Letter to my Congressman on the bailout

I’m not usually a big believer in the governmental process as an agent of change, truth, justice, or whatever, and the current issue with the proposed Wall Street and bank bailout plans is no exception. I have very little expectation that my letter will actually in any way influence the decision of the representative for my district. I wrote this more as a way to get some of my thoughts down in one place. That being said, after I wrote it I figured hey, why not go ahead and send it? And now I’m posting it here. Feel free to pass it along or to debate the points presented therein, but realize that it is not a nuanced, technical policy position piece but rather a simplified, rhetorical one.

Dear Mr. Ellsworth,

I see that yesterday you voted in favor of the economic bailout plan that came to the House floor. I urge you to reconsider your position on the bailout. It seems quite disingenuous to provide billions of dollars in taxpayer money to bail out the institutions that have largely created this crisis through their own actions. It smacks of elite classism to allow corporate banking and finance executives to get off with their golden parachutes and allocate vast sums of what is supposed the people’s money to clean up their mess – moreso when it’s a clean up that is highly debatable with regards to its potential efficacy to actually do that which it purports to do.

I believe this so-called bailout plan is little more than an economic version of terrorism. For one, the Treasury and Fed say “give us the keys to the kingdom” of the economy. The proposed bailout as I understand it gives officials the power to essentially take over enormous swaths of the economic sector in an essentially arbitrary fashion, which would result in the economic directors having little-to-no accountability to the people the government and public officials are supposed to serve. The Bush Administration has excelled at taking advantage of crisis situations in order to consolidate power (particularly “emergency” power) under the umbrella of the Executive Branch, and this is just one more example of that tendency.

Furthermore, the bailout is in response to what could be essentially construed as a kind of terrorist threat on the part of the big banks. “Give us billions to fix our mess or we won’t give you house loans, car loans,” and so on. Without credit the economy fails, and those who hold the keys to credit have the ability to hold the people hostage.

The plan would involved the government basically buying assets from the bailed-out-companies above market value, thus providing the banks with a kick start in capital, which is a nonsensical proposition. If the bank owners are unwilling to utilize the market functions to raise the capital, which would ostensibly be both in their self-interest and in the public interest, then the government should only buy the assets at market value – or buy the banks at their market value, nationalize them, and nurse them back into healthy operation until such time as further action can be taken – either selling them to private interests or some other action that would not only return the banking activity to the private sector but also make up for some of the drain of public funds the whole financial crisis has engendered (and the public subsidies that have been involved in the operations of these banks throughout their history). Banks that will not submit to this process can be left to their own, and if they fail then they fail. As Adam Smith said, any business that does not operate within the public interest loses its legitimation.

In other words, if the government is going to intervene in the workings of these banks, as it appears it must, then do it in a way that makes sense and will actually work to making things better in the long run, and let those who are actually responsible for the mess be the ones who are punished, not the American taxpayers.

No capitalist system has ever existed for long without having to be regulated, modified, or bailed out by the government. No national economy that is strong today got to be so by utilizing “free market” principles; all of them, every single one, became prosperous through some form of government intervention/central planning. This case is no different – in voting for the bailout you vote to subsidize the foolishness of the robber barons who got us into this mess in the first place. I implore you to reconsider your position on the bailout and vote “nay” if it comes to the floor again.

Thank you,
Jason Barr
Evansville, Indiana

John Médaille has written quite a good piece at The Distributist Review on the bailout as a response to economic terrorism. TDR is consistently excellent and I highly recommend you read it regularly.


Law, justice, theological metaphysics and politics, and my future

This began as an email to someone who has been a kind of mentor to me, as well as someone on whom I’ve tested various ideas in the past, but the further I got into it the more I felt I needed to post it here. What follows are some disjointed thoughts that probably only make sense in my head, a bit of an outpouring that might even spark a bit of discussion – or at the very least provoke some people to throw some advice my way. I’m totally cool with that, by the way.

