Persistence

Sermon from October 20, 2019. Audio here.

Jeremiah 31:27-34
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
But all shall die for their own sins;
the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

Sermon

Where does the parable end and the commentary begin?

One of the most significant contributions of the Jesus Seminar in its deliberations since the 1980s has been answering that question about the teachings of Jesus.

(And I should take that opportunity to promote the Jesus Seminar on the Road conference here at Southminster, November 8 and 9. You have until October 25th to get the early bird rate. One of the important gifts Southminster has given the greater community is hosting these Jesus Seminars on the Road.)

One of the significant gifts that the Jesus Seminar has given is making the scholarship of the academy available to non-professionals.
What have scholars been saying about Jesus these past 200 years
that never made it to the public?

One of the things they have been saying is that the Jesus of the Creed is not the same as the Jesus who told those puzzling little parables.
These scholars also have been showing that the gospels, while preserving the teachings of Jesus, also painted portraits of Jesus and framed Jesus in certain ways.

Modern Jesus scholarship has been asking,

“What belongs to Jesus and what is later redaction?”

It is Jesus versus the editors of Jesus.

It is not a simple or easy task.
Sometimes the editors of Jesus put words in Jesus’s mouth,
so a casual reader thinks Jesus did say these things.
After all, the gospel says Jesus said it.
Who are you, scholar, to question the gospels?
The church as a whole was not pleased with the Jesus Seminar.
They didn’t like that these scholars messed with cherished belief systems.

Nevertheless,
Despite the opposition,
the scholars of the Jesus Seminar persisted,
like the persistent widow,
in searching out the voiceprint of the historical Jesus.

They discovered that this parable contains a bit of editing.

One rule of thumb is that parables are not allegories.
When you run into landlords, judges, kings, and Fathers,
don’t mistake them for God.
The later editors do that.
The historical Jesus did not.

Another rule of thumb is that a tidy explanation of a parable,
even if it appears on the lips of Jesus, is likely not Jesus.
He didn’t explain himself very well.
Jesus told parables to make people think.
Often to make people feel uncomfortable.
Often to make people challenge what they had learned from conventional wisdom.
Often to push against boundaries.

The Gospel writers didn’t like that and so they tried to explain his difficult teachings
and make what Jesus said fit their own portrait of Jesus.

In this parable of the persistent widow,
the editor appears both at the beginning and the end
to tell you how to read the parable and what it is all about.

The editor begins:

“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

That is a nice sermon and kind of true about the parable.
Don’t lose heart. True enough.
Yet the parable itself, says nothing about prayer.
Even as prayer is a good thing,
and Jesus certainly taught his disciples about its importance,
that isn’t what this parable is about.
This parable is about widow who is fed up with injustice.
She isn’t praying to the judge.
She is demanding justice from the judge.

Then the editor appears at the end of the parable:

And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

On its own, those rhetorical questions are interesting to ponder,
but they have nothing to do with the parable.
The editor turned the widow’s persistent demands for justice
against the judge as prayer to God.
The editors have taken a parable about the reality of injustice in the world
and turned it into a lesson in personal piety.
Pray always.
Don’t lose heart.

Here is the parable without the editing:

‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”

This judge is certainly not God.
The parable itself has him say he doesn’t care about God at all.
He doesn’t care about what it is right or wrong.
He doesn’t even care about people.
He represents the reality of what widows, the poor,
and the oppressed faced in Jesus’s time.
Jesus was speaking to those very people who know the experience of the widow
and who themselves experience this injustice,
this hopelessness, on a daily basis.

Jesus is affirming what everyone who is listening already know,
that there is no justice for the poor.
That the system is rigged.
Jesus is pronouncing an indictment upon it.
The system of so-called justice has nothing to do with kingdom of God.
In fact, it mocks it in the words of the unjust judge in the parable itself,
“I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone.”

Jesus is laying it out on the entire fraudulent system of justice
as against God and human decency.
Jesus is really saying that this system is demonic.
It serves itself not who and what it was called to serve.

Jesus is speaking to people for whom all the authority figures are against them.
The people Jesus speaks to are the rabble
from whom the well-to-do want to protect themselves.

This parable of Jesus is an indictment on systems of justice
that have been structured and maintained by the powers
that be to keep that imbalance of power in place.

The editors of the gospels,
or the gospel writers,
are removed from Jesus’s original audience and from Jesus.
The gospel writers, writing at least 40 years,
and in Luke’s case perhaps longer, maybe 60-70 years after the time of Jesus,
also represent a different class of people.
Whereas Jesus was likely in the peasant class, illiterate, and without property,
the author of Luke is not that at all.

The author of Luke is like the wealthy liberal
who likes Jesus but does not relate to the experience of the poor
and the systems that are built that have
“no fear of God and no respect for anyone.”
So Luke makes Jesus’s parable a story about prayer and personal piety,
something the well-to-do could understand.

What was Jesus’s original parable about then?
It is a parable about how to respond to a system that is rigged against you.
When you have no obvious power what are some ways to get justice?
One way is to do what the widow did.
Keep showing up.

Palestinians know this.
No outside power is there for them.
There is no appeal to justice that the Israelis will ever heed.
The Israelis do not care about justice for the Palestinians.
Palestinians know this.
They know that resistance is survival.
Survival is resistance.
They stay on their land despite all the violence and abuse and the indignities.
Each day of survival is in itself a victory.

