The Pillage of Wal-Mart

This morning's UPI

So There I was...

Looking at the news. Late in the day after the Feast of Gratitude. There was a video clip of a two women being interviewed by a Local TV reporter clearly at the low end of the Totem Pole. It was this poor man’s job to get a story out of how their shopping had gone. I almost clicked off, and then the camera caught an unusually good angle; the woman’s chin up and out, a laugh rolling out of her mouth, and flash of her eye that meant victory. The look was one that in earlier times or other places would be called blood satiation. She had triumphed and was bringing home the trophies, scalps and booty. She had planned and executed an invasion. The God’s and Goddesses of war had smiled upon her. She was the hero to whom the crowds yell “Die Now! Die Now!” for nothing more noble could be achieved.

She had shopped well.

Oh, my sister. How we have fallen. This is our victory. The pillage of Wal-Mart. The plunder of Target. The sack of Sachs.

Clearly, no one has ever told you who you really are. What you were created to do. Let me try and give you a glimpse. See if it does not sound an echo within your soul.

Our most ancient stories tell us the truth of who we are and what we can do. In every culture, the stories exist. Scheherezade knew these stories. Boudica told these stories to her daughters. These stories tell of heroic women; Judith and Xena. This archetypal woman has come down to our day and turns up as a blonde in Sunnydale. But she is here and she will not go away. You know these stories, you have just forgotten their meaning, and failed at their application.

The oldest story I know is of a garden. Firstmother was seduced by a lie. A fear-based lie. A myth of scarcity. She was told that her creator was holding out on her. She bought the falsehood that she must acquire, by deceit or force, what she was not given. She realizes her mistake very quickly, but the adhesive gum of the price-sticker of that lie stuck to her soul and was passed down.

But not before her creator gave her one more thing.
A task.
He spoke to her seducer and said this.

“You who were made for glory, you who has never had a predator, you have now made an enemy, and her name is woman, and you should be afraid, very afraid for although you will cut her, in the end, she will crush your head.”

Not Firstfather. Not the second Adam who came to plant the new garden. No, SHE was tasked with vermin eradication. She shall have the final victory. Doubt me? Get thee to a Roman church; find the pretty Lady, the one of the serene face, the upturned eyes. Look at her feet, and see what is crushed under them.

Since that day two forces have been competing for your soul, my sister. One, a foul lie from Hell, which says that you are not complete, that you are not good enough, that you must have more, be more. The other force is deeper and more powerful, but often buried, unawakened. It says that you are more powerful than you could ever know – right now. That force knows that evil itself, fears YOU. You were meant to crush poverty. To thwart abuse. To free captives as well as to bind wounds. You were meant to have clear sight, wisdom and power.

But sister, you have bought the lie. You have bought it wholesale, retail and on sale. You have stocked your cupboards with it and put it away for the winter. You have breast-fed and spoon fed it to your babies. Your soul has root cellars full of it.

You have let your enemy bind your feet, so that you cannot stand your ground. You have let your enemy steal your right to read, so that your may not look upon the truth. You have let your enemy impoverish you through mistaken wars you have enabled with your cooking pot and laundry pail. You have died bearing daughters who do not know who they are.

Yet in your deepest dreams the battle songs of Miriam and Deborah still sing.
“Horses and chariots are no match for my God”

There was nothing wrong with that feeling you felt on Friday night, my dear. You were hardwired to crave it, seek it, fight for it and revel in it. But oh, my sister, my mother, my daughter, you have settled for a pale echo of the truth.

Give it a thought now, before we settle into the cookies and the glass balls and the laughter of children. Any maybe on this New Year, you might want to sing a new song, and laugh a new laugh, and look your true enemy in the eye and let him see that you see him, clearly. Let him see that flash in your eye. Scare the Hell out of him, I tell you it will.

“Get the claymore out of the thatch where you hid it Molly.”

Vini… Vidi… Vi – effin – Ci


The Myth of Isolation

today's UPI - although my editor is behind this monring and it may not post there until tomorrow - so I scoop myself again!

So There I was...

