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Conscience, Creativity and Courage

by John K. Stoner  (October 27, 2017)

About 250 people gathered in Kansas City last week to remember the courage of WWI conscientious objectors in the U.S., Canada and beyond.  Casting an eye back at history is always good if it doesn’t take our other eye off of the present and future.
The conference was organized by individuals (notably Andrew Bolton,  Community of Christ Church), the The National WWI Museum, and peace churches.  Bolton said, “We’ve been learning about the past because it has relevance for the future.”  This column is in hot pursuit of that relevance.
“Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civil Liberties in WWI” was the title of the conference. see news story  Special attention and ceremony were given to four Hutterite conscientious objectors from Freeman, South Dakona who were imprisoned.  Two of them died from effects of their treatment.  
Those men showed amazing courage.  Where do we look for courage like that today?  Should we expect it, or anything like it?
The United States is currently engaged in war  on several continents.  We may not be waiting for or fearing WW III, we may be living in it.  How do we object, dissent and resist this current war reality?  This blog is a call for conscience, creativity and courage.
Conscience is an innate capacity of individuals, and it is the creation of communities of conscience.  Both must be recognized and encouraged.  It is important at this time in American history to recognize that the two party political system does not offer a party of conscience—the endless war policy of the U.S. is fully embraced by both.  Anything even close to conscientious objection to the war system will not find a home with the D&R political party(s). 
Conscience, therefore, is the precious seed of alternative voices, and looking for those voices may be the first step toward making history relevant to the future.  We may need a conference titled “Recognizing Muted Voices:  Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civill Liberties in WW III.”  Remembering is good, recognizing may be life or death. 
Creativity will be required.  In my Mennonite “peace church” (a questionable description, to be sure), I don’t know how often I’ve heard “We lost our peace witness when the draft ended.  The all-volunteer army has silenced our conscientious objection voice.”  So…so…where is the creativity in that?   Is that the best we can do—virtually hoping that the state will do more bad so that we can do our good?
Creativity would find a way for conscience to express itself.   The state has been creative with war:  ending the draft, mechanizing and digitizing war, and conscripting taxes instead of bodies.  How have people of conscience and peace churches responded to all of this?  Do we see imagination and creativity?  Do we see resources of conscience, mind and material dedicated to forging a clear and compelling alternative to servile submission to this juggernaut of endless war?  
Creativity might ask:  If war has become the business of big profits, how do we become conscientious objectors to the war business of big profits?  If money is the voice, how do we speak with our money?  Might we become conscientious objectors to war taxes?
Courage will be necessary.
And one of the big things about courage is the timing of it.  Coming too late, it doesn’t help.  Jesus called us to courage with his frequent challenge: “Do not be afraid!”  And to timeliness with his “Watch!  Stay awake.”  The opportunity will pass if you are not alert.  Do not fall asleep on your watch.
We will not all be martyrs—we should not be.  But neither should we be naive about the necessity of taking risks, including costly ones.  Make no mistake, the state always describes those who die in its wars as martyrs—they die to make men free.  They die herocially for a cause—they are in that sense martyrs. 
And so, painful as it is, there is a calculus here, if you will.  We are actually testing the question of whether risking suffering and death in an effort to kill people and ideologies is a better choice than risking suffering and death in an effort to implement the way of love in human affairs.  It does take some courage to ask this question honestly and head on.  But I submit that asking it will take our children and our generation further toward an adequate response to our times than not asking it.  

Grooming Us to Go Along

by Berry Friesen (October 23, 2017)

We have long been groomed to go along with the conquest of Iran.  Now, with an abusive predator installed in the White House, consummation of the assault nears.

The grooming began in January 2002—just months after 9/11—when President George W. Bush denounced Iran as part of “an axis of evil” (Iraq, Iran and North Korea) threatening the world.  In May 2003—only two months after the collapse of Iraqi defenses and the US conquest there, White House officials crowed about who the US would rapaciously engage next.  “Anyone can go to Baghdad,” they said; “real men go to Tehran.”

Popular Iraqi resistance put that next conquest on hold.  But in 2007, the Bush Administration got serious about making its next score.  Here is journalist Gareth Porter:

"That's when the vice president (Cheney) began to make a proposal that the United States retaliate for some kind of incident in Iraq that they could blame on the Iranians which would result in American casualties. And that was the game plan that he was advancing within the national security state as a basis for getting at Iran."

Two factors prevented consummation.  William J. Fallon was the first.  Appointed Commander of the US Central Command in March, 2007, Adm. Fallon debunked the rush to start another war.

"This constant drum beat of conflict is what strikes me, which is not helpful and not useful . . . I expect that there will be no war and that is what we ought to be working for."

He also is reported to have said: "We are not going to do Iran on my watch" and that by launching a pre-emptive strike on Iran, "We'll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchilren will be battling our enemies here in America."

