Open Letter To My Horrible Roommates (Or: “How Hippies Can Be A-Holes, Too”)

This is an ugly post, detailing the awful way in which some of my housemates have behaved.  Some of their behavior involves the abuse of children.  Much of this post is dedicated to the background of how I ended up living with these jerks.  To read the letter, please see roughly the bottom half of the post.  I strongly believe that such behavior is only allowed to continue because people in my position keep quiet.  Today, I’m speaking up.


First, some background.

On June 7th, I moved into a home with some people who were interested in starting a Non-Violent Communication (NVC) community.  This sounded really cool.  There were to be 7 adults and 4 kids living in a 100+-year-old house in a good part of town.  Two of the adults are really nice, neat people whom I respect quite a bit, and was excited at the prospect of living with them.  The others seemed nice and reasonable enough, as well.  (I still respect and generally like one of those with whom I’d not previously been acquainted.)  We agreed beforehand that the only “cause” of the household would be NVC.  Sadly, a week before we moved in, some of the roommates who had come up with this community idea abandoned NVC (emotional and communicative non-violence) in favor of adding stuff that we all had to live by–after we’d all given notice to our landlords, and had no time to find a new place.  This includes living and promoting Quaker ideologies, not having a TV in the living room (which forced me to give away $300 in related equipment, since there was no space, elsewhere), subscribing to a particularly naive form of environmentalism (“let’s not put liners in the trash can; instead, we’ll spray them with water several times a week, during the worst drought in recorded history;” and “let’s keep the windows open while the AC is on, so we can get ‘natural’ air in, and still be nice and cool”), and other unreasonable demands.  Those who refused to follow such ideals, they said, were going to be kicked-out forcibly (evicted).  Of course, this is illegal, and in violation of numerous verbal agreements…but the threats remained and intensified throughout June, until something truly absurd happened toward the end of June.

(Please note: I have nothing against Quakers, in general, and fully expect that the people mentioned in this post are grossly misrepresenting their religion, just as people from all walks of life sometimes use their beliefs to justify bad behavior.  I hope, one day, to get a chance to discuss theology with someone who can represent this religion as it’s intended, as I tend to find substantial wisdom in all faiths.)

Part of the ideals they were insisting on having followed was “consensus-style decision-making,” with emphasis on CT’s method.  (I’m not including this person’s full name, to avoid possible liability.)  Despite my reservations about letting this man preach his cause at me, my less-kind roommates decided to invite him and his partner, Wren, to dinner, so they could meet me, and so I could hear their message.  I was not OK with this, but was simply so tired of saying “no” for the last month, and having it ignored that I agreed, anyway.  (Note: the root word of “consensus” is “consent.”  Ironic, eh?)  So, my roommates and some of their friends came to dinner at my dining room table, and so did CT and Wren.  At this point, I decided that I just didn’t feel good about being forced to meet someone for the purpose of being preached at.  I’d agreed to read their book at some point, and consider it on its own merit, but that was as far as I was willing to go.  So, I stayed in my room and put a “Privacy, Please” sign on my door.  A few minutes later, someone ignored the sign and knocked.  With a muffled groan, I let Cedar enter, and told her why I was avoiding the gathering.  The conversation, in brief, went something like this:

Dane: “I’m in here because I don’t feel genuine about meeting people under coercion.  At some point, I might like to meet them, when Meagan’s not trying to ram them and their method down my throat; but at this time, it’s just not OK.”

Cedar: “Why don’t you go in there and tell them that?  I’m sure they’d understand.”

Dane: “OK.”

So, like an idiot, I assumed that these hippie-teacher celebrities would have sufficient humility to accept that while I’d like to meet them under different circumstances, now was simply not a time when I was interested in their company.  I came over to the table and explained this to them from a crouching position, in a soft voice.

At first, it seemed promising.  They replied to the effect of, “We were not aware that this gathering has a coercive element!  Sure, let’s do this at another time, under different circumstances.”  So, I went into the kitchen, got a plate, grabbed some food, and began walking back into my room, as I said I would.  Then things started to go badly.  (The below is paraphrased and abbreviated.)

CT and Wren (indicating agreement with one another): “Now that I think of it, I’m not OK with you going into your room while we’re eating out here.  In my culture, breaking bread is a sacred thing, so having you go into your room while we’re sitting at the table doesn’t feel right to me.”  (What culture this Californian white guy was referring to yet eludes me.)

Dane: “OK, I’ll sit at the table.”  (At this point, I sat down in an empty chair.)

CT&W: “I feel really wrong about sitting at a table and eating with you unless you’re ready to schedule a date to get to know us better.”

Dane: “I’ll only feel right about that once Meagan stops trying to force you and your method onto me, and after I’ve had a chance to stop being so irritated about it.  I don’t know when that will be.”

CT&W: “I’m not OK with that!  Here we are, sitting at this table, and breaking bread together, and you’re not ready to extend us your friendship!”

Dane: “I understand that you’re uncomfortable about this, and that you see eating together as a sacred event among friends.  I’m sorry, but I just can’t set a date, right now.”

(This part of the conversation repeated for several minutes, with CT and Wren getting more and more animated, loud, and angry, as the conversation progressed.  As is the nature of the NVC method, I made a point of reflecting their feelings before adding my responses.  CT and Wren don’t like the NVC method, and my using it seems to have triggered a somewhat unpleasant reaction, as below.  I have an unusual capacity, which people sometimes comment on, for keeping a calm tone of voice when being yelled at, and as such, never reciprocated their volume increases.)

CT&W: “You’re just repeating what we say, and then re-stating what you’ve already said!”

Dane: “I’m trying to show that I understand your position.  This doesn’t mean that I have to change my own, and I would appreciate it if you would respect my decision.”

CT&W: “I’m just not OK with sitting here, at this table, with someone who’s not ready to extend his friendship to me!”

Dane: “In point of fact, it’s my table.”  (In hindsight, this wasn’t the most diplomatic thing to say…but I’d really had enough, by this point.)

CT (yelling): “I don’t have to sit here and take this!  I’m leaving!  Wren, if you want to stay, you can, but I’m leaving.”

At this point, both CT and Wren left in a huff, slamming the front door behind them.  The other people sitting around the table were absolutely shocked by this.  These two are commonly billed as being foremost “gurus” of effective community communication training, and here they were throwing a tantrum and storming out because I wouldn’t be coerced into being their friend.  We sat around for a few minutes talking about this as a household, until Dan, a friend to several house members, said to me, “I’m impressed with your ability to eject obnoxious people from your home.”  Then, Meagan began yelling, addressing me, and starting with, “I think you’re obnoxious!”  She said that she’d “decided yesterday” that I’m leaving, and there was nothing I could do about it.  (I still don’t know what prompted this decision, but her poor behavior toward me the day before suddenly made sense, once she said this.)  She said she was leaving the house, and would not come back until I was gone.  I replied that I accepted that she believed that I was leaving, but that I had no plans of moving out.  She stormed out, and the rest of the housemates and guests expressed horror at her behavior.

Then the really odd thing happened. The next day, Jack and Maggie (wonderful people) left town for two months, as they’d been planning to do.  A few hours later, Cedar pulled me aside, into a bedroom of a roommate who was also out of town (Heather), and said the following (paraphrased/abbreviated):

Cedar: “I can’t handle the presence of a male who might take charge of meetings accidentally (referring to a meeting about kitchen stuff where nobody else volunteered to facilitate, and I was asked to take notes), because my ex-husband was verbally-abusive to me.  Also, Meagan has said she won’t come back until you’re gone, and I have a pact with her to help her work out her issues, so you have to leave.  This is not a negotiation.”  (The italicized text is her exact wording.)

Dane: “Is there anything I can do to assuage your fears?”

Cedar: “No.  This is non-negotiable.”

Naturally, only she, Heather, and Meagan had gotten a say in this (with the other lease-holder, Lauren, abstaining), despite the obsession about “consensus” that had been displayed for the last month.

Later, she said that I was being asked to leave because several of the people living here are “raging feminists” (her words).  Then, in emails to me and the other house members, she said that I was being asked to leave not because of gender discrimination (since that would make her look bad), but “to preserve the values of the house.”  Translation: “You’re not a Quaker, and not my type of environmentalist, and have no interest in acquiescing to my ideals, so you have to leave.”  (The emails expound upon this point at great length.)  Heather, who’d been out of town since about a week after we moved in, decided, without ever having spoken to me one-on-one for more than about 30 seconds, that she was going to side with Cedar and Heather on the issue, since she, too, is a Quaker, and has known Cedar for quite some time.  (The others in the house, including Lauren, are basically agnostic, but are quiet about it, and avoid conflict almost pathologically.)

Since then, I’ve made it clear that I’m not leaving, and Cedar, Heather, and Meagan can’t make me.  I’ve spent the last two months trying to get people to de-escalate this conflict, and have made every effort to be friendly to my house mates, including striking up pleasant conversations when I see folks in the common areas, and sharing tasty food for no reason at all, other than to be nice, and hopefully to re-kindle frienship.  Lauren, Maggie, and Jack seem too afraid to speak out against these three militants, since it could involve losing their own ability to stay here, as well as having the others make their home-lives miserable.  Cedar, Heather, and Meagan have done everything in their power to make me miserable and assert dominance over me (including Heather buying a redundant phone/Internet account, and convincing everyone to switch over to it, so I’d have to pay the entirety of the old account’s bill, at the locked-in contract rate), while constantly using NVC language and making small platitudes, so that it would look like it’s all “OK,” and to avoid cognitive dissonance.  Today, I decided I’ve had quite enough of their hypocrisy, and wrote the following letter, emailed to all the house members (as well as some folks whom I’ve been employing as witnesses for legal reasons), posted it on Facebook, and am now posting it here.

Oh, and did I mention that one of the horrible roommates is now sleeping with two out of three of the other lease holders?  She seems to break up with one or the other of them on a roughly bi-weekly basis, leading to some “interesting” household interactions.  (I’m on the lease, as are the other roommates, but as a resident, not a lessee.  The wording of the lease technically makes me, Maggie, and Jack “tenants” with all the same rights, and none of the legal/financial responsibilities.  We have no subleasing agreement with the lessees; our only legal relationship in this matter is with the property management company.  This has not prevented C., M., and H. from trying to evict me, anyway.)

