Hope for Transformation

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As 2013 ends and 2014 begins, I carry hope in my heart for transformation, not just personal, but social.  The phrase “another world is possible” is, for me, a matter of faith.

There are many children in my life.  I have grandchildren and great grandchildren who live nearby.  I teach Sunday School.  What will the world look like when these beautiful children grow up?  I am invested in their future.

What do we tell our children about the great environmental dangers and social injustices that we face–about climate change, about war and violence, about foreclosures and unemployment and lack of health insurance, about cutbacks to services for the poor and tax cuts for the rich, about corporate domination of the political process?  How do we explain our inability to create a society that sustains life?  How do we equip them for the great challenges they will face?  Not by putting our heads in the sand, or focusing solely on our personal lives, or pretending that there is nothing we can do.  Rather, we can cultivate hope and set an example by taking part in actions that are transformative, both personally and socially.

This is a spiritual issue, for the ruling powers dominate through money and violence, and none of us are immune.  To the degree that we internalize the values of our culture and bow to the system of domination, we further the sickness of our age.  As we awaken to the extremity of our situation and realize that the system of domination itself needs transforming, we either succumb to futility and despair or find the inner resources that enable us to cultivate hope.

This is, in itself, an opportunity for personal transformation.  As we are transformed, we become agents of transformation, joining with others to create beautiful and compassionate alternatives that demonstrate the better world that is possible.  By taking hopeful actions, we become more hopeful, and make the world a more hopeful place.

For the sake of the children.  For the sake of the future.

Seasonal Antidotes to Consumer Culture

IMG_4555 (1)On Sunday the children of our church performed a Christmas pageant, complete with Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise ones, sheep, and a talking donkey.  The children sang Christmas carols and at times the congregation sang along.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, The Revolutionary Stories of Baby Jesus, the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy have political and even revolutionary significance.  They are stories about a man and his unwed pregnant fiancé, forced by the State to travel a long distance to register for the census in Bethlehem.  The couple spends the night in a stable because that is the only place offered to them, and the young woman gives birth there.    Lowly shepherds see visions of angels and celebrate the birth of the baby, whose only bed is a feeding trough.  Later, foreign astrologers or “wise ones” spot a significant star and follow it, in search of the Christ child.

Our pageant ends with all the children singing “Joy to the World.”  They don’t act out the painful parts of the story:  how the wise ones go to Jerusalem, talk to King Herod, raise his suspicions and outsmart him, while setting into motion a chain of events that leads to a massacre of innocent children (sound familiar?) and the flight of the holy family into Egypt, where, homeless, they struggle to survive as political refugees.

But these painful parts of the story are there, and the kids learn them soon enough.  And whether you understand the story as history or as legend, it is a reminder of the hope that “another world is possible,” the hope of “peace on earth, good will to all people.” It is also a reminder that the Ruling Powers of this world are directly at odds with the incarnation of peace, love, hope, and joy.  This is just as true now as it was in Jesus’ day.

Take, for instance, this Toys R Us ad, which deliberately attempts to lure children away from their natural love of creation and to seduce them into a corporate-constructed “world” of greed and consumption.  This ad and others that target our children seek to instill in them a sense of entitlement, self-centeredness, greed, and lust for things, values which bring not joy but spiritual harm.  In fact these negative values, which underlie our consumer-oriented culture, contribute to poverty, inequity, and ecological damage that threatens life and the future.

Christmas pageants and other non-materialistic holiday and seasonal celebrations provide an antidote to the seductions and demands of consumer culture.  They teach spiritual values such as humility, gratitude, generosity, community, peace, love, and joy.  They “incarnate” the reality of God with us.  They point to light in the midst of the darkness and to life in the midst of death.

The Revolutionary Stories of Baby Jesus

Christmas Pageant 2012

Christmas Pageant 2012

This page includes an Excerpt from Chapter 15, “The Triumph of God Over the Powers” in Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.

During Advent and Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth in pageants and liturgies. Literalists insist that these stories must be taken as historical fact, especially the story of Jesus’ divine conception by the Holy Spirit and subsequent birth to a virgin. In other words, they believe that Jesus is the Son of God biologically.  Some see the literal understanding of this story as a crucial test of faith.

Though Jesus used the intimate term Abba when addressing God, he never claimed the exclusive title “Son of God” for himself.  He usually referred to himself as “the Son of man,” literally “the son of the man,” better translated as “the human being.”  According to Walter Wink:  ‘The son of the man’ is the expression Jesus almost exclusively used to describe himself.  In Hebrew the phrase simply means ‘a human being.’  The implication seems to be that Jesus intentionally avoided honorific titles, and preferred to be known simply as “the man,” or “the human being.” Apparently he saw his task as helping people become more truly human.”

