Saturday, March 29, 2014

Brief Musing from Qohelet: Egalitarian Leanings

Wealth and equality are modern themes that have ancient roots. While Qohelet has much to say about and around the issue of economics and justice, its overall message seems to advise toward cultivating our lives and society where the masses live and being content somewhere in the large middle between the dualism and language of extremes—rich and poor.  This follows the prayer in the oracle of Agur (Prov. 30:7-9).

Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, "Who is the LORD?" or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.

The vital relationship of enjoyment and death and the corresponding commendations in Qohelet affirm an egalitarian sort of ethos that is best described as grass roots in nature (internal good). At the same time Qohelet warns against the habits that encourage oligarchic structures (see Ecclesiastes 5.8-17, “The Problem with Wealth”). This gets close to a common complaint about capitalism—it breeds greed and a consumerism that enslaves the masses, and contributes to a maddening effect of “meaninglessness.” While advertisements (modern day “oppressors”) on the surface point to what is important, in the end they provide only an empty promise that what they offer will make us safe and to make us happy.  Without the investment of charity (a fundamental logic of generosity, 11.1-6) a society grows apart into “those who have” and “those who have not.” History teaches us that such rigidness will only lead to uprising and revolution.

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. (Ecclesiastes 2.22-24a)

It would seem that the various, repeated commendations of enjoyment in Qohelet point to a simple and profound solution in the form of an egalitarian culture without a total decentralized ruling class. Living thus is not about everyone having the same amount of money or distributed wealth per se. It is more a collective psychological achievement where people with different economic lives are able to get on well with each other, and status is not tied to one’s bank account. Hence, life (the way of life) itself is richer and deeper (i.e. "good life"). It attaches to more important things; e.g., whether you are good at camping, riding a bike, enjoy art or a good beer, make time to be with a few good friends, or willing to put in an honest day's work. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Most Anxious Nation on Earth?




The Most Anxious Nation on Earth

                Population                                                        Military Spending
US           317,655,000                                                  $682 Billion (4.1 times greater)  
China      1,360,720,000 (4.3 times greater population)     $166 Billion

Who’s the most anxious?
In the maxims of ancient wisdom, who’s the most foolish? 

®
I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
    than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
    but one sinner destroys much good.
(Qohelet, Ecclesiastes 9.13-18)
®

When the world follows the Way, riding horses are retired to fertilize the fields.
When the world strays from the Way, war horses are bred even in the cities.

No crime is greater than having precious things;
No disaster is greater than not knowing when one has enough.
No defect is greater than desire.
The contentment of knowing that you have enough, is truly enduring.
(Te-Tao Ching, 46)
®

We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war. Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity's creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race. If we have a will- and determination- to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment. (Martin Luther King. In a sermon at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967)

                ®

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Prophet Prays on "Super Bowl Sunday"

The world of fast money,
and loud talk,
and much hype is upon us.
We praise huge men whose names will linger only briefly.

We will eat and drink,
and gamble and laugh,
and cheer and hiss,
and marvel and then yawn.

We show up, most of us, for such a circus,
and such an indulgence.
Loud clashing bodies,
violence within rules,
and money and merchandise and music.

And you—today like every day—
you govern and watch and summon;
you are glad when there is joy in the earth,
But you notice our liturgies of disregard and
our litanies of selves made too big,
our fascination with machismo power,
and lust for bodies and for big bucks.

And around you gather today, as every day,
elsewhere uninvited, but noticed acutely by you,
those disabled and gone feeble,
those alone and failed,
those uninvited and shamed.
And you whose gift if more than “super,”
Overflowing, abundant, adequate, all sufficient.

The day of preoccupation with creature comforts writ large.
We pause to be mindful of our creatureliness,
our commonality with all that is small and vulnerable exposed,
your creatures called to obedience and praise.

Give us some distance from the noise,
some reserve about the loud success of the day,
that we may remember that our life consists
not in things we consume
but in neighbors we embrace.

Be our good neighbor that we may practice
your neighborly generosity all through our needy neighborhood.

"Super Bowl Sunday"
By Walter Brueggemann
From Prayers for a Privileged People, 2008


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December, Ninety-Nine Years Ago

                                           December,
                             Ninety-Nine Years Ago

Once on concurrent sides
along the Western Front
huddled in mud entrenchments,
rain-drenched Germans and Brits
with learned hatred for the other,
lamented a growing detestation
for a disapproved situation
the rule and script surmised.

It was a December night
when a reprieve from shelling
roused a surreal respire;
and instead of familiar detached
chatter, laughter, the wounded groaning,
the strangers’ ditch, candle-lit
began to wish all “frohe Weihnachten”
with serenades of Silent Night.

On no man’s land
nature’s fever dropped
to a sudden, hard frost,
dusting of ice and snow,
draping scattered corpses over mortared clay
from Messines to Neuve Chappell—
an eerie silence fell
easing disillusioned minds.

Then echoing peals pronounced “Good will,”
a wary unauthorized repeal of cross-fire.
Saxons ventured past parapets
to fraternize with Anglo-Saxons—
exchanged handshakes, cigarettes,
schnapps and chocolate    
(some still steady on the ready)

Nonetheless, a grassroots truce
burst forth into neighborly discourse:
civilizing rapport exposed the other
no more worse than the other;
traded reports laid bare the news
was dramatized to benefit their side—
they doubted whether God was on either side.

