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Getting a Grip

by Berry Friesen (July 28, 2017)

Many of us are deeply troubled by the words and actions of the Trump Administration. The President’s impulsiveness, unpredictability and lack of respect for long-established norms leave us afraid for the future.  Just think: this man has ready access to launch codes for the US nuclear force.

That’s not to mention the millions of Americans who may lose their access to health care because of the manic attempts to destroy Obamacare.

Fear is in part a spiritual problem, especially when it involves something as impactful and as distant as the US government.  I hope our spiritual leaders will recognize this and apply their resources to help.

Inevitably, the convergence of uncertainty, fear and troubled spirits brings us face-to-face with our assumptions about the US-led empire.  Is it part of the solution to our distress or does it create our distress?  Do we pray for its continued dominance or for its demise?

The balance of this post will point your attention to items that spur reflection about how to regard the empire.

1. First up is the recent Jeremy Scahill interview of Dr. Alfred W. McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and one of the world’s leading historians on the empire’s involvement in regime change and drug-running in Southeast Asia, Central America and Afghanistan.  The interview is published by The Intercept.

Simply reading this interview of Dr. McCoy is like a auditing a graduate course in post-WW II history.  McCoy’s research has taken him deep into seldom reported aspects of the Vietnam War, US support for the Contras in Nicaragua, the financing of the mujahedeen and the overthrow of the Soviet-aligned government of Afghanistan. It will help you better understand how heroin and cocaine became such scourges in US society.

And it will bring you face-to-face with the question of empire.

Donald Trump and the Coming Fall of the American Empire” is the headline The Intercept chose to promote the interview.  And yes, McCoy addresses the issue of imperial collapse head-on:  “Either with a bang or a whimper . . . by 2030, it’s pretty much over for our global dominion.”

“Is that in your opinion a bad thing?” Scahill asks. “Well, yes it is,” answers McCoy. He thinks Trump is accelerating the decline of the US-led empire; this is one of the reasons he is critical of Trump’s leadership.

Yet the biblical witness takes us in a different direction than McCoy.  It views the empire as the great deceiver and oppressor, the enemy of YHWH.  It recognizes some empires are worse than others, but it doesn’t encourage us to invest our time and energy splitting the differences. (For much more on this, see our book, If Not Empire, What?)

Instead, we hear in scripture a call to invest in the kingdom of God, that stateless global community defined by compassion, forgiveness and nonviolent resistance to evil. Through the words of Jesus, it says: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33).

2. There is good news from war-wracked Syria.  President Trump has officially ended Timber Sycamore, the covert CIA operation to train and equip mercenaries to invade Syria and bring down the Assad government.  As reported by Scott Ritter, “Thousands of fighters serving under the banner of Al Qaeda and ISIS were, in fact, armed and trained by the CIA.”  According to a frequent Pentagon source, “CIA-backed fighters may have killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers and their allies over the past four years.”

This decision by President Trump is an answer to my prayers. To be sure, a President Clinton never would have made it.

3.  Our third item is the bipartisan eagerness in Congress to poison relations with Russia and initiate a trade war with Europe.  By a July 25 vote of 419-3, the US House moved new sanctions legislation on to the Senate, which is expected to vote yet this week. (UPDATE: On July 27, the Senate approved the measure by a vote of 98-2, thus sending it on to the President.)

The legislation has triggered very strong reactions in Europe.  As reported by Reuters, here is EU Chief Executive Jean-Claude Juncker speaking on July 26:

"The U.S. bill could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU's energy security interests. If our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days. 'America First' cannot mean that Europe's interests come last."

Perhaps you thought this latest push for new economic sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea is simply another instance of America telling its adversaries to back off.

Actually, these sanctions are different.  They threaten European companies doing business with Russian companies building a new natural gas pipeline (Nord Stream 2) from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Also threatened are European companies participating in the Blue Stream pipeline carrying Russian gas to Turkey.

Why? Because US energy companies are determined to drive a wedge between Europe and Russia, severing commercial relationships.  Then the hungry European energy market will turn to the US and its Middle East allies for supplies.

This is the reason there is such urgency in the US to build natural gas pipelines to coastal ports.  This is why the law of eminent domain is being used to seize private farmland.  It all is preparation of the infrastructure necessary to exploit an artificially deprived European market.

