personal update

This weekend my brother, a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army, leaves to deploy to Iraq. His specialty is communications, which means he’ll likely be going out with patrols as a radio man – not exactly a “safe” job.

I must confess as to being somewhat conflicted as to how to pray about this – I obviously want to see him come home safely, but at the same time I do not want to fall into the trap of praying for the safety of those who go under the American flag at the expense of those who gather under other banners. I believe Christ calls us to transcend such tribalistic identity-markers.

My usual prayer in such circumstances is to pray not for the safety of particular people, but rather to pray that guns would jam, bombs would fail to explode, that soldiers would lay down arms and walk away from the field, and that people would refuse to engage in this ridiculous business of war any longer. I do pray that for my brother, but I also want him to come back home to us.

Thank you for your prayers and thoughts.

Anti-I69 consulta this weekend

An anti-I69 consulta will be held this weekend here in Evansville, Indiana to discuss resistance strategies and tactics. See the Roadblock Earth First! Stop I-69 website for more information.

Ironic quote about the efficacy of war

“The blood shed on the European continent in the course of the last three hundred years bears no proportion to the national result of the events. In the end, France had remained France, Germany Germany, Poland Poland, and Italy Italy. What dynastic egotism, political passion and patriotic blindness have attained in the way of apparently far-reaching political changes by shedding rivers of blood has, as regards national feeling, done no more than touched the skin of nations. It has not substantially altered their fundamental characters. If these states had applied merely a fraction of their sacrifices to wiser purposes the success would certainly have been greater and more permanent.”

— Adolf Hitler, in a speech intended to reassure the European powers of Germany’s benign intent in remilitarizing, which was against the provisions of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, May 21, 1935. On the same day Hitler spoke those words he had secretly approved a secret Reich Defense Law which put Germany on a war economy and revived the Army’s General Staff organization – also forbidden by the Treaty. Four years later Hitler would invade Poland, setting off World War II in Europe.

Musings on meat and the recent recall

Well, unless you live under a rock you’ve probably heard by now that 143 million pounds of beef coming from a particular meat factory in California have been recalled due to concerns over health and safety related to the improper health-related treatment of certain “downer” cows. A few thoughts:

1) I saw on the news today an anchor ask a question I’m sure has been on many minds: “why did it take 3 weeks from the time the videos of the cruelty were released for action to be taken and the recall to happen?” The reason is that it was because the cruelty in and of itself was what drew USDA attention to the possibility of there being unsanitary goings-on at the beef plant – but the cruelty itself was not necessarily a matter worthy of attention such as a massive recall. The concern was not that animals were being tortured, but that proper inspection procedures had not been followed and therefore it was remotely possible that somewhere in the tons and tons of beef coming out of this bovine manufactory a certain amount might have been tainted. It is NOT necessarily illegal to prod a cow or to pick it up with a forklift, unless you use that as a means to circumvent health codes (which are, as anyone who’s read the USDA meat inspectors’ manual can tell you, not terribly reassuring). As a matter of fact, the people at the cattle mill may have thought they could get away with it within the law, as it turns out there may be loopholes in the USDA policy. Doesn’t that just make you want to run out and grab a hot, juicy burger at your local Wendy’s after an exhilarating session of midnight street luging?

2. They seriously expect us to believe that just because the company has fired the two workers “responsible for the problem” and that everything is all better (or a least it will be soon). And, because we’re sheep who want to believe everything is ok and we can go on consuming thoughtlessly like we usually do, they’re probably right. The fact is that (just as I said about the problems at Walter Reed hospital) these practices are not “aberrations from the system”, they are products of the system itself – the system that makes it profitable to get every animal that can be killed and ground up to the killing floor in at least a quasi-legal fashion. The entire industrial meat production system is founded on the atrocity that claims what animals are good for is consumption and making money in the most efficient manner possible, regardless of consequences for the animal or even for consumers. The “protections” built into the law are a joke, as anyone who’s read the USDA meat inspectors’ manual can tell you. Is there an echo? I think I said that already…

3. If people are horrified by videos of people prodding cattle and picking them up with forklifts, I can only imagine the reaction of disgust if they learned that a large portion of what animals to be slaughtered are fed comes from bone, blood, guts, brains, and other parts of slaughtered animals that couldn’t be used as meat, which are turned into feed by a process known as rendering. Rendering is only supposed to be done from USDA-approved cows, but the oversight for rendering falls upon the FDA, and their inspections of rendering plants only check to make sure animal feed containing cattle parts is labeled. They do not check to make sure the animal parts being used come from cows that were approved by the USDA. Contrary to official stock sweatshop spokesmen propaganda, the prions that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease”, can and do jump species from cattle to humans – and these same microorganisms cause a disease in humans, Creudtzfelt-Jakob Disease (CJD), that essentially turns the brain into a spongy mess, much like Alzheimer’s. Not only that, but CJD is misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s enough times to be more than just statistically significant. And the rendering process does not kill prions. On that point and several others, you REALLY ought to read this article by Maria Tomchick from Znet. Vegetarians and vegans, don’t go thinking you’re safe just because you don’t consume meat/animal products.

