Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What is Christmas for Mike Brown's Family?

Black Friday in downtown Seattle was like a scene out of the Hunger Games. 

The urban landscape glistened with spectacles of holiday cheer, corny Christmas music, and advertisements.  Like the Capitol in the movies, the city core is designed to pacify people, to entertain us so we can forget about the suffering and rebellion happening all over the world.

Downtown Seattle is one of several real life Capitols,  controlling nodes in the network of global capitalism.  It is the heart of the Empire, a glittering, hyper-surveiled metropolis designed by and for the world's wealthiest people - the owners and executives of Microsoft, Amazon, Nordstroms', Starbucks, and  other corporations headquartered here.  This is the spot where these capitalists make their plans to turn entire regions of the world into mining districts, factory districts, and deindustrialized zones of unemployment and mass incarceration such as Ferguson and Detroit.  These various zones are color-coded by race and are controlled by police.

Every year, the Seattle ruling classes put on a spectacle at Westlake Park, allowing the masses to congregate on Black Friday to vicariously inhale the aroma of wealth and splendor, spending our money at the mall while we're at it.

This is a ritual, part of America's civil religion.  Money is God, and this is how we are supposed to worship it.

Like opiates, these rituals bury our anxieties about global warming, racism, and our declining living standards.  Bands play, children sing, fireworks cascade down the side of Nordstroms, credit cards swipe, and a giant Christmas tree lights up.

Only this year, the tree was surrounded by Seattle cops, posing grim- faced like little toy soldiers.

Photo by Alex Garland
They were there because Ferguson, Missouri is in flames, and Seattle is starting to get restless too.  After the grand jury refused to indict white officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown, riots and protests erupted across the country, including here.

Sign at Monday, Nov 24th march in Seattle after the grand jury verdict

On Black Friday, people of various cultures and nationalities travelled from their color-coded zones across King County, converging on Westlake Mall.

Young Black folks from the zones of oppression were on the megaphones, bringing people together and advancing strategies of disruption.  This rowdy crowd occupied two malls.  Several workers, whose labor keeps the Holiday spectacle running, walked off their jobs to join the crowd, with their uniforms still on.

Photo by Alex Garland
The crowd stormed the transit tunnel, which police proceeded to shut down.  We also picketed nearby Capitol Hill businesses that support racial profiling of East African youth.

Police made several brutal arrests and deployed pepper spray and flash bang grenades, attempting to stop the crowd from returning to Westlake mall for the evening tree lighting ceremony.

After hours of marching and evading police violence, a remnant of the crowd got back to the mall, occupying the space between the tree and the balcony where the ceremony was being held.

With fists in the air pointing up at the bourgeois spectacle on the balcony above, we chanted "Black Lives Matter" and "What is Christmas for Mike Brown's family?"  Eventually protestors stormed the balcony stage, causing the high priest of the ceremony to give up and end it early.   

Photo by Alex Garland
The gods of capital did not get a proper sacrifice this year.  Their invisible hands do not value Black lives, but there are clearly people in the streets who do.

In fact, we value Black lives over capital. Black Friday sales across the country were down 11%, after similar actions happened in multiple cities. 

In response to the Seattle action, our opponents have criticized us for disrupting a "family event". Apparently several children were crying, and  a children's choir didn't get a chance to sing. Some people are acting as if this is a bigger injustice than the murder of Mike Brown.  

The crowd did not hurt anyone.  The only people making threats were the police.  Maybe fewer kids would have been crying if their parents weren't acting like they saw the Ghost of Christmas Future when Black folks in front of them were chanting about the value of their own lives.  What lessons are these parents teaching to their kids?  Shouldn't this be an opportunity to talk with their children about the importance of equality and freedom?  It doesn't help children to shelter them from realities they will need to face sooner or later.  

And that conversation is much less difficult to have then the one that Black parents are forced to have with their kids, the conversation about how they will be targeted from a young age by police, and what to do about it.  Black communities don't have the privilege of sheltering their youth from the realities of the world, not in a society where twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by police for holding a toy gun.   In this powerful spoken word poem, Javon Johnson narrates the heartbreak and anger that he experienced when he had this conversation with his nephew: 

And then there is Mike Brown's family, whose son was taken from them.   What will Christmas be like for them this year?  If this question makes people uncomfortable, perhaps it should.  Sometimes discomfort is the beginning of empathy and solidarity.  

"These people are ruining our white Christmas"
White families in particular need to meditate on this.  People who value their own children's choir singing over Black children living are showing they are only able to love their own blood.  That's white supremacy, plain and simple.  Just because it comes in liberal Seattle packaging does not make it any less evil.

From the Jewish prophets through Jesus of Nazareth, it is love of the stranger that marks someone as holy, not simply love of one's kin.

It is that kind of love that protestors of various backgrounds showed toward each other when folks de-arrested people and cared for each other after being pepper sprayed by the cops. One friend even called those moments a "baptism".

This is how strangers become accomplices in the struggle for freedom.  It is an ancient and dangerous alchemy, an ancestral knowledge that is drowned out by the spectacle of American civil religion.

While it's legal to practice something called Christianity in this country, it is illegal to practice Jesus' teachings. Perhaps we should call those teachings the Way of Illegal Love.