President Trump has criticized the legislation because it ties his hands with Russia, but has not promised to veto it.  Were Trump to use his veto, it likely would be overridden anyway.

4. We end with Venezuela, a deeply divided country that seems to be drifting quickly toward economic collapse and civil war.  The parties and leaders of the violent protests are the same people who in 2002 briefly overthrew President Hugo Chávez.

In a July 30 nationwide vote, Venezuela will elect a new national assembly, which will redraft the national constitution. The redraft will then be voted up or down in a national plebiscite.

On July 20, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was asked about events in Venezuela.  Here is the heart of his reply to a gathering of the Aspen Security Forum 2017.

“I am always careful when we talk about South and Central America and the CIA, there's a lot of stories. (Laughter)   So I want to be careful with what I say but suffice to say, we are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there, so that we can communicate to our State Department and to others. The Colombians, I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.”

“A transition?” That’s another regime-change operation.  “The things they might do?” In other Latin America contexts, that has included election rigging, interference with economic markets, lots of money to pay protesters, the infiltration of peaceful protests with assassins, and arms shipments (to name a few).

The “laughter” of the posh Aspen audience?  It was triggered by the hilariously bloody history of US intervention in Latin affairs, repeatedly frustrating the wishes of the people and putting the power of governments in the hands of rulers owned and controlled by US corporations.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, elected in 2013, denounced Pompeo’s remarks and hit out at the governments of Mexico and Colombia for collaborating with the CIA to “overthrow the constitutional government in Venezuela and to intervene in our beloved Venezuela.”

My advice?  Don’t believe a word of what you read in the mainstream media about Venezuela. It will be obediently working off the CIA script.  Instead follow

World Without Borders

by Berry Friesen (July 24, 2017)

The lyric of John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s Imagine has been floating through my head again:  “Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do.” Like most any Westerner with decent liberal credentials, I’ve lived my adult years with skepticism about nation-states and national borders.  Lennon and Ono brilliantly gave us the song to sing this sentiment.

I don’t think we can exaggerate the impact of this on us liberals. We may have a dozen Wendell Berry books on our bookshelves, but it’s not Berry’s localism we admire. We revere the world citizen—the man or woman who moves easily across cultures and languages, is at ease in most any environment, unimpressed by the bluster and rigidity of narrow perspectives, confident of his/her ability to connect with humans everywhere, able to see abundance and common humanity in what more parochial minds see as irreconcilable and hostile difference.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early ‘90s and President George Herbert Walker Bush’s “new world order,” this heroic image of the stateless world citizen has slowly been deconstructing.  With the threat of nuclear war off the table, long-overlooked realities came into view. Like how effortlessly predatory corporate agents embodied the ideal of a world citizen. How eagerly major US employers adopted the language and imagery of multi-culturalism and diversity to mask cruel practices of asset-stripping, job destruction and exploitation. How perfectly the rhetoric of globalism fits the agenda of the hyper-aggressive US-led empire.  

In short, bit-by-bit, the liberal ideal of a world citizen has been co-opted and corrupted by the imperialist impulse. Gradually, suspicion has replaced admiration: "You, world citizen, tell me, exactly who are you loyal to beyond yourself and your own wealth?"  

President Barack Obama sealed my disillusionment. In many ways, one could not imagine a finer example of a post-nationalist leader.  But he turned our national economic crisis into a great victory for Wall Street and he ruled as an imperialist through-and-through. The peoples of the United States, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen are among his victims.

Which brings us to this moment.  Now we have a prominent political movement—the alt-right—built around the disillusionment I've just described. And we have a President whose victory was fueled by the desire of the disillusioned for a leader who identifies with us, our country, our needs, our future.  And yes, by “us” the restless electorate means people who are resident in and citizens of the USA.

Of course, we liberals—those still enchanted and those already disillusioned—despise the alt-right.  We see them as a hateful aberration with nothing significant to say.

If we’re the kind of liberal who gets a lump in the throat upon hearing Imagine on the sound track, then we probably spend part of our days yearning for co-opted and corrupted Hillary and blaming the Russians for stealing our election.  No, none of that makes sense when you stop to think about it, but we need something to distract us from the painful truth: American liberalism has hit a dead end.  Its beautiful ideals and inspiring rhetoric have been used to prettify corporate cynicism amid a great hollowing out of our moral, social and economic infrastructure. Opioids, pornography and weaponry:  those are America’s preoccupations these days.