The Letter

Some of my roommates are nice, considerate people (Maggie, Jack, Lauren).  The others are exceptionally horrible (Cedar, Heather, Meagan).  This is an open letter to the horrible ones, including pictorial illustrations of the crap I’m having to put up with.

Those of you who have been following this drama are aware that they’re (Cedar, Heather, Meagan) trying to evict me because my beliefs are different from their own, and I don’t wish to acquiesce to their Quaker ideals; and, in Cedar’s words, because some of them are “raging feminists,” who can’t handle having men around who speak their minds.  (This gives real feminists a bad name.)  Supposedly, the “theme” of this house is community and emotional/communicative nonviolence.  I have yet to meet a household full of more emotionally- and communicatively-violent individuals.  They’re also big into “environmentalism,” but gripe at me for asking them to close the windows when they have the AC on.  This letter is my way of calling them on their hypocrisy and expressing a big “WTF?!” with regard to the messes they expect me to clean up.

Fair warning: this post contains evidence of child abuse/neglect/endangerment, and will probably make your blood boil.

Today, Cedar, Heather, Meagan, “Sai” (not his real name, I assume), Maggie, and Lauren went on a trip to the hot springs, somewhere north of here.  True to form, the horrible ones of the group made sure I wasn’t invited, but that everyone else was–which isn’t really a big deal for me, given the poor company.  I made one request of them before they left: please don’t leave me a mess like last time.  Below are pictures of the mess they left, this time.

The entirety of what you see on the dining room table was found in Cedar’s room when I peeked in to make sure the windows were closed before turning on the AC.  Many of these dishes and flatware items are mine, and I’d been looking for, and inquiring about them for weeks, to no effect.  Since I’m having company over on Saturday, I decided to take them downstairs and wash them, rather than waiting for Cedar to do them, probably some weeks/months from now.

As I gathered these items, I also noticed a large amount of food on the floor (which isn’t my problem), as well as a number of prescription pills that had been spilled, and could easily be eaten by the children and animals who live here (4 kids, 4 cats, and one dog–the latter being mine).  An ~8-year-old girl with type 1 diabetes lives in this room, with Cedar, and is frequently left home, alone, or without an adult who has been made aware of her presence, or been trained in giving emergency insulin injections (in the case of fainting, seizures, strokes, or other emergencies relating to blood sugar problems), and often without the girl knowing where her mother is, or when she’ll return.  She and her brothers are often left without food while her mother is away, and sometimes they ask me for food so they don’t have to go hungry–which I provide out of ethical obligation.

Side Note:
There is also a person living here (Meagan) who was engaged in hitting her live-in boyfriend, “Spectrum,” just a few months ago–and who is now living with 3 teenage boys, some of whom she babysits and tutors, at Cedar’s request.  She has recently invited her new boyfriend, “Sai,” to live here, without asking the rest of the household.  He’s a nice guy, and seems to have no idea what he’s getting into.   I’ve been told by someone I trust, who works with sick children for a living that all of this constitutes neglect, and possibly abuse and child endangerment–but that it would do little for me to report it, unless there was an acute issue in-progress for the police/CPS to witness.  So, the kids get to keep suffering.  :-(
(End of side note.)

The mess you see in the pictures includes:
-A dishwasher full of dirty dishes, which nobody saw fit to run before leaving.
-A stove covered in dirty pots, pans, and other implements.
-A sink full of dirty dishes.
-A laptop and cables left on the floor, which pose a tripping hazard.
-Three full trash cans, two of which I emptied just yesterday.
-Four clean plates left in the cupboard–which is to say, what was left after Cedar hoarded the rest in her room.
-A 6-foot by 4-foot table covered in dirty dishes, cups, glasses, and flatware found in Cedar’s room.  The moldy quesadilla is a particular gem.
-A dish drainer overflowing with clean dishes that nobody bothered to dry/put away before leaving.
-The ant problem is back because my roommates don’t clean up after themselves.  (See below.)

The last time my roommates went out of town, far worse things happened.

-Cedar threw an overnight birthday party for her 16-year-old son, including her 14-year-old son, and about three of their friends.  She left the following morning, leaving them all in the house with just me, after I told her I’m not interested in watching her kids.  She didn’t bother to shop for food beforehand, so her youngest son went hungry.  (He didn’t like the kinds of food I had on-hand to offer him.)
-I was left with over three dishwasher loads of other people’s dishes, many, but not all of which were from her son’s party.
-Her son’s friend badly scraped his knee, and didn’t know how to treat the injury.  At the request of the kids, and to prevent infection, I applied water and hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound, then antibiotic ointment to disinfect it.  There were no bandages in the house (that I knew of), so I used a clean paper towel and packing tape to cover it, then instructed him to change the dressing at least daily and seek medical help as soon as he was able.
-Nobody bothered to make proper arrangements to take care of their cats.  The cat box was so full and smelly that I had to clean it myself, so my Dungeons and Dragons guests would stop gagging.  I had to give the cats water and food.  Had their owners bothered to coordinate with me, they would know that I keep the doors locked when I’m sleeping or absent, and as such, whomever they intended to come and take care of their pets (since they said they didn’t want me to do it) would have to call before doing so.  Evidently, the people who were supposed to do the job could only come at night…and I’m not OK with folks I don’t know well walking into my home at night, when I’m asleep, without my permission.  (Really, who is?!)
-The kitchen was full of ants and cockroaches because my roommates kept leaving food on the counter tops and floor.  I dealt with it by putting insect bait/poison around the perimeter of the house’s ground floor.  We were pest-free for several weeks after that, but now they’ve returned, for the same reason as before.

This stuff really pisses me off–and I’m still floored at how some of my roommates are so obsessed with “saving the world,” and yet fail to make the most basic efforts to take care of their kids, pets, and home.

“Being a good roommate 101: CLEAN UP YOUR OWN FRIGGIN’ MESSES.”

End of rant (for now).



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The Universal Tongue

This is an essay I wrote for an English class in college (around 2001).  It pertains to the book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” which is a gripping true story about an American Hmong family and their epileptic daughter, Lia, and their struggles to define what “good care” is, and the cultural clash that ensued with non-Hmong Americans who wanted to help.  Per my then-professor’s requirement, the thesis or “claim” of the essay is highlighted in yellow.  (Please forgive the bad formatting; copy/paste doesn’t work very well from LibreOffice to WordPress, and I may or may not get around to cleaning it up.)


The Universal Tongue

By Dane Mutters

(The claim is highlighted on page three.)

‘“…And what absolutely blew me away was I, well, I was afraid they were going to blame me for what happened, but the mother showed me compassion. She understood—somehow she got the—she, well”—Neil was scrabbling uncomfortably for words, but he was determined to forge ahead—“well, I think part of it was that I was crying. What she did was, she thanked me. She hugged me. And I hugged her.”’

—Excerpt from The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Fadiman 213)

In a heroic breach of cultural barriers, Neil Ernst and Foua Lee, longtime adversaries concerning Lia’s medical treatment, suddenly connected emotionally to such an extent that the Lee family exempted Neil and Peggy from the category of “bad American doctors,” and began to see them for what they always were—(unsuccessful) proponents of Lia’s well-being. Why not before now, or even the first time that Lia was successfully treated for acute status epilepticus? The prolonged agony of dissent among the doctors and family of the patient seems, in retrospect, unnecessary. Although the Lees did not understand the methods of treatment, they should have at least realized that the doctors meant to help Lia, and would thus not lie to them, or knowingly overmedicate her. Likewise, why had it taken the doctors at the Merced Community Medical Clinic so long to start seeing their troubled Hmong patient as more than a severe annoyance, but rather as a sick child?

The ever-present struggle between the doctors and the Hmong family was a manifestation of the power differential between the Hmong and the American doctors. In the minds of the Hmong, to learn the basic principles of American medicine, and to do explicitly anything the doctors told them to do, was a way of yielding to a higher power, and thus partially assimilating into the American status quo—something, the essence of which, the Hmong have resisted for hundreds, even thousands of years, under much more invasive governments and cultures than our own. In this society, however, the Hmong were irreparably immersed. Any animosities that may have existed solely on the basis of having somebody else tell them what to do were heightened due to their inability to escape American law and customs for fear of having to deal with a justice system that they didn’t understand, and thus infused into their relationship with the doctors at MCMC a feeling of having been conquered, and with that, a feeling of deep resentment.

Therefore, how could one expect the Hmong to sympathize with the doctors’ efforts to cure Lia’s illness, even at great expense and personal sacrifice? Under such a pretense of hatred, one would be rather inclined towards a disposition of obstinance. This disposition proved rather difficult to deal with from the doctors’ perspectives, even to the extent of warranting the apprehension of Lia so that she could be placed with a more “compliant” family. From the perspective of the Hmong, who value their children above all else, this appeared to be an act of hostility and a demonstration of power, and thus perpetuated feelings of animosity. With such a powerful cycle in place, how did the Lees eventually come to feel compassion for Neil and Peggy Ernst—the very doctors who had their child taken from them?

When Neil’s nearly statuesque composure dissolved under streams of tears, he demonstrated that he did not possess the heartless objectivism of other American authority figures. By bearing his feelings to Foua Lee, he was able to communicate in the universal human language of love, allowing her to understand that he too felt compassion for Lia in a way similar to that of her own parents. In this manner, when feelings of love are put into plain view, one can cross even the densest cultural barriers and allow each participant to ascend into understanding.

Rooted in every human being from the time of birth is the innate notion of giving and receiving love. Babies love their mothers as their mothers love them. Even Lia Lee, in a near-comatose state, was able to recognize her mother’s touch (Fadiman 211). Love is the means by which we are able to accomplish great things as a civilization; it encompasses the desire to help one’s fellow human beings by being the best one can be; it allows people to reach past first impressions in order to achieve a common goal. Furthermore, love is the platform on which equality stands.

