Liberation Theology

the water catastrophe in west virginia and martin luther king jr.

The Poor People’s Movement started by Martin Luther King Jr. included the people of Appalachia. King preached for the dignity of all persons, especially those who have no voice or will left to fight. Almost two weeks ago a chemical spill occurred in West Virginia affecting 300,000 people. For nearly a week hundreds of thousands of people were not allowed to drink or shower in their homes with the polluted water. And even after the clean up there still might be consequences for pregnant women. One possible consequence are birth defects. Below is an interview with a Charleston nurse, who is four months pregnant with her second child, found in the Cumberland Times-News (my hometown paper):

“I cried myself to sleep Wednesday night. I was both angry and scared,” she said. “This baby that we’ve wanted for so long, I’m now questioning — have I done something that could have harmed her?”

Sarah Bergstrom said she’s fortunate that she can afford bottled water, which she intends to use for the foreseeable future.

“My biggest fear is for those mothers, those pregnant women out there who aren’t able to go get enough bottled water for their family, who don’t have the resources and don’t have the knowledge base to know that this is not safe,” she said.

This echoes the last poem in Lamentations. The poet has given up all hope on God, believing Judah had made God “angry beyond measure,” meaning  God will never return (5:22). What we discover earlier in the poem is that the Babylonian Empire had completely taken over Jerusalem and started to commodify their natural resources!

We must pay for the water we drink;
    the wood we get must be bought. (5:4)

The Promised land has become a foreign land. So the project of any Empire (Babylon, Assyria, Rome, USA) is to

control economies, politics, global structures, etc.,

sort and destroy the disrupters and agitators,

create a culture of fear of the “other” in law-abiding citizens, and

mask control through pseudo-security aka the NSA.

The Charleston Epidemic is a perfect example of Empire-building. Freedom Industries Inc cleaned coal harvested in WV and 3,7000 gallons of the cleaning toxic chemicals leaked into a main water source for 300,000 people. Horrible, indeed! Currently, people in the nine counties affected can still smell the effects of the chemicals in their tap water and pregnant women are cautioned not to drink it.

Two things: First, why has this wreckage of a situation not been played up more in the media? In other countries, this would’ve been considered chemical warfare! 300,000 COULD NOT DRINK THEIR OWN WATER! St. Augustine, in The City of God, shared the story of a pirate who was arrested and brought before Alexander the Great. The emperor asked why the pirate was terrorizing (or molesting) the world. The pirate replied, “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor.” The US government only cares for the “little thieves” and allows the corporations to roam free.

Second, Freedom Industries Inc. responds to the travesty by declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Of course, they do not have the millions of dollars to clean this up or handle the lawsuits, like BP did after the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.* This can’t just be swept under a large carpet of money. Freedom Industries like a one-night stand which gets the woman pregnant, the man takes no responsibility and never contacts her again. Hence, this is why Corporations are the worst people ever since they do not have to take responsibility for their actions! The Wall Street Journal hypothesizes that Freedom Industries pledged bankruptcy because,

“Bankruptcy offers Freedom a break from having to answer the suits, some of which demand punitive damages. It also opens the door to court-supervised probes into what led to the disaster, and what resources are available to pay any damages.”

Freedom Industries has no intention to help West Virginians in any way. This is such a cop-out!

Today, we remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was a defender of the weak, the outcast, and the spit upon. This has me reflecting on how Dr. King might have responded to the water devastation in West Virginia.

This catastrophe was an act of economic violence. Violence doesn’t come only by the barrell of a gun, but includes workers not having job security, people living on the streets, corporations polluting the water system, public transportation that does not enter the “bad parts” of cities, redlining, not having access to healthcare, and the list goes on. Dr. King wrote “the choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

Today, violence is masked behind systemic and internalized oppressions. Nonviolence has become synonymous with passivity. We must then reconnect nonviolence with resistance. We must attack with love if we are going to be able to destroy systems of injustice. It is through love and neighborliness that we are no longer going to need the rigid system of capitalism. Capitalism has lasted for far too long. We need alternatives that does not include money in politics, but for the common good of all people. Martin Luther King preached of a just and equal future and was killed for it.

This dream, this impossible proclamation is now ours. Let’s not mess it up!

Martin Luther King Jr.

*Money is never everything and BP cannot bring back the dead wildlife. They are not creating new jobs for people in the fishing industry.