Ever since I graduated from the University of Evansville with my BA in 2004 I have assumed that one day I was going to go back to graduate school, obtain a Ph.D., and go into the academic profession. The reason I did not do so immediately… well, there are actually two reasons. The first is that I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do, and I didn’t want to go to grad school for the sake of Grad School, if you know what I mean. The second is that I wanted to live for a bit in the “real world” before going into full-time academia. I had a few professors in college who obviously had no conception of what it was like in the world outside the academy, and I most certainly did not want to be like that. I believe that the purpose of education is to equip people to better analyze themselves and the world(s) in which they/we live, so that they can be more free as human persons within the context of the vocational lives for which they are preparing themselves – pretty much a version of the classic “liberal arts” outlook on education. I did not believe that I could do this unless I had some kind of personal experience of the “outside” world apart from academia.

Off and on during all this time, for various reasons, I have questioned both my fitness for and calling into the academic profession. I no longer have strong doubts about my ability to study, write, research, and teach. That I have strong affinities for these things has been confirmed again and again, especially over the past couple of years. I have been praised highly in my presentations for their soundness of research and creative synthesis of ideas from different fields. I have been told that I would fare well in doctoral programs by people who taught in academic institutions, and even told that my intellectual ability was as such that, in the case of one program, a professor would vouch for me to enter the doctoral program even though I have not yet finished my MA (which is a work-in-progress, projected to finish within the next year to year-and-a-half). I have even, in certain situations, been mistaken for either an advanced graduate student or (in one case) an instructor or professor. I have received strong affirmation of my abilities that potentially suit me well for an academic career.

In spite of all this, I have never been comfortable with the prospect of an academic career. A big part of it is because I don’t want to disappear into the “ivory tower” fraternity. I don’t want to spend my time, as it has been said, writing long love letters to other academics in the form of journal articles and other academic publications. The reason I’ve wanted to teach has always been because I have wanted to be involved in the formation of students, the training of people who are going to be the hands and feet of the basileia of God in the world, and a contributor in my own right to its outworking both in theory and incarnation.

Most people know of my academic aspirations, but there is another potential vocation I’ve considered for some time about which not many people are aware. For quite some time I’ve been considering entering the legal profession. As I’ve described it elsewhere, I see the choice in vocational terms as between being primarily involved in the formation of active disciples (including activists and other prophetic figures within the context of 21st century American empire) and in being involved in defending and advocating for people who are a part of working for justice – people who speak truth to and about power, people who are involved in trying to challenge power where it needs to be challenged, people who may be trying to challenge the system but will need help from people who can work from within the system to call the powers themselves to work for justice and for (ultimately) God’s purposes of peace and reconciliation.

I have spent a lot of time working through theological, metaphysical, political, and other issues in my mind. Even though I don’t write enough here to really demonstrate it, I do have a pretty robust (and mostly coherent, I think) theologic-political-economic-philosophic basis for believing the things I do, and for wanting to be active in the areas in which I wish to be active. I want to burst out of the modern categories that divide political action from theological reflection, economics from ethics, and so on. It is all grounded in my understanding that the world and all that is in it is God’s creation, and that what Walsh and Middleton call the “biblical metanarrative” is the story that inhabits me, the story that gives hope to the world. I believe that all reflection and action is grounded in a form of what James K.A. Smith calls “theology1”, a reflexive, as opposed to reflective, underpinning for life, theory, and praxis. I believe “theology1” is also shaped and influenced by reflection and experience from all spheres of life, including “theology2”, political, economic, scientific, interdisciplinary, personal, communal, and all other modes of reflection and experience. I believe the world is “suspended”, as it were, in the greater reality of God’s hyperousion, God’s beyond-being-ness, that infinity gives itself to the finite and infuses it with meaning, and yet also that this beyond-being-ness incarnated and became real within space-time in the person of Jesus Christ, the “concrete universal”. I believe that in the person of Jesus the fallen creation is given new life, and that God has created a people for Godself to be the visible sign and agent of the extension of that new life to all creation, to all areas of life, the church. I believe that the church participates in the divine life and through service also enables the world to participate, performing a priestly function.

I do not believe that explicitly theological or “ministerial” vocations are “more holy” than “secular” vocations, though I do think them necessary. I also tend to include the academic vocation within the theological, and not necessarily just teachers of theology, though the academy (in my view) occupies a unique position that doesn’t fit nicely within either the category “theological” or “secular”. I believe that activists, environmentalists, teachers, laborers, economists, politicos, doctors, and yes, even lawyers, have vocations that are a part of how God is working out basileia in the world, preparing this world for and even now making it into what it will become when basileia is fully realized.

