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Putting a Shoulder to the Plow

From Masanobu Fukuoka’s “Sowing Seeds in the Desert”

Once long ago, when I was in the mountains, I unconsciously wrote, “The mountains, rivers, grasses and trees are all Buddha,’ on a piece of wood. At other times I would suggest that “God” refers to the absolute truth that transcends time and space. Perhaps an even better description, I sometimes thought, was Lao-tse’s term “The Nameless.” I was really just struggling with words. Actually, I think people would be better off without words altogether.

“Sowing Seeds in the Desert: Natural Farming, Global Restoration, and Ultimate Food Security” by Masanobu Fukuoka ed by Larry Korn. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012, p. 9

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Two Posts Combined, fb, March 18, 2019

Among gun-owners, there are many good people. Among non-owners of guns, there are many good people. But only in one group are there people who wish to kill, or to be able to kill, other people. In the debate over gun control, some say we should separate “bad people” from their guns (often based on mental illness, age, criminal history, skin-color, or religious traditions). Others say we should separate guns from the people. To those who so staunchly support the second amendment, guns are more valuable than people. I’d vote for getting rid of guns over people any day. Without a gun, all people become a lot less dangerous especially to the good people in both groups

one response suggested my “theory wouldn’t work” because “before guns” there had always been killing with “sowards, rocks, clubs, etc.” (sic).

In 1783, technology had developed so that roughly 9400 American, French, and British were killed in battle during the American Revolution. By 1865, the industrial revolution could manufacture guns and ammunition enough to kill 620,000-750,000 persons during the American Civil War. By 1945, the military apparatus was capable of killing 70-85 million people worldwide; 418,500 of them Americans. From 2014-2017, in a so-called time of peace, and within the borders of our own country, roughly 52,000 people were killed with guns. That is nearly the equivalent of Americans killed in the Vietnam War (58,220 of 1.35 million). Another 90,000 people used a fire arm to take their own life. That’s a total of 142,000 in four years or 1/4 as many as those who died in WWII. Thanks to our medical technology, in the same four years, approximately 300,000 were spared death from gunshot injuries. These numbers indicate more guns make us deadlier, more injurious, not safer. I’ll take the good old days of fighting with rocks and swords and clubs so more people live and fewer people die.

As you compare these numbers, you’ll notice American casualties are a fraction of others. Granting that estimates of mass casualties of adversaries in wartime are fraught for many reasons, if we trust the estimates are made in good faith, the data suggest the following. In WWII, American casualties were 0.4 million of 85 million or 1/160. In Vietnam, we suffered 0.058 million of 1.4 million or 1/2800. In the first Iraq War, American casualties were 146 compared to approximately 241,000 Iraqis, Kuwaitis, and coalition forces or 1/106,667. One may read these numbers and think, “American soldiers must be doing something right and getting better at it each time.” Or, you may read it as, “Over the last century, America has become the most willing, well-equipped, efficient nation in the killing of people en masse.” Which would also mean we are the most violent, brutal, barbaric “civilization” in the history of mankind.

I consider myself a conservative. I love everything from Jesus to baseball, from good work to good contracts for working people, from silence and stillness to jazz and joyful dance, from world history to old-growth forests. Most tellingly, I’d much prefer to take care of a good thing, or repair something broken, as to replace them with something new. But because I wish to be kind, even gentle, to share resources and rights with others, and to protect peoples’ lives from harm, people consider me a liberal. Which makes quite a statement about what it means to be a “conservative” in America today.

Isn’t it ironic that there is a consistency in such a group of people who are pro-gun, pro-military, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-immigrant, pro-capital punishment, and anti-crime (i.e. lock ’em up!). It seems to me the common thread is not the sanctity of Life or Love, but rather the sanctity of power. It seems such people operate with a narrow mindset of “rule others or be ruled.”

Tell me America, what does it mean to be truly great? Rational, unbridled self-interest or disciplined self-restraint? Opulent wealth or elegant simplicity? Competition or cooperation? Violence and power or peace and equality? We answer these each and every day. Please join a quiet revolution of the heart. You are not alone.

