Rule of the Gun by Ched Myers

Almost 55 years ago President John F. Kennedy famously said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Speaking on the first anniversary of the “Alliance for Progress” program, he was referring to revolutionary turmoil throughout the Third World as a result of socioeconomic disparities. But the sentiment was echoed by Martin Luther King, Jr regarding the home front, and this week’s events underline its truth.
The deeper truth is that the shootings this week–all of them–reflect perfectly the twin pillars of the American nightmare: White Supremacy and the Rule of the Gun.  “Rule” indeed: hegemony, measure, and law.  We must resist all three.
This is why we look to the blind Bartimaeus, who summons us from Denial to Discipleship. It is why we and our movement do the work we do, friends, and why we cannot and must not let up.

“All the words of the scroll…” A Eulogy for Daniel Berrigan by Ched Myers

Note:  Yesterday, April 3o, 2016, Daniel Berrigan passed into the Cloud of Witnesses, just shy of his 95th birthday.   I am grateful he’s been liberated from the physical pain and restrictions he’s suffered these last years, but I also feel a profound lonliness at the loss of the last of a generation of my male mentors.

The “eulogy” below was published thirteen years ago in The Catholic Agitator (October, 2003)–it is appropriate to share them again now, unedited.  These comments were offered to Dan during an evening worship at the Catholic Worker west coast sister house retreat, which I prefaced with these words:

“I have never understood why we traditionally wait until our loved ones have died before we offer eulogies Continue reading ““All the words of the scroll…” A Eulogy for Daniel Berrigan by Ched Myers”

“Transfiguration or Disfiguration? Remembering Hiroshima,” by Ched Myers

Above: “Mushroom-Shaped Cloud,” by Susumu Horikoshi, age 6, August 1945.
Today is the 70th anniversary of the inauguration of the nuclear age, when the U.S. dropped an atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, instantly killing more than 100,000 people.  We remain today under the shadow of nuclear annihilation; this is thus a solemn day to commemorate Disfiguration. 
August 6th is also, however, the day that the church celebrates the Feast of Transfiguration.  On this day we recall Jesus ascending a high mountain  at a crucial turning point in his ministry,  to commune with the spirits of Moses and Elijah (Mk 9:2-10).  Ancient tradition identifies the site with Mt. Tabor, a free-standing, almost hemispherical peak about five miles south-east of Nazareth (see Ps. 88:13; Jer 46:18), where an important Old Testament battle took place (Judges 4:6-7:19).  In the gospel narrative, Jesus is about to commence a march to Jerusalem that will culminate with a nonviolent confrontation with the Powers; so he climbs the mountain in order to draw strength from his ancestors.  
Moses and Elijah represent of course the biblical archetypes of Law and Prophecy.  But they were also visionaries who communed with God on mountaintops (Ex 19:16-20; I Kg 19:8f), encountering the radically undomesticated God in remote wildlands.  Evan Eisenberg, in his brilliant The Ecology of Eden (1998), discusses how the mountain represented the cosmic “world-pole” to the ancient people of the Levant.   They recognized peaks as the origins of all natural fertility that brought blessing on their people; the “Mountain is mythic shorthand for an ecological fact… playing a central role in the flow of energy and the cycling of water and nutrients, as well as in the maintenance of genetic diversity and its spread by means of gene flow.”  The “holiness” of such places was grounded, therefore, in a primal consciousness that these wild highlands represented cradles of life.  
So it is to the mountain that prophets go—to receive instruction on how the people should live (Moses) and assurance of divine accompaniment (Elijah).  And Jesus follows in their footsteps:
Ex 24:15-18:  Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.  Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain.Mark 9:2-4,7:  Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus…. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice…
On the mountaintop Jesus is “transfigured” in the presence of his ancestors, gaining strength for the difficult journey ahead.  Like Elijah on the mountain, he is being called back to the Metropolis to face the Powers. 
“And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun…” (Mt 17:2).  Matthew’s account alludes to Moses’ third mountain encounter, in which the prophet comes down with his face “shining, because he had been talking with God” (Ex 34:30, 34f; the Hebrew root krn, which is the basis of the verb “to shine,” also means “horn”—which is why medieval artists often depicted Moses with horns).  This, too, is part of the meaning of Transfiguration.  The wilderness experience of transcendence fuels the struggle for true justice in the world.   
The question today is how the spirituality of Transfiguration can empower us to resist the forces of Disfiguration, which continue to gallop across our landscape like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, from mountaintop removal mining to the deaths of young African Americans at the hands of police, and from the ongoing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to climate catastrophe.   
On this Day of Remembering we are instructed to “listen” (Mark 9:7b), and to choose Transfiguration over Disfiguration.

