Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Marc Ellis offers sight to the blind

April 27, 2017

30 years ago Jewish theologian Marc Ellis launched his first philippic at Israel’s blindness and inability to confront the “original sin” of dispossessing another people.In 1948 Israel ethnically cleansed 750,000 people and refused despite international law to allow these people back into their Palestinian homes.

What ellis did was very brave. Virtually alone among Jewish theologians he challenged Israel to own up to its radical biblical failure. Using the Exodus story of Pharaoh and the slaves, he wrote Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation.


The central problem facing us as Jews is justice for and reconciliation with the Palestinian people. “Without both we as Jews are nowhere, at least ethically speaking.”

He still asks the question today—still a pariah in almost every Jewish community. Ellis’ s steady drumbeat of books on this theme continues to send Zionist theologians into fury. Rabbis never invite him to their synagogues. As one rabbi told me, it was simple,”He’s not a Zionist.” In other words he refuses to buy into Jewish nationalism and holds up the age-old code of Jewish ethics, best expressed ion Deuteronomy: “tzedek,tzedek tirdof.” (Justice, justice you shall pursue.)

Biblical faith hears another story, has memories that others do not have, and as Hebrew scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “one needs to nurture a historical imagination.” In this way of thinking, Pharaoh comes to be a symbolic reference to every form of oppression. Every liberation movement thus is a new dealing with Pharaoh. Zionism for Ellis is the negation of the biblical justice tradition of “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” Deut. 16:20. Zionism, because it acts like Pharaoh in oppressing and displacing another people, in stealing their land, has become the horrid example of a master/slave relationship.

In 2002 Jonathan Sacks the Orthodox Chief Rabbi of the UK stated the obvious:

You cannot ignore a command that is repeated 36 times in the Mosaic books: ‘You were exiled in order to know what it feels like to be an exile.’ I regard that as one of the core projects of a state that is true to Judaic principle. And therefore I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic, because it is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long-run with our deepest ideals.”
For Marc Ellis  the situation is much graver.

As Jews, darkness surrounds us. We have entered an abyss. There is also hope. I have witnessed that too in struggles I have participated in and the struggles that Jews of the new generation are waging. Years ago a Palestinian told me that the Jewish prophetic would never die. He was – is – right. The prophetic is our indigenous. It is exploding right before our eyes.
The prophetic is also in exile. As old as our scriptures. Yet it is important to think through what both the prophetic and exile mean for Jews today. That is for Jews of Conscience who seek to practice Jewish in an age where Empire Judaism seems triumphant.”

When Mahmoud the sieve maker rose up against injustice in Persia in the 13th century he said his army was partly visible, consisting of men, and partly invisible, consisting of the heavenly hosts, which fly in the air, and of the tribe of the jinns, which walk on the earth.

This is till the case with Jews of Conscience called forth by the ruah, the Spirit (the invisible) of the liberating God who chafes at all injustice.


In this sense the prophetic never dies modern Jeremiahs male and female rise up today against the new Pharaoh, the state of Israel

Cornel West on Israel’s failing democracy

April 14, 2017

“I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.”

Albert Einstein, Our Debt to Zionism 1938

In early March in  Israel’s conscience newspaper Haaretz, theologian Cornel West voiced concern for the future of democracy in Israel. Earlier in the month the Knesset adopted a new law denying entry to foreigners who call for a boycott of Israel or the settlements The legislation, he suggests, is a betrayal of a tradition of Jewish philosophers committed to human rights, such as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish theologian who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.


Dr.West’s comments were not reported in North America.

“lt’s a sign of panic, a sign of hysteria, a very sad response to an intense situation,” said West. “Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel would turn in his grave thinking about the spiritual blackout that is occurring in Israel. Einstein turns over in his grave, too.” Both Rabbi Heschel and Einstein, he says, “had deep commitment to Jewish self-determination, Jewish self-respect, but always had a universal vision, and embraced Arabs, Palestinians and others.


“With this particular act, Einstein could not go to Israel. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, if he were alive, and had a critique of the occupation, or said people have a right to boycott, he could not go. Does this mean that Israel actually is ready to turn its back on some of its prophetic figures, who themselves were Jewish?… it’s a sad moment when an Einstein would not be able to get into the country of his own people.”


West has publicly supported BDS for years, and as such, is one of the prominent public figures who could be denied entry under the new law. “BDS is not a homogenous movement,” he said. “There are a lot of different voices, but it is the only non-violent response I can see to the very ugly occupation, and I would do exactly the same if there was a Palestinian occupation of Jews. It’s a moral issue, a spiritual issue”.


Asked whether he would consider visiting Israel to speak about BDS and the occupation, in spite of his support for a boycott, West says he would have, before the ban. “I could not get in now. But I consider Israelis my brothers and sisters, whether they are Jewish or Arab, just as I consider Palestinians, who are wrestling with the Israeli occupation”. The law “shows that BDS is getting stronger but it also shows that any critique of the settlements, any critique of the ugly occupation is grounds for excluding people from the country,” he said.



