The Passionate Middle — A Pre-Barack Screed

The Passionate Middle was written some years back — yet another post that makes the emergence of Barack Obama reasonable.

Essentially the situation in the US Senate as we speak is sad because we have no one in either party who is exhibiting any real passion in calling both sides to significant negotiation.

The feelings animating both sides are too visceral and immature to admit any expectation that they will be spontaneously modified.

But if there were a passionate middle — in BOTH parties — we might understand that all the Blue Red idiocy is just that. Most people are discerning. Most people want an end to polarized politics.

A pro-life stance would work if it had universal application embracing issues like Benign Genocide and Capital Punishment.

Most people would be happy to have some descendents of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington talking sense to the folk who presume to sit in the place they built and sustains at such great pains.


Ten Reasons Brilliant Compensation Is Not Brilliant Any More — Updated

Revised 28 August, 2008

1. Brilliant Compensation is an honest representation of the idea of building pyramid of workers with you at the top.

2. The idea is that you can, by some method of recruiting, create an army of workers UNDER you. The problem is that not every one can and that the resulting downlines require constant work to keep alive the notion that they can actually make a living in whatever the business is.

3. Every business I was ever in that modeled itself on Brilliant Compensation had people upline from me selling leads.

4. Upliners selling leads is a sleazoid business tactic and should be a red flag to anyone who is offered leads by their upline — or by the “opportunity” itself, for that matter.

5. Most Brilliant Compensation businesses (most MLMs that are operating online) require you to buy something even if they say they do not. Most require that you purchase either a) more product than you need or b) products for which you have little personal use or c) education that you can most likely get for free online with a bit of initiative.

What is Brilliant Compensation? Presumably the income you get for promoting the business to your downline. You are paid according to one of a number of compensation plans. The most seductive and the least likely to bear fruit over time are those which pay you when you add someone to your group. Often compensations plan change. I have known serious MLM workers who were essentially ruined when the plan changed.

6. Most compensation plans reward experienced networkers who have the skills needed and the time will to give full time and more to their enterprise. It goes without saying that this group is tiny in comparison to those who are brought in and led to believe promises of similar success. “You have to spend money to make money.”

How much do you have to spend on leads and other business necessities before the truth kicks in?

You are, at best, going to earn vastly less than you thought when you read promises of a full time income. At worst, you are going to say Sayonara to some of your expendable income or the savings you wagered on the hype you were given.

7. Brilliant Compensation was made to order for an Internet Audience several years ago. It is now entirely out of date.

Most showings of this famous Harvard-evoking “movie” seek to support the notion that you can build a home business, complete with an army of willing workers you recruit. Or, lately. workers placed under you for a price.

Enter the famed triad — leads, email ads, autoresponders.

Wow. All that. Hello?

Email marketing, even for the people who know how to do it, is not a winning venture. Some will argue to the contrary, but people who are well out of it admit to their losses honestly.

8. Brilliant Compensation is for more than 90 percent a pipe dream.

It assumes, like Frank Lloyd Wright, that people are very different than they actually are. Wright envisioned suburbs, believing everyone would have a little farm and plant their own garden. He drew the first interchanges of our strangling highway culture. We now have disfunctional metro sprawl filled with couch potatoes, broken marriages, bored children and vehicular traffic that helps poison the air we breathe.

Online we have a legion of confused souls who know, by now, that everything they are likely to touch in the way of an opportunity will turn to stone.

9. The only truly Brilliant Compensation is an inherently sound system for generating income.

One such system is product-based capitalism.

Another is product-based advertising, the very source of most of the revenue made by our communications industries and media.

Many of us who cut our teeth on MLMs and similar programs in the late 1990s ended up in a few programs built on cash-cycling premises. The pejorative word for such programs was and remains Ponzi schemes. The advent of Bernard Madoff has made Ponzi anathema as a concept. The simplest answer I can give to those who wonder if there is a prayer that such money cycling schemes can work is no. At one point I felt differently. I believed that if an enterprise could raise capital from a broad constituency and use it to create even more wealth, there was hope of attaining results that defied normal notions of a return on investment.