A literal belief that Jesus’ mother was a virgin is not crucial in understanding who Jesus was.  What the birth stories symbolize, however, is the incarnation of the divine in human life.  Matthew Fox expands the concept of incarnation to include all life:  “God has become incarnate—made flesh—not just in the historical Jesus and certainly not just in the two-legged creatures but in all of us.  All of us are incarnations—home and dwelling-places for the Divine—all people, the poor no less than the comfortable.  All races, all religions, all sexes, all sexual orientations, and all beings—four-legged, the winged, the rock people and tree people and cloud peoples—all are dwelling places of the Divine.”  God is present in matter, indwelling all creation.

According to Walter Wink, the question for us is: “Before he was worshiped as God incarnate, how did Jesus struggle to incarnate God?”  We might also ask: What can Jesus show us about how human life can be lived fully and deeply in the light and presence of God?

The stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy are important because they shed light on how the Gospel writers understood the significance of Jesus. Some of these stories are overtly political, and provide compelling evidence that the authors understood the revolutionary significance of Jesus’ life.

According to the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke,  Jesus was born to a poor, young, unwed mother under extremely difficult circumstances.  When Mary was well along in her pregnancy (so the story goes), the Roman Empire issued an edict forcing all Jews to register for the census in their own hometowns, so that they could be taxed and conscripted into the Roman Army.  Mary and Joseph traveled a long distance from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, where Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable (Luke 2:1-7).

Mary and Joseph were poor.  When they traveled to Jerusalem for their purification, to present their firstborn son to God, instead of offering the standard sacrifice they offered the poor peoples’ alternative: “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:22-24).  Mary and Joseph later fled with their infant son into Egypt as political refugees to escape King Herod’s genocidal attempts to hold onto his throne (Matt. 2:13-15).

During her pregnancy, Mary proclaimed the remarkable words of hope for the poor and oppressed that has come to be called the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-47, 51-53, based on Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10)):

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.”

Mary’s words could hardly have been more political, or threatening to the Powers.

The stories of Baby Jesus have revolutionary significance that should not be watered down.  For those of us who observe Advent and celebrate Christmas this year, let’s keep in mind that human individuals, cultures, economies, and governments need revolutionary transformation today more than ever.  Faith gives us freedom to participate in that transformation.  “Do not be conformed to this world (this world’s systems) but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  May you find freedom, joy, and transformation during this holy season.

To read more on these themes, go to “Jesus, Resister:  Part One:  Good News to the Poor” and “Jesus, Resister, Part Two:  Betrayal and Death.”


 

More Arrests at Beale

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Flora, MacGregor, Shirley, Michael

On Tuesday, November 26, I was at Beale Air Force Base when four more people were arrested  while nonviolently protesting drone warfare.  Flora Rogers, Mike Kerr, MacGregor Eddy, and Shirley Osgood (with whom I was arrested at Beale in October 2012) were attempting to deliver a letter to Colonel Phillip A. Stewart, the base commander, demanding a halt to Beale’s participation in the U.S. drone warfare program.  Beale is home of Global Hawk Drones, surveillance drones that assist in finding targets for drones that carry weapons to targets half a world away.

Not everyone lives near an air force base that actively participates in drone warfare.  I feel both privileged and responsible, since Beale is a half hour from my door.

People have been demonstrating at Beale for over three years, with occasional arrests for civil disobedience.  During that time, as the killing of civilians has multiplied, opposition to drone warfare has become more widespread.

Through ethically-motivated, sustained, nonviolent resistance actions, movements are built and public support grows.  At that point the opposition becomes more vocal and punitive, but that is part of the evolution of successful nonviolent struggles, as described by Gandhi:  “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Civil disobedience has a long and respected history and is an effective method for bringing about social change when all other means have been exhausted.  It is a form of freedom of speech.

For the most part, the relationship between demonstrators and Beale personnel has been cordial and courteous.  But on November 26, in addition to the arrests, there were two incidents of violent endangerment of nonviolent protesters by irate drivers who were angry at being stopped by the blockade at the Beale entrance.  We understand their anger.  But we are nonviolent demonstrators who accept the legal consequences of our actions, and we should not be  targets of aggression.