Abraham Joshua Heschel

“What about the people inside the country?,” he asked. “Are you going to have internal aliens? Critics of the occupation, people who live right there, in Tel Aviv, are you going to say they don’t have the right to be inside their own country? That is what authoritarian regimes do. It’s just sad to see Israel move more and more in that authoritarian direction…Is the occupation now devouring the very democratic soul of Israel itself? That is the kind of question that Albert Einstein would raise, that Rabbi Heschel would raise, that Gertrude Stein would raise, that Susan Sontag would raise, these are questions inside the context of Jewish life.”

Sinful church and synagogue

April 13, 2017

I always start with my own collusion in the sinful architecture of all institutional religion. I bear some responsibility personally and for the church I belong to.In this manner I am with Pope Francis who defines himself as a sinner.


We must acknowledge that the Roman Catholic church the carrier of so much wisdom, visionary dreams and sacramental impulses is also partially deformed. Here I am constantly edified by the writing of William Stringfellow. He was not the first nor will he be the last to write about the wrong turn the apostolic church took under the Constantinian arrangement, the church’s alliance with state power.

Ever was it so…when we mounted Crusades, landed on Hispaniola and planted both cross and flag, stayed silent in the wake of the holocaust, when, as Americans refused to challenge Reagan’s assault on the poor (“I’m all right. Jack”), Nixon’s massacres in Vietnam, (“My country. right or wrong”), Bush’s catastrophic crusade in Iraq and latterly 56% of Catholics voting for Donald Trump. And in Canada we might mentionour toleration of assaults on indigenous life and Mother Earth.
We have often corrupted our biblical integrity. As a teacher I watched in sadness as so many good young people fell for the blandishments of a consumer culture . The church in Stringfellow’s wise words became “virtually indistinguishable from from the worldly principalities.”


Vatican ll was so right. The ecclesia must be ‘semper reformanda”, always updated and conformed to the way of Jesus. In this way Diarmuid Omurchu is correct:

We have come a long way from the fiery prophetic figure Jesus of Nazareth who shocked and disturbed the conventions of his day in the name of justice and liberation. Our respectability has taken a terrible toll on the authentic calling of Christian life.

We have lost sight of the deeper vision and lost heart for the passion and enthusiasm of God’s New Reign. The following of Jesus is not a respectable religion.

So now, the synagogue, an institution I cheer on. Everybody wins when the synagogue hangs on to universal values. Then there is Israel where many Jews become both conflicted and defensive. Non-observant Jews have raised israel almost to the godhead that is the state has become an object of idolatry and the principal source of Jewish identification. In one word, Zionist.

Robert Cohen, a Jewish British blogger focus on another delegitinization taking place: the gnawing away, year by year, at our right to uphold the most universal values of our Jewish heritage…Delegitimization” is the favorite attack word used by defenders of Israel’s unique (mis)understanding of democracy. All who dare criticize this human idol “want to wipe the Jewish state off the map. All who call for justice to Palestinians are ant-Semitic. Ridiculous, of course, Israel is here to stay but like most states it needs a reboot, a conversion from its racist existence.

Theologian Marc Ellis:

Passover arrives once again, the occupation continues, fifty years now and counting, with no end in sight. For all practical purposes, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is permanent. How can Jews celebrate Passover in such a context?

Passover began April 10. Cohen:

Today it has become little more than an annual act of communal hypocrisy. And in this year of bitter anniversaries (Balfour, the UN partition plan, the Occupation of the West Bank, the siege of Gaza) we’ll be taking that hypocrisy to depressingly new heights.
Zionism, which set out to create a modern redemption of the Jewish People, has slowly and surely destroyed the integrity of our Passover remembrance. The ongoing persecution of the Palestinian people in the service of a misguided notion of Jewish national self-determination has delegitimised our right to proclaim our foundational story of religious and political freedom. Why would anyone take seriously our right to speak out as Jews on the great moral issues of the day when we fail to face into the moral catastrophe of our own making?

He laments:
What’s different in this generation is that we have become the Pharaoh, we have become the oppressor and destroyer of others.

This did not go down with some in Great Britain
First, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis said I wasn’t Jewish because I’m not a Zionist.
Then, Prime Minister Theresa May said I’m antisemitic because I question Zionism’s notion of Jewish national self-determination.
And now, the Israel Knesset has decided I’m a would be terrorist because I support non violent protest in support of human rights.

Cohen suggests abandoning the traditional haggadah.

My recommended reading for your Passover celebration is the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report on Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid. Its authors are Professor Richard Falk, a former United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied and professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University; and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University.
Their report is not a rant or a “hate fest” against Israel. It’s measured in tone and scholarly in the presentation and analysis of international law. It even anticipates and addresses the main objections to its findings.