Over the past year-plus the thought of going into law has become much more attractive to me. Part of it has to do with the direction I’ve seen the world taking since I graduated from college, not just the world at large but also my world. People I know and care about have been arrested in protest actions and other demonstrations, and legal aid can be hard to come by. Civil liberties are under assault from both political and economic sources (as if the two could ever be separated, another fiction of modernity). In the world that is emerging, I see a real need for people who can navigate the technical waters of the legal system and the political and economic world in order to be a part of the outworking of justice – not justice as a secular construct for the preservation of civic order and the defense of certain “inalienable rights” and “self-evident truths”, but justice as a means of participating in God’s basileia, that which is already-and-not-yet.

I do not serve the idol Iustitia. I have no faith in the law in and of itself as a means of implementing Justice. I do not believe that a law whose founding discourse is fragmentary, whose roots are in a metanarrative of violence, can be the true means of instituting a society with “liberty and justice for all”. Rather, I serve in the hopes that the dikaiosune, the justice of God’s basileia would be more fully realized even through working within the fallen system. I believe that God desires to heal our modes of social, political, and economic discourse just as strongly as God wants to heal hearts that have been marred by sin. Indeed, sin always has a social component – the fall distorts relationships in all directions – Godward, otherward, selfward, and creationward. But if in Christ we participate in the life of the one who says “Behold, I am making all things new”, then we have to be in but not of the world where fragmentary discourse holds court, to be fragments not of a broken world, but of God’s world, fragments that are a part of the whole, the katholikos, against which the gates of Hades cannot stand, fragments that by their nature deconstruct the whole into which they intrude and bring the light of God’s life into the world.

I have also realized that working in law (and policy, I’m interested in possibly doing a joint degree in law and public affairs/policy, though this would NOT necessarily entail working for any government) does not mean I cannot also be involved in teaching and formation. Indeed, I’ve started to strongly question whether the academy really is the appropriate venue for me to be involved in the formation of “active disciples”. I can still write, I can still publish, I can still do seminars, and maybe even classes. The basic law degree is a doctorate, and so still theoretically qualifies one to teach at a high level, even if it is a professional (not academic) doctorate – so if I did decide my vocational outworking was going to shift to the academy I would likely have to obtain a Ph.D. or Th.D. But I could teach in the church, which may be the place where we most need teachers. Not only that, but it turns out that the same gifts and abilities that would serve me well in academia also make me potentially very well-suited for the legal profession.

Please understand that I am not saying I have my theological metaphysics, politics, economics, dogmatics, and so on all figured out to the point where I don’t NEED further academic reflection on the issues. That could not be further from the truth. Nor am I saying that whatever legal work I would be doing is a substitute of some kind for the kind of work that can only be done by the church. Rather, I would be doing my work as a part of the church, as a part of taking the world I inhabit in Christ into the world I worked in my vocation. I would still hope to be a part of all the same kinds of things about which I’ve become passionate through networks such as Ekklesia Project, Jesus Radicals, and so on. Insofar as “calling” and “vocation” can be separated conceptually, I would see legal work as vocationally working out my calling from God to be a healer and peacemaker, within the call to the church to be a healing and peacemaking community. So theological reflection would necessarily be part and parcel of what I would do.

This has gotten kind of long, so I’m going to wrap it up now. I’d love to hear what people have to say about this. I haven’t even begun to get into some other difficulties I have with this decision, not the least of which is how I can take the oath to be admitted to the bar when I have so many anarchist sympathies. But I’ll continue thinking about that.


US Army unit to be deployed for domestic operations

From Democracy Now!:

Beginning in October, the Army plans to station an active unit inside the United States for the first time to serve as an on-call federal response in times of emergency. The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent thirty-five of the last sixty months in Iraq, but now the unit is training for domestic operations. The unit will soon be under the day-to-day control of US Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command. The Army Times reports this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to Northern Command. The paper says the Army unit may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control. The soldiers are learning to use so-called nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals and crowds.

Any more questions about whether the US is becoming a police state?

What is the Gospel?

