For Love of Hussain (A.S.) Now On-Line!

Contact John Shuck for an interview about this ground-breaking film!

The film has been released on YouTube and as of this writing has already received over 8,000 views since it was posted on Monday. “For the Love of Hussain (A.S.)” recounts the reflections and experiences of a Christian Pastor from America on the fifty-mile walk from Najaf to Karbala, Iraq for Arbaeen in October 2018.

Arbaeen is the largest yearly peaceful gathering on Earth. Officials estimate the number of people entering Karbala over a two-week period over fifteen million.

Yes. You read that correctly. Fifteen million. Other estimates are even higher. By comparison, the Hajj, receives three million visitors each year. Arbaeen has no central organization but has self-organized spontaneously after the fall of Saddam as visitors walk to visit the shrines of Hussain and Abbas in commemoration of their martyrdom in the Battle of Karbala 1400 years ago.

What they are saying about the film:

Miriam Fatima — ‘Unity is what this world need b4 its too late… We All together can Stand up against oppression like Imam Hussian a.s.. Stand For Truth’

S Jafry — ‘May God reward you with His best Mercy and expand your ability to continue to seek, recognize and stand for truth, justice and freedom. Beautifully captured especially shared mission of Jesus and Hussain.’

Syed Bokari — ‘Very inspiring, truly amazing and wonderful to see Muslims and Non-Muslims coming together through the love for Imam Hussain. God Bless the Pastor and his team for bringing the visit to the world. Mashallah.’

Moshin Raza — ‘Amazing well done…thanks for spreading this message of peace. Karbala is the only place in world where any person from any religion can attend this peaceful gathering for love of Hussain and witness humanity where everyone is treated equally and that is message of Imam Hussain a.s’

Farah Shariff Haji — ‘So beautiful! ♥️🙏🏼 Thank you for sharing it. Labaik Ya Hussain!’

Imaan Designs — ‘Thank YOU for awesome storytelling – the genuineness of feeling shone through!’

Princess Jenny — ‘I watched it was really wonderful thanks for your efforts and wish you success in your work always.’ 💖 💞

Ihsan Al-Saidi — ‘Thank you for sharing. Could not stop crying. Labayk ya Hussein.’

Rob Solomon — ‘Nicely done … well presented. The walk of Peace is thrilling. Simply thrilling.’

Ge Sada — ‘Actually I enjoyed every single minute of the documentary with my family. Your comments are really touching and brought tears to our eyes many times … Now I have what I’ve always needed when someone else, when a foreigner asks about Imam Hussain.’

The trip to Iraq for John Shuck and Josh Townsley was sponsored by the Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle. This is what they said about the project:

‘Alhamdulilah! a short documentary, For love of Husayn, has been released. Pastor John Shuck and cameraman Josh Townsley were invited to make the 3 day Arbaeen trip from Najaf to Karbala in Iraq by Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle in 2018. Husayniah sponsored the entire trip but did not interfere in the production of the film at all. The film is therefore an independent review of the amazing Karbala walk by these two Christian pilgrims. Husayniah plans to send Non-Muslims and Sunni Muslims as pilgrims to Karbala every year to witness this miracle. We ask the pilgrims for nothing in return but to help us spread Imam Husayn’s message of Love, Peace and Justice.’

While in Iraq, Townsley and Shuck were interviewed by the Iraqi Media NetworkShabir TV, and The Imam Hussein Shrine. After the walk, Shuck was interviewed by Peter Wong of the Beaverton Valley Times.

Both Shuck and Townsley are available for interviews and for venues to share their film and their experiences. 

Contact John Shuck via e-mail.

John Shuck is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton. Josh Townsley is executive director of Evergreen Habitat for Humanity in Clark County, Washington. 


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Film, For Love of Hussain (A.S.) To Be Released

Media Release

Two Oregon Men Release Documentary Film of World’s Largest Annual Peaceful Gathering

Rev. John Shuck and Josh Townsley will offer a screening of their documentary “For Love of Hussain (A.S.)” on Sunday, April 28th during worship at ten a.m. at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, Oregon. 

Shuck and Townsley visited Karbala, Iraq in October 2018 for Arbaeen, the largest yearly human gathering on Earth. They walked 50 miles from Najaf to Karbala in two and one-half days to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (A.S.) and his companions in the Battle of Karbala 1400 years ago. 

The walk spontaneously emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussain in 2003. Under Saddam, walking to the shrine was prohibited under penalty of arrest and execution. In 2018, according to official sources, in a two week period, over 15 million people converged on Karbala, the site of the shrines of Imam Hussain and his half-brother, Abbas.  The needs of the visitors to the shrine including places to sleep and food are provided each year by the hospitality of the Iraqi people with no centralized organization.

