Please watch this. Then, if so moved, help it go viral, donate any and all Abercrombie & Fitch wear, and never buy from them again!
Please watch this. Then, if so moved, help it go viral, donate any and all Abercrombie & Fitch wear, and never buy from them again!
Buddhism, Christianity, Economics, Health, Interbeing, Liberation Theology, Love, Non-dualism, Oppression, Politics, Poverty, Radical Love, Religion, Social Justice, Socioeconomics, Spirituality, Wellness
1. Unfortunately, when viewed from psychology and history, I fear that the slow economic decline and corresponding decline in infrastructure and quality of life, will, in general, be endured until it manifests to a point of social decline that results in such scarcity of resources that small conflicts will increasingly erupt into riots. This violence will, by and large, be contained and internalized within the locations of the economically oppressed. History tells me scapegoat-ism will increasingly manifest and blame and violence between immigrants, the historically structurally disenfranchised, and the former middle class. Under these conditions, disorganized violence can become increasingly organized against one another and/or the upper class leading to a combined military and police response and suppression or institutions (I am thinking interfaith alliances united in moral-ethical common cause) can unite the oppressed as a single body in nonviolent common cause. Unfortunately, a violent and destructive outcome is positively reinforced by a post-war type economy of restructuring built on more debt.
2. I am a M. Div. student. We watched this video in my Spiritual Leadership class. My witness as a former continuous improvement leader from a top 25 MBA program who worked in some of the largest corporations in the world: this wealth is entirely extractive and exploitative. Year after year, companies report increased financial growth and efficiency. 1%-10% of individuals possessing asymmetrical information are able to differentiate between real/sustainable gains and unsustainable gains and thrive in good and bad times. The benefits have not translated to improved quality of life for the majority of people. The masses work under conditions of increasing stress, declining health, and declining health care. Under conditions of socioeconomic insecurity, families suffer and are broken. The quality of life is declining generation to generation. Yet, each individual suffers in isolation. Minds, bodies, and spirits are being broken. Individuals within the bottom 90%, under stress, react in fear and anger against one another. The “Protestant Work Ethic” makes poverty and unemployment sinful; the poor and working poor are made to feel like failures at home and at work. More adults cry in Corporate America than people think – at all levels. People have become human capital resources whose productive “value” is extracted. Once that value is exhausted, they are discarded like so much manufacturing waste. Neither the three branches of Government nor the “fourth” branch, the media, are doing anything to change this growing injustice. It is my hope, in the spirit of MLK, Jr. and others, that our Churches, as the 5th branch of Government, will organize the individual voices into collective prophetic voice and action that will lead to a sustainable reversal of this inhumane trend – both at home and abroad.
3. Our Government has been hijacked by Corporations. When corporations are endowed with the legal status of individuals, they co-opt individual rights, as well. Legal protections that serve as internal checks and balances no longer maintain the social contract. In such states of disequilibrium, it becomes incumbent upon extra-governmental institutions to organize people, to co-locate with the oppressed and from their position to hold the Government accountable, to demand justice and ensure the social contract between the government and the governed. I think a compelling case can be made that the freedom of the press and the freedom of religion serve as checks and balances not just to ensure individual rights, but to operate in conjunction with the right to assemble. In theory/de jure, viewed as a closed system, the Govt is limited to three branches. In a broader view/de facto, the Govt is composed of quasi-governmental bodies like lobbyists and corporations on one side that must be balance by other institutions that are not of the Government, but are necessary forces in the operation of a healthy and functioning Government.
4. To be clear, I also believe the economic oppressors are oppressed. Their perception of the “rules of the game” reinforce their greed, anger, and ignorance and lead them to attach to material wealth. Sadly, like hungry ghosts, they can never be satisfied, yet continue in a single direction for the answer. Liberal and conservative leaders both fail to recognize the intrinsic common distortion created by their bourgeois location. I think Kerry, Romney, and others have made it crystal clear how disconnected they have been and are with reality; the result is dehumanization. Like Cornel West and Tavis Smiley pointed out, it creates The Rich and The Rest of Us. Think of the impact on RFK of leaving Massachusetts, visiting Alabama, ad witnessing with disbelief that we can have whole areas where individuals suffer from severe malnutrition and distended stomachs in the U.S. Whose nutritional insecurity fatally limits their growth, livelihoods, and lives. You cannot witness and be moved from afar. You have to be in the room, look in the eyes, taste, smell, and feel it with nowhere to run to, and to hear the cries of the children and the angry words of the parents, to feel it. We are designed for empathy (i.e. mirror neurons). We must feel the imminent and immanent threat of death and emptiness in our collective belly and womb. We are not only destroying ourselves, but the planet. The ongoing debate in the media between liberal and conservative bourgeois positions say “sorry, we are trying but we canot seem to agree on how to help you” while the financial news testifies to the fact that in the midst of their failure to help us, they have no problem increasingly helping themselves. It’s a scam and we need to organize and stop being willing passive partners in being bamboozled.