In her essay, “Love as a Practice of Freedom,” Bell Hooks states, “A culture of domination is a culture of anti-love” (Hooks 246). She goes on to focus on the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., saying that he “decided to love.” In that manner, King expressed that in order to live as equals, people must love one another. Otherwise, the sense of animosity which stems from not loving and not being loved will manifest itself in the form of social hierarchies, in which those with wealth and influence do not feel obligated to share their good fortune with those who are less fortunate. Also contained in King’s statement is the premise that love has a way of being reciprocated; otherwise, loving one’s oppressor would serve no purpose.

Indeed, this principle, as demonstrated to be successful during the non-violent movements of both King and Gandhi, is a corner stone of the Christian faith:

“…every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them.” (Mosiah 23: 15)

However, since in Hmong folk lore (and in their religion) most of the great antagonists are evil spirits, bent on eating people and drinking their blood, many Hmong heroes, such as Shee Yee gained their fame through thinking up cunning ways of killing or otherwise defeating their adversaries, thus perpetuating the characteristically Hmong ethic of resisting coersion from powerful people or beings (Johnson 26). That adds to the above stated predisposition for obstinance that serves to separate the Hmong-Americans from other Americans. These premonitions served to practically vaccinate the first-generation Hmong-Americans from full cultural integration. Additionally, because part of cultural integration involves learning the language, the Hmong tended to be rather “difficult” during negotiations with the MCMC medical staff.

Even though the Hmong were fairly strictly against being colonized, they were able to befriend Lia’s American foster-parents, Dee and Tom Korda, on the grounds that they were taking good care of Lia. Why then, did they not initially feel moved to befriend the doctors at MCMC?

Primarily, this was because they didn’t believe that what the doctors were doing was helping Lia. Hmong parents hold fast to the belief that if a child is sickly, it is because they were not given proper care in their previous life. Therefore, in order to remedy the child’s spiritual afflictions (quag dab peg, literally, “the spirit catches you and you fall down,” is believed to be a matter of losing one’s soul), it was necessary to treat the child with special care, even to the extent of partialism over the other children in the family (Fadiman 20). The doctors at MCMC, however saw Lia’s afflictions as purely a physical matter, and thus did everything in their power to keep her physical body from damaging itself further. This included tying her to her bed, sticking foreign objects down her throat and prodding her with needles in order to systematically extract her bodily fluids. The Lees recognized these actions as things which are likely to scare away her soul by making her unhappy. The Lees responded in the only way they knew how—to cease all things which made Lia unhappy (Fadiman 180).

Such is the purest form of love, the desire to make someone happy. Regardless of whether a person refers to it as “treating the patient,” “calling her soul” or simply “good parenting,” it is that desire which expresses a person’s need to love and be loved. Although the Lees did not understand Lia’s course of medical treatment, they eventually came to realize that the doctors had much the same intentions as them. Such realization came quicker in the case of the Kordas, because the Kordas’ method of giving love was much more similar to their own.

A second form of love is service. Of the countless visits to MCMC that the Lees made over the period of Lia’s childhood, not once were they required to pay for treatment or negotiate with insurance companies to that effect. Neil Ernst once calculated Lia’s cost of medical care at a staggering sum of $250,000, not including the salaries of the medical staff (Fadiman 254). Additionally, both Neil and Peggy could recall countless nights when they had to stumble out of bed and rush over to the clinic in order to insert an IV into one of Lia’s impenetrable veins and negotiate a course of treatment with her obstinate parents. Yet for all of this, they expected nothing. Their primary goal in these valiant efforts was not money or thanks, but rather a sense of satisfaction gained from helping a troubled Hmong girl. In serving the Lees at great cost and personal sacrifice, the doctors at MCMC showed that without knowing the Lees, or even being able to talk to them, they were willing to display unconditional love. Yet that love was not immediately returned.

At the time of service, the Lees did not understand the doctors’ pure intentions, but instead assumed that their willingness to “help” stemmed from their desire to continue medical research, using Lia as a test subject. In that context, it’s no wonder that the Lees felt apprehensive about the treatment, even to the extent of discontinuing it on multiple occasions. They could not, under the circumstances, fathom the idea that in such a money- and power-driven society ruled by the white upper class, somebody would want to help a family of poor Hmong refugees who neither knew the language nor wanted to take part in mainstream American culture. Therefore, it was not until Neil put his love into a language they could understand that they recognized the doctors’ goodwill towards Lia.

Throughout Hmong history, they have been persecuted for their differences and individualism to the extent that those which would have them integrate into their own culture have only caused them to seclude themselves further, out of fear and resentment; thus, in no way could the oppressors have won the confidence of the Hmong. In fact, the greater the power differential and the oppressors’ desire to use it, the more obstinate the Hmong have become in their policies towards that group. At MCMC, however, the pressure to integrate was accompanied by good intentions and selfless service, allowing for the chance that the Hmong patients would see the doctors’ perspective and thereby develop at least a small degree of trust and confidence in that group. However the desire to do good was not enough. The doctors had to put it into a form that the Hmong could understand—the almost parental love that Neil and Peggy felt toward Lia. Once these feelings of love were out in the open, each side was free to cross the cultural barrier and embrace one another as mentors and benefactors of Lia Lee.

Could the same have been accomplished without love? Possibly. A good translator who was affluent enough with Hmong culture may have been able to explain the doctors’ wishes to Foua and Nao Kao, but without Neil’s display of pure emotions, this understanding would have been purely objective, even to the extent that the Lees may have continued to suspect that the doctors were testing new methods of medicine on Lia. In light of this alternative, I stay my claim that only when feelings of love are put into plain view, can people step across cultural barriers and gain a complete understanding of each other’s motives and intentions. One can thus only hope that people are able to step outside of their comfort zones and communicate in a language that everybody can understand, thus breaking down the barriers of hatred, prejudice and cultural misunderstanding, and thereby finding common ground between them on the basic platform that is humanity.

Works Cited

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. New York: Noonday, 1997.

Hooks, Bell. Outlaw Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

The Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

Johnson, Charles. Dab Neeg Hmoob. St. Paul: Linguistics Dept., Macalester College, 1985.

Current Organic Farming Methods: Why They’re Unethical and Unsustainable

Fair warning: this post will “burst your bubble” regarding the perceived virtues of organic food.

I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, lately.  I have a lot of friends who are really into the organic food movement, many of which often insist that it’s the only moral/ethical way to eat.  On the other hand, I also have access to persons who understand why not all farming is done organically.  The conclusion I’ve come to is that, in its current incarnation–notwithstanding future changes–the methods of farming, marketing, and distribution employed by the purveyors of organic food are grossly unethical for humanitarian reasons (i.e. hunger), and unconscionable in their reliance upon the ignorance of the public.  This is not to say that organic farming can’t become a wonderful thing, and ultimately replace more mainstream methods; but for now, I submit my thesis that it’s nothing more than a “feel good” hobby for those with disposable income.

Organic ≠ Sustainable

Most people who are into organic food have something to say for it, in terms of “sustainability.”  Let’s take a look at that word.


1:  capable of being sustained
2 a :  of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture>

 b :  of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society>

If by “capable of being sustained,” we assume that we want to continue to be able to support the current population (and unavoidable population growth) with a given method, for an extended period of time, we must admit that “sustainable” also means sustaining humanity–not just nature.  So, if a method cannot sustain humanity at its current level, with expected population increases, then it’s not “sustainable.”

Ending World Hunger

Let’s take a look at why we use pesticides, in the first place.  Circa the late 1800s, we set out to find a way to feed everyone reliably, at minimal cost, so that everyone could afford adequate food.  In well-developed countries, we’ve very nearly accomplished this goal.  Doing so, however, required us to find ways of farming very efficiently and reliably, and chief among farming efficiency concerns is crop yield per acre.

Pests: weeds, insects, animals, fungi, and others are the single largest threat to crop yields.  If you don’t get rid of the pests, you won’t get much food.  In fact, you can lose entire crops due to pests, causing famine.  This is where pesticides come in: once about 30% of the plants in a field are affected by a particular pest (or broad type of pest), common practice is to apply whatever type of pesticide will remove (kill or otherwise hinder) the pests.  This more-or-less minimizes the use of pesticides (and the costs associated therewith), and ensures that the entire field won’t become affected, destroying the yield.  Most organic farms use pesticides to limit the effects of insects and fungi on yield–but do very little in the way of anti-weed care.  In fact, many large organic farms don’t do anything at all to remove their weeds; they just let the fields sit, and hope that there’s something to harvest when the time comes.

Organic yields are between 5% and 35% lower, on average, than mainstream methods.  The loss is dependent on what’s being grown: some plants don’t need a whole lot of non-organic care to thrive, but others–like grains (the staples of diets around the world!) take the biggest hit.  Of course, during bad years, pests can get out of control and take even more away from the crop.  When left untreated during an especially bad year, it’s possible that nothing, at all will be harvested.

Some organic farms get around this by using good, old-fashioned manual labor to get rid of weeds.  Like most eaters of organic food, I’m strongly favor of this–so long as I’m not the one doing it.  Usually, large farms make heavy use of migrant farm workers, who work 12-hour days, don’t get overtime pay, and typically only make minimum wage.  This might sound almost-reasonable…but if you ever spent a day pulling weeds in 90-115F weather, you’ll quickly change your mind.  (I can attest to this, personally.)  So, again, we see that this organic movement isn’t really a movement, so much as a market for those with enough money to pay someone else to do the hard work.

So, if we don’t want to do the work, ourselves, and find it unconscionable to have others do such hard labor for such long hours and little pay, where does that leave us?  For the most of the world, the answer is “starving.”  Even with this current labor force in place, 1 in every 100 people (according to the farm advisor I spoke to)–throughout the entire world, including “suburbia,” would have to quit their jobs and become farm workers–working 12-hour days for crappy wages in order for everyone to be able to eat organic-only diets.  Or, to ensure decent quality of life for the workers, 1 out of every 50 people would have to do the same.  Of course, the wages would still be terrible, but the work days would be closer to what we’re used to.  So, how about it?  Are you willing to quit your job and get to work?  For most of my readers, the answer is a resounding “no.”  This might induce some people to feel a wee bit hypocritical…which is exactly the point I’m making with this part of the essay.