Shuck and Townsley’s trip was sponsored by the Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle, an organization formed in 2018 with the following mission:

“Husayniah society is determined to go beyond rituals to the strategic implementation of Imam Husayn’s message in western society, as bearing the true message of Islam. We plan to build an interfaith community where people come together to share and discuss ideas and work on things they are passionate about. Recognizing we belong to one human race means we have a responsibility to act as a community to affirmatively address issues of social justice.”

The 30-minute documentary will be an introduction to Arbaeen and the significance of Imam Hussain for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 

According to Shuck, “The Arbaeen Walk, hosted by the people of Iraq, is truly a journey of love. It is a generous outpouring of hospitality toward the visitors of the beloved Imam who is a symbol of justice, sacrifice, and courage for the world. As a Christian and a pastor, I was warmly received. More non-Muslims need to come to Iraq and see this miracle.” 

Townsley said, “This has been an amazing experience, witnessing the thousands and thousands of people coming to visit Imam Husayn.  The most amazing thing is the hospitality and love of Iraqis and Iranians and people from all over the world.” 

While in Iraq, Townsley and Shuck were interviewed by the Iraqi Media NetworkShabir TV, and The Imam Hussein Shrine

The public is invited to the film screening Sunday, April 28th at ten a.m. at Southminster. Townsley filmed and edited the documentary and Shuck conducted the interviews, wrote the script and provided the narration. It will be released on YouTube and other online venues on April 29th.

Both Shuck and Townsley are available for interviews and for venues to share their film and their experiences. 

John Shuck is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton. Josh Townsley is executive director of Evergreen Habitat for Humanity in Clark County, Washington. 

Also on April 28th, the youth of Southminster Presbyterian Church will hold a silent auction from 9:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.  The church will be sending 17 youth and 4 adults on mission to the Westminster House in Spokane in June 2019 and plans are underway to send 30-40 youth and adults to Cameroon, Africa for a mission in June/July 2020.  Auction items include group dinners; cabins at Sunriver and Mount Hood; artwork and jewelry; many themed baskets, and more.  

For more information and for interviews contact John Shuck at 503-309-5346 or by email at shuckjohna@gmail.com.  

Sleepers, Awake!

Easter Sermon: Sleepers, Awake!

2019 April 21 Easter Order of Worship

Ephesians 5:11-14
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

‘Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’

The language and artistry of faith is nuance. It is poetry, parable, and metaphor. This divine poetic communication is not designed to confuse as much as to evoke. Sometimes to redirect. At times the language and artistry of faith calls us to deep reflection, at other times lament, at other times action.

The language and artistry of faith is a vehicle, a means, a way to open our hearts, to raise our consciousness, to sharpen our minds, to awaken us from slumber. All of that is done by Spirit who, like the wind, blows where it will.

I offer that preamble because I want to speak today of resurrection in terms of both language and art or parable and icon. I am also wanting to say that what I am offering in interpretation of resurrection is not doctrine or dogma. It is not the only or even the best way to interpret resurrection. But it is a way that has been on my mind this year.

I am going to suggest that resurrection evokes the poetry and artistry of awakening. I didn’t realize until I was putting the bulletin together, the extent to which death is spoken of through the metaphor of sleep by both Jesus and Paul and other New Testament writers.

Jesus tells a parable about farming, growing stuff. What happens? Weeds. Sown by the enemy while we sleep. That is an odd way to put it, if we are to take the story at face value. We have weeds in our garden because an enemy snuck in and planted them!

But as parable, it makes its own sense and evokes reality. My imagination turns. How often does this happen? How do we become fooled? How do we lose our rights? How do things turn so sour? Often, too often, it happens because we are not awake. We are not aware. We are not alert. Enemies do bad things and take advantage while we are sleeping.

Jesus says, “Keep awake. You don’t know the hour.” Then at his own hour all of his disciples are asleep when the enemy comes and there is no one to hear them coming and Jesus is arrested.

It is dangerous being asleep. We cannot protect ourselves or the ones we love.

This is all parable. Is it about sleeping? Or is it about living in illusion? Is it having a view of how things are that are not how things are?

In the story of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus tells her parents that the young girl is not dead but sleeping. The crowd laughs because that of course is not true. She is dead. So why does Jesus say she is sleeping and why does he tell her to “get up” as if she is napping? Again, it is parable. She is dead but for Jesus, she is sleeping.

We will find sleeping as a metaphor for death again. Why is death like sleeping? Or why is sleeping like death? Is it a euphemism? We don’t like to speak of death so we say sleeping because it doesn’t sound so final? Perhaps. But there could be more to it.

