Archive for March 2011
Persuasion versus Domination, Aggression, and Oppression
When peaceful protestors rose up to make democratic changes in their governments, Tunisia and Egypt bowed out, however ungracefully, while Qaddafi of Libya and Bahrain with Saudi Arabia are trying to overcome the protests with military coercion.
Let’s not forget Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker, who also used government machinery against democratic protest, and the word here does not refer to the Democratic Party, but the basic rights that working people have long struggled for and should apply to private and public working people alike. Governor Walker used political machinations to decimate the power of working people farther, when employers “enjoy” almost 10 percent unemployment: that means five working people are standing in line for every one job opportunity. How brutal to use the budget deficit as a weapon against the unemployed, the underemployed, and those working people, who have gone off the radar screen, because they have lost all hope for employment.
Blame the victims, go ahead. We all do share in some of the blame. Wall Street greed colonized the housing market, but it is obvious that the brokerage houses and banks have been robbing the people, while it used to be the other way around. How can people in charge of financial institutions make such incredible bonuses and salaries, when industrial production in this country continues to diminish and millions languish in unemployment? Shouldn’t bonuses and high salaries apply to providing common prosperity rather than private gain at the expense of common interest? Some of us did do credit card surfing for low interest payments on our debt, but what society allows credit cards to charge 32 percent interest on some charges?
Back to Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, et al. Governments exist by the consent of their people and people do not exist by the consent of their government. How would Washington go about electing a different people every four years? [Of course gerrymandering their districts helps.] But the political and economic systems exist for the sake of the life-world and not vice versa. (Habermas)
Reasoning, argumentation, and negotiation are non-violent ways to achieve the truth of justice. Violence, coercion, dominance, manipulation are all ways designed to short circuit these positive actions. This truth also bears on taking away the bargaining rights and the power to negotiate in Wisconsin. Gov Walker pits a weak government against the power of the unions, while refusing to see the larger picture, which is the backdrop corporations exporting jobs and making undemocratic and unpatriotic decisions to close factories and open them where workers are much more easily exploited. Dominion depends on dividing and overpowering people, so the private workers had to be pitted against the public workers, so that all working people would become too weak to protest the injustices perpetrated upon them. Meanwhile the disparity between the rich and poor in our country gets ever wider. Let me quote Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, “We can have democracy [in our country] or wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.”
What I want to underscore is that reasoning together and negotiating is non-violent action and countering it with violence and aggression brings social regression and oppression. Reasoning has to be supported by rhetoric and rhetoric should not be used to contradict reasoning. Qaddafi’s rhetoric is so blatantly false that it can only be called propaganda. When his forces retook a city, it was easy to see how the people were forced to step back into the lies that he wanted told. The words of Groucho Marx come to mind: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
For critical thinking, thinking is critical. Rhetoric and more blatantly propaganda are designed to overturn reasoning, while rhetoric should support and bolster reasoning, whose weakness is really its strength. Secondly, anecdotes should not be used to overturn serious studies and systematic investigations. The basic tendency of what is really happening in a society should not be obscured by a minority of anecdotes that are an exception to that tendency. For example, “happy” people paid off by a dictator, people who know on what side their bread is buttered, should not be allowed to contradict the oppressed masses.
Finally I ask in the face of all the trouble conservatism is bringing into our world, why so many people want to outdo each other in becoming more conservative? I know that this label covers many different folks, who have very different convictions, but ask yourself, if one of them is little government for the sake of big corporations? Corporations are very necessary and positive in our economic system, but corporate power is not democratic. Money and power should be used for the sake of common interests and not used to advantage the rich at the expense of the livelihood of the poor.
This song intends to be explicitly theological, even using as many 25 cent words as possible.
1) Christ is our Righteousness
Our radiant reconciler –
Who put heaven and earth together
Frightened death into a dither
The first born of the new creation
with stars singing in their elation
2) The Lord is our righteousness
Reigning in righteous splendor –
The branch, the cross’ communion
All our hearts in loving union
Christ opened the gentle Kingdom
Earth and heaven embrace within him
3)Christ is our righteousness
Our shining life within us –
Who died in condemnation
And was raised up in vindication
To live for our justification
The free gift of God’s salvation
4) Jesus, your precious name
Healing our broken spirit –
Christ holds this world together
Like wind, storm, clouds, and weather
In him we move and have our being
In, with, and under nature we see him
5) Grace comes down from above
Refreshing the love between us –
In the kingdom the Son’s victorious
With love he labors over us
From the cross flows our forgiveness
The precious blood that’s shed by Jesus
6) Christ, your great gift of love
Opens the gates of heaven –
Open the heart of this congregation
In our prayer and meditation
Deliver us from all temptation
Lift our hearts in adulation
For the start of the new creation
Angels singing in exultation
7) Christ, the Son of Righteousness
Rising in holy splendor.
November 26, 1995 “Christ is our Righteousness” For First Lutheran Church in Oakland, California
My little poem translation is closing in on 10,000 hits, my mother’s funeral sermon is just shy of 2,000, as are the four medieval love poems I translated. Children’s prayers and German music are up there, then two songs, two lectures and three sermons. There are also two more sermons and a lecture closing in on 1,000 hits. My total hits are almost 93,500. With 131 hits yesterday and 170 hits the day before, my website is closing in on 100,000 hits. At that point, let’s find some way to celebrate.
