IT COULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT…

By Jim Jordal

I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand;  I will keep You, And give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, To open the blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house…                                                                    Isaiah 42:6-7 NKJV

Human kind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.                                            Chief Seattle of the Duwamish, 1786-1866

Only when the last tree had died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we can’t eat money.               Cree proverb

The sordid history of America’s Westward expansion parallels the accounts of indigenous people the world over who have been robbed, lied to, enslaved, tortured, killed, and subjugated in as many ways as it’s possible to imagine---all in the name of gold, empire and dominion.

And it’s not just people, but the entire physical earth that suffers under the onslaught of empire-building. Natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, flood, fires and tornadoes are frightening indicators of the extent of human depredations upon the planet. But nothing seems to reach below the human patina of greed, arrogance, cruelty and simple stupidity that pervades the political/economic scene today. The deniers of such dangerous phenomena as global warming, species extinction, and invasions of strange species still maintain sufficient power to frustrate attempts at change---and we continue to select them for political and economic leadership positions.

Somewhere in Western cultural/religious history there is a continuing flaw so great as to now threaten human civilization. The flaw (some call it original sin; I prefer outrageous arrogance) has always existed, but lacked sufficient power to expand globally. Not so today, because we now have the capability to destroy the earth and its peoples many times in many ways. Yet we continue on in our massive arrogance and endless greed as if there were no tomorrow. But God says there is an outcome to all this activity, and that we are in its throes as we see nations crumbling, violence becoming common-place, and the political, economic social institutions we have created shaking themselves to pieces.

But this disastrous tale didn’t have to be, had leaders been more cognizant of the demands of universal justice and decency. Many early American leaders believed that God had ordained their conquest of the wilderness, and that they were doing God a favor by subjugating the godless Native Americans. So exterminating the buffalo that constituted the main part of the diet of aboriginal hunters was a service to God, was it not?

If you ever visit the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota’s Black Hills you will no doubt visit the hall in which hang portraits of major Native American tribal leaders. The artist captured for us the pathos, suffering, and noble character of these men, most of whom did nothing more than attempt to save their people from the rapacious onslaughts of their conquerors---generally the American army, traders, and adventurers.

Let’s accept the sincerity of these dominators that God had given them this wilderness. But did they have to destroy everything in it? Was it not possible to share the largesse of what God had provided? Could we not have traded knowledge and peacetime goods for the virgin land we coveted?

Yes, it could have been vastly different had we known and practiced the broad concept of Jubilee, one of which is that God owns the earth and we are not to dominate and destroy it, but to conserve and protect God’s blessings.

The opportunity to employ the laws of Jubilee is coming around again as it becomes ever more clear that the earth and its peoples cannot sustain the greed and arrogance of humans and their creations aimed only at making money. As Revelation 18:11-13 so clearly shows, Babylon (God’s name for the great commercial/financial domination system now enslaving humanity) has gold, silver, and precious stones at the top of its list of what is valuable,  and at the bottom the bodies and souls of men.

THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL NATION

BY Jim Jordal

 Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee. Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.                                                                                      Isa. 44:21-23 KJV

In his recent State of the Union message, President Obama called the U.S. “the  most powerful nation on earth.” That phrase of course conjures up military and economic power associated with destruction and domination, but could also call up remembrances of times when our nation rose beyond the shackles of fear and hatred to forgive and restore conquered nations, such as what the Marshall Plan did in post-war Germany and Japan.

Yes, we are undoubtedly the world’s strongest military and economic power. We could flatten enemy cities and bankrupt their economies. But what would we gain but enemies driven to desperate acts of personal and national suicide? Or pseudo- allies proclaiming undying loyalty to us while at the same time aiding those who plot terror attacks against us and sending out brainwashed disciples to carry them out.

 But nations can also express their power through moral authority, or standing firm in support of basic universal rights and responsibilities common to all humans whatever the time or place. These inalienable rights include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as found in our Declaration of Independence. They also include the right of rebellion when these basics are denied.

The problem throughout history has been that nations generally define power in the military/economic sense, using this power to dominate, enslave, and oppress less-powerful peoples. The Industrial Revolution introduced machines and mass production to the mix, creating new ways to enslave and exploit---old suffering; new method. Now we have through the marvels of technology combined military and economic power in an irresistible manner new to history.

We could be using our national power and prominent position to better the world through improved medical care, food production, education, social structures, financial generosity, and many other methods being discovered almost daily. But no, we fiercely hang onto the past as we run roughshod over nations weaker than ourselves, seeking new markets for our products, wage slaves to produce our baubles, and suggestible and compliant people to enjoy our often mindless, amoral entertainment. For shame!