The second factor was the release in December, 2007 of a formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in which all 16 US intelligence agencies agreed that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003.  As former President Bush reported in his memoir, Decision Points, “the NIE tied my hands on the military side,” preventing him from ordering a preemptive war against Iran, an action favored by the uber-hawk,  Vice President Dick Cheney.

At about the same time, Bush went as far as he could go politically—a secret “Presidential Finding” that authorized covert US operations inside Iran to destabilize its government through assassinations, terror, sabotage and intelligence gathering. Congress committed $400 million to support the Finding.  Yet the Bush reign came to an end without adding Iran to the harem.

In January, 2009, President Barack Obama began to govern.  One of his objectives was a reset of US relations with the Arab world.  This did not include Iran.  Again, Gareth Porter reports:

“President Obama, once he was in office, repeated more or less the same stuff [about Iran] we were hearing during the Bush administration . . . Obama did not want a conventional war with Iran, but one of the first things he did when he got into the Oval Office was to start talking to the cyberwarfare people who were working hand-in-hand with Israel to plan a cyberattack against Natanz, the Iranian enrichment facility, which would become the first ever national cyberattack against another nation which would actually result in destruction of infrastructure, that is to say, the centrifuges which were affected by this attack. So, I mean, you know, clearly he was willing to carry out warfare against Iran, just not the conventional war.”
Meanwhile, here in my home state of Pennsylvania, another set of actors continued to groom the public to go along with the planned assault.

In 2010, US Senator Bob Casey joined state representatives Josh Shapiro and Bob Frankel in supporting state legislation requiring the divestment of public pension money from companies doing business in Iran’s oil and natural gas sector. Said Casey:

“Iran will only cease its illicit nuclear program and end its support for terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah when it is compelled to pay an economic price.”

Shapiro’s and Frankel’s proposal passed the Pennsylvania General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Ed Rendell in July 2010.

After leaving the governor’s office later that year, Rendell became a public advocate for the M.E.K, an officially-listed terrorist organization seeking to overthrow the government of Iran.  Though Rendell’s advocacy almost certainly constituted criminal activity, federal prosecutors took no interest in his actions.  In September, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton removed M.E.K. from the official list of terrorist organizations.

In the last two years, Iran has become intensely engaged in Syria and Iraq at the request of those governments, helping to defeat al-Qaeda and Da’eshMore than 2000 Iranian troops have been killed in battles within Syria.  Though Iranian help has been a key factor in the defeat of those terrorist organizations and logically makes Iran a de facto ally of the US, leading Democrat and Republic politicians have chosen to characterize Iran’s fight against terror as evidence of an attempt to destabilize the Mideast.  This is utter nonsense, of course, but is routinely reported by the mainstream media as credible and well-sourced commentary.

Similarly, Iran is routinely slandered as fueling the genocidal war in Yemen, even though that war began with a Saudi-led invasion and even though there is no evidence of significant Iranian material or military support for Yemen’s defense forces (see also here).

What's more, Western media continue to characterize Iran's nuclear program as a "weapons program." This is a falsehood; Iran has a nuclear energy program to power electrical generation.  It has not had a nuclear weapons program since 2003.

Which brings us to the present.  Has 15 years of grooming produced a compliant American public?  As President Trump proceeds to have his way with Iran, will you and I stand by and do nothing?

Several more observations are important if we are to understand how this conquest is unfolding.

1. The Israeli government—especially when the Likud Party is in control as it has been since March, 2009—is driving this effort. Israel sees Iran as a threat to its bullying of neighboring nations.  It particularly hates the fact that Iran supports Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia that protects Lebanon from Israeli aggression and has been very effective against Israel’s proxies, al-Qaeda and Da’esh.  So it wants Iran crushed.  The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which sets its agenda based on Likud objectives, controls US Members of Congress on Mideast matters. On this issue, we can expect no help from our federal representatives; they function as lobbyists for Israel.

2.  The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—a.k.a. the Iran nuclear energy deal—is working just as planned; Iran is fully complying. As Pepe Escobar notes, so says the International Atomic Energy Agency, the agency responsible for monitoring the JCPOA.  Also, so say the EU, Russia and China. So say even Trump’s senior advisors–Rex Tillerson, General McMaster and General Mattis.

3.  President Trump is determined to sabotage the JCPOA and use its “failure” as an excuse to bend Iran to the will of the US-led empire, which includes Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel’s animus is explained above; the animus of the House of Saud is based on Iran’s success in modeling a more open, more humane, more economically productive and less corrupt version of Islamic governance.  Before the commencement of open war, there will be a debate in Congress about sanctions. I expect such to be imposed again.  Functionally, sanctions are a joke in circumstances like these where the rest of the world will continue trading with Iran.  But as part of grooming America to acquiesce to an assault, the sanctions debate will be useful.

4. Trump's refusal to certify Irans compliance with the JCPOA and his call for Congress to reinstate sanctions is stupid and unsupportable in achieving any objective but war.

5. Iran is very well led and is strong culturally, economically and militarily. It has not attacked a neighboring nation for the past 200 years.