On the other hand, if we are the disillusioned kind of liberal, then we may be dusting off those Wendell Berry books, hoping our second read-through will reveal something heroic we missed the first time.

Or better yet, we may be doing the hard work of adjusting our worldview to this painful new reality.  We can start by reading media sources that are NOT alt-right, but nevertheless include at least an occasionally honest critique of liberalism in their discussion of world events. To endure the rough ride we face in the years ahead, we need to generate new options. So long as we curry nostalgia for the co-opted tenets of liberalism, new options won’t emerge.  

Alistair Crooke’s essay “How Trump Defines the Future,” can serve as today’s example; it discusses President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Europe, his speech to the Polish people and his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both presidents, writes Crooke, are “pursuing parallel paths of political and cultural re-sovereigntization.”  That’s what “America First” is all about.

We liberals oppose this, of course. We still imagine a world without borders, even if such rhetoric has become a propaganda ruse for imperial control.

But we cannot let our knee-jerk opposition blind us to the broad attractiveness of Trump’s message, which demotes “globalism,” “diversity” and “identity politics” and elevates instead particular national historical and cultural legacies. That reversal, says Crooke, provides the framework for the emerging debate that will define America and Europe in the coming era.

Speaking earlier this month in Warsaw to the Polish people, but with broader Europe and the US clearly in mind, Trump gave us a sample:

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.  Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?  Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?  Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?  We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on Earth, but if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive.  If anyone forgets the critical importance of these things, let them come to one country that never has.  Let them come to Poland.”

I am not saying we should pick one of the “sides” as Trump defines them.

I am saying we’d better wake up to the fact that the debate has shifted in a major way, and that world-without-borders idealism is now commonly perceived to be a façade for rule by a predatory, US-led oligarchy that cares not a whit about any of us.

The people of the world want new options, and we had better use the disruptive space Trump is creating to forge a few good ones.  Because if we keep pretending liberal rhetoric is the ticket, we’re only fooling ourselves.    

Some Time Off

posted by John Stoner   (July 20, 2017)

For health and vacation reasons neither Berry nor I will post regularly for the next several weeks. In early August I plan to resume.

A Public Discussion

by John K. Stoner  (July 14, 2017)

It has not been difficult to decide that I should not go further with the idea proposed Monday that we call on churches to go into the streets Sunday August 6, Hiroshima Day, to stop traffic to stop war.  The one thoughtful comment I received on that (from a source behind this blog) advised that churches would not do that.  It is true, they would not.

So I revisit just one part of that proposal, the discussion of what is the greater duty of the law.  I invite you to give it further consideration.  Do we have people who care enough about war and nuclear war, and law and what it does not do, to initiate conversation on this call for discernment?

If the law and law enforcement in this country have a greater duty to arrest protesting citizens than to stop war and nuclear war, we are going to make that duty of the law very public and very visible. 

Greater Duty

by John K. Stoner  (July 10, 2017)

We interrupt this program to sound an alarm. 

Have you been hearing Trump’s scare language about North Korea, and Iran?  He and the war hawks are trying to condition us for another regime-change war or two, in the name of saving some country—like we destroyed Iraq to save it.

In my own experience I’ve seen too many international crises and wars initiated in the month of August.  I don’t know why, maybe because people are on vacation and away from the normal relationships and structures which would give them most ready access to acts of protest.  I’ve seen some evidence for the August theory online, e.g.  In any case, I’m urging readers to pay more than usual attention to the warmongers and their talk in the next month.  

The public action which I recommend to challenge the heartless and mindless imposters who claim to run this country is UNIVERSAL WORK STOPPAGE.  Just stay home from work, tell everybody why you’re doing it, and urge them to do it.  To the extent we can plan ahead for this, plan for August 9.  And as a serious engagement of the church in this, let’s call August 6 “Peace Churches Stop War Sunday.”  

For this, a simple slogan and plan: “STOP TRAFFIC TO STOP WAR.”

On Sunday August 6, Hiroshima Day, every peace-loving church in America walks out of its sanctuary into the nearest public thoroughfare and stops traffic with the message STOP TRAFFIC TO STOP WAR!  We’ve had enough, we’ve had too much.  No more wars started by USA!  
As a public action, “Stop Traffic to Stop War” would risk arrest, but not necessarily evoke arrest.  As such, it invites discussion of civil disobedience and the law.  Thus, let us plan to give our churches and the press this proposition for consideration:

If the law and law enforcement in this country have a greater duty to arrest protesting citizens than to stop war and nuclear war, we are going to make that duty of the law very public and very visible. 