Passive disconnected spirituality cannot be acceptable. People need to look without as well as within. It is my hope that individuals will go forth and open themselves to being vulnerable, to allow the pain outside to contact the pain inside, and to unite in solidarity with one another in common cause. Every small act matters. We are disenfranchised. Yet, every call or letter to a politician is calculated to represent the viewpoints of hundred if not thousands that do not call. Therefore, let us unite around important legislation and court cases and change the Govt. Our churches and community organizations are good places to come together. Let us move from witness to justice!
I am sitting here filled with anguish for my fellow brothers and sisters.
This week, I sat with my brother and sister Veterans. Not statistics. Faces. Eyes filled with tears. Hearts filled with despair. We grip hands. We share our stories. We offer combat lifesaver first aid knowing Medevac is a long way off if it will come at all.
Need for shelter. Need for work. Need for health care. Need for love. Need for re-connection after years or even decades of existing disconnected within society.
Offers of solidarity. Offers of encouragement. En-courage-ment.
It is the “island of misfit toys.” Society, through its Government, played war but didn’t put its soldiers away when it was done. They are left strewn and largely unseen across our society.
The eyes of Veterans whose service-connected health problems are unserved for years and decades are evidence of a criminally neglectful and inefficient military-VA transition process and VA claims processing system.
“Oh, you’re well spoken.” “You seem educated.” I share these and other statements I have heard from VA doctors. Others, like Congressional Liaisons and Advocates have called me a liar and worse, only to retract such statements once forced to examine the evidence. I state the problem: an adversarial system in which the VA is convinced every Veteran is poor, stupid, and a liar. Every Veteran is trying to “get over.” Heads universally nod in agreement while the faces of predominately combat Veteran Officers and Enlisted contort in expressions of anguish, despair, and even justified rage.
Those who enjoy their livelihood and their very freedom thanks to Veterans treat us disgracefully.
In Buddhism, the greatest form of charity (Skt. dana) one can give is encouragement. For many, encouragement is the only thing they can offer one another. For many, the encouragement and solidarity offered by one Veteran to another, from the only other person who understands his or her pain, is the difference between life and suicide.
The problem is poverty. The treatment of Veterans is a reflection of the poverty of spirit of our Nation. Veterans are drawn from the very heart of the 99% and thus do not count. Our voices are not heard. They are suppressed. Our feelings are not heard. They are suppressed. Our being is individually and collectively not heard. It is suppressed.
Economically, socially, and even through off-label use of psychopharmacological drugs, Veterans in and out of the system are oppressed and society is left unhealed. Even worse, society, through its Government and the military, is actively engaged in creating more wounded and dying.
Jody didn’t take it all. Uncle Sam did.
Semper Fi. This We’ll Defend. Duty. Honor. Country. Inside the room, everyone knows in their bones that all gave some and some gave all. Outside of the room, the assurances of Hollywood actors and others claiming they “got our 6” ring hollow. A token corporate-sponsored event for a few Veterans is a short-term illusion that does not address the structural injustices borne by Veterans who suffer because a society that promised its Veterans the American Dream in reality gave too many of them a Nightmare.
Just like the poor, Veterans suffer from stigma. They are labeled as damaged, crazy, lazy, and worse. This stigmatization is false. But, its dehumanizing effect makes the oppression possible.
It is just a small part of the story told by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West in The Rich and The Rest of Us. And, it has me filled with anguish.
If some Veterans are not educated beyond high school, if some Veterans do not express themselves so well or have difficulty with the VA paperwork, it is a reflection of the society from which they come and a statement about the criminal lack of accomodation of the VA system. It is the knowing structural delay and denial of benefits that enables the daily institutional oppression of isolated and ostracized individual Veterans alone in a crowd.
I want to offer an immediate action available to all. I ask that you, the reader, make a determined effort to identify the Veterans in your midst and to make an effort to reintegrate them into our communities. They are alone within these communities. Some need help with claims. Some need help with food. Some need a ride. Understand that their need is our responsibility.
Most of all, give them love and encouragement daily. Let your first words to them be “Welcome Home, brother or sister.” And let your every subsequent action show them that you mean it.
This is Assassin White 1. Time Now. Continue Mission. Over, but not out.
Buddhism, Christianity, Economics, Health, Health Care, Interbeing, Liberation Theology, Love, Military, Non-dualism, Oppression, Politics, Poverty, Radical Love, Religion, Social Justice, Socioeconomics, Veteran
We, the people, are possessed.