Jesus visits Lazarus. “I am going to wake him up,” says Jesus. The disciples object. If he is sleeping, he will wake up on his own. But then Jesus tells them plainly, “He is dead.” In fact, Lazarus is four days dead and sealed in a tomb. Is this parable again? Asleep. Death. Waking. Rising. Can we be dead while still alive? Dead while yet breathing, walking, talking, thinking, shopping, driving, eating, making a living, yet not alive at all? Walking dead?

And then there is this.

Since 1970, forty percent of all the plants and animals on Earth are gone. That is individual plants and animals, not species. Since 1970, the first Earth Day, we have lost 40% of plants and animals. Was I sleeping when the enemy came and planted toxic weeds that killed half the plants and animals? When did this happen? How did it happen that nearly half of all the animals and plants on Earth vanished in my sleep?

I am not sure why this hit me so hard and why I didn’t realize this, and why isn’t this in the news every day, and we can talk about “the news” that so much of the time is a sleep-aid as opposed to a wake-up call.

When Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Great Tide Risingcame to Southminster this past fall and dropped the bombshell about the animals that have vanished since I was ten, and I am thinking what? Are we all asleep? Yeah, pretty much. She says in her book that by 2060 half the species of animals and plants will be gone. When the species is gone, that is gone forever. That is at current rates of extinction. No guarantee those rates won’t increase in a feedback loop. So we have x number of species of animals and plants in 1970. By 2060, 40 years from now, we have half that number. What should I do about that? Buy a new car? Get another iPhone?

(Hear my interview with Kathleen Dean Moore on Progressive Spirit)

Turn over. Go to sleep. Somebody will take care of it. Maybe the market. Maybe the next election.

Then when I hear that we spend a thousand billion dollars a year on militarism it doesn’t mean a whole lot, except when I learned what it really means. Every time a bomb drops on Yemen, or Syria, or Gaza, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Libya, or pick an African nation or maybe soon Iran or Venezuela, every time a bomb drops and blows up stuff like hospitals and people, someone makes three million dollars.

It isn’t the spending, it is the earning that drives the militarism. We have to keep bombing because those who run this business have to have their accounts balance. It is a matter of income and expenses. You have to keep those three-million-dollar bombs falling somewhere everyday in order to make money. Peace is not profitable in our military-intelligence-finance-media-industrial complex especially when you have to invent enemies as fast as you need to make bombs to kill them.

What about us? We are sleeping because people are paid a lot of money to keep us asleep so that the enemy can sow weeds and bombs in our field. Because if we are sleeping we cannot object and by the time we wake up, it will be too late.

Then there is Jesus. Jesus lived in his own time, his own matrix of Roman imperial dominance to which his own religion sold out. Jesus, a loud mouth with nothing to lose goes right to the heart of it, the capital city, Jerusalem, during Passover, and turns over the tables in the temple. You just have to wake people up sometimes. It woke up the authorities. The disciples were sleeping. But Empire got Jesus and executed him quickly. They neutralized him as they say in the Hollywood spy shows.

That is our guy. Our whole religion for 2000 years has been based on a radical. He stood in front of a tank and said, “Run me over.” So it did. We made a religion out of that guy!

Why don’t we know that? Why don’t we understand the truth about Jesus? Because it doesn’t take long to realize that churches don’t exist by having radicals run them. You have to turn church into a dogma factory and make people drowsy with infantile sermons that cause people to feel better about sleeping while Rome burns, not to mention the rest of Earth.

Then this past year I learned about (and experienced) Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. He saved Islam by getting himself killed rather than appease a tyrant. So now I got both Jesus and Hussain haunting me and I am sorry, friends, but you don’t have a prayer on Easter. It is just going to happen.

So what do we do? What do we do about half the animals vanishing while we were sleeping these past 50 years? What do we do about the maniacs who seem so rational with their charts and figures sneaking into our fields while we sleep, planting toxic weeds and sucking all the carbon out of the ground and using it to bomb the place? What do we do?

Well, we can cry. We can learn how to lament.

It was 2006 when I woke up at three in the morning, sobbing. It was a first awakening of sorts. A church member gave me a copy of the documentary film, “The End of Suburbia” that introduced me to James Howard KunstlerRichard HeinbergMichael RuppertMatthew Simmonsand others who were talking about Peak Oil. On a global scale it is the point in time when the rate of production of the world’s oil peaks and then begins to decline. Cheap, conventional oil peaked a decade ago. New destructive technologies enable us to get the harder to reach stuff and I guess we won’t stop destroying everything to get it, until we are stopped.

