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Trump and the Moderate Left / Le trumpisme et la gauche modérée

Christian journalist Chris Hedges has a soberingly ominous piece in TruthDig about the dangers of a moderate left. It is important in this age of Trump, to understand that moderates like Obama, Trudeau, and Macron, while they represent a refreshing contrast to the lunacy of the far right, are merely the smiling face of the same corporate totalitarianism. They make Trumpism possible by igniting worldwide rage over Western democracies’ paralysis in the face of capitalism run amok. They are therefore not the answer; they are part of the problem. To defeat the powers that are stifling democracy, we must not put our trust in them but in our power as citizens to form movements and demand meaningful change.

Le journaliste chrétien Chris Hedges a écrit un article inquiétant sur les dangers de la « gauche modérée ». Il est important à cette époque de Trump de comprendre que les prétendus modérés, comme Obama, Trudeau et Macron, quoiqu’ils représentent un fort contraste sain à la démence de l’extrême droite, ne sont que le visage souriant du même totalitarisme capitaliste. Ils rendent le trumpisme possible par enflammer la frustration et la rage universelles sur la paralysie des démocraties occidentales face au capitalisme sauvage. Ils ne représentent donc pas la solution ; ils font partie du problème. Pour vaincre les pouvoirs qui étouffent la démocratie, nous ne devons pas placer notre confiance en eux, mais en notre pouvoir citoyen de nous constituer en mouvements et de réclamer des changements véritables.


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Hollywood on Parade: Silence and the Abuse of Power

When I was 22 and fresh out of college, I went to Hollywood to pursue my dream of becoming a screenwriter. It didn’t take long for my eyes to be opened. When a family friend introduced me to a well-known producer (we’ll call him Eddie Jones), I thought it would be my big break. He offered me a job as his personal assistant, reading scripts, running errands. He also promised to take a look at any projects of my own. What I didn’t know was that the only reason I got the position was because he couldn’t keep a secretary. Turns out he had a notorious reputation in Hollywood circles for wandering hands. Everyone knew it, but of course no one talked about it. Sexual assault, the old “casting couch,” drug use, even doping his victims. I got wise one evening when he asked me to stay late and answer the phones—I realized later that what I was really doing was acting as sentry.

About 6:00 the door buzzer rang, and in stepped the tallest, lankiest Swede I’d ever seen. Full-length chinchilla, probably nothing on underneath, no shoes or stockings. I’d seen prostitutes before, on street corners, but never the high-class variety. She told me she had an appointment. I buzzed him on the intercom. What could I say? I fumbled, “Umm, Eddie…. Your six o’clock is here.”

She went in. A few moments later, he poked his head out and asked me to bring a bottle of Soave Bolla from the fridge and a couple of glasses. Cheap bastard, I thought. Eddie had a reputation in the business for bringing projects in under budget. That’s how you stay alive in Hollywood. But if you’re going to go all the way and commit adultery, I thought, at least open up a bottle of Piesporter.

I thought that would be the end of my duties, but I was wrong. After a while, the phone rang. It was the head producer, the owner of the company, who was, not coincidentally, Eddie’s relative, a well-known actor and a powerful man in Hollywood. “Need to speak to Eddie, please,” he said.

I recognized the voice immediately but I was stalling. “Whom may I say is calling?”

He sounded surprised, or maybe a little indignant. Not used to waiting. “It’s Arny Jones.”

I snapped to attention. “Oh, yes, Mr. Jones. Ummm… Eddie is in conference right now, and asked not to be disturbed.” What else was I to say? I’m sorry, your nephew’s with a prostitute. Can I take a message?

Irritated he hung up. But I was amazed at how easy it was to lie, even to the head of the company, to cover up someone else’s folly. I breathed a sigh of relief. Well, at least the worst was over. Not so.

The phone rang again. This time it was Eddie’s wife. In those split seconds between our salutations, I fantasized what it would be like to tell her straight out, “Sorry, you husband’s in the sauna with Miss Sweden. You’re welcome to come on down and wait. We’ve got Soave Bolla.” But no, it was much easier to lie. I realized I had no right to destroy this man’s marriage, any more than he had had the right to manipulate me into acting as sentry for his sexual addiction.

At seven I clocked out. I drove home with tears in my eyes. This was supposed to be my dream. My big break. I was supposed to be a screenwriter. Instead, I was a panderer, a pimp. I prayed, and the answer I got was not what I expected, but it changed my life.

A still but audible Voice said, “You’ve shown me what you want to do with your life. You’ve never asked me to show you what I want you to do.”

It was true. Since childhood, my dream had been to be a screenwriter. I had assumed that was God’s will, too. “What do you want me to do?” I asked with trepidation.

