A Conservative Economy

In the last entry I examined the “shock doctrine,” in Naomi Klein’s phrase, as a method of perhaps explaining some recent actions and behaviors by people in power. My conclusion was that shock doctrine/disaster capitalism is an attempt at what I call “neoliberal sustainability”: their methods often unleash disaster on nations following their principles, and they then profit from the resulting chaos, be it social, economic, or ecological. I pointed out that their raw materials — the environment, their workers, or both — would eventually lash back against them. Their version of sustainability really isn’t, because while they can dance for a long time, the planet is an island, presently inescapable.

What is our alternative? Continue reading

Hear the Word

I would see justice done.

I would see the long labor of the poor rewarded at last, rewarded as it has never been even acknowledged in full. I would see the return of investment and the fruits of harvest benefit all who sweated for them, not merely those with their names on sheets of paper.

I would see children fed. I would see the sick tended. I would see the prisoners and the impoverished remembered as human. I would have it so that no one has to stand on the sidewalk and beg for scraps. I would see us remember that all who live on this earth are our kin, our family, no matter the color of their skin, the language of their tongue, the riches in their pockets, or the faith of their heart. I would see justice done as it has never been done, not since some few thought to exalt themselves at the expense of the many.

I am done with this misery. I am done with this suffering. I am done with laws and codes and customs that claim it is fitting that the poor live in pain. I am done with “deserving.” I am done with “They are lazy.” I am done with “Don’t coddle them.” Do you hear me? I love all, and deserving’s got nothing to do with it. In this I follow my god, the One, and the words that the Holy One gives to me. Continue reading

The Point

“It’s all right to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the New Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” April 3, 1968

“[Priests are] always telling folk how much better it’s going to be when they’re dead. We tell them it could be pretty good right here if only they’d put their minds to it.”

— Terry Pratchett, “Carpe Jugulum”

Good Friday

If you take I-40 up from Asheville to Lexington, near the Tennessee/Kentucky border you will encounter a massive store called “Adult World,” emblazoned with multiple red XXX signs. Just down the road from this store there is a giant white cross.

We were returning from a trip down to Savannah and passed this place by; Josh decided that we were going to stop and take pictures, because it was just too perfect. I certainly didn’t mind; I was in a slightly silly mood that day, and as much as I love my faith and my God, I also love the opportunity to not take either too seriously. Plus, in my inexperienced state, I thought the side trip could perhaps be educational.

We got off the highway at Exit 117; there’s a gas station, a restaurant, Adult World, and the cross. That’s it. As I recall, a dirt road ran up into the hills, but there was no other indication of traffic coming through this little corner of the South except towards the world’s most enormous adult-content store. We pulled into the parking lot and broke out the cameras. Brenton whined about not being able to get the angles right; I pointed out that we were taking a picture of a giant cross next to an equally giant porn store, and that aesthetics didn’t enter into it.

The store itself was not educational after all. I will not disturb you with the details, except to point out the epitomizing characteristic of the place: the men’s restroom was painted pitch black, the paint looking suspiciously recent — and thick. Despite these precautions, some determined fellow had already gotten his phone number up on the wall.

The cross was at least 50 feet tall, and was apparently made out of some relative of aluminum siding. Up close it looked rather cheaply constructed, although sturdy enough. I had to scoff. It was obvious that the cross had been put up in opposition to Adult World, in challenge to the sinfulness of the place. But as far as I could see, all the cross was managing to do was draw in more customers; the irony of it was too powerful a draw. Many college students on a road trip would probably have stopped at Adult World anyway, just for a giggle; the cross essentially made it mandatory.

It was nearing sunset as we got back on the road and drove north. The clouds were pink and gold Chinese dragons in the low light, dancing above the old Appalachian hills. Admiring the sky, I remembered that it was Good Friday. Continue reading

The First Blessing

This week seems like a good one to talk about Jesus and his wacky notions. Check back at the end of the week for another post on him, too.

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There is a woman who rides the buses in Kirkland; I see her frequently. She is very distinctive because she wears black trashbags, tucked with practiced care around her body, and pulls a handcart wrapped just the same. Rain or shine she is hooded and cloaked this way, and I imagine she’s relatively immune to said rain. We’ve had mild weather lately, but I wonder how well she does with cold. Tonight she was wearing old flip-flops, her feet looking callused to the point of crust, and had a makeshift bandage around her ankle. I think the bandage was the same one I saw her wearing weeks ago.

She seems to have enough money for bus fare often enough, and seems to know where she’s going. I saw her before it got cold last year and now I’ve seen her after, so evidently she’s surviving. She never asks for anything. She never says anything at all, in fact, and no one says anything to her.

I don’t claim that the Bible’s stories are literally true, as I’ve mentioned lately, but I still claim to follow the teachings of Christ. Or at least I can claim I try. So I have to ask, despite the cliche: what would Jesus do? Continue reading

Superheroes

All superheroes are Christ figures, to a degree. Some are more distant echoes than others, of course, but all have one similar characteristic: someone more than we are, someone special and more powerful, come to help us. Superman in particular stands out: an extraordinary not-quite-human child, sent by his father to be raised by human parents, who died and was reborn.

But comic-book superheroes only save a certain kind of people.

Continue reading

On the Street at Christmastime

There have always been homeless people standing by the highway ramps, begging for change from the stopped cars. But this year there have been many more of them. I see them in increasingly unlikely and unlucrative places, clearly forced there by desperation when all the other decent spots were taken. It was in such a spot that I saw a first for me, as I rode past on my bus to work: the cardboard sign read “Pregnant and homeless.”

The bus drove on before I had a chance to give the woman anything but a blessing, and one for the man who had moved more quickly than I and dropped a bill out of the window into the gutter. I hope they both fare well this winter.

Something about being pregnant and homeless at Christmas feels deeply, deeply wrong to me; some resonance with “no room at the inn.” So pause a moment, and think on what we do to the homeless in this society of ours.

Continue reading

Sodom and Gomorrah

As promised: this is the rather punchy piece that’s been simmering for a few weeks. Some of you out there may love it, some may hate it — if you think I’m right or wrong, tell me so. I’d love some feedback.

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Chapter 19. 1. Two angels arrived at Sodom early in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed low before them.

2. “My lords,” he said, “please come this night to your servant’s house. There you may wash, and spend the night, and then go on your way early in the morning.”
“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the market square.”

3. But he was in such earnest that they did go with him and came to his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast in his haste, and they ate.

4. Before they had gone to bed, however, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.

5. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

6. Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him,

7 and said, “No, my friends. Do not do this evil.

8. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do with them as you please. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof, and I must be hospitable.”

9. The men said, “That is fair,” and Lot sent his daughters out to them. The men raped them and did what they liked with them, and though his daughters cried out to him all through the night, Lot shut his ears and did not listen.

10. In the morning the angels thanked him and went on their way.

11. And the LORD met them as they came up from the city, and asked them, “Well? What have you seen?”

12. And they told him, “Lord, there is no crime in Sodom, for the men there only rape women.”

13. And the LORD said, “Well, that’s all right then, women don’t count. No harm in that.” And thus Sodom was spared. Continue reading