25 April 2015

Walter Brueggemann: Speaking Truth To Power, Confronting Today's Pharaohs


Walter Brueggemann is a contemporary theologian and an Old Testament scholar from the United Church of Christ to whom I have been introduced by one of our patrons.

One of the things I appreciate most about le café, besides the occasional noted of how the patrons may have been affected by things served here, is when readers bring in knowledge and ideas and stories that I have not encountered before.  It is certainly return enough for the simple fare served here.

Below are excerpts from a recent interview regarding his book Truth Speaks To Power.

For the complete interview which is not all that long you may read these excerpts in context here.

"Legitimate power always includes attentiveness to justice, When power is not attentive to justice it cannot endure. This is a summons to us to keep the agenda of justice for the vulnerable alive and front and center to maintain a kind of subversive stance toward power.

Power is the capacity to organize and administer social goods and social access. Truth is the structure of reality that is in the nature of things that cannot be violated by our capacity to administer it. Power can sometimes be administered in harmony with such truthfulness, but very often power is seduced so that it runs contradictory to truth.

Truth is not a set of propositions in the Bible, but a cluster of relationships. Those are relationships of dignity, well-being, security and respect. When power violates those, then those who administer such power learn is that they cannot finally withstand the force of truth. So, the truthfulness of God’s commitment to neighborliness does not give in in the long run.

Moses is designated at the burning bush to be the carrier of God’s truth, which in that narrative is that God does not want people to be enslaved to the economy of Pharaoh. God does not want exploitative labor or excessively cheap labor. Pharaoh never catches on as obtuse power usually does not.

The truth carried by Moses is always coming from below in the cries of the slaves, but it always turns out that power from above never has the capacity to silence the cries from below. It is the cry from below that is finally generative of the historical possibility. Pharaoh is very slowly diminished and his power wanes and he does not catch on until it is too late—which I think is probably a right rendering of how that tends to work...

Early on in the gospel traditions, the power elite in Jesus’ society who were colluding with the Roman Empire, recognized him as a threat and began to conspire to kill him. I think he was presented in the gospel narratives as being a huge threat to the established order of the Roman Empire...

Jesus became a reference point for much of the hostility and resistance to the power of the empire because he refused to accommodate and told another story of reality that the empire could not co opt.

It [the pursuit of political power] is very seductive for all of us. And I suppose it has been the seduction of the Jesus movement since Constantine, when Christians gained access to power and have loved having it. I think the collusion of the church with political order in almost any society causes the church to lose its edge and have failure of nerve about the gospel that has been entrusted to it...

The market ideology is now the new form of imperial power and many of us, without any critical reflection, have signed onto that and organized our lives in that way so we do not have any time, energy or capacity for the things that are rightly important to us."


Here below is a discussion which Walter Brueggemann presenting regarding the place of the prophets in the Old Testament, which is one of his special areas of study. 

I have listened to some other videos of Brueggemann this morning and have found him to be thought provoking.  I especially enjoyed his description of how God, who is of course unchanging and vast, nevertheless evolves through lens of the human understanding, in our perception, as we seek to comprehend the nearly incomprehensible.

The first video is recommended for the topic above. The other two are there for those of you who wish to hear more from him from the array of his videos available on the web. I do urge you to do some exploration on your own if you have the time. The last one is lengthy but particularly thought-provoking.

I know enough to know what I do not know, that I can be no authority in this, no matter how much more time I might spend on it. That is the top of the second hill of learning. Most stop at the first, and fixate there, and tend to cast their thoughts in stone. I tend to see the pluralism in this, and am not troubled by it, because there can be many paths to the same end as their are people who walk forward looking towards the light.

The point is to look towards and keep walking towards the light, and not sit in a safe place and remark scornfully on the stumbling of your fellows, ignoring your own lack of progress, sitting still in a comfortable mud puddle. I have never yet seen so much lack of love cloaked in the thin robes of self-righteous judgement and unfounded vanity. And too often the more elaborate the externalities, too often the more impoverished and empty the heart.

But for most of us, and this certainly includes me, a Way has been made, and that path is more certain, less prone to self-delusion and folly. It is perfect, but alas, those who try to follow it as best as they can are not. And so it is a struggle, always, even on this pathway.

And so we must be wary of the grandiose and elaborately ostentatious prayers of the Pharisee, compared to the simple, sincere offering of the widow's mite. If you have all the ritual, all the knowledge, all the pomp of power and influence of the world, all the followers even to a countless multitude, but have no love, you have nothing.










24 April 2015

A Walk in Rome and On the Appian Way


"Peter.  Verily, verily, I say to you, when thou were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you liked: but when you are old, you will stretch forth your hands, and another will gird you, and take you where you would not like to go."

About 23 years ago I went on a trip to Rome with my wife, who was then three months pregnant with our son. We wanted to make a pilgrimage there, and for her and our unborn son to receive a blessing from the Pope, and to have a little holiday together before life would become a little more circumscribed.