Through our possessions, we are possessed.
Through our possessions, we are oppressed.
Possession focuses life on material wealth and leaves us poor in social wealth. Unwilling to share material wealth, the possessed are poor in spirit.
Repossession illuminates the emptiness of impermanent material wealth and the emptiness of social wealth that it displaced.
But what concerns me most is dispossession.
In its positive form, dispossession is the personal decision to abandon attachment to possessions as a source of suffering. It is liberating.
But, dispossession is only liberating if it is manifests from a source of autonomy.
Dispossession is a cause of suffering and trauma when it is motivated by external sources and creative of economic and social disequilibria.
According to the Federal Poverty Guidelines for the 48 contiguous states for 2013, the poverty level for a household of 3 is $19,530 (http://www.familiesusa.org/resources/tools-for-advocates/guides/federal-poverty-guidelines.html)
The order of magnitude differences in the cost of living between cities and states across the contiguous 48 states render the publication of a single figure criminal.
Even if that figure is adjusted by the Federal General Services Administration (GSA) locality pay rate adjustment for Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside of 27.16%, the figure only rises to $24,834.
By contrast, the California Budget Project (http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/17/business/fi-wages17)
estimated that a 3-person household in Los Angeles with one working member needs $51,035. This figure assumes the household rents their residence, owns/leases a car, and provides their own healthcare. According to this figure, rent accounts for 23.3% of income.
I would argue that even THIS figure is NOT middle class according to historical definitions/expectations. It does not include retirement savings (e.g. IRAs), College, College Savings, Vacations, Holidays, or Emergencies!
To live in an area with top-performing schools increases rent to one-third of income! This does NOT include utilities.
In other words, if you are a member of a 3-person household and meet these criteria, you are poor and you are engaged in a life that has a high probability of bequeathing poverty to the next generations.
As a student and member of a 3 person household, it was the inspiration of The Rich and the Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West that inspired me to calculate these figures.
The newly poor and charities are engaged in a mutual distortion of reality. Both sides insist for reasons from education, job, zip code, race, and more on identifying certain individuals and households with equivalent incomes as middle class and others as poor.
The reality? Both are poor.
The reality? A significant number of charitable and grant-funded organizations are dispossessing the nominal middle class (i.e. the new poor). These organizations are self-aggrandizing. Despite an altruistic veneer, they are part of the 1%. They do not serve the poor. They serve themselves.
Too many institutions that should be prophetic voices for social justice take socioeconomic security and return only guilt and a demand for more.
I am a co-founder of an agenda-less community, Veterans Engaging Together (V.E.T.). We intentionally decided not to incorporate as a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Instead, as an agenda-less community, we are a mutual aid and support society. We provide intergenerational mentoring and help Veterans reintegrate with themselves, their families, and their communities.
This is the kind of model employed by my grandfather during the Great Depression. Individuals, Families, and Communities came together to support one another. They recognized the limits of will and ability for society in general and the Government in particular to help.
I wasn’t there in that time. But, today, it seems that the limits of will and ability to help on the part of the Government and Institutions is greater. Help is too often destructive of dignity, of wealth, and, at times, of individuals and families, instead of restorative.
We founded a Nation and a Dream and hoped they would merge to form a Great Society.
We have to dispossess ourselves of the ideal and examine the real. The Dream of a Great Society has become the Nightmare of an Oppressive Plutocractic Oligarchy engaged in perpetual war that has extended beyond the limits of humankind to include the Earth and all life on it, human, animal, plant, and mineral.
We have to disposses ourselves of the notion of middle class identity and WAKE UP to a poor reality.
Then, and only then, will we recognize our only possession, Free Will. It is then that we must rise individually and collectively with one voice, WE THE PEOPLE, to repossess our Government, a Government by the people, of the people, and for the people.
In closing, this essay is not intended to dispossess the historically poor from their identities as poor or to minimize or relativize their suffering. Rather, it is a call to the misidentified middle class to STOP identifying with the 1% and joining them in their oppressive policies and practices. It is a call for the former middle class to identify with the new reality. It is no longer “there but for the grace of God go I.” It is now “there go I.”
I invite perspectives from my brothers and sisters within and without the United States of America.
In a post-modern age marked by spiritual seeking, I think religious texts (viz. the Bible) are too easily dismissed.
So-called cultural Christian Christians assume knowledge of the Bible on the basis of culture dismiss it.
I am particularly sympathetic to people who have been hurt by what I call “weaponized theology.” Theology is weaponized when scriptural passages are employed with the specific intent (mens rea) to do harm (actus rea).