To find out more and to support the safety of Beale anti-drone protesters, read and sign this letter to Colonel Phillip A. Stewart.  Here is a KPFA interview about the action with Flora, Shirley, and Toby Blome.  For a written first-hand account of events, see Demonstrators Assaulted at Beale.

Let’s keep this movement of resistance to drone warfare alive and growing.  Who will join us?

Go here for more of Sharon’s blogs on Beale actions and drone warfare.

A Corporate Coup

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“The WTO, Corporate Globalization, and the TPP”
Presentation at Tomes Bookstore on Dec. 2, 2013

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia, where anti-WTO demonstrators have taken over the streets.  On Tuesday, the first day of the talks, demonstrations were held around the world to mark the Global Day of Action Against Toxic Trade Agreements.

A particular focus for protestors here in the United States and in other Pacific Rim nations was the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a so-called “free-trade agreement” that would consolidate corporate power over member nations.  The TPP would be a vast expansion of corporate power.  It has been called “NAFTA on steroids.”  It has also been called “a corporate coup” and a “corporate power tool of the 1%.”

Why are the WTO, NAFTA, and free-trade agreements such as the TPP “toxic?”  Because they put trade (or rather, the free flow of capital) above all else, because they cover far more than trade, and because they give corporations the power to determine what laws a country can or cannot have.  They are vehicles through which corporations make and enforce rules for governments to follow.

Of course, all of this sounds bad, but abstract.  And the institutions we are talking about are so big and so powerful that it seems like there’s nothing we can do to slow things down or reverse course.  But that’s not true.

It is important to understand what is at stake and how corporate domination of governments and global institutions affect us negatively in so many ways.  That is one reason I wrote my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, which includes an overview of the global economic system and the institutions that dominate our world.

A chapter entitled “The Unholy Trinity:  The IMF, World Bank, and WTO” gives detailed examples of specific “trade” disputes and how the dispute process works to overturn laws created by governments.  This section, “The WTO: A Corporate Bill of Rights,” explains how corporations use trade agreements in their attempt to consolidate global corporate rule:

“Clearly, the United States and other nations see their interests as tied to corporate interests. As corporate power increases, however, the power of governments decreases, until governments, the lucky ones, end up riding on corporate coattails. But corporations, once they are truly globalized, have no loyalty at all, except to the bottom line. They are not even loyal to their “home” governments. They can even change nationalities at will.

“Though the rhetoric of the IMF and World Bank has been about development and raising the standard of living, the actual effects of these multilateral bureaucracies has been to integrate poor nations into a world economy dominated by global corporations and powerful nations. They have used structural adjustment policies (SAPS) to “pry open” the economies of developing nations, creating complete dependency.

“How can global corporations further pry open the U.S. economy and the economies of other industrialized nations? How can they finish what they started during the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s? How can they bypass the messiness of the democratic process altogether while gutting regulatory agencies and eliminating troublesome laws that interfere with corporate profits? How can they perpetuate the “smoke and mirrors” illusion that nation-states have power, while eliminating the very laws that governments use to protect the rights and well-being of their people? How can they privatize the potentially lucrative public-services sector, including publicly funded hospitals, schools, libraries, prisons, utilities, water services, and social services, and offer these and all other services up for sale? How can they ensure that wealthy, industrialized nations will ultimately be as dependent upon the global system that they dominate as are poor and indebted nations? How can they bring structural adjustment policies home? How can global corporations extend their power and consolidate their dominance over people, their governments, and the earth itself? The answer: they create trade agreements and global bureaucracies that convince governments to do this for them, institutions like NAFTA and the WTO, which essentially take the matter out of government hands.”

In spite of this direction that the institutional Powers are pushing, I’m quite hopeful that we the people will be successful in raising awareness, mobilizing opposition, and preventing the TPP from coming into being.  As the saying goes, we need to “flush the TPP.”

Fourteen years ago this month, I joined thousands in the streets of Seattle for nonviolent action and hundreds in King County Jail during the WTO meetings there.  The meetings ended in failure and have never really gotten back on track.  Since Seattle, global civil society has prevented other attempts to consolidate global corporate rule, and we can do it again.  That was another reason I wrote Shaking, to inspire hope and motivate action for healing and transformation.

After Seattle I wrote:  “It seemed clear to me then, as never before: no matter how entrenched are the Powers that seem to rule the world, they govern only through the will of the people. If the people withdraw their consent these ruling institutions will collapse like a house of cards. And I felt deeply grateful to the One who is `far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ (Ephesians 1:21), the Creator of the universe in all its splendor, who is on the side of justice and love.”

“Another world is possible.”  This is the faith that motivates my life.