My experience was that there were systemic, technological and human reasons for the failure of these efforts. Rather on the same principle that calories in require more calories out to result in weight reduction, a money in money out system that promises an outlandish return is bound to falter over time. The technology needed to actually deal with the numbers that would flood to such an opportunity is well beyond the capacity of persons who might create it. Once this became obvious the best will in the world could not prevent the business from failing. At every point in this situation human limitations kick in.

In one case I remained in such business I felt it was unable to maintain its commitments. At that point I resigned and made my resignation public. In another case I and everyone else took losses when the business simply came to an end. The lesson was learned.

Far be it from me to suggest an online alternative to Brilliant Compensation.

10. I could go on and on, but I want to end with phone culture. Nothing is more demeaning to me than the idea of calling someone on the phone and reading a script. I have dehumanized myelf by this route to Brilliant Compensation.

It is probably the most bothersome aspect of the whole MLM ritual. I am happy to be out of it.

One final note. The U.S. Social Security system is Ponzi-like because money in is used to pay people now and there is no guarantee that it will be there to pay those who put it in today for some far off future. But there remains no substitute for the development of what can be called real rather than brilliant compensation. That would be compensation for services rendered (or goods created and sold) that creates profit and some willingness of those who succeed to aid those whose returns are, for whatever reason, inadequate to maintain themselves.


The Contribution of James Forman

Transferred from my Political Meanderings blog.

James Forman died in early 2005 in a hospice in Washington, DC. He was 76.

Born in Chicago, he was one of the major figures in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. To me he was also perhaps the pivotal figure in a career decision that I now am coming to see as my version of Nietzsche leaving his professorship to become in some respects an exile and a lone voice for an evolving understanding that could only have been the product of exile.

How could James Forman have such influence?

I never met him personally. I was around when he was around in Nashville in 1961. The documentary Eyes on The Prize has a brief shot of him in Selma, Alabama, — the second, aborted march, the afternoon before the evening when James Reeb was killed. Standing behind Jim Forman in that documentary picture is me.

The answer to the influence question is that James Forman attained his highest public profile not as a Civil Rights activist and administrator, but as a challenger of the American religious establishment.

Whether he would accept that description or not, it was my understanding at the time and remains so now.

This is not the place to tell the story of how the notion of reparations came into my mind or to speculate how it became an agenda which James Forman championed. The enduring essence of the matter is that Jim Forman challenged the mainline denominations of the American church to set aside substantial resources as reparations to be used for Black Economic Development.

I welcomed this initiative not merely because I believed the call for reparations was, and remains, just — however we may name it. But, even more, because I was convinced that the U.S. denominations would only be saved from triviality and obsolescence by shedding their hefty endowments and agreeing to work together in unity — a unity I had outlined in detail, not only in my book The Grass Roots Church, but also as an erstwhile representative of my denomination — the Presbyterians — in Church Union negotiations.

The upshot of the Forman campaign was mainly a sad series of confrontations marked by a failure of the major denominations to do more than give lip service to the need for racial justice. The notion that this was an historic opportunity for ecumenism — which is how I saw it then and now — was increasingly just a personal dream and fantasy, having no resonance in the halls of Protestantism.

But that did not stop me from siezing upon Jim Forman’s initiative (Black Economic Development was the initiative of many others at the time) and organizing my own effort to confront the denominations in December of 1969 in Cobo Hall in Detroit.

To make a sad and traumatic story short, my effort was not merely a bust, but a shameful display of denominational intransigence culminating in a vote on a parliamentary point. In essence the assembled churches rejected a proposition that disputes be resolved without recourse to state and police intervention. This was a complete evasion of the fundamental issue which was never understood or brought to a decision.

Ultimately, only one church leader — my friend Avery Post — stepped up and actually accomplished a substantial transfer. $1 million in Boston — a United Church of Christ local gesture in response to Jim’s campaign.