After all, Jesus himself was illegal, persecuted by the law from birth to death.  He was not a white baby in an peaceful, pastoral scene.  He was a poor, bronze-skinned,  undocumented migrant from a rebellious people, colonized and oppressed by the Roman Empire.   

Jesus' birth represented his people's hope for liberation from this empire.  That's why the state had every child in his community murdered to suppress the coming insurrection.  Jesus narrowly escaped, and probably grew up traumatized.

His teachings were not sentimental.  He was trying to show fellow traumatized people how to love our way through the deep darkness and pain of our lives in this world.  This is the holy night, the dark night of the soul, that he was born into.

If Jesus comes again, he very well may be born in Ferguson.  Or Ayotzinapa, Mexico.  Or Palestine, his old home.  Or any of the other places on this planet that are occupied and terrorized by the authorities.

picture from Angela Harris 
In any case, the people in the streets of Ferguson right now are much more likely to understand the meaning of Christmas than bourgie white people shopping at a Seattle mall.  

After all, Jesus' message was addressed to people in their situation: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18).  Jesus's mother Mary was also part of this rebellion when she proclaimed that God  "has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed." Luke 1:52-53.

America's civil religion is one of passivity and shopping, not rebellious love.  These two spiritualities are mutually incompatible.  As Jesus said, you cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time.

Despite their claims to peace, America's rituals are shot through with violence.  From the stage, the emcee at the tree lighting ceremony shouted "there are more of you then there are of them." By them, he meant us: the people chanting "Black lives mater".  Was he calling  on his congregation of good Americans to confront us?

If so, he failed.  Most of the people there for the tree lighting looked more puzzled then angry.  Perhaps our action was prompting them to reflect.

The emcee's crass taunting was particularly outrageous to some of us, because our friend Matt E, (aka stage name Bypolar the Toxic Cherub) was recently attacked by vigilantes in that very park.  He had been filming the police to stop them from harassing a young man of color, and a pro-cop mob began to threaten him with weapons.  He was later sentenced to four months in jail for successfully defending himself.

As a Black man in America, our friend had to choose between jail and possible death.  We are demanding the mayor's office investigate the police involved; we suspect there may be corruption and divide-and-conquer tactics wrapped up with the Seattle Police Department's so-called "community policing" efforts.

More broadly, Westlake and Pacific Place malls have a long history of surveilling and policing homeless youth and Black folks.  This summer, mall security pepper sprayed a Black man after he was attacked by a racist white man.  This sort of thing happens all the time, as more and more public space is privatized and gentrified.

This is the violent infrastructure behind the Christmas tree lighting.  This is what peace,  civility, and American family values look like in practice.  The Empire's rituals glitter with tinsel and perfume but inside they are hollow and rotten.

This winter, there are a lot of dark nights in America.  But these are also holy nights, simmering with hope blazing out of Ferguson, the love and good news that can only be found in rebellious crowds. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm thankful for black rage

poster at Seattle's 11/24 protest march in solidarity with Ferguson
If gratitude is the key to joy, then I am thankful for black rage.

In no way am I grateful to live in America.  This is Babylon, an empire built on stolen native land and stolen black lives.   If I learned one thing from the Bible, it's that praying prayers of thanksgiving to Babylon is an evil ritual.  If we want to sincerely chant "black lives matter" then we cannot turn around and give thanks for a social order that requires the daily human sacrifice of black people at the hands of police, prison guards, and vigilantes.

I AM thankful for everyone who has taught me not to fear moments of black rebellion like this one, everyone who has helped me embrace the love and life within angry crowds from Ferguson to Seattle.

I'm thankful for the life experiences that taught me whiteness is a historic dead end, a life of privileged alienation, a slow suicide in an isolated golden jail cell built upon slaughtered black and brown bodies. Inside that jail cell, we are facing despair, anxiety, and depression, ripping apart the last remaining social bonds among us in the name of capitalist individualism.  I'm thankful that I reached a point where I could no longer go on living as a "normal" white man, a point where I had to reach out in order to keep going.

White people are expected to act as prison guards over the rest of humanity, keeping everyone in check, while our own white capitalist masters keep us in check and make sure we return safely to our lonely cells at night.  Of course I acknowledge my white privilege, but I refuse to give thanks for it.  It is a set of golden handcuffs holding us and everyone else back from overthrowing this system.  We should welcome the moment when it is broken open in rebellion.

I'm thankful for friends who have given me the confidence to fight for my own liberation, and the knowledge this is only possible if black people, indigenous people, asian peoples, and all oppressed people fight for their own by any means necessary.

White liberals don't want to admit that Black people rising up may make it impossible for us to go on living the way we are, in our relatively posh cells under the careful watch of Babylon's guard towers.  But it's become clear to me that if we go on living this way we'll destroy ourselves and the planet anyway.

So Black rebellion is good news to all of us who are already seen by other white people as dysfunctional, crazy, broken, disabled, queer, or too rough around the edges.  By destabilizing white normalcy, Black rebels are opening up space for us all to get free and to live differently.