This means that we’re back to the problem of inhumane treatment of those in the lowest rung of society, and non-organic food for the rest of us, until those with disposable income decide to get their hands dirty.

Dishonest Marketing

You may be surprised to know that many commonly used–and sometimes dangerous–pesticides are derived from nature.  One example of this is the insecticide Pyrethrin, which comes from Chrysanthemums.  This nerve agent is one of many pesticides permitted for use in organic growing.  It’s considered one of the safest insecticides out there, since it (supposedly) biodegrades quickly.  Nevertheless, users are warned:

Care should be taken to observe direction labels when using this substance around humans and animals. Overdose and toxicity can result in a variety of symptoms, especially in pets, including drooling, lethargy, muscle tremors, vomiting, seizures and death.[12] Toxicity symptoms in humans include asthmatic breathing, sneezing, nasal stuffiness, headache, nausea, incoordination, tremors, convulsions, facial flushing and swelling, and burning and itching sensation.[13] The latest information regarding toxicity of piperonyl butoxide has determined that it can pose a distinct health risk when it becomes airborne and pregnant women are exposed during the third trimester. This leads to delayed mental development in young children.

Others include the bacterium, Bacillus Thuringiensis, which produces deadly BT toxin, and causes the innards of insects to rupture–but is sort-of safe for human use.  Organic farmers use the microbe, directly (spraying it on crops), which is eaten by pests, causing it to release BT toxin.  Non-organic farmers use the BT toxin, directly.  It’s assumed to break down equally well in both cases, before it reaches your dinner table…but you may want to wash those organic veggies, anyway, since they’re probably still covered in Bacillus Thuringiensis.  Monsanto recently began to sell genetically-modified corn seeds, wherein the plants’ cells produce BT toxin.  This is somewhat different from spraying it topically, but in either case, you’re probably still going to be eating it.

So, let’s see a (metaphorical) show of hands: how many of my readers knew that “organic” food is sprayed with “chemicals?”  (Technically a “chemical” is anything made of atoms…but the term is used to mean “pesticides” when speaking of organic food.  Similarly, “organic” technically means “containing carbon atoms,” or “relating to life,” but is used differently when referring to food products.)  Do they put this on the label of the $8/pound grains, fruits, and vegetables you’ve been buying?  Of course not–because if they did, they could no longer get away with charging such a premium price.

So, what is “organic food,” really?  Marketing.

The essence of the perfect marketing campaign is to imply everything, but state nothing.  Yes, it’s grown differently–but not in the way people think.  Words are simply redefined, and standards formulated to let people think what they want to about the “product.”  “Natural” doesn’t mean safe–not by any stretch of the imagination!–but it does imply safety.  “Sustainable” sounds like it means that we can grow food this way indefinitely, without negative consequences–but it actually means dumping harmful stuff onto crops and into the ground–but only certain harmful stuff–and relying on the modern equivalent of slave labor to pull weeds, in the rare occasions that they bother to do so.  Additionally, “organic” implies GMO-free–but these farms aren’t regularly tested for cross-pollination, and the farmers have very good reason to avoid testing at all costs.

Price Gouging

The sad truth about the inefficiency of organic farming is that they have financial incentive to keep it inefficient.  The price of any good or service is subject to the Law of Supply and Demand.  If supply increases without demand increasing, price goes down.  When that happens, each hour of work or unit of currency you’ve spent on producing the product will bring back less than it otherwise would have.  So, if you want to maximize profits while minimizing expenses, you have to keep your product scarce.  This means that when you buy organic food in the store, there are several reasons why it costs so much:

1) Marketing: people will pay more because they believe in the product.
2) There’s more demand for it than there is supply.

In fact, most large organic farms produce mostly non-organic crops, and use their organic crops as a sort of “side gig” for bringing in a few extra dollars with a bare minimum of investment.  I’d be very surprised if the major organic producers in Butte County, CA produce even a tenth of the organic food that they produce in non-organic food.  The major farms with which I’m familiar (i.e. the ones with lots of acreage–not the tiny, local communes) produce most of the area’s organic food, but produce about 100 times that much via mainstream methods.

Conclusion: It’s No More Ethical Than Mainstream Food

In terms of plant products, organic food is no more ethical than non-organic food.  In fact, I believe I’ve made a strong case for it being markedly unethical, as presently constituted.  Despite this, I trust that in time, we’ll see a shift toward better organic practices, and much wider adoption.  Until then, though, I’m going to buy whatever’s cheapest, unless the more expensive food (1) tastes/feels substantially better, and (2) is still within my price range.  I won’t support a trend that doesn’t work as advertised.

You may have noticed that this post didn’t cover animal products.  This is a very different matter in some ways, but in others it’s much the same.  Issues of hunger, dishonesty, pesticides (by any other name), and so on still come up…but free-range animals are definitely a lot happier than caged or “cage-free” ones.  (Note: “cage free” animals are crammed in butt-to-nose, wade through their own feces all day, and live in warehouses where their dead siblings sometimes rot on the floor.  I question whether this is at all ethical.)

Let’s produce an organic movement that’s worth having by removing our rosy glasses and seeing the ugliness of what we have now.  Only through seeing how things really are can we hope to change them for the better.

For further reading on how “organic” foods might kill you, go here.

The Parable of the Circular Track

Imagine that life is lived upon a circular track.  It’s not a race, of course, but rather, an event wherein every participant uses this opportunity to better themselves.  Here, we seek to become more physically and mentally fit.  We seek to improve our running, jogging, and walking techniques, and to learn proper pacing.  The more we learn, and the harder we work at it, the faster and more steadily we are able to proceed around the track.  Eventually, we decide we’ve had enough, and walk off, hopefully better than we were when we stepped on.

There’s a huge throng of people on this track–everyone who’s alive right now.  It’s crowded, and we often bump into each other, sometimes becoming annoyed or aggravated.  Still, we do our best to see what’s ahead, and to respect and travel peaceably with those around us.  Some people on the track have gotten into better shape than others.  Some have learned pacing better than others.  The most sought-after teachers are those who have learned how to better themselves and those around them at a great rate.

The Runner In Front

About 50 feet ahead of you is a runner who’s moving a bit faster than you are.  He appears to be confident and in decent shape.  Naturally, you assume that this person would be good to learn from, so you shout ahead, “Please share your understanding with me, so I can go faster, too!”

The runner glances back, and, seeing that you’re moving slower than he is, begins to tell you everything he’s learned, since–obviously–he must have some insights that you haven’t gathered, yet.

The Runner Behind

About 50 feet behind you is a runner who’s moving at about the same pace as you.  She’s in decent shape, but seems to have little or no interest in going faster.  Consequently, you shout back to her, “Let me show you how you can go faster!”

Assuming that, because you’re in front, you must be more skilled than her, she accepts your offer and tentatively begins trying to emulate you.

Teacher vs. Student

The reality is, however, that the person in front of you is actually almost an entire track-length behind you; and the person behind you is almost an entire track length ahead of you!

The person in front has no grasp of pacing, and keeps urging you to run faster; and the only reason you can see him is because he keeps trying to run faster than he has strength, and has repeatedly fallen down due to exhaustion.  At the moment you see him, he’s desperately trying to catch up, again, still confident that if he only runs fast enough, he’ll be able to re-join his friends.

The person behind you has no immediate interest in running faster because she’s found her rhythm: by running just a hair’s breadth faster than you are–imperceptible to the untrained eye–she’s able to consistently out-pace everybody else on the track.  She doesn’t care who’s going faster or slower, but is still keenly interested in improving herself, and is willing to take advice from anyone who gives it, in hopes of learning something new.

So, whose lesson do you really want to learn?  Chances are, you can learn valuable lessons from both people, but you’ll only be able to run alongside one of them for any noteworthy distance, before the other vanishes from sight.

The Lesson This Track Teaches

Sometimes, we latch onto the teachings of those who appear to be more wise than we are, because we desperately want to speed ahead and improve ourselves as fast as we possibly can.  In doing so, we primarily rely upon our perceptions of social currency, and trust that whomever has the most (according to what we presently value) must be the person(s) most fit to teach us.  We look to gurus, priests, PhDs, celebrities, popular friends, and others, and do everything in our power to emulate them.  Simultaneously, we dismiss or seek to teach–but not learn from–those who, by our current standards of perceived social currency, seem to have nothing to teach us.  Only after we’ve spent years, or even a lifetime following those who are more clueless than we are, do we sometimes come to realize that we’ve been valuing the wrong things.

So, here’s the lesson:

Sometimes, the person who’s the least attractive to our current sensibilities is the person most fit to teach us the things we desperately want or need to know.

“Ordain Women”

Fair warning: you might not like this post.  If you can’t stand reading about Abrahamic or patriarchal religions, (or all religions,) in general, this post probably isn’t for you.  If you consider your religious beliefs extremely traditional or conservative, this post probably isn’t for you, as I’ll be covering a bit of doctrine that may, traditionally, fit better in wiccan or pagan philosophies.  For the record, I consider myself religiously syncretist and politically centrist: even if you hate my ideas, I probably don’t (entirely) hate yours.  :-)

(End of disclaimer.)

I’m writing partly in reply to several good posts by my friend, Erin Wooldridge on her blog about the movement that some women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“Mormon Church“) are participating in: a push to have women ordained to the Priesthood.  Some of these women have taken to calling themselves, “Ordain Women.”  I won’t be commenting much (if at all) on the specifics of the movement or the temporal social dynamics involved.  Instead, I’m going to comment on doctrine, current societal shifts, personal gnosis (A.K.A. personal revelation), and why things are the way they are.  This is a “down the rabbit hole” kind of post.

Some (Light) “Required Reading”

Please follow the links, below, to see what the LDS Church has to say about the Priesthood.  After each link are the most relevant quotes to the topic at-hand.

