Bob Schwartz

Month: December, 2017

I Ching for 2018

“Following the wind” suggests proceeding, but the proceeding should be gentle, flowing easily into wherever the wind goes.

The year 2017 was a year of change. The year 2018 will be another year of change. What year isn’t?

The I Ching—known in English as the Book of Change, Book of Changes, Canon of Change, Classic of Change, etc.—has served as a guide to changing times for thousands of years.

Today as the New Year arrives, I have asked for guidance—for myself and for people everywhere—with the simple question “What will 2018 be like?” While not a typically specific question, this should cover just about everything and everyone.

I have selected one of the 64 hexagrams by using a random number generator. There are other more traditional methods used and recommended by some, including the well-known tossing of coins or counting of yarrow stalks. I’ve used both those methods many times. Purists frown on the random number method, saying that it doesn’t allow the time and contemplative frame of mind needed to appreciate what the text says.

In general, I believe that all methods have value, since the value is in the text, not in the method. And in particular for this year and the year to come, I and many others have had plenty of time to contemplate the changes we are witnessing. We just need somebody or something wise to put it in perspective.

Hexagram 57 (Xun /Wind above, Wind below) is the generated answer. Below are excerpts from six different translations.

My best wishes for your New Year. Thank you sincerely for reading.

Hexagram 57 – Xun
Wind
above
Wind
below

The Complete I Ching by Alfred Huang 

57
Xun • Proceeding Humbly

NAME AND STRUCTURE

Xun is one of the eight primary gua; doubled, it forms this accomplished gua. As a primary gua it represents Wind or Wood. The Commentary on the Symbol says, “Following the wind; an image of Proceeding Humbly.” “Following the wind” suggests proceeding, but the proceeding should be gentle, flowing easily into wherever the wind goes. Applied to human affairs, it means to proceed humbly, or to resign sovereign authority.

Sequence of the Gua: When the traveler has no place to take shelter, Proceeding Humbly follows.

Wilhelm translates Xun as The Gentle (The Penetrating, Wind). Blofeld calls it Willing Submission, Gentleness, Penetration. Xun is an action, a proceeding. The ideograph employs the image of two snakes to represent the act of continuing. The upper part of the ideograph depicts two snakes, si. The lower part is an ideograph of gong, which means “together.” Two snakes proceed together—the power of proceeding is doubled.

The structure of the gua is Wind above, Wind below, or Wood above, Wood below. According to the structure, a yielding line lying underneath two solid lines shows the submissive, humble, and obedient personality of the yielding element. The attribute of the wind is to proceed gently. The Chinese consider a gentle breeze with bright sun or a gentle breeze with mild rain to be the best weather. When the wind blows softly, it goes everywhere. When the wood proceeds gently, it penetrates the soil deeply. Gently proceeding is the most effective way to influence events. It never violates and is therefore easily accepted.

Decision

Proceeding Humbly.
Little prosperity and smoothness.
Favorable to have somewhere to go.
Favorable to see a great person.

Commentary on the Decision

The symbol of Wind is doubled.
It is to repeat one’s order once more.
The firm proceeds humbly to the central and to the correct position.
Its will is able to be fulfilled.
The yieldings submit to the firm.
Only little prosperity and smoothness are available.
It is favorable to have somewhere to go.
It is favorable to see a great person.

Commentary on the Symbol

Following the wind;
An image of Proceeding Humbly.
In correspondence with this,
The superior person repeats his order
And carries out his command.

SIGNIFICANCE

This gua is one of the eight gua among the sixty-four accomplished gua that is made by doubling the primary gua, here, Wind  . Proceeding Humbly explains the reason to be humble and gentle. In an unstable situation, if one is humble and gentle one is able to make friends with people, gaining their trust and obtaining their support. The ancients believed that humility and gentleness were the basic moral qualities which one should possess, but that these did not equate with inferiority and weakness.

This gua takes the image of a yielding line humbly lying underneath two solid lines. It symbolizes that one is waiting with patience for the right time to accomplish an aim. On the other hand, the winds following one upon the other symbolize the driving force continuously pushing one forward to achievement. In his Analects, Confucius says:

Before one’s mood of pleasure or anger, sorrow or joy, is released, one’s mind is in a state of equilibrium. When those feelings have been released and are at an appropriate degree, they are in a state of harmony. This equilibrium is the great basis of all human activities, and this harmony is the universal path for all to pursue. We must devote ourselves to achieving this state of equilibrium and harmony and to establishing the proper order between Heaven and Earth. Then all things will be nourished and will flourish.