From Frederick Douglass’ “The Prospect in the Future”

Whoever levies a tax upon our Bohea or upon Young Hyson [imported teas], will find the whole land blazing with patriotism and bristling with bayonets the next morning. Let the mightiest maritime nation on the globe but impress a few Yankee sailors and our merchant ships will be punctured with port holes, and manned with sailors who fight like heroes. Let any power on Earth claim sovereignty over a single rood of the scraggy pine woods of Maine, or a foot of the drifted sand of some island on our western border, and Congress will burst forth with such a flood of pyrotechnic oratory as to stir our war-like blood to the tune of battle.

But millions of a foreign race may be stolen from their homes, and reduced to hopeless and inhuman bondage among us and we either approve the deed, or protest as gently as ‘sucking doves.’ Our courage, our love of liberty, our statesmanship, our literature, our ethics, and our religion are all most intensely and wickedly selfish. Our national character fails to present a single fulcrum for the lever of justice or humanity. We only ask to be permitted to enjoy our own heritage and on this condition are content to see others crushed in our midst.

Ours is the philosophy of CAIN. When God and humanity cry out against the oppression of the African, we coolly ask what of it? ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ If his blood cry out to us for redress we say, ‘let it cry, it is not our blood.’ If his children are stolen and enslaved, we look on and say, ‘they are not our children; don’t you see their noses are flat and their hair curls?’ If his daughters are debauched our blood remains cool, for they are neither our daughters nor sisters. If his wife is stolen, we have nothing to do so long as our wives are protected by law. If the way to heaven is open to the white man, and we have a chance to ‘land our souls in glory,’ we are sublimely indifferent to the fact that the Bible and the Gospel are withheld from the Negro, and go on shouting our amens, and singing our anthems so loud that nobody but God can hear his wail of agony above the din of our voiceful, but heartless piety. Heaven help the poor slave, whose only hope of freedom is in the selfish hearts of such a people.

“The Prospect in the Future” Douglass Monthly, August, 1860 found in “Essential Douglass: Selected Writings and Speeches” by Frederick Douglass, Hackett Publishing, 2016, pp. 135-136.

Sermon, Transfiguration Sunday, Farm Church

With Our Faces Set to Jerusalem:

It is Transfiguration Sunday. In many Protestant churches this marks the last Sunday before the season of Lent. The text we just read is the common lectionary text (Luke 9:28-35) for the day and will be heard in many churches so it seemed an appropriate launching point for us. When you run into friends this week and they ask, “How was Church? What did the preacher say?” you’ll have something in common to talk about. Well, somewhat. I’m afraid I’m not well-churched enough to give a boiler plate sermon on the Transfiguration. So what comes next, though it will likely be different from what your friends will hear, is hopefully faithful to the Spirit if not the Tradition. Which kind of seems appropriate for group like Farm Church.

I named this sermon “With Our Faces Set to Jerusalem” after a verse that closely follows the Transfiguration. Jesus the Itinerant, after the Transfiguration, is making his way towards Jerusalem by way of Samaria when Luke writes, “They would not receive him because he had his face set to Jerusalem.” This is not only a statement of the direction and destination for where Jesus is heading. As I read it, it is also a statement of determination and courage. Face, set, Jerusalem. There’s no turning around now. Forward is the only direction to go. So, let’s follow.

As I read the text, in preparing for today, three things jumped out at me. One, the most obvious, is that this is a truly mystical experience. A direct encounter with the Divine. Anyone who has ever experienced such an encounter knows mystical experiences cannot be put into words, described with a left-brain, cognitive language. How then does a preacher preach on a mystical experience?! As a piece of performance art or a liturgical dance? That would be kind of awesome and cool and maybe a little weird. About all there is to say of a mystical experience is once our consciousness becomes aware of what is happening, and tries to grasp onto it, to interpret it, to confine it with language, that is precisely when the moment ends. It seems futile, even as beautiful as it is, maybe because it is so beautiful, to even try to use language to comprehend the mysticism of the Divine encounter of Jesus and his disciples on the mountain.

The second verse that jumped out at me gives us a little more to stand on. That verse is the one that reads, “Not knowing what he said,” I wondered, “What does Luke mean? He’s the only gospel writer who includes this verse, “not knowing what he said.” What was said? What do they not know? Why is it important? Well, what-was-said was “They were discussing his departure and what he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” What they do not know is when they, the three disciples, suggest to build three dwellings, to stop, to stay a while, to cling to the moment, Luke is pointing out that they didn’t understand: this was not a time for standing; not a time to dwell. Once you try to grasp it, it is gone. It was a time to release, to descend the mountain, and to set one’s face towards Jerusalem.