Its conclusions are well argued: In different ways, Israel operates policies, with clear purpose and intent, that create an apartheid situation for Palestinians in Israel itself; in annexed East Jerusalem; in the Occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza; and for Palestinian refugees.
The outrage from the Trump and Netanyahu administrations was so instantaneous that they clearly hadn’t had time to read the report they were condemning. But putting the words “Israeli” and “Apartheid” in the same sentence was more than enough.  Two days later on the 17th March the report was removed from the ESCWA website at the insistence of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Rima Khalaf, the head of ESCWA, resigned her position saying: “… it is my duty not to conceal a clear crime, and I stand by all the conclusions of the report.”
Once again, the truth is too painful, too difficult, too political to face.

But the report is a worthy Passover text for this year. If we read it, carefully and faithfully, if we pay attention to its descriptions and analysis, it can free both Jews and Palestinians from our joint (but very differently experienced) modern slavery to Zionism. And, if enough others join this movement of liberation, then we Jews may even find a way back to a legitimate Jewish Passover.

Marc Ellis points out “that Jews of conscience are writing counternarratives where ”even Diaspora Palestinians are invited to Passover and attend. This expansion of the Exodus story is important. It reflects and represents a turning point in Jewish history.

Perhaps the preface to the Seder should be stated starkly: “What we, as Jews, have done to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong. What we, as Jews, are doing to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong.” Though confession won’t end the occupation, it states clearly the context of whatever Passover narrative follows.

Regardless of the particular telling, our Passover confession is a judgment on Jewish history and the present. It will remain for the future.

The prophetic stirs in the Jewish community

Shaftesbury and Palmerston

April 6, 2017


I don’t mind that the streets of my city are named after the sons of the British Empire.That’s simply part of our history.
My boyhood home was on Palmerston a street named after Henry Temple the former Prime Minster (1855-1865), a biblical illiterate and anti-Semite who for political reasons wanted to see Jews return to Palestine “There exists at the present time among the Jews dispersed over Europe, a strong notion that the time is approaching when their nation is to return to Palestine… the Jews could be useful in buttressing the collapsing Ottoman Empire, thus helping to accomplish the key object of British foreign policy in the area.”

Palmerston’s illegitimate daughter married Anthony Ashley Cooper (Lord Shaftesbury) a real true believer of end time theology. It turns out that Palmerston (Lord Cupid) was a real sexual libertine almost totally ignorant of the bible. He admired the zeal of his stepson Shaftesbury, a genuine reformer and promoter of seemingly lost causes. He was the real deal while his father-in-law was a crude imperialist. The Jews for Palmerston were simply pawns which could be used against Russian and French influence in the holy land.

Shaftesbury for all his good intentions was a Christian Zionist who fell under the sway of Protestant fundamentalist millenarianism—end time nonsense now known as Christian Zionism. In this scenario the Jews would return to Palestine and be converted before the Second Coming of Jesus. This phantasmagoria, believed by 50 million Americans, has caused chaos in Palestine today. Sadly it has propped Israel up despite its blatant anti-Judaic theology.

No serious Jew could possibly buy into this trivialization of their ancestral faith.

Gershom Gorenberg, an Orthodox commentator in Israel, had this to say about Christian Zionism in his book The End of Days:

The Jews die or convert. As a Jew, I can’t feel very comfortable with the affections of somebody who looks forward to that scenario…..They don’t love real Jewish people. They love us as characters in their story, in their play, and that’s not who we are, and we never auditioned for that part, and the play is not one that ends up good for us. If you listen to the drama they’re describing, essentially it’s a five-act play in which the Jews disappear in the fourth act.”

No matter Netanyahu, Sharon and the AIPAC crowd are happy to dance with this fundamentalist abuse of scripture and which sends millions to Israel and writes blanket checks to the apartheid state

Shaftesbury was beside himself with evangelical fervour.

I shall always remember that God put it into my head to conceive the plan for His honour, gave me the influence to prevail with Palmerston and provided a man for the situation who can remake Jerusalem in her glory.”

Inadvertently this decent man became the embodiment of Shakespeare’s wisdom placed in the mouth of Antony in Julius Caesar:

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.


Passover is coming

April 5, 2017

Read the bible…and read the paper.

The same dynamics  are occurring.

Every holy story needs a new interpretation.

In Toronto  for decades we have taken Jesus out of the safe confines of churches and put him in history where he always has been .The crucifixion was a public act—and it is today. On the streets of Toronto we read the story again and find contemporary wounds.


Progressive Jews are doing the same—ashamed of Israel’s brutalization of Palestinians they rethink their Passover story, who is suffering and in bondage,where is Pharaoh today etc. Not hard to find when you look at occupation.