Thus, equilibrium is the potential before it has been released, and harmony is the result of the proper way of releasing the potential. When we intend to do something, both before and afterward every step should be taken in the proper way. The host of the gua is the solid line at the fifth place. The Commentary on the Decision says, “The firm proceeds humbly to the central and to the correct position. Its will is able to be fulfilled.”

During King Wen’s sitting in stillness he meditated upon traveling, being humble, and proceeding. He realized that one should proceed with humility on a life journey. When only a little success can be achieved, there is still room for more. Great success is the result of the building up of little successes. The Duke of Zhou records the results of different attitudes of proceeding humbly. Progressing in this way, one still needs a warrior’s firmness and steadfastness. Being too humble and meek makes one lose self-confidence. Proceeding humbly with sincerity and trust brings good fortune. When one intends to make a change, one should consider matters carefully before taking action and reconsider after the action is completed.

The I Ching or Book of Changes by Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes

57. Sun / The Gentle (Penetrating, Wind)

Sun is one of the eight doubled trigrams. It is the eldest daughter and symbolizes wind or wood; it has for its attribute gentleness, which nonetheless penetrates like the wind or like growing wood with its roots.

The dark principle, in itself rigid and immovable, is dissolved by the penetrating light principle, to which it subordinates itself in gentleness. In nature, it is the wind that disperses the gathered clouds, leaving the sky clear and serene. In human life it is penetrating clarity of judgment that thwarts all dark hidden motives. In the life of the community it is the powerful influence of a great personality that uncovers and breaks up those intrigues which shun the light of day.

THE JUDGMENT

THE GENTLE. Success through what is small.
It furthers one to have somewhere to go.
It furthers one to see the great man.

Penetration produces gradual and inconspicuous effects. It should be effected not by an act of violation but by influence that never lapses. Results of this kind are less striking to the eye than those won by surprise attack, but they are more enduring and more complete. If one would produce such effects, one must have a clearly defined goal, for only when the penetrating influence works always in the same direction can the object be attained. Small strength can achieve its purpose only by subordinating itself to an eminent man who is capable of creating order.

THE IMAGE

Winds following one upon the other:
The image of THE GENTLY PENETRATING.
Thus the superior man
Spreads his commands abroad
And carries out his undertakings.

The penetrating quality of the wind depends upon its ceaselessness. This is what makes it so powerful; time is its instrument. In the same way the ruler’s thought should penetrate the soul of the people. This too requires a lasting influence brought about by enlightenment and command. Only when the command has been assimilated by the people is action in accordance with it possible. Action without preparation of the ground only frightens and repels.

I Ching: The Essential Translation by John Minford 

HEXAGRAM LVII

Xun
Kneeling

Xun/Wind
above
Xun/Wind

JUDGMENT
Slight Fortune.
A Destination
Profits.
It Profits
To see a Great Man.

On the Judgment

Wind doubled,
Ventus repetitus.
Commands are issued.
Firm Lines are Centered,
In True Place.
Aspirations
Are fulfilled.
The Yielding
Flows with the Firm.
Slight Fortune.

On the Image of the Hexagram

Wind follows Wind,
Ventus ventum sequens.
The True Gentleman
Issues commands
In conducting his affairs.

The Trigrams Expounded

Xun is Wood,
Wind.
It scatters,
Arrays things evenly.
It is South-East,
Eldest daughter.
It enters.
It is cockerel,
Thighs,
Plumb line,
Carpenter’s square.
It is white,
Long,
High.
It is Advance,
Retreat.
Xun has no fruit.
It has a strong odor.
Of men, it is
Balding,
Broad of forehead,
Showing the whites of the eyes.
Pursuit of gain,
Seeking threefold profit.
A forceful Trigram.