In one of my online communities today, someone asked about “what is the Gospel? How do you go about sharing it if it comes up in conversation?” The community is generally more liberal-leaning, so there aren’t exactly a lot of “street corner evangelist” types in it, but several people have come up with some interesting responses. Here is mine:

The Gospel is this: that God’s kingdom has broken into the world, and the time of fulfillment is here. God is re-creating the world and instituting God’s reign which is characterized by peace, love, healing, and the restoration of God’s image in broken people. This entails not only the forgiveness of individual “sins”, but also the process of healing people from the oppressive networks in which they are embedded that encourage sin, from the broken places in our own hearts to the broken social, political, and economic systems that exist in the world that contribute to the overall picture of brokenness. This kingdom is embodied and inaugurated by Jesus, the Jewish Messiah who lived in the 1st century CE, who institutes the kingdom not by conquering his enemies, but in being conquered by them and trusting that God will vindicate him (the Resurrection). Therefore the power of Christ’s love is shown to be superior to hatred, bloodshed, and evil.

Not only that, but God is inviting all people, everywhere, to turn around and move from lives embroiled in sin, conflict, and warfare into lives that are healed, whole, self-giving. In some wonderful, mystical way, people now have been invited to “enter into” Christ’s death and resurrection, being “translated out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of his beloved son” (Col. 1:13), to be a part of God’s people who are the visible sign and agent of this kingdom that is coming into the world, with the Spirit enabling us to grow more in faith, love, and hope. One day the true king of the world, Jesus, will return to finally, totally put all things right, but right now the things we do that are faithful and loving are somehow (again, mystically and wonderfully) being used as “building blocks” of a sort that God is using in the re-creation of the world. ALL areas of life are marked for redemption, including sexuality, creativity, social organization, culture, religion, and so on.

Of course, because the church is subject to the true king, Jesus, and to the re-creation of the world on God’s terms, she must (or at least SHOULD) reject ways of living that are not faithful to the life of Jesus who taught love for enemies, turning the other cheek, and carrying one’s cross. This will inevitably bring Christians into conflict with those who are steeped in worldly modes of selfishness, power games, and violence. The church must live according to mutual submission, not lording power over one another and the world; fellowship that breaks down social and economic barriers between sisters and brothers, not holding national affiliations, race, class, or other factors as signs of superiority; and service to the world that demonstrates God’s love for all people, not fighting culture wars or practicing in other ways that seek to set Christians up as some kind of ruling class (aka Christendom).

The end goal is no less than that which was originally intended at creation, that all of the created world would be enabled to participate in the divine life (one of my favorite images is of being drawn into the perichoresis, the eternal dance enjoyed by the Trinity from before the beginning of time).

It takes a little longer to express this than to say “Jesus died for your sins so you can go to heaven”, which is a modern fundamentalist caricature of the Gospel at best, but this definitely does more justice to the whole Biblical picture.

Journalists arrested at RNC include Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman

We all expected the cops to use excessive force and utilize the tactic of questionable mass arrests in St. Paul. That’s no surprise, that has been a tactic for squelching public dissent since time immemorial. What is perhaps even more alarming about the tactics used in St. Paul is the arrest of several journalists who stepped outside “official” bounds to cover not just the staged convention proceedings or to follow the party line on the “violent” demonstrators (the vast majority of whom have been peaceful, and the only “violence” reported so far has been property damage, which is only questionably defined as “violence”).

Among those arrested include Democracy Now! host and producer Amy Goodman, who left the convention floor in the middle of an interview with delegates from Minnesota and Alaska to respond to the news that her producers were being arrested (Goodman grills St. Paul Police Chief about the Arrests). Not only were they arrested, but it is possible that producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar may be charged with felony rioting.

Not only that, but the convention hq for I-Witness Video was apparently raided. The police surrounded the house before a warrant was obtained, informed people they would be detained if they left the house, and then got their warrant (with one problem – it was for the WRONG ADDRESS) and raided the house, taking would-be police watchdogs into custody and confiscating equipment. I-Witness was extremely effective in exposing police violence during the 2004 RNC in New York, and it appears the St. Paul authorities did not want this to happen to them. Glenn Greenwald writes on the arrests, with substantial comment on the I-Witness raid. Eileen Clancy of I-Witness, wrote an emergency press release from inside the house while it was surrounded on the I-Witness blog.