We were staying at a charming little hotel tucked away near the Trevi fountain. While we were there one morning we visited the room in which the English poet John Keats died of consumption, just off to the left going down the Spanish Steps, into the Piazza di Spagna. The year before I had visited the house in Hampstead Heath at which he is said to have written, "Ode to a Nightingale."

Later we visited his gravesite in the Cimitero degli Inglesi, and read the inscription on his tombstone.
This Grave contains all that was mortal, of a Young English Poet, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.
Later we took a bus to the ancient wall of the city, and continued walking through the Porta San Sebastiano, south on the Via Appia in search of a country restaurant at which I desired to have our usual late lunch.  We were then going on to visit the catacombs a little further out from the city.

After a little while on the road we came to a small, simple church, the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Palmis, but commonly known as Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis. We went inside, and to my surprise, this was the place referenced by Henryk Sienkiewicz in his famous book, Quo Vadis which I had read in high school.

The story of this meeting on the Appian Way so many years ago comes from the apocryphal Acts of Peter, thought to have been written in the 2nd century by a companion to John the Apostle.  But it was not included in the canon of the Bible.

It is a moving experience, to visit the places where these things occurred. I  felt the same way when we toured the Coliseum, the Forum, and the Mamertine Prison which had held both Peter and Paul before their judgement and deaths. 

This reminds us that Keats, and Peter, and Nero, and Paul, and so many other figures whom we remember and read about in history were real people, in most ways just like us, making decisions with confusion, worries, concerns, fears, and the rest of the issues that we have today.  We think that the calling took place in their day, but we do not see it in ours; but it is there.

As John Newman once said,  "every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it...  thus much of comfort do we gain from what has been hitherto, not to despond, not to be dismayed, not to be anxious, at the troubles which encompass us. They have ever been; they ever shall be; they are our portion."

Here is the relevant section about this area on the Appian Way from Synkewicz's book.
"About dawn of the following day two dark figures were moving along the Appian Way toward the Campania.

One of them was Nazarius; the other the Apostle Peter, who was leaving Rome and his martyred co-religionists.

The sky in the east was assuming a light tinge of green, bordered gradually and more distinctly on the lower edge with saffron color. Silver-leafed trees, the white marble of villas, and the arches of aqueducts, stretching through the plain toward the city, were emerging from shade. The greenness of the sky was clearing gradually, and becoming permeated with gold. Then the east began to grow rosy and illuminate the Adban Hills, which seemed marvellously beautiful, lily-colored, as if formed of rays of light alone.

The light was reflected in trembling leaves of trees, in the dew-drops. The haze grew thinner, opening wider and wider views on the plain, on the houses dotting it, on the cemeteries, on the towns, and on groups of trees, among which stood white columns of temples.

The road was empty. The villagers who took vegetables to the city had not succeeded yet, evidently, in harnessing beasts to their vehicles. From the stone blocks with which the road was paved as far as the mountains, there came a low sound from the bark shoes on the feet of the two travellers.

Then the sun appeared over the line of hills; but at once a wonderful vision struck the Apostle's eyes. It seemed to him that the golden circle, instead of rising in the sky, moved down from the heights and was advancing on the road. Peter stopped, and asked, --

"See thou that brightness approaching us?"

"I see nothing," replied Nazarius.

But Peter shaded his eyes with his hand, and said after a while,

"Some figure is coming in the gleam of the sun." But not the slightest sound of steps reached their ears. It was perfectly still all around. Nazarius saw only that the trees were quivering in the distance, as if some one were shaking them, and the light was spreading more broadly over the plain. He looked with wonder at the Apostle.

"Rabbi. What ails thee?" cried he, with alarm.

The pilgrim's staff fell from Peter's hands to the earth; his eyes were looking forward, motionless; his mouth was open; on his face were depicted astonishment, delight, rapture.

Then he threw himself on his knees, his arms stretched forward; and this cry left his lips, --

"O Lord! O Lord!"

He fell with his face to the earth, as if kissing some one's feet.

The silence continued long; then were heard the words of the aged man, broken by sobs, --

"Quo vadis, Domine?" (Where are you going, Lord?)

Nazarius did not hear the answer; but to Peter's ears came a sad and sweet voice, which said, --

"If you desert my people, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time."

The Apostle lay on the ground, his face in the dust, without motion or speech. It seemed to Nazarius that he had fainted or was dead; but he rose at last, seized the staff with trembling hands, and turned without a word toward the seven hills of the city.

The boy, seeing this, repeated as an echo, --

"Quo vadis, Domine?"

"To Rome," said the Apostle, in a low voice.

And he returned.

Paul, John, Linus, and all the faithful received him with amazement; and the alarm was the greater, since at daybreak, just after his departure, praetorians had surrounded Miriam's house and searched it for the Apostle. But to every question he answered only with delight and peace, --

"I have seen the Lord!"

And that same evening he went to the Ostian cemetery to teach and baptize those who wished to bathe in the water of life.