Priesthood (general)

“The word priesthood has two meanings. First, priesthood is the power and authority of God. It has always existed and will continue to exist without end (see Alma 13:7–8; D&C 84:17–18). Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).

Second, in mortality, priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who receive the gospel. (“Priesthood Authority” Handbook 2, Administering the Church)

In the spring of 1835, Joseph Smith received a revelation explaining the name of the priesthood: “There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood. Why the first is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest. Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood. All other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to this priesthood. … The second priesthood is called the Priesthood of Aaron, because it was conferred upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations. Why it is called the lesser priesthood is because it is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has power in administering outward ordinances” (D&C 107:1-5, 13-14).”

Aaronic (lesser) Priesthood

“Although the Aaronic Priesthood is conferred in the Church today without restriction to the lineage of Aaron, the keys of this priesthood rightly belong to the firstborn of the seed of Aaron, and in the restoration of all things the office of bishop (president of the priests) will once again be conferred on one of that lineage, as it is designated by revelation to the president of the Church (D&C 84:14–21; 107:13–17).”

Melchizidek (greater) Priesthood

“The higher or greater priesthood, as compared with the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood. The reason for the name is given in D&C 107:1–3. The Melchizedek Priesthood is mentioned in Ps. 110:4; Heb. 2:17–18; 3:1; 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 15, 17, 21; but the Bible does not give many particulars concerning the functions of that priesthood, except that Christ was a high priest after that order. From latter-day revelation we learn that within the Melchizedek Priesthood are the offices of elder, Seventy, high priest, patriarch, and Apostle (D&C 107), and that this priesthood must be present and functional whenever the kingdom of God is upon the earth in its fulness.”

Women and the Priesthood

“Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the companionship role of the priesthood and women: “In the true Patriarchal Order man holds the priesthood and is the head of the household, … but he cannot attain a fulness of joy here or of eternal reward hereafter alone. Woman stands at his side a joint-inheritor with him in the fulness of all things. Exaltation and eternal increase is her lot as well as his. (D. & C. 131:1–4.) Godhood is not for men only; it is for men and women together. (D. & C. 132:19–20)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 844).”

Race and the Priesthood

“In 1850, the U.S. Congress created Utah Territory, and the U.S. president appointed Brigham Young to the position of territorial governor. Southerners who had converted to the Church and migrated to Utah with their slaves raised the question of slavery’s legal status in the territory. In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.8″

(Please read the rest of that article for context.)

Mother Eve

“Genesis 3: 16 states that Adam is to “rule over” Eve, but this doesn’t make Adam a dictator. . . over in “rule over” uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling with, not ruling over. The concept of interdependent, equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel. Eve was Adam’s “help meet” (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew for meet means that Eve was adequate for, or equal to, Adam. She wasn’t his servant or his subordinate.

–Elder Bruce C. Hafen”

Becoming Like God

“Eliza R. Snow, a Church leader and poet, rejoiced over the doctrine that we are, in a full and absolute sense, children of God. “I had learned to call thee Father, / Thru thy Spirit from on high,” she wrote, “But, until the key of knowledge / Was restored, I knew not why.” Latter-day Saints have also been moved by the knowledge that their divine parentage includes a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. Expressing that truth, Eliza R. Snow asked, “In the heav’ns are parents single?” and answered with a resounding no: “Truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.”45 That knowledge plays an important role in Latter-day Saint belief. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.””

Elohim (which may mean, “God the Father,” “The Gods,” or “The Father and The Mother.”)

“In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation. It is a great subject I am dwelling on. The word Eloheim ought to be in the plural all the way through—Gods. The heads of the Gods appointed one God for us; and when you take [that] view of the subject, it sets one free to see all the beauty, holiness and perfection of the Gods.”  –Joseph Smith Jr.

Now, let’s address the nature of the priesthood.  In short, the highest priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God.  Who is God, in the original sense?  “Elohim.”  Who is Elohim?  The greatest, as elected by the council of the gods.  Is this person single?  No, it’s a husband and wife.  Therefore, what is the Priesthood, really?  It’s the authority to act on behalf of the Divine Male and/or the Divine Female.

Now, onto the current state of the Priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  There are two versions of the priesthood, therein: the Aaronic (limited/lesser) and Melchizidek (full/greater).  By what type of authority do they exist?  Patriarchal authority.

In fact, the entire power structure of the Church is based upon patriarchal authority.  Yes, women have many important roles in the Church, and act as leaders in many capacities; but every officer of the Priesthood–from prophet/president to deacon’s quorum leader–can only be held by men.  Every “calling” (“job” within the Church–the vast majority of which are volunteer positions and not paid ones) must be ordained by the presiding priesthood holder.  It doesn’t matter if you’re being called to organize a movie night or head up the Relief Society for the entire Church; to begin the calling, you must receive a blessing and “setting apart” via an authorized Priesthood holder laying hands upon your head.  This a good thing, and a great help and comfort to the members of the LDS faith.  Still, it’s an unavoidable fact that the power structure of the religion is, presently, patriarchal.

Nevertheless, there is such a thing as a female priesthood.

In the LDS Church, there are few clues about this.  The principle one stated is that women are given certain powers of the priesthood for use in temple ordinances–specifically, the Initiatory ceremony, in which parishioners are anointed with oil and given blessings of spiritual gifts after the fashion of certain Old Testament ordinances.  Herein, those administering the ordinances anoint various parts of the body, like the kidneys, legs, forehead, etc. with oil, while pronouncing blessings.  For various reasons, it makes sense for women to administer to women in this capacity, and as a result, women are ordained (by male Melchizidek Priesthood holders) to a specific branch of the Priesthood–in much the same way as the ancient Levites were given access to only a specific branch of the same Priesthood.  True, this could well be seen as a “borrowing” of patriarchal priesthood; but it shows that, technically, women can hold at least some version of the Priesthood.

Still, this doesn’t quite imply that women have their own priesthood.

The temple endowment ceremony sheds some more light on the matter, but doesn’t yet clarify it, entirely.

(Note to my LDS readers: the contents of the endowment ceremony are not required to be kept secret, except for the signs, tokens, and names given therein.  Please see the explanation in the linked site for details.)

“Brethren, you have been washed and pronounced clean, or that through your faithfulness you may become clean, from the blood and sins of this generation. You have been anointed to become hereafter kings and priests unto the most high God, to rule and reign in the house of Israel forever.

Sisters, you have been washed and anointed to become queens and priestesses to your husbands.

Brethren and sisters, if you are true and faithful, the day will come when you will be chosen, called up, and anointed kings and queens, priests and priestesses, whereas you are now anointed only to become such. The realization of these blessings depends upon your faithfulness.

You have had a garment placed upon you, which you were informed represents the garment given to Adam when he was found naked in the garden of Eden, and which is called the garment of the holy priesthood. This you were instructed to wear throughout your life. You were informed that it will be a shield and a protection to you if you are true and faithful to your covenants.”

Again, we see evidence that women are intended to be priestesses to the patriarchal order; but this still doesn’t offer clues as to what happened to the divine priesthood of our Heavenly Mother.  Here, we come to my thesis about the nature of an innately female priesthood.

The female Priesthood was lost, and is now being restored from outside the Church.

There’s a single, irreconcilable, fundamental flaw with the Ordain Women movement in the LDS Church: they’re asking for the wrong Priesthood.  Just as the Prophets have revealed that gender is an eternal trait, so, too, is the nature of whatever Priesthood associates with that gender.  No female spirit can fully interact with a male Priesthood, as if it were her own.

The Gospel According to dane:

The above is a huge simplification, designed to help the people living at the time this revelation was given to understand the basics of the matter.  The complexity of this becomes more apparent once we detail the non-linear nature of time, and the consequent possibility of multiple and even concurrent lives.  Gender is eternal…but each avatar of a given spirit creates a “splinter” of that spirit that can ultimately remain independent or re-integrate with its “parent spirit.”  There seems to be no requirement for a given spirit to have only one preferred “shape,” but frequently, this is the case.  Nevertheless, it’s apparent that all spirits enjoy variety.  Every avatar (i.e. physical creature) of a given spirit has its own gender identity.  This may be described in greater detail in another post, and will certainly be described in great detail in my (eventual) upcoming book.

Here is what LDS Relief Society President, Julie B. Beck said on the matter of spiritual gender identity:

“As spirit daughters of God, women ‘received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth’ (D&C 138:56) on the earth. They were among the ‘noble and great ones’ (D&C 138:55) who ‘shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7) at the creation of the earth because they would be given a physical body with the opportunity to be proven in a mortal sphere (see Abraham 3:25). They wished to work side by side with righteous men to accomplish eternal goals that neither can attain independently. Female roles did not begin on earth, and they do not end here. A woman who treasures motherhood on earth will treasure motherhood in the world to come” (“A ‘Mother Heart,’” Liahona and Ensign, May 2004, 76).”

(The Relief Society is the overarching womens’ organization in the Church.  Every adult female is automatically a member.)

So, let me ask you this: from whom did the women gain their lessons about womanhood in the pre-mortal existence?  From their Father?  Doubtful.  They had a Mother, and they learned it from her!  Who was she?  God.  If ever She has an interest in having mortals act in Her name, does she have the power to bestow that authority?  Of course!  What do we call the authority given to act in the name of God?  Priesthood.

Therefore, the authority to act in the name of Heavenly Mother (A.K.A. “The Divine Feminine”) is the female priesthood.  But where did it go?

The LDS Topical Guide contains an almost-comprehensive reference to scriptural passages by topic.  Here is what it says about what I’ve come to believe is the female priesthood:

Witch, Witchcraft

I apologize if this is galling to my wiccan or pagan friends.  Please bear with me, and I’ll explain why it was so.

Two things should be quite clear from the above-quoted scriptures:

1) Judaism, Middle-Eastern Christianity, and Ancient American Christianity (per the Book of Mormon) all expressly forbid witchcraft and sorcery.  (Please see the context of the last citation for clarification, if needed.)
2) Witchcraft, as understood by these peoples, reliably involved men and women using power to abuse others for personal gain, and subvert the patriarchal priesthood.

