Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Troy Davis

Ammon Hennacy once said "Violence is the weapon of the weak."
How weak do we declare ourselves collectively to be when the best we can do is kill people in revenge? How much worse is it when there's substantial doubt about the culpability of the person to be murdered?

Make no mistake: capital punishment is murder performed by the state in the name of the people.

I pray tonight that the governor of Georgia does not allow the murder of Troy Davis to occur as scheduled.

I am fasting in solidarity with Troy. I encourage you to do the same.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Blog frequency

I'm going to try something over the summer: twice-weekly postings. I'll be shooting for Tuesdays and Thursdays in the evenings. Hopefully I can keep it up. I know there's no shortage of things to write about. The question is simply whether or not I make the time to do so. Plus, this will give me the impetus to write down the random not-quite-a-paper thoughts that always spring up. Adorno/Horkheimer's "Culture Industry" and 20th-21st century church cultures? Sure. Reflections on the concept of intentional living? Absolutely. Musings on Ammon Hennacy and total conscientious objection? Oh, definitely. If I get bored, maybe I'll post old papers and/or sections of my MDiv thesis.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Justice, Compassion and Apocalypse

May 21 came and went one week ago without Harold Camping's predicted time zone chasing earthquake. I spent the day driving from New York City to Cape May, NJ with family and not thinking too much about Camping or Family Radio. Then the news reports started rolling in. Sure, I did my level best to ignore the news, but there's only so much Žižek a fellow can read on the beach.

What troubles me is not what happens to Camping. Frankly, he's a dolt at best and a pitiless charlatan at worst (and more probable). What worries me is what has and will continue to happen to his followers. A few folks on Facebook posted thoughtful musings on the lives of the people who believed in this false prophecy. I came across the story of a man from Long Island who had spent down his life savings to spread Camping's word. This man spent what he thought would be the last of the world's time in Times Square, believing that he was warning his fellow human beings of the imminent and immanent apocalypse. When 6pm came and went, this fellow was left crestfallen and surrounded by reporters who all demanded to know what he was going to do with his life now.

In reflecting on all of this, my thoughts turn toward the commands to love attributed to Jesus and to the Buddhist principle of compassion. By both measures, my heart breaks for those who--admittedly foolishly--put their hopes and trust in the wrong place. I don't think too many of them need to fear a supernatural "Hell" any longer. They're now reviled, mocked openly and occasionally broke and newly homeless.

Of course, the news cycle rolls on. Two New York City police officers, who apparently wanted to really live into the epithet of being "pigs," were acquitted of charges of raping a drunk woman in 2008. Our system of delicately balanced laws and punishments continues to fail those who were not fortunate enough to be born into privileged genders, races, economic classes or sexualities. The wolves have never left the doorsteps of "the least of these."

All of this brings me around to the central questions: can "justice" and "compassion" coexist? Do we have to give up some of one to get any of the other? In a dark mood, I'm tempted to say "no" and "yes," respectively: they cannot coexist in full expression and we must mitigate or temper one with the other. But what does "tempered justice" or "mitigated compassion" look like? I don't think the former would satisfy Micah nor would the latter be of much interest to the Buddha.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Puzzling Concept of Justice

"Justice language" is, in my experience, the greatest stumbling block in an otherwise rich and productive dialogue between socially-engaged Christians and Buddhists. It should not be so, but last night's Presidential announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden shows us precisely why this stumbling block exists. Last night, Obama announced that "justice" had been served. In this case, the clear implication was that the death of Bin Laden was part and parcel of this "justice." But was it?

I don't think that Amos had this kind of thing in mind when announcing that God wanted justice to "roll down like waters" (Amos 5:24). In fact, I don't think that there's any language about "justice" in the gospels which would support Obama's view thereof. The word he was looking for last night is "vengeance," which I'm pretty sure God has reserved for Godself (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30).

If we think instead of what "justice" should mean in any theosocial context, we can come quickly to the notion expressed in the sermons given on the "Kingdom of God" (or Kin-dom or just basileia). Justice is merciful care for the downtrodden. Justice is a social order in which human bodies are not violated for profit or any selfish intent. Justice looks more like the community described in Acts 2:44-47 in which the community held no private property and distributed any material goods among themselves according to the need of each. No word about revenge is spoken in that description. No word of revenge has any place in justice at all.

