Here's the WWI Flying Ace escaping across the French countryside (for Heather),
from "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."


"we don't need them"?

Another discussion comment to add to the article:

Okay here's an example relating to one of the core concerns of the Occupy movement. This isn't about what to do on Wall Street, because I honestly think that's not the place to go for answers to these problems. But I think this is directly relevant. I just read an article about the Oakland protests, and one of the organizers (who was threatening to "shut down the city") said, "The only thing they seem to care about is money and they don't understand that it's our money they need. We don't need them, they need us.''

That sounds good, but is it true? "We don't need them"? There was an article here on JR recently that confessed and lamented a dependence on products from the corporations. But even before we can decide what products to buy, where is our money coming from? I would bet a large portion of the protesters (and those reading this as well) get their income from corporations, large and small. And even those who do not now have jobs seem to think hope lies in the actions of government and the financiers of Wall Street. "Where's my bailout?" So, really, we don't need them?

Starting our own small businesses (being our own "job producers") isn't much of an answer either. I live on a small farm with a community that runs several cottage industries, and it's hard for them. You have to compete in the business world. And that means also competing with bigger businesses. But more importantly, you have to compete in the capitalist system, which means playing by the rules of capitalism that so many at OWS seem to hate (I do too). I've seen what running your own business can do to people. I try to encourage my friends to get out.

So what might "God's power" look like in this difficult situation? It wouldn't look like competing with corporations, or demanding anything from businessmen or politicians. Those are the struggles of human power. Struggles that Jesus didn't seem to engage in, though he also had needs for food and shelter and clothing. So what did God's power look like in his life, economically? Pretty much like this:

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. ...if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?

"Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys."
That may sound idealistic, but Jesus lived it. He showed what a life like that looked like, and it wasn't one of abject poverty. Because our Father is generous. At the Passover, Jesus asked his disciples, "When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" They answered, "Nothing."

Now that's a life where we don't need the money of corporations, or government bailouts, or anything from the rich and (humanly) powerful. Because, though we remain weak and poor, God's power is far more than sufficient to provide everything we need, and much more.

Maybe this example seems too far in the past, though, so I'll just say a bit about my own experience trying to follow Jesus' example in this. I've lived for years without a job, doing only volunteer work and living on gifts given in various ways. I'm married now, living and working in a rural community, with food and income coming from a variety of sources, all gifts. No car or medical insurance, but those needs also have been met by gifts when they arise. And we very rarely even have to ask. Like Jesus said, "Your Father knows your needs." Our income is way below the poverty line, but we feel very generously provided for, and I think anyone who visited us would think so as well.

I suppose that's quite enough. There's more info here, if you're interested. But the journey this far has shown me quite clearly how God's miraculous power makes human power (even organized mass human efforts) seem like nothing in comparison.


they exist only on paper

There's been some good little discussion about the article at Jesus Radicals. Here's one of my responses that I think adds to the article:

It sounds like you believe that "legal entities" have actual existence, that they're real things. People have real existence, their labor and the things they produce are real, buildings are real, but "legal entities" exist only on paper, and in the minds of those people who create them and enforce them and obey them.

The OWS protesters (and the movie makers) are right to object to a corporation being seen as a "person." Because that is a lie. Persons are created by God and honored by God; a "legal entity" is a creation in the minds of human beings only, and is infinitely less than a real person. A corporation has no soul to save.

I'm glad you mention Walter Wink's work; I almost included his theories in the article. I agree he has been quite influential in convincing people that corporations and other institutions are spiritual realities, "powers," with a real existence distinct from the people that make them up. But this also is false. Corporations are quite clearly created by human beings, and human beings cannot create real, living spiritual entities (only "legal entities"). Wink's institutional "powers" are certainly believed in by people, and treated as real, but only in the same way that people have always created false gods, idols that have no actual existence (except as a piece of wood or stone).

I think Wink's critiques in the Powers series are very good. But his theology of corporate entities (that can be redeemed) perpetuates and legitimizes the lie that corporations and states would have you believe, that they are real things, mighty entities, even spiritual entities. What Wink's theology does is keep us from completely rejecting the false and corrupting power of our human institutions and keep us committed to them, trying to "redeem" them. How convenient for the institutions. I'm not at all surprised that message was so well received and popular in our society.

There is real power in corporations and other human institutions, but it is just the power of organized human beings working together. A limited power, easily twisted and very tempting. The power of Babel. The power of "We, the People." But Jesus shows us that we can avoid the temptation of that power and instead wield the unlimited, incorruptible power of God.


the power of corporations... (part 3)

Continuing "The Power of Corporations is the Power of the People":

When the religious leaders asked Jesus by what authority he cast the money changers out of the temple, he replied with a question of his own. “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” The leaders argued, worried about the possible reaction of the people, thus revealing that their power was “from men,” the power of the people that depends on the support of the people. They finally answered diplomatically, “We don't know.” And Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” If all they cared about was the power of the people, they would not recognize the source of Jesus' authority.