So, really, it comes down to power–but probably not in the sinister way that naturally comes to mind when I say this.

While I’m not prepared to go into the finer details of how this started, I will provide a summary thereof, based on the revelations I’ve received upon inquiring about the matter.  As with anything I say, I request that you not believe it unless you, too, have asked the Divine and received a confirmation that it’s correct.

Methuselah and Morrigna

In the time of Adam and Eve, men and women were equally powerful, both physically and spiritually.  Together, they co-created the world we know.  This balance was maintained until shortly after Enoch, a prophet, high priest, and king, and his people were translated, ascending into the eternal worlds without tasting death.  Enoch’s son was named, “Methuselah;” and his wife was called, “Morrigna.”  (Note: transliteration from revelation is hard!  People back then didn’t speak English, Hebrew, or any other language with which we’re familiar.  Such names are only correct if thought of as very rough approximations to the originals.)

After the city’s ascent, Methuselah and Morrigna were among the few people remaining on Earth.  There was a crisis, and our species was in danger of extinction as a result of being unable to compete with the wild beasts and preternatural creatures of the day.  So, the two hatched a plan, and the remainder of the people agreed to it.  They would change the balance of power between the genders, so that men would become stronger, both in the ability to change the world through spiritual means, deductive reasoning, inventiveness (i.e. machines and tools), militaristic conquest, and physical prowess.  In exchange, they would become protectors of settlements, while the women, children, and elderly would, theoretically, live a basically peaceful and safe existence.  To accomplish this, they used both the male and female Priesthoods in a great ritual.

Sadly, as it turns out, the power to protect is also the power to dominate.  The men went mad with power, and took to conquering the women, making them subservient to themselves.  Also, they then turned their power to dominate towards each other, seeking to conquer each others’ tribes, villages, cities, and nations.  Among the men, Methuselah was the most powerful.  Among the women, Morrigna was the most powerful.

Morrigna pleaded with Methuselah to come to his senses and help restore the balance of power, but he refused.  At length, she left him, and lived across a stretch of ocean, in a colony comprised primarily of women, with men who would accept women as their equals or betters.

There was a great war between the two factions.  From this, after millennia of corruption, we derive the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology; the tale of the Japanese witch-queen, Himiko; and several stories of Hindu and other affiliations.

The ultimate outcome of this was that men did everything they could to squash the female source of divine authority–the female Priesthood–and created a world with relatively little gender-contest (since women have been rendered unable to put up a serious fight, in most cases), but substantial oppression of nearly all kinds.  Ever since, the use of “witchcraft,” “sorcery” (by some definitions), and the female Priesthood (by any other name) has, by unfortunate default, been employed largely to undermine patriarchal Priesthood authority in hopes of re-claiming for women what the war of our genders has taken away.  This, however, as history has shown, has been the wrong way of achieving that goal.

The Solution

The female Priesthood still exists, but has been forced into hiding.  Its scriptures have been destroyed or corrupted; its authority has been almost entirely taken from the earth.  Currently, the most powerful manifestations of the female Priesthood I’ve seen–by women with wonderful hearts, enlightened minds, and astonishingly-powerful and pure spirits–have been no greater than the Aaronic or Melchizidek Priesthoods, as they were circa 2,000BC–during the time when most male Priesthood authority was gone from the earth.  Some hold the keys to the ministering of angels.  Some hold the authority to give burnt offerings to female or male deities and receive some minor or moderate blessings in exchange.  Some can give blessings to cure the sick and afflicted (as only very few priesthood holders in the Old Testament could do).  Today, sadly, most holders of the female Priesthood can do almost nothing with it, because they lack the understanding of how to get revelation, the training of mothers and grandmothers who could have otherwise raised them to be powerful priestesses (as men in the LDS Church are taught to do for their sons), and the wisdom found in pure, properly-translated and revelation-purified and -inspired scriptures intended for the edification of female priests.

Nevertheless, there is hope.  All over the world, women are awakening to their divine potential and hungering for the authority to exercise it to its fullest.  Some have been called by Morrigna–A.K.A. “The Morrigan”–to begin to right the mistakes of her era, including bringing to light an understanding of who these aspects of the feminine divine are and were, and what we can learn from them.  Some have begun to openly offer inspiration according to the gifts within them, as women who are acutely touched by divinity.  Some have begun to demand ordination to the priesthood in the LDS Church.

So, I’m going to finally offer the solution to all this: at great length and long finality, an end to the gender war.  So long as the two genders compete, we can’t be whole–and moreover, according to the quotes I posted near the beginning of this “verbal perambulation,” without one another, as equals, we can never become fully-exalted beings.  Until we learn to fully cooperate with one another, we simply cannot become the gods and goddesses we were born become, and our existence in mortality will be eternally frustrated.


Women of the LDS faith: don’t demand the current LDS Priesthood.  Demand the one to which you were already–and always–entitled.

Eternal Truths: Q and A


After being prompted repeatedly (in the spiritual sense) to use my gifts more to help others, I’ve made the offer, below, to several groups on Facebook.  I’m aware that to some, it will sound presumptuous or outright looney.  I hope that those people will either withhold judgment until after praying and meditating on this content; or if not, refrain from commenting.  This post will be updated as questions come in.

The Offer:

I’m about to make a very strange offer. Those of you who know me well probably suspect that I get a lot of curious information from “above.” I’ve recently gotten a strong, “kick in the pants” prompting, so here goes…

My offer is this: if there’s any one thing that you want to know about the nature of reality, the universe, God, etc., ask me, and I’ll tell you. If you don’t believe my offer is genuine, or that I can fulfill it, please pray about it. (In fact, please pray about it, in any case! If you do decide to ask me a question, it’s best to ask one that will actually help you…) This question should not pertain to another person (i.e. please tell me a secret about so-and-so); the offer is for eternal truths, only.

One per person, please (since the answers might take a while to explain). Private messages are welcome.

Questions and Answers

Q: Is murder forgivable? What is the eternal destiny of murderers? Where will they go?

A: Yes and no.  First, we need to define murder.  For the purpose of this question, I believe this definition will suffice:

“The unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.”

So, this rules out killings in self-defense, and all other killings that have been deemed acceptable by the laws governing a given individual or society.  Why do mortal laws matter?  The short answer is that all people will be judged according to the laws with which they are familiar and understand to be true/valid.  This applies to both mortal and spiritual laws.  Naturally, this gets into the “sticky” topic of moral relativism, which can, itself be broken down into roughly two categories:
1) The sense of morality or ethics that a person has inside, as influenced (but not necessarily dictated by) social and religious norms.
2) The “cop out” that some people use to decide that they can violate what they know to be right, based on the above sense of ethics and morality.  This always requires some amount of self-deception, and is, essentially, invalid in the spiritual sense.  Someone trying to justify this kind of moral relativism might use a phrase like, “it isn’t wrong because I don’t think it’s wrong;” whereas if they truly believed it wasn’t wrong, they would probably say, simply, “there’s nothing wrong with that.”  (Of course, the language used isn’t always a good indicator of what’s happening; try not to judge people falsely because of it.)

So, is the unlawful, premeditated killing of another human being forgivable?  It depends on the level of moral accountability of the person who does it.  A young child (below the age of 8), for example, is not morally-accountable; this is the time when parents are supposed to instill the values of right and wrong.  Similarly, a person who is not sane, or is otherwise mentally-incompetent (such as a person with mental disabilities) is not accountable, in the spiritual sense: they who don’t know right from wrong on a particular issue, and can’t be held accountable for it.  Likewise, a person who, given everything he/she knows, including life experiences, believes that an act of killing is the right thing to do, commits murder (by the definition of others)–well, it’s not murder, so far as that person knows, so in the spiritual sense, it’s 100% forgivable.  (Note: genuine belief is required–not something that they had to talk themselves into, not simple rage/jealousy/whatever, and nothing involving even a “drop” of self-deception.)  Examples of this might include people who grew up in war zones, as well as those who were severely abused by parents or others (to the point of not ever learning right from wrong, or of having to defend themselves outside the allowances of societal norms).  Such people have no “moral compass” telling them it’s wrong, and therefore can’t be held accountable for what they don’t know.

…But what about those who commit murder, knowing fully-well that it’s wrong?  What about those who merely suspected it was wrong, or who did so in a rage, rather than with premeditation?  The best I can tell you is that it’s 100% on a case-by-case basis.  The circumstances do matter.  The level of premeditation does matter.  The level of mental/moral competence at the time of the act, and leading up to it also matter.  So, regardless of what society decides to do, or needs to do about it (such as locking the person up forever, or executing that person, in order to protect the public/set an example, etc.), the level of spiritual forgiveness that such a person can receive is 100% dependent on how that person will feel about when all self-deception is stripped away, and all emotional issues have been worked through.  (Note: this will probably have to happen over a time period that’s greater than that person’s mortal life–hence what many would call “limbo” or “spirit prison.”)

Where do people who committed an unforgivable act go?  Depending on the severity of that act (or acts), they go to roughly one of four places:

“Outer Darkness”: This is reserved for those who have near-absolute enlightenment and do something that goes against everything they know and hold most dear.  Even murder can’t usually land a person here.  A prophet who turns anti-Christ, or a Buddha who becomes a warmonger would probably land here–but it’s not even available to normal folks.

“Lowest Kingdom”: Murderers typically land here.  This place is a lot like our current earth, but people are immortal and unable to progress, spiritually, beyond this kingdom.  (Well, the subject of eternal progression is pretty complicated, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll leave it at this.)  Those who fail to follow even the most basic laws of human decency–after knowing them–belong in this kingdom.  Those who make terrible mistakes and then genuinely and sufficiently “repent”/”find a better path”/etc. and follow through with that commitment do not end up here.  (What “sufficient” means, again, depends on personal circumstances.  Since we can’t undo all of our past mistakes, sometimes, the best we can do must suffice.)  So, in other words, if you already knew that the murder was wrong, and there weren’t substantial mitigating circumstances, then it is, in fact, “murder”–so this is where you land.  It’s hard to express just how horrible this fate is, since we’ve never actually experienced such a thing in mortality.  Consider the worst disappointment you’ve ever felt for yourself, multiply it by infinity (since this is a permanent state), and add knowing that you really did know better, and acted so badly that you got sent here, anyway.  This is what’s referred to in Abrahamic religions as “eternal fire and brimstone.”  Your guilt and self-disappointment will eat you up inside as if it were fire; we just don’t have words to describe it accurately, since mortals always have a chance to progress, whereas those who are stuck here don’t.  This place qualifies for the title, “Hell.”