We need a public discussion of “greater duty” in this country.  I put these ideas forward this morning to test them.  I consider the readership of this blog a small audience, appropriate for testing an idea.  Please write a comment, or call me at 717 803-6020.

Behavior That Reduces Conflict

by John K. Stoner  (July 7, 2017)

Responding to yesterday’s blog, some readers will say, “But this blog is supposed to be about an alternative to empire.  Miller’s story is about nothing but an encounter of a few people on an average day, it’s not about how to run the world.”


The macro is contained in the micro. 

This is totally about how to manage the relationships of large groups of people—from social clubs to nations.  The principle is to do what will reduce conflict, not what will enlarge it.

This kind of behavior is within the human capacity and actual reach of people in every kind of situation. 

And further, for those who give the Judaeo-Christian history any kind of privileged place as especially instructive for how to manage human affairs—Jesus was a specialist in the practice of behaviors shaped by love.  And his teaching was never intended to be restricted to the interactions of individuals—he always presented it as a different way for social, cultural and national entities to relate to each other.  That is why the language of corporate entities, starting with “kingdom” was so central in his teaching and actions.  

Again and again, Jesus framed his message in terms of a new, a different kind of “kingdom,” but a kingdom nevertheless, and for all the reductionist interpretations given to it, still a kingdom.  He presented it as a way of thinking about, processing, and organizing human relations on the largest of all corporate scales.  He called it “kingdom of God.”  He brought the transcendent into the most totally, and abjectly depraved by greed and violence,  structure which deeply affected the lives of everyone around him.  People in Jesus’ world called the supreme structures of human organization kingdoms.  Today we call them nations, or corporations, or empires. 

So in his teaching and public actions he spoke often of, and interacted with, Gentiles and Jews, women in a patriarchal society, Pharisees, Scribes, Herodians, centurions, priests and levites—all of them representing corporate powers.  He challenged their oppressive behavior by liberating people who suffered their abuses of power, and encouraged people to assert their personal freedom and power.  

Here's How It Happens

by John K. Stoner  (July 6, 2017)

Lisa Miller tells this story, which illustrates the encouragement, and learning, of better behavior—practices informed by love.

She writes:
The long line at the post office was filled with people doing the usual post-office thing—exchanging glances and rolling their eyes, simmering with hostility at the delay.  I could see that the clerk behind the counter—all alone at a rush time—was incredibly angry, glaring, and steaming at each customer who approached her window.  Then it was my turn.

Suddenly she blurted out ‘I’ve had the worst day ever.’  I said, ‘The worst day ever?  I’m so sorry you had the worst day ever.’  In a flash, the shift of energy and intention in the crowd was palpable—where there had been a shimmering hostility by exasperated customers and the clerk’s defensive hostility back, suddenly those in line changed from a position of anger to understanding.  People stopped glaring, smiled in sympathy, and quietly tidied the line instead of leaning impatiently forward.  I witnessed a sudden manifestation of the culture of love by a line of people.   (p, 345).

This change of energy and atmosphere in  a whole group of people was the result of a choice by one person to invite the higher nature and innate goodness of others to express itself. 

It’s the kind of thing all of us can choose to do if we choose to. 

Both Greed and Generosity are Learned Behaviors

by John K. Stoner   (July 5, 2017)

I ended the previous blog with the question, “What are human’s capable of (specifically in “the giving and receiving of love, that is, a simple caring for the well-being of others?”) 

Those who say that humanity is capable of acting more on the basis of love (than we currently see it doing) are often, even routinely, dismissed as deluded idealists.  I am one who does claim that humanity is capable of acting more on the basis of love than it is currently doing.

This does not mean to me that it will be easy or automatic for this to happen.  What it means in my mind is that we need to give attention to doing the things that need to be done to nurture and encourage people to choose love instead of fear, greed or bullying.  

People tend very strongly to act on the basis of their conditioning, education (formal and informal) and experience.  Perhaps you have noticed that people who are real successful in greed and acquisition of money or goods have gone through a lot of training and experience in those practices.  That is to say, that the practice of negative behaviors are as surely learned as are the practices of good behavior.  

