Sunday, December 25, 2016

The He** Dance

Have you ever heard an Evangelical or Mainline Protestant sermon that talks about who gets salvation and who doesn't?

Here's an interview with Evangelical pastor Tim Keller.

These sermons typically feel like a ballroom dance. Waltz, or Tango. Definitely duple, though. Not much swing step. Step forward, step sideways, step back. Forward, back, side-to-side.

Some dances are about celebrating a wedding. Some are about cultural heritage. This is a dance... about four letters or six. Who is going to which. "H-Place" number one? Or number two.

The dance gets faster and faster like a Greek circle dance. With the hankies. Like the child's game "Hot and Cold." Cold, cold, cool, getting warmer, lukewarm, warmer, warmer, hot, scalding hot, boiling oil hot, lava pit, center of the earth, surface of the sun, Burning He**fire!
Kristof: So where does that leave people like me? Am I a Christian? A Jesus follower? A secular Christian? Can I be a Christian while doubting the Resurrection?
Keller: I wouldn’t draw any conclusion about an individual without talking to him or her at length. But, in general, if you don’t accept the Resurrection or other foundational beliefs as defined by the Apostles’ Creed, I’d say you are on the outside of the boundary.

For folks privileged enough that everyone in their family is reasonably well-nourished and well-sheltered, lives without fear of physical violence, gets six or seven hours of sleep at night, affords basic health care, and the adults work for less than half their waking hours... O, privileged folks, I am one of you.

And if you are like me too, then your thoughts about H-Places might be well-explained by cognitive dissonance theory. The abyss is just too weird and Kafkaesque. I'm a chill guy, I live a comfortable life. Aspiration for the skies and discontent with purgatories seem far more relevant to my personal experience. I don't cook with a coal oven enough to relate to hellfire and brimstone.

Why did I show up to this dance anyways?

Fortunately for my racing pulse, even sermons like Pastor Keller's don't dance in the same direction. Forward, forward, back back.
Keller: The Bible is clear about two things — that salvation must be through grace and faith in Christ, and that God is always fair and just in all his dealings. What it doesn’t directly tell us is exactly how both of those things can be true together. I don’t think it is insurmountable. Just because I can’t see a way doesn’t prove there cannot be any such way. If we have a God big enough to deserve being called God, then we have a God big enough to reconcile both justice and love.
So I read this back-stepping, and it makes me think of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25.
of-Nazareth: The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
If bringing the Good News of the Gospel empowers the weak and encourages the abused, then it is glorious. But if it is badly wielded, to extract excessive tithes, or erase a heritage, or coercively indoctrinate faith through fear, then it becomes a Bad News Gospel.

Imagine telling a devout Hindu/Buddhist/Muslim/secular-humanist/etc. that they are da**ed for the way they worship God... and it turns out that Jesus happens to be hanging out in that person in that moment.

At least as violent as any other error mentioned in the Sheep&Goats Parable. Too weird. Makes you want to reach for your fancy smartphone to check

I think pastors like Keller realize this, so you don't hear fire and brimstone sermons much anymore in empowered communities. But the Bad News Gospel is as American as apple pie, as Euro-American as the Saturnalia Solstice evergreen wreaths.

Those last two are good things. But colonialism is so rooted in our Euro-American culture, that we might even think it was a good thing.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Basic Standing Rock Q&A

Q: "What property rights of the Standing Rock Reservation are menaced by the Dakota Access Pipeline? It doesn't go through reservation land, it follows the route of existing pipelines, and they've already gone through an extensive approval process that lasted two years.

The heart of the matter is that protesters don't like oil and don't want to build pipelines because it implicitly endorses the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels. That's a perfectly acceptable viewpoint, but don't get co-opted by false claims this is simply about the tribe's property rights."
A: Because the pipeline runs under a river that does go through their property. When the pipeline bursts, the Tribe has to drink the contaminated water.
Q: But there's already a gas pipeline that goes along the same route and there are hundreds of pipelines in the U.S. that cross waterways. The Army Corps of Engineers has already evaluated this route as the least environmentally damaging one. Pipelines on the whole are MUCH less damaging than other means of transport like trucks and trains, which will be used if there's no pipeline. What's the problem?
A: Another problem is that the pipe goes through treaty lands and historical sites that were neglected in the permitting process. Consultation and recognition of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was particularly neglected.