“Middle Kingdom”: Also a form of “Hell,” since progression is blocked–but a lot nicer.  People who, knowing better, refuse to advance spiritually, but who generally keep mortal laws end up here.  Those who commit murder but genuinely and sincerely repent might end up here, depending on their level of accountability, at the time.  These people, like all of us, had a shot at godhood, and knowingly turned it down.  So, that “fire and brimstone” description, above, still applies, but isn’t as nasty, since they at least didn’t act like complete schmucks.  People who end up here can’t progress beyond being “angels” or similar, but do minister to the lower kingdom, on behalf of the gods.

“Highest Kingdom”: People who killed, but only when they had to, or who didn’t kill at all (assuming this didn’t violate a “higher law,” such as caring for and protecting children, etc.), who did everything in their power to seek spiritual growth end up here.  In essence, this is where “really, really good people” go.  There is eternal progression and eventually godhood for such people, and they minister to the lower kingdoms (often through intermediaries).  Murderers (using the above definition) need not apply.

More Questions and Answers may be forthcoming!   Please feel free to ask anything, as described above!

Jesus’ Third Way

This is a “copy-and-paste” excerpt from The Powers That Be: Theology For The New Millenium, by Walter Wink.  I have not read the book it’s from, but found this excerpt on the ‘net and knew it was worth re-sharing.  This outlines the method that Jesus, Gandhi, M.L.K. Jr., and others used to seize power from violent oppressors, even though they, themselves were, at first, in a dis-empowered state.

It should be noted that while I consider this “method” to most likely be the best in most situations, it’s not a “cure-all.”  While Jesus certainly admonished nonviolent resistance in his time (due to what was feasible, as mentioned below), it should also be noted that nonviolent resistance isn’t the only method the Messiah has used, nor will use, nor has/will commanded his followers to use.  (See Isaiah 63; Revelation 19.  Also note mostly any part of the Old Testament…)  Still, for most situations, and for most people, this should pretty well suffice.


by Walter Wink

The following text is taken from pages 98-111 of The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium, Walter Wink, 1998.

Many otherwise devout Christians simply dismiss Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence out of hand as impractical idealism. And with good reason. “Turn the other cheek” has come to imply a passive, doormatlike quality that has made the Christian way seem cowardly and complicit in the face of injustice. “Resist not evil” seems to break the back of all opposition to evil and to counsel submission. “Going the second mile” has become a platitude meaning nothing more than “extend yourself” and appears to encourage collaboration with the oppressor. Jesus’ teaching, viewed this way, is impractical, masochistic, and even suicidal—an invitation to bullies and spouse-batterers to wipe up the floor with their supine Christian victims.

Jesus never displayed that kind of passivity. Whatever the source of the misunderstanding, such distortions are clearly neither in Jesus nor his teaching, which, in context, is one of the most revolutionary political statements ever uttered:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Matt. 5:38-41; see also Luke 6:29).

The traditional interpretation of “do not resist an evildoer” has been nonresistance to evil—an odd conclusion, given the fact that on every occasion Jesus himself resisted evil with every fiber of his being. The fifth-century theologian Augustine agreed that the gospel teaches nonresistance, and therefore declared that a Christian must not attempt self-defense. However, he noted, if someone is attacking my neighbor, then the love commandment requires me to defend my neighbor, by force of arms if necessary. With that deft stroke, Augustine opened the door to the just-war theory, the military defense of the Roman Empire, and the use of torture and capital punishment. Following his lead, Christians have ever since been justifying wars fought for nothing more than national interest as “just.”

Curiously enough, some pacifists have also bought the nonresistance interpretation, and therefore have rejected nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience as coercive and in violation of the law of Christ. But the gospel does not teach nonresistance to evil. Jesus counsels resistance, but without violence. The Greek word translated “resist” in Matt. 5:39 is antistenai, meaning literally to stand (stenai) against (anti). What translators have over-looked is that antistenai is most often used in the Greek version of the Old Testament as a technical term for warfare. It describes the way opposing armies would march toward each other until their ranks met. Then they would “take a stand,” that is, fight. Ephesians 6:13 uses precisely this imagery: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand [antistenai] on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm istenai].” The image is not of a punch-drunk boxer somehow managing to stay on his feet, but of soldiers standing their ground, refusing to flee. In short, antistenai means more here than simply to “resist” evil. It means to resist violently, to revolt or rebel, to engage in an armed insurrection.

The Bible translators working in the hire of King James on what came to be known as the King James Version knew that the king did not want people to conclude that they had any recourse against his or any other sovereign’s tyranny. James had explicitly commissioned a new translation of the Bible because of what he regarded as “seditious . . . dangerous, and trayterous” tendencies in the marginal notes printed in the Geneva Bible, which included endorsement of the right to disobey a tyrant. Therefore the public had to be made to believe that there are two alternatives, and only two: flight or fight. And Jesus is made to command us, according to these king’s men, to resist not. Jesus appears to authorize monarchical absolutism. Submission is the will of God. And most modern translators have meekly followed in that path.

Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil, but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. We are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. He is urging us to transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive and yet nonviolent. The correct translation would be the one still preserved in the earliest renditions of this saying found in the New Testament epistles: “Do not repay evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17; 1 Thes. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). The Scholars Version of Matt. 5:39a is superb: “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil.”


The examples that follow confirm this reading. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matt. 5:39b). You are probably imagining a blow with the right fist. But such a blow would fall on the left cheek. To hit the right cheek with a fist would require the left hand. But the left hand could be used only for unclean tasks; at Qumran, a Jewish religious community of Jesus’ day, to gesture with the left hand meant exclusion from the meeting and penance for ten days. To grasp this you must physically try it: how would you hit the other’s right cheek with your right hand? If you have tried it, you will know: the only feasible blow is a backhand.

The backhand was not a blow to injure, but to insult, humiliate, degrade. It was not administered to an equal, but to an inferior. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; Romans,  Jews. The whole point of the blow was to force someone who was out of line back into place. Notice Jesus’ audience: “If anyone strikes you.” These are people used to being thus degraded. He is saying to them, “Re-fuse to accept this kind of treatment anymore. If they backhand you, turn the other cheek.”  (Now you really need to physically enact this to see the problem.) By turning the cheek, the servant makes it impossible for the master to use the backhand again: his nose is in the way. And anyway, it’s like telling a joke twice; if it didn’t work the first time, it simply won’t work. The left cheek now offers a perfect target for a blow with the right fist; but only equals fought with fists, as we know from Jewish sources, and the last thing the master wishes to do is to establish this underling’s equality. This act of defiance renders the master incapable of asserting his dominance in this relationship. He can have the slave beaten, but he can no longer cow him. By turning the cheek, then, the “inferior” is saying: “I’m a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God. I won’t take it anymore.”

Such defiance is no way to avoid trouble. Meek acquiescence is what the master wants. Such “cheeky” behavior may call down a flogging, or worse. But the point has been made. The Powers That Be have lost their power to make people submit. And when large numbers begin behaving thus (and Jesus was addressing a crowd), you have a social revolution on your hands.

In that world of honor and shaming, the “superior” has been rendered impotent to instill shame in a subordinate. He has been stripped of his power to dehumanize the other. As Gandhi taught, “The first principle of nonviolent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.”

How different this is from the usual view that this passage teaches us to turn the other cheek so our batterer can simply clobber us again! How often that interpretation has been fed to battered wives and children. And it was never what Jesus intended in the least. To such victims he advises, “Stand up for yourselves, defy your masters, assert your humanity; but don’t answer the oppressor in kind. Find a new, third way that is neither cowardly submission nor violent reprisal.”


Jesus’ second example of assertive nonviolence is set in a court of law. A creditor has taken a poor man to court over an unpaid loan. Only the poorest of the poor were subjected to such treatment. Deuteronomy 24:10-13 provided that a creditor could take as collateral for a loan a poor person’s long outer robe, but it had to be returned each evening so the poor man would have something in which to sleep.

Jesus is not advising people to add to their disadvantage by renouncing justice altogether, as so many commentators have suggested. He is telling impoverished debtors, who have nothing left but the  clothes on their backs, to use the system against itself.

Indebtedness was a plague in first-century Palestine. Jesus’ parables are full of debtors struggling to salvage their lives. Heavy debt was not, however, a natural calamity that had overtaken the incompetent. It was the direct consequence of Roman imperial policy. Emperors taxed the wealthy heavily to fund their wars. The rich naturally sought non-liquid investments to hide their wealth. Land was best, but it was ancestrally owned and passed down over generations, and no peasant would voluntarily relinquish it. However, exorbitant interest (25 to 250 percent) could be used to drive landowners ever deeper into debt. And debt, coupled with the high taxation required by Herod Antipas to pay Rome tribute, created the economic leverage to pry Galilean peasants loose from their land. By the time of Jesus we see this process already far advanced: large estates owned by absentee landlords, managed by stewards, and worked by tenant farmers, day laborers, and slaves. It is no accident that the first act of the Jewish revolutionaries in 66 c.e. was to burn the temple treasury, where the record of debts was kept. It is to this situation that Jesus speaks. His hearers are the poor (“if any one would sue you”). They share a rankling hatred for a system that subjects them to humiliation by stripping them of their lands, their goods, and finally even their outer garments.

Why, then, does Jesus counsel them to give over their undergarments as well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing and marching out of court stark naked! Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27). By stripping, the debtor has brought shame on the creditor.