I started to research this and its connections to global militarism, because one of the things I learned is that the United States consumes 25% of the world’s oil even as it has 5% of the world’s population. You need a lot of guns and bombs all over the planet to maintain that imbalance. We have them. Our country’s 800 military bases are embedded in 177 countries.

I had decided consciously that I wasn’t going to stop researching Peak Oil, and the wars, and the deceptions, and so forth just because I couldn’t see a solution from the outset or because it was too depressing. And depressing it was. I woke up sobbing at 3 a.m. More than once. Then you dry your tears and do some things. In my case, I decided to communicate this unpopular materialin the hopes that maybe more and more people will awaken and together we might even change the inevitable. You decide to fight.

Awakening doesn’t just happen one time on say, Tuesday. It can take a long time, piece by piece. Like grief, it doesn’t follow a straight line. You go back and forth to denial and awareness and back again as you struggle with your cognitive dissonance of how the world is supposed to work on one hand that you have learned from the matrix of your society, and how it really is on the other hand when you start reading people who know stuff and who are no longer themselves afraid to tell what they know.

You cry. You feel alone. When you try to speak, the propaganda machine smashes you with name-calling, “conspiracy theorist,” “crazy” and whatever, and for a while you are afraid of the social isolation and you doubt yourself. But there are other heroes out there who have gone down the rabbit hole farther than you and you find a community. You start to realize that you have a moral compass. And you realize that you are not afraid to follow the evidence where ever it leads. You become confident in showing your work, because you keep learning the hard truths, and you learn to back it up.

You realize that you have a purpose. You have the truths you know and you are no longer afraid of saying what you have seen and heard. The people who are supposedly so authoritative and wise when you ask them about stuff that matters, they don’t have anything except name-calling and propaganda slogans and are no longer worth worrying over. They are like Hades, the keeper of the gate of the dead. Jesus steps on poor old Hades as he breaks open the prison.

Let’s go to Jesus again. I started the sermon talking about the language and artistry of faith. The language of faith is the interplay between sleeping and death and how faith language is about waking up from death .

I don’t think I ever used this text from Ephesians on Easter. I never noticed it. Yet it is a perfect Easter text:

Ephesians 5:11-14
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

‘Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’

The language of Easter is awakening from death before the grave. We are spiritually dead before we are physically dead. Easter awakens the spiritually dead.

The artistry of Easter is the icon of Jesus crushing Hades and yanking Adam and Eve, David and Solomon, John the Baptist and the prophets, in essence all of humanity out of the prison of sleep. Jesus, who got himself killed, did it to wake us up.

This is the icon of Easter: Jesus is waking up all of humanity, leading us out of the prison of illusion and sleep-walking to wakefulness about what is really happening in our world.

A few weeks ago, Historical Jesus scholar, Dominic Crossan, came here to talk about resurrection icons in the eastern church. Crossan made a convincing case that the eastern resurrection icon is an evocative parablefor us and for our time. One of those icons is on the bulletin cover. In the western tradition, resurrection is depicted as Jesus alone floating above the tomb. In the eastern tradition, Jesus is breaking open the prison of death/sleep and yanking all of humanity out. I see it as breaking people out of the prison of illusion.

This past fall I visited Karbala, Iraq for Arbaeen, a yearly visitation to the shrine of Hussain, the prophet Mohammad’s grandson. Hussain is a symbol of resistance to tyranny and oppression. Fifteen million people visited him over a two-week period, walking from Najaf to Karbala, a fifty-mile walk over two and half days. I experienced it also as a movement of awakening. Josh Townsley and I made a little documentary film about it. It is 30 minutes long and I will show it during worship as a sermon next week.

Here is an interesting convergence. In a fluke of the convergence of calendars, today, Easter, also happens to be the birthday of Imam Mahdi, the twelfth imam who is believed to be living, hiding (like the sun behind a cloud), but will appear along with, guess who? Yes, Jesus. Together they will establish justice. They don’t just do it by themselves, for us, but they awaken us to participate in this renewal and make it happen. What a beautiful parable! The central figures of Islam and Christianity inspiring us all together to work for a just, sustainable world, a world my two-year old granddaughter can inhabit. A world for every two-year old on Earth.

(Read a short biography of Imam Mahdi)

What I am trying to say this morning friends is this.

Most of the world is asleep.

However, one by one, we are slowly waking up.

We are waking up to the reality of what the world is and the possibility of what it can be.

Waking is not for the faint of heart and it is not without lament.

Lament is cleansing. Lament means we are human.

Waking is not without opposition.