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Christainity, Homelessness, Liberation Theology, Politics

unexiled and the us

The Prophet Jeremiah preached before and during the Exile. During this time of turmoil, Jeremiah cast down the hierarchies in Judah, decrying them to allow Babylon to take over. In spite of Jeremiah, King Zedekiah had other plans and started to build up the army to ward off the Babylonians. Yet, an unexpected problem occurred: Egypt, Judah’s ally, no longer wanted to aid Judah by pushing back the massive Empire. Needless to say, after a while the Judean forces could no longer handle the immensity of the Babylonians. And in 587/6 BCE, the Babylonians pushed their way into the city of Jerusalem, destroyed it, and took many of its citizens.

Jeremiah sided with the Babylonian Empire. Of course, pragmatically speaking, Jeremiah was right in claiming that Judah should abandon all of its forces to Babylon so that they may live in peace, at least the kind that Empire’s grant: peace through force, and loyal obedience. Yet this is the opposite of when I think of the prophetic tradition, logic and pragmatics does not come to mind. Immediately, I think of something that God/She hopes for in the world, like Second Isaiah or Amos, etc. Yet, Jeremiah speaks the language of the Empire.

In contrast, the kind of logic that Jesus taught was the logic of the kin-dom. God/She cares about humanity and the world, rather than a type of political gain, ultimately his was topsy turvy. Jesus claimed that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Those who think that they are first in the God/She’s kin-dom will be last. Certainly not the way of the world, especially during election season.

In the centre of his book, Jeremiah created a dichotomy between bad figs/good figs. The good figs are those in the Exiled community. In Second Kings 25:12 it read “But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vine-dressers and tillers of the soil.” The people who were exiled were the wealthy, those who had power, and influence in their communities. The homeless, the downtrodden, the impure were left. Jeremiah suggests that God left the bad figs to be no more (Jeremiah 24:10). This hints that the land was barren.

Thankfully, because of historical-criticism, we now know that the land was not barren during the time of the Exile. This raises many questions: Why did the author write that the land was barren? Was it because s/he was embarrassed of who was left? Did these Exiles only believe that they were the Chosen Ones of God? Those who wrote and stored the Hebrew Scriptures were those situated in the Exile. The people left in the land had to fend for themselves, they were forgotten people. The book of Lamentations probably written during the Exile in the land of Judah gives a perspective of what was happening after they were left.

Lamentation 5:1-10; 20-22 (NRSV)

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;

look, and see our disgrace!

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,

our homes to aliens.

We have become orphans, fatherless;

our mothers are like widows.

We must pay for the water we drink;

the wood we get must be bought.

With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven;

we are weary, we are given no rest.

We have made a pact with Egypt and Assyria,

to get enough bread.

Our ancestors sinned; they are no more,

and we bear their iniquities.

Slaves rule over us;

there is no one to deliver us from their hand.

We get our bread at the peril of our lives,

because of the sword in the wilderness.

Our skin is black as an oven

from the scorching heat of famine.

Why have you forgotten us completely?

Why have you forsaken us these many days?

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored;

renew our days as of old—

unless you have utterly rejected us,

and are angry with us beyond measure.

The lamenter believed that God gave up on them, that God utterly rejected them. They had no hope of one to come and redeem them from their plight. Today we are faced with the same challenge. Our myth in the US is that the only people who matter are the upper and middle class. Those who are poor and marginalized are left to fend for themselves. Thus political platforms are only for those with money. In the recent political conventions, the word God was infused in their lexicon, but homeless, poor, marginalized, were not granted such a measure.

The kin-dom of God/She contradicts the ways of the world. Any section of the ancient Scriptures, God’s love for the people on the margins can be found. The good news about Jeremiah is that he never left Judah, he stayed with the marginalized. If those in power do not care about the poor and their voice is silenced because our politicians ears are stuffed with money, how can we not, but help? We must give up the myths taught to us, and practice the truth of God/She’s love. This truth is beyond charity, this is about solidarity and compassion (to suffer with). We must seek to change the system, the metanarratives, and our habits to create a better world. While doing this, we must pray, pray for the impossible, pray with our feet, and pray with our hands.

Al Jazeera wrote and recorded a wonderful piece called the US ignoring the poor.

 

Killer Mike composed a song called Reagan that speaks of the 1980’s, drugs, and how people treat others specifically African American males. (profanity used)

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