Imagine the guffaws this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, covered with shame, the poor debtor’s outer garment in the one hand, his undergarment in the other. The tables have suddenly been turned on the creditor. The debtor had no hope of winning the case; the law was entirely in the creditor’s favor. But the poor man has transcended this attempt to humiliate him. He has risen above shame. At the same time, he has registered a stunning protest against the system that created his debt. He has said in effect, “You want my robe? Here, take everything! Now you’ve got all I have except my body. Is that what you’ll take next?”

Imagine the debtor leaving court naked. His friends and neighbors, aghast, inquire what happened. He explains. They join his growing procession, which now resembles a victory parade. This is guerrilla theater! The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked. The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness and destitution. This unmasking is not simply punitive, since it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.

The Powers That Be literally stand on their dignity. Nothing deflates them more effectively than deft lampooning. By refusing to be awed by their power, the powerless are emboldened to seize the initiative, even where structural change is not immediately possible. This message, far from counseling an unattainable otherworldly perfection, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed. It is being lived out all over the world today by previously powerless people ready to take their history into their own hands. Shortly before the fall of political apartheid in South Africa, police descended on a squatters’ camp they had long wanted to demolish. They gave the few women there five minutes to gather their possessions, and then the bulldozers would level their shacks. The women, apparently sensing the residual puritanical streak in rural Afrikaners, stripped naked before the bulldozers. The police turned and fled. So far as I know, that camp still stands.

Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence provides a hint of how to take on the entire system by unmasking its essential cruelty and burlesquing its pretensions to justice. Those who listen will no longer be treated as sponges to be squeezed dry by the rich. They can accept the laws as they stand, push them to absurdity, and reveal them for what they have become. They can strip naked, walk out before their fellows, and leave the creditors, and the whole economic edifice they represent, stark naked.


Going the second mile, Jesus’ third example, is drawn from the relatively enlightened practice of limiting to a single mile the amount of forced or impressed labor that Roman soldiers could levy on subject peoples. Such compulsory service was a constant feature in Palestine from Persian to late Roman times. Whoever was found on the street could be coerced into service, as was Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21). Armies had to be moved with dispatch. Ranking legionnaires bought slaves or donkeys to carry their packs of sixty to eighty-five pounds (not including weapons). The majority of the rank and file, however, had to depend on impressed civilians. Whole villages sometimes fled to avoid being forced to carry soldiers’ baggage.

What we have overlooked in this passage is the fact that carrying the pack a second mile is an infraction of military code. With few exceptions, minor infractions were left to the disciplinary control of the centurion (commander of one hundred men). He might fine the offending soldier, flog him, put him on a ration of barley instead of wheat, make him camp outside the fortifications, force him to stand all day before the general’s tent holding a clod of dirt in his hands—or, if the offender was a buddy, issue a mild reprimand. But the point is that the soldier does not know what will happen.

It is in this context of Roman military occupation that Jesus speaks. He does not counsel revolt. One does not “befriend” the soldier, draw him aside and drive a knife into his ribs. Jesus was surely aware of the futility of armed insurrection against Roman imperial might; he certainly did nothing to encourage those whose hatred of Rome would soon explode into violence.

But why carry the soldier’s pack a second mile? Does this not go to the opposite extreme by aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative and assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but how one responds to the rules is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that.

Imagine, then, the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and the civilian says, “Oh, no, let me carry it another mile.” Why would he want to do that? What is he up to? Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their packs, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and will not stop’. Is this a provocation? Is he insulting the legionnaire’s strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to violate the rules of impressment? Will this civilian file a complaint? Create trouble? From a situation of servile impressment, the oppressed have once more seized the initiative. They have taken back the power of choice. They have thrown the soldier off balance by depriving him of the predictability of his victim’s response. He has never dealt with such a problem before. Now he must make a decision for which nothing in his previous experience has prepared him. If he has enjoyed feeling superior to the vanquished, he will not enjoy it today. Imagine a Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus’ hearers, who must have been delighted at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors.

Jesus does not encourage Jews to walk a second mile in order to build up merit in heaven, or to be pious, or to kill the soldier with kindness. He is helping an oppressed people find a way to protest and neutralize an onerous practice despised throughout the empire. He is not giving a nonpolitical message of spiritual world transcendence. He is formulating a worldly spirituality in which the people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power learn to recover their humanity.

One could easily use Jesus’ advice vindictively. That is why we must not separate it from the command to love enemies that is integrally connected with it in both Matthew and Luke. But love is not averse to taking the law and using its oppressive momentum to throw the soldier into a region of uncertainty and anxiety that he has never known before.

Such tactics can seldom be repeated. One can imagine that within days after the incidents that Jesus sought to provoke the Powers That Be might pass new laws: penalties for nakedness in court and flogging for carrying a pack more than a mile. One must therefore be creative, improvising new tactics to keep the opponent off balance.

To those whose lifelong pattern has been to cringe before their masters, Jesus offers a way to liberate themselves from servile actions and a servile mentality. And he asserts that they can do this before there is a revolution. There is no need to wait until Rome is defeated, peasants have land, or slaves are freed. They can begin to behave with dignity and recovered humanity now, even under the unchanged conditions of the old order. Jesus’ sense of divine immediacy has social implications. The reign of God is already breaking into the world, and it comes, not as an imposition from on high, but as the leaven slowly causing the dough to rise (Matt. 13:33). Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence is thus integral to his proclamation of the dawning of the reign of God. Here was indeed a way to resist the Powers That Be without being made over into their likeness.

Jesus did not endorse armed revolution. It is not hard to see why. In the conditions of first-century Palestine, violent revolution against the Romans would prove catastrophic. But he did lay the foundations for a social revolution, as biblical scholar Richard A. Horsley has pointed out. And a social revolution becomes political when it reaches a critical threshold of acceptance; this in fact did happen to the Roman empire as the Christian church overcame it from below.11

Nor were peasants and slaves in a position to transform the economic system by frontal assault. But they could begin to act from an already recovered dignity and freedom. They could create within the shell of the old society the foundations of God’s domination-free order. They could begin living as if the Reign of God were already arriving. To an oppressed people, Jesus is saying, Do not continue to acquiesce in your oppression by the Powers; but do not react violently to it either. Rather, find a third way, a way that is neither submission nor assault, flight nor fight, a way that can secure your human dignity and begin to change the power equation, even now, before the revolution. Turn your cheek, thus indicating to the one who backhands you that his attempts to shame you into servility have failed. Strip naked and parade out of court, thus taking the momentum of the law and the whole debt economy and flipping them, jujitsu-like, in a burlesque of legality. Walk a second mile, surprising the occupation troops by placing them in jeopardy with their superiors. In short, take the law and push it to the point of absurdity. These are, of course, not rules to be followed legalistically, but examples to spark an infinite variety of creative responses in new and changing circumstances. They break the cycle of humiliation with humor and even ridicule, exposing the injustice of the system. They recover for the poor a modicum of initiative that can force the oppressor to see them in a new light.

Jesus is not advocating nonviolence merely as a technique for outwitting the enemy, but as a just means of opposing the enemy in a way that holds open the possibility of the enemy’s becoming just also. Both sides must win. We are summoned to pray for our enemies’ transformation, and to respond to ill treatment with a love that is not only godly but also from God.

The logic of Jesus’ examples in Matthew 5:3 9b-41 goes beyond both inaction and overreaction to a new response, fired in the crucible of love, that promises to liberate the oppressed from evil even as it frees the oppressor from sin. Do not react violently to evil, do not counter evil in kind, do not let evil dictate the terms of your opposition, do not let violence lead you to mirror your opponent—this forms the revolutionary principle that Jesus articulates as the basis for nonviolently engaging the Powers.

Jesus, in short, abhors both passivity and violence. He articulates, out of the history of his own people’s struggles, a way by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored, the oppressor resisted without being emulated, and the enemy neutralized without being destroyed. Those who have lived by Jesus’ words – Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, Muriel Lester, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Hildegard and Jean Goss-Mayr, Mairead (Corrigan) Maguire, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and countless others less well known – point us to a new way of confronting evil whose potential for personal and social transformation we are only beginning to grasp today.

The following is excerpted from pages 22-23 of Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa: Jesus’ Third Way, Walter Wink, 1987.

Some readers may object to the idea of discomforting the soldier or embarrassing the creditor. But can people who are engaged in oppressive acts repent unless made uncomfortable with their actions? There is, admittedly, the danger of using nonviolence as a tactic of revenge and humiliation. There is also, at the opposite extreme, an equal danger of sentimentality and softness that confuses the uncompromising love of Jesus with being nice. Loving confrontation can free both the oppressed from docility and the oppressor from sin.

Even if nonviolent action does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor, it does affect those committed to it. As Martin Luther King, Jr. attested, it gives them new self-respect, and calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had. To ‘those who have power, Jesus’ advice to the powerless may seem paltry. But to those whose lifelong pattern has been to cringe, bow, and scrape before their masters, and who have internalized their role as inferiors, this small step is momentous. It is comparable to the attempt by black charwomen in South Africa to join together in what will be for some of them an almost insuperable step: to begin calling their employers by their first names.

These three examples amplify what Jesus means in his thesis statement: “Do not violently resist evil (or, one who is evil).” Instead of the two options ingrained in us by millions of years of unreflective, brute response to biological threats from the environment: flight or fight, Jesus offers a third way. This new way marks a historic mutation in human development: the revolt against the principle of natural selection.15 With Jesus a way emerges by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored:


Seize the moral initiative

Find a creative alternative to violence

Assert your own humanity and dignity

as a person

Meet force with ridicule or humor

Break the cycle of humiliation

Refuse to submit or to accept the

inferior position

Expose the injustice of the system

Take control of the power dynamic

Shame the oppressor into repentance

Stand your ground

Make the Powers make decisions for which

they are not prepared

Recognize your own power

Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate

Force the oppressor to see you in a new light

Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a

show of force is effective

Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking

unjust laws

Die to fear of the old order and its rules







Armed revolt

Violent rebellion

Direct retaliation


(End of excerpt.)

How can we use this method, today, to put an end to the evils of our world?  What about close to home?  Is there an injustice in or near your own life that you’d like to see done away?  How could such a method as this help you to make it so?

I look forward to reading your comments, below.