There are powerful forces working night and day to keep us asleep. Hades the gate-keeper uses every trick he knows to keep us locked up. Ridicule. Name-calling. Smear. Diversion. Relentless propaganda. Censorship. Lies. Wishful thinking.

Empire does not want people to be awake. Empire tries to kill the awakened ones. But it can’t kill all of us. The one executed by empire doesn’t stay dead. That one lives and has come to awaken the rest of us.

So in whatever form awakening comes to you, be courageous. Embrace it. Rise up! Open your eyes. Follow truth wherever it leads. No matter the cost. Don’t be afraid of the gate-keeper. He’s got nothing.

Amen.

Passion, Protest, Poetry, and Possibility

Palm Sunday Sermon, Passion, Protest, Poetry, and Possibility

Last night I was in Seattle at the Husayniah Conference. This was a conference sponsored by the Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle. I was a panelist. We showed the mini-documentary, “For Love of Hussain (a.s.)” about Josh’s and my trip to Iraq for Arbaeen. It was well-received. They were very kind, giving us a standing ovation. Many talked to me about it in person after the showing.

In addition to the film, there was a panel discussion. The topic was “Sacrifice and Giving in Faith Traditions.” On the panel was a Jewish rabbi, a Buddhist, a Muslim Sheikh, a personal development leader, and me, a Christian pastor. We were each asked to spend five minutes on a figure who exemplified sacrifice and giving from our own religious tradition.

I chose Thomas Merton. I have been using reflections from his 1966 book, Raids on the Unspeakable, for worship during Lent. I talked about Merton, the author of 70 books, countless essays and letters, as an interfaith leader who engaged with the Dalai Lama, and who was a passionate advocate for peace. He was the first American religious leader to speak out forcefully against the Vietnam War. He was a mentor to the Berrigan Brothers who burned draft cards. The FBI had files on the Berrigans and the CIA had a file on Merton, even intercepting his mail.

Merton died on December 10th, 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand while at a conference. He was giving a series of lectures. The popular lore that has been repeated again and again by his many biographers was that he died accidentally while coming out of the shower and touching a fan that electrocuted him. I spoke about a recent investigation by Hugh Turley and David Martin as well as the position of Matthew Fox that this accidental death narrative is a fiction. Evidence, for those who care to examine it, shows that his death was not accidental, but a murder set up to look like an accident. The investigators, Turley and Martin, and Matthew Fox are convinced that Merton was murdered by the CIA because of Merton’s popularity as an anti-war leader.

I went on to say that in 1968 Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were also assassinated. Those who have courageously and diligently researched their deaths (Lisa Pease in Robert F. Kennedy’s case and William Pepper in Martin Luther King’s case) have shown that those deaths were not by lone gunmen but were the result of forces within our own government. This goes as well for President John F. Kennedy. The consciousness of Americans is awakening to the reality of these murders.

I continued last night by saying that this is the world in which we live. We live in a nation with 800 military bases around the world, that spends a trillion dollars a year on military endeavors even as we are not threatened by any enemy. Those who resisted this military madness, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, end up dead, and the accounts of their deaths are turned into fictions to protect the guilty. And the wars rage on. It is all perfectly normal, isn’t it?

Merton and these others exemplify sacrifice because they gave their lives for peace, martyrs for peace, even as the stories of their deaths do not recognize this sacrifice. I concluded my speech by sharing a reading from Merton’s Raids on the Unspeakable about sanity and insanity. Merton wrote in 1966:

“It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then, it will be no mistake.

We can no longer assume that because a man is “sane” he is therefore in his “right mind.” The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless. A man can be “sane” in the limited sense that he is not impeded by his disordered emotions from acting in a cool, orderly manner, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in which he finds himself. He can be perfectly “adjusted.” God knows, perhaps such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself.

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons to apprehend their pain as one’s own? …

Those who have invented and developed atomic bombs, thermonuclear bombs, missiles; who have planned the strategy of the next war; who have evaluated the various possibilities of using bacterial and chemical agents: these are not the crazy people, they are the sane people. The ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can be considered expendable in a nuclear war….on the other hand you will probably find that the pacifists and the ban-the-bomb people are, quite seriously, just as we read in Time [magazine], a little crazy.

I am beginning to realize that “sanity” is no longer a value or an end in itself. The “sanity” of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur. If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival. But if he is sane, too sane…perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally “sane.”

During the Q & A one person asked our thoughts on the appropriateness of bringing politics into interfaith gatherings. Since it was likely that I was the most overtly “political” of the presenters, I made a response.