The third verse that caught my attention was the opening verse, “Now about eight days after these sayings.” This opening leads me to believe that the mystical moment of the Transfiguration explains something about the sayings that were said eight days before. So I zoomed out a bit. If you zoom out far enough on this text in Luke’s narrative, you’ll see, I think, that the Transfiguration represents a turning point in the itinerancy of Jesus. Following a public ministry that has gained some celebrity attention, Jesus has begun sending out the disciples and giving them power to heal. First as twelve before the Transfiguration and then as seventy afterwards. Due to the attention, King Herod has been asking questions of who is this Jesus fellow and demanding a meeting or his head. Even Jesus is asking the disciples, who have been mingling about town, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” People have given various speculations, they say, of John the Baptist, who has already been executed by Herod, or Elijah, the prophet of Israel for whom they’ve been waiting for as a sign of the coming Messiah, or another ancient prophet arisen. Then Jesus gets a little personal asks them what they think. Peter, speaking for the group, says outright, “We call you the One, the Messiah, the Christ.”

Jesus sternly directs them to keep quiet about that and then cautiously invites them to follow him if they choose. Here is an abbreviated version of the invitation, of the sayings that came eight days before the Transfiguration:…”Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?…Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’

Because this invitation by Jesus has something to do with Luke’s telling of the Transfiguration; because mystical experiences are so easily lost when we try to grasp them with words, and because following towards Jerusalem rather than dwelling upon the mountain seems to be the gist of the story, let’s follow these verses for a few minutes to see where they lead.

I don’t know about y’all but I tend to believe in meaningful coincidence. You know when you randomly begin hearing a name in several places over a week’s time or maybe you’re thinking of someone you love, but haven’t seen in a long time, a friend who used to love bluebirds or butterflies, and then all of sudden a bluebird or butterfly appears at your window. I take these as subtle moments of a Divine encounter. When Allen asked me if I could preach today, I was reading a biography of Henry David Thoreau, an author writing in the twenty years just prior to the Civil War. He is most widely known for his writings on his deep dive into Life at Walden Pond and on civil disobedience. One essay he wrote was originally titled “What Does it Profit a Man?” after these sayings of Jesus spoken in the eight days before the Transfiguration. Because of the overlap, I imagined this to be meaningful and wanted to draw Thoreau into the conversation.

Thoreau’s essay, “What Does it Profit a Man?” later came to be titled “Life Without Principle.” In this essay, he writes, “I asked myself why I might not be washing some gold daily, though it were only the finest particles—why I might not sink a shaft down to the gold within me, and work that mine…I might pursue some path, however solitary and narrow and crooked, in which I could walk with love and reverence. Wherever a [person] separates from the multitude, and goes [their] own way in this mood, there indeed is a fork in the road, though ordinary travelers may see only a gap in the paling. [Their] solitary path across lots will turn out the highest way of the two.” Like Jesus’ personal, individual, daily invitation to pick up your cross and follow, Thoreau invites us to do what seems counter-intuitive in a materialist culture. To choose an inward, apparently solitary journey, to find the gold within one’s spirit rather than the gold of an 1849 California mine.

The nineteenth century language is a little challenging to listen to and understand. A gap in the paling, for instance, is a break in the fence, a place to squeeze through, where one isn’t exactly invited to walk but could if they so choose. What Thoreau says is a person may hunt for financial security, even for wealth, but the highest way, the greatest security one will find, is to do the inner work of searching the soul. Thoreau claims it’s a solitary path, narrow, and crooked. I agree that it is neither easy nor straight-forward. Separating from a materialistic multitude will, for a period of time, feel like denying one’s self, will leave us feeling isolated from others. We will feel lost, solitary, alone, but the fact of the matter is that we cannot all go alone and remain that way. Eventually, we inevitably find ourselves all sharing a similar path; we lose ourselves to find ourselves together on a path of love and reverence.