And thenceforward he went there daily, and after him went increasing numbers. It seemed that out of every tear of a martyr new confessors were born, and that every groan on the arena found an echo in thousands of breasts. Caesar was swimming in blood, Rome and the whole pagan world was mad.

But those who had had enough of transgression and madness, those who were trampled upon, those whose lives were misery and oppression, all the weighed down, all the sad, all the unfortunate, came to hear the wonderful tidings of God, who out of love for men had given Himself to be crucified and redeem their sins.

When they found a God whom they could love, they had found that which the society of the time could not give any one, -- happiness and love..."

Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkiewicz, 1905

It is too bad that it is not read much today, because it is an interesting book. I think it has been made into several movie versions. I especially like the one with Klaus Maria Brandauer, although the earlier epic with Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr is more famous and probably more popular.

The novel was a worldwide best seller in its day from about 1906 to 1930. I remember at the time I read it in 1968 enjoying it because of the portrayal of T. Petronius, Nero's Arbiter Elegantiae, who is said to have written the first western novel, The Satyricon.

The people of the world have always treasured such books and stories.  But it seems that they do so especially during times of suffering and troubles, when the great, who would be masters, rise up once again and proclaim their dominion over men and history.   Perhaps it, or some things like it, will have a revival when the madness is once again unleashed, and The New Rome falls, and The New Temple is sacked.

And where is the magnificent Emperor Nero now, immortal god and lord of the world, but a memory, returned to the earth as the dirt and dust.  Perhaps he is to be found beneath the fingernails of some little child, to be plucked out and discarded, with a 'tut tut'  from a doting mother.

The mighty rise and are fallen, but the word and the spirit endure.




Epub: Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Wave of Selling Activity at the London PM Gold Fix Still Occurring


Nice to see that 'the London fix' has been 'fixed.'

Not!

The problem was never just in London, and not just with their 'fix.'

The major source of the problem is much greater, and a the dark heart of it in the bucket shop markets about 3,460 miles to London's west.

This chart is from Nick Laird and his chart and data repository at sharelynx.com.


 

50 Tonnes of Gold Withdrawn from Shanghai Gold Exchange in Latest Week


There were about 50 tonnes of gold bullion taken out of the Shanghai Gold Exchange in the latest week.

That is roughly 1,606,000 ounces in one week.

I include the gold inventories at the Comex warehouses below for the purposes of comparison.  The 'registered' category is what is available for sale at current prices.

These charts below are from the data wrangler Nick Laird at sharelynx.com.







Gold Daily and Silver Weekly Charts - Option Expiry on Monday


There will be an option expiration on the Comex for the May Contract on Monday.
 
We will be rolling over from April to June next week for the front contract.
 
Gold and silver were hit today as money was somewhat desperately piling into equities.
 
I say desperately because while the Nasdaq set a new all time high, declines were leading advances, and volumes were light.  In other words, it was a selective rally in heavily weighted stocks that can move the indices, especially those that are big name tech heavy.
 
There is quite a bit of mispriced risk in the markets now. And we can certainly look no further than the Fed and the regulators when the time comes to thank someone for the bitter consequences.
 
There was new intraday commentary on neoliberalism in economics here.    It may help you to understand what is behind some of the odder policy choices and political actions being taken today.
 
There is quite a bit of big money momentum behind this neoliberal agenda.  The goal is to overturn all of the New Deal reforms and programs, and bring the world back to the late 19th century world of monopolies and robber barons.  And they are doing a good job of it.
 
They are partnering up with the so-called neo-conservatives, who were really the far left statists who became disenchanted with Stalinism and went clear around the socio-political wheel to statism of the far right.
 
What do they have in common?  They both worship power, and their religion is greed.
 
The world has been here many times before.   While the spirit of life is resilient, so is the dark impulse to try to make ourselves as gods over our fellows and the earth.
 
Have a pleasant weekend.
 
 
 
 
 
 


SP 500 and NDX Futures Daily Charts - A Sick Economy and a Frankenstein Stock Market


The durable orders number, ex-transportation which means aircraft, was very poor this morning marking seven months in a row of declines. It is the trend, not the headline number, that is most important.

Stocks were off to the races, with 'tech staples' leading the charge.

The Nasdaq set a new all time high.

The VIX is at its low for this year, an area of complacency we have not seen since the beginning of last December.

If you look closely at the composition of the market, you will find that in the major indices the declines were outpacing the advances.

What this means is that the index moved higher on selective buying in certain heavily weighted stocks.

All in all, this is a good time to take profits and pare back on stock holdings. Not necessarily go short unless you are very aggressive and a short term seasoned trader, but in anticipation that the market momentum wiseguys are expecting the Fed to bail them out further at these valuations.

Or the ECB and Bank of Japan for that matter. We are in one heck of a nasty little bubble here in financial paper.

You might miss another ten percent to the upside, but the risks here make my skin crawl unless something changes. A narrowing market on light volumes with a negative Advance-Decline number. Yikes!

Have a pleasant weekend.