Scripture tells us that “righteousness exalts a nation, and sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). God said his people would possess greatness in all aspects if they would follow him and obey his word. He chose us as his servants to bring his blessings to the entire creation. That’s what the present turmoil of nations is all about: the time of trial as an old order shakes itself to pieces and a New Order, the Kingdom of God on Earth, replaces it.

It remains to be seen whether America will use its superpower status only to gain and protect markets for our insatiable commercial interests or more bases for our far-flung military presence. Or will we awaken to God’s will that we be, not the Great Satan to the world, as we now are called by some Islamic leaders, but the source of great blessing to the enslaved peoples of the  world.

This Jubilee-inspired biblical passage from Isaiah 49:8-9a is directed to Israel, and by implication, all Christians: “Thus says Yahweh, In an acceptable time have I answered you, and in a day of salvation have I helped you; and I will preserve you, and give you for a covenant of the people, to raise up the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritage: saying to those who are bound, Go forth; to those who are in darkness, Show yourselves…”

We are God’s servant nation, not the dominator and destroyer of the earth. It’s time we began to act cording to God’s plan.

MORE ON AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

By Jim Jordal

 Isn't this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn't it to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your healing shall spring forth speedily….and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters don't fail. Those who shall be of you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

Isaiah 58:6-12 WEB

Last week we looked at a few origins of American exceptionalism, or the belief that America differs from other nations in its mission to model for the world the benefits of freedom, justice under law, and unfettered opportunity for all to climb the ladder of success according to their ability and hard work. But today that belief appears more and more unattainable for vast numbers of workers and those born without access to money or prominent family connections.

We are victims along with the rest of the world of what many writers call predatory capitalism, or the level at which free market capitalism evolves into something far more sinister---a system where money and power gained by the biggest players enable them to control the market for their own benefit. Then the idea of free markets becomes ridiculous. We are now there as the supposedly free market run by nothing less than predators preys upon workers, immigrants, indigenous people, minority groups, and others without social or economic power. The profits made by this predatory system rise up the income pyramid to the top where they provide lavish lifestyles for the few able to control of the very political processes and institutions that made this freedom initially possible.

So we are exceptional in military power, economic strength, possession of natural resources, world political position, and the ability to get what we want even at the expense of others. But are these the attributes valued by God? Are these what he will build his earthly kingdom upon? Are these what will make America truly great? I think not.

The exceptionalism God wants for America involves selfless service to the destitute rather than heartless, greedy domination of the powerless. The above reading from Isaiah lays it all out: God’s people are to loose all bonds and yokes of wickedness, free the oppressed, deal our bread to the hungry, bring the poor that are cast out to our house, and cover the naked. This is the same Jubilee message that was repeated by Jesus in his first sermon (Luke 4). It’s the same message that was preached by the prophets and is the same message that America needs to hear today.

It doesn’t take graduate level education to perceive that most of America’s military adventures around the world and our desperate attempt to lay claim to the lion’s share of world resources and world power are not getting us what we want and are instead threatening us with impending political and economic bankruptcy. What we’re doing is totally unsustainable, not to mention exceedingly destructive to the world’s people and the planet they call home.

God’s system is eminently reproducible and leads to a renewing of the creation. But the manipulators and controllers of this system don’t want this, so the message just lies around until the time when, as economist Milton Friedman said, "what is now politically impossible becomes politically inevitable." And so it is with Jubilee!

MISGUIDED PATRIOTISM

By Jim Jordal

Is patriotism always a virtue? Are there ever times when patriotism becomes harmful and even sinful? How is one to know the difference, assuming there is one?

The issue is clarified if you think of the oft-heard slogan, "Support the troops." I think that most Americans do support the troops by deeply respecting their persons, uniforms and the principles of freedom behind them. We support the troops by paying federal taxes even though we may not always approve of how the funds are used. We deeply honor those who have given their lives in battle and those who have retired honorably from service. But as we voice support for the troops we also need to consider some deeper questions now arising in the debates over rampant militarism and its outcomes for friend and foe alike.

What does the phrase support the troops really mean? Generally it means to support not only the people but the policies---political, economic, social---that create and supply armies in the first place. It usually means to also support the government and infrastructure lying behind these troops, and the leaders who create and arm them. It also means not to ask questions that might detract from the abilities of troops to carry out national policies of trade and security even though these policies might be misguided at best and perhaps criminal at worst.

Can one support the troops but not the policies the military stands for and carries out? Of course! But too often that alternative is not allowed in the debate: it’s either or---either you support the troops and the militarism behind them or you become suspect in your patriotism or national loyalty.