On the environmental side, if the pipe went north of Bismarck, then the pipe operators would have to be more careful of spills because the ND Supreme Court is right there in Bismarck. DAPL wanted to hedge their environmental liability, so they figured better to impose on the Native pushovers who wouldn't sue them so hard if/when a spill happens.

Too bad they didn't realize that a unified front of Native people across the country, and eventually "white" allies like myself, were standing right beside them. Not so much pushovers.

Easy-Read References:

A discussion of some of DAPL's illegalities here.

A graphic display of the American Genocide aka "Manifest Destiny" here with lots of citations.

The 1980 US court case that affirmed the Lakota claim to treaty lands including DAPL's pipe route is here. Here's an excerpt:
Under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the United States pledged that the Great Sioux Reservation, including the Black Hills, would be "set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" of the Sioux Nation (Sioux), and that no treaty for the cession of any part of the reservation would be valid as against the Sioux unless executed and signed by at least three-fourths of the adult male Sioux population.
Subsequently, in 1876, an "agreement" presented to the Sioux by a special Commission but signed by only 10% of the adult male Sioux population, provided that the Sioux would relinquish their rights to the Black Hills and to hunt in the unceded territories, in exchange for subsistence rations for as long as they would be needed. In 1877, Congress passed an Act (1877 Act) implementing this "agreement" and thus, in effect, abrogated the Fort Laramie Treaty. Throughout the ensuing years, the Sioux regarded the 1877 Act as a breach of that treaty, but Congress did not enact any mechanism by which they could litigate their claims against the United States until 1920, when a special jurisdictional Act was passed.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Supporting the Oceti Sakowin

Dear Relatives and Friends,

Let me ask permission to describe my thoughts coming out of my third trip to support the Great Sioux Nation at the Camp of the Seven Council Fires (Oceti Sakowin Camp).

Before I offer my account, I will try to introduce myself in the best way I can. My English name of birth is Steven Fredric Bhardwaj, and my Chinese name by marriage is 潘祥辉 (Pan Xianghui). I was born in and occupied land that was lived on by the Muskogee Creek people before European settlers occupied the land by war and force. The settler name for the place of my birth is Augusta, Georgia.

My experience at Oceti Sakowin Camp (OSC) was about community. How I can help build my community, and how it gives me meaning and joy in return. From deliciously shared meals and conversations, to the glowing crowded panorama of nighttime stars -- my experience and perceptions at the camp were warmed from within and throughout by the magmatic arteries and capillaries of spiritual unity among neighbors.

I came to OSC with a lifetime of habits that mark the privilege that I have inherited. Chief among those habits, for me, is independence from my communities. I have long behaved as a "social butterfly", growing into communities only around my work -- and abandoning them like plywood concrete forms when I decide my work there is done. Except for my close family, I never found a community that I cared for enough to never decide that my work is done. However, I have never done work like the prayerful nonviolent action of OSC.

Nonviolent action includes much violence. The actors refuse to act violently, but they anticipate, proactively mitigate, and experience violent acts against them. They resist and experience the violence together as a community.

Except that one side avoids the personal injuries of being victims of violence... except that the other side avoids the moral injuries of committing violence... except for this especially gross ethical asymmetry, it is all psychologically, economically, and socially isomorphic to war.

I have read about the loyalty and emotional bonds created between and among soldiers. Armies move on their stomachs, but they cohere because of soldiers' unconditional loyalty to their close comrades. But you might be wondering, is this horrible "police violence" really that bad at Standing Rock? It's all "less-than-lethal" weapons, right?

As bad as the physical violence is, I feel that the principal weapon of violence at Standing Rock is the legal system. It goes like this: mass arrests ⇒ spurious felony and misdemeanor charges ⇒ institutional discrimination in the assignment of those charges.