6.  Trump’s plan to have his way with Iran will likely include a violent, false-flag event, which will fill mainstream media 24-7 with horrible images of Iranian brutality.  But it will be staged--made to appear that Iran is responsible--thus justifying war.  Truly responsible for the violence will be covert agents of the US, Israel and/or Saudi Arabia. *

What can we do to stop the US from violently assaulting Iran?

First, share this post widely.

Second, persuade any and all groups we are part of (religious bodies, civic associations, business and professional groups) to go on the record as opposing Trump’s policy and actions on Iran. 

Third, prepare ourselves to recognize and resist the herd mentality that will threaten to overwhelm America when the false-flag incident fills our screens.  By “resist,” I mean raising our voice to say, “I do not believe it!”

This is the least we can do to stop the predation of Iran.
*  Another possible scenario for justifying the long-planned attack on Iran is outlined by Ulson Gunnar in "US Mercenaries, Iraqi Highways and the Mystery of the Never-ending ISIS Hordes."

Mass Shootings: Where Are They Coming From?

by John K. Stoner (October 20, 2017)

You didn’t, and I guess you won’t, read this in the New York Times.  And that, not only because of style, but I suggest, also because of content.

What’s behind America’s mass shootings might not be as inexplicable as we think it is, or wish it were.

What if, spiritually, socially and psychologically it’s coming from about the same place as little league baseball, big number football shirts on little kids, and Black Friday?  That is, from the values of the adult and public world being imbibed and acted out by individuals—maybe many of them, maybe a few.

One more question, and then a number of observations.  

Is it really possible to have a nation as committed—in policy, spending, weapons, personnel, and practice— to overwhelming homicidal force internationally as is the United States of America, and not have individuals who become so enamored, obsessed and driven with the same notions of homicidal force that they act it out domestically?


Of course there is Little League baseball, because there is Big League baseball.  Of course there are little kids wearing big number football T shirts, because there is the NFL.  Of course there is Black Friday, because there is the relentless drumbeat of advertising and people responding—sell, sell, sell, buy, buy, buy.  All of these things can be seen just by looking. 

Spiritually, groups of people foster collective ideas.  The ideologies developed by social clubs, sports teams, religious groups, public crowds and nations shape and affect individuals profoundly and decisively.  Anyone who has studied the anatomy of crowds, riots or wars knows that individual behavior is shaped by forces much bigger than the conscious choices of individuals themselves—how much shaped and how much bigger will always be matters of further study, amazement and consternation.  But it is spiritual reality. 

Socially, every person is a part, or element, of the collectives, from small to large, in which he or she lives.   Whatever else it  may be, the self or conscious and unconscious being of the individual is the creation of all that the individual is receiving from his or her collective environment.  If that environment, especially its largest and most pervasive environment, is threatening in posture and practice, armed to the teeth with tanks and guns, bombs and nuclear weapons, drones and hundreds of forward bases, (see Oct. 16 blog)  then that murderous environment will take up residence in the soul of individuals, willy nilly.  How could it be otherwise? 

Psychologically, individuals have great, but not infinite, as far as we know, capacity to process, manage and control all of the spiritual and social influences which play upon them.  “Normal” people are able to more or less manage everything and live socially acceptable, if not altogether productive or exemplary, lives.  But everything is too much for some people, and we have a variety of ways and degrees of empathy to describe them as deviant, sick, disabled, etc.  We view them as suffering from stunted development, PTSD, moral injury, etc. Their behavior is problematic, but it is traceable to causes—causes never fully understood, but real nevertheless.  

And so, what do we do if spiritual, social and psychological considerations point toward “national policy of mass shootings internationally” as probable cause of mass shootings domestically? 

Have we found at least a possible cause to consider? 

Peace and the Empire

by Berry Friesen (October 16, 2017)

How do you describe the relationship between the US-led empire and world peace?

Robert Kagan, the neoconservative lobbyist who has advised Democrat and Republican presidents, put it this way in 2012:

“The present world order—characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers—reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it.”

Former President Barack Obama holds a very similar view, as quoted from his January 20, 2017 transition letter to President Donald Trump:

“American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, 
through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily
 since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend”
The claim that the US-led empire makes the world more stable and peaceful strikes me as utter nonsense.  Yet among the political elite, it's conventional wisdom.  Why?

Let’s quickly list some of the emotional reasons.  (1) It reflects what we all learned in school: America ends wars and ushers in peace. (2) It’s reiterated constantly by media propaganda. (3) It’s pleasing to our vanity. (4) It provides a moral justification for our consumption of a hugely disproportionate share of the world’s resources. (5) It makes all of us wealthier than we would otherwise be.  (6) It makes us feel important, giving meaning to our lives. (7) We live at the center of the empire, not at the edges where the empire is most brutal.