The authority and power that Jesus demonstrated came not “from men” but from God. It wasn't the power of gathered, organized people. It was the power that calmed storms and created bread and raised the dead, by the word of a single man, power greater than any mass of human beings can produce. This is also a power that cannot be abused. A power than cannot be used for anything but the will of God, since it is God's work, not ours, that produces its results. Thus it also does not tempt those who use it (or are used by it), because it cannot be bent to our will. God's power is and always remains, God's alone.

Jesus avoided using the power of the people, to more clearly demonstrate the power that can truly set us free, the power of God. So also should we, his followers, shun the power of the people, the power of the corporation and the state, but also the power of the union and the political activist, the power of the mass movement, the power of the crowd. And instead demonstrate a truly different power. The power that cannot be corrupted or corrupt us. The power that cannot make us dominators. The power before which no other can stand. The power not of the people, but of God.

(Download essay as RTF file here.)


the power of corporations... (part 2)

Continuing "The Power of Corporations is the Power of the People":

It seems that what the makers of The Corporation and the OWS protesters are promoting is not a different power, but a redistribution of power. They want the power to be in different hands, more hands. Such a transfer of power is certainly possible. The power of the people has been transferred from the few to the many often throughout history, often after popular uprisings. It has been shifted from the aristocrats to the political parties of the noblemen, and even to the political parties of the “commoner” many times. The power has been shifted from business owners to unions of workers. Through demonstrations and voting, organized people have shifted power out of the hands of kings and CEOs and bankers and owners time and time again.

Yet the power of the people keeps ending up back in the hands of those who dominate. How is that? Why is that?

It's because “the power of the people” is precisely that: the power that comes from people. The power that people can give, that people can muster, the power of their work and their wealth. And people, as we all know from first hand experience, are quite malleable. They can be convinced in any number of ways to contribute their work and wealth, and that convincing doesn't have to be honest or upright to be effective. As we see throughout history, people can be quite effectively organized through deception or threats. The power of the people is available to whoever can gather it, to whoever can get enough people to cooperate or obey, for as long as they can keep that cooperation. That's always been quite tantalizing to those who wish to dominate, and overwhelmingly tempting to whoever has access to that malleable power. The power of the people can be used to dominate because it is the power of human beings, and human beings can be used by other human beings. And if it can be used to dominate, there will always be people who will use it to dominate.

What we need is not “the power of the people” fighting against the power of the corporations, for those powers come from the same source, and always end up looking almost indistinguishable. What we need is a power that is not “of the people.” A power that does not come from malleable people, a power that is not available to whoever can take it, a power that cannot be used to dominate. This is the only power that can truly oppose the power of corporations and nations and every human power.



the power of corporations is the power of the people

I've been thinking of writing up something for Jesus Radicals, and started it today. Probably called, "The Power of Corporations is the Power of the People." Here's the beginning:

“I learned, at that time, a very important lesson,
that one should never underestimate the power of the people.”
(from The Corporation)

In the news recently there have been images of large crowds of people, shouting at the financial towers that line Wall Street. The people, “the 99%,” have showed up to demand an end of the overwhelming influence of corporations in our political system, and the vast majority of wealth being controlled by the few at the top. It reminded me of the excellent documentary The Corporation, based on a book by the same name by Joel Bakan. It offers an in-depth analysis of the rising power of the corporation, and the nature of the beast (a legal “person,” yet with “no soul to save and no body to incarcerate”). But the movie concludes with a strong message of hope, perhaps the same message often heard among the Occupy protesters in cities across the country: “The people, united, will never be defeated.”

As the movie's theme music fades, however, and the shouts recede, I ask myself what is this “power of the people”? The power of united people, organized people, many hands working together, combining their resources and their ideas and their labor? But isn't that the same power that the corporations wield?

Aren't corporations basically large numbers of people, organized around a common purpose to produce impressive results, demonstrating the considerable power of “the people, united”?

Certainly, many of the means used by corporations to organize people and effectively utilize their resources and labor are far from fair or democratic. Workers are lured by needed wages, customers are convinced to give their money through the appeal of low prices (often at the expense of quality), and both are made more dependent on corporations by the intentional elimination of better alternatives. According to capitalist theory, corporate suppliers are supposed to be driven by the demands of the market, the demand of free consumers. But in our modern society, too often powerful corporations can manufacture demand for the product they want to sell, and influence economic forces to keep workers too dependent to make any demands. This power, when used in this way to dominate, is clearly seen to be an evil power. Yet is it not still the power of many hands working together, organized, the “power of the people”?




Reading about the "Occupy Wall Street" protests going on right now, and the comparisons and contrasts with the Tea Party protests, I remembered this clip from the Daily Show. OWS is also having a little trouble focusing their message...


two coins

Another really good retreat experience this past weekend, with a family this time. We used the story of the widow's mite again (I'm sure we'll use this one many times). Heather wrote such a good back story for it; our guests really liked it. Here's a piece:

God gave me a good life. Oh, you could say it was a bad one, people do say that; what do they know? I'm alive, not dead. I still have joy, in a cup of cold water, in the face of a young man. I have something to give to God, even if they say it's nothing. My husband is dead, and of my two daughters one died in childbirth and the other ran away. And yes, it hurts. It always has and it always will. God hurts, too. It doesn't help to have gold or stars or incense, I think, when you have children who've run away, who are living their own nightmares and still will not come home.