Home page 21,140 hits
Hello world! Soli Deo Gloria! 11,485 hits
German Songs on Youtube 1,797
A Letter to the President
Dear President Obama,
I write to you about fathoming a new reality that the Internet has brought to our world and with concern for prisoners like Bradley Manning, who are placed into solitary confinement 23 hours of the day.
First the latter: When Egyptians have just uncovered the torture chambers of their secret police, the dark and ugly side of the former government has become exposed. But isn’t our solitary confinement another version of cruel and unusual punishment? Sensual deprivation and detachment from all human contact is a scientifically informed kind of torture. Why isn’t depriving a person from their freedom enough? Can’t Bradley be given psychological counseling if solitary confinement has made him suicidal? Isn’t that more congruous with the humane and democratic society that we want to be?
The other issue, however, is involved in a new reality that the Internet is bringing into our world. Now with cell phone cameras, twitter, Facebook, and all manner of social media, self-disclosure as well as penetration into the lives of others has reached a very new level. Governments can very well be threatened by this technology, but should a democracy be as threatened by it as an autocratic and non-democratic government? I think not.
There is some secrecy necessary for governments, especially when military considerations are involved, but isn’t democracy undermined when governments want to know everything about their citizens, but have all these levels of secrecy for themselves? Information does deliver power. Secrecy is a kind of darkness in which good and evil can be done; but mostly it is the latter.
I trust our government to be doing good in secret to attain the power to overcome the evil done there. I’m afraid, however, that we have also done evil there and often secrecy is used to cover our mistakes, rather than overcoming evil.
All that goes to show that I think there will be more exposures like Wikileaks, because that is the new reality that the Internet, which crosses the threshold of collective consciousness, is bringing us. Secrecy should be a very thin and practical cover for very practical matters at hand and not blankets that cover information for twenty years or longer. In the words of Justice Brandeis, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
Shouldn’t our democracy entertain policies to keep secrecy to a minimum and only combat the evil done in darkness with good done there? That way the good will jump people from behind and surprise them with new opportunities and the promises of new life.
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 17, 1983
St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Coney Island, New York during Vacation Church School and Day Camp
(We were learning active listening in our Leadership Training Laboratory.)
Deuteronomy 30:9-14 – Colossians 1:1-14 – Luke 10: 25-37
Listening our Way into Another’s Heart
When we see through the eyes of our heart, there are many more people mugged and beaten, fallen by the wayside in life, than those we find who have been mugged – like the poor fellow in our story. But because we do not have this precious kind of seeing added to our eyes, which we have talked about in active listening– so that seeing takes place by hearing – we just walk by, oblivious to a person lying there, hurt, bleeding, dying.
This seeing comes through the ears. Two clowns were doing a comedy routine: “What would happen if I cut one of your ears off?”
“Why, I couldn’t hear out of that ear.”
“What would happen if I cut both of your ears off?”
“Then I couldn’t see.”
“Why couldn’t you see?”
“Because my hat would fall down over my eyes and I couldn’t see.”
This is a joke, of course, but we really see a person as they are by hearing them.
There is a whole “nother-world” into which we gain entrance, when we learn the radical, deep listening that becomes obedience to God. But because we are so caught up in the visual dimension, we are shut out of this world. we can’t penetrate the surface image.
When we were doing multi-media presentations back in the sixties, we found that if a recorded voice played with slides being shown, the audience picked up the visual images much better than the recorded voice. We are a more visually oriented society than an auditory one.
Ask yourself: what would be worse if you lost your eyes or your ears? If you answer your hearing, then I believe you would be right – although most of us are much more attached to our vision. When, however, studying the blind versus the deaf, an important distinction comes to light. With blind people we can still share our experiences in the same culture, whereas the deaf leave our culture and form a sub-culture. Their inability to hear shuts them out of our world in a more substantial way, than the disability of the blind.
Now “faith comes by hearing.” Thus with this radical and deep listening that we achieve through more highly developed listening skills, we enter the sub-culture of faith. Yes, and because faith comes by hearing. The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand and entrance can be gained by good listening.
As Deuteronomy says, “If you obey the voice of the Lord your God… with all your heart and soul…” or “if you hear the voice of the Lord your God… with all your heart and soul…,” then you are taken out of the power of the darkness into the place of the Kingdom of the Son (to allude to Colossians).
Our commentaries state that the Hebrew and Greek roots for “to hear” and “obey” were the same. In English we also find that this same word also has a double meaning. “That child does not listen!” In this sense “listening” means obeying. There is a real issue being fought out between what it means to listen and what we mean by listening. Our focus in this sermon is radical and deep hearing and not listening in the sense of doing what we are told to do, that is, obeying.
I was reading my commentary in the car while waiting for my wife and son to come out of the flower store. Ashley came back to the car first, pretty downcast. Nora, my wife, followed exasperated. “Ashley just doesn’t listen!” she exclaimed.