Wind above Wind. The early graph shows two men Kneeling. The Yin Lines in First and Fourth Places “kneel” below the Yang Lines above them. This Hexagram is made up of the Doubled Trigram Xun, symbolizing both Wind and Wood (the gentle processes of Infiltration and Vegetation). It is both flexible and penetrating, writes Legge, following Cheng Yi. Wind finds its way into every nook and cranny. Superiors are in Harmony with the needs of inferiors; they “issue” the necessary “commands.” Inferiors, for their part, are in Harmony with the wishes of superiors; they obey them. When a Ruler is in tune with what is right, then he is in accord with the Hearts-and-Minds of the Folk. They will obey him and follow (“flow with”) him. Superiors and inferiors “kneel” to one another. The Wind blows further and further into the distance, writes Magister Liu, rising ever higher, penetrating everywhere, entering into the Tao. Its Work is unremitting, reaching a deep level of Self-Realization. This is its “Slight Fortune.” Some need a “Destination.” They need to “see a Great Man,” one who considers Inner Nature and Life-Destiny to be of supreme importance, one who values the Tao and the Power above all, one to whom the illusory body is so much dry wood, worldly wealth a mere floating cloud. His Inner Self is rich, although his Outward Appearance may seem insufficient. His Heart-and-Mind is firm; his Aspirations have distant horizons. He never ceases until he reaches the Great Tao. Such is the Great Man. Yang in Second Place and Yang in Fifth Place indicate a strong Leader, writes Professor Mun. Strong Leaders dominate their Organization. They understand the views and needs of their subordinates (the Yin Lines in First and Fourth Places). With a softer approach, the Leader can achieve greater Harmony.

The I Ching or Book of Changes by Brian Browne Walker

57. SUN / THE GENTLE
(THE PENETRATING, WIND)

Consistent correctness turns every
situation to your advantage.

The image of this hexagram is that of a gentle wind dispersing storm clouds. A wind that changes direction often, even a very powerful one, will disperse nothing – it only stirs up the sky. The wind that causes real change is the one that blows consistently in the same direction. There is an important lesson for us in this example.

When faced with a difficult problem to resolve or a goal we wish to achieve, we often are tempted to take striking and energetic actions. Though it is possible to achieve temporary results in this fashion they tend to collapse when we cannot sustain the vigorous effort. More enduring accomplishments are won through gentle but ceaseless penetration, like that of a soft wind blowing steadily in the same direction. The truth of the Sage penetrates to us in this way, and this hexagram comes now to remind you that this is how you should seek to penetrate to others.

The advice given to you by the I Ching is threefold. First, establish a clear goal; the wind that continually changes direction has no real effect. Second, apply the principle of gentle penetration to yourself; by eliminating your own inferior qualities you earn an influence over others. Third, avoid aggressive or ambitious maneuvers now; those are rooted in desire and fear and will only serve to block the aid of the Creative. The desirable influence is the one that flows naturally from maintaining a proper attitude.

In your interactions with others, bend like the willow. By remaining adaptable, balanced, accepting, and independent, and by steadily moving in a single direction, you gain the clarity and strength that make possible a series of great successes.

I Ching: The Book of Change by David Hinton

57
REVERENCE

Through inward reverence, you penetrate everywhere in the smallest ways. Setting out toward a destination brings forth wild bounty, and seeking advice from a great sage also brings forth wild bounty.

PRESENTATION

Inward reverence layered through reverence, that is how you further the inevitable unfolding of things.

If you live all inward reverence steely as a mountain in cloud, you live centered at the hinge of things, and your purposes will be realized.

All tender assent, you move yielding and devoted as a river through everything steely as a mountain in cloud. If you move like this, you penetrate everywhere in the smallest ways. If you move like this, setting out toward a destination brings forth wild bounty, and seeking advice from a great sage also brings forth wild bounty.

IMAGE

A succession of wind through wind: that is Reverence. Using it, the noble-minded further the inevitable unfolding of things, and so realize their life’s work.

Original I Ching: An Authentic Translation of the Book of Changes by Margaret J. Pearson

57
(xùn) Calculation, Choosing

Calculation, compliance: In what is small, success. It is effective to have a destination and to meet with a great one.

Image

Wind follows wind: the image called compliance or calculation. You should fulfill your destiny by doing what you are called to do.

The various translations for the name of this hexagram (calculation, compliance, divining) are all similar in that they refer to a time when we seek to comply with what is right by consulting the oracle through a method of divination which uses numbers. The insights derived in this way may be as hard to grasp as the wind, as subtle as a gentle breeze. Yet they can help to lead us in the direction we should go if we listen with courage rather than cringing, and if we persist in moving toward this direction over time.

Another way to put this is: Wind follows wind: this is the image of true compliance. You should reiterate what you are called to do, then do it. Though air is invisible and winds are intermittent, few forces are stronger over time. A continuing wind can bend giant trees, erode earth and stone, shape landscapes and vegetation. To accomplish your greatest task, the work you are truly called to do, you must do many small things, travel, seek and heed advice, again and again. As you do this, do not look for great leaps forward, but think of one wind following another; that is, pushing softly again and again. This can be hard to do. When progress seems to be leading into danger or is blocked by more pressing demands, you may feel like hiding under your bed, and doing nothing but the bare essentials. But such slavish compliance with the more obvious powers of your world often leads in the end to regrets and personal promise unfulfilled. This is not what you are called to do. While remaining prudent, we need to remember the immense power of persistent winds. Listen to the still small voice within you, especially when a careful process of divination, consultation, and planning has led to a recognition of something you are called to do. Find another small step toward that goal and do it, and keep repeating this process. If you define your goal carefully, and persist in it, you will inevitably make progress towards it.