In the same essay, Thoreau writes, “The aim of the laborer should be, not to get [a] living, to get ‘a good job,’ but to perform well a certain work….Do not hire a [person] who does your work for money, but [the person] who does it for the love of it.” This too is like the invitation Jesus makes to us: To not focus our attention on profiting in order to save ourselves. To not work for wages, especially profitable wages to accumulate wealth, but to work for the love of a larger whole. To freely, generously, with mutual trust, and love and reverence, work, to serve others, not to serve ourselves. In the materialist American culture, this is an invitation to risk poverty in order to discover the kingdom of God is right in front of our eyes. Available in the here and now for those who are willing to step through the gap in the paling and seek it. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and author of “The Road to Character” adds a fold when he writes, I quote, “A vocation is not found by looking within and finding your passion. It is found by looking without and asking what life is asking of us. What problem is addressed by an activity you intrinsically enjoy?” Close quote. Christ’s invitation to all of us, especially those who live above the median in income, is to find the intersection where the world’s problems and your gifts meet. And, then to meet them for less.

Within the kingdom, all we need for Life is given to us freely; everything from Light to Love and even from darkness to rest. Only humans shunt off the needs for our survival with concepts like money, profit, debt, and ownership as in pixels of wealth, or titles to property or borders of nations. With these concepts we use to seemingly save ourselves, in actuality, we become lost. We focus on the outward gains acquired by strong resumes and bank accounts. When we deny ourselves, to pick up our cross, to not dwell but to follow, to set our faces towards Jerusalem, we take the risk of the possibility of losing ourselves within this materialist culture, only then can we be found within a web of life, within the kingdom of God, fully human, fully alive, in the image of the Divine.

Another book I read recently was Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” In this book he is exploring the current divisions in our nation along the fault lines of politics and religion. At one point he reaches way back in time to point out the beginning of Life on this planet started with single-celled organisms. These single-cell organisms began to pair up into symbiotic relationships with each other to make multi-cell organisms. Eventually these combined further to make more and more complex and cooperative organisms, scaling up to tissues, organs, systems, and beings, like us. Haidt even goes on to describe how the multi-celled beings began to cooperate with each other to form what he calls super-organisms, civilizations, cultures, communities. The point is our interpersonal relationships make us stronger; cooperation, mutual trust, common social norms including service, honesty, and self-restraint make us collectively viable and vital.

But then oddly enough, Haidt goes on to abandon cooperation as an organizing principle and takes up competition as the next highest level of organization. But when he does this, he must then fragment super-organisms into in-groups and out-groups who must battle each other for survival. This is not uncommon. For much longer than people have been misapplying the ideas of Darwin for superiority and dominance over others, competition has been an organizing principle for those who wish to save themselves. What if we extended the organizing principle of cooperation from Light, and soil, and seed, from single-cell organisms to multi-cell beings, from nations with borders to people who share the resources of Light and Love equally with all of our neighbors? What if to love our enemy and the stranger as we love our neighbors, God, and ourselves were the organizing principle for humanity?

All of that is to say, if it is a criminal act to be an itinerant, to be born in one place and to live in another, then we are all ‘illegals.’ If, as Americans, and Christians, we desire people to be able to live close to home, we should strive to preserve (and nowadays restore) the atmosphere and waters which could care less for borders drawn by human hands with pen and ink on paper. We should restrain our consumption of material resources especially those produced far from our own communities. We should spend less and earn less. We should burn less gasoline and electricity. If America wishes to retain the privilege of being the world’s greatest consumer of material resources and energy, an ecological sinkhole, or euphemistically an economic super-power, then more and more people will continue to try to come. If you want to measure the health of God’s Creation, notice the migration of its citizens, the refugees, and the extinctions as well. Notice the violence and corruption of its relationships from the numbers of people unjustly incarcerated for drug and property crimes to the numbers of who earn more than twice the median in income. If people seem to be ‘acting crazy,’ you can believe they are stressed by what they take into their minds and their bodies. Or, by what they are unable to take in. If we are to heal each other and the web of Life which sustains us, we must be willing to do so without payment.

The verse read earlier, “some will not see death before they see the Kingdom of God,” let’s us know of the possibilities. Some people read this as an apocalyptic statement, eschatologically, a statement about the end-times. In doing so they effectively put the Kingdom out of reach; a mythic reality. I read it much more literally. Some will see the Kingdom before they die. We may not reach the destination, but neither will we walk alone. The Kingdom exists here and now. We don’t have to wait to die to see it. You are and always will be one component in a vast web of Life and Love. Our ideas of money and work, of wealth and poverty, of cooperation and competition hinder our ability to see. As we approach Lent, as we make our march towards Jerusalem, the city of Peace, as we pick up our cross and follow the Christ, let us take the risk to be willing to lose ourselves in order to discover that what is true of our beliefs could also be real for our world. Let us march for 40 days, then 400, and if need be 4000 more as examples of Life and Love within the Kingdom of God. So may it be on this day and all days to come. In the name of God, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