In the parable,
the judge does not grant justice to the widow because he has a change of heart.
He doesn’t rule in her favor because of the evidence
or because she is in the right.
He grants her justice because he is tired of seeing her.
She has worn him out.
She keeps bothering him.

That is the weapon you use when you have no other.
You just keep telling the truth until the powers are worn out.
You wear out your opponent with truth and love.

Who has done this throughout history?
We can think of Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King or Sojourner Truth.

Yesterday was Arba’een.
It was the fortieth day after the martyrdom of Hussain,
the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.
Between 20 and 30 million people marched to Karbala, Iraq.
The largest peaceful human gathering on earth.
I walked in it last year.
They did it again this year.

Why?
Because there is still injustice.
The judge still has no fear of God or respect for people, so they walk.

Amidst the bombs and guns of the oppressors, people walk.
Amidst the threats and violence, people walk.
Amidst the scheming and the plotting, people walk.
Amidst greed and fear of the small minded, people walk.

From Arbaeen 2018

Like the widow in the parable,
they keep continually coming.
They will not stop.
They will not be intimidated.
They will not be quiet.
They will keep going as long as there is oppression anywhere.

It was the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed in my life.
It is in the spirit of Jesus and his parable of the persistent widow.

Eventually, the unjust judge will do the right thing.
He will do the right thing because he is worn out.
Until then, they walk.
They persist.

One day says Jeremiah,
turning to the other text for today,
one day, says the Lord:

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

One day, perhaps even the unjust judge will have a change of heart.
One day after the widows of the world have walked until their feet are bloodied,
Until every last ounce of energy has been used,
Until every tear has combined with every other tear to create a raging river…
One day, perhaps the scales will fall from the eyes of the powerful,
And even they will turn to God
and turn to respect other human beings…

And the law of love will be written on every heart.

Until that day,
Those who follow Jesus will walk with the widow,
Everyday.
They will persist.

Amen.

Jack Moloney’s Century: A Conversation with Per Fagereng

Per Fagereng’s novel explores America and Portland after Peak Oil

John Shuck speaks with radio host and author, Per Fagereng, about his novel, Jack Moloney’s Century. The novel covers the 100 year life of Jack Moloney (1980-2080) as he moves from Ireland to Portland with many stops along the way through the world’s transition from abundant energy to Peak Oil and beyond.

Per hosts the radio show, “Fight the Empire” on KBOO. Per says of himself:

“I’m old enough to remember the Brooklyn Dodgers. Worked at a gold mine in Alaska and a Norwegian freighter. Hanging out at a San Francisco tavern got me started in a newspaper career. I’ve been involved with KBOO since around 1980.”

From the back cover of Jack Moloney’s Century:

WHAT HAPPENED TO AMERICA? When young Jack Moloney jumped ship in New York in the year 2000 the United States was the world’s great power. When Jack died 80 years later the United States was in pieces, and his long life came to an end in a place called Cascadia. Jack Moloney grew up in Derry, in British-occupied Ireland. One night he helped some friends lob a mortar round into an army camp, and the IRA got him out of town. From Ireland to a job on a cruise ship, to New York, Chicago, the Great Plains and Oregon — Jack lived through a dangerous time in history. Gone were cheap oil, banks and mighty war machines. Now wars were fought by roving bands of armed people on foot. Old nations broke apart and new ones were born in rebellion. Nature itself fought back at human folly. As always, life depended on good land and water, and people to do the work.

Per Fagereng, “Jack Moloney’s Century” plus watercolor by Per, “George Bush in Hell”

KBOO

PODCAST

Protests in Iraq: Saving the Iraqi People

For the past week I have been receiving messages and comments with pictures and videos and hashtags “Save the Iraqi People.”

I am not sure what to make of this. Some of the comments on my Facebook page have been aggressive and accusatory because according to some I have not done my part to support the demonstrators and their cause.

It is true. I have been hesitant to support the cause especially as I do not know what the cause is, what the goals are, who the participants are, and how I can best support truth, justice, and peace in this case. All I know is that a lot of people have died and many more have been injured. I am certain that most if not all of those who have died and who have suffered are innocent people and righteous sufferers. I am distressed over that. There is not much I can do from my laptop in America except to express my sorrow, offer my prayers for justice and peace for Iraq, and offer some of my thoughts regarding all of this.

Let’s break this down.

I trust absolutely no one. It is nothing personal. It is just that my Facebook page of 5,000 friends and 8,000 followers is teeming, swarming, and infested with agents. These agents represent intelligence agencies from the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other places as well. I have no idea who is or who is not an agent. Not only that, but even those who are not agents are subject to disinformation and deception. This goes for me. It goes for you. I do not trust any picture or any video from anyone. It doesn’t mean I think the images are deceptive. I cannot know. I don’t know the context. I am not there. I can’t speak the language. I do not know what is happening. I know nothing.  I don’t know who is doing what to whom. Even if I did, I don’t know what to do about it.

When I receive these memes with hashtags to “Save the Iraqi People” I have no idea what to do about that. I could blindly pass it on in the hopes that someone somewhere will save the Iraqi people. I know it won’t be me. I cannot save the Iraqi people. As much as I love the Iraqi people and have been embraced by them since I went to Iraq for Arba’een last year, and as much as I sympathize and empathize, I cannot save you. I don’t think anyone with whom I would share the meme will save you either. That is the point.