We should be thankful for that, and we should show our thankfulness by acting in solidarity with all of the Black folks who are putting their lives on the line right now.  Perhaps we can even open up new fronts in the movement against Babylon by struggling for our own freedom, wherever we are.  The empire may not have enough pigs to contain us all.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

We'll Wait For You Brother (prayer from today's interfaith vigil against legal lynching)

Last year, a mob of people attacked one of my friends, Matt E (emcee name Bypolar the Toxic Cherub) because he was filming the police.  There is significant evidence the police instigated this attack.  He successfully defended himself and today he was sentenced to three months in jail for doing so.  This is the message that the system is giving: that Black lives do not matter and that Black people do not have a right to self-defense.  Matt would likely have gotten up to a year in jail if we had not successfully organized around his case, including court support and today's interfaith prayer vigil outside the courthouse.  We also marched into the mayor's office today and demanded that city hall investigate the two officers involved in the situation, as well as the judge.  Furthermore, we demanded that the mayor put out a statement in support of Matt E, reiterating the right of black people to defend themselves.  Matt will be appealing his conviction, and the struggle is far from over.  Information, press releases, and videos can be found at .

Here is the prayer I wrote for today's interfaith vigil on the courthouse steps.

We'll Wait For You Brother

(when I raise my hands, if you feel like it, shout “let us pray”)

Huddled in the cold at the foot of this modern day cross
Where Judge Rosen presides like a pretentious Pontius Pilate, 
Sanitized, his hands clean, letting others do the dirty work
Letting lynch mobs and pig legions kidnap the rebellious
Letting banal machinery of bureaucratic evil 
Grind down those who refuse to bow before the state Almighty  

Like our brother Matt, a modern day Nazirite,
his heart pledged to Yahweh, the God of liberation 
Not only does he abstain from eating swine - 
he doesn’t worship pigs, or bow before them
He is too free to be enthralled by those idols. 
Maybe the mob attacked him because they feared that freedom
Or maybe the pigs and the chemicals in their bodies teamed up to posess them

Rosen, the Roman emperor wannabe washes his hands of their violence in the name of Objectivity, American decorum 
This is the place where the neo-Roman forum 
crucifies our friends, our families, and our dreams of revolution  
But we’ll wait for you brother, here and everywhere

(raise hands) 

Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies, so let us pray for Steve Rosen 
Let us pray that he is wracked with anxiety and guilt, so that he never forgets this trial (raise hands)
Let us pray that he recalls Matt’s face on sleepless nights,  alongside the faces of all the other poor, Black, and freedom-loving people whose lives he has destroyed 
(raise hands)
Let their voices rise and shout, rattling their prison bars, haunting his subconscious with messages that cannot be tazered out of existence 
(raise hands)
Let us pray he repents, throws away his gavel and robe, and joins the oppressed in rebellion against the state machinery he once administered
(raise hands)
And if he fails to do this, let’s pray that God, in her infinite mercy, gives him a heart attack to put him out of his misery. 
(raise hands)
As memories of this moment leak into his soul, and ours, 
We’ll wait for you brother, here and everywhere.

(raise hands)

Jesus of Nazareth, the Neo-Nazirite prophet
Led an insurrection in Jerusalem, chasing money changers out of the temple 
Knowing the lynch mobs, pigs, and courts were after him,
he prophesied the temple would be torn down and rebuilt by the people 

Let us pray that one day the judges and pigs will be chased out of this building
(raise hands)
Let us pray that its courtrooms will be converted into childcare centers
And its offices into places of learning
(raise hands)
Let us pray that our grandkids can grow up safely here, discovering how to resolve their disputes
Without cops, courts, and prisons 
(raise hands)
We’ll wait for you brother, here and everywhere 

You taught me 
that we are each cells in God’s body 
With hearts as dark and expansive as the night sky over the ocean 
Or the chaotic depths that Yahweh stirs with her breath 
(raise hands)
We are not on God’s side and she is not on ours
We are God’s side arms, loaded with earthfire
Yahweh's breathing, chaotic, loving justice
 in unpredictable motion 
(raise hands)
Congealing from ancient seas, 
Rising from the dead, 
Surging through prison walls
Color lines 
And American isolation chambers
(raise hands)

Who the hell does Rosen think he is, to presume that a prison cell
Would be enough to neutralize a cell in God’s body, 
Especially one who is part of a growing, colorful swarm of life spanning 
three or more continents? 
(raise hands)

If he locks you up today, what he doesn’t understand is this: 
You will keep on growing dangerously, reading, writing, creating, and praying
Like a warrior monk, on the path of Samson, Jael, Malcolm, and Assata 
And we will keep growing too, 
Waiting for you brother, here and everywhere  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

In surges of care, ruled in contempt

Here is a poem dedicated to my friends who are facing political repression right now, and all of us who are supporting them in solidarity

we’re a race-gender vortex,
still undefined, 
of public emotions,
hearts intertwined 

in surges of care, 
ruled in contempt;
identities flooding, 
becoming unkempt:

swirling spirits on divergent tides
among censored bodies, 
a maelstrom of pride

relaxes trauma’s grip on our shoulders;
despite their repression,
we’re all growing older...  

Monday, October 6, 2014

The white-washing of the Italian diaspora

I just heard from some friends that the Seattle city council finally changed Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day.  It's about time.  I also heard that some racist Italian-Americans were there trying to claim that Columbus Day is a celebration of Italian heritage. That's some bullshit. It's a celebration of whiteness, not the Italian diaspora.  Columbus was one of the first white men, and he was a genocidal murderer, setting a general example for the white race to follow.