A sophisticated rationale has been cobbled together in support of this claim that the empire bring peace.  The first part has been articulated by a handful of scholars, including Steven Pinker in his 2011 bookThe Better Angels of our Nature:  A History of Violence and Humanity.  Pinker asserts that due to various “civilizing” factors—especially the increasing power of the nation state and its near monopoly of force—the percentage of the human population killed in violent conflicts has been dropping steadily through the centuries and years. *

The second part of the pro-empire rationalization (not necessarily Pinker’s) is implied by the quote from Kagan:  the international leadership of the US empire keeps the lid on international conflict. In other words, the US is the “big dog” that keeps the fights among the quarrelsome “little dogs” from getting out of hand.

This association of “peace” with “empire” is hugely consequential. Essayist Caitlin Johnstone explains.

“The fact of the matter is that America is conducting a nonstop campaign to destabilize, manipulate, bully and control other nations to prevent the rise of a new rival superpower, and many Americans would rather it keep doing so. I can’t tell you how many Americans I’ve encountered while sharing my anti-war message who have said ‘Yeah, I agree war is bad and we’ve done some awful shit… but if the world is going to have a top dog controlling its affairs, I’d rather it be America’.”

Johnstone's most important point follows:

“The crux of the issue is that you cannot want America to remain the world’s only powerful force and also be anti-war at the same time. These are necessarily two mutually exclusive ideals. One of the crucial ways that America remains on top is by keeping potential rivals off-balance using endless war in key strategic locations — if you stop the US war machine from doing this, you cripple America’s ability to ensure that it remains the world’s only superpower.

“No anti-war philosophy is complete unless it directly addresses this fundamental reality. If you want America to remain the world’s leader while also wanting America to stop waging endless wars based on lies, you’re not anti-war, you’re a vapid, cutesy vanity politics airhead sharing social media-friendly bumper sticker ideals with nothing behind them. You don’t want the killing to stop, you just want to look like someone who wants the killing to stop.”

And Johnstone adds this:

“So the question being asked of all peace-loving Americans, really, is this: 
are you courageous enough to relinquish your attachment to the neoconservative notion 
that America should be the world’s only superpower? Are you truly anti-war, 
or are you a neocon with a ‘Coexist’ bumper sticker?”

Is Johnstone exaggerating the empire's malignance?  Not at all.

Consider first a few of the many historical events that demonstrate how the American Empire behaves:

--Wars of aggression against Korea (1950-present), Vietnam (1955-1975) and Iraq (2003-present);
--A strong alliance with the dictatorial House of Saud, the world’s primary source of Islamic terrorism;
--Active cooperation with and support for al-Qaeda or Daesh in Kosovo, Chechnya, Libya and Syria;
--Covert collaboration with criminal networks moving narcotics from Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Latin America into Western consumer markets;
--Deployment of Special Operations Forces in 138 countries (2016); currently bombing (including drone assassinations) in seven majority-Muslim countries;
--Overthrown 35 governments since World War 2 including Iran, Congo, Indonesia, Chile, Nicaragua, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Libya and Ukraine. **

Then consider the human impact of the empire’s actions in the post-World War 2 era:

--4 million killed in Korea
--6 million killed in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
--1 million+ killed in Iraq
--10 million killed in US-led proxy wars (e.g., Afghanistan, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Guatemala, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya and Syria).***

These partial lists demolish our Pollyannaish view of the US-led empire. In 1967 the Rev. Dr. M.L. King said the US is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”  How long will we continue to deny this still remains true today?

For the last word,****  let’s return to Caitlin Johnstone.

“The reason the US power establishment works so hard to manufacture public support for its wars is that it needs that support. The public can make things very, very difficult for the war machine if it stops listening to the propaganda lullabies and decides enough is enough. But that can’t happen as long as the American people are living in fear of the rest of the world. If you want peace, at some point you’re going to have to get okay with letting the world manage its own affairs. There will be no significant peace movement in America until this happens.”
*     To read vigorous critiques of Pinker’s work (including his emphasis on “battlefield deaths”), see John Arquilla’s “The Big Kill” and Michael Mann’s “Have Wars and Violence Declined?

*** See “US has Killed More than 20 Million People in 37 ‘Victim Nations’ Since WW2” by James A. Lucas.

**** For a more scholarly discussion of the relationship between peace and empire, see David C. Hendrickson's "Is America an Empire?".

Communities of Nonviolence

by John K. Stoner (October 13, 2017)

Nonviolence is the decision to live without committing homicidal violence.

It is comparable to the familiar choices to live without committing rape, or slavery, or robbery.  The decision to live without killing other people does not seem, on the one hand, to be very radical, but on the other, it is very radical indeed.


We are all familiar with communities which have a covenant between members, spoken or unspoken, to not kill each other.  Families, schools and universities, and corporations of all kinds are committed to nonviolence in their social practice.  They count on the powerful nonviolent instincts of 99+% of all people, whose default position upon waking and facing the day is to preserve, not destroy, the lives of all the people whom they meet that day.  All of this we pretty much take for granted—not very radical.