From James Baldwin’s “No Name in the Street”

I do not claim that everyone in prison here is innocent, but I do claim that the law, as it operates, is guilty, and that the prisoners, therefore, are all unjustly imprisoned….What force, precisely, is operating when a prisoner is advised, requested, ordered, intimidated, or forced, to confess to a crime he has not committed, and promised a lighter sentence for so perjuring and debasing himself? Does the law exist for the purpose of furthering the ambitions of those who have sworn to uphold the law, or is it seriously to be considered as a moral, unifying force, the health and strength of a nation? The trouble with these questions, of course, is that they sound rhetorical, and have the effect of irritating the reader, who does not wish to be told that that the administration of justice in this country is a wicked farce. Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most!–and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person—ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.

“No Name in the Street” by James Baldwin. Vintage Books, 1972, pp. 148-149

When I Was Hungry…

After reading Paul Bois’ article “Panera’s Socialist Pay-what-you-want Restaurant Implodes: Students, Homeless Mob the Place,” I was disturbed; the reasons for which are described briefly below. Then when I noticed Mr. Bois’ bio on the Daily Wire website and his motto, “Punch back twice as hard,” I thought, “Ok, I will. My way.”

Mr. Bois extrapolates the closing of five retail stores into a statement about an entire economic system; one which can only be discussed in the abstract because it has never been operational in this country. Such writing is called ‘propaganda,’ or euphemistically, ‘fake news.’ (I doubt Mr. Bois has actually studied Socialism as an economic theory. For that matter, I doubt many self-described American Socialists have either. Socialism has likely become a socially-acceptable moniker for ‘not capitalist.’) Bois also narrowly focuses the reason for the closing of the five stores on two groups of people: students and homeless persons.

To the former point, Mr. Bois overlooks the fact that the Panera chain as well as their competitors and other substitutes for food distribution operate entirely within a capitalist economic system. He also neglects to consider why so many people may be hungry in the capitalist economic system he would laud if he took the time to mention it. Lastly, he neglects to mention why five stores might have so many customers because nearly every other food store tells hungry people, “If you are hungry, and have no money, you can starve to death for all we care. We would rather food go to waste than to feed you.”

To the latter point Mr. Bois, as mentioned above, narrows his focus and ignores the people who cost Panera by draining revenue to pay operational expenses beyond the cost of growing, transporting, storing, and preparing food to feed hungry people. These would include the excessive cost of housing, health care, taxes, and management expenses among others. Furthermore, by narrowing his attention to two generalized groups, he lays the blame for the failure, as he sees it, of generosity at the feet of people who are most in need and have the least power. Thereby, he also makes the implication that “those people” are hopelessly shiftless, selfish and irresponsible unlike the customers who could have chosen to pay from their surplus or those who drain revenue without adding one edible ingredient to the menu. In such a case, who is irresponsible?

I can point out these issues not only because I vehemently dislike Mr. Bois’ violence and propaganda but also because of my own lived experience with a ‘pay-what-you-want’ price structure that functions in the current capitalist economy as well as a lay person’s study of economic theory.

In the nine years of Panera’s experiment, I wonder how many hungry people they fed? In nine years, I wonder how many Mr. Bois fed? Who failed? In the same time frame, I will have provided 10,000 sessions of mental health care. This is the fourth year, along the way, in which I have given all of my clients the option to pay what they want. They are informed of my operating and living expenses, the number of clients I see, and the revenue my clients contribute. Then, at our initial session, they are also told I do not want to know how much they choose to pay or even if they pay. Logistically, payments are made anonymously, and monitored collectively rather than individually. They do their best, as do I, and it all works out.

Mr. Bois would surely predict an implosion after every shiftless person within walking distance mobbed my practice. What turns out to be true is that informed clients, on average, pay me more than I need; not less. Why? Because, contrary to Mr. Bois’ belief, most people in this country are intrinsically good, responsible, and caring individuals; those above the median in income and wealth as well as those below. Most people also desire an economic model that would respect the life and dignity of the provider, the customer, and our neighbors. Someday, in spite of the propaganda, we might wake up and implement such a system after all.