 The fact that Columbus is also Italian is not something us Italians should take pride in; in fact, it's part of the nightmare of history that will weigh on our brains until the revolution.  Claiming our Italian  heritage is only meaningful if we recognize we're part of an Italian diaspora living on colonized native land, in a system built by colonial settlers.  Those settlers assimilated most of our ancestors into their white race in order to co-opt the militant labor struggles our people used to engage in when we were once non-white economic refugees.  Our ancestors sold out and chose the white settler side of the American color line, the side invented by our bosses. This choice left us part of a white race that I hope one day we will exit from, once white supremacy, imperialism, and colonialism are ended forever.

If we want to be part of a meaningful Italian diaspora, we have to reverse that process of white-washing,  and join in solidarity with indigenous people whose lands we are living in.  Instead of celebrating Columbus Day we should celebrate Indigenous People's Day, and maybe then it'll be meaningful to celebrate Sacco and Vanzetti day as well.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A parable of flesh and butterflies

I want to bathe this place in memories of the future.
I want to massage a soundtrack into its rhythms, 
revered through ritual repeat
outward spirals 
more sacred each season. 

I want to bathe this time like a harlot bathed
Jesus’s feet. 
I want to massage religion into it,
rubbing fantasies into its 
calloused and overworked joints 

until the music and the religion,
the fantasies and parables
are outgrown by 
our healing flesh 

until we overgrow time 
overgrowing itself 
metamorphosizing into 
a billion butterflies
escaping from our stomachs 

photo from

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Decolonizing Interfaith Dialogue - Liberation Theology and Palestine Solidarity

Here is a paper I wrote in 2006 when I was a graduate student at Notre Dame studying liberation theology and comparative theology.  I formed these perspectives while doing interfaith social justice organizing against the Iraq war in 2003-2004, followed by a Palestine solidarity divestment campaign in 2004-2005.

I found that when I took a principled stance against Israeli colonization of Palestine, I was ostracized by the very same progressive interfaith activist circles I had helped build.  This is because those circles accepted a fundamental tenant of Zionism: they equated Jewish destiny and heritage with a defense of the state and ruling class of Israel, suggesting that a critique of Israeli settler colonialism amounts to an attack on the Jewish religion itself.   In these circles, anyone who wanted to engage in interfaith dialogue was forced to accept Zionists as the only authentic representatives of Jewish culture and religion.

Under the pretext of atoning for historic anti-Semitism, liberal Christian Zionists used these interfaith dialogues to promote their own imperial theologies, rooted in ahistorical and naive readings of Biblical texts.  These Christians overlook the fact that the wars of the early Hebrew Bible were wars of revolutionary liberation against Pharaoh's empire and its Canaanite client kings; they were NOT colonial wars of conquest over the Canaanite peoples themselves.  Ancient Israel emerged among the Canaanite peoples who rebelled against their kings; it was a multicultural confederation of proletarian and peasant tribes, not a nation state.

This history has been whitewashed the past 500 years by ideologues of American manifest destiny, who twisted the Bible into an idol-producing factory to justify the colonization of indigenous lands here on Turtle Island / North America, portraying white settlers as the new Israel and indigenous people as the new Canaanites.  It is not a surprise that some Christians today uncritically extend their twisted logic to justify Israeli colonization of Palestine as well.

Any form of interfaith dialogue that is soft on colonialism necessarily marginalizes Muslim participants, as well as Palestinian Christians, anti-Zionist Jews, and anyone who wishes to take a principled stance against Israeli colonialism and racism.

I am publishing this piece now because the Palestine solidarity movement has been expanding rapidly, with thousands of people joining protests demanding boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israeli apartheid.  Recently, my friends and I have been involved in one such campaign, the effort to block Israeli owned Zim shipping company from using ports in the Puget Sound/ Salish Sea region.  Activists in Oakland recently prevented a Zim ship from being unloaded there, and activists in LA delayed another ship in their port.  Activists here delayed the Zim Chicago in the port of Tacoma for about two hours.

This could be a historic moment.  Not surprisingly, some Christian Zionist reactionaries are claiming that the recent earthquake in California is God punishing us for opposing Israel! Their idolatrous worship of an angry white man in the sky is laughable, but more subtle versions of Christian Zionism continue to permeate US civil religion, sometimes under the guise of dialogue and tolerance.

Among the hundreds of activists involved in these growing solidarity campaigns, some of us are motivated by faith, religion, or spirituality, whether we are Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, agnostic, Hindu, or practitioners of various indigenous traditions.  Our convictions compel us to oppose colonialism and racism in all forms, including in the form of Israeli apartheid; we are also committed to dialogue and solidarity among each other, challenging chauvinism in our various communities.

However, these alliances seem to be forming largely outside of the more formal dialogues occurring among self-proclaimed official representatives of our various faith communities.  I believe this is not a coincidence.

Beatitude in Ferguson

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Spirituality: when our lives leak out of capitalism's pipelines

This is the first in a series of pieces analyzing contemporary spirituality and its relationship to the capitalist system.  When I'm done with all of these essays, I hope to put them together into a 'zine. 

My goal in writing these pieces is to understand, cultivate, and sharpen our spiritual longings for total freedom and communization. However, I also aim to update and improve methods of radical social analysis in the process.  I have a hunch that improving how we analyze spirituality could improve how we analyze society in general.  That, in turn, could help give us more confidence to change it. 