It isn’t that the message isn’t out. The New York Times got the message. They know that Iraqis are protesting and dying. Some are salivating over it. It is a great opportunity for the opportunistic to take a bite out of what is left of Iraq and seek to isolate Iran.

The harsh truth for the United States is that Baghdad is too dependent on Tehran and cannot manage without Iranian natural gas and other products that meet its day-to-day needs. Iraq’s annual trade with Iran is $12 billion while American exports to Iraq are a mere $1.3 billion. 

Washington can help reduce this dependence and reinforce Iraqi sovereignty by enabling Baghdad to build stronger relations with countries that can provide alternatives. This can take the form of a road map to energy independence involving facilitating strategic dialogues on shared energy grids and new pipeline connections with the Gulf states and Jordan.

What is this meme, “Save the Iraqi People” intended to accomplish?  Whose help is being sought?

Is the request for me to tell my congressperson to send more US military to Iraq? Should my president, Donald J. Trump fire some missiles into Baghdad? Will that save the Iraqi people? That is how America saves. That is how we “saved” Libya. That is how we “saved” Syria. That is how we “saved” Iraq already on more than one occasion. If we don’t blow up countries ourselves we arm and train mercenary terrorists (ISIS by whatever name) to do it.

If you want an outside government to save you, America (or any Western/NATO country) is not a wise choice. You would do better to pray to Satan. We are Shiva, destroyer of worlds. Honestly, if you want an outside government to save you, I would start sending those tweets, hashtags, and memes in Persian. Regardless of the bad blood between Iraq and Iran, Iran is 1,000 times more likely to be a better ally to Iraq than Israel’s pet, the United States. 

Remember America armed and funded both sides in the Iran/Iraq War and America put Saddam in powerbefore taking him out over the course of several decades, killing two million Iraqis and poisoning the entire country with depleted uranium for good measure. The Israeli/American neocons want to mix it up with Iran next. They are loving this death and destruction and the meme to “save the Iraqi people” and to divide Iraq from Iran at Arba’een. They would love to save Iraq by turning it into Greater Israel.

It would not shock me in the least to discover that the current Iraqi government is infiltrated with U.S. and Israeli agents shooting at innocent Iraqis. Not only that but Israel likely employs a lot of sharpshooters who speak Farsi so that Iraqis will blame Iran. Who benefits from violence against Iraq? Not Iran.

In terms of what to do about your government, I certainly don’t know, and in my opinion, nor does any honest person in America. Our own government is in shambles. How could anyone in America know any more or love the Iraqis any more than Ayatollah Sistani

The office of the Shia Muslim Supreme Religious Authority already suggested — on August 7, 2015 — that the relevant authorities should form a committee comprised of well-known and highly-qualified figures, whom the Iraqis trust, and such figures should be from outside the realm of the government. The committee has to be tasked with initiating the prerequisites to combating corruption and achieving reform, and it should work side by side with the representatives of the demonstrations in order to listen to the demands of the Iraqi people and their perspectives. And after the committee has finished initiating the prerequisites — whether legislative, executive, or judicial — all the prerequisites must come into effect immediately. This was the suggestion the government didn’t act upon, but it could perhaps be an appropriate solution to the current crisis.

I empathize with you. I can’t save you. No one in America can. You will have to save yourselves. Perhaps your inspiration for that will be found in Karbala.

Expanding the Heart

These are the notes from a speech I gave at the Hussain Day Conference in Somerset, New Jersey at the Masjid-E-Ali Mosque. The conference was entitled, “Rise Above Hate.”

It was sponsored by Payam-e-Aman and Stand With Dignity

Last year I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I don’t say that lightly. It is an experience that will stay with me for my lifetime, insha’Allah.  I visited the shrine of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) in Karbala, Iraq during Arba’een, the largest annual peaceful human gathering in the world.  Estimates range from a low of 15 million to upwards of 30 million people who make the journey to Karbala every year. 

My friend and I made a film about it. You can find it on YouTube, “For Love of Hussain.” 

The trip was sponsored by The Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle. Sister Zahra Abidi has a vision for a Hussain Revolution in the United States that includes bringing people together to discuss important things, sometimes controversial things, but things that matter not only to Muslims but to all human beings. That is how I met her. 

In addition to being a pastor I host a radio show on KBOO, a community radio station in Portland. I moderated a panel discussion regarding the war against Yemen at Portland State University in February 2018. It was entitled “The US – Saudi Coalition: Bringing Peace or War?” 

It was in the follow-up of that conference during an email exchange that I first heard of Hussain. He was referenced in regards to the panelists, all of whom had taken risks, and had sacrificed in varying ways for their work in bring truth to light. Each of the panelists was a truth-teller. They told inconvenient truths about the powers that be. 

That is how I was introduced to Imam Hussain (Peace Be Upon Him). He was a truth-teller and was martyred for embodying the truth. I knew nothing else about him except that.  I wanted to learn more. 

Sending Christians and Sunni Muslims to Iraq for Arba’een is one of the things Sister Zahra and the Husayniah Society of Seattle does. I am happy to support her good work. They have just purchased property in the north of Seattle, in hopes, insh’Allah, of creating a center. I am sure she would love to talk with you about it and hear your encouragement. You can visit their website.  Search Husayniah Seattle.

The Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle paid for the trip for my friend, Josh, and me. Josh has done some filming. So we went to make an amateur documentary.  It was more than that for me. This was timely in my life. It was a search, you could say. I have been experiencing I guess you could say a spiritual growth spurt.  Maybe it is a mid-life crisis.  I have discovered the need in my own life to search more deeply about what is really going on in our world and what are the forces at work and to what paths we are being led. I realize I cannot trust our traditional sources of information, especially the mainstream media to do that.

I am discovering that these forces are dark forces as the title of this conference indicates. Rise Above Hate.  What is hate? How do we rise above it? 

I didn’t go To Arba’een for healing. I didn’t go for intercession. I didn’t go for forgiveness of sins. I didn’t go for mourning.  I didn’t know people went for all those reasons until I went there and started talking with people. 

I went because I wanted to see this person and why so many were attracted to him. I wanted to see the person whose life was so pure, that he gave it to save his grandfather’s faith. I wanted to visit the person who didn’t compromise his principles. I wanted to see the person who might inspire me in some way to find courage and character for whatever it is that Allah is calling me to do. I wanted to see the person who in his life and in his death rose above hate and showed us all how to do it.

Some Muslims I have met are curious as to whether I have converted or reverted to Islam. I don’t know how to answer that exactly. I like to think that my faith has expanded. I have a heart for Jesus (peace be upon him) and I always will, insh’Allah. But I also have a heart for Hussain (peace be upon him) and a heart for Mohammad (peace be upon him and his progeny).  Being introduced to Hussain and the Prophet and his family and the Islamic faith in loving ways by loving people has expanded my heart. 

You really cannot have an interfaith interaction and expect not to be changed in important ways. Unless we are vulnerable enough to have our hearts touched by another, it is not really an interaction. It is just us trying to convince others of our position. It is just a sales pitch.

I cannot worry about whether or not others are changed by what I say. That is up to God. I want my heart expanded by others—by you.  Or to put it more accurately, to have God expand my heart through you. 

That has happened a great deal in this past year in all my interactions with Muslims through the Islamic Center across the street from my church in Portland and with the Husayniah Society in Seattle as I mentioned, through my on-line interactions, through the generous opportunity to attend conferences, through the helpful resources in which I am slowly beginning to learn more about Karbala, through reflection, through my ministry in my church, and, of course, through the opportunity I was given to visit the holy sites in Iraq. 

That is what I think it means to “rise above hate.”  It means to have one’s own heart expanded. Let me explain.

Love expands the heart. Hate shrinks the heart.  

You know the book and movie, “The Grinch who Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss?  The Grinch’s heart was three sizes too small, remember? He hated the Whos in Whoville. Then, by a miracle, his heart expanded. He met a Who, Cindy Lou Who, who showed him kindness and he saw what the Whos really loved and valued, what the birth of Jesus (peace be upon him) meant, not things, but generosity, and the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.  

Sometimes the simplest children’s stories tell the most profound truths.

We cannot stop hate by hating the haters. We cannot just expand someone else’s heart. Hate takes a long time to shrink a heart. What does it take to shrink a heart with hate? It takes isolation. It takes hurt. It takes ignorance. It takes fear. It takes prejudice. It takes suspicion. It takes rejection. It takes anger. It takes envy. It takes greed. It takes acceptance of falsehood. It takes abuse. It takes oppression. It takes time to allow hate to shrink our hearts. 

Hate is out there. We can find it in our institutions in our governments. They can be overtaken. In my tradition, we call this force the demonic. It can take over a whole nation. The demonic does not work for the good of the world or the people or its creatures. It works to divide us, to shrink our hearts with hate. The demonic works in secret. It works in the dark. It works with deception. It works with lies. It works with marketing. There are forces at work in the world that want to shrink our individual hearts and our collective heart as a people. So we live in suspicion and fear and become docile to these forces.

Any of us, all of us, are susceptible to having hate shrink our hearts. Hate is like a toxic weed that grows in the soil of ignorance. Hate is the result of so many complex negative emotions. You can’t convince people or prove to people or sell people on your opinion.  You can only actually love. You can only do that by allowing your own heart to be expanded by another.

Rising Above Hate. How do we do that? If hate shrinks our heart, how does love expand our heart?

I should add this: The Latin root word for heart is cor. COR. Where we get the word coronary. We also get the word courage. We think of someone with the heart of a lion, like Hussain’s half-brother Abbas, as having the heart of a lion, a courageous heart.  As your heart expands, as your heart grows with love, you become courageous. 

How do we become courageous? How do we expand our hearts? 

The Buddha in the Dhammapadda is reported to have said: 

Do not consider the faults of others

Or what they have or haven’t done.

Consider rather

What you yourself have or haven’t done.

We cannot do that if we think we want to stop the hatred of others.  We want to stop hate. Therefore we want to stop them, those haters.  You can’t just tell people, “You are hateful. Stop it.” It won’t work.  We can only allow our own hearts to be expanded.

So I am in the Shrine of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). It is beautiful. The air conditioning is on. It is filled with the sound of prayer. People are crying. Some are standing. Some are sitting. Some are in various positions of prayer.  Poetry is being recited from many places. I don’t understand a word of it, except now and then I hear a name I recognize, Ali, Zainab, Abbas, Hossein.

This is about a week before Arba’een. I am with the tour group. I decide I want to go and touch the big box in the center of the shrine, the lattice work above the grave of Hussain. At first I wasn’t sure if I would do it, or should do it. If it was appropriate. Hussain was not a person in my religion. But I kept hearing all week that Hussain is for everyone. So I decided to go and do it. 