Local courts drop charges against the water protectors' white allies, because making political prisoners out of privileged citizens just mobilizes more opposition to the pipeline. But they double down on excessive life-altering charges for the indigenous supporters, to break their resolve.

AyJy and I talked for hours about the risks and consequences of spurious charges that might be brought against me for different work with OSC. At the end, I was far less confident in that work than many others who were braver and more ready to sacrifice, and who furthermore would have been treated far more callously by the courts.

Spurious political felonies are like the "rape as a weapon of war" that we read about in low-income countries. Victims cannot speak out, because a publicized felony is so economically destructive to their livelihood and social life. Thus, much of this submerged iceberg of violence passes beneath community members' awareness. Spurious felonies are nasty for anyone to suffer, and combined with the discriminatory assignment of these charges, the strategy turns even more insidious.

I have talked about the feeling of joyful community I felt at Oceti Sakowin Camp. I have talked about how community solidarity energizes and grows when it faces violence. I have described aspects of this violence and of its perpetrators' strategic discrimination. I have not talked about what we might ask of ourselves in the way of allyship.

And I have no answers for that, as it just raises more personal questions for us, which I can't answer in general. I will include here some links related to allyship with the communities of the Great Sioux Nation. A link to learn, and a link to donate. My Twitter feed and Facebook wall describe my personal journey in learning about this struggle through news media. And I will offer here a perspective on allyship in general.

Thank you much for your care for me, and for your patience in reading my writing. I appreciate the time you have taken! I hope that the work you tackle in your days, and the fellowship you enjoy during your meals, may forever fill you with joy.

in community,
Steven Fredric Bhardwaj 潘祥辉

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Home Production, Advertising, and Insatiability

Home production is caring for elders, educating children, cooking, gardening, et cetera. I'd include physical, emotional, and spiritual self-care in home production, especially with our monetized mental health care industry.

But nowadays it's all accounted and derogated as mere "leisure," alongside less health-productive hobbies like computer gaming, car racing, and bar-hopping.

We weren't always like this. The changes started in the mid-1800s, in the Industrial Revolution:
"Early British industrialists complained that their employees would work only until they had earned their traditional weekly income and then stop until the next week. Leisure, it appeared, was more valuable to the workers than increased income. This attitude, widespread in pre-industrial, pre-consumerist societies, was incompatible with mass production and mass consumption."
(page 11)

If clothing is a big expense, and you're socially comfortable mending your trousers forever, then you can save a lot of time to spend with the family.

Nowadays, the technically advanced and extremely productive formal economy in the USA is surely Americans' shortest route to financial independence. But it wasn't yet in the early 1800s. Looking to our history, it's advertising that made and keeps us dependent on income over home production.
The multitude of advertisements that we encounter all carry their own separate messages; yet on a deeper level, they all share a common message – they are selling the joys of buying, promoting the idea that purchasing things is, in itself, a pleasurable activity.
(page 7-8)
Consumer advertising as we know it started around the 1850s. Before that, it was mostly just classified ads. 


Graphic design was puritanically boring, with one exception: fake medicines... where, the fake medicines often included drugs like morphine...


Basically, industrialists began competing with each other to advertise everything like it was snake oil laced with morphine.


We renew our financial dependence through our insatiable desire for purchases. We experience it as over-employment. It reinforces itself through our continuous scramble to service and refinance retrench debt.

Home production can't be incorporated to enrich the powerful, and it can't be taxed to fund wars. Therefore it isn't prioritized in public policy, nor is it a respected vocation in our culture. Instead, our institutions privilege advertising.

"Commercial advertising gets into our heads and keeps us dissatisfied with our income and ourselves!!"
It sounds like a cliché, like a pointless truism. But somehow this bit of historic perspective makes the cliché seem so much more relevant...

Quotes are from from a Tufts University teaching module
by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, Frank Ackerman and Thomas Weisskopf

Main Source - a "must read"!

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