If justice then is more about mercy and compassion, it is not only more consistent with Buddhist understandings of human relationship, but it is also precisely the opposite of what's been pronounced "justice" in this political context.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Royalty, Spectacle and the Life of Integrity

I strive in nearly all my interactions with people to be a person of unconflicted integrity. By this I mean that if I decry a social injustice in the world, I have a duty to examine whether I benefit or profit from it. If I do, then I need to continue to figure new ways of being in solidarity with those from whose oppression I unwittingly and/or unwillingly benefit. I do not mean to set myself up here as a holier-than-thou type who lords it over others who may or may not follow the same reasoning. Rather, I do this because it is a religious call. As a Quaker, I feel called by the Light Within to honor that of God in all people. As a Buddhist-Quaker, I feel that this is due both to the justice claims of a transcendent Other and the very real fact that all beings inter-are with one another.

So what about royalty and spectacle? If you are reading this, there is no way you've missed the fawning praise for a royal wedding. I'll spare any recap here. Suffice it to say, here we have witnessed the marriage of two incredibly materially privileged people as a global spectacle. I do not know either of the parties in this wedding and would not speak in judgment against them for that reason. What I do know is that millions of dollars were spent on a lavish ceremony honoring the scion of a long-outdated mode of political leadership.

Meanwhile, in some of the lands formerly subjugated to that man's nation, it is a crime punishable by death to love someone of the same gender. Marriage is summarily out of the question. Yet the United Kingdom will now bear a cost somewhat north of $7,000,000,000,000.00 in lost economic production due to the national holiday for a wedding. This is in addition to the actual cost of the ceremonies themselves.

So why care? Because this is a grotesque spectacle in our time. It is a painful reminder that we have decided to value some human lives far, far more than others. A nation stops to celebrate the unearned and inherited privilege of some of its members while its former colonies groan under financial hardship and genocidal laws governing human sexuality. And the church played right along with nary a prophetic word to speak.

The churches of the world--indeed all religious communities--must remember that our spirituality is not limited to what we say in a prayer or do at a ritual. Spirituality is, to borrow a phrase from Roger Haight, SJ, life lived in the face of transcendence. What we do IS our prayer. What we fail to do IS our sin.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Quest for the Historical Malcolm X

Irene Monroe has a good take on Manning Marable's new biography of Malcolm X up at her Huffington Post blog. I will leave her comments for you to read, but please do. She is an excellent writer with a much-needed perspective on race and sexuality in American culture. It doesn't hurt that she's a Union alumna either.

More to the point of this posting's title, I began to wonder upon reading Rev. Monroe's piece whether we might be on the brink of some kind of Schweitzer-esque quest for the "Historical Malcolm X." Schweitzer's 1906 volume The Quest of the Historical Jesus is a great introduction to the field of historical Jesus studies. In a nutshell, the central question here is what new light might be shed on faith claims to Jesus based on historical research into the person Jesus of Nazareth.

With Marable's new book shedding new light on the person of Malcom X, do we need a similar re-evaluation of the claims we can make to his legacy as well? Do we need to consider a "Malcolm of History" versus a "Malcolm of Faith" as we do with Jesus? I do not wish to draw a soteriological parallel between these two figures. Rather, I want to raise again the question of whether the facts-that-happened version of history is more important than the usable past. I don't have a solid answer, but I do have my sympathies for Martin Marty's view of history and Michel Foucault's view of discourse and narrative here.

In my own estimation, new historical evidence might shed light on a figure's past in terms of the facts-that-happened. Such evidence, however, may or may not have much bearing on the usable past version of history as a story we tell ourselves about a particular figure or event. Malcolm X remains simultaneously the person described in his autobiography and the person described by Marable. He was always both, just as we are all both the people we believe ourselves to be and the people who match our self-perceptions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


For the last few years, I've been blogging about religion and media at my seminary's blog site Union:inDialogue. My writing partner and I are both receiving our Master of Divinity degrees this May, and the blog over there will likely go the way of all flesh, as it were.

For my part, I've got too much to say about the world and the role religious and political movements can play in both increasing and mitigating the material suffering of human beings. This blog will be dedicated to reflections on these and other topics. More will come before too long.