4. BSE doesn’t usually show up in cows for 5-7 years. Most beef cattle are slaughtered by age 3. So there’s no telling how many carriers have already been eaten or otherwise processed. CJD can take 30 or more years to show up noticeably in a human. Doesn’t that make you feel great?

5. Even though the risk of being infected by BSE-contaminated beef or cattle products is relatively low, it’s a risk that has been completely placed off the map by the corporate PR machine, with a compliant US government bowing to its whims. And if the information linked above isn’t enough to make you angry about that, maybe the information on this site will be. As I said in a comment on my sister’s blog today,

The problem will never be solved until the system that makes it profitable for such abuses to occur is dismantled, and it will not be dismantled voluntarily by those who profit from it.

Nor will it be sufficiently challenged by the government that is inextricably entwined with the corporate industry – just check up on how many FDA and USDA officials used to be industry spokespeople or corporate officials, and vice versa. It’s not even that the corporates are masters controlling their government lackeys, the relationship is too reciprocal to be cast in those terms – but any way you look at it, the government-corporate conglomerate scheme does NOT have any of our best interests in mind. In the words of Urban Seeds, an Evansville gardening cooperative, “plant a garden – start a revolution!”

Interestingly, prions also means “let us pray”, in French. So… prions pour une révolution.

Loyalty, love, and stability

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about monastic traditions, including some reading related to a recent and ongoing movement that has been dubbed “new monasticism” (see also here and the Schools for Conversion web site). Missio Dei, founded by Mark Van Steenwyk of Jesus Manifesto is an example of a self-consciously new monastic community.

I just finished reading Inhabiting the Church by John Stock, Tim Otto, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a book that explores the nature of vows in the church and particularly the threefold Benedictine vow of obedience, conversion, and stability “from the perspective of people who grew up in the Protestant free-church tradition”, as they repeatedly say throughout the book. While the first two aspects of the vow are worth exploring and highly valuable for those of us who want to seek Jesus faithfully in postmodernity, I want to mostly talk about the third now – stability.

Two biblical words that resonate throughout the whole book are the Hebrew chesed and the Greek agape. Chesed is usually rendered “loyalty”, though more traditional translations often use “lovingkindness”. Agape is, as many of you probably know, a word for “love”, rendered as “charity” in many older translations, that specifically refers to a kind of self-denying love that gives without expecting anything in return. Chesed is a loyalty that transcends concern for one’s own self, the kind of loyalty that is often ascribed to God in the Old Testament – and it is charged to Israel to be a people of chesed for God and for each other in their ways of living. It is perhaps most memorably demonstrated in the story of Ruth, who demonstrates chesed for Naomi to the point where she is willing to leave her home and lose her familial identity in order to love Naomi. Ruth’s story is one with deeply subversive potential, and I will try and blog about that more in the future, but let me say for now that most scholars see the book in its finished form as post-exilic, and so possibly written as a counter to the nationally isolationist tendencies found in Ezra-Nehemiah. The faithfulness of a foreigner bursts out of the prominent categories of Israelite tradition, particularly the traditions of the law and wisdom, and it is this faithfulness that produces a lineage resulting in King David and his messianic dynasty.

Agape is likewise subversive. In a world where we are defined as consuming beings and where all material items, people, potential vocations, services, etc. are seen primarily as objects for consumption, to love another without expecting any return, simply because of her/his intrinsic worth as a human being created in God’s image is a truly radical act.

It seems that even from our birth we are steeped in the Disney mantra “follow your dreams wherever they take you”, regardless of whether that place is near or far from home. In our Christian culture we even glorify this impulse by celebrating missionaries and individual preachers, teachers, and workers who travel far and wide to “do God’s work”. Now, I’m not saying all these people are necessarily wrong, but does it not occur to us that perhaps we have so deeply imbibed this mindset that we might be missing the riches of the Gospel in our places by looking ahead to the next? To put a new spin on an old proverb, the grass is greener on the other side because that person spends his time cultivating the lawn instead of looking around for new and ostensibly better things.