“Stand against the Storm” by Ched Myers

Yesterday was both an exhilarating and excruciating day for faith communities around the world.  On one hand, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the ecological crisis was released, and Muslims observed the beginning of Ramadan at the new moon.  On the other hand, news spread about two historic Christian sanctuaries that were violated on Wednesday, in Charleston, SC and Tabgha, Israel/Palestine.  A few days ago I commented on the extraordinary pontifical call to discipleship under the shadow of the climate Endgame.  Today my heart is centered on the murder of nine members of Emanuel A.M.E. by a young white supremacist.  
Today is Juneteenth—indeed, its 150th anniversary—on which we are supposed to celebrate the long march to freedom of African Americans.  Instead we are preoccupied by yet another brutal shooting of unarmed black folk by a white predator.  As Obama said yesterday: “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times.  Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.”  Look in the mirror, white America.
Pictured above is Denmark Vesey, a former slave who was executed in 1822 for attempting to organize a massive slave revolt in antebellum South Carolina.  Vesey was one of the founders of Emanuel A.M.E., the oldest black church south of Baltimore.  This was, and is, a congregation with a long history of struggle for justice, right up to slain pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
There is a long, bitter history of white terrorism toward black churches in America, most infamously symbolized (until now) by the bombing of 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963.   Whites tend to be both ignorant and suspicious of black church as a relatively safe, insular space for African Americans, as well as a center of black social and political power.  As Laurie Maffly-Kipp, a professor of religion and American history at the University of Washington in St. Louis put it: “It’s the one safe space they have for decades that is out of the surveillance of white communities. It has a sacredness just by virtue of being a separate space.”  In light of this, the specter of a young white man posing as a seeker, and being warmly welcomed into this space for a mid-week Bible study, only to open fire in cold blood, is bone-chilling.  It represents a new level of violation, and testifies to the persistent and deadly virus of white supremacy that continues to circulate in the bloodstream of European American culture. 
I feel the same dread and rage at the news of young Israelis setting the Church of the Loaves and Fishes aflame in Tabgha by the Sea of Galilee.  Scrawled on a wall was red Hebrew graffiti warning that “idol worshippers” would be killed.  Like Charleston, this is not an isolated incident; Mazin Qumsiyeh points out that many other churches and mosques have been destroyed since the founding of the Jewish state.  Elaine and I visited at Tabgha church a few years ago, grateful for the modesty of this ancient sanctuary in a land of religious spectacle.  We were taken with the spring that runs by the church and into the lake, and captured by the famous loaves and fishes mosaic on the floor underneath the altar, so iconic for our work in Sabbath Economics. 
These acts are not “extremist”—an epithet hauled out at moments like this by the dominant media to justify the status quo—but rather the inevitable result of our continuing tolerance for racial and religious absolutism.  Two historic sacred spaces have thus become lightning rods for the storm that is gathering. 
It happens that the gospel reading for this coming Sunday, the Solstice, is the story of Jesus and the disciples on the sea in such an archetypal storm—a scene depicted not far, we should note, from Tabgha (Mk 4:35-41).  May we have ears to hear this Word, and to find the faith and courage of Vesey and Pinckney to stand against this storm.

Can Moral Imagination Trump Political Gridlock? Three Things to Watch for Concerning Thursday’s Papal Encyclical by Ched Myers

This afternoon I was interviewed by journalist Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches for a piece she is doing for Al Jazeera America on what faith-rooted environmental activists anticipate from Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on climate crisis.  “Laudato Sii: Sulla Cura Della Casa Comune” (“Blessed are You: Concerning the Care of our Common Home)” will be published online June 16th in five languages, anticipating the pope’s meeting with President Obama and his address to Congress and the UN General Assembly in September, as well as December’s 21st U.N. conference on climate change in Paris.  Here are three hopeful aspects of the encyclical I spoke with Sarah about.