I wanted to give him something. I wanted to give him something, to tell him thank you, to tell him I know, to say please, please do all you can for my Johanna and I know you love her too. And this is all I have, and he knows that; if he allows it I should be getting a little more next week, but until then I don't know what I'll eat, and he knows that too. It was the only way I could do it. I tried and tried to save a little up, but I couldn't. So I had to, I had to do this for him. He'll take care of me, I thought. He's taken care of widows before.

But now I don't know. Now I feel ashamed. The temple shines with gold in the sun and I have come to give him two pennies. Two pennies, as if they were worth something. As if I was doing something important, as if me and my sweat-stained dress were something God wanted to see. What will they use my two pennies for, in this temple? To buy a rag to wipe the floors with? What will people think of me, seeing me drop them in the offering box?

The beautiful lady in her silk dress is still ahead of me, walking slowly between her servants under the colonnade, gracefully. She turns aside a little, to avoid a group of dusty men listening to some kind of teacher. They lean in, all eyes on him; his face is hard and angry as I pass by, and I hear him saying “they eat up widow's houses and then they pray long prayers in front of everyone—”

(The whole story can be found here: "Two Coins")


salsa fresca

As the growing season comes to an end, we're enjoying fresh salsa a few more times while we can. Salsa fresca, also known as pico de gallo (beak of the rooster), was a revelation to me. The reason the salsa tasted so much better in Mexico is because it was fresh, not cooked like all the canned salsas we're used to. I tried it last summer and since then there's no going back.

Here's a recipe close to what I usually do. Lemon juice can substitute for the lime juice if you don't have any. And red pepper flakes fill in nicely if there's no jalapeƱos around. I haven't tried adding cumin, but I think I will.

I serve it at retreats, too, like the one this weekend. The guests are almost always surprised and really like it.


the corporation

"A corporation has no soul to save and no body to incarcerate."

That's a line from this very interesting, in-depth documentary, The Corporation. It immediately reminded me of something I've said before about institutions, which include corporations, states, and all other kinds of humanly-created organizations: "Institutions are not persons, they have no soul. They cannot love."

Once the movie starts, there's is a little gray box you can click to select the different chapters.
(The pop-up ads are a bit ironic. I'd think companies wouldn't want to be popping up there...)


"the secular prophet"

From a very insightful article about Steve Jobs' recent death, by Andy Crouch (in the Wall Street Journal):

Steve Jobs was extraordinary in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (demanding and occasionally ruthless) leader. But his most singular quality was his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple's early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and turned it into a sign of promise and progress.

That bitten apple was just one of Steve Jobs's many touches of genius, capturing the promise of technology in a single glance. The philosopher Albert Borgmann has observed that technology promises to relieve us of the burden of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world. The biblical story of the Fall pronounced a curse upon human work—"cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life." All technology implicitly promises to reverse the curse, easing the burden of creaturely existence. And technology is most celebrated when it is most invisible—when the machinery is completely hidden, combining godlike effortlessness with blissful ignorance about the mechanisms that deliver our disburdened lives.

...Politically, militarily, economically, the decade was defined by disappointment after disappointment—but technologically, it was defined by a series of elegantly produced events in which Steve Jobs, commanding more attention and publicity each time, strode on stage with a miracle in his pocket.

Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. He believed so sincerely in the "magical, revolutionary" promise of Apple precisely because he believed in no higher power. In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly about his initial cancer diagnosis in 2003. It's worth pondering what Jobs did, and didn't, say:

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

...Mr. Jobs's final leave of absence was announced this year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And, as it happened, Mr. Jobs died on the same day as one of Dr. King's companions, the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, one of the last living co-founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. King, too, had had a close encounter with his own mortality when he was stabbed by a mentally ill woman at a book signing in 1958. He told that story a decade later to a rally on the night of April 3, 1968, and then turned, with unsettling foresight, to the possibility of his own early death. His words, at the beginning, could easily have been a part of Steve Jobs's commencement address:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now."

But here Dr. King, the civic and religious leader, turned a corner that Mr. Jobs never did. "I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything, I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

Is it possible to live a good, full, human life without that kind of hope? Steve Jobs would have said yes in a heartbeat. A convert to Zen Buddhism, he was convinced as anyone could be that this life is all there is. He hoped to put a "ding in the universe" by his own genius and vision in this life alone—and who can deny that he did?

But the rest of us, as grateful as we are for his legacy, still have to decide whether technology's promise is enough to take us to the promised land.



I've been noticing the autumn flocking of birds (though not as spectacular as this, which looks like one of the Danish gatherings of starlings, called sort sol, or "black sun"). The movement is fascinating.

Much of it seems to be the simple behavior of each bird maintaining a certain proximity to those around it. But there's also a freedom or randomness of individual motion that sets off the unique patterns. I wonder why they do it. Flocking has clear benefits, but why the occasional mass displays like this?