That response was basically this. Politics is an artificial category. It is used to wall off a topic of discussion from critique. In reality, there is nothing that exists that is outside the realm of God, however we understand God, and therefore outside of evaluation from reason, morality, intelligence, imagination, and love. In my experience those who don’t want politics with their religion simply have bad politics. They don’t want their politics examined by the light of God.

That is the jist of my portion of the panel discussion. I bring it up here, in part, because I brought it up there. For the past 27 years of my ministry I have been accused of mixing politics with religion and I am happy to accept that accusation. The only thing I would say is that I don’t do it nearly enough. I often lack the courage of my convictions and need the reminder of the martyrs, King, Merton, the Kennedys, others, who were killed for mixing  morality and politics. Our example, Jesus, did it every day.

Palm Sunday is arguably the most political Sunday on the church calendar. Palm Sunday, with Jesus riding publicly into town on a donkey was a counter-demonstration to the Roman parade that was happening that same week at Passover. Passover, the Jewish celebration of a very political act, the escape from oppression under Pharoah, was an intense time in the city. The Roman military was present with their war horses and weapons.

Jesus, on the other hand, if we follow the rest of his story in the gospels, advocated a message and a way of life counter to the way of life that stripped the poor of their livelihood and their dignity. Jesus was on the side of justice. That justice is political justice. Jesus criticized the Jewish institution, the Temple, that had become corrupt by collaborating with Roman oppression. Not unlike the church throughout history that has often sided with authoritarian regimes and became the priests of war rather than prophets of resistance on behalf of the oppressed and the dying.

How has the church done that? By artificially walling off divine critique of the politics of greed and war as something not appropriate for church. If we are going to be a church that has anything to do with Jesus, we will not allow an artificial wall called “politics” prevent the divine light from shining into our darkness.

Jesus sacrificed his life for what he believed. He had the courage of his convictions to demonstrate against the most powerful military in the known world and religious puppets in the Temple. He said, “No way. Not on my watch are you going to get away with trampling the poor without being called out on it.” He had a following. That is why he was arrested, by stealth, in the night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, given a kangaroo court trial and executed quickly. But even that wasn’t the end of him. As we celebrate next week, Easter, the resurrection of the executed that continues in those who bravely mix politics and religion.

Again, today. The military-industrial-financial-intelligence-media complex has a stranglehold on the planet. It makes no difference what political party is elected, the wars continue, the militarism continues, because every congressperson is owned by it. Every congressperson votes for insane military budgets because in their own backyards are jobs created by this military complex. They are worthless. The president is worthless. The media are worthless. It is all passed off upon us as perfectly sane. As Thomas Merton reminded us fifty years ago,

“It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared.”

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have now put the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1953 due to the probability of nuclear war and climate catastrophe.

Now is the time to speak up.
Now is the time to awaken.
Now is the time to call out the madness for what it is.
Now is the time to write your poems.
Now is the time to sing your songs.
Now is the time to tell your truth.
Now is the time to get in trouble.
Now is the time to be “inappropriate.”
Now is the time discover the courage of your conviction.
Now is the time to follow Jesus.

The promise is this.

If we fail at this, God will not fail.

As Jesus said, “If the people are quiet, even the stones themselves will shout.”

I hope we won’t wait to speak until there is nothing left on Earth but stones.

Amen.

The Plot to Attack Iran: A Conversation with Dan Kovalik

How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Iran

On the next Beloved Community (Friday, April 12th – 9 am Pacific), John Shuck speaks with University of Pittsburgh Law Professor, Daniel Kovalik about the war drums beating against Iran. We discuss his myth-dispelling book about Iran, The Plot to Attack Iran: How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Iran.

He is also the author of The Plot to Scapegoat Russia: How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Russia, and The Plot to Control the World: How the U.S. Spent Billions to Change the Outcome of Elections Around the World.

The three books will be offered as gifts to those who contribute to KBOO during our Spring Fund Drive.

“The world has a lot of questions about the current state of affairs between the United States and Iran…

*How has the US undermined democracy in Iran?
*Is Iran really trying to develop nuclear weapons?
*How has US waged a terror campaign against Iran for years?
*How is it that the US and Israel, rather than Iran, are destabilizing the Middle East?
*How has Iran helped the US in the war on terror?

“Using recently declassified documents and memos, as well as first-hand experience of the country, critically-acclaimed author Dan Kovalik will change the way you think about Iran, and especially what you think of US interference there. Learn how the United States vilifies its enemies, and accuses them of unspeakable horror to mask its own terrible crimes. Not only does the illuminating and important The Plot to Attack Iran delve into the current incendiary situation, but it also predicts what could happen next, and what needs to be done before it is too late.”