“Ministry.” One simple word. How odd. I had never contemplated ministry before, but strangely, it all seemed to make sense. And I felt such peace. As if the pieces of my life lay scattered like a puzzle, awaiting the center piece to bring the image together.

The next day I gave Eddie my notice. He did not look surprised. I’m sure he knew I was angry at being used. If working in Hollywood meant complicity, it was a price I was not willing to pay.  After leaving his employ I continued to write screenplays. Directors said they liked my work, but soon I was too busy preparing for seminary to devote much time to it.

Then, oddly, several months later, he called, out of the blue. Fortunately, I wasn’t home. My mother picked it up.

“Tell Steve I want him to come back to work for me. He needs to complete his training,” he insisted.

(Yeah, training.)

“I’m sorry, Eddie. He’s not going back to Hollywood,” Mom explained. “He’s going into the ministry.”

Eddie was silent for a moment, then blurted out, “A priest?!! Huh!! Did I do that?!”

Yes, Eddie, you did. And I’m grateful.

I was reminded of this story this week, with all the controversy surrounding the Harvey Weinstein revelations. “I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” Weinstein said in a statement following The New Yorker exposé. “That was the culture, then.”

Nice try.  Sure, the 1960s popularized “free love,” but that was supposed to be between two consenting adults. As I recall, rape and molestation were not touted as part of the new permissive society. You can’t have free love if one of the participants is not free to choose, either because of intimidation or sheer violence. No, this behavior has little to do with the 1960s. It goes back much further than that, to the early part of the last century, when the first wagon-loads of producers, directors, and actors chose the sunny hills of California to shoot their westerns. And then, they were only importing a culture of patriarchy and exploitation of women they had borrowed from the impresarios of the eastern entertainment establishments (Broadway, Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley).

As shocking as these revelations are, they are only the tip of a gigantic iceberg, part of a long, long history of sexual abuse and addiction in the entertainment industry, a century-old corporate culture founded on the abuse of power. It’s part of the patriarchy known as Hollywood. And silence is part of the price of doing business there.

I was fortunate. I was young. I had no career to protect. No projects or contracts to insure my silence or complicity. I was not sacrificing years of hard work. I was unemployed but I had a home—and a God who loved me and who had a better plan for my life. But as we will see in the months and years ahead, now that the curtain of silence has been torn and more testimonies will be hitting the headlines, there are many, many talented people who were not so fortunate, who were victims of or complicit in a demonic, pay-to-play system of sexual exploitation and bullying.

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Cash: The Tie That Binds Christians To The GOP

Great article in HuffPo.

Again, it’s not that there’s anything inherently evil about giving money to ministries, but that all changes when the ministries enter into a shift in emphasis in order to secure those types of contributions in the first place. It’s within this hegemony that the politics of the wealthy influence the politics of the church, because the more they have to give, the thinking goes, the more we will benefit from their largess. And so the church courts those with wealth, and a selfish thread gets woven into its message of salvation in the form of a prosperity message that seems to apply to every believer. However, the Biblical concept of prosperity is that no one among us would be poor, not that every one among us would be rich, and this is one of the most pressing differences between mainline Christian denominations and the evangelicals…

While so-called experts – likely with ulterior motives – have identified Scriptural justifications for God wanting us all to prosper, even a cursory study of the financial system that God gave the Israelites through Moses (Deuteronomy 15) includes clever governors that couldn’t be gamed by those seeking exorbitant wealth. It’s not so much that the system was designed to prevent avarice as it was designed to keep people from entering into poverty, an idea that is close to God’s heart, as evidenced time and again throughout the Bible. “He pleaded the cause of the poor and the afflicted,” Jeremiah prophesied to the unrighteous King Shallum about his righteous father, King Josiah, “and then it was well with him. Is this not what it means to know me, saith the Lord?” What we are witnessing today is nothing short of a breathtaking evil being perpetrated on people of lesser means by mislead people in the name of Jesus…

Each of us needs to stand in front of the mirror and look into the eyes of our reflection. We need to stare deeply into our own souls and ask ourselves a simple question. Why did Christ die for me? Was it so that my living conditions in this life would be better than most? Or was it so that I could use what I’ve been given to help lift others up?

Read the article in its entirety here.



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Why Evangelical Christians Can’t Get Enough of Trump?

A thoughtful Guardian article exploring the unholy alliance between Trump and the American evangelical community. Written by a former Christian who understands the need for certain Christians to feel persecuted. Interesting theory.