All this is posited on the belief that each of us, being unique, is called to do something that no one else can do as well. Identifying this goal may seem to take forever; achieving it even longer! But thoughtful, balanced seeking, without repeated seeking for a different answer, can usually help us discern whether a given action is likely to move us in the right direction or not. Repeating such steps is worthwhile, even if each one seems as small and as evanescent in effect as a puff of wind. As Xunzi said, “Achievement consists of never giving up.”

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The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted

The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted

140 or 280
Follow or unfollow
Like or dislike
When you’ve done the fun house
The haunted house
The house of mirrors
Have you had any fun
Have you had only fun
End where you came in
Lost in the maze
Kept in the labyrinth
For the safety of the keepers
Don’t you ever want
To grab that saw
Fell the barriers
That block your view and your way
Don’t count characters
The revolution will not be tweeted

©

Umberto Eco: Ur-Fascism

Celebrated Italian author and scholar Umberto Eco (1932-2016)  published an article in 1995 entitled Ur-Fascism .

Eco grew up during the time of Mussolini. In the article, he jumps from memories of that experience to describe some varieties of fascism and other types of totalitarianism. Not all are well-defined fascism, he says, but he does identify the core characteristics of what he calls Ur-Fascism.

I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

Eco goes on to list 14 features of Ur-Fascism. This is the excerpted list; please read the article for an expanded explanation. And as you read it, please consider which of those features you might be seeing now.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition….As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism….In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection.

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference.

6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism.

8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies….Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.

9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.

10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism.

11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm.

12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter….Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.

Eco closes with this:

Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.

The Last Gift

Consider the gift you give to the one you love as the last one you will give.

What does it say?

“Even such a brief précis of the work that has been done on gift exchange should make it clear that we still lack a comprehensive theory of gifts….I touch on many issues, but I pass over many others in silence. With two or three brief exceptions I do not, for example, take up the negative side of gift exchange—gifts that leave an oppressive sense of obligation, gifts that manipulate or humiliate, gifts that establish and maintain hierarchies, and so forth and so on….I am not concerned with gifts given in spite or fear, nor those gifts we accept out of servility or obligation; my concern is the gift we long for, the gift that, when it comes, speaks commandingly to the soul and irresistibly moves us.”
Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World

Light On

Gyokusei Jikihara, Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, 4. Catching the Bull

Light On

As I lay waking in bed
Listening to the Zen poem
Verses on the Faith Mind by Sengcan
The reader said
“The illustrator Gyokusei Jikihara, sensei,
is a Japanese master of calligraphy and nanga painting.
Still painting and teaching at the age of ninety-nine,
he will celebrate his one-hundredth birthday on August 1, 2004.”
Then the ceiling light came on spontaneously
Like a sun rising
With no one at the switch.
Sengcan died in 606.
Jikihara died in 2005.
If I live to be one hundred
I will remember this.
Sengcan says
“Don’t waste your time in arguments and discussion
attempting to grasp the ungraspable.”
I don’t think
I will

©

Christmas Quiz: What’s Different About This Picture?

If you look closely at the painting above, you may notice something unusual about the adoring Magi.

The painting, Adoration of the Magi, is attributed to Vasco Fernandes (ca. 1480–ca. 1543). I’ve shown it to a number of people this Christmas, who all remarked that it is beautiful, but did not comment on anything else.

Can you see what it is unusual about it? If you know or think you do, don’t look first at the answer below.

 


 

Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem (2010) by Brent Landau is the first-ever complete English translation of what purports to be a first-person account by the Magi themselves. Written sometime before the fifth century, it is not actually a chronicle by the Magi, but it is a spiritually fascinating addition to the usual Christmas story.