“Do you mean in the sense of his ability to hear or in the sense that he does not obey” I asked.
“I mean he does not obey.”
So that was that. But by the ability to listen we come to understand, we become convinced, and then our wills become unified. Our listening goes to the heart, as it were, and the person responds from the heart, because both have to be “at one.”
We seem to be forever short-circuiting this process of listening which becomes deepened into understanding, agreement, and obedience. To a child we’ll say, “If you don’t listen, I’ll warm your behind!” Or a boss might say, “You won’t listen? Then you’re fired!” We turn to threats or force or coercion to bring about obedience apart from listening.
When my father used to say to me: “You don’t listen,” I thought he was being cruel and wrong to boot, because he was a non-stop talker and all I ever did was listen to him. He did not listen to me, so I did not obey him. If I had felt heard by him and could trust that he knew and could account for my needs, then I would have obeyed him. But he never listened to me. This listening that penetrates to the heart and brings about obedient responses from the heart, depends upon mutuality. Obedience first needs to come as a response from the heart through the work of the soul, in the “doing” of relationships, in the becoming “at one,” and then the other obedience falls into place.
To follow Christ, I believe, we have to become good listeners. We have to learn listening skills. We fool ourselves thinking that speaking is active and listening is passive. But listening is also active; it’s the active work of the soul. Listening requires a great deal of work, real concentrated effort to make inferences and observations, integrating what is being said and what cannot be said and that, with non-verbal communication. It takes a great deal of skill to be able to hear and be able to see a person as they are and with all their needs in bold relief.
I remember how Pastor Leslie C. Schulz of First Lutheran Church in Cincinnati put me through his listening. He would take us upstairs into his study to make sure there would be no interruptions and listen with his whole heart and soul to us. What intense listening he was capable of! He took seriously everything I said and tried to understand me as no one had ever done before. For me it was frightening, it was threatening. My tears flowed. Here the struggle began as he did the mid-wifery for a new person trying to come out. Faith comes by hearing. The new life in Christ comes by having experienced the grace of having been heard and there – through being seen as we are. But what grueling sessions these were! At the time, I too was a non-stop talker and his listening was making me see myself as I was – as if in a mirror – and that was a harrowing experience. I wanted to see myself in my kind of way – but not as I was.
What courage it takes to listen! To venture into the world of sorrows, the jungle, the despair that is below the surface in the heart. In there is the darkness and courageous listening goes into the darkness where a person is and brings the person out into the Kingdom of the Son.
That is what I mean by radical listening, the deep listening that becomes obedience from the heart – not from outward surface things.
Look at the story of the compassionate Samaritan. With eyes that see only the surface, the priest and the temple worker should have helped the victim. They should have had compassionate hearts. But their hearts were hardened. They allowed no stirrings to take place in their hearts, only annoyance. Thus they go by on the other side without helping. The Samaritan, on the other hand, should have had the hardened heart, but he doesn’t. Although he is the one outcast and despised, his heart is stirred by compassion. Those who stay on the surface, who do not penetrate to the heart, will be betrayed by outward appearances. Often, for example, a minister will be considered a desirable lamb by many a young woman in the congregation and they can’t see that he is a wolf ready to tear them up. You have heard of lost sheep. There are also lost shepherds. A respectable married woman may not have one tender bone in her body. A gay person turns around to help a victim. A prostitute suddenly feels her heart stirring with compassion. Then an organist and choir director of an illustrious church turn away without even feeling anything for a mugged and beaten person lying in the road on their way to work. “I’d help him and then he’d sue me!” the one says to the other.
Behold a gorgeous woman, wonderful to look at, a prize because her image is so pleasing to the eye. Tell me how it is that inside her shell she is filled with bigotry, prejudice, and hate. With the eyes of the heart an ugly, miserable wretch can be seen in her outwardly beautiful exterior. She comes to our Sunday School and makes the cutting remarks: “Is everyone in this program colored? My children won’t mix with them!” I could also have spoken about some handsome, clean-cut, well-dressed men, who spouted their bigotry in words that are unspeakable in a sermon. In the words of Jesus, we can call them “white washed tombs filled with dead bones, filth, and corruption” (Mat 23:27).
What we do in the end is what we have in our hearts, what we are in our hearts. Who will listen into the heart of a miserable and sinful wretch – in the darkness of the world of the shut-outs and bring them into the light of the Kingdom of the Son?
If someone with a radical obedience does not listen a person into a change of heart and being, then they can be hypocrites only so long – then the truth comes out, then such people lash out. They can even start a war.
So we need a compassionate person, who listens to us, helps us sort out the awful mess our thoughts and our feelings are in; who dares the radical listening that goes deep into the heart, where all the trouble is. And when we sort them out and finally begin to see clearly, we too, find that our Lord Jesus Christ, the good listener, pours oil and wine into our wounds – and we are healed.
 See Positive “I” Messages and Active Listening in Communication here in my website.
By a greater sense of hearing we also enter the sub-culture of faith that we call the church .
Note: I’m reading Susan K. Hedahl’s Listening Ministry, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001). Her book brought this Coney Island sermon of mine once again to mind. It was preached in 1983.