But for some reason, or maybe no reason at all, this basic human decency toward one another breaks down when we bring kings and presidents into the picture.  We take it for granted that “heads of state” can decide that their citizens should set upon each other in total savagery, killing without restraint or remorse (the latter, however, being quite impossible, as veterans know).  And for anyone to refuse to do this killing is viewed as radical indeed, treasonous and offensive in the extreme.  Nonviolence, so universally affirmed on the local level, is dismissed as radical and repugnant on the global level where millions, not one or a few, lives hang in the balance.  

For the future of humanity we need to condemn war as surely as we have  condemned rape, slavery and theft. 

We have only to consult human nature, and for those open to it, God, to see that a practical alternative to war (and all homicidal violence) is available.  It is a matter of choice--which of our impulses to follow--and of helping one another make the choice for life in face of so much energy and wealth in our culture committed to the ways of death.

There is within humans the capacity to live without committing rape, slavery and theft.  And as families, schools and corporate organization show, humans have the capacity to live without homicidal violence.   If it is argued that only because law is added to human capacity do humans refrain from rape, slavery and theft, it follows that to deal with war we will have to add law to restrain it.  But the basic point remains (as those who have studied it carefully will tell you), law alone will not prevent any human behavior which is not generally within both the ability and the will of humans themselves to perform.  And the converse is true, that whatever is within human ability to do can be outlawed by the choice of a community, group or society to do so.


We need, therefore, voluntary communities where nonviolence is embraced and taught as surely as simple living (previous blog) is taught.  There are alternatives to predatory capitalism and endless war.  It is time to grow up, mature, and accept our responsibility to let others live as we wish them to let us live. 

In the past 2000 years a succession of communities called churches have lived lives of active nonviolence, embracing forgiveness, courage and love as human powers to turn enemies into friends and enlarge the circle of compassionate humanity.  In the past several hundred years the “peace churches” (Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren) have taken Jesus’ message of the kingdom/sovereignty of God as their paradigm of communal life, embracing active nonviolence and refusing the inducements and enforcements of hierarchy and empire, slavery and racism.  Today an increasing number of churches follow the example of leaders like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh (Hanh of course not a Christian) in taking the teachings of Jesus seriously—generosity, forgiveness and love of enemies. 

People who choose to join such communities are embracing the connectedness of all of humanity, applying  the nonviolent commitments of family, school and workplace to neighborhood, nation and world.  They see all homicide as fratricide, all war as civil war, all killing as within the family and ultimately as suicidal as it is homicidal.  People  join such communities to find nurture for the impulses which they feel toward welcoming and forgiving others as they wish to be welcomed and forgiven themselves.  

There is a streak of humility in what they do, because they have to acknowledge as well their persisting impulses toward fear and rejection of others, and their need for the wisdom and voices of peers who share their vision of humanity as a large family rather than a population of predators.  They have to be honest about the fact that humans are vastly shaped by the cultures in which they live, so they choose a culture whose posture is toward living rather than killing, life rather than death. By joining a peace community they acknowledge the impact of ideologies, TV, media and peers to shape them into something other than what, at the deepest level, they wish to be—they choose, in effect, the influences which will shape their lives, rather than leaving it to chance and dumb luck.  


We have looked at humans and what they have and need to aim their lives toward nonviolence rather than homicidal violence and  ultimately war.

If we look toward God, as most American claim to do in one way or another, we find either help or discouragement toward living a nonviolent life, depending on our view of God.  Is God violent or nonviolent?  Which makes our view of God rather decisive, right?  So we conclude our look at the nonviolent community with a look at God.

Rob Bell has written a book titled WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT GOD.  God of course is a big subject.  But any effort to talk about everything—time, space, human consciousness, past history and future prospects—is big, and if you don’t name all of that with a word like god, you are still left with a big subject.  

God, then, says Rob Bell, is the everything which has produced us and our consciousness, and further, God is with, for and ahead of us. 

Bell self-identifies as a Christian, but honesty compels us to say that that is no more definitive than if he called himself religious or itinerant.  He writes the book to position himself as a Christian with a particular view of God, which he says is shaped by the life and teachings of Jesus.  And from Jesus he comes out with a definition of God as with, for and ahead of us.

My brief summary of his argument here will show that his view of God is in opposition to that held by much or most of American Christianity, and hence, a view of God supportive of a nonviolent alternative to empire as the way to run the world. 

First, God as “with” us arises from the notion of incarnation itself—that Jesus as “the son of man,” or “the human one,” shows in human flesh what the true character of God is.   And the teaching of Jesus was not only that God dwelled in him, but that God is resident in every human being.  God, therefore, is not far from us, but is within us.  Hence, the “search” for God is not a process of looking somewhere else for God, but of seeing God within, both ourselves and others.  And if God is in others, killing others would never be a good idea or an acceptable practice.