Landau writes:

The Revelation of the Magi, mostly narrated by the Magi in the first person, is a sweeping and imaginative work that begins in the Garden of Eden and ends with the Magi being baptized at the hands of the Apostle Thomas. These Magi are members of an ancient mystical order and reside in a semimythical land called Shir, located in the extreme east of the world, at the shore of the Great Ocean. The Revelation of the Magi says these individuals are called “Magi” in the language of their country because they pray in silence. The story implies that the name “Magi” is thus a play on the words silence and/or prayer, but that implication does not make sense in any of the most common languages spoken by early Christians. Despite this unsolved mystery, however, this description sharply distinguishes the Magi of this story from any of the most common ancient usages of the term magoi: these Magi are not magicians, astrologers, or even priests of the Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism.

These mystics, who live in a mysterious, far-off land, as the Revelation of the Magi depicts its Magi, are the descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. Seth was believed by many early Jews and Christians to be extremely pious and virtuous, so it is very fitting for the Revelation of the Magi to trace the ancestry of the Magi back to such an illustrious founder. The Magi inherited from Seth a prophecy of supreme importance for the world: a star of indescribable brightness will someday appear, heralding the birth of God in human form. Seth himself had learned about this prophecy from his father, Adam, since the star originally had hovered over the Tree of Life, illumining all of Eden, before Adam’s sin caused the star to vanish.

Every month of every year, for thousands of years, the order of the Magi has carried out its ancient rituals in expectation of this star’s arrival. They ascend their country’s most sacred mountain, the Mountain of Victories, and pray in silence at the mouth of the Cave of Treasures of Hidden Mysteries, where Seth’s own prophetic books are housed and read by the Magi. Whenever one of the Magi dies, his son or one of his close relatives takes his place, and their order continues through the ages.

All of this lore about the origins of the Magi and their prophecy has been narrated, we are told, by the generation of the Magi that was alive to witness the coming of the star. They have gathered together to ascend the Mountain of Victories, as was their ancient custom, but suddenly the foretold star appears in the heavens. As promised, the star is indescribably bright, so bright that the sun becomes as faint as the daytime moon; yet because the Magi alone are worthy of guarding this prophecy, the star can be seen by no one but them. The star descends to the peak of the mountain and enters the Cave of Treasures, bidding the Magi to come inside. The Magi enter the cave and bow before the star, whose incredible light gradually dissipates to reveal a small, luminous human! This “star-child” reveals to the Magi that he is the Son of God, but—and this is of crucial importance—never calls himself by the familiar names Jesus or Christ. Nor do the Magi themselves ever call him by these names, and the absence of these designations will provide us with a critical clue about the central message of the Revelation of the Magi.

The star-child instructs the Magi to follow it to Jerusalem so that they may witness its birth and participate in the salvation God has planned for the entire world….

The Revelation of the Magi even influenced the way explorers of the New World understood the indigenous cultures they encountered. Two examples will suffice. First, there is the seventeenth-century Augustinian monk Antonio de la Calancha, who studied the Incan culture of Peru. He was impressed by the similarities between Andean traditional religion and Christianity, and he believed that the Apostle Thomas and the Magi must have missionized the region together, just as the Opus Imperfectum indicated. Second, the Franciscan missionary and historian Juan de Torquemada described the belief among some of the Aztecs that the conquistador Cortés was the god Quetzalcoatl with recourse to this legend. Just as the Magi had stood atop the Mountain of Victories awaiting the fulfillment of their prophecy, Torquemada notes, so, too, did the Aztecs anxiously await the foretold return of Quetzalcoatl, and were all too willing to accept Cortés as the returned Quetzalcoatl when Spanish ships appeared off the Mexican coast.

And that is the story of how, in this painting, one of the Magi appears as a Native American.

Pope Francis: Change the Rules of the Socio-Economic System

“We must work toward changing the rules of the game of the socio-economic system. Imitating the Good Samaritan of the Gospel is not enough. An entrepreneur who is only a Good Samaritan does half of his duty: he takes care of today’s victims, but does not curtail those of tomorrow. It is simple to give a part of the profits, without embracing and touching the people who receive those ‘crumbs’. This can never be said enough — capitalism continues to produce discarded people whom it would then like to care for. ”
Pope Francis

The news in America this Christmas is dominated by talk about taxes and the economy. So it is appropriate that my Christmas message come from a speech about economics given by Pope Francis on 1 April 2017.


Greed, which by no coincidence is a capital sin, is the sin of idolatry because the accumulation of money per se becomes the aim of one’s own actions.

When capitalism makes the seeking of profit its only purpose, it runs the risk of becoming an idolatrous framework, a form of worship. The ‘goddess of fortune’ is increasingly the new divinity of a certain finance and of the whole system of gambling which is destroying millions of the world’s families, and which you rightly oppose. This idolatrous worship is a surrogate for eternal life. Individual products (cars, telephones …) get old and wear out, but if I have money or credit I can immediately buy others, deluding myself of conquering death….