I don’t know what it is like on the women’s side, but on the men’s side, even a week before the day of Arba’een the place is packed. it is a push and pull like ocean waves of bodies. Your feet almost leave the ground. There are so many people. You know where you are headed. And you aim for it. But it is like swimming in the ocean. You don’t need to be aggressive but you need to hold your own. You swim through the bodies, pushed left and right. Finally, I got close enough, almost there.  

I should stop again. I was conscious of being different. Different religion. I only speak English. From America. My reddish hair, now reddish-gray, pale skin.  Of the thousands of people inside the shrine that day, I was probably the whitest guy in the room. I reach up and put my hand up to touch the lattice work and I can’t reach it. 

A hand took mine and pushed it up against the grate. It was a brown hand, taking my white hand up against the final resting place of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). It was a visual imprint in my mind that beyond all color, all race, all religion, all language, the language of love and truth and courage is one. The love of Hussain. Our eyes met. We just looked at each other. 

As I swam away, just a few yards away, I saw this man. He stared at me. Tears were streaming down his face. He asked me as many did on my trip, “Where are you from?” I told him, America.  He just started bawling. He hugged me and kissed me. I have joked that I never have been kissed by so many men with scratchy beards.  

But what is this?  

Iraq. A country that felt post-apocalyptic to me. I, like many of us Americans, watched from a distance as our leaders lied us into war, destroyed Iraq, and then ignored its suffering. No one goes there. No one that I know, except my brother-in-law. He is a professor at NYU and he goes often to the northern part of Iraq because of his work of peacebuilding with the University of Duhok. Besides my brother-in-law and soldiers, I know of no one who had been to Iraq. A country that Americans like me need to visit. A country devastated by the demonic, by lies and wars, by bombs and depleted uranium. By hatred from outside powers, mercenary terrorists and puppet tyrants, the people left to fend for themselves.  

The US state department tells Americans not to go to Iraq.  Too dangerous. Bad. Whatever. What did I find? I found love. I found tears. I found joy. I found hope. I found my heart had expanded.  A Christian American was embraced and shown the love of Hussain (alayhi s-salam).

That is how we rise above hate.  We allow ourselves to be vulnerable so our hearts can expand. If you cannot go to Arba’een, then bring Arba’een here. 

Courage is the result of an expanded heart. With courage is insight to tell the truth as best you know it when you need to tell it.  That is what I try to do now in my ministry and on my Facebook page and radio show, where ever I do my thing. That doesn’t mean I know truth more than others. That doesn’t mean I am not ever wrong. I am wrong often.  Courage is admitting it and learning from it.  

Courage does not mean me selling you my truth. It doesn’t mean that. Hearts do not expand that way. You tell what is true and live what is true and Allah does the rest. 

But it does mean that we cannot be afraid of what we know or of what we learn because of the discomfort of truth to us or others or to the powers that deceive. 

Nor can we be afraid of exploring and researching in taboo areas.  

Exposing the demonic and its lies.

That is where the hatred infests.

Nor can we be concerned if people will reject or ridicule or whatever they must do to protect their illusions. Hussain’s sacrifice shattered all illusions.

In particular, he shattered an illusion that you fight hate with more hate and that you lead with power and coercion.  

Hussain showed the world that you lead not with might but with right.  You fight hate with love from an expanded and courageous heart. 

That has always been the way that the true heroes rise above hatred in all its forms.

May we all be heroes in that same spirit.

While It is Still Not Too Late

My sermon from Sunday, September 29th, 2019 at Southminster Presbyterian Church. Listen to audio here.

How late is it?

For me personally, at the age of 58, it is likely too late to fulfill that dream of playing second base for the New York Mets. That dream should be put on the shelf. My seven-year-old nephew, Cooper, can dream that dream, but for me, it is too late.

The journey of life requires that of us. That is to evaluate what there is still time to do and what must be considered realistically, too late. We may harbor old dreams long past their expiration date. It is healthy to let those dreams go with appropriate mourning and ritual so we can look with clear eyes at what is still yet possible and what dreams fit reality.

It is not easy to let go of dreams. Those dreams can be so much a part of us that we hold on to them even when evidence of their demise is easy to see. We call that denial.

Poor Zedekiah, the last king of Judah before its capture by the Babylonians in the 6th century before Christ. He has had a long relationship with Jeremiah. Almost friends I wonder? Their dance goes like this: Zedekiah asks Jeremiah for a word from the Lord. Jeremiah gives it to him. Zedekiah refuses to heed it. Again and again they repeat that pattern.

When it is too late for anything else, Jeremiah tells him, “Surrender. It is over. Spare your life and your family’s life.” Zedekiah won’t believe it.

And according to the text we heard this morning, even as the Babylonian army is besieging the city, Zedekiah asks Jeremiah why he is prophesying the end for Judah. It would be almost comical if it weren’t so tragic. Denial to the last. Zedekiah is captured. His family is killed before his eyes. Then his eyes are gouged out and he is taken to Babylon in chains. The last king of Judah.

Jeremiah does give one more prophecy. But if Zedekiah heard it, we can’t know if it ever held meaning for him. Jeremiah tells the story of the field he bought, complete with a lot of detail regarding the purchase. The prophecy is that land will be purchased in Judah again. Yes, it is hopeful. A hopeful prophecy. But it will not be fulfilled in the lifetime of anyone listening, including Jeremiah. This hope will be realized on the other side of the devastation. That is hope in the midst of reality. A real hope. It is not fake hope, the hope to which Zedekiah clung.

