Sunday, April 04, 2010

Practice Your Hallelujah

An angel sitting by the tomb is reported to have asked Mary of Magdala: "Why search for the living among the dead?" In her puzzlement she tells someone who she thought to be the gardener: "If you have taken him away, tell me and I will take him away myself." It was when the 'gardener' pronounced her name "Mary" that she recognized Him and exclaimed in uncontrollable joy, "Master."

"What no one seemed to notice was the ever widening gap between the government and the people. And it became always wider.....the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting, it provided an excuse not to think....for people who did not want to think anyway gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about.....and kept us so busy with continuous changes and 'crises' and so the machinations of the 'national enemies,' without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.....

"Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted,' that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these 'little measures'.....must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing.....Each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next.

"You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even talk, don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes.

"That's the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

"You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father.....could never have imagined."

---Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free, The Germans, 1938-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

We're members of the Episcopal Church whose Presiding Bishop is The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. Bishop Schori's Easter Message this morning encourages us to continue "practicing that joyful shout" of Alleluia. She wisely reminds us that even grasping Resurrection is a lifelong challenge, to say nothing of seeing its realization in the world. She understands if, upon looking around, we may not feel that confident and happy. That's helpful to me today.

There have been a number of news items recently reporting that Easter ain't what it used to be in the minds of Americans. Maybe a lot of doubt and gloom has affected this mood. Some articles are going to the heart of the matter by challenging the whole notion of Jesus rising from the dead. It's impossible, they say! I'm kind of glad for this opinion to get right out there in the light of day, because it's made me do a lot of thinking. I've tried to get beyond any old notion that Christ's Resurrection is a symbol for the continuation of his teachings in the birth of the church. I've thought maybe Jesus was a realized yogi, who wasn't nailed to the cross or pierced with a spear. After all, the usual practice was to drape the convicts up there with ropes and leave them to die slowly of exposure. Maybe he went into a trance and survived that. Then there's the electric impression on the Shroud of Turin.

Whatever the result of all this cogitation, minus any revelation of the Miracle, I feel closer personally to Jesus...and that's a good thing. I need it, when I also confront this morning reminders of this nation's last 50 years of history. The first thing I ran into was a Libertarian's post of the excerpt from Milton Mayer's book which I've printed above. He describes the slow, seemingly inevitable descent of an average German citizen while Nazis solidified power. If you'd prefer to watch it acted out on film, nothing depicts it so well as Bertolucci's 1900...and especially Donald Sutherland's chilling bully-become-gestapo. It can't happen here.

Next, Bill Moyers reminded me that Martin Luther King was murdered on this day 42 years ago by at least one of our homegrown terrorists. I'm sure had Fox News and its many personalities been around, they would have assured us the assassin acted alone and was only a bad apple in the barrel. But of course in this Dream Deferred opinion piece, Moyers and Winship are just getting warmed up~~~

The nonpartisan group United for a Fair Economy has issued a report that features Martin Luther King Jr. on the cover with the title, "State of the Dream 2010: Drained." Dr. King's dream is in jeopardy, the report's authors write, "The Great Recession has pulled the plug on communities of color, draining jobs and homes at alarming rates while exacerbating persistent inequalities of wealth and income."

Nor will a recovery ameliorate the crisis. "A rising tide does not lift all boats," United for a Fair Economy's report goes on to say, "because the public policies, economic structures and unwritten rules of racism form mountains and ridgelines, and hills and valleys that shape our economic landscape. As a result, a rising economic tide fills the rivers and reservoirs of some, while leaving others dry and parched."

This is a perilous moment. The individualist, greed-driven free-market ideology that both our major parties have pursued is at odds with what most Americans really care about. Popular support for either party has struck bottom, as more and more agree that growing inequality is bad for the country, that corporations have too much power, that money in politics has corrupted our system, and that working families and poor communities need and deserve help because the free market has failed to generate shared prosperity - its famous unseen hand has become a closed fist.

It is hard to overstate the consequences of choosing more of the same - the very policies that have sundered our social contract. But hear the judgment of Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow, echoing Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and martyrdom. "The vast inequalities of income weaken a society's sense of mutual concern," Arrow said. "... The sense that we are all members of the social order is vital to the meaning of civilization."

Next, TruthOut deemed it essential I meet Davidson Loehr, another social justice minister whose writing is new to me. This is a strong piece about the continuing American policy of torture~~~

Naomi Klein's 2007 book "The Shock Doctrine" took 466 pages to flesh out the worldview that can even be proud of torture, as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove have confessed to be....

Human history confirms Klein's research: the combined forces of greed and violence usually win. History also offers the testimony of General Smedley Butler (1881-1940), who wrote "War Is a Racket". One of only two Americans to win the Medal of Honor on two separate occasions, his words were as courageous as his actions, especially when he spoke about the real purpose of war:

"The flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.... I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.... I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested."

In the United States of 2010, the greediest corporations have won, and are consolidating their strength for a long reign. We need to understand how they can employ a degree of violence, torture and murder that simply paralyzes most of us.

The upside of meeting Mr. Loehr this morning has been to Google him and find he's on Facebook. A graduate of a military academy for his high school years, he went to the University of Michigan in that very dangerous course of study, music theory. Naturally he caved in entirely after that, and ended up at the notorious University of Chicago with his Phd in theology and the philosophy of science. What was left for the poor man but to become a Unitarian Universalist? And that's where you can find him today, down in Austin with a congregation of "very liberal 700+," he says at Facebook.

So maybe it turns out that despite the horrors of the front page and the editorial columns, I may be able to mutter a Hallelujah today after all. With champions like Moyers and Loehr leading my way, the sun will rise on Glory after all! Thank you Bishop, I'll keep practicing.