 This encyclical, Francis’ second, will confirm the scientific consensus about the urgent disaster of climate change.  It is being enthusiastically received by many scientists for being able to get “a message across to a segment of society that the scientific community could never do,” as Jeff Kiehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research put it in yesterday’s USA Today.  Similarly, NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt believes “the pope’s encyclical is probably going to have a bigger impact than the Paris negotiations.”  To underline the Vatican’s commitment to climate science, the message will be introduced by a Catholic cardinal, a Christian Orthodox church leader and a climate scientist identified as an atheist.  While Francis’ approach will (and already has) drawn the ire of the secular and religious right (including Catholics like John Boehner), it should significantly change the public conversation, and will be a great help to those of us trying to move churches beyond ambivalence.   
Francis’ approach to the issue through the lens of social justice will strengthen those working on climate crisis as a deepening expression of racism and inequality.  This pope is already outspoken about the unacceptability of global poverty and wealth concentration; Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace who will launch the encyclical, emphasized to The Guardian last Saturday that “much of the world remains in poverty, despite abundant resources, while a privileged global elite controls the bulk of the world’s wealth and consumes the bulk of its resources.”  This way of framing the environmental crisis will help us with the often difficult task of overcoming the balkanization between ecological and social justice sectors, and encourage those working at intersectionality.  It will also doubly piss off the religious right. 
The leadership by Francis is animating broader and deeper ecumenical and interfaith efforts to speak and act into this crisis.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia responded to the Pope’s initiative by drafting and circulating a “Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis,” which more than 340 rabbis have signed.  Waskow also points out that June 18 is the first day of Ramadan, wondering whether this reflects a “deep ecumenism” on Francis’ part, and pointing out that “leading American Muslim organizations and teachers have this year called for ‘Green Ramadan,’ focusing on acting with care for all Creation.”  And this encyclical will surely spur the widespread “creation care” movement that has been building among North American churches to deepen its work. 

For those of us on the ground organizing and educating among faith communities, Francis’ encyclical is a ray of moral imagination amidst the darkness of political and cultural gridlock around climate catastrophe.  I recommend we all pay attention both to the content of and the reactions to this historic message.   

“A Letter to Randy and Kimberly on the Occasion of the Closing of the Pasadena Peace and Justice Academy,” by Ched Myers

Note: Today I received this email from Randy Christopher and Kimberly Medendorp (above): “When the Pasadena Peace & Justice Academy was conceived back in 2008 it was an experiment in hope. Since opening our doors in September, 2009, the experiment has been, in our estimation, an enormous success – a success in every way except one.  We have not been successful in enrolling students to the school.  Based on our projected enrollment of returning students and new students who have made a commitment, we will not have the revenue necessary to further sustain the school.  At this time the board of directors has voted unanimously to suspend operations for the school at the end of May, 2015.  You have both supported and sacrificed to help the school – especially Elaine, our champion of Restorative Justice and Peace & Justice Coordinator extraordinaire!  We hope you can join us at our Graduation and P&JA Closing Ceremony on Saturday, May 23, 5:00 pm…”
Dear Randy and Kimberly:
Words can’t express how sad this news makes us. 
When I think of what will no longer be at PAJA, these lines from Will Campbell’s eulogy come to mind: 
What the Giver gave so freely, we now return.Without apology for the grudge.We will long harbor and nourish the grudge.Not against the Giver.But against this day and its foolishness.   (Glad River)
It’s just stupid that your magnificent pedagogy cannot be sustained.
Yet when I think of what has been, I have no doubt that every single hour and dollar and calorie you both gave so passionately and sacrificially to that experiment was profoundly worth the considerable cost to you.  To use the metaphor of a small farm in a world ruled by factory food production, the reason you won’t be able to work that piece of land anymore is not because you cultivated wrongly, or because your small plot didn’t yield great fruit, or because the produce wasn’t needed (especially that)–but simply because the political economy of small farming worked against you at every turn, as did the dysfunctional culture of alienation from the land.  You did the right thing, fought a good fight, and now leave behind the soil of holistic education richer and more fertile. 
As someone who has bet my life on small, alternative expressions of the gospel which have never “flourished” in the conventional sense, and who at age 60 is still scratching just to make ends meet, I still think such efforts represent the best party in town.  And you sustained that party at PAJA for more years than anyone could have bet on.  The lives you shaped are shaped permanently.  And all of our imaginations are deeper because of PAJA’s legacy of faith and creativity and sheer pedagogic courage.
Your experiment was a magnificent success by every gospel measure.  And I commend and thank you for what you have done, and know that seeds of change that will yet sprout from it, seen and unseen.   We love you. 
In Easter faith,  Ched