Lying in my childhood bed, terrified. I awoke with the sense that something was very, very wrong. The light was wrong. It was way too late in the morning for me to be in bed on a school day. The normal sounds of our household were absent. The teakettle had not whistled. That is the sound that usually ended my dreams. The sound of my parents sitting at the kitchen table reading the scripture and praying for each of us children by name had not occurred, that was my normal ten-minute warning for getting up. I listened carefully; there was not a sound in the house. Then I listened for the sounds of the city. I was, after all, in Chicago, there were millions of people out there. Then I realized that the whole world had gone silent. There were no cars or trucks rumbling down Harlem Avenue a block away. There were no sounds from the neighbors. There were no airplanes in the sky. A city of millions was silent.

I came swiftly to the only solution that a child of Evangelical dispensationalists could come to. Jesus had come like a thief in the night and had taken away every good person from the world and I was alone in my family, unraptured. I was scared but not really surprised. I wasn’t all that good of a kid. But then I thought about it some more and wondered if my little brother might not still be sleeping in his bed. He was kind of a pain in the neck, he might still be here. I thought about how a couple of kids might try and survive the apocalypse. I knew we were in for at least seven years of tribulation. I wondered if I forged a note would they let me get the folks’ money out of the bank before it was too late. I wondered if we could get to our cousins, those people were Elvis worshippers and had just found out how wrong they were – but it seemed like taking up with heathens might be a bad idea just at the moment. I eventually decided to go and see if my brother was present. I left my room and saw the silent empty kitchen. The clock confirmed that it was past time to leave for school. No doubt now. I crept into the living room and to my utter shock and amazement, there sat my dad.

Looking out the window at the two feet of snow that had fallen unexpectedly in the night. No work, no school today. No trucks, no airplanes. A city silenced by God, but not robbed by God. I crawled into my dad’s lap and breathed in the relief of the pardoned sinner. I was not alone.

The fear of being alone, temporarily or permanently is not just an irrational fear of religious children. The fear of being alone is one of the most pervasive and destructive fears in our world. It touches almost everyone eventually. It causes suicides. It fuels addictions. It provokes people into crazy behaviors that increase rather than decrease their chances of loneliness. And it is a groundless fear. Because true isolation is a myth, an impossibility.

Every major religion teaches this. Christendom in its right mind teaches this. Jesus said “I will never leave you or forsake you, not until the end of time.” The Apostle told us that we are surrounded by a host of witnesses cheering us on to finish our footrace. Angels manifest at the oddest moments speaking the inevitable “fear not.”

Science teaches this. We are all really connected. The wings of a butterfly can start a hurricane. There are resonances between particles at a distance.

The mistake comes when we use feelings to predict fact. Now I am all for feelings. Get the full 96-crayon box of them and use them as often as you can, but as predictors of fact, they are notoriously fallible. Sometimes we feel lonely. This is the feeling that defines a craving for more or better relationship. It hurts. It is supposed to. But if we sit in the lonely feeling and use it to predict an isolated future, and let that fear escalate, we will do nutty things. We will forsake our integrity. We will medicate our loneliness. We attempt to latch onto anything that seems to offer relief.

Loneliness is a feeling given to us by God to cause us to seek community. You may be unlucky in love, but community does not rely on luck. It relies on initiative. You have to get outside of yourself and your feelings and do something to connect. You have to give, and be vulnerable enough to let others give to you. It is hard work, but it works every time.

You commune with the past by living up to the investment that those who have loved you have made in you, and listening for their cheers from the stands. You commune with the future by investing in others and by tilling the soil and planting the seeds that will feed and shade those who will come after you. You live in anticipation of their gratitude, knowing that you will take your place in the spiritual mezzanine to watch their performances. You choose, by will, to live in the truth that you are a valued piece of a great company of saints. You take responsibility for your feelings and your life.

The fear mongers of this world and the spiritual realm would like you to live in the fear of isolation. They want you to predict, and then live in, the lie that you are likely to end up alone and scared. This will prevent you from making those healthy connections with the past present and future that foil the fear-based plans they have for controlling your present.

Let us reject this lie.