Benedictines take a vow of stability, to live in the monastery until they die, only leaving upon permission of the abbot, generally for the business of the monastery. As an oblate, I too will take a vow of stability – not to live in the monastery, nor necessarily even to be rooted to one place until I die, but for stability of heart. The other week at our oblate chapter meeting here in Evansville Father Brendan came to speak to us about the vow of stability. He made one of the deepest statements I have ever heard, and one upon which I will continue to ruminate for years to come: “If you’re not finding God where you are, you’re not going to find him somewhere else.” What if we Christians were so committed to finding God where we are that it would take the voice of God specifically calling us to send us somewhere else? What if we rejected the individual American dream of prosperity and adventure and instead processed our thoughts, feelings, and desires with a community of fellow Jesus-seekers to discern together whether a possible course of action was really God-inspired, or more of a distraction?

The vow of stability is rooted in chesed, loyalty that puts the community of believers, the body of Christ, and the voice of God speaking to us in our place above our own easily-manipulated desires, thoughts, and feelings; it is based on agape, love that counteracts the individualistic consumerist orthodoxies of our society. If we can find true stability in God the insecurities of our time will have no power over us, and we will be enabled to follow God in any time and place, if only we can follow God where and when we are now.

Lent this year

It has now been six days since my Lent/Ash Wednesday reflection post, in which I promised I would post what I am doing for this Lenten season in a day or two. It should surprise no one at this point to hear that, on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, I am a P (this is a constant source of annoyance to my fiancée, who is a J), given the number of things I have intended to post “in a day or two” or “in the near future” that as-yet remain in blog limbo. And so, without further ado, here are my Lenten practices for this season and the reasons why I am doing them.

1. Going vegetarian – I am giving up meat (though not milk, eggs, and other animal products) for the season. It is particularly well-documented that modern industrial agriculture is one of the worst contributors to global warming and also to air, soil, and water pollution in the world, and animal agriculture is particularly bad. I also feel there is a strong injustice in spending so much caloric energy on feeding captive animals (who often live and die in horrendous conditions) when over a billion people around the world are malnourished. The average American consumes over 3600 calories per day, and meat forms a much larger fraction of that number than is in any way healthy. Reflection on the relationship between my life and justice issues (both regarding humans and the rest of creation) is a major theme for me this year.

2. In addition to allowing me to reflect on my environmental footprint and the relationship between food and justice, going vegetarian inherently forces me to change my grocery shopping habits. Since they will be changing anyway, instead of driving my car across town to a large supermarket grocery store I have committed to only shopping at places that are within biking distance. I am not necessarily always biking to these places, due to a number of factors, but I prefer to bike if possible. The place where I am shopping most is the local cooperative grocery which prefers to stock organic and local items as much as possible. So I’m trying to reduce my use of oil-based transportation both for myself and for my food. When I go back to eating meat at the end of the season, I hope to drastically reduce my consumption and to purchase meat at the coop, which gets mainly local, ethically-raised (free-range, grass fed, etc.) animal products. This is part of a larger, longer-time strategy to begin taking more responsibility for the food I consume, which will include more emphasis on gardening (I am a member of a local gardening cooperative as well) and other more direct ways of providing food for myself.

3. I have committed myself to not using my debit card for purchases during Lent, except to buy gas (I get some small rewards when I use my card for gas, and it’s the one thing I’m going to have to buy whether I use my card or cash) and instead going to the ATM to actually, physically get cash. It doesn’t work this way for everyone, but I’ve found that when I have to get cash myself I spend less money than I do when I can just swipe the card. So nearly every purchase that I make will have to be premeditated, and I will only get enough cash to cover what I’m going to get up to the next denomination my ATM will let me get (which is generally in $10 increments). This allows me to be much more intentional and reflective about my consuming habits in general, while still (when I have the leftover change) allowing me to stop in at the coffee shop for an occasional cup, and maybe a bagel. This may actually be something I want to keep doing after Lent, I’ve already noticed a difference.

4. As a Benedictine Oblate, I am committed to praying the Psalms each day (which I do by using the daily offices from the Book of Common Prayer), reading daily from the Rule of Saint Benedict, and practicing lectio divina regularly. To this I have added the daily practice of the Ignatian discipline of examen, a meditative practice focused on examining the inner self, one’s actions and the motivations for those actions, and asking God to bring one’s actions and motivations in line with God’s will. I’ve been reading Robert Muholland’s Invitation to a Journey, and one of the things he emphasizes is that the journey of spiritual formation will differ from person to person based on what he calls “creation gifts”, and one way he discusses creation gifts is in terms of one’s Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. It’s not the ONLY factor that should shape one’s spiritual practice, but much of what he says makes good sense to me. I am an ENFP, and so I will naturally gravitate towards practices that reflect those personality preferences. In order to have a more holistic spirituality, I need to consciously nurture the “shadow side”, my opposite type: my inner ISTJ. Practicing examen will help me to nurture my introspective side and give me space to process my day, opening up my self in new ways to be transformed by the work of the Spirit in me. I also plan to continue this practice after Lent is over, but Ash Wednesday seemed a particularly appropriate time to begin it.