Second, God “for” us picks up Jesus’ teaching that God is like the father of the “prodigal” son, always seeking and welcoming us.  God is not a threatening, punishing God, holding the prospect of “hell” over us, but rather the always forgiving one.  Jesus’ teaching that we should forgive one another endlessly (70 x 7) grew out of his view that God forgives that way.  In evolutionary terms, this “for” comes through in the tilt of the universe toward life—whatever else may be said of the evolutionary process, it produced, in the end, us, as well as everything else.  That is not a small thing to be taken for granted, right?

Third, God “ahead” of us projects into our evolutionary future something good—an extrapolation from what evolution/time has produced so far.  This is more obviously relevant to the species, less so to the individual—I would say that some reticence about predicting our individual future is appropriate.  But the fundamental point is that God is future oriented, and we should be the same.  The universe is not static, stuck in the past or sameness, but is moving toward something.  Likewise, human experience, history and culture—going somewhere, and we are engaged in creating that which is to come.  

In conclusion, a nonviolent definition of power to effect change rests in largely untapped human capacities, is nurtured in communities committed to active nonviolence, and reflects the mind of God properly understood—it agrees with the long-term tilt of the universe.  

In These Times

by Berry Friesen (October 9,  2017)

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves,
so that when it is gone, you always will be welcomed.”  Luke 16:9

Last week Chris Hedges posted an essay about the approaching collapse of the US-led empire.  You’re not into gloom?  Me neither.  Yet I encourage you to read Hedges' “The End of Empire.”  Big changes are coming our way here in America; it’s time to begin thinking about how to protect and nurture what's important to us.

Here are a couple of quotes from Hedges’ article.

“The American empire is coming to an end. The U.S. economy is being drained by wars
 in the Middle East and vast military expansion around the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits, along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of bailouts.”

“The empire will limp along, steadily losing influence until the dollar is dropped as the world’s reserve currency, plunging the United States into a crippling depression and instantly forcing a massive contraction of its military machine.” *

University of Wisconsin professor Dr. Alfred W. McCoy “predicts the collapse will come by 2030.” As he puts it: “So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly wrong, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed.”

Between now and then, the US is a great threat to us (e.g., the recent Las Vegas shooter(s)**) and to the world (e.g., Syria, Korea, Iran, Venezuela).  Hedges explains and gives us a visual from “Mr. Fish:”

“Empires in decay embrace an almost willful suicide. Blinded by their hubris and unable to face the reality of their diminishing power, they retreat into a fantasy world where hard and unpleasant facts no longer intrude. They replace diplomacy, multilateralism and politics with unilateral threats and the blunt instrument of war.”

Image result for "will destroy the world for money" picture

We have 13 years to get ready, according to McCoy.  How do we use the time well?

To engage in that sort of thoughtful planning, we need to imagine how the collapse of the empire will alter the experience of living here in America. Obviously, many scenarios are possible, some of which are pretty awful.  But it would be a mistake, I think, to assume that everything we depend on today will disappear when the empire collapses. There still will be a functioning economy of sorts, and much that we see around us will still be here.

Yet the trends we already are experiencing—privatization of public goods, the decline of concern for the general well-being, the formation of oligarchic fiefdoms that are a law unto themselves, the co-option of law enforcement and the military for private purposes, the contempt for those who lack the technical skills and cynicism to “succeed”—will accelerate with blinding speed.

I imagine it will be like Russia during the ‘90s or Ukraine today.  Governments (federal, state and local) will be zombified, incapable of providing even the most basic services.  Wealthy oligarchs will effectively create their own statelets where their crimes, corruption and arbitrary decrees will be enforced by intimidation and resources looted from the Pentagon.  “Succeeding" in such a world will entail attaching oneself to a one of these quasi-criminal fiefdoms.  Some people will flourish and claim personal credit for their success; many more will be cut off from any sort of broader economic opportunity—losers in a world that has become unabashedly Darwinian.

And what about us—followers of Jesus, seekers of the Light, those who do NOT mourn the loss of empire, but see it as birth pangs of a better world?  I’m assuming we won’t attach ourselves to one of the fiefdoms on offer. How then will we flourish and thrive?

With the help of friends and acquaintances.  Not just a handful, but many. We will flourish and thrive to the extent that we know, trust, equip, invest in and protect one another. Serious, purposeful community--with people near and far--will be the key.  That’s at least part of what Jesus meant in the epigraph above.

And between now and then?  We ought to get started; this will take some time.  Stop elaborating our distinctive and separate identities (religious, partisan, color, ethnicity, gender, etc.) and begin building community and cultural capital. We’re going to need one another.

Much more could and should be said.  John has been saying some of it with his posts on community and simple living (here, here and here).  Yes, it's very basic in one sense and can easily be dismissed as not up to the task of creating a life after empire's collapse. Yet it also is an orientation toward problem-solving that will unlock unimagined resources and potential. Let’s start practicing now.   
*   For more on the impact of the shift away from the US dollar as the world’s currency, see  Federico Pieraccini’s “Challenging the Dollar: China and Russia’s Plan from Petroyuan to Gold.”