There were other efforts that sprang from the Forman campaign. The Black Manifesto did not get fully implemented by any means, but the effort was not entirely fruitless.

Ironically, recently, I received a flyer from the seminary I attended during the so-called golden age of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich — Union in NYC. They were having a meeting on reparations. There was no reference in the flyer to Jim’s effort or more pertinently to the performance of the churches in Detroit in 1969.

Short memories, “radical irrelevance”, more of the same old.

Jim Forman brought accountability to the Civil Rights movement. And depth. And a commitment to getting things done.

But he became most known though for his battle to make Reparations an issue in the churches.

Today I am sure his name would be unknown to 90 percent or more of today’s seminary educated clergy applicants.

abba's way

Jesus’s Beatitudes — With Brief Commentaries

This is practically the first thing I posted during the early 90s when I created Jesus: A Semantic Net. They remain the foundational documents for Abba’s Way.


The First Beatitude | Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew)

Jesus notes that happiness lies in being poor in spirit. Happy are those who don’t put on spiritual airs. Happy are those who have no leg to stand on before the Holy One.


The Second Beatitude | Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew)

To mourn is not to make an extended and pathological show of grief. It is to realize in the deepest sense your love for the one who is gone. It is to know you can and do continue to love. Comfort is the mantle of love the Holy One bestows on those who have the happy gift of mourning.


The Third Beatitude | Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew)

Happy are those who do not seek more than they need. Meekness is not being an utter wimp. Meekness means yielding, being willing to negotiate. Negotiation is at the very heart of the reciprocal ethic of Jesus. The meek, who can bend and move with a flexibility born of faith in Abba, will inherit earth.


The Fourth Beatitude | Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew)

A primary source of happiness for anyone is an early awareness of righteousness — the claim and possibility of a world operating on the principles the prophets prayed and spoke for. To long for the coming of justice and respect and goodness in all situations is to experience the deeper happiness of this blessing of Jesus.

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be filled. (Luke)

Happiness lies in being aware of a better future. It is hungering now in full confidence one will be filled. All beatitudes point to the happiness that comes from faith in things unseen.


The Fifth Beatitude | Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Matthew)

Happiness is knowing the very heart of the radical way that Jesus proclaims. Jesus looses the power to forgive from the hands of priests. He declares that it is our obligation to practice mercy in all relationships and circumstances. We heal ourselves by giving of ourselves.


The Sixth Beatitude | Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew)

Happiness lies in having a heart unburdened by evil thoughts and impulses to evil deeds. But how to be free of what too often occupies us — resentment, the urge to get even. This is part of the evil we pray to be delivered from with the words: And deliver us from evil. There is nothing happier than the freedom one feels to know one is poor in spirit, without a leg to stand on, and need therefore never feel so superior to others that evil thoughts against them poison existence. The capacity to see ultimate Truth is given to such.


The Seventh Beatitude | Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew)

Happiness for Jesus is NOT the product of national, gender, racial or religious affiliation.. If it were few would be the happy! Jesus finds righteousness all over and identifies it regardless of where the righteous person comes from. Finally he says the realm of Abba will be open to those who have sen his face in the face of the hungry, the lame, the weak, the last and least. Anyone who is persecuted for righteousness sake can be happy knowing that theirs is the ultimate reward, the just and loving future.


The Eighth Beatitude | Blessed are you, when people revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew) |

Happiness in all Beatitudes is a product of Abba’s will for each of us. So to be happy because tormented for Jesus’s sake means to be tormented for living Beatitudinally! A mere intellectual affirmation or doctrinal argument has nothing to do with attaining this happiness. It is a Way of the Heart made possible by faith, openness, allegiance to Jesus.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they separate you from their company, and reproach you and call you evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and jump for joy, for you know your reward is great in heaven. For so they treated the prophets in the past. (Luke)

When in real life does this happiness occur? You can tell when ostracism (being excluded) makes you happy! You will find it is when you have followed the just and merciful ways of the prophets


Why We Are Nicodemus

Continuing the consolidation of my blogs, this is from the Text Trove.

