Saturday, November 24, 2012

Quote of the Week

"I know falsehood when I see it, and it looks like this whole world you've made." - Aaron Weiss (mewithoutYou)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Who Would Jesus Shoot? Part 2 - The Way

**This is part 2 of a 4-part series by Jeriah Bowser. Read part 1 here, and part 3 here**

Jeriah Bowser is a wilderness guide who teaches primitive living skills to people. He writes provocative and progressive articles for The Hampton Institute, and has a propensity for challenging not the status quo, but the avant garde. Anarchist, Satyagrahi, healer, writer, primitivist.

Who Would Jesus Shoot?
The Way
There is a belief in many Eastern spiritual traditions that there exists a “Universal Truth Current” that runs through all living creatures, whether they realize and manifest it or not. In Taoism, it is referred to as the “The Tao” or “The Way.” In Hinduism, it is referred to as “Prana.” Traditional Chinese Buddhism speaks to the “Qi-Gong” or, “Way of Life.” The Japanese folk religion of Shinto can be literally translated into “Way of the Gods.”

The theme continues in the Western, monotheistic religions, as well. Islam literally means “Submission”, which is referring to submitting to “The Way of Allah”.  In Hebraic scripture, Yahweh is referred to as “The source of all truth and knowledge.” In the Christian religion, Yeshua is often referred to as “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Whether or not you believe truth is found in many sources or one, there is an undeniable current of common belief that is found in many spiritual traditions. In this conversation we will explore this “Way” through the teachings of Yeshua, the Rabbi whom the religion of Christianity is loosely based off of. Yeshua was a major proponent of this “Way”, and I have found it central to many of his teachings, yet incredibly absent from the current culture and conversation of the American church.

The Third Way
“The Third Way.” A somewhat harmless and obscure phrase, that when fully understood and acted upon, can overthrow the most powerful empires in the world, heal broken relationships and crippled nations, and create entirely new realms of possibilities in seemingly impossible situations. This phrase, and the implications that come with it, drove the British out of India in 1947, created awareness and equality for African-Americans living in the U.S. in the 60’s, brought awareness and reform to the treatment of farm-workers and immigrant-workers in California in the 60’s, was responsible for the overthrow of the Communist party and creation of the current Democratic government of Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution in 1993, and more recently achieved a long sought-after peace in war-torn Liberia, after a 14 year civil war.

Yeshua spoke directly to this action in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5, verses 38-42:

“You have heard that it was said ’Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also”

Theologian and author Walter Wink has provided an incredible perspective into this teaching that I will paraphrase from. Wink suggests, and I have found the same to be true, that Yeshua is not at all advocating “pacifism” or inaction. Neither is he suggesting that we respond in like with aggression or resistance. Instead, he is introducing a “Third Way”, that transcends the two obvious options of passivity and resistance and yet is still extremely empowering and influential. Confused? Lets provide some context.

In the Jewish culture that Yeshua lived in, there were not sinks or soap to wash your hands after you “took care of business” or dealt with any unpleasant tasks. Therefore, you commonly used your left hand for “unclean” things, and your right hand for “clean” things, such as eating or shaking hands (ever curious why we shake hands with our right hand?) Therefore if you were to slap someone, you would use your right hand, as using your left could get you banished for ten days, or worse. In the context, its assumed that Yeshua was referring to a backhand slap, a slap that was meant to degrade, humiliate, and insult someone. The act of turning to face your assailant who just backhanded you, in the Jewish context of the day, was to effectually say, “I will not let you destroy my equality and I will not let you degrade my humanity. If you will slap me, you will do it face to face, as equals, and you will have to look me in the eyes and see my passionate resolve to love you in face of your actions.” This attitude, if done with the right motive, can completely cripple someone who is used to the reactions of either anger or fear. It puts you, the oppressed, in a position of power and forgiveness, and puts the oppressor in a position of shame and naked humanity. It is love in action. It is the third way.

In the very next sentence, as recorded by Matthew, Yeshua provides another example of this Way.