But as the financial, political, environmental and social costs of militarism become ever more pressing, hordes of people are now asking why they can’t support the troops but oppose the militarism behind their operations.

To more clearly state my position: I’m in favor of maintaining a strong military to protect us from outside enemies and to maintain the freedoms stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. But when I hear that for the approximate $2 billion cost of one stealth bomber we could educate or feed millions of starving children, the issue becomes more questionable.

Don’t forget the simple fact that our nation was founded on rebellion against the various oppressions of tyrannical central authority. If passive acceptance of domination had been the rule of the day there would have been no Boston Tea Party, no Minutemen standing at the stone arch bridge, and no new nation. Our greatest patriots were open revolutionaries who are venerated as such to the present day.

So patriotism should not be equated with passive, craven acceptance of evil. Real patriots speak truth to power and do not quietly accept repression and injustice. They most certainly do not follow the multitude seeking comfort over suffering, and certitude over doubt. They understand that supporting the troops does not mean blindly supporting the policies that lead to further wars and massive expenditures of money that could better be used elsewhere. They understand that we may need stealth bombers, but not to the exclusion of vital human needs. They support the troops by questioning governmental and military policies aimed at national aggrandizement and continued control over foreign markets. They know the difference between expediency and justice.

We could learn from biblical prophets about ways of confronting wayward authority. When Nathan confronted King David over his adultery and murder he proclaimed, "You are the man." When Ezekiel faced down King Ahab over his seizing of Naboth’s vineyard through conspiracy and murder he said, "I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord."

That’s what we mean by speaking truth to power. Men of God did it back then, and true patriots continue to do it today. Fearless truth speaking helps create justice and saves nations from disaster. Let’s have some more of it today. God knows there’s much to say.

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

By Jim Jordal

"It is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own."

Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Samuel Cooper, May 1, 1777

"The happy union of these states is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of liberty throughout the world."

James Madison, Notes on the Federal Constitution, 1829

American exceptionalism is the term given by scholars to the belief that America differs from other nations in its unique mission to develop and transfer political freedom, economic equality and the "blessings of liberty" to the remainder of the world. This persistent belief was echoed by early explorers as they discovered the New World, by our first governmental leaders as they created our founding documents, by the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and by many prominent people since then. The belief that we are an exceptional people is pervasive and strong and has been implemented in many favorable ways, and in others not so favorable.

The quotes above express the beliefs of many Founding Fathers that our experience in forming a new country and a new form of government was indeed the hope of a world at that time gripped by competing empires, autocratic kings, oppressive feudalism, endemic poverty, and exploitation by plundering explorers sent out to claim unexplored lands for their kings and Christianity.

The concept of exceptionalism is rooted in the idea that power follows Divine selection and blessing. It has religious pillars closely related to the European concept of the "Divine Right of Kings." In the Bible it finds expression in the Abrahamic Covenant whereby God promises to make Abraham’s descendents numerous as the sands of the sea and a blessing to all peoples of the earth. Later it could be heard in the "Promised Land" concept expressed by Moses and bloodily carried out by Joshua.

The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 expressed American exceptionalism clearly and forcibly. It warned other countries—especially those in Europe, including Britain---that the Americas were no longer open to settlement or political intervention by foreign powers. Although it was really only the hopeful roaring of a fairly weak country, it remained the embodiment of American hemispheric policy for over a century.

The Western Hemisphere was thus supposedly closed to chaotic European despotism for all time. The idea was to keep this hemisphere closed so that the American experiment in freedom and political democracy could grow unhindered. But various nations led by Spain kept creeping in, especially in the economic realm. So American political exceptionalism was gradually overcome by the search for economic gain and remains so to the present time.

The idea that government existed to enlighten and protect the public and that it ruled in responsibility and concern for them was indeed a rather new experience for the earth. And that government allowed its power to be limited by justice under law was another. In that respect we were truly exceptional. Even Britain with its early movement toward limiting the power of the Crown (Magna Carta, 1215, and English Bill of Rights, 1689) still maintained a strictly structured social class system with most political and economic power remaining with the titled nobility.

Today we still believe in American exceptionalism. Somehow we are different and demand to be recognized as such. But as never before this foundational belief is threatened by a resurgent "power elite" dragging us back to the economic servitude of the "Gilded Age" of the late 1800s and the "Roaring Twenties" preceding the Great Depression. Yes, we still maintain a semblance of political democracy, but increasingly and unceasingly power is eroded from the people and transferred to the upper classes that now control the machinery of government sufficiently for this trend to continue.

We’ll think more about this subject next week.