A ground fog at daybreak, they paused,
undertook the gruesome task:
hacked spades into frozen earth,
laid friends and comrades to rest—
down the line one could see
(while some still refused to meet)
in gentleman’s fashion
kick-abouts in competitive matches.

At sunset mingled in leisure, friends
regressed to earthly depressions.
Captains bowed, fired flairs into the air,
waved banners, “Good luck, Denke . . .” 
And the wave of peace rippled,
riddling men’s hearts met in the middle:
fomenting sympathy, seeing differently
that at each end of the rifle, they were the same. 

Daniel Seifert, December 2013


 The language and images of “December: Ninety-Nine Years Ago” were taken from various stories of what has been called the “Christmas Truce of 1914.” On this winter, a series of unofficial cessations of hostilities occurred along the Western Front.  World War One had been raging for several months; but German and Allied soldiers on Christmas stepped out of their trenches, shook hands and agreed to a truce so the dead could be buried. They  also used the truce to chat with one another and, some claim, even played a soccer match. Unofficial truces between opposing forces occurred at other times during World War One but never on the scale of that first Christmas truce. Similar events have occurred in other conflicts throughout history; however rarely since the industrialized war of WWI. 


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Quiet Spirit of Frugalness




The quiet spirit of frugalness
promises a better premise
of a future of less debt
and a better bet against the facade. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Is America Exceptional? Check your Response



As one born in the United States (specifically a small city in southern Ohio), the influence of various rich traditions, and being someone who is fairly open-minded and respectful of the vast diversity that is all around me in the world, I have grown to find objectionable the notion of exceptional-ism as it is conventionally attached to the United States. Much has happened since Alexis de Tocquevill (Democracy in America, 1840) first attached this term to describe the America he witnessed. Much has changed since Whitman’s Democratic Vistas, which read, “Other lands have their vitality in a few, a class, but we have it in the bulk of our people.”

Our democracy is weakened, especially on the over-bearing federal level, where it seems to be boiled down to a vote of two rascals every four years who have their coffers filled from the real power, the corporations that embody the few and reap the most (i.e., a plutocracy). Our political culture has declined into a massive pit, far from the rich tradition and ideas of America’s past, e.g., liberty, egalitarian, individualism,  republicanism, populism and  laissez-faire. The problem is not solely government; it is government in the
hands of corporations and vice-a-versa.



Marx warned about capitalism at its worst and unchecked. The higher return on capital means that the share of profits rises and the share of wages falls, and soon the mass of the population is not earning enough to buy the goods capitalism produces. And that’s exactly what’s been happening over the past years: ever increasing income inequality, leading to ever weaker aggregate demand – temporarily disguised by an unsustainable credit binge – leading to collapse. You don’t have to be a communist to see that this is so. We should all be Marxists today.

Of course, the argumentum ad ignorantiam is the “belief” that American is exceptional because it’s the “most powerful” nation on earth with reference to its military. I guess so, when you spend 10 times more than the second highest spending nation, China. The US is like the small king in the movie Shrek with the super-sized castle, “over-compensating for something.” Since 9/11/2001 it has been apparent that the US is exceptional in its anxiety. Of course, we cannot see this. Case in point is the recent revelations about the NSA who have steeped so low as to gain access to almost all digital communication of its own citizens—that’s pretty desperate—outright neuroses. Will we ever come to terms with the fact the world has always been dangerous. We must grow up.

One way to take back America is by one kind of purchasing power at a time. Dump the corporation; realize advertisements are deceptive (typically propping superficial motivations such as image and convenience)—at what price? A good place to start is growing your own food and/or buying local. Another is using alternative transportation, especially in urban/city trips. The U.S is the least exceptional country when it comes to the percent of all urban trips by type of transportation and probably one of the most exceptionally overweight and unhealthy counties in the world.


Source: John Pulcher, “Public Transportation”, in Susan Hanson and
Genevieve Giuliano, The Geography of Urban Transportation, third
edition. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2004). p.216. Data are from 1995
and cover all trip purposes

Of course, it is more dangerous to ride a bicycle when our communities are filled with cars that are lethal weapons. Turning the tide on the decline of our democracy means taking control one purchase, one step, one pedal at a time. It requires doing the harder thing, which in the long run is the “better” thing. Walking verses driving means breathing “better”. Riding the bus to work means “better” relaxation (e.g., time to read or to talk to someone). Riding a bicycle means “better” time (think about it). Taking such bold steps mean changing our practices so that we have more power over our lives and the corporations less.

Tocqueville was right, “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens. . . The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A 9/11 Reflection: Responding Intelligently



"Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment." ~ Lao Tzu

To respond thoughtfully takes intentionality and time, e.g., to calm, find rest, or the collecting of ourselves so as to move beyond reactivity or impulsivivity.

What might this look like in every-day life?

·         The cultivation of full human capacity vs. patterns of emotive arousal and reaction (such as dependence on technology, retaliation and war).

·         Being reflectively thoughtful and collaborative with others


·         Openness to ambiguity, mystery, and uncertainty resulting in mindfulness and imagination opening up the way to serendipity and hope vs. fixation on concreteness


·         Acknowledgement of human and systemic fragility, rigidity, anxiety; ergo self-differentiation resulting in compassion