Eastertide Reflection (Mk 15:40-16:2): The Women’s Witness of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection by Ched Myers

Image above: Mikhail Nesterov “The Empty Tomb,” 1889.
This brief midrash on Mark’s spare but evocative Easter narrative highlights a central aspect that is routinely overlooked.   Let’s begin with the body.  According to Mark, after Jesus’ execution, his body was granted by the Roman procurator Pilate to Joseph, a member of the Judean council that had condemned Jesus.  As described in 15:43-46, this has all the hallmarks of a political move aimed at prohibiting those in Jesus’ community from executing their duties according to Purity and custom, thus further cutting off the new movement and preventing occasion for more protest during the volatile season of Passover (for further exegetical aspects of this passage, see Binding the Strong Man, pp 392ff.      /more   
The strange detail included by Mark, in which Pilate questions whether or not Jesus is really dead (15:44f), suggests that Joseph may have been hurrying the process of removing the body from the cross in order to short-circuit any attempts by Jesus’ followers to recapture it.  It implies continued collaboration between the Roman imperial and Judean provincial authorities, and illustrates their keen and mutual interest in ensuring that this dissident messianic movement be crushed once and for all.  
But Mark also narrates a “counter-conspiracy” to the official attempts to manage the volatile political situation represented by Jesus’ execution.  Key women in the Jesus circle were tracking these moves, as reported by Mark in 15:47.  Not only had they kept careful vigil during the execution (15:4); they were determined to figure out—likely by stealth—where Joseph would dispose of the corpse.  This was not only an act of devotion (as it is usually characterized) on their part; it is an act of resistance. 
Underlining the drama of this storyline, which continues into the next episode (16:1-2), is the fact that the main protagonists of Mark’s narrative are now women.  Moreover, these are women without men, trying to “get around” the death-dealing machinations of powerful men.   That unaccompanied women are subjects at all is, of course, extraordinary, given the patriarchal cultural context of the Bible in general.  But in this context, it takes on revolutionary significance.   
To be sure, these verses paint a very credible cultural scenario.  Women indeed took on the role of tending to the dead in first century Palestinian culture; in fact, there were women in Jerusalem who sponsored a charitable guild that provided proper burial to victims of Roman crucifixion.  (Craig Evans summarizes “Jewish traditions of death and burial, especially with respect to the burial of executed persons or persons who in some way died dishonorable deaths,” though not with the political spin I am suggesting here, in “Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus,” available at http://craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf).   
But here the Galileans Mary, Mary and Salome were primarily concerned to anoint and likely re-bury the body of their loved one in order to follow custom, in defiance of the authorities.  Thus, after properly waiting until after the Sabbath is over, they proceed to Jesus’ burial place to perform their duties.  (We devoted a whole webinar to the beautiful arts of contemporary “death midwifery” in commemoration of All Souls Day 2013, exploring with Laurel Dykstra and Susie Henderson this vocation as resistance to our culture of death; see http://www.chedmyers.org/webinararchive/10-29-13-Webinar-Dykstra-All-Saints%20). 
But at the empty tomb, these women are invited to transcend their traditional role by a mysterious call to become witnesses of the Risen Jesus (Mk 16:5-7).  The very first transformation that occurs as a result of Jesus’ Resurrection, therefore, is an overturning of gender expectations.  This is particularly dramatic in light of the fact that, as Thorwald Lorenzen (in Resurrection, Discipleship, Justice: Affirming the Resurrection of Jesus Today, 2003) and others have pointed out, women were not even qualified to testify in a court of law in the first century!  Why then would Mark’s gospel rely on them to be the sole “witnesses” of the amazing things that happen next—unless, of course, this was the way it actually went down.  Placing the burden of testimony on women-without-men would hardly have served a young movement trying to establish credibility, so this scene is not something they would have made up! 
Nevertheless, Mark has been laying the groundwork for this shocking conclusion throughout his narrative.  On one hand, the male disciples consistently fail to understand Jesus’ mission correctly, and in the end, abandon him altogether (14:50).  Women, on the other hand, seem to get Jesus.  The first credible disciple in Mark’s story is Peter’s mother in law back in chapter one, who is healed by Jesus and then immediately commences “serving” (diakoneo; 1:31), the archetypal verb of discipleship (see 10:43f). 
As noted, our three women have already appeared together at the execution of Jesus, holding vigil.  There they are described with three loaded Markan phrases: they “followed;” “served” (again diakoneo); and “came up to Jerusalem” (15:41).  Each verb articulates specific aspects of Jesus’ call to discipleship throughout the second half of the gospel narrative.  In other words, these women are presented here at the close of the tale as true disciples.  The androcentric narrative has completely collapsed, and women have stepped in to keep the discipleship story alive.  
This core element in Mark’s Easter testimony has been suppressed by androcentric churches, for obvious reasons.  But this earliest narrative tradition of Jesus is clear.  It is women who do the right thing from beginning to end of his story.  They are the first subjects of Resurrection transformation.  And it is their testimony—in defiance of patriarchal codes of veracity—upon which our gospel tradition utterly relies. 
Why, then, do women still have such a hard time getting a word in edgewise in our Christian circles?