This Lent I am particularly taking time to examine my consumptive practices, particularly with regards to food and the way I move money from my account to the merchant’s register, and situating it all with an attempt to foster a greater awareness of my inner motivations. I hope to take many things from this season with me even as I prepare to release more of my self to be nailed to the cross with Christ on Good Friday.

Shalom!

Support our troops?

This morning, my grandfather sent me an email “action alert” from the American Family Association urging protest of the recent Berkeley, California City Council resolution that declared the downtown Marine recruiting office “unwanted” and urged the recruiters to leave town. This article does not respond to that issue, but rather to the subject line of the email he forwarded from the AFA, which was “Support our troops”.

I have to admit being somewhat perplexed by the exhortation to “support our troops”. Whose troops are they? They certainly aren’t mine – I’m not sending them anywhere, and they don’t represent me or my thoughts. It seems to me that the designation “our troops” implies a kind of kinship between us and the troops that does not really exist. Certainly it is true that my (step)brother is among those who are being sent over there, but it is not on my behalf that he is being sent, just as it is not on my behalf that any of them has been sent.

This entire enterprise of war in foreign lands has very little to do with the protection and preservation of American values, but it has everything to do with protecting and preserving business interests that profit heavily from maintaining a forced subordinate status in certain nations around the world. The United States has done the same thing for over a century now in Latin America, and has long maintained an official policy that essentially says “if you have something we want, a resource we ‘need’, then as far as we’re concerned it belongs rightfully to us, not to you”. This is the only rational explanation for the military interventions in Hawai’i for pineapples; in Guatemala for bananas; in Iran for oil (with the deposition of a popular government in order to reinstate the Shah, a move on our part whose eventual consequence was the Islamic Revolution of 1979); in Iraq not only for oil but also to create a living experiment in extreme neoliberal free trade as an example (and warning) to the rest of the world that consumer corporate “democracies” will have what they want from the “developing nations”, and we can get it the easy way or the hard way.

This critique stands regardless of one’s religious persuasion, but it is much more pertinent for me as a follower of Jesus, the prince of peace and king of all creation who urged his followers not to retaliate when evil was done to them, but rather to turn the other cheek. The unanimous response of the early church to persecution was not to respond by fighting back for their own gain, even in defense of their own personal liberties, but rather to witness to those who tormented them by showing the same attitude of Christ – loving and forgiving their attackers in the hope that they would be transformed. They believed the cross of Christ is the hope for the transformation of all doers of violence and opponents of God. To suggest that the idea of premeditated war for the economic gain of certain sectors of society (the corporate management classes first, and then to a lesser extent the consuming classes – which is to say that yes, you and I likely are beneficiaries of the violence), which was sold as a preemptive (or preventative, depending on who you ask) war to ostensibly “protect our way of life against the terrorists” would never have even occurred to them as a valid option for Christians.

Even three centuries after Christ when the church went from being a persecuted minority to the triumphant majority with the imperial sanction they did not develop a theology of warfare that went so far – instead, Augustine’s formulation of Just War doctrine carried the day. It is important to note that even Just War doctrine does not actually justify war for self-defense, to say nothing of preemptive warfare. Therefore, even on the less-strict Christian stance on war than that of Jesus himself, the type of activities in which the U.S. military has engaged in Iraq cannot in any way be construed as representative either of me or of my Lord.

They are not “our” troops, they are troops under the command of people in the thrall of the American political/business system which “make[s] unjust laws. . . deprive[s] the poor of their rights, withhold[s] justice from the oppressed. . . [makes] widows their prey, and [robs] the fatherless” (see Isaiah 10:1-2 in the NIV). They are being asked to die for a cause that, in the words of Alisdair McIntyre, is rather like being asked to die for the telephone company. They are not my troops, they are my fellow-human-beings being manipulated and exploited in more ways than they realize, and rather than praying for success in their mission I simply pray for an end to war and for the desire of men and women to make war. I pray that guns would jam and bombs would fail to explode, and that soldiers on all sides would simply lay down their weapons and refuse to engage any longer in this silly business of war. I support people, not troops, and I support them as potential brothers and sisters in the new world that God is creating even in the midst of this world of bloodshed and hatred, a new world of people from every tribe, language, people, and nation who walk in the ways of God’s shalom.