Bio:

Daniel Kovalik is Senior Associate General Counsel of the United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO (USW). He has worked for the USW since graduating from Columbia Law School in 1993. While with the USW, he has served as lead counsel on cutting-edge labor law litigation, including the landmark NLRB cases of Lamons Gasket and Specialty Health Care. He has also worked on Alien Tort Claims Act cases against The Coca-Cola Company, Drummond and Occidental Petroleum – cases arising out of egregious human rights abuses in Colombia. The Christian Science Monitor, referring to his work defending Colombian unionists under threat of assassination, recently described Mr. Kovalik as “one of the most prominent defenders of Colombian workers in the United States.” Mr. Kovalik received the David W. Mills Mentoring Fellowship from Stanford University School of Law and was the recipient of the Project Censored Award for his article exposing the unprecedented killing of trade unionists in Colombia. He has written extensively on the issue of international human rights and U.S. foreign policy for the Huffington Post and Counterpunch and has lectured throughout the world on these subjects.

KBOO (Uncut). Includes fund drive pitching.

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The Beginning Is Now

I don’t post all my sermons here, but the occasional few that I think are worth sharing widely as they connect with other issues of importance that I do share here. This one was preached March 17th. Go here for audio and for texts I reference.

During Lent I am taking the lectionary texts and placing them next to selections from Thomas Merton’s 1966 book, Raids on the Unspeakable. I don’t know why I am doing that exactly. It is just that Thomas Merton is on my mind. The unspeakable is on my mind. Jesus is on my mind. Hussain is on my mind. Martyrdom is on my mind. And of this weekend Islamophobia and the mass murder of Muslims while praying in their mosque in New Zealand is on my mind.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you murder the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her own chicks under wings but you wouldn’t let me. Can’t you see your house is being abandoned?”

I would like to say all of this is on my heart as well as my mind, but as Thomas Merton points out there is no room in our hearts, not because our hearts are full but because they are void.

The Pharisees warn Jesus that he had better run. Herod is about to kill him. That isn’t news. Herod already killed John the Baptist. Some people talk too much. John the Baptist was one of those. So is Jesus. Not that anyone listens to either of them. That is not completely true. There are a very few who found both of them intriguing enough to hear.

Jesus responds,

“Go and tell that fox, ‘Look here, today and tomorrow I’ll be driving out demons and healing people, and the third day I’ll be finished. Still, today, and tomorrow and the day after, I have to move on, because it’s impossible for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem.’ Luke 13:31-35

Herod can do whatever he wants, but I will do my work until I am finished, says Jesus. The third day could be as mundane as the day after the day after tomorrow. It also brings to mind the resurrection. A hint, perhaps, nothing more. Jesus is going to Jerusalem. That is where prophets go to die. You tell the truth. You cast out demons. You heal. Then the powers of this world, the devil who tempted Jesus in the Wilderness, who claimed that it all belonged to him, kill you.

Why? Because you are a threat to their power. In the wilderness, the devil offered the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if he would pay him homage. Jesus is not going to be making any deals with the devil, with the powers that be, with the economics of destruction, that house of cards.

Jesus is going to battle the devil. A battle he will lose as all prophets lose. The devil has the machinery: the media, the intelligence, the money, the military, the religion. The only way to defeat that kind of power is to die to it. It is to say this power means nothing.

Jesus had a pure heart. Just like Thomas Merton. Just like Hussain. They don’t care about anything except telling what is true. They give voice to the unspeakable. They tell of the unspeakable evil in high places.

They tell us, these prophets, that we don’t have to live this way. In fact, we cannot live this way much longer. There is a way out of this but it requires letting go of some massive illusions, particularly, the myth of our own innocence.

Let’s talk about Islamophobia.

Islamophobia did not just happen. This unhinged fear and demonization of Muslims. It was engineered. Muslims are the most vilified group in Hollywood. These negative stereotypes have embedded themselves in the consciousness of Hollywood’s target audience, American non-Muslims, mostly white Christians and white atheists. The result? So the American people will not object to endless war against a manufactured enemy. Because endless war is an end in itself. This is the end to which we are headed. Endless war against each other and against life on Earth itself for control of resources.

Islamophobia is the price that Muslims pay for a crime they did not commit. If you would like to know why I care about the truth behind 9/11, and why I am a member of religious leaders for 9/11 truth, it is because we have allowed false witness against Muslims to be spread. The ninth commandment reads: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

There are two ways to bear false witness. Actively bear false witness and passively bear false witness. Both have the same end result. We can actively lie about others or we can passively do nothing while lies are spread. We can actively promote the lie about 9/11 that supposedly Muslim terrorists attacked New York and Washington or we can passively promote the lie by refusing for whatever reasons to learn the truth for ourselves.