“On the Edge of the Wilderness”: An Ash Wednesday Homily, by Jennifer Henry

Note:  We have also received many requests for this amazing sermon, given at the Ash Wednesday worship service of the Festival of Radical Discipleship, Feb 18, 2015.  Jennifer Henry (above) is the Executive Director of  Kairos Canada. 
Isaiah 58:1-12, Mark 1: 1-13
You and I, we are standing on the edge of the wilderness with Jesus; you and I, on this first day of Lent, driven by the Spirit; you and I, on this Ash Wednesday, made of earth and water.  Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Today, whatever our justice ministry, we are invited, reminded, compelled, driven to enter into the wilderness to confirm our identity, to remember our names, and to reclaim our integrity, finding each other along the way.   
This wilderness journey is no idyllic trip to the cottage on Cape Cod or in the Muskokas.  It’s not a vacation spa in Ojai.  There’s nothing easy about it.  But neither is it a threatening place for us conquer or domesticate.  Nor is it a demonic space, as if somehow the wilderness is the only neighbourhood where Satan hangs out.  Those narratives—the narratives of my Puritan ancestors—do not serve us.
The wilderness is neither idyllic nor demonic—but it is true, a place where things get real.  It’s a place where with few distractions, the backdrop is stark, the contrasts are clear, creation is powerful, and false pretenses get revealed.  In the wilderness, there is nowhere to hide, and we must come to grips with our work, our lives for what they are.  It’s where you figure things out.  It’s a place where you can reclaim integrity, or lose it. 
The first words of Mark’s Gospel reveal Jesus’ identity.  He is anti-imperial, the real “good news” (1:1).  He is in the continuity of YHWH, “as it was written in the prophet Isaiah” (1:2).  He is much more than the movement that preceded him, “the one more powerful that is coming after” (1:7).  His identity is marked in these ways, but also through the actions that connect him to water and earth.  Jesus’ first gesture is to claim his watery essence—two thirds of the water in his body is, like our own, from the watershed of his place, connecting him to all the vulnerabilities and possibilities of the Jordan.  He immerses himself in the Great River, intentionally locating himself, diving deep into place, the act of submerging INTO as critical an action for the inauguration of his ministry as the opening of the skies above.
And then he goes to the earth, reconnecting with the dirt that is the stuff of him, of us—ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Placed INTO the wildness, he is attended by the angels but accompanied by the wild beasts.  Verse 13 is intriguing: “He was WITH the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” This is confirmation of his place among the species, not over or above them.
Mark inaugurates Christ’s ministry by literally integrating him with water, with earth, placing him WITH his companions in the watershed, WITH all his relations.  The Spirit leads him, drives him, to the place where it gets real—the wilderness, where he is tested, but ultimately strengthened, his integrity confirmed.
I serve at KAIROS, an organization that brings Canadian churches together in common commitments to ecological justice and human rights.  At this time in our Canadian history, many churches and communities, many individual settler Christians, are poised on the edge of the wilderness, some of us maybe a step or two into the journey, but each of us desperately seeking to confirm our identity anew and reclaim our integrity.  It is a watershed moment.
Through our imperfect gestures of solidarity with Indigenous peoples over 40 years, and more recently through an extended national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we have become painfully aware of our multiple complicities as settlers, as Christians; painfully aware of how some of our ancestors of blood and faith were collaborators, or protagonists in colonial horror; painfully aware of our own alienation from the land that is inextricably linked to our violations of the people of the land; painfully aware of how our citizenship still links us now to the re-colonization of Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the globe through relentless resource extraction pursued in our name. 
Convicted by the truth, we are working—very imperfectly—to un-settle ourselves from colonial injustice and re-place ourselves in right relations.  Invited, undeservedly by Indigenous peoples, we are striving through an embrace of justice to be reconciled anew to the land and the original peoples of the land. It is a wilderness struggle.  And, God willing, it will stay true, stay real, until we get it.  Until we understand enough, act enough, to find a new identity in restoration.  Perhaps as repairers of the breach, reconcilers in the watershed. 
I can tell you today that the ancient words of Isaiah 58 are a strangely faithful companion in this journey.  This text, also the appointed one for Ash Wednesday, is poignant in its challenge to us but also in its promise.  Radical disciples know this text.  We know that it is likely post exilic, from the period when the people of Israel are returning from Babylon, struggling with the possibilities but also the challenges of community reconstruction after trauma. They are holding in their hearts the hopeful promises that come to us from earlier Isaiah, even while facing the day to day practicalities of nation-building anew. It is an unsettling time.