Some have been showing us that the hour is late for America. I won’t tell you that. I am not as clear of vision as they are nor as brave as Jeremiah. I will just point out that there are those people who say things like that. There is hope for us. Real hope, they say. But it is long past the fake hope of endless happy motoring. That era, they say, will end soon, as the hour is late.

So what do we do?

Well, there is a parable for that.

It is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. But Lazarus doesn’t have much of a part. The real story is about the rich man. Many people don’t like this parable as it conjures up images of hellfire which many of us traumatized in our childhood religion are glad to have left behind.

In my mind the best interpretation of this parable is by Charles Dickens in his story “A Christmas Carol.” One Christmas Eve awhile back, Ebeneezer Scrooge, the old miser, is visited by three spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, respectively. Scrooge is given a gift that he didn’t deserve. He was able to see his life, past, present, and future.

The Ghost of Christmas Future, unlike the other two spirits, does not speak. He only shows. The death of the crippled boy, Tim. The celebration of the city over what? The death of Scrooge as he realizes seeing his own tombstone.

“Are these things that will happen or may happen?” Scrooge asks desperately to the Ghost who doesn’t answer.

Mercifully, Scrooge awakens, scared witless, but transformed. Much is too late for Scrooge. Too late for the love of his life he traded for greed. Too late for Christmas dinners that he missed with his loved ones. Most of his life is water under the bridge. But he has a little time left. It is not too late for everything. It is not too late for one more Christmas Day spent with joy and generosity.

Through the lens of Charles Dickens is how I see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
We might ask,
“Is this what really happens when we die?”
“Is there really a hell?”
“Is there really divine judgment?”
“Or is it just a story?”

Jesus, like the ghost of Christmas future does not answer. He just points to it.

The parable is not for the dead, of course. It is not for Lazarus or the rich man. The parable is for the living.

We can dismiss it as the rich man fears his brothers will dismiss what is written by Moses and the Prophets.

“Send Lazarus back to warn my brothers!” he cries.

“Even a resurrected dead man won’t convince them,” says Abraham. “What you get is what you get.”

Here we are today, September 29th, 2019, confronted by two Bible stories, one from Jeremiah and one from Luke. Bible stories that have been in Bibles long before any of us were around. Bible stories translated into hundreds of different languages, commented upon, reflected upon, debated, heard, dismissed, and received.

What do we do?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a powerful sermon on this text in 1955. The rich man in Latin is Dives (Dahy-vees) and the King James used Dives as proper name for the rich man. King in his sermon, said Dives’ sin, the rich man’s sin, was not that he was rich, but it was that he refused to bridge the gulf between Lazarus and himself, the gulf now permanent in the afterlife. This is from King:

“Dives is the white man who refuses to cross the gulf of segregation and lift his Negro brother to the position of first class citizenship, because he thinks segregation is a part of the fixed structure of the universe. Dives is the India Brahman who refuses to bridge the gulf between himself and his brother, because he feels that the gulf which is set forth by the caste system is a final principle of the universe. Dives is the American capitalist who never seeks to bridge the economic gulf between himself and the laborer, because he feels that it is the natural for some to live in inordinate luxury while others live in abject poverty.

Dives sin was not that he was cruel to Lazarus, but that he refused to bridge the gap of misfortune that existed between them. Dives sin was not his wealth; his wealth was his opportunity. His sin was his refusal to use his wealth to bridge the gulf between the extremes of superfluous, inordinate wealth and abject, deadening poverty.

So when Dives cries to Abraham to send him one drop of water at Lazarus’ hands, Abraham replies: “There is a fixed gulf between you now.” There was a time that Dives could have bridged the gulf. He could have used the engineering power of love to build a bridge of compassion between him and Lazarus. But he refused. Now the gulf is fixed. The gulf is now an impassable gulf. Time has run out. The tragic words, too late, must now be, marked across the history of Dives’ life.

King finished his sermon by saying that all of us are Dives in one way or another.

“Each of us is a potential Dives, maybe not rich in material goods, but rich in education, rich in social prestige, rich in influence, rich in charm. At our gate stands some poor Lazarus who has been deprived of all of these. There is a gulf. But the gulf can be bridged by a little love and compassion. Bridge the gulf before it becomes too late. It is now passable. But it can become impassable.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached that sermon October 2nd, 1955 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, 64 years ago this week.

Nearly 12 years later on April 4th, 1967, in Riverside Church in New York, he preached the sermon that defined his last days, “Beyond Vietnam.” Exactly one year later, April 4th, 1968, he was assassinated. You can tell me whether or not his assassination had anything to do with his Vietnam sermon. The King family thinks it does.

The point is that it was a good sermon King preached in 1955 in Montgomery. Everyone liked it. It was scholarly, contemporary, and inspirational. Take a lesson from Dives before it is too late and bridge the gulf between yourself and those less fortunate than you.

The sermon he preached in 1967 was not well received. There King preached against the Vietnam War, saying at one point what had happened to the Vietnamese people:

“They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.”

King called for the end of the war and for young men and women to become conscientious objectors. Near the end of his sermon he said:

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”

King was vilified, of course, by representatives of the war machine and by the many enemies he had already made over the years in his battle for civil rights. More than that. He lost virtually all support from his friends, colleagues, and supporters in the civil rights movement itself. His last year of life was a lonely year. It was also a year that he felt most alive.