So several Jewish groups are rewriting the Passover Haggadah the book read at the Seder.

To mark 50 years of Occupation, where the new Jews in bondage are Palestinians Save Israel,Stop Occupation has released The Jubilee haggadah.


The biblical jubilee  was the 50th year when all land was returned to the original owners.

A very creative adaptation.

Palestinians are still waiting for the return  of their stolen lands and progressive Jews are challenging Pharaoh aka Netanyahu and  the most rightwing israeli cabinet in history.

Jewish-American comedian Sarah Silverman commented

“It seems natural to link the Jubilee mitzvah with the festival of freedom and to use the story told in the Haggadah to help explain why the occupation must end.”

Another Jewish Jew: Gershom Gorenberg

March 20, 2017


Gershom Gorenberg is another “Jewish Jew” who takes the Torah seriously, struggles to live his Orthodox faith, battles with Torah and writes books and articles on what he sees in his country, Israel. As another Jew of conscience, he is not impressed by what he sees.


In an Haaretz article “We Can’t End the Desecration of Judaism Without Ending the Occupation (Dec.30, 2015) he wrote:

“One implication of this history is that the occupation has not only corrupted the State of Israel, it has corrupted Judaism. It has become a constant defamation of God’s good name.”

He runs through Israel’s history “and shows how the state provided the conditions for a marginal religious stream to grow, and for part of it to become dangerously radical.”
This is his latest article from the Moment magazine:

My wife recently sent me an email with the subject line “Sodom.” It linked to a news report headlined, “Serbian police: You are not allowed to feed the refugees!”

Let’s take note: Sodom’s failure wasn’t just a lack of giving by individuals. The city, as a polity, rejected responsibility.
The same section of Genesis describes the polar opposite of Sodom: Abraham, who sees strangers and runs to offer them shelter and food. After this, God gives the reason Abraham will become a great nation: “He will instruct his children and his house after him to keep the Lord’s way, to do justice….”

In short, the Torah says that the collective known as the Jews is called into being for the sake of justice. All the commandments given later are vital, but they rest on this. And one facet of justice is a society’s shared obligation to help people from outside that society.

That news item from Serbia, by the way, was dated January 17—before a new regime tried to close America’s doors completely to refugees. But the refugee crisis didn’t begin with Donald Trump. America has taken only a few thousand Syrian refugees a year, out of millions. Many Europeans would like to avoid the wave of refugees by keeping them in Turkey.

Israel, where I live, has evaded its responsibility under the 1951 Refugee Convention to give asylum to Eritrean and Sudanese refugees who have crossed the Sinai seeking safety. Just as scandalous, rabbis and religious political leaders have either ignored the issue or supported anti-refugee measures.

Instead, the Jewish Home party, the supposed home of religious Zionism, devoted its energy to passing a different insult to morality, the so-called Regularization Law. The law allows the state to confiscate private Palestinian land in the West Bank on which settlers have built homes. It turns land theft by individuals into theft by the state.
Around the time the bill first came up in the Knesset, the 929 project reached the Book of Hosea. The project, created by Rabbi Benny Lau, encourages Israeli Jews—religious, secular and in-between—to read the same five chapters of the Bible each week and meet to discuss them. A friend who’s taking part pointed out to me Hosea’s ancient protest: “The leaders of Judah have become like the movers of field boundaries”—that is, people who steal others’ farmland by moving markers.

Religious settlers and their backup band of rabbis would deny that this verse applies to them. Some have told me explicitly: The land is all ours, because God promised it to us.

But this argument flies in the face of another midrash, also quoted by Rashi—one so basic that any religious Jew should have learned it by third grade. It provides an explanation for the dispute between the herdsmen of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot in Genesis 14: Lot’s men, says the midrash, grazed their animals in other people’s fields. Abraham’s men objected. Lot’s men said that God had given the land to Abraham and that Lot was his heir, so the pastures already belonged to Lot. Abraham’s men answered, “What, is theft now permitted?!”



Which is to say: The promise of the land doesn’t abrogate the normal demands of justice. Rather, the promise of the land rests on justice. The land is supposed to be a means for creating a just society.

In both Israel and the diaspora, the perception is that there’s an inverse relation between halachic observance and concern for human rights. Statistically, to my great sorrow, the perception seems correct. But religiously, it has no basis. The difference between Sodom and Abraham is justice. Justice is the foundation of Judaism.

And justice is absolutely a matter of politics.

Peter Beinart a “Jewish Jew”

March 17, 2017

This is the first article on real “Jewish Jews” as I style them in my upcoming book.They are Jews who are deadly serious about the ethical implications of their faith. They are coming to terms with the radical deficiencies of Zionism—out of their faith.The Covenant simply can not coexist with occupation .If it does you are now with Pharaoh.