** For a brief overview of the October 1st mass murders, see Edward Curtin's "The Las Vegas Massacre: The Media Narrative is Deceptive."

Simple Living

by John K. Stoner (September 5, 2017)

Our age has been called the “anthropocene” because humans (anthropoi) are now the main influence on the life processes of planet earth.  And we are slowly awakening to the fact that this influence is grim and deadly—humans are rendering the earth uninhabitable for their own species at a galloping and possibly irreversible rate.

In this situation, the most urgent task facing humans is to adopt a lifestyle that can be sustained by the intricate biological/ecological processes of planet earth.  It is either do this, or it is game over for species anthropos.

In a previous blog I proposed that the small communities we must form to shape our lives will have to embrace three fundamental commitments and life skills: community, simple living, and nonviolence.  Here we look at simple living.  It sounds perhaps rather small—not a big deal.  Let’s have a look.  

Embrace Simple Living

The words “simple living” are used to describe a manner of life that consumes a level of earth’s resources which could be sustained into the indefinite future.  This is no doubt a strange and unwelcome thought in a consumerist culture and capitalist economy.   But by all serious accounts, current levels of consumption in the industrialized west are taxing the biosystem far beyond its capacity for recovery.  In this situation simple living must be welcomed and embraced, or we will indeed end up where we are headed, dead and gone.  So if the words “simple life” seem small, the concept and the project are not.  

The new outlook will affirm that the earth supplies enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.  This would be a revolution in thought for the USA.  Is it possible?   The answer to that may  not be certain, but there can be no doubt that it is necessary.  The grand myth, lie and deception of capitalism has been that we only need everyone’s greed in a self-balancing system to have a working economy.  This has produced the towering injustice of today’s filthy rich and despairing poor, with 1% of the population claiming right to a damnably disproportionate chunk of the earth’s resources.  For the vast majority of earth’s people, capitalism has turned  out to be a system of poverty production.

So now the great experiment with greed has run its course, and people are waking up to…what?   The possibilities of generosity?  Communal health may be an attractive alternative to individual wealth when it makes the difference between survival and destruction.  But again, who can see that?  Historically, this has been seen most clearly by people who live in a local community, in touch with their own interdependence and the living earth which gives them food and water.  Generosity, mutual aid, the kind of sharing that healthy families take for granted is the economy of small communities which offer hope for a sustainable future.  

End Warfare Capitalism

Warfare capitalism has run its course.  In its death throes, it thrashes about wildly—a sight unpleasant to behold and experience.  American consumers are finding it hard to get a grip these days.  The old working philosophy—“If some is good, too much is better” (Wendell Berry)—is no longer working.  We need historical perspective to understand what is happening and begin a serious search for something else.   

Norman Wirzba tells us what has happened:  

"What must not be forgotten is that capitalism has, from the beginning, been a military, imperial project that depended on brutal violence for its success.  As Sven Beckert has argued in his magisterial book EMPIRE OF COTTON: A GLOBAL HISTORY, even in its early mercantile phase capitalism would be most honestly described as ‘war capitalism.’  Entire continents and races of people were brutalized to secure commodities and profits.  The project of modern progress, in other words, depended on terrorizing lands and  peoples, extracting whatever wealth was available, and thereby keeping vast populations poor.”  THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY, Sept. 27, 2017, Norman Wirzba, p. 24. 

The poor of the world, and of our own country, are saying, “This game is over.  Your guns are not our masters.”  The American policy of endless war will have an end.  How much of that end is disaster, and how much is something better is basically a choice to be made by  millions of American people, acting alone and together.  Will we choose to replace greed with generosity?  A bloodless revolution…but a revolution to be sure!
Hear Jesus Define Kingdom of God
I’ve said that a simple lifestyle replaces the capitalist consumption obsession with generosity, and rejects warfare capitalism—both revolutionary moves.  What else?

Jesus gave form and content to a comprehensive alternative lifestyle when he announced the “kingdom of God.”  What he meant was  the kingship of God challenging and rejecting the kingship of imperial earthly kings:  Herod, Pilate, Caesar, et al—the whole lot of them.

There never has been a simplistic, easy or incontrovertibly inclusive definition of “the kingdom of God.”  But neither has there ever been a way, since it was announced by Jesus, for humanity to act as if this idea is irrelevant or capable of being ignored.  Tens of millions of Christians in the United States and across the world pay some kind of homage and allegiance to this kingdom of God every Sunday of the year—indeed, every day of the year.  

The power of this concept lies in its frontal political language and challenge to earthly kings, and in its assertion that there is a will of God that can be done on earth as it is in heaven.  

When people form communities around the project of discovering and enacting the will of God, they position themselves to add truths of the heart to those of science and the head for the education and governance of their lives.  All of this I have summarized with the phrase “simple living,” because that never has been, and probably never will be, used to describe the way of Empire.  

