Monday, March 28, 2022

Merton, Jesus, War, & More

 Notes from a Zoom To Gather unchurch Sunday thing on 3.27.2022
video from the message part of the gathering:

Hebrews 2 - the Message

Since the One who saves and those who are saved have a common origin, Jesus doesn’t hesitate to treat them as family, saying,

I’ll tell my good friends, my brothers and sisters, all I know about you;

I’ll join them in worship and praise to you.

Again, he puts himself in the same family circle when he says,

Even I live by placing my trust in God.

Louisville epiphany

It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. … This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. … I have the immense joy of being humyn, a member of a race in which God as Godself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the humyn condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

My remarks

As you all know, I have been struggling with my faith for at least the last two years. It’s been a season for me of what many call “Deconstruction.” Breaking up with a blowtorch & a chisel every infrastructure of doctrine, staring into the existential abyss looking for a new understanding of God. I have been dabbling in pantheism & animism, reading Rumi every day. As some of you know, I have been attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation here in Cookeville. But I just can’t seem to shake Jesus. 

When we talk about the better world that is possible, the new worlds that is always flowers bursting in the cracked sidewalk, the new world being born in the shell of the old, the old school Christian tendency is to call that real & dreamed, that already & not yet place, they call it the Kingdom of God or the reign of God. 

For years, I have been much more familiar & friendly to MLK’s paraphrase: the Beloved Community, a term Martin actually borrowed from Josiah Royce. So who is Jesus in the Beloved Community. Late last year I wrote a blog that Jesus really isn’t King, & that is a good thing. In the days since, I have started identifying as Christian-adjacent, finally surrendering to the spiritual-but-not-religious trajectory I had already been on for some time; but what is the place for Jesus in my new expansive ecumenical space?

I am not seeking new gods; in fact I am done with Gods altogether, at least in the toxic or coercive or codependent micromanaging authoritarian sense that too many power-hungry preachers & teachers prefer. So I had an epiphany reading Merton’s epiphany!

Jesus is our brother, our sibling, our colleague, our comrade, our fellow traveler & co-conspirator in the subversive nonviolent revolution. No thrones or titles required, only endless banquet tables & a radical redistribution of resources so all are fed. Maybe Jesus as sibling really is the new thing. No oaths or vows or promises required, just a baptism into this merry band of rabble. 

“The free choice of global suicide, made in desperation by the world’s leaders & ratified by the consent & cooperation of all their citizens, would be a moral evil second only to the Crucixion.” - Merton, from “Peace: Christian duties & perspectives”

If I am honest, I don’t think most Christians or churches believe or teach that the Crucifixion was a moral evil. I think too many teach a transactional cross, where a masochistic sadistic caricature of God simultaneously commits suicide & kills God’s son. In all the metrics of atonement theory, the cross is a bet & a bargain, with God, with the devil, with the future of all humanity. 

But what if the cross was just the electric chair of its era. What if the cross is as I have been told by historical theologians more well-read than me, a terminal torture technique to intimidate subversives & seal submission to empire. 

If the cross is an evil of the magnitude that Merton describes, it is recognition of the execution, of the lynching, of the authority-sanctioned brutal killing that crucifixions in the first century are reported to have been. 

For me this last month, the war has been reconverting.

From the whispers on the news of an imminent invasion, to waking up to Putin’s creepy announcement on Thursday, February 24th, to seeing the cruelty & the carnage of a full scale air & ground invasion & the continued human cost as the war enters its second month.

My frail & fragile & probably futile searching for hope, it can grasp for hot takes on hot war & cold war, but might also seek solace outside the steady chatter of the commentariat. 


More from Merton

from “Peace: Christian Duties & Perspectives”

Politics pretends to use all this force as its servant, to harness it for social purposes, for the “good of [humanity].” The intention is certainly good. The technological development of power in our time is certainly a challenge, but that does not make it essentially evil. On the contrary, it can be and should be a very great good. In actual fact, however, the furious speed with which our technological world is plunging toward disaster is evidence that no one is any longer fully in control --and this includes the political leaders.

A simple study of the steps which led to the dropping of the first A-bomb on Hiroshima is devastating evidence of the way well-meaning men, the scientists and leaders of a victorious nation, were guided step by step, without realizing it, by the inscrutable yet simple “logic of events” to fire the shot that was to make the cold war inevitable and prepare the way inexorably for World War III. This they did purely and simply because they thought in all sincerity that the bomb was the simplest and most merciful way of ending World II and perhaps all wars, forever.

The tragedy of our time is then not so much the malice of the wicked as the helpful futility even of the best intentions of “the good.” We have war-makers, war criminals, indeed. But we ourselves, in our very best efforts for peace, find ourselves maneuvered unconsciously into positions where we too can act as criminals. For there can be no doubt that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, though not fully deliberate crimes, nevertheless crimes. And who was responsible? No one. Or “history.” We cannot go on playing with nuclear fire and shrugging off the results as history. 