I quite like Peter Beinart, contributing editor at the Atlantic who writes regularly for the New Yorker and  also pops up regularly  in Haaretz. Beinart is a liberal Zionist and a very thoughtful serious Jew.


Recently (Jan 31)in the Jewish daily  the Forward  he challenged the orthodox Judaism of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

He thinks out loud as he reads his Torah portion:

Why must the Jews leave, become slaves in Egypt, wander through the wilderness, and fight their way back to the place where, at the end of Genesis, they already reside? Why the big detour?

Obviously, there are many answers. It is in Egypt that Jews evolve from a family into a nation. It is in Egypt that God displays to that nation his awesome power. It is in the wilderness that God gives the Torah.

But in their Haggadah, “Go Forth and Learn,” Rabbi David Silber and Rachel Furst offer another reason. They suggest that “one purpose of the Egypt experience was to sensitize the People of Israel to the suffering of others, to teach them what it means to be alienated and oppressed, so that when they set up their own society, they will be sure not to impose such suffering on others.”

Slavery, in other words, was meant to ensure that Jews would remember powerlessness once they gained power. Jared Kushner is what happens when that memory fails.

He then described the privileged affluent life of Kushner simply saying

In remarkable ways, modern Jewish history echoes the passage from powerlessness to power that begins in the Book of Exodus. Therefore, the challenge for Jared Kushner, and everyone in our extraordinarily privileged generation, is to remember our ancestors’ suffering and honor their memories by defending the weak, vulnerable and oppressed today.

Now that’s real Judaism!
How could Kushner — a Modern Orthodox golden boy — fail to internalize that? How could he invite Donald Trump’s Cabinet to his house for Shabbat dinner only hours after his father-in-law’s executive order banning refugees from entering the United States? How could he pose in a tuxedo alongside his wife, Ivanka Trump, on Saturday night as that executive order wreaked havoc on innocent people’s lives simply because they hailed from the wrong countries?


Kushner’s failure is not his problem alone; it should chill every Modern Orthodox educator, rabbi and parent in the United States. How could the Modern Orthodox community, a community that prides itself on instilling in its children Jewish knowledge and ideals, have failed so profoundly?

The Frisch School, the prestigious New Jersey yeshiva from which Kushner graduated, should conduct the kind of after-action report that the military conducts when its operations go awry. Every synagogue where Kushner prayed regularly should ask itself whether it bears some of the blame for having failed to instill in him the obligations of Jewish memory. Even if it is too late to influence Kushner, Modern Orthodox leaders still can work to ensure that they do not produce more like him in the years to come.

Obviously, not all Modern Orthodox Jews share Kushner’s moral indifference. Last November, the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek organized a remarkable letter condemning “Trump’s hateful rhetoric and intolerant policy proposals.” On Monday, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, a vice president of Yeshiva University, sent out a tweet congratulating the Cardozo Law students who were working to help people hurt by Trump’s ban.

But these are the exception, not the rule. Kushner’s moral failure challenges the Modern Orthodox community — a community for which I have enormous admiration — to ask why it is often more stringent about ritual lapses than it is about ethical ones. Why do many Modern Orthodox Jews shudder at the thought of eating nonkosher cheese, yet proudly support Trump?

Matthew Fox on Paul Ryan

March 15, 2017

There can be no doubt that advanced capitalism has corrupted many North American Catholics. We all have a bit of Egypt in us, some more than others.Jesus was right when he said we could not serve 2 masters and Paul Ryan is a prime example. He has fooled a lot of people advancing his spurious credentials as a serious Catholic and now Matthew Fox has totally undressed him for the fraud that he is. Four years ago many theologians told him in more polite language that he was an empty vessel posing as Vatican ll Catholic. The man seems totally oblivious to the inconsistencies  in his reasoning.Now Fox adds chapter and verse.

Is Ryan a Religious Hypocrite?  
Dear Speaker and Congressman Paul Ryan,

As a priest who commemorates his 50th year in the priesthood this year (28 as a Roman Catholic and 22 as an Episcopalian), and as your elder, I am writing you this letter because I am worried about your soul.

We all know you take good care of your body, working out frequently in the congressional gym we taxpayers provide for those in Congress, and that is a good thing.  But I am concerned that you are neglecting your soul.  It too requires work-outs and practice to stay healthy.

You claim to be a good and a practicing Catholic Christian but I have serious doubts that you are.  Our Christian beliefs include these words of Jesus after all: “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”  These powerful words are surely important for anyone serving in public office or any other places of responsibility, whether in government or business or church or wherever.  Yes, they even apply to your close buddies the Koch brothers, upon whom you depend so fully for your income and ideas and campaigns and job.


Was it the ridiculous narcissistic writings of atheist Ayn Rand that enticed you to surrender Gospel morality for Mammon? 