We are not alone. We were not born alone. We were not alone before we were born and we will not be alone in our lives or our deaths and we will not be alone after our deaths. God is as close as your breath. The saints are as close as the ear of your soul. Community is as close as your outstretched hand.


21st Century Pharoah

Today's UPI Column

So There I was...

Sitting by the side of the road waiting for my speeding ticket. I was half way between Portland and Boise and, you know there are some real lonely stretches out there. The day was clear and fine and dry. The sheriff’s deputy was sitting at the bottom of a long downward slope, behind an overpass support. I got nabbed. I tried to argue that I was not being unsafe, that I was at a reasonable speed for the conditions. I tried to smile and “yes sir’ my way to the warning. He was having none of it. I was “in excess of the legal limit.” And the limits were not moving that day for me. Reality check time.

I was thinking about this today when I read some comments by the Rev. Creflo Augustus Dollar Jr. of College Park Georgia. Apparently a United States senator has decided to investigate the finances of TV preachers. It would seem that this statesman has gotten bored with shooting fish in a barrel, but is not quite up to the job of taking on Blackwater or some other less obvious miscreants.

Creflo, and his wife Taffi, (is this a Georgia thing or do these people have cartoon character names?) lead a church that takes in 69 million dollars a year. We are told that they live an extremely extravagant lifestyle. We are somehow not surprised. But Rev. Dollar takes offense at the investigation and defends himself by saying that his lifestyle is supported by personal funds from capitalistic ventures and not church money. The Dollars (rather redundantly) preach and live a prosperity doctrine. God wants you to be rich – just like us. See how much God loves us?

Speaking about his standard of living Creflo Dollar had this to say:

“Just because it’s excessive doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

First off, Creflo, buy a dictionary. According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, excessive is defined as “exceeding the usual, proper, necessary or normal.” Its synonyms are immoderate and inordinate. You might want to look those up too. Excessive does mean it’s wrong.

Secondly, when we hear “too much is never enough” out of Mick Jagger’s excessive lips, we are not shocked. But when we hear the same sentiment from a guy who claims to represent Jesus, it is a bit hard to take. Maybe the Sermon on the Mount fell out of the reverend’s Bible, but mine talks about simplicity and humility. The Jesus of my Bible tells ministers not to bother with an extra coat. Rev Dollar has extra jet airplanes. My Jesus is pretty concerned with the “least of these.” I am sure that the Reverend Dollar could quote me plenty of prosperity proof texts, so I think I will come at this from an angle I bet he understands – math.

Creflo, when you defend your standard of living, when you say that it is what God wants for everyone, there is just one problem. The numbers don’t crunch. A few people can live like you do only if millions live at a much lower level and yet consistently pump resources upwards towards the few on top, and those millions can only do that if hundred of millions of others live in destitution. You get the middle millions to pump money upwards by promising them that if they do, that they will have the chance to be one of the few at the top, or at least near the top. You know what we call this, sir? It is called a pyramid scheme.

Pyramid schemes can only be built by lying about the total quantity of resources. Pyramid schemes need a constantly increasing number of suckers to fill the lower ranks. Pyramid schemes always crumble, but not before the very few at the top make out like bandits.

It does not matter one bit whether your riches come through the channel of the church or the church of secular greed. Your lifestyle is still supported by the middle classes and the masses of poor below them.

Now I am not saying that mother earth cannot support her children. I am not saying that there are not enough resources for everyone to live a decent life. Actually there are. The problem is that your life is not decent – it is in fact extremely indecent. Your excess directly robs the poor of their hope for decency.

Frankly, I do not have much hope for any improvement in this situation at the investigative hands of Senators with lifetime incomes, and guaranteed permanent health care who cannot manage to make health care accessible to our nation’s children. Pots and Kettles to you, Mr. Senator.

I do have hope in the One who told the rich young ruler to go and sell his goods and feed the poor. And I have hope in those who can still read His words with understanding.

-- -- --


pix from this weekend's convergent event

In a canyon

In a Cavern

Excavating for a ...

I apparently didn't take any pictures of Quakers, or mountain goats - just th e red rock, which was pretty.

Covered Dish

This week's UPI column

So There I was...

In Oklahoma, talking to the future of American womanhood.