We do not know the precise controversy that provokes verses 1-5. Perhaps there were rivalries between different forms of religious observance. But the prophetic message is clear: to turn away from empty fasts and from religious piety that serves primarily one’s own interests. The critique here is not about the irreligious–those who do not know Yahweh or who have forsaken God—but those whose religion is found to be false pretense.
Speaking into our Canadian context, this feels like a piercing challenge.  Our colonizers were not irreligious.  Christianity was moral architecture to this project; it was fuel for the colonial fire.  The faith of so many of our Christian ancestors—of my ancestors—got distorted by racial superiority, their own interests in land and security, and a missionary zeal.  In the name of Christ, four Canadian churches sat with empire and collaborated with the federal government in a 130 year project of boarding schools intended to “kill the Indian in the child.” Seven generations of Indigenous children—young children– were isolated from their families, cultures, languages, and traditions in Indian residential schools run by the churches. 
Seen through Isaiah’s critical eyes, and with the benefit of hindsight, what might we call that distorted sense of mission?  A self- serving religion—I fear so.  It not only failed to do justice—to accomplish the compassionate justice that is the prophetic challenge—but it perpetrated injustices in religion’s name.  In the schools, there was unspeakable cruelty, humiliation, and abuse—sometimes even in the name of Christ.
The problem is that it is a little too easy to join ourselves to Isaiah and criticize our colonial ancestors for their practice of faith.  The challenge of Isaiah in the present is to ask: “Have we really fully turned away from this kind of religion?” Are there colonial remnants in our faith? How might our religion continue to serve our own survival and security ahead of justice?  Are we actively seeking reconciliation to the land and the peoples of the land? Where do have residue of “subdue and dominate”—even in our more sophisticated stewardship concepts? Where are we still more monuments then Jesus movement, more institution than community convicted by the radical gospel?
Isaiah is clear: turn from false religion; embrace the ways of justice.  Beginning at verse 6 the prophet delivers the call to “loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke.” Offer bread, home, clothing, hospitality…  This text, echoing similar themes in Micah and Amos, and anticipating Jesus’ teaching, defines true worship in terms of expressions of justice. This turns on its head all the ways in which we make false divisions between faith and witness and justice and peace, between acts of worship and acts of justice. Our expressions of justice are liturgies of holiness and faithfulness. Actions of justice are as a prayer. Justice is the fast that God requires.
For the Canadian churches, this means that their apologies for colonial complicity in residential schools and their prayers for Indigenous peoples mean little without a commitment to Indigenous justice in the now.  There is no way to decolonization that fails to address the situation of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, that is unconcerned with “boil water” advisories in reserve communities, or that ignores scathing deficiencies in First Nations education.
This means deep solidarity with Indigenous people who are demanding free prior and informed consent before any development project impacts their traditional territories, wherever that happens in the world. This means the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. For some settler Christians, it may very well mean standing in front of trucks with Indigenous peoples in British Columbia as they block the building of a pipeline across their traditional territory, or kneeling with Indigenous women in New Brunswick as they put their bodies between fracking and Mother Earth.  Our failure to do justice—to rise to the solidarity call—will confirm that not just our ancestor’s faith but our own may be for naught. 
Today Indigenous peoples are seeking our partnership in justice—not for their own rights only, but for the health and wellbeing of the whole inhabited earth.  What a humbling and generous invitation.  In the movement originating in Canada called Idle no More, the message was a call to partnership in justice for the sake of our world.  The motivation was the Canadian government’s complete removal of environmental regulations and continuing rapacious resource extraction without limits.  The motivation was threats to our waters.  Indigenous peoples, with a closer connection to creation, were sounding the alarm and inviting us into the call. 
This invitation to partnership is present also in the global cry for climate justice, echoing from the Indigenous peoples at the front of the New York Climate March.  Placing ourselves with Indigenous communities, welcoming their land wisdom, their creation literacy—something which we previously demonized and rejected—opens us up to re-placement and re-connection to the earth, air, and waters.  But it is an ethical re-placement in the watershed that respects and recognizes the First Peoples and their deep custodianship, which has no termination date. 