The experiences we call spiritual are in fact real, embodied social experiences; they are connected to the politics, economics, and culture of the broader society we live in, though they can never be reduced to them.  We call these experiences spiritual precisely because they don't fit neatly into the identities and roles this society has set up for us, so they appear to be exceptional, or even sacred.  In other words, spirituality is one of the terms we use to describe the anomalous and mysterious aspects of capitalist society, the ways in which society cannot contain our desires and activities.

These anomalies are potentially subversive, or even revolutionary; some of them point in the direction of communization, anarchy, and the destruction of capitalism.  However, our spiritual anomalies are also coopted back into capitalism through society's spectacles, including religion, consumerism, new age self help cultures, and even some quasi-religious aspects of social movement activism.

For this reason, we often find spirituality on both sides of the barricades in contemporary social conflicts.  And this is significant because those barricades and conflicts aren't just in the streets; they are in our very minds and bodies.

Spirituality is our curves of flight, breaking out of the system's pipelines 

The philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari argue that every society oozes out of itself. They call these flows "lines of flight" (1), though I think it would have been better if they called them curves since they are rarely straight and they run in all directions.  This image attempts to illustrate their metaphor:

The square along the outside symbolizes society.  It is composed of pipelines: all the ways in which our current political, economic, and social system channels and regulates the course of our lives.  For example, in the United States, it channels many black and brown youth on a pipeline directly from school to prison.  It channels other youth into college, student loan debt, and precarious low wage employment, and still others into managerial roles, relative privilege, and suicidal alienation.

In reality, society's pipelines are not a simple square.  The advanced capitalist society we live in is a giant, complex network of machinery that colonizes our bodies and minds, and those of many other species as well.  It forces the vast majority of us to divide our lives into commodities, and attaches those pieces of life to chains of other commodities.  Then it wrenches these commodities apart at a sickening rate, dragging our fragmented lives with them through twisting pipelines:  families, schools, machinery,  media, prisons, crashing stock markets, rising toxic oceans.

Capitalism forces us to divide ourselves into unstable and contradictory identities such as Black, White, Male, Female, Worker, Unemployed, Citizen, non-Citizen, recruiting some of us to help dominate the rest.  Then, when it doesn’t need us anymore, it spits out our broken bodyminds, cast among the  littered bodies of other beings, in a toxic, warming, hyper-surveiled landscape of prisons, ghettos, slums, nursing homes, and mental hospitals.

In this sense, capital is like a vampirish cybernetic machine.  It reproduces itself by sucking up our life energy, making us work and consume almost constantly.  It is so resilient because we can only reproduce our selves in our current form by also reproducing it.  It is a parasite and we are its hosts. If we want to dismantle it, we need to transform ourselves.

And, deep down we know that's possible, despite all of the mainstream media messaging aimed at convincing us there is no alternative.  Like any machine, this system has its weak points, joints in its pipes that are bent and corroded by the strains of our desires and efforts.  At these points, our lives start to break through in cascading curves of alternative possibilities, tentatively swarming toward each other like the illuminated strands in the image above.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Comments and social media sharing enabled

Sorry folks, I just realized I had forgotten to enable comments and social media sharing features on this blog when I revamped it last week.  I just enabled them so that we can engage in discussion.  If you tried to post a comment this week and it didn't go through, please try again.

thanks for your patience,

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Conspiring, meditating, and breathing climate change

All these apocalyptic movies, youtube videos, and theologies show we are very anxious about global warming. For many, this anxiety is immobilizing.  Since it seems nothing can be done about it, nothing is worth doing.

The response by some spiritual leaders is to encourage us to take a moment to breathe, to meditate, to focus on the air entering and exiting our lungs, to live in the present moment.  Presumably they hope this meditation will give us the courage to do something to solve the problem.  But what exactly does it mean to do breathing meditation in an era of global warming?

Maybe it means to conspire.

I just started reading Longing for Running Water, by Ivone Gebara, a feminist theologian from Brazil.   She mentions an ecofeminist group in Chile called the Con-spirando Collective.  In the first issue of their journal they write:

"we invite you to participate in convoking a network of Latin American women who seek to develop their own spirituality and theology in order to better reflect our experiences of the sacred.  The very name of this journal - Con-spirando - is an attempt to picture some of these experiences: the image of 'breathing together', which in itself evokes images of the planet as the great lung of life" (cited in Gebara,  Location 280, Kindle Edition) 

This is strikingly similar to how I've been imagining non-escapist spirituality: "We are the dispossessed who meditate with our eyes open, especially when we take to the streets in protest. Our mindful breathing is a small part of the planet's climate, overheated by capital's reckless death drives. "

That image of breathing climate change was inspired by practicing Zen breathing meditation and reading Timothy Morton's book Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World.

Morton argues that we are already living after the end of the world.  The planet and biological life still exist, but our ability to conceptualize these as a "world" or "nature" has collapsed.   These concepts imply they are the backdrop to our life stories, the atmosphere that decorates our lives as we go about our business.  When we do think of these things, we assess them the way we might assess the atmosphere of a restaurant by writing a review on Yelp.  The concepts of world and nature imply that non-human beings are neutral, objectified, and separate from us, to the point where we can take them for granted most of the time.