You see, another passage that grounds Catholicism and Christianity is found in Matthew 25: “Do it to the least and you do it to me.”  Not to mention the Golden Rule which is found in Matthew 7:12 and is reflected in some form in every world religion since the time of Hammurabi: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Now I want to ask from a spiritual and theological perceptive how you can possibly reconcile these basic teachings of the Gospels with your continued efforts to create budgets for our entire nation that do the following:

1. Threaten to privatize and thereby destroy Social Security for elders and disabled people.

1. Destroy critical health support systems for the sick, handicapped, mentally disabled, and homeless by effectively scuttling Medicare and Medicaid.

a. Dismantle the EPA so that the rest of God’s sacred creation is imperiled by human narcissism (Pope Francis’ words).  Have you not read Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si that teaches everyone—believer and non-believer alike—that we humans are not here to destroy but to support creation for the good of all beings on earth now and in the future?  If you have studied this great document—as you must as a thinking believer—where is it to be found in your legislative agenda?

Another Biblical teaching is the warning that we are not to worship idols.  But Wall Street is a purveyor of the idolatry of money.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in that system.  Pope Francis has spoken to that truth also when he speaks of the “savage capitalism” and the “god of money” that dominates so much of decision-making in western culture.

Your naked efforts to give more and more tax breaks to billionaires like your supporters the Koch brothers is proof that you have up to now chosen to be on the side of the savage capitalists and the gods of money.  Have you no shame?  Have you no conscience?  Do your faith and Jesus’ teachings mean nothing to you because you are mesmerized by power and the powerful?  Do you not know—or do you simply not care—that when the uber-rich do not pay their fair share, the struggling poor and middle class must pay from their meager resources to subsidize the rich? And when the uber-rich get still more tax breaks, the poor and middle class are forced to make up the difference?

I am worried about your soul.  It is not too late to repent and start over.  It is time to examine your commitment to the values that drive your heroes the Koch brothers, who want to worship the idols of Wall Street instead of caring for God’s sacred creation, and who refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to contribute to the common good.  And who buy the loyalty of politicians like you to commit sins against the poor and creation itself to make their fat wallets even fatter.  Shame on you!

Yours are not the values I learned growing up in Wisconsin (indeed, my godmother lived in your hometown of Janesville) and growing up in the Catholic Church.  How have you wandered so far off track?   (Let me add that I admire many atheists for their ethics and morality but Ayn Rand is not one of them.  Not by a long shot.  She has rendered selfishness a virtue.)

I wish through this letter to awaken your soul.  Your sweet Wisconsin smile and gym-toned body notwithstanding, through your choices you are dancing with Evil.

The gospels teach such truths.  So too does Pope Francis who, as a Roman Catholic, you supposedly respect and listen to.  Have you listened to his warnings and his teachings lately?  Allow me to remind you of some of them.

The Pope minces no words when speaking of the divergence of wealth and poverty today.  He speaks to globalization this way: “The globalization that makes everything uniform is essentially imperialist…it is not human.  In the end it is a way to enslave the nations.”[i]  Is globalization enslaving the nations?  It seems to me that much of Trump’s success as a candidate was built around this very idea—only his solutions seem to me to be dark indeed.  What is your agenda, Mr. Speaker, about this “inhuman” globalization that is hurting so many citizens of our country and beyond?

Pope Francis says: “Christianity condemns both Communism and wild capitalism with the same vigor”[ii] and one needs to reject the “wild economic liberalism we see today” and “seek equal opportunities and rights and strive for social benefits, dignified retirement, vacation time, rest, and freedom of unions.” [iii]   Are you on board with this set of values?  Or are you in the camp of “savage capitalism?”  Why do you want to destroy the dignified retirement of American people by diminishing Social Security instead of building it up?  And to destroy social benefits for the very poor and working classes while giving tax gifts to the super rich and corporations?  And to eliminate a current health insurance program that provides assistance for many millions of people instead of improving it?

The Pope praises St. Francis because “he contributed an entire concept of poverty to Christianity against the wealth, pride, and vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time” and for this reason “he changed history.”[iv]  Are you putting obstacles in the way of the wealth and vanity of the powerful in our day?  Given your responsible position as Speaker of the House, why don’t you try to change history for the poor and neglected instead of for the 1% who are already over their heads in favoritism and success and (too much) power?


The Pope takes on the neocon preoccupation with “world terrorism” and the fear such language arouses when he declares that “human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.”[v]  How important is that?  He equates economic structures with terrorism.  Yes, he is telling us that Wall Street terrorizes.  Ask any Main Street citizen: we all feel the effects of this terror and that is why many in Main Street voted for Trump, out of fear of this terror from Wall Street.  But your buddies the Koch brothers are those very terrorists the Pope is speaking of.  Yes, how does it feel to be in bed with terrorists?  And of course, Trump has turned his back on his promises to the working people and has appointed an unprecedented number of billionaires (terrorists) to head his cabinet positions.
The Pope also denounces the “flight of money to foreign countries” as a sin because it dishonors “the people that worked to generate” that wealth. [vi]  He also condemns those who hide their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid paying taxes that are so important for the common good.  What are you doing to challenge those hiding their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid taxes?  Aren’t you in a powerful position to do something about that?

