in church. I just can't see it the way Borg does. A creed is, as I see it, by definition an affirmation of what one believes. To me, a creed is a lot different than a myth or story or biblical narrative, and I have a hard time treating it metaphorically as I might many of the passages that are in the Bible. To say that "this is what I believe" and not believe it seems to defeat the point of the creed in the first place. I realize that there is wiggle room in interpretation of what a creed really means, but I still think that if you are going to assert formally what you believe, it should be a literal formulation; otherwise, you are using the wrong formulation. Anyway, that's my take on it, and that is why I do not recite the Nicene creed.
  8. Some of the Psalms are magnificent, but many Psalms also invoke a vengeful God, or pray to a God of history who was intimately involved in Israel's fate as a nation, and in many cases these don't correspond to my view of God. But I find that I can overlook some of these aspects and appreciate them anyway for what they are. And Proverbs is, in my view, a mixed bag. Its praise of divine Wisdom (Sophia) makes for interesting theology, but the general tenor of the book is to suggest that if we all just do the right things, then our lives will be fruitful. That is why I like Ecclesiastes better than Proverbs. The author of Ecclesiastes is basically saying in response to Proverbs, "Hey, wait a minute! Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. It isn't as simple as you claim!" And so for me, Ecclesiastes is often more mature theologically than Proverbs is. And the book of Job, depressing and difficult in its theodicy as it is, also raises questions about whether the book of Proverbs is a bit simplistic in its view of the way the world is ordered. Also, speaking for myself, I don't care for everything in the New Testament either. There are sexist passages in some of the Pauline and deutero-Pauline epistles, for example. To me, you have to regard all of the Bible with a critical eye, look at the historical circumstances that lay behind the writing of each of its components, and recognize the humanity that also lay behind the people who wrote them. The book of Revelation, with its own vengeful image of God and its images of a "lake of fire" is counterbalanced by its optimism and hope. I think the goal of progressive Christianity should be to encourage people to view the Bible with a more critical and mature level of appreciation. The Bible--New Testament and Old--is an imperfect work. Once we recognize that, we can learn to better appreciate it, in my view. The Nicene Creed isn'
  9. True, but the Old Testament can also be a wonderful inspiration to Christians as well. I think that the Bible has a complex picture of the God that reflects the evolving culture and times of the people who produced it. Some of the Bible, including the Hebrew scriptures, can be a stumbling block; but some can be an inspiration to Christians. One of the Biblical passages that is identified with Martin Luther King comes from the prophetic book of Amos--in the Old Testament--which talks about letting justice flow like water. The prophetic tradition of the Old Testament is full of language that condemns social injustice. The social justice tradition within the Old Testament helps to explain why Judaism has so often had a strong social justice component. Jesus himself, I would argue, was part and parcel of that Jewish social justice tradition by resisting the what Marcus Borg calls the "domination system" of the Roman Empire in his vision of replacing the Kingdom of Caesar with the Kingdom of God. Jesus's teachings and life were clearly informed by the Jewish religion that he practiced. If we let ourselves be fettered by literalism, it is true that the Bible can sometimes be difficult to appreciate. But I strongly recommend that anyone who takes a negative attitude towards the Old Testament read Marcus Borg's book, Reading the Bible Again For the First Time. Once we free ourselves from literalism, we can learn to appreciate the postive messages in both of the Christian testaments and not let ourselves be hampered by the negative passages.