Morton says this concept of nature and world has collapsed because the atmosphere itself is changing perilously, and the air we breathe in and out of our faces is part of that change.  We can no longer objectify it or take it for granted.

He describes leaving the grocery store and having a casual conversation with a stranger about the unusually hot weather.  The weather is no longer a comforting, familiar presence you can invoke to find common ground with that stranger.  You either end up mentioning global warming or you consciously avoid talking about.  In either case, the situation starts to feel more like conspiring than talking about the weather.

Morton argues we are realizing something that was true all along: we are stuck to the mesh of objects that we used to call world. What happens to air, water, and forests affects us.  As the Con-spirando collective puts it, "we need to re-situate ourselves, and from there to re-weave our daily lives, the web or relationships that gives form to our societies". (cited in Gebara,  Location 283, Kindle Edition).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rosaries, Saints, and Ancestors

This week I started carrying my grandmother's rosary while I teach and organize, and I restarted an old meditation practice of saying Hail Marys like a mantra. I'm praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of liberation. Feeling connected to ancestors through the communion of saints is giving me strength to love in the face of death, change, and loss.

I've also been wondering how much the practice of the communion of saints is influenced by indigenous traditions around the world. When Christianity was co-opted into a Roman imperial religion, did some of my ancestors continue their grassroots practices of ancestor veneration in and through saint veneration? I'd like to find out. I've heard indigenous people have continued their traditions mixed with Catholicism in the western hemisphere.  In La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua says veneration of La Virgen de Guadalupe comes from / is an indigenous practice. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

This is a prayer

By my friend Liz Kramer

If I can choose to live in the place inside of me
where I refuse to doubt my own truth,
or the power of who I am
this is a prayer.

And if I can say no to the voice inside of me
that wants me to doubt my own significance
or importance or divinity,
this no is a prayer.

And if I can say yes to the part of me
that knows I am gifted in love,
filled with intention, wrought
in the places where the trees were,
truth seeker
This yes is a prayer.

And if I can know that being human is a thirst
that cries to know God,
and if I can hold the suffering of the people
and feel love,
these are prayers.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tattered testimony

Gratitude to the Holy Spirit for reviving my sense of soul and my soul's senses last night, and for reminding me why She first called me to the freedom struggle a decade ago.

She filled me with strength so I could teach with passion and grace today in the face of all the trauma and death that's haunting the community, and the oppression that creates it.

She helped me traverse through my anxiety and nihilism with humility and confidence, finding sober compassion and radical connection along the way.

This process of rebirth has been developing for a while now, and every ounce of my scientific, critical, activist, Marxist, anarchist, and skeptical mind has been ruthlessly testing it, trying to detect self-delusion, ideology, escapism, or pscyopathology. But it's passing the test because this is the lesson everyone and everything around me seems to be teaching me these days, especially my students.

It's a social lesson so powerful I can only do it justice by stating it in frank theological terms: Christ is my ancestor; his tortured spirit echoes through history, in the bodies and actions of oppressed people who struggle for liberation. His memory rises again when we rise up and meet the challenges of our generation like tattered, wobbly saints on a precarious snake march through life.

Even though the future is looking like an unknown mass of death, he taught us how to swarm through it with courage, love, commitment, and gratitude, habits that could become cornerstones of the planetary commune our ancestors have been imagining for us.

Friday, May 30, 2014


You haters call us sinners but we’re synthesisters 
Raveling all your dogmas into syncretisms 
You’re dead cynicism, we’re living criticism: 
Lyrical schism in your system's pessimism 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Breaking Out of The Music Box - Time As An Affect of Objects

According to dialectical philosophy, objects have contradictions, and unfold themselves through time. For example, the class struggle within the object known as capitalism has driven history forward the past few centuries.  Capitalism exploits workers, workers revolt, capitalism coopts these revolts by developing new technologies and methods of social organization, and the cycle continues. 

 Timothy Morton flips this on it's head.  Or, perhaps, he expands it outward in all directions.  He says that time itself is actually an aesthetic effect, the surface appearance of objects as they unfold themselves through contradictions. This is similar to a point that I've heard friends make about how we need to decolonize the illusion of time that we inherit from Western philosophy.

What Morton means by effect is not some mechanical process of cause and effect.  It is more like "affect" - the emotional responses our bodyminds make to each other.  Time, like colors, sounds, and tastes, is a function of relations among objects/beings. We perceive time as happening only because we perceive changes in objects/beings. Everything - past, present, future, the ripples and paces of time itself - is an inter objective mesh, a sensuous, dynamic interplay of objects with each other, what Thich Naht Hanh calls inter-being.

This includes our consciousness, because we ourselves are conscious objects / subjectified bodies, so we are part of that mesh. 

This challenges the Marxist tradition and its Hegelian roots.   Hegel's dialectical philosophy was idealist not only because he said ideas are the driving force of history, but ALSO because he conceived of time and space as a blank stage inside which human history unfolds itself. The dialectic is like a dance happening inside a music box, but no one questions the existence of the box itself, and the dialectic never destabilizes or changes the box. Marx was materialist because he flipped Hegel on his head, saying that it is human labor that unfolds itself dialectically through time, not ideas. But he still assumed that there was a world, time, space, etc. that were the box, the container, or the stage for this unfolding. He never thought that anti-capitalism might require the dissolution of the box itself.