(see next blog )

Culture-changing Power

by Berry Friesen (October 2, 2017)

I’m working on a writing project—an introduction to YHWH—for my grandchildren.  If I can pull it off, it will be something they can absorb as young teenagers.  Mostly, my introduction consists of biblical quotes. 

Recently my work on this project has focused on the gospels and the stories of Jesus.  Aspects of those stories still puzzle me.  Jesus perceived himself to be YHWH’s anointed, the Messiah who would save the Jews (and thereby the rest of the world too).  He showed no interest at all in the Roman Empire or imperial forms of power.  So what was his approach for carrying out his rescue operation?

As we read the gospels, we notice several features of Jesus’ approach: the healings, teaching large crowds of people, sending out the disciples two-by-two. Most prominent is how it all ended:  Jesus’ willing acceptance of a gruesome, public death. *

Both Mark and Matthew hint that midstream in his ministry, Jesus’ approach shifted as a result of an meeting with an entourage of Pharisees and Sadducees from Jerusalem (see Mark 8:11-13 and Matthew 16:1-4).  The meeting ended abruptly with Jesus walking out.  Thereafter, Jesus began speaking to his disciples about rejection, the cross and death.  What was pivotal about that encounter?  Apparently, Jesus had been hoping for far more from the religious leaders than they gave him.

A 2002 speech by University of Virginia professor and author James Davison Hunter may throw some light on this. Hunter contends that enduring cultural change does not occur through mass movements or via grassroots campaigns to win converts one at a time. Instead, it is led by people with significant cultural capital (e.g., the elite) who are embedded in social and professional networks of the similarly endowed and who leverage their influence through important economic and political institutions. **

Thus, Hunter contends:

“Long-term cultural change always occurs from the top down. In other words, the work of world changing is the work of elites; gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management to the leading institutions in a society.”

“World-changing is most intense when the networks of elites and the institutions they lead overlap. Implied here is the overlapping of the different forms of capital – cultural capital overlapping with economic capital and/or political capital.”

What exactly is “cultural capital,” this prized commodity the elite possess? Hunter says:

“It starts as credibility, an authority one possesses which puts one in a position to be taken seriously. It ends as the power to define reality itself. It is the power to name things.”

Back to Jesus.  Assuming he held the same understanding of cultural change as Hunter, we can see why his meeting with the Pharisees and Sadducees was pivotal.  Jesus hoped they would join him in launching a transformation of the Palestinian Jews into the salt of the earth, the town set upon a hill, the lamp high on the lamp-stand (Matthew 5:13-16).  But they refused Jesus’ invitation.

Is there space for Hunter’s analysis in our understanding of cultural change? Does his emphasis on “the elite” undermine our emphasis on community empowerment?  Are the two emphases complementary?  These are some of my questions.

In exploring these questions and others, we need to clarify the kind of “power” we are talking about—what it is (or can be) and how it unfolds and proliferates.

Hunter speaks to this:

“To change the world is, at some point, to take power seriously. I recognize that power is an uncomfortable subject for people of faith and all people of good will who quite rightly celebrate service in the cause of the needy, the estranged, and the common good.

“But the power we need to take seriously is not power in a conventional sense. Politics will never be a solution to the challenges we face . . .

“Rather, it is the power to define reality in ways that sustain benevolence and justice . . .  In any case, articulating a reality that sustains benevolence and justice and exemplifying its meaning in time and space is the burden of leaders. In this respect, we do well to remember as a corrective and a caution that Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for the ruling elites of his day, not least Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes — cultural elites whose power was not used well.”

“The power to define reality:” did you catch that?  Hunter says that’s the key to changing the culture.  Yes, this rings true; it is what the empire does every day of the year—telling us what to talk about (e.g., Trump, North Korea) and how to frame the discussion (“little rocket-man Kim Jong Un”).

Who are the “elite” in our time and place who embrace this role as change agents? Here are the people who come to mind for me (as well as the change each seeks).

--Colin Kaepernick, pro football star who first “took a knee” (end police brutality against minorities)
--David Gushee, evangelical ethicist and author (full gay/lesbian inclusion in the church)
--Steve Bannon, banker and media executive (a nationalist political party)
--Tulsi Gabbard, army veteran and congresswoman (an honest war on terror)
--Russell Moore, Southern Baptist leader (end conservative support for Trump)
--Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Peace (VIPS), former government “security” insiders (more honest and accountable government)

As is obvious from this list, not all efforts at cultural change point in the same general direction.  Nor are all successful.

Who would you add to this list?  And who might you identify as a change agent in the cause of forging a new American identity—one shorn of American exceptionalism and the imperial pursuit of domination?

Or maybe this theory of top-down change isn’t worth our time.  What do you think?
*   For prior discussions of the culture-changing power of Jesus’ surrender to death on a Roman cross, see “Virtually Christian” and “What Jesus Changed.”

** In 2010, Oxford University Press published Hunter's book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.