A significant element of the Academy, including Theology, dismisses the Bible on the basis of theories too numerous to mention.
I believe these dismissals are erroneous treatments of the Bible, or any religious text, borne of a fundamental misunderstanding.
To arrive at a fixed truth-non truth assessment of the Bible based on any particular concept within a limited frame of time is to miss the point entirely.
Rather, I propose that the opportunity is to engage one’s religious text, such as the Bible, as a koan.
A koan is a Zen term (Chinese Chan kung an) used to refer to a case, a story or study in the form of a paradox that cannot be understood entirely by logic alone. The Bible can be understood as a series of koans to be struggled with over the course of a lifetime until enlightenment results.
Biblical parables, for instance, are defined as simple stories used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Yet, throughout the Christian Testament, it is evident that even the closest disciples fail to recognize the lessons again and again. The lessons are not so easy.
In Christianity, the radical love of Jesus Christ was/is a koan. It’s non-dualism, expressed as a refusal to distinguish between self and non-self, the various interpretations available for “one body,” is an example of a koan.
The Bible refers to the Word written within each person’s heart (Jer. 31:33). The Bible directs each person to seek concordance with internal truth. In struggling to decipher a koan, a person will meditate upon it day and night. Likewise, in understanding the Bible, a person is called to engage in understanding it day and night:
“but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2, NRSV).
It is not easy. But, it is not intended to be an oppressive task, either. It is intended to be a “delight” engaged in voluntarily.
People too ready to claim and profess understanding of the Bible and people too ready to dismiss it are both in error. Spiritual seekers who dismiss the Bible or the religious texts of their own tradition likewise deny themselves to their own disadvantage. The texts are spiritual exercises. They are instruments. They are a means by which finite understanding attempts to engage the infinite.
A sign of mature thought is the capacity to hold in non-dual tension two ideas. In fact, this is still a form of linear thought. Zen Buddhism, for instance, recognizes a quadrilemma in which an object is represented as 1) is, 2) is not, 3) both is and is not, and 4) neither is nor is not. The quadrilemma is understood as a limited representation attempting to express emptiness and impermanence. So, even the modeling of the quadrilemma, as challenging as it is to understood, is ultimately incomplete, empty, and representational.
The koan is a finger pointing at the moon. You cannot learn anything by looking at the finger. But you can learn something by following the path pointed out by the finger.
Likewise, the Bible can be thought of as a finite instrument directing us to unity with the infinite, with God, however you conceive God to be, to paraphrase Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata.
It is insufficient to embrace or dismiss a religious text on the basis of the interpretation of another alone (especially since most of us engage with religious texts in a different language, a different context, etc.). Rather, I propose that one should embrace or dismiss a religious text on the basis of an enduring encounter with it, exploring yourself within it and it within you. It is through such engagement that you make the religious text a living document and through the text explore yourself as a living document (e.g. Boisen, Hiltner).
I have also come to the conclusion that religious cases, koans, such as the story of Abraham and Isaac, were, in fact, too quickly dismissed. These texts have re-emerged with new meanings later in life. Examined through the lens of impermanence and emptiness, understood as a test between the temporal-corporeal and the spiritual-eternal, challenged as a test case for the failure of absolute obedience and the absolute necessity of free will…these are but a few of the ideas that only emerged for me over time.
I do not presume to suggest that any one of those interpretive models is right in any sense of the word. The answer is an instantaneous moment of understanding reflective of context and, hopefully, responsive to context. Like a koan, it can sit dormant, work in the unconscious, and emerge when elicited by an environmental stimulus to reveal a contextually specific and individually relevant insight.
Pluralism, relativism, and syncretism are not negative terms. They neither create nor destroy. They merely are temporary adaptive changes in understanding and reflect the role of self,other(s), and context in producing instantaneous momentary understanding.
That the resulting understanding cannot be fixed is not nihilism. Rather, it suggests that religious texts are inherently utilitarian. But, their utility is not limited to a set of laws and actions that prescribe and proscribe. Rather, the utility is in the process, the struggle, the engagement with the koan that engages the infinite within and without and points us towards the dynamic process of Truth in which we are reminded that any text is relational and merely describes God as rather than suggesting God is.
I hope people will remember to engage religious texts not with a mindset of agreement or disagreement, but with the mindset of engaging a koan, a paradox, in which one if challenged to understand the intricate non-dual we of meaning that can be expressed as a quadrilemma. I hope people will be encouraged to re-engage with religious texts not for the work they will do on the texts, but for the work the texts will do in facilitating the processes of their own lives. And, I pray that we can all, every one, engage in our individual and collective practices in non-dual ways that celebrate each other’s existence and delight in one another’s shared journey. Godspeed, fellow travellers.