“I have been to the mountaintop and I have seen the promised land,” he said in his last sermon in Memphis before he was shot and killed.

King knew his Vietnam sermon would change the course of his life. He knew the risk he was taking speaking against the war machine. He knew what people would say, that he would lose all that he had worked for, lose his support, lose virtually everything. Lose his own life.

King knew something else. He knew that it was late. He knew that America had not much time, (even less today) to save its soul before it destroys the world. He knew that the hour was late for him. Even at the age of 48, he knew his days were not indefinite. He knew that he had to make a choice. He had to decide what his life was, what his life was worth. He knew that he couldn’t retire on the victories of the Civil Rights Act when the elites were leading the country to hell in Vietnam and beyond.

He made his choice in his time.

He took a lesson from the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.

Bible stories. That is all they are. Ancient history and parables. Jeremiah and Zedekiah, the rich man and Lazarus. Just Bible stories. For some people that is all they are and ever will be. For others, Like Martin Luther King, they are the summons from Spirit.

Spirit calling those who would hear that the hour is late.
There is not much time.
But there is time.
Time to end denial and to put on the shelf unrealistic dreams.
Time to act on a realistic hope.
Time to take inventory of your life and what you value.
Time to ask yourself what the rest of your life is for.

Amen.

No Longer “Happy to Be a Presbyterian”

(Reposted from Shuck and Jive)

A few weeks ago I was banned from the Facebook group, “Happy to Be a Presbyterian.” I had been a member for some time, close to its beginning, I think. It has about 11,000 members and I think of it as the social media living room for members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), my denomination that I have served as a minster for 27 years. 


I was informed by one of the moderators that I had broken the group’s rules. I don’t doubt that I broke the rules. I often break rules. But in this case, what rule? What rule was broken?  The moderator did not say except that I broke the clear rules. Spelling that out from my point of view will be the point of this post. 


I should provide a bit of history about my relationship with my denomination. I am probably one of the most obnoxious ministers in the church. Many people do not like me. For good reason. I made a lot of enemies battling for LGBT rights (ordination, marriage). The same for my support of the Jesus Seminar, Evolution Weekend, and atheist ministers. Of course, I wrote and spoke out against the American Empire and its wars and Israel and its genocide of the Palestinians. I wrote about Peak Oil and the coming collapse of the American way of life (which will likely happen in very short order). 


My record is public. You can find all the stuff I have done on my blogs, Shuck and Jive and  Progressive Spirit, and now on Facebook (even as I despise it). You can even read or hear nearly all my sermonsincluding those I have preached at my current church. Speaking of my current church, waters are again rough as you can hear by my most recent sermon and read in my most recent missive to the congregation.  My days as a Presbyterian minister in a pulpit are likely numbered. 


These days I write, speak and post against Islamophobia and in particular anti-Shiism, and have found renewed faith in God through my exposure to the person of Imam Hussain (a.s.) after having journeyed to Karbala. Let’s be clear. My theology like my politics are independent. I will not be owned by any gatekeeper of any religion, political party or movement.  I care about two things—Truth and Goodness.  I affirm this old Presbyterian principle:

“That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ And that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a person’s opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.” (F-3.0104)

With that, let’s go back to what happened at “Happy to Be a Presbyterian”. I posted this link. This was a link to a study completed by the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks regarding the collapse of World Trade Center Tower 7 on September 11th, 2001. The study concluded

“…that fire did not cause the collapse of WTC 7 on 9/11, contrary to the conclusions of NIST and private engineering firms that studied the collapse. The secondary conclusion of our study is that the collapse of WTC 7 was a global failure involving the near-simultaneous failure of every column in the building.”

Within 38 minutes my post was removed. I posted it again. It was removed again almost immediately. I messaged the three moderators asking them if they removed it.  Each said no. One even suggested that Facebook might have removed it. After messaging the moderators, I posted the link to the study for the third time. It was again removed immediately. I wrote another piece (without the link to the study this time) saying what just happened with my suspicion that Facebook removed the post (they have done that before).  A spirited conversation resulted with many people commenting.

Finally, in the course of the conversation, a fourth moderator emerged and said he removed the post. I told him it would be nice in the future to let me know when that happens. In the course of responding to comments on this post, I once again linked to the study. In short order, the comments were frozen. The fourth moderator messaged me that he froze comments and and that my link to the study was again removed. That was the fourth removal of the link to the study. In my messages with him, he said he closed comments because the conversation was “not productive” and he removed links to the study because it “was not scientific.”  He decided that for 11,000 members of the group. I told him he was working for dark forces by his actions. I complained to the other three moderators about him. I was then told I was banned. 


What rule did I break? 


It wasn’t that I posted something political. Political stuff is posted there often, including previously by me. Maybe my post doesn’t concern Presbyterians? It concerns everyone. A Presbyterian touchstone is speaking truth to power. Maybe I am just obnoxious. Maybe they didn’t like that I protested the deletion rather than just accept it. I am sure people will say all of those things are rules I have broken. Whatever.

Here is what I think. I am a member of Religious Leaders for 9/11 Truth and have been for nearly ten years. Exposing the lies of our government regarding the events of September 11th, 2001 cannot be tolerated by our media or any of our public institutions including the church even as the church is founded on the truth of Jesus Christ. 