Meanwhile, Muslim nation after Muslim nation is destroyed in the Middle East to satiate the war machine that spends a trillion dollars a year. For what?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You murder the prophets and stone those sent you.”

“Washington, Washington. How often I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her own chicks under wings but you wouldn’t let me. Can’t you see your house is being abandoned?”

Here is the deal. This is what the gospel is about.

They killed Jesus. But that is not the end of his story. He is risen. On the third day he completed his work. The work is a new creation. A new beginning. It is dying to an old way of living and being born again to a new way of living.

It is dying to the destructive way of living and being born to a new constructive way of living.

Merton wrote:

“To leave the city of death and imprisonment is sure not bad news except to those who so identified themselves with their captivity that they can conceive no other reality and no other condition.”

Merton goes on to say that what is needed is grace and courage to see that “The Great Tribulation” is also “The Great Joy” when it is seen as the Victory of Life over Death.

It is a new way of living that we all want. There was no one I met from Iran in my trip this past fall who wants war. None of us wants it. So why do we have it? We don’t want to destroy Earth to dig up petroleum as fast as we can, burn it and trash the place. None of us wants that. So why do we allow those in control to do it?

O dear friends, I don’t know what to tell you. You are nice people. You would do well with a nice minister. Here I am telling you about 9/11 truth and endless war and Islamophobia.

I don’t know why God put me here, if that is even the case.

I have a lot to figure out. Maybe I can’t even do that. It has nothing to do with you.

You know this past year has been life-changing for me.

The Christian atheist minister found God in Iraq. I don’t think God has been more real for me than now. Oddly enough I have more hope than previously about what humanity can become.

I don’t know how this all plays out with you.

There is a lot going on with me.

Right now, this morning, it is a lot of lament.

But tears must always lead ultimately to joy.

In that I put my trust.

Amen.

Did the CIA Murder Thomas Merton? A Conversation with Hugh Turley

Hugh Turley Returns to Discuss the Death of One of the 20th Century’s Most Prolific and Respected Spiritual Writers 

(This episode would have aired Friday March 8th, 2019 but it was International Women’s Day and all programming that day was hosted by women. The alternative air date for the March 8th show is Monday, March 18th, at 11:00 am Pacific. The Beloved Community will return to its regular time, every second Friday at 9 am on Friday April 12th at 9 a.m.)

During the first few minutes I offer an update on the cancellation of my interview with Kevin Barrett by management and my appeal to that decision, still in progress after a year.

Hugh Turley returns to the Beloved Community to discuss his work uncovering the mystery of Thomas Merton’s death, December 10th, 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand. Thomas Merton was an intellectual, a prolific writer, and spiritual leader in the anti-war movement of the 60s. While biographers have all accepted the official story in some incarnation or another, that he was accidentally killed by a fan, Turley and co-author David Martin, in their book, The Martrydom of Thomas Merton, show that this official story cannot possibly be true. 

Now that this book has been released and official organizations connected with Merton are aware of this work, what is surprising is how so many of those who admire Merton care so little about honestly exploring the truth surrounding his death.  

On a special time, Monday, March 18th at 11 am Pacific, John Shuck speaks live with Hugh Turley about the facts around the death of Thomas Merton and the struggles Turley and Martin have had in communicating their findings to the public. 

From the cover:

Seldom can one predict that a book will have an effect on history, but this is such a work. Merton’s many biographers and the American press now say unanimously that he died from accidental electrocution. From a careful examination of the official record, including crime scene photographs that the authors have found that the investigating police in Thailand never saw, and from reading the letters of witnesses, they have discovered that the accidental electrocution conclusion is totally false. The widely repeated story that Merton had taken a shower and was therefore wet when he touched a lethal faulty fan was made up several years after the event and is completely contradicted by the evidence. 
 
Hugh Turley and David Martin identify four individuals as the primary promoters of the false accidental electrocution narrative. Another person, they show, should have been treated as a murder suspect. The most likely suspect in plotting Merton’s murder, a man who was a much stronger force for peace than most people realize, they identify as the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States government. 
 
Thomas Merton was the most important Roman Catholic spiritual and anti-warfare-state writer of the 20th century. To date, he has been the subject of 28 biographies and numerous other books. Remarkably, up to now no one has looked critically at the mysterious circumstances surrounding his sudden death in Thailand. From its publication date in the 50th anniversary of his death, into the foreseeable future, this carefully researched work will be the definitive, authoritative book on how Thomas Merton died.

KBOO Live Monday, March 18th 11 am PACIFIC

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