But beyond the pragmatism and the eagerness to forgive things like “locker-room talk”, I believe that evangelicals recognize a fellow outsider in Trump, someone not only unafraid to shake things up and offend people, but actively goes out of his way to do it…

Jesus once said: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” So I went out of my way to piss people off – telling the goth kids they were prisoners of Satan’s lies, handing anti-abortion literature to the “loose” girls, and forcing science class to run late while I debated evolution with the teacher…

After nearly eight months in office, it’s becoming clear that many of Trump’s actions are not ideologically based, but designed to inspire maximum outrage from climate-scientists, academics, feminists, LGBTQ rights activists – pretty much every demographic that evangelicals hate. Whether he’s banning transgender soldiers from serving in the military, pardoning a vigilante sheriff, or refusing to properly distance himself from white supremacists, it’s not about the act itself, it’s about the negative reaction he gets from liberals.

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Lee’s Descendant Speaks Out

Of all the statements made following last Saturday’s horrific events in Charlottesville, one of the most helpful and on-target was that of the Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV, ironically, a great-great-great grand nephew of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was the general’s statue that served as a rallying point for the neo-Nazis.

Quoted in the HuffPo, Rev. Lee said, “It broke my heart to see a symbol of my family being used to allow such hate. All in the name of what my relative stood for…These statues have morphed into a symbol of racism, a symbol of bigotry, a symbol of the alt-right, a symbol of white nationalist movements. That is not okay and that can never be celebrated or honored in any way, whether you believe you should honor legacy or ancestors or not.”

Wait. It gets better. Lee, a minister in the United Church of Christ in North Carolina, also called out his fellow Christians for their silence and complicity in perpetuating racism.

“It was not safe to be black or a person of color in Charlottesville yesterday. So I have to ask you, what were you doing yesterday? God, who calls us not to silence but to redemption was watching, and if you didn’t see the oppression, if it somehow missed you on social media or the nightly news you only have yourself to blame… If you are silent at a moment like this, if you do not condemn the racism you see through whatever channels and avenues you have, you can leave church now because you’re doing church wrong… When we don’t acknowledge that white bodies matter more than black bodies in America right now, it’s a gross mishandling of the gospel of Jesus Christ. People are dying because we have been complicit in our silence or in our action.”

This is exactly what white Christians needed to hear on Sunday. As pastors we do not have to preach from the headlines every Sunday. That would not be healthy. But there are teachable moments, especially when all eyes, both here and abroad, are fixed on a single event– historical moments, when people both inside and outside the church look to us for wisdom, comfort, and moral direction. Most pastors have sadly abdicated this prophetic role, which is why the church is so often considered as irrelevant (at least) or even part of the problem. This silence and complicity empowered slavery and Jim Crow and made them so long lived; it even helped lead this nation into Civil War, as it may again.

Update 9/5/17:  There is a cost to speaking out against racism, especially when your target is Christians.




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Don’t Be a Sucker

Sucker In 1947 the U.S. War Department produced this short film (Don’t Be a Sucker) educating American citizens about the dangers of fascism and fanaticism. It’s shamefully ironic that we need this reminder, but the film is as timely today as it ever was. (Coincidentally, it was released on the eve of the second Red Scare, which makes it even more relevant). It warns us that we will lose our freedoms if we allow ourselves to be divided by race, religion, ethnicity, politics, or occupation. We protect our rights and freedoms by protecting those of others. Nazi Germany is used as the example, but if we think it can’t happen here, we delude ourselves. It’s already happening before our eyes, and America has much more of a history of racialization than Germany ever had. As a propaganda film, it still holds up. (You may even recognize a few old Hollywood character actors in minor roles.) We owe it to our children to educate them about what makes a healthy society. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

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American Christianity’s Dark Colonial Past (L’histoire sombre de la chrétienté aux É.-U.)

At its annual meeting this week, the Southern Baptist Convention faltered in its condemnation of racism. This Guardian article explains why the failure is more the rule than the exception.  (Lors de sa réunion cette semaine, la Convention baptiste du Sud a été presque incapable de condamner le racisme. Cet article explique pourquoi cet échec est plus souvent la règle que l’exception.)

“It would be a mistake to interpret this fiasco simply as a misstep. The Southern Baptist Convention’s reluctance to condemn racism is not only true to its history but it reflects how white supremacy is built into the very DNA of American Christianity.”

“…Christianity came into America enslaving black people, dispossessing indigenous people of their lands, and committing sexual violence. In doctrine and practice, it justified all of this. Christian faith consolidated itself around the bodies of white, propertied men while dehumanizing others. Trump’s platform might not be a grotesque distortion of American Christianity as much as it is its sins come home to roost”

“At some point, it becomes naïve to see the white supremacy in American Christianity as an exception when it has been the rule. What is needed is more than reform and more than the correction of bad actions attached to otherwise innocent beliefs. Instead, the only alternative is a revolutionary Christianity that becomes something it has never been in the Americas; what is needed is the blossoming of a new kind of faith.”

Read full article here.

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