Pope Francis has said: “The option for the poor comes from the first centuries of Christianity.  It is the Gospel itself.”  And he has remarked that were he to preach sermons from the first fathers of the Church on the needs of the poor, he would be called a “Maoist or Trotskyite.”[vii] Are you leading legislation that puts an option for the poor in the forefront?
He says: “Human rights are violated by…unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.”[viii] Are you on the side of human rights and against economic structures that create huge inequalities?  Or are you on board to actually increase those inequalities by passing legislation that gives tax breaks to the 1% who in fact need them the least?  Pope Francis warns that “The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any human goal.”[ix]  Where do you and your fat-cat donors stand on the subject of the “cult of money”?

We need, Pope Francis says, a “balanced social order that is more humane”[x] and that resists consumerism.  Pope Francis says further that “Money has to serve and not rule.”[xi]  It is a “savage capitalism” that teaches “the logic of profit at any cost” and exploitation of people.[xii]  Where do you stand on the topic of “savage capitalism” and the cult of money?  In your very responsible position as Speaker of the House what are you doing to address these important issues—issues that touch all the people in America, especially the downtrodden and left out?  If you had addressed them before the 2016 election, maybe the strongman Trump would not have been able to tap into the frustration of as many blue-collar Americans as he did.

Finally, as a Catholic, where do you stand on the notion that corporations are people (see Citizens United and Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decisions)?  Are you in bed with the neo-fascist Catholic members of the Supreme Court who, contrary to Catholic teachings, are telling us to believe that a corporation is a person?  How could you possibly reconcile that with the teachings of the Church on the immortality of the individual soul and more?  While we are on the subject of neo-fascist Catholics, where do you stand on Opus Dei?

Unfettered capitalism is, according to Pope Francis, a “new tyranny.” [xiii] Where do you stand on this new tyranny?  What limits are you setting on unfettered capitalism by your legislative leadership?  Are you keeping Dodd/Frank laws on the books?  Says the Pope: “Today we are living in an unjust international system in which ‘King Money’ is at the center.”  This “throwaway culture discards young people as well as its older people…..A whole generation of young people does not have the dignity that is brought by work.”  A “diminishing of the joy of life” is the result of such idolatry. [xiv]

In his document entitled “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis speaks bluntly as all the prophets do.  He says No—as all the prophets do.  He denounces “trickle-down” economics as “never having been confirmed by the facts” and being built on a “crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power….Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”[xv]  Where do you stand on trickle-down economics?  Have you learned from its blatant failures?  Are you aware how many Main Street citizens are “still waiting” for good wages and jobs to reach them?

Following are some of Pope Francis’ No’s presented in his own words:
1. 1.  No to an economy of exclusion….An economy of exclusion and inequality kills….Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.[xvi]

1. 2.  No to the new idolatry of money….While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few…..Self-serving tax evasion has taken on worldwide dimensions.  The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits….Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a defied market, which becomes the only rule.[xvii]

1. 3.  No to a financial system which rules rather than serves.  Ethics is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative.  It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person….Money must serve, not rule!  The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.  I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.[xviii]

1. 4.  No to the inequality which spawns violence.  [Violence happens not] simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root.  Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear…..Evil crystallized in unjust social structures…cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.[xix]
And “NO” to the despoiling of Mother Earth about whose peril Pope Francis has written an entire encyclical.  Clearly you have turned your back on the sacredness of the Earth as well: you support for the head of EPA a man who has shouted that he wants to destroy it, while you make ridiculous mumbles about climate change that you are not a scientist.  Well, sir, isn’t that all the more reason to listen to scientists who do tell us that humans are bringing about climate change and the destruction of many, many species as well as the rising of the oceans?  How can one be a Christian and not recognize the sacredness of creation?
Where do you stand, Speaker Ryan, on these issues that the Pope raises?  How are you using your position of power and responsibility to alleviate the ills he addresses?  Isn’t what the Pope says true, that the violence the current system provokes is one reason why many victims of this system voted for Trump—and even admire his violence?  Pope Francis speaks out against an “education that would tranquilize the poor, making them tame and harmless.” [xx] And he defines injustice as “evil.”

I pray that you may be converted and return to the teachings of Christ and the Church striving to teach in his name very soon.  Time is running out for our species and you are in a position of trust and responsibility and leadership in our country at this time.  Earn it!

Meanwhile, until you and your party pay attention at last to these basic issues, I as a Christian priest and theologian can only conclude that you are not at all a Catholic or a Christian but just one more hypocrite flaunting your bogus religion on your sleeve to garner more votes and stay in a cushy job while you sell your soul to the Koch brothers and other Wall Street misers.  People who don’t have a clue about the “weightier matters of the Law—justice, compassion, good faith!” (Mt. 23:23) that Jesus preached, and who could not care less.

