U.S. Sold $40 Billion in Weapons in 2015, Topping Global Market

The United States is a Christian nation, and we are the greatest nation on earth…at least if measured in terms of how much gross revenue made from the sales of weapons. In all seriousness, though, most of these sales of weapons go to “developing nations,” which means that 1) the weapons do great harm, landing in the hands of tyrants and war lords in unstable countries and 2) these weapons can more easily find their way into the hands of terrorists. Karma, though, what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. We create the terrorists that we so greatly fear and that cause us to enter ill-advised, unwinnable wars that divide us, cause us to go into great debt, and further destabilize the world.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/26/us/politics/united-states-global-weapons-sales.html?smid=fb-share&_r=2

What dies on the cross?

Slovak Zizek asks the simple theological question: “what dies on the cross?” It’s a question asked by many millions over the last two thousand years. The standard, traditional answer is to say that Jesus Christ died on the cross to atone for our sins, so that sinners who stand in a precarious relationship to God — condemned and estranged — can be made clean and be “justified” hence restoring our relationship to God. But perhaps there’s a deeper sense here, deeper and wider, something that has been hidden in plain sight.

Read more

My Brilliant Friend by Ella Ferrante

How I rate it: 5 of 5 stars

What I liked: This is a deeply intimate novel, and I’m hopeless and helplessly hooked. I’m a fan of historical fiction, but this, like all good historical fiction, transcends the era by its deep and honest engagement with the tensions of the characters inhabiting their time and place.

Plot Summary: Two exceptional and intelligent girls, Greco and Lila, form an unbreakable but complicated bond growing up in a poor, harsh, and at times violent neighborhood in Naples, Italy. The novel is set in the 1950s and is the first novel in the four-novel Neapolitan series that follows the two women through the course of their lives.

I began to weep with lonliness. What was I? Who was I?…What signs did I carry? What fate? I thought of the neighborhood, as of a whirlpool, from which any attempt of escape was an illusion.

Read more

The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler

How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars

What I liked: It was a thrill ride, a thinkers thrill ride, but a thriller nonetheless. It’s a bit creepy to contemplate the reach of the government in the post-9/11 world. Even creepier, I submit, when a skilled author brings characters to life who have to grapple with the issues in real time, on the run. 

Plot Summary: A clean up by the NSA leads to a cover up, and cover ups lead to more cover ups. The body count and loose ends lead an analyst inside the agency to start to ask questions, questions that she knows she isn’t ready to answer, questions that peel back the curtain on the NSA’s power and god-like reach.

“Something about all that power seemed to make the assholes who wielded it believe they were invulnerable.”

Read more

There is, after all, something revolutionary in Christianity — a tendency to upend, reverse, and radically transform. In Mary’s magnificat, the song of praise, she offers at her meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, she proclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant . . . He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” This list of upsets issues from the mouth of a peasant girl who has been promoted to an almost unimaginable status. That the radical reversals of Christmas are enumerated to us by a young woman of no particular social standing is itself an incredible bit of turnabout.

The revolutionary character of Christianity is usually washed out and mostly confined to specific political moments when it’s useful to refer to it. But this selectivity, too, should be upended. Christianity is at all times concerned with the poorest, the most vulnerable, the most oppressed; it is permanently interested in reversing this order, in aiming at and accomplishing the unexpected.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/12/meaning-christmas-revolution-oppressed-kierkegaard/

Peace on Earth: Live and Let Live

To get along with each other, we must respect one another. There is not shortcut. In this era of “nationalist” enthusiasm, in this Trump-world where people are viewed with suspicion because they are of a different religion or nationality, of a different gender or race — it’s important to remember that surrounding yourself with people who look and think and act just like you is no guarantee that you will be more safe, more secure, or free from conflict. Peace is not won through purging ourselves of those who are different, it comes through a maxim that I saw on display most notably in my travels through Alaska: live and let live. It’s simple. It’s basic. It’s respect.

I was reminded of this reading a bit of wisdom from Zadie Smith:

Racial homogeneity is no guarantor of peace, any more than racial heterogeneity is fated to fail

Here’s an extended quote from the New York Review (Dec 22):

“I don’t think I ever was quite naive enough to believe, even at twenty-one, that racially homogeneous societies were necessarily happier or more peaceful than ours simply by virtue of their homogeneity. After all, even a kid half my age knew what the ancient Greeks did to each other, and the Romans, and the seventeenth-century British, and the nineteenth-century Americans. My best friend during my youth—now my husband—is himself from Northern Ireland, an area where people who look absolutely identical to each other, eat the same food, pray to the same God, read the same holy book, wear the same clothes, and celebrate the same holidays have yet spent four hundred years at war over a relatively minor doctrinal difference they later allowed to morph into an all-encompassing argument over land, government, and national identity. Racial homogeneity is no guarantor of peace, any more than racial heterogeneity is fated to fail.” (emphasis added)

Mindfulness and compassion

One of the central insights from Jesus’ teachings was forgiveness, and the central insight of forgiveness is its power to liberate us. To forgive is to let go, to release the anger and resentment that poisons the mind.

Metta is a basic quality of awareness itself

 

 

I was recently listening to Joseph Goldstein’s teachings on Mindfulness (Abiding in Mindfulness), and he said that “metta [loving-kindness] is a basic quality of awareness itself.” For me, the implication is that the Buddhist emphasis on mental awareness combined with the Christian emphasis on love and charity compliment each other, and perhaps are, in fact, simply different nuances of a luminous mind and an open, liberated heart.

Burning Man just moved one step closer to becoming a religion

Yesterday (December 6) the festival’s co-founder Larry Harvey made clear that Burning Man is now closer to becoming a religion than ever before. In a blogpost, he announced that the 2017 theme would be “Radical Ritual,” writing that “beyond the dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical ideas of religion, there is immediate experience. It is from this primal world that living faith arises. In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions.”

Read more

It is a bright afternoon: what am I going to do? I am going to work with my mind and with my pen, while the sky is clear and while the soft white clouds are small and sharply defined in it. I am not going to bury myself in books and note taking. I am not going to lose myself in this jungle and come out drunk and bewildered, feeling that bewilderment is a sign that I have done something. I am not going to write as one driven by compulsions but freely, because I am a writer, because for me to write is to think and to live and also in some degree even to pray. ~ Thomas Merton, The Intimate Merton, September 27, 1958