Apparently if reporters aren’t “embedded” within the police corps or only covering subjects the authorities want them to see, they’re subject to arrest. So much for freedom of the press and the neutrality of journalists, and the supposedly basic assumption that journalists should be shielded from harm in conflict zones, or at least that every attempt should be made to do so. The same seems to be the case for other independent observers – in other words, if you’re not with the powers-that-be, you’re subject to arrest, to classification as a “criminal”.

In addition, student journalists from the University of Kentucky were also arrested. The cynical part of me wants to say at least they’re getting a true look at what they will be in for if they seek to pursue their chosen vocations with integrity and the desire to report more than just the “official story”.

Cynicism aside, the sad truth is that if the integrity and independence of journalism is not respected and actively supported, there can be no meaningful public discourse. Officials have said again and again that people are welcome to voice their opinions, that demonstrators have the right to air their griefs publicly, but the actions of those in power mitigate against the possibility of any real public dialogue that could lead to an actual accounting on the part of the leaders who are supposedly the servants of the people. There is no space for the vox populi to be heard, unless, apparently, the voice of the people comes through particular channels, in triplicate, bound and tied in red tape. Amy Goodman wrote an op-ed piece about how government crackdowns on journalists threaten democracy. I suggest you read it.

The voice of the people in colonial America took the form of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, though the lead-up to the Party was of course the Boston Massacre of 1770. Will people realize the things they’ve given up and seek to take back for themselves the power that is rightfully theirs? Or will we meekly accept our position as consumers, passively “choosing” between those products that are shown to us in storefront windows, on television screens, on our computer monitors? Will we take a stand and fight for the ability to truly govern ourselves and manage our own affairs, or will we continue to march to the beat of flags and pledges and patriotic songs, allowing our own identities to be submerged within the totality of the 21st century United Jingoistic Police State of American Empire?

In other news, eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee have officially been charged under terrorism laws. I have more to say about this, but it will wait until tomorrow when I’ve had more time to reflect and process.

Video of Nicole Salazar’s arrest:

Video of Amy Goodman’s arrest:

FYI: 2012 Convention Information

I take all the blame for this one.

2012 US Political Convention Information

2012 US Political Convention Information

A brief musing on Paul

We now can say from studies in all related fields, including epigraphy and archaeology, that the cult of Caesar the divine ruler was not merely one among other religious choices available to denizens of the ancient Roman empire. Instead, we should see it as largely the glue that held the empire together on multiple levels – political, social, religious, even economic. Particularly in the regions where Paul traveled and preached, it was the dominant cult and the means by which Rome controlled large parts of its imperial territory and population. After all, who needs armies when your king is a god and can be worshiped?

Because of this, Paul’s evangelism cannot be understood in terms of a traveling preacher who offered people a new religious experience, one superior to the religous understandings they had previously possessed. Rather, he should be seen as a kind of traveling ambassador (a term he actually uses to describe himself) for a new king-in-waiting, establishing colonies of people loyal to this new king, ordering their lives and practices according to the story and symbols of this new king, rather than to the imperial Roman story that formed the dominant religious, as well as political, mythos of the time. Paul called his converts to order their minds according to the truth of the story of Christ, not of Caesar’s. This can only be construed as deeply subversive and counter-imperial. The fact that Paul ended up in prison, executed under the reign of the “god” Nero is a sign that he did his duty for the new king quite properly.

Of course, as a Jew, Paul’s allegiance would have been to God the king, rather than to any human-made god or king. What’s interesting is that Paul defines allegiance to Christ in precisely the terms the Old Testament uses to exhort people to ally themselves with God and to eschew idols. Following Christ in Paul’s conception, then, cannot be divorced from a radically different conception of the world and how we ought to see it, smell it, live in it, than those conceptions the domination systems of the world would inundate us with.

Hearing differently leads to believing differently, which leads to imagining differently, which leads to living differently, which leads to hearing differently… “You will come to know me only as you follow me” (James McClendon’s translation of God’s revelation to Moses “I AM WHO I AM”). Only as we come to know God will we know ourselves. And only as we see the face of Christ in our neighbor will we come to know God. Thus the three loves, of God, neighbor, and self, are inextricably entwined. Let us imagine the world through the story of the Crucified God-Man, the one who washed his disciples’ feet and to whom all knees will bow.