Sermon for Trinity Sunday


John 3:1-17: There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who came to Jesus by night and said, Rabbi, we know you are a teacher come from God: for none could do the miracles you do except God be with you. Jesus said, Truly I tell you, Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said, How can an old person be born again? Can I enter the second time into my mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus replied, Truly unless you are born of water and of the Spirit, you cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be surprised if I say you must be born again. The wind blows where it will and you hear the sound of it but cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes. Thus it is with everyone born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered, How can these things be? Jesus replied, Are you a master of Israel, and do not know these things? Truly, We speak what we do know and testify to what we have seen; and you don’t receive our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and you do not believe, how shall you believe when tell you of heavenly things? No one has ascended up to heaven, except he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but
have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.

Text: God sent not his Son … to condemn.

We are condemners. Our world is founded on condemning. We condemn without knowing we condemn. We assume that others also condemn. We also assume that God condemns. When we are told that God does not condemn, we say, Oh yes? Why, look at the prophets! Look at Jesus himself! Who said generation of vipers? It matters not. Goodness and righteousness condemn, whether it is the Baptist or Paul or Jesus himself.

We invest in condemnation. Not merely by approving the development of legal structures of the state and of other institutions, but in the entire structure of discourse up and down the line. Virtually everyone is on one side of something and the dividing line is condemnation. Where two condemnations meet a fence is built. A boundary is created. A war follows.

This text from John is a corker. It goes on to say that Jesus comes not to condemn but that *the world might be saved*. I like the construction here. It implies conditionality. It more or less says he saves the world but leaves a little question. I think John means to say: Jesus comes to make possible the saving of the world. Without him the world will not be saved. With him, it might be.


What explicitly has Jesus done that makes the saving of the world possible? Is there anything in the reading as a whole that suggests a direction for an answer? There is indeed. The answer is belief in the One who God has sent, out of love for the world, that the world might be saved.

And in what does this belief consist? Certainly it does not consist in believing in the scientific probity of the events surrounding his death and resurrection, as though a simple, content-free special effect could save the world. The world will not be saved by the Thomas-event or a billion similar events.

The key word is God’s love and what Jesus brings to the world that the world might be saved. This provides a context for understanding the salific events of the passion and the cross and the tomb. Jesus is the one who opens up the way that lies beyond the polarities created by condemnation. Jesus comes to bind the Author of Division. Jesus comes to elucidate the Beatitudinal presuppositions that underly a life that has transcended the polarities.

So the answer does lie in the text.

So what do we do with the huge, explicit and implicit fund of anger and condemnation that Jesus himself engenders in us when we reflect on the failure of the Gospel to save the world? What do we do with the Jonah-like residue that means even a modest repentance will not satisfy us? What do we do when we have to be receivers and custodians of this word in a world that would not respond even if we could properly preach the word in all of its pristine simplicity?

I think we then look at ourselves and admit that *we* are the problem. That the “might” part of the text is related to the fact that we think we believe but *do not _really_ believe*. The sign of this truth is that we still condemn. Another sign is that we do not trust the Beatitudinal implications of belief — we do not experience the liberation of the teachings. We do not see that they are the true and saving strategies of non-conflicting existence. We do not turn the cheek, give the cloak,
reconcile by sunset, lose life to save it, and so forth.

The text explains why we are the problem — why we are Nicodemus.

To move beyond condemnation to a place of reconciliation, to truly believe in God’s love, we must be born of water and the spirit. I suspect this rebirth is what we need in order to believe — to believe that God so loved the world that he sent his own Son that it might be saved. We are on the borderline of that exploration when we seek to make communion and eucharist and community come alive. We are on the borderline when we understand our witness to be wrestling with text and practicing loyalty to God. We are somewhere in the womb, waiting to be born again for real.