Turn from false religion, embrace the way of justice…  Beginning in verse 8 is the final challenge, but it has turned into a promise—a promise of restoration, a promise of identity, hoped for renewed integrity, and new names.  In a wonderful series of “if…then” expressions, the prophet confirms that it is only from justice, that restoration flows.  If you embrace justice, then… your bones will be strengthened, your gardens watered, your ruins rebuilt.
It is this just action that will reveal your identity, that will change your name: “You shall be called repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in”(58:12).  Only this just action, will confirm your integrity.  For settler Christians, it may just be possible to find new names from the ones theologian Tink Tinker accurately but bluntly summarized as “liars, murderers and thieves.”  Maybe we could be allies.  Maybe we could be treaty partners. Maybe we could be companions in the watershed.  Just maybe, we could be friends, like in the peace and friendship treaties that were originally extended.  What we must be is “nation to nation,” in a new covenant written on our hearts. 
For Isaiah, justice is the precursor to restoration. The “if…then” construction is essential.  We cannot expect reconciliation within our churches, within our country, without our tangible, sustained commitment to justice. Reconciliation will follow rather than lead actions for justice, which becomes a form of testing intention and resolve. What I love about this passage is that as clear as the critique of hollow religion, as clear as the call to justice, that same kind of clarity is also present in the commitment of restoration. Look at what is promised.  It is both personal healing—strong bones, satisfied needs—and communal restoration: restored houses, rebuilt ruins.
I need the promise of Isaiah because sometimes the horror at what we have done to one another, the depth of our failure to protect traumatized people or a traumatized creation, the relentless challenges of the present injustices—somewhere in there my hope is obscured. I can’t see for the anger or the guilt or the shame. I can’t see for the tears.
But Isaiah makes restoration tangible, a reality of transformation confirmed for us as Christians in the Easter event–in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Justice, peace, reconciliation can be so. It must be so. Our actions must live up to that promise.
Let me leave you with one example, one taste of restoration, that I recognize through Isaiah’s eyes: 
It was Victoria Island, the traditional gathering place for Indigenous peoples on the Ottawa River that has a clear view of the Canadian Parliament buildings.  Our leaders, six Algonquin Kokoms—grandmothers—began with a smudge, followed by a teaching on the sacredness of water.  We were a mixed group, young and old, settler Indigenous and newcomer.  We blessed 200 water offerings from all across the country, and four from different parts of the world.  Each was sent as signs of commitment to protect watersheds when our government, in repealing environmental protection legislation, had abdicated its responsibility.  Each was sent as a sign of resistance to all that threatens our watersheds—tar sand in Alberta, fracking in New Brunswick, pollution in Manitoba.  Each was sent as a sign of connectedness, one watershed to another, by those being harmed around the globe by Canadian mining. 
Strawberries were shared, and water was poured on the ground as a sign of respect for Mother Earth. Tobacco was offered to the Ottawa River and there was a moment of deep shared acknowledgement of the Source of all water—all living things.  Public liturgy, held in the view of empire.  (From: http://www.kairoscanada.org/dignity-rights/indigenous-rights/gathering-of-the-w….)
One of the participants, a white settler woman, said this felt more like worship to her than many church services she could remember.  No doubt Isaiah would have agreed.  Closer to true religion than what sometimes happen in our churches.  In this place and for this moment, imperfect and humble, it felt a step closer to the fast that God required.  Watershed Discipleship. Reconciliation in the Watershed.
This Lent, I am going to continue the process of unsettling the settler that is still within me. It is time to get real: to ask myself again what colonial ideas and practices are still part of my fabric of being.  And I am going to work to re-place myself in the land of my chosen watershed, to work harder to reconcile to the earth in right relations with Indigenous peoples.  It is time to get real: what ways am slipping back to comfort and convenience away from ecological integrity, what ways am I ignoring racism, cause I’m just too tired to make a fuss?  In this wilderness time, I am going to strive to renew my identity as an ally, I am going to push my own church to greater boldness—to stand up in Indigenous solidarity, even when the empire pushes back and calls us names. 
The Spirit may need to drag me into the wilderness—as she often does, in her unsettling, challenging, relentlessly liberating, but connecting way. But she will do it for my own good, for my own integrity, because she knows my name.  If she is successful, when she is successful, I expect I’ll see you there.  