Today, many initiatives, public and private, are being carried out to combat poverty. All this, on the one hand, is a growth in humanity. In the Bible, the poor, orphans, widows, those ‘discarded’ by the society of those times, were aided by tithing and the gleaning of grain. But most of the people remained poor; that aid was not sufficient to feed and care for everyone. There were many ‘discarded’ by society. Today we have invented other ways to care for, to feed, to teach the poor, and some of the seeds of the Bible have blossomed into more effective institutions than those of the past. The rationale for taxes also lies in this solidarity, which is negated by tax avoidance and evasion which, before being illegal acts, are acts which deny the basic law of life: mutual care.

But — and this can never be said enough — capitalism continues to produce discarded people whom it would then like to care for. The principal ethical dilemma of this capitalism is the creation of discarded people, then trying to hide them or make sure they are no longer seen. A serious form of poverty in a civilization is when it is no longer able to see its poor, who are first discarded and then hidden.

Aircraft pollute the atmosphere, but, with a small part of the cost of the ticket, they will plant trees to compensate for part of the damage created. Gambling companies finance campaigns to care for the pathological gamblers that they create. And the day that the weapons industry finances hospitals to care for the children mutilated by their bombs, the system will have reached its pinnacle.

The economy of communion, if it wants to be faithful to its charism, must not only care for the victims, but build a system where there are ever fewer victims, where, possibly, there may no longer be any. As long as the economy still produces one victim and there is still a single discarded person, communion has not yet been realized; the celebration of universal fraternity is not full.

Therefore, we must work toward changing the rules of the game of the socio-economic system. Imitating the Good Samaritan of the Gospel is not enough. Of course, when an entrepreneur or any person happens upon a victim, he or she is called to take care of the victim and, perhaps like the Good Samaritan, also to enlist the fraternal action of the market (the innkeeper)….An entrepreneur who is only a Good Samaritan does half of his duty: he takes care of today’s victims, but does not curtail those of tomorrow….

Capitalism knows philanthropy, not communion. It is simple to give a part of the profits, without embracing and touching the people who receive those ‘crumbs’. Instead, even just five loaves and two fishes can feed the multitude if they are the sharing of all our life. In the logic of the Gospel, if one does not give all of himself, he never gives enough of himself.

 

Today’s Torah: Slavery Might Be Right Around the Corner

A section of this week’s Torah portion (Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-47:27) is described even by sympathetic commentators as “unusual”, “troubling”, and “brutal”, though one commentator admits it is “ironic or poetic justice.”

Joseph is the sharp CEO of Egypt. (Sharp dealing runs in the family; recall that his father Jacob cheated his uncle Esau out of the family birthright.) He has now brought not only his family but all the Jews down to Egypt.

The new arrivals enjoy a relatively good life, while the native Egyptians are suffering through a disastrous famine, the famine foretold by Joseph himself. To solve the dire situation, Joseph has the desperate Egyptians turn over all money and land to Egypt and the Pharaoh, and then gives them seed and assigns them land to farm so they don’t starve. The Egyptians, we are told, were grateful. This is most kindly characterized as serfdom, but is most commonly described as slavery. The poetic justice is that the Jews themselves were later trapped in the slavery plan that Joseph devised.

Are there any interesting lessons here?

If you are a regular reader of the Torah, you recognize that some of the most iconic figures are not depicted as paragons. Incidents of cheating and lying are found among the patriarchs. Then there’s Joseph’s enslavement of the Egyptians. Some commentators face this head on, while others are apologists, contextualizing the miscreant behavior as all part of a bigger, better plan. But cheating, lying and cruelty are still just that, no matter the actor.

Another lesson? In hard times for the common people, it’s good to be the Pharaoh, or the Pharaoh’s right hand man, or the family and friends of the Pharaoh or the Pharaoh’s right hand man. Otherwise, slavery might be right around the corner.

Christmas for Refugees

How could you say to me,
“Off to the hills like a bird!
For, look, the wicked bend back the bow,
they fix to the string their arrow
to shoot from the gloom at the upright.
The foundations destroyed,
what can a righteous man do?”
Psalms 11:1-2 (Robert Alter translation)

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,
Matthew 1:13-14 (NRSV)

The wicked bend back the bow. The innocent flee. Give this Christmas to the UNHCR.

Wings

Wings

The weight of the world
And my self
Stoop my shoulders
The wings
Pull them back

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