It is well understood on both sides that atomic war is purely and simply massive and indiscriminate destruction of targets chosen not for thie military significance alone, but for their importance in a calculated project of terror and annihiliation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Three (anti)war poems penned on the first Ash Wednesday of World War Three


Three (anti)war poems
penned on the first 
Ash Wednesday 
of World War Three

I am old enough to remember 
two invasions of Iraq 
1991 & 2003 under two different Bushes 
to be a true peacenik in America
is for nobody to ever have your back

forever get   
called a coward
a traitor 
a sissy
a punk 
so when I dunk on this topic 

let me clear 
this is not out of fear

I claim no moral position 
not America number one
nor hippy with flowers in a gun 
not making memes of president Zalenskyy
none of this is any fun 

it’s only been a week but I have been floored
by liberals cheering for war
first we saw it on the cable news
commentators drooling like they drunk on booze
come on Biden what you gonna do
liberals cheering for war

maybe liberals cheering for war
never had the FBI come knocking on their door
don’t have neighbors phoning them death threats
for calling out local racists or January 6th attackers
or you know just regular Americans always bragging
about every kind of weapon they own 

doomsday preppers
soldiers of fortune 
trigger-happy ex-cops 
for every man is
his own killing machine
am I the only one triggered by people
in this right-wing fever dream 

I am just one sleepless woke hippy 
trying to stay on the beam
of not drinking the cocktail of revenge
the way you post pictures of civilian soldiers
then tell me you are not just another
liberal cheering for war 

liberals cheering for war
deny there were ever racists in Ukraine
okay then we can also deny that the 
former President’s boy ever did cocaine
but really this poem has nothing to do with blame
yet rather questioning every aspect of this 
ratcheted-up delirious war game 

not cheering for war is also 
not cheering for Putin
some still remember
better red than dead 
or was it dead than red
re-runs of the Day After Tomorrow 
dancing in your head

some of us remember this tape from the 1980s
nuclear bombs would send us all to Hades
but some of you thought the cold war had faded
until we woke up one February day

to learn about tanks & troops & 
again those nukes
autocrats & heroes & kooks 
high time I remember how to pray

remember how to read multiple sources
not just re-post that old silly picture
of a shirtless dictator who likes to ride horses 
not bragging that the one side of any conflict is

automatically right yet neither diminishing those
who hide in a basement shelter night after night
every human has blood that courses through her veins
every parent of soldiers dead remembers their names

listening to the protesters resisting arrest in the streets of Moscow
listening to a pacifist from Kyiv adding perspective on Democracy Now

mandatory conscription for every man 
don’t worry somebody watching from home
will figure out a way to tell you this
was always part of God’s plan 

understanding why some right-wingers 
who were cheering for Russia are suddenly silent
scratching my head at the left-wingers 
who are tongue-tied to call-out or condemn Russia

everything in life 
is not a hot-take on Twitter 
I know after Covid how much we like 
to sit at our screens & fritter 

But maybe get up for a walk 
Call your mom
Plan a night out dancing
Even if you need to call a babysitter 

don’t put words in my mouth I am not about 
to “blame NATO” but if sensible
foreign-policy wonks with decades of study are saying that 
expanding a military alliance in a time of peace has now 

brought the entire planet to its atomic knees maybe 
we should pause before posting that romantic screed
about a war for democracy itself 
I know you’ve seen that in your feed

war-profiteers & weapons manufacturers 
have something to do with how this thing
magically went from 12 to 30 look 
we are talking about war it is always dirty 

& if the cold war was really over 
why were countries joining in
1999 or 2004 or 2009 or 2017 
& I bet you couldn’t name them all 

if it were on a quiz so 
you better get on Google to start looking 
everyone who left Russia is grateful 
for that flight they were prescient in booking 

see people rarely want to ask why we even have armies
missiles tanks warships military aircraft rockets bombs
say out loud the part about the profits for
Boeing Raytheon or Lockheed Martin

who wants to ask why we even have war
a product where patriarchy meets anxiety in the marketplace of greed
food & housing & clean air & fresh drinking water
even love & art & music these are what we need

why we really need countries 
with all these borders
what kind of scarcity brain 
leads to all these hoarders

technology used to travel 
to distant planets 
or murder absolutely everything even 
if that is not how you planned it

don’t even get me started with
all the End Times branding
if there is an apocalypse fever 
the churches they fanned it 

War is a special
booze for little 
girls or boys 
to learn how to get
high first with sticks
then plastic guns
then video games 

war is supposedly 
a selfless sacrifice to 
give your 
life meaning 
like Jesus but better 

so when the entire
globe is quickly 
careening past the
climate change
point of no return
& it is clear the 
billionaires never
really gave a shit
about ending poverty
or pollution 

admit that war
is a kind of solution
a distraction of action
from all the other inaction

don’t take too much
from this poetic mess

I am just a morning 
writer spitting this desperate
plea decidedly lost 
from membership in 
any faction