“What is Radical Discipleship?” by Ched Myers

We’ve received lots of requests to make this available, so below is an excerpt from Ched’s opening comments at the Bartimaeus Kinsler Institute Festival of Radical Discipleship here in Oak View on Feb 16, 2015.

What this week is really about is to commemorate 40 years of the Radical Discipleship movement.  Radical Discipleship is NOT a dope slogan, or a mobilizing soundbyte, or a hip brand, or an ironic twitter handle.  Continue reading ““What is Radical Discipleship?” by Ched Myers”

MLK Day 2015: Exhuming Dynamite by Ched Myers

It strikes me that having a national MLK holiday is a little like having Bibles in our church pews.  A lot of struggle and work went into preserving and making these sacred, transforming memories and stories available. But that doesn’t mean that most folk actually bother to read, engage and understand them, much less enact them anew.  There’s a certain comfort in having Bibles sitting around, or commemorating King–Google’s front page simulating the Selma march today–that doesn’t upset the status quo.  more//
The irony is captured in the Bible pictured above, safely secured in a glass case.  It was King’s Bible, used by President Obama in his swearing in ceremony.  [An interesting and humorous exploration of this irony is Ezekiel Cinneide’s (presumably a pseudonym, as I can find nothing on him) little satire The President’s Jubilee (2009), in which Obama is haunted by the biblical imperatives around what I call “Sabbath Economics.”]
And yet… the fact of their existence haunts us, and represents a subversive possibility.  Their availability means that we CAN pick up these stories, be confronted by them anew, and seek to recontextualize them in our historical moment.  Which is to say, they are like virtual sticks of dynamite lurking in the basements (or “museums”) of our national unconscious.  Our job is to exhume these venerable texts, study them not as historical artifacts or stained glass windows, but as living traditions calling us to radical change.  To find the fuse, so to speak, in order to light their explosive power anew…  
I’ll be sharing more in this vein at the Clergy and Liaity United for Economic Justice King-Chavez Organizing Summit in L.A. later this week, after the domesticated prayer breakfasts have come and gone…