We live within an economic system that is sinful towards all of Life and Love. It generates such fear, anxiety, greed, anger, and hunger for food, housing, medicine, relationship, education, play, and rest while simultaneously encouraging a rate of consumption that is destroying our planet and its inhabitants including us. In Mr. Bois’ narrow-minded, exaggerated generalizations he may profess that the greed and violence of the past four centuries has been a boon to the modern world. I would suggest it has been a boondoggle which has overly-satisfied a small minority of people while trickling down benefits to a lucky few who could survive its destructiveness. The words and ideas of people like Mr. Bois continue to undermine the possibilities for us to discover what is both True and possible.

We all wish to be generous, caring, vital living beings. Humans are the only creature on the planet which rely on the concepts of money, profit, debt, and ownership. In addition, we live by two unwritten social agreements: Earn as much as you possibly can and spend as much as you want. These two agreements, along with the concepts that prop them up, and the violence to enforce them, are more and more quickly destroying us spiritually and physically. God’s Economy is still fully functional and operational each and every day. We simply choose to ignore and disobey it while we gradually, creatively self-destruct. Work well to care for yourself and others. Do so for as little money as possible. Consume only what you need. We are all here together. Do not be afraid. Please, join a quiet revolution of the heart. Many have and there is room for many more. Including Mr. Bois.

From Marilynne Robinson’s “What Are We Doing Here?”

The severest possible cheapening of labor in early industry was supported by the same theories that drove colonialism and chattel slavery. The system yielded spectacular wealth, of course, islands of wealth based on extreme poverty and on the profounder impoverishments of slavery. Comparisons are made between slavery and so-called ‘free labor,’ which seem always to imply that the second was more efficient than the first, therefore destined on economic grounds to become the dominant system, and to bring with it a general melioration of conditions. It is a very imprecise use of language to describe as ‘free’ a labor force largely composed of children, who, on the testimony of Benjamin Disraeli among many others, could not and did not expect to live far beyond childhood. It is an imprecise use of language to call ‘free’ the great class of laborers who had no rights even to shelter outside the parishes where they were born. The fact of social progress has been treated as demonstrating that laissez-faire works for us all, that the markets are not only wise but also benign, indeed humane. This argument is based on history that is effectively invented to serve it, and on a quasi-theology of economic determinism, a monotheism in that it cannot entertain the possibility or the suggestion that social circumstance can have any other origin than economics. Clever as we think we are, we are enacting again the strange—and epochal—tendency of Western civilization to impoverish.

“What Are We Doing Here: Essays” by Marilynne Robinson. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2018, p. 90

A Response to fb post, January 26, 2018

This post was written in response to a fb post. The writer complained of celebrity rappers who use the n-word and comedians who malign the first lady because he feels he can’t (but wants to?). He also complained of statues being taken down. “Like it or not, it IS our history,” he added. He complains about people taking the oath of office on a Quaran (sic) while people like him are called racist for wanting to protect our borders. He complains that liberalism is being shoved down the throats of our young in public schools and universities. He also complains about the silencing of conservative speakers and how the President’s State of the Union speech may not be televised. All while “the mainstream media feeds us lies and hides behind the idea of freedom of the press.” He concludes, ” Wake up America! It’s time we took our country back!!”

Here is what I wrote in reply: Thank you, ——-, for keeping the conversation going. I appreciate and share your concern for our country. Unlike others who’d like to pretend nothing bad is happening, you’d rather face up to it. Our enemies, however, do not go by the name ‘liberal’ (or conservative for that matter). To call them such is a deceit worthy of a greater Enemy. The enemies of this nation are known by their preference for division and exclusion over freedom; for power and violence over the pursuit of happiness, and for privilege over equality. Citizens of this nation want everyone to honestly know their history and to be proud and remorseful as appropriate. What most of us dislike are historical monuments that symbolize reverence for seditious men who fought a war to dismember our nation and its Constitution so that they might retain the right to enslave, torture, and treat human beings as n—-rs while they grew wealthy. The Constitution they fought to demolish guarantees me the freedom of religion to pledge my duty and bear witness upon the sacred text of my tradition. It also allows the freedom from religion to not be forced to pledge upon the sacred text of someone else’s religion. Likewise, the Second Amendment guarantees all of us the right to carry a weapon to protect ourselves. What frustrates many, however, is if an officer of the law deprives someone not only of their right to bear arms, but of their very life for doing so, or even for the suspicion of doing so, some persons look away, remain silent, or defend the officers who did the killing. On the other hand, if someone gets carried away in exercising their right to bear arms and murders a group of children, some people buckle down to defend their right to bear arms. Some citizens take umbrage with the dichotomy. Some propaganda outlets, pretending to be news, discredit vital institutions of our democracy like the free press while blindly endorsing malfunctioning institutions like the criminal justice system. (We know it is malfunctioning because millions of people are long-incarcerated for drug and property crimes while millions more still feel the need to carry weapons to defend themselves.) The propaganda tears the fabric of this nation like the traitors of days of old. Many people within our borders and around the world love the greatness of this country for the rights it affords us: freedom, life, liberty, protection, religion, speech, knowledge among them. If some people want to build a wall, another symbol of fear and exclusivity, to keep people out, they should destroy the Constitution that attracts them and us in the first place. Some are, yet again, trying mightily to do so. I just hope others are paying attention.