Marx didn't understand what ecology, relativity, and quantum physics are now showing us - that time and space themselves are relations among objects. So even Marx needs to be flipped on his head. Even he doesn't' go far enough; his materialism is simply the inversion of Hegelian idealism, and it doesn't escape its flawed, human-centered understanding of time and space.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jesus the anarchist

Fear of death arrested the humans. Jesus showed us some ways to de-arrest each other. When the state killed him for it, we named those ways resurrection and love.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Theory and Practice When Your Life Feels Like Science Fiction

Mindful Cyborgs, from
Will humanity evolve into another species?  Are we becoming cyborgs?  Are the lines between humans, animals, and machines breaking down?   Have these always been false borders related to the maintenance of race, gender, and class hierarchies?  Does the ecological crisis demand that we rethink what it means to be human, in ways that challenge our assumptions of human supremacy over other species (what some call speciesism) ?   Do non-human beings have agency, self-organization, and intelligence in ways we thought were exclusively human?  Would there be space migration in a new society?  How could this be different from space colonization?  Is it possible or desirable to live indefinitely?  Is it even possible to define a firm border between life and non-life?

These are some of the intense questions that philosophers are wrestling with, exploring a contemporary moment that feels increasingly like a science fiction movie.  As Gilles Deleuze puts it, philosophy is about creating concepts that help us ask the question "how might one live"?  This is very similar to what science fiction writers and directors do.  Past revolutions often drew from cultural upheavals that generated their own philosophies, utopias, and dystopias as they posed these questions.  Perhaps we are going through a moment like that now, a prelude to a future revolution?

Francesca Ferrando's new article in the Existenz journal is a decent summary of the creative upheavals going on in philosophy today, covering trends like post-humanism, trans-humanism, corporeal feminism, and the new materialisms.  It's written in a confusingly academic way, but it's short and to the point.

She focuses on the difference between trans-humanism and post-humanism.  Trans-humanism seeks the enhancement and evolution of human life through anti-aging technologies, cybernetics, space travel, and so on.  However, it doesn't criticize the ways in which the concept "human" has been used to justify capitalism and colonialism, for example by defining rich white men as human, working class people as machines, and indigenous women as animals.  In practice, transhumanism risks reproducing these oppressions, creating a technological elite that plays with the limits of our bodies while the rest of the world still struggles with basic survival under conditions of artificial scarcity created by capitalism.  The dystopian movie Sleep Dealer shows what might happen if the borders between human and machine break down but the borders remain between the imperial metropolis and its racialized zones of exclusion.  Undocumented refugees of ecological destruction and political repression have no where to go unless they plug their bodies into a network to operate robots who have replaced workers on the other side of the border wall:

Like the directors of Sleep Dealer, post-humanist theorists start by critiquing these capitalist definitions of humanity and progress, and arguing that human thinking, technology, and culture are part of a broader web of self-organizing ecological life that defies borders, uniformity, and hierarchy.   Thus, if we are going to evolve  we can only do this together with biodiverse life forms on the planet, and that requires reversing the destruction of non-human life, and the exploitation and oppression of some humans by others, which drives and secures it.

None of these discussions are simply academic posturing; in fact, these questions are frighteningly relevant.  It is important that everyday people jump into the debates in theory and practice so that the future of the species is not decided unilaterally by people like CEO Jeff Bezos.  He, Bill Gates, and other techno gurus seem perfectly willing to treat humanity and the ret of the planet like a giant science fair project where they can test out their pet delusions.  It seems like they imagine a transhumanist future similar to Sleep Dealer, where drones replace workers, a new elite owns the drones, and the rest of us serve them or are displaced and locked up as a surplus population.

 Many people want to answer this dystopia by creating a post-humanist future, where humans co-create in respectful interrelationship with non-human life, and where technology enhances ecological complexity, connection, and diversity, instead of colonizing human and non-human life.

The clash between these two visions was evident recently when masked protestors challenged Bezos in a blockade outside Amazon's headquarters in Seattle:

These protesters are not new Luddites, attacking technology in the name of returning to a mythic past.  This is part of an emerging attempt to answer some of the questions the human species faces as we seep and mutate out of our increasingly decrepit identity as self-proclaimed lords of the universe.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Crowded spirituality

Someone once asked me whether I ever really find spiritual connection in crowds during protests, implying that protesting is a distraction from my spiritual growth.

I don't know what officially counts as spirituality; the definition of spirituality is as slippery as the phenomena it attempts to define.   

But I do know that non-scripted, unpredictable crowds are moments of life generating life.  For example, participants incarnate love, caring for each other in the face of police violence.

It doesn't always look like the popular stereotypes of calm, detached meditation.  But meditation can also be the mindful proliferation of multiple currents of life, free from rigid conceptions of self.  Sometimes that's calm, and sometimes it's explosive.

In our current moment in history, protests might be some of the best places to experience/create a range of mindfulness. In some eras, the woods or the desert might be the most fertile places for the imagination and spirit to grow.  Right now I think it might be moments and places like this: 

Image rom this site.  I don't know anything about the politics of the artists, but the image resonated with me. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

White Baby Jesus Vs. Dark Ecology

Here is a video art piece my friend Bypolar and I created, exploring the spiritual crises white America is facing as the ecological catastrophe unfolds:

This collaboration is an example of freestyle research and rhizomatic learning, concepts and practices I'm developing on the Creativity Not Control blog.  I also wrote a follow up piece on the Black Orchid blog, situating our analysis within broader philosophical currents such as the "new materialism".