  10. Of course, there is the question of who gets to decide who is and isn't a saint. The Catholic church has its own list. I might have my list that is different. Another might have still a third list. And so on. I am not so worried about some church's "official" list. The criteria might also be different, depending on who you talk to. The previous pope named several hundred saints, as far as I know an unprecedented number, and some might argue that he lowered his standards a bit. Among the people he named to sainthood was the last Austro-Hungarian emperor, Karl I, who is said to have authorized the use of mustard gas during World War I. In my mind, that makes that guy not a saint, but a war criminal. But hey, everyone has to figure their own criteria. As I understand it, the Catholic church also has to come up with two "miracles" that a saint allegedly performed before they can become a saint. Personally, I'd rather consider a saint someone who fed the poor, righted injustice, or worked for peace, instead of worrying about whether someone performed a magic trick or two Sainthood in my eyes isn't about magic, but about carrying out a prophetic mission of creating a more just society and working towards building the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Personally, I would be more inclined to name Abbie Hoffman and Gandhi as saints before I'd name someone who committed war crimes during World War I. I think we are all called to do the best we can. I admire those people who have done far more than I have in living the prophetic life. Those people are inspirations to all of us. But I prefer to think of sainthood as a relative term. Some of us may seem to be more "saintly" than others, and at the same time all the "saints" we can think of were probably complicated human beings with their own warts and flaws. But the ability to do great things lies within all of us. If we separate the "saints" from the rest of us by putting them on a pedestal, do we run the risk of making excuses for the rest of us who don't occupy that pedestal? We are all human beings, and we all have the ability to do that which God calls us to do. Maybe we should not divide humans into saints and non-saints, and instead focus on appreciating that divine spark that can inhabit any of us and inspire us to carry out God's will
  11. Jesus was a devout, practicing Jew. His prophetic religious message was very much in the tradition of the great Hebrew prophets. To take away the Hebrew scriptures would be to remove the context and the religion that Jesus was a part of. Some of the most poignant, prophetic messages are found in the Old Testament. Turning swords into plowshares? That's in the Old Testament. Let justice flow like waters? That's in Old Testament, too. 23rd Psalm? Old Testament. That doesn't mean that everything in the Old Testament is admirable--obviously that isn't the case. But it does provide a record of an ancient people's efforts at understanding God, and as such it can be instructive and informative, just as the New Testament also provides a record of attempts after the life of Jesus to make sense of their experience of his life and death and teachings. The Old Testament is full of wonderful creation myths, great stories, interpretative histories of a monotheistic nation, erotic poetry (Song of Songs), musings on the meaning of life and suffering (Job and Ecclesiastes), and prophetic messages against injustice (Amos, Isaiah, and so forth). The Old Testament can be appreciated with a critical eye, and I think it is of immense value.
  12. The problem is that it was not just the behavior of certain people that was being used to justify this attack against an entire religion; it was specifically the Quran that was being used as a proof text to justify this critique of Islam. My point is that if a Christian, particularly one who thinks that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, is going to use the scriptures of another religion to paint it in negative tones, then the whole issue of glass houses applies--the scriptures that are part of the Christian and Jewish canons claim that God ordered people to commit genocide. If you use someone else's scriptures to talk about how bad the religion is, then that opens up your own scriptures for similar criticism. You can't have it both ways. And let's face it; what the book of Joshua claims about God is barbaric.
  13. Those are very sage words indeed. Just take a look at the book of Joshua. Notice that Joshua commited, according to the Bible, divinely ordained acts of genocide against the people of Jericho and Ai. The Bible says that God assisted in the massacre at Jericho by telling Joshua how to go about invoking a miraculous destruction of the city walls. Then the fun came: And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout! For the LORD has given you the city. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live because she hid the messengers we sent. As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD." So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys. Not only was every single person in the city massacred, they also killed all the animals! The Bible reports that Joshua then pronounced a curse on the ruins and the proclaims, "So the LORD was with Joshua; and his fame was in all the land." Lest there is any doubt that the Bible was asserting that God endorsed this kind of genocide, shortly thereafter, the Bible has God telling Joshua, Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and go up now to Ai. See, I have handed over to you the king of Ai with his people, his city, and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. In other words, God was directly telling Joshua to commit another act of genocide, killing everyone in the city--men, women, and yes, children. And that is precisely what Joshua did, according to the Bible: When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and when all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai, and attacked it with the edge of the sword. The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand — all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their booty, according to the word of the LORD that he had issued to Joshua. This is all pretty offensive to modern ears. Now I am not a biblical literalist, and I don't believe for a minute that God really ordains war crimes or genocide. It is hard to know how much of what is depicted in Joshua actually happened anyway. I do think that these accounts reflect a certain theological understanding that the author or authors of those biblical passages had about God's role in history, and it also reflects a historical record of how the author(s) were trying to convey their understanding of God. So even though I am offended by the pro-genocide message of those passages, I am willing to consider them in that light. That is the advantage of not being a believer in biblical inerrancy; when one isn't forced to accept that the entire Bible is the literal word of God, one doesn't have to be an apologist for atrocities. The point remains, in any case, about those glass houses.
  14. I have to admit that part of what makes me love the Taize services I attend is that the cantor there sings so beautifully. I don't know how I would react to a Taize service held somewhere else.
  15. I used to be an active Quaker, and I know what you are saying. I have drifted away from Quakerism in recent years and have become a bit of a church shopper these days, but I still like the Quaker form of worship, although I have come to enjoy other forms of worship as well. What I like about Quaker worship is that it draws me into a contemplative state and I often feel refreshed and centered after it is all over. That is also why I like other quieter, more contemplative modes of programmed worship, such as candlelit Taize services.
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