That might be a bit sweeping. But Angelina is a very interesting and instructive piece of the future of American womanhood.

I spent the weekend at a regional Quaker women’s retreat. It was an event that intentionally brought together women from the diverse branches of Quakersim. Over the last 350 years Quakerism has suffered the typical number of religious splits. I know of no faith group immune to this process. But there is a convergent movement afoot in Quakerism. It is a rising sensibility that, without the need to cobble together structural re-integration, that we can speak to each other across our divides. We can be in relationship to each other without sacrificing our integrity. Everybody knows that it is easier to talk to total strangers than it is to converse with your own strange cousins, but this is what we try and do at the convergent events. Look our shirt-tail relatives in the eye and listen to them with an open heart. It is good work.

Among Quakers, diversity in the 21st century means that in the room we had women who were fundamentalist Christians and women who identified as Jewish, Buddhist or Non-theist Friends. Interestingly enough you cannot always tell who is who by looking at them. With a few exceptions, the women across the spectrum tend to be middle aged, graying, and sensibly dressed. It is not a real flashy crowd. One thing you do not usually see is head coverings. Quakers mostly gave up the bonnet by the turn of the 20th century. So I was surprised to notice a mother and daughter combo in intentionally modest dresses and a small white headscarf that looked old order Mennonite to me. Among Christian women head coverings of any sort are usually in obedience to the one place where the Apostle Paul recommends that women not cut their hair and wear a head covering in public (1 Corinthians 11). Most Christian churches have interpreted this as a cultural issue pertaining to the Apostles day and not ours, and so have abandoned the practice. When you see it practiced, often, it is part of a general literal interpretation of scripture, and that often entails a certain socially conservative lifestyle. Many 21st century Christian women would associate head coverings with patriarchal oppression. I was curious.

At dinner I got a chance to sit by the daughter. We enjoyed each other’s company, and got a chance to talk several times over the weekend. Angelina is fourteen years old. She lives on a small ranch some 60 miles outside of Austin, Texas. She has five older brothers and two younger sisters. She laughs easily and loudly. She interacts easily with adults. She can politely correct her elders when they are in error. She has the strength of a girl who has survived five older brothers. She is bold, and open, but has none of the coquettish Psuedo-sexuality of many fourteen year olds in our culture. She knows who Brittany Spears is and she so doesn’t care. She is a thing we rarely see anymore; she is fourteen and a girl. She has a full set of girl powers that she hasn’t yet traded in for woman powers. It was refreshing, let me tell you.

She has a Clydesdale/Morgan cross horse. She weighs exactly 100 pounds at the moment but she can fling her saddle onto his back and make him behave. She puts on a pair of pants under her skirt to ride, and admits that the skirt is a bit if a pain at a full gallop, but it is not anything she can’t handle. She studies at home, although she admitted that she sometimes wishes she could go to a regular school. I am sure that she is not home-schooled out of fear of contamination with the wider world, because her family drives 65 miles to attend an unprogrammed liberal Quaker meeting that exposes Angelina to a wide variety of theological perspectives. Angelina is a vegetarian. Her mother is presently eating raw foods only. Her daddy is a commercial airline pilot. Her parents left their Mennonite community because according to Angelina they were “too strict” and asked her parents not to wear wedding rings. Angelina clearly approved of her parents insistence on their liberty. Angelina started wearing her “veil” at the age of eleven. She says she took it freely, out of respect for her father and God. She thinks it is funny that some kids in Texas think she is Muslim or a nun. She doesn’t think that anyone else is particularly wicked for not having their head covered. Angelina is so not oppressed. She doesn’t fit into any boxes. She doesn’t particularly believe in boxes, theological or otherwise. She plans to go to college. She plans to have a full and rich life. I have no doubt that she will.

Angelina gives me hope for a theologically diverse nation. She has the strength to hold on to some absolutes in her life without fear of people who do not agree with those absolutes. She is conservatively and progressively counter-culture at the same time. She is a post-modern throwback. She is not going to isolate. She will not be terrified. She and her covered head will thrive in the 21st century. Let us all learn.


Early Christmas Present

For Gregg