That is the rule that I broke. I posted information that shows that our government lied and continues to lie about the defining event of this century. I posted information from an accredited university. I posted a study showing that our government lied. This is no small, insignificant lie. This lie has resulted in massive surveillance, torture, Islamophobia, the stripping of civil liberties, post 9/11 wars costing trillions of dollars, the destruction of nations, and the deaths of millions. It goes on. It matters. 
This happened

A 47-story skyscraper came down in 7 seconds (2.5 of those seconds at the acceleration of gravity). Obviously, it was the result of explosives. This is only the beginning of the lies.  We have been lied to. And I am squealing.
It is Hussain who has given me the spiritual courage to write about it and talk about it come what may. Since going to Karbala, I have been writing and posting more about this (and other crimes of the elites) than I ever have. I don’t care if Muslims or Christians don’t like me talking about this. Muslims don’t own Hussain any more than Christians own Jesus.

Hussain knew he would be martyred. He and his 72 companions versus 30,000? Seriously? What other outcome is there? But he is victorious. His story lives. Thus he lives

As for Jesus. He, too, was martyred in Jerusalem at the hand of Rome and its temple conspirators. He stood for truth. He knew he would be martyred. What did he think he could accomplish turning over tables in the temple? He lived for truth. Like Hussain’s his was a losing cause. But he is victorious. His story lives. Thus he lives. Jesus is also my spiritual inspiration.


It is Jesus I follow to Karbala.
Jesus showed me Hussain.
If I want to follow Jesus, I must follow Hussain.
Hussain shows me how to follow Jesus.


I don’t care about what the scholars of either religion say I have to believe about Jesus or Hussain. I think Jesus was a human being just like the rest of us (this goes against orthodox Christianity). I think Jesus was martyred (this goes against orthodox Islam). As I said, I am independent. 


When Imam Mahdi and Jesus reveal themselves, then I guess we will all know. All of us will likely be wrong about a lot of things. In the meantime, I care about truth and goodness. I will speak it so help me God.


I am sad I am no longer “Happy to Be a Presbyterian.” It is my family. But, as we know, all families are toxic when they require you to suppress your truth to be a part of them.


I am leading a study of David Ray Griffin’s book The Christian Gospel for Americans: A Systematic Theology, for four Tuesday evenings in October (8, 15, 22, 29) from 7-9 pm at Southminster. 


Dr. Griffin writes that the church is in a time of status confesionis (confessional status) in regards to the American Empire.  

It is now time for Christians in America—actually, long past time—to engage in an extensive examination of the nature of the American Empire to see if it is so “perverted and oppressive” that Christians, individually and as churches, should “publicly and unequivocally” reject it…

American political, economic, and military leaders have long been engaged, since at least the end of the Cold War, in a “global domination project,” similar to the Nazi project. Like the Germans, America has used its power toward bringing the whole world under its control. How could we fail to regard this American Empire’s domination project—like the Nazi project—as wholly antithetical to Christian faith?

Our Christian faith at its best would lead us, both as individual Christians and as churches, to oppose the American Empire in the name of God. As long as the church does not explicitly oppose this empire, it is, by its silence, a de facto supporter.

All are welcome. 

11/9 and The Terrorist Who Loved Bonsai Trees

A novel about a false flag terrorist plot to lead the US to war.

Sound familiar?

John Shuck shares information about the report from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks on World Trade Center 7 that collapsed on September 11th, 2001. The result of the four-year study is that fire did not cause the collapse. In addition, John speaks with Philip Kraske about his fifth novel, 11/9 and the Terrorist Who Loved Bonsai Trees

“Trudy Schelling arrives at her company in Jersey City, New Jersey, to start her first day of work at Hallerbee Net Research. The date is November 9. Barely through the door, she is grabbed by a man in military garb – one of several in the brownstone townhouse – but fends him off and manages to escape. Twenty minutes later, six terrorists, fleeing their botched job of planting a miniature atomic bomb in the Empire State Building, screech to a halt in front of the same townhouse, three police cars on their tail. The terrorists run inside, and a hostage standoff ensues, the dozen hostages ostensibly being Hallerbee employees.

Pursued through the streets of Manhattan, Trudy knows that the attack is a false-flag operation. In a matter of hours, she is portrayed in the media as the seventh terrorist of the group, and the entire country is baying for her blood. Her only hope is Paul Klippen, a State Department official whose lonely task is to expose the lies about her and stop war between the United States and Iran.”

David Ray Griffin says of the novel:

“Most of us who continue to do research on 9/11 focus primarily on the question of what really happened that day. There will eventually be a definitive answer to that question that can be summarized in a few pages. But what is the meaning of 9/11, what are its implications? Philip Kraske’s superb thriller, 11/9 and the Terrorist Who Loved Bonsai Trees, as the title implies, holds up a mirror to 9/11, providing a way of understanding this horrendous event. The hilarious book-ending riff of Trudy’s comedian boyfriend sums up both the stupidity and the irony of it all. 

— David Ray Griffin, Author of 9/11 Unmasked”

Bio:

Philip Kraske was born in Detroit, lived his formative years in Ohio and Minnesota, and stayed in America long enough to get in the basic rituals of high school and college. He graduated from the U of Minnesota/Twin Cities with a B.A. in International Relations. He settled permanently in Madrid in the 80s.  

Listen to Podcast

KBOO