Another ironic question you raise in your post is this: The writers of our Constitution were all men with in-depth liberal educations. They studied the arts and humanities, read the likes of Rousseau, Voltaire, Locke, and the ancient Greeks. Poor whites and the enslaved who were oppressed by their compromises were denied an education. Which makes one wonder, “Is a liberal education good for those who will lead or bad for those who will be oppressed?”

Then, on January 30, after a few other exchanges:

The reason this is important is because people with beliefs like yours hurt people including people like you. This moment has happened in our history before. It recurs. People who don’t learn don’t change. It goes like this: A political party representing a minority interest takes advantage of social instability to gain power. Nixon called it a Southern Strategy. This moment is only more intense than others. More like 1876 or 1860 than 1968. The minority antagonizes the racial/sexual/religious fears and animosities of poor and working-class white men to cobble together a coalition. Then they feed those fears and animosities by passing legislation that hurts (literally) a majority (again, literally) of people including women, the poor, people of color, immigrants, Catholics/Jews/Muslims (take your pick), and the disabled. Then they pass legislation to benefit a sliver of the people: wealthy, militaristic white men. What’s fascinating is not only that it recurs or that it’s so effective, both of which could be remedied with a solid memory, but because they so thoroughly play people to vote against their own needs and interests. Normally we’d call such self-sacrifice heroism, compassion, or altruism but in cases such as these it’s the exact opposite. T

Republican Tax Policy: A Succinct Description

Step 1) Reduce taxes on the wealthy; Step 2) Increase surplus government spending on defense and infrastructure; Step 3) government funds pay workers in the form of increased wages; Step 4) government funds pay workers currently unemployed and those once considered disabled; Step 5) those under-paid, unemployed, and disabled return 25 cents to the dollar in tax revenues; Step 6) Convince them everyone is better off; Step 7) Hope no one does the math. Let financiers cover the deficit…for a profitable price. Step 8) Return to Step 1 and repeat

The current Republican party is adding a ninth step: release the mass incarcerated to keep a cushion of unemployed people in the mix to depress wage growth and limit inflation which would create a backlash by the under-paid, unemployed, and disabled. I am grateful for the release of citizen-neighbors while also acknowledging the Republican hubris this step entails and the lack of society’s infrastructure (i.e. willingness) to absorb its returning citizens into the wages-for-work economy. But we’ll deal with that after their release.

In this plan the government spends more than it brings in while those who earn significantly above the median keep more of what they take home. That is to say the under-paid and the formerly unemployed and disabled persons work additional hours to earn sub-par wages to pay additional taxes so the wealthy no longer have to. Which is to say, the Republican-led government spends and borrows to ensure the wealthy remain very well-paid. It’s a pyramid scheme, a con-game, a boondoggle.

NO consideration is given to the possibility that those earning above the median in income should voluntarily (or involuntarily through progressive tax policy) limit their take home pay, lowering their own taxes, while freeing up cash for working people to be well-paid, for the unemployed to be employed, and for the disabled to have an option to work, while the government pays it’s expenses with a fairer distribution of the tax burden because incomes would be fairly distributed as well.

But in America, we wouldn’t want to penalize the rich for their success in having others pay their bills for them. Please won’t you join a quiet revolution of the heart? Many have and there is room for many more. Your help is needed also.

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