Here is the text from the original video art piece:

White Baby Jesus vs. Dark Ecology 

Have you ever seen a bumper sticker on an SUV with the words "what would Jesus do?"  That's an advertisement, not a real question.  Especially when it's on an SUV.  Anyone asking that question sincerely is fixing to get a horrifying answer.  The driver is not that open minded.  He is really saying "Jesus made me do it".

Like America, he is a baby trying to avoid responsibility for a major accident he is about to cause while he is bumbling around obliviously knocking into things like the planet's atmosphere, Iraq, and the Tar Sands:  "But I didn't do it, it was Jeeeesus…" 

My friend Bypolar the Toxic Cherub and I were kickin' it the other day,  and we ended up getting into a conversation about this.  We realized Americans act like baby gods.  This country is a porcelain Baby Jesus, a 237 year old Divine Prince who never had to grow up.  He shits all over the place and then yells and abuses the planet when it doesn't clean itself up for him.  He is desperately afraid of shattering. 

Bypolar turned this conversation into a set of memes called White Baby Jesus.  Here are the first two: 

Just because Bypolar and I can laugh about this though,  doesn't mean we're full-grown angels ourselves.   On bad days, my own bumbling makes me nauseous.  I get sick with anxiety. I worry about  bumping into things, and things bumping into me.  I worry about  people and objects dying, instead of loving them.  I am frozen by that fear, and I cut my actions short just when all of our actions could really start to blossom into some thing radically beautiful that might help unravel the catastrophe known as capitalism. 

 Like Timothy Morton said,  when it comes to global warming and the ecological crisis, we are all hypocrites. None of us know what to do.  While America is bumbling around, we're bumbling around inside it.  Protesting and rallying isn't solving the problem, and neither is sitting at home shouting at the television as the next hurricane or war approaches.  

What the planet teaches us is this: doing something feels like doing nothing when you compare it to the perfection of our idols.  But doing nothing is doing something because nothing doesn't exist. 

It is not possible to live a pure life in this spiritual desert.  There is no pristine mountain left that I can run to, where I can laugh cynically at the fools polluting their valley below.  We moved that mountain a long time ago.  

So I guess I should start by planting my ass somewhere,  in a blighted room in a blighted city or some blighted country, breathing smoky air with some friends, plotting our next moves.  If there are spiritual heights, honestly, that's where they start.  

I think this is what Morton means by "dark ecology"; he uses the word "dark" to mean something like "uncanny and discomforting".  A lot of white people might think that Bypolar's art is too dark because it is definitely ecological, definitely uncanny, and definitely not white. Whiteness is not just a skin color, it is an attitude- an attitude that puts the pursuit of happiness over the pursuit of freedom, solidarity, and sincerity. People who act white will avoid dark ecology for the same reason  they will avoid sincerely asking the question "what would [that dark revolutionary known as] Jesus do?" 

And just in case you are a white person reading this who thinks "I am not like those other white people", ask yourself, by "other white people", do you mean the poor white people who live where your pollution goes when you flush it away?  The problem is not just Nascar driving hicks.   We are all Nascar driving hicks.  I drive a Volvo and am addicted to work instead of Budweiser - I'm even more of a problem then the folks in Appalachia who live downstream from those moved mountains. 

When it comes to you America, there is no haterade I can drink, because you turned it into oil, and got me hooked on it.  It's toxins run through my veins.  Recently, we've been using it to fuel this spiritual road trip through our fear and loathing.  

But then we wake up suddenly nauseous from a bad hangover.  We realize that  haterade oil has been the fuel that's been running this Titanic world of capital for hundreds of years.  We realize a melting iceberg just hit us upside the head and now the floor is reeling.  It is not the ground.  It never was.  

That sinking feeling is exactly what we need in order to get our balance, put our feet back on the planet, and breathe the fucked up climate in and out of our faces.  Maybe that's our first baby step towards not breaking all the shit we touch. 


For more hip hop liberation theology and spiritual ecology, check out High Gods Entertainment.
For more on  the Idolatry of God, check out Peter Rollins' site.   For more on dark ecology, check out this book

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Chorus for a song that isn't written yet

This image is from an advertisement
for products that can help remove
the bags from your eyes.

Capital sells us products
 to deal with the effects
 of the sleep deprivation
it requires us to undergo
in this era of endless work
in the boundless social factory 

Bags under my eyes
Packed like  a tech nine
Staring down the status quo
And flashing some divine sign
I can never buy time
So I'll have to steal rhymes
From the beats of solitude
That punctuate this hive's mind

The seven sacraments in motion

Expression of reflection taking shape in all directions
Dreams that matter turn to matter when we build connections
A labor of inception that
manifests conception and
twists itself through history like a hidden resurrection

Rebel born again, baptized in insurrection
Confirmed in contradiction and
Married to my weapon
That weapon is communion
What we build in revolution
As we read the last rites
To their dying institutions

But let me just confess to you
That I ain't the solution
We ordain this life together
Or we'll die of our pollution