Jesus had something to say about that too, remember?  It was strong stuff.  He was speaking to you, Paul Ryan, and your fellow politicians when he said: “Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption.  In the same way you appear to people from the outside like good honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness….You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets.”  (Mt 23.27-28, 31).

I hope and pray that you and your fellow politicians, Mr. Ryan, so beholden to the rich and uber-rich, might heed Jesus’ words.  And if not, at least do him the courtesy of not invoking his name to justify your lawlessness.

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox

Israel’s history from below

March 14, 2017

Marc Ellis,  Jewish -American theologian makes the point the prophetic is the indigenous of Jewish, originating in the Jewish bible. We think of the neviim, the great prophets who spoke God’s word of justice to the kings and the powerful.The prophetic is Israel’s officialdom has lost its way. The prophetic cannot coexist with occupation or indeed with covenant.So the prophetic migrates. In Israel it moves laterally to secular justice-proclaimers such as Haarertz columnist Gideon Levy.
The former average Tel Aviv Jewish boy Gideon Levy decided to visit the West Bank and see for himself. Like the great Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer he began to see history from the underside.

Levy 30
In his letters from prison before he was executed by the Nazis in April 1945, Bonhoeffer wrote:
There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.


Levy unlike most Israelis is not afraid to visit Palestinians and see life from the underside.
He sets the scene here:


We left the house in the Deheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem last week with a malaise I cannot remember feeling for a long time: sadness over a boy’s fate, frustration at my helplessness, and rage at those who had caused him the suffering. Issa al-Mouati – a 14-year-old boy whose right leg was amputated after he was shot by Israeli soldiers in September 2015 – is being held in an Israeli prison. Back in the home of his sick grandmother in the overcrowded refugee camp, his mother Rada told me, with remarkable acceptance, what happened to her son since the soldiers left him permanently crippled.

Then he makes the prophetic links: Israel’s defensive shield of obtuseness, with all the automatic blind justifications for the occupier’s wrongs, could perhaps be cracked only through role reversal. What would have happened if Palestinians had shot a Jewish child? What would have happened if they had arrested a crippled Jewish child? And what would have happened if they had abused a Jewish child whose leg had been amputated? It’s not hard to imagine the outcry that would have arisen from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth – “Jewish blood” – the demand to condemn; Danny Danon in the UN General Assembly; the child’s parents in the VIP gallery, waving for all to see a photograph of the stump. But Issa is Palestinian, and his parents are poor and busy with the grandmother’s illness and making a living more than anything else.

And what happens when an ultra-Orthodox boy or young settler throws stones at soldiers? And perhaps Issa didn’t throw stones – it may yet emerge that he fired at the soldiers with a cannon or a tank. Wait, just wait, for his trial. Everything’s OK, occupier, your conscience is white as snow. It was necessary to shoot Issa; it was necessary to bind the wounded Issa; it was necessary to imprison the crippled Issa. For what choice does Israel have when the Palestinians, in their dastardliness, force it to shoot and imprison young amputees?

The prophetic has migrated.

As a great grassroots Protestant theologian reminded us:

Remember that:
Where you stand will determine what you see;
Whom you stand with will determine what you hear;
What you see and hear will determine what you say and how you act.

The great Brueggemann

December 13, 2016

Interview with Rev. Walter Brueggemann was part of the online United Church of Canada’s website

Brueggemann is rated the greatest Hebrew scholar of his generation. Alicia von Stamnitz did the interview. This is but a part but required reading for serrious bible thumpers.

Q What is your core message for church leaders today?
A That the public agenda is not an add-on for gospel faith, but it really is the core business of the Gospel. Most of us are hung up on private matters. So we put all of our energy into questions about sexuality and abortion and gays and all that kind of stuff — which is not unimportant, but those are not the core issues of scripture. The core issues of scripture are public, political and economic justice. Justice is central to Jesus’ ministry; it is central to the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament; and it is central to the Torah tradition that lies behind the prophetic tradition. But I think we have learned, for comfort’s sake, to misread the Bible.

Q Can you elaborate on how we misread the Bible?

A Most people think the Bible is about personal happiness, personal well-being, being with God when you die and being privately moral. But that’s not what the Bible is about. The prophets are moral teachers, but what they’re talking about is public morality. You can open the books of the prophets anywhere and you’ll find them talking about widows, orphans, immigrants and poor people. They talk about wages; they talk about unjust scales; they talk about the greed that skews the economy. They say that injustice will lead to destruction — it’s an unavoidable message. So it’s just amazing how, in our habitual reading, we have siphoned off the energy from those accent points into stuff that is less demanding