So it is not a big jump to say that good behaviors, practices informed by love or generosity, can be encouraged and learned. 

Our World Is Changed by Love

by John K. Stoner    (July 4, 2017)

Love lives in that space which is beyond the physical, which we have an inborn capacity to perceive.

In the words of Lisa Miller (THE SPIRITUAL CHILD), we have “a transcendent faculty—the ability to feel and interact with a world beyond the physical world” (p. 241).  The point of these blogs is to say that the widespread failure of humans to use that faculty for transcendence is driving us to destruction.

The point of yesterday’s blog “We Are Changed by Love” was to say that the giving and receiving of love shapes our personal experience.  We looked at that, ever so briefly, in the experience of every infant and child.   The point of today’s blog is to say that love also shapes our world.

And everything in this blog series is based on an observation and an assumption.  The observation is that our world is in very big trouble, and the assumption is that something needs to change—something in how most of us us are thinking and acting needs to change.  

Which brings us back to a question—or two— raised a couple days ago:  what is necessary, and what is possible?

What is necessary?—  some change in human behavior, in general.  And that would be a change toward caring for life instead of destroying it—starting with the inherent life-giving nature of the planet itself.  It is necessary for humans to learn and cooperate with the live-giving function of the so-called ecosystem, or in the wisdom on ancient peoples, Mother Earth.  Mother Earth, who loves us enough to give us life to begin with, and to nurture us to some kind of adult maturity.  

And it is necessary for humanity to learn to change its attitude toward all other human beings—the human occupants of and participants in the Empire and empires of economic greed and military obsession in particular must change their attitude.  The Empire that claims to be Number One, the exceptional and indispensable empire of the red, white and blue, on July 4, no less, has got to return to some kind of sanity—that is, it’s occupants and beneficiaries will either respond to their necessity of recognizing their kinship with all of humanity,  or else experience the necessity of the dire (and I warn, indescribably so) consequences of continuing on in fear and ignorance.  

This much is necessary.

What is possible?

Can we get beyond the fear of our brothers and sisters in other lands, of “other” religions, with whom we share a common destiny as if linked at the hip as Siamese twins?  And can we get beyond our ignorance of human capacities for greater goodness, both our own and that of others? 

It appears now that humanity, and the supposed leaders and people of wisdom who claim to run the worlds of economics and government, will have to entertain the possibility that the giving and receiving of human love is necessary to the running of the world.

We will have to see that not only individuals are changed and shaped by love, but the world itself is also changed and shaped by love.  And so, as strange and distant  an idea as it may seem, we’ll need to discover (again) the innate human capacity for transcendence, which includes the giving and receiving of love—that is, a simple caring for the well-being of others, not only of ourselves.

This is what is necessary.  Is it possible?  That will be the subject of ongoing discussion in these blogs.  What are human’s capable of, and what can I contribute to that?

We Are Changed by Love

by John K. Stoner    (July 1, 2017)

Every loving act which a parent does for a child nurtures that child’s natural spirituality.

When a mother nurses her baby, she does a loving act, and the child is nurtured biologically by that act.  But it is also nurtured spiritually.  When it is nursed the child grows in confidence that this world into which it has come, out of the womb, is a supportive and nurturing world.  And when the child is held and snuggled by its mother or father, we would not say that it is nourished biologically,  but we recognize that it grows spiritually.  Its sense of wellbeing, security and peace is nurtured.  Human touch will make it a healthier and happier little person.  

Around the world, in all cultures and climates, human beings begin life and experience their first significant development by responding to loving actions.  This is true of the Innuit of Alaska, the aborigines of Australia, of Muslims, Chinese, Japanese and Europeans.  

Given that all humans begin life by being nurtured by love, it seems fair, and I would suggest necessary, to ask a question:  Is there a time when, or a reason why, people would cease being responsive to love through this spiritual capacity with which they were born?

Or again, a time or a reason, when parents, or any adult, should forget that their fellow human beings are creatures who respond to love?  

How, why, do cultures seemingly come to believe that their fellow humans respond only to force, coercion, or homicidal threat?

What does it matter that children respond to love?  Send  your thoughts by using the comments function below or in the right margin.  

It makes as much sense to argue that human behavior is shaped only by  nature or nurture as to argue that a coin held between your fingers is either heads or tails.  It is always both.

Think about times when your own behavior was shaped, changed, by a loving act extended to you.