And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

Again, lets provide some context. First off, the word here for “coat” is the Hebrew word, “kaftan.” A kaftan was a common garment of the poor, a long piece of cloth that is wrapped around your body, essentially an undergarment. In Jewish law (Deuteronomy 24:10-13),  a person who is being sued could have everything taken from them but their undergarments. This was an action only used against poor and marginalized people, who were unable to defend themselves from the power-brokers of the day. Nakedness was (and is) extremely shameful in Jewish culture, and would be very sensational. The act of stripping naked and handing all of your clothes to someone who is suing you would be an act of extreme humility, boldness, and shame, although the shame would be on the person suing. It is to effectually say, “If you are sick enough to sue me for my few possessions I have to satiate your capitalist greed, then I will show you that my possessions don’t matter that much to me. You can have my house, my retirement fund, my car, my clothes, even my underwear. But you cannot my humanity or my dignity.” Again, the incredibly powerful and creative imagination of the third way.

Yeshua leaves us with a final example in his next comment, which speaks directly to the largely Jewish crowd he was addressing.

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”

To first century Jews living under Roman occupation, this was a very familiar scenario. Roman law stated that a Roman soldier could command a civilian to carry his gear (clothes, food, etc.) for a mile, but no further. This way the Roman government could keep their troops more mobile and it constantly reminded the Jews that they were subjects of the Roman empire. It was an embarrassing and inconvenient task which they were regularly subjected to, and one that had much emotion around it. Instead of either refusing (which many did, and suffered a beating or arrest) or cowering in fear and silent hatred, Yeshua offers a third option: carry the soldiers gear for longer than the law requires. Such an action would likely bring an opportunity for conversation between the soldier and civilian, a chance to build bridges of love rather than hate. This action puts the oppressed in the position of power and love, by choosing to carry this heavy gear not because they are supposed to, but because they want to.

It’s incredible how much truth is revealed from a mere four sentences of Yeshua’s teaching! Yeshua is talking about creating a third option to deal with oppression and violence that is neither reactive nor retreating, neither fight nor flight. He isn’t even providing good strategies for “dealing with evil”, because He is completely redefining evil! If you can look in the eyes of someone who just slapped you, a banker who is taking the last of everything you own, or an occupying soldier who is forcing you to work for him and see not an enemy to be resisted, but a brother or sister who is hurt, scared, confused, and needing love, then there is no longer “me” against “them”. It becomes “we”, who are struggling to figure out this wacky puzzle called humanity.
How do we carry out the actions of this third way? How does one learn to manifest this powerful love in everyday speech and actions? What about defending my family or weaker people from oppressors? What about war? Excellent questions, and ones that you should ask yourself and your friends and spiritual communities. Next week I will attempt to provide some insight into these questions that I have learned and experienced in my life.

For now, I leave you with a poem by a third grader in Chicago, who wrote this during a scavenger hunt for peace, in 2010.

Make Things Right
We don’t have to solve problems with violence
We don’t have to fight. All we have to do is reunite
Violence gets you nowhere in life
Dinner is the only time you use a knife
Kids have the power to make things right.


--- Jeriah Bowser ---

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Quote of the Week

"But," says one, "you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?" I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which he might think a good deal like that;

I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living? Methinks this would exercise their minds as much as mathematics. 

If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where anything is professed and practised but the art of life

-- to survey the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or to what vagabond he is a satellite himself; or to be devoured by the monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters in a drop of vinegar. Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month -- the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this -- or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rodgers' penknife from his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers?

-- Henry David Thoreau --

Monday, November 5, 2012

Who Would Jesus Shoot? Part 1 - The Journey

** This is part 1 of a 4-part series, Who Would Jesus Shoot? Read part 2 here. **

Jeriah Bowser is a wilderness guide who teaches primitive living skills to people. He writes provocative and progressive articles for The Hampton Institute, and has a propensity for challenging not the status quo, but the avant garde. Anarchist, Satyagrahi, healer, writer, primitivist.

Who Would Jesus Shoot?


My brother, the illustrious Jordan Bowser, esq., asked me to write an article for his blog.  I’m not much of a writer, nor do I think I have any profound insights into this incredibly polarizing and emotionally loaded topic that have not already been addressed by many great thinkers and doers throughout history (Yeshua, Rumi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas K. Gandhi, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, Chief Ouray, etc).

I will be the first to admit that the idea of putting my beliefs and experiences on an online, public forum, scares the crap out of me. I rarely engage in discussions or controversial conversations online, as I believe there is little actual exchange of ideas and relationship over forums of this nature, and people tend to become very hurt, angry, and hurtful online. I have two major goals for this series of posts, and I would love for you to participate in them with me.

One, I aim to be completely humble and non-violent/aggressive in my communication. I find that I often tend to be very arrogant, polarizing, and controversial in my communication, but I very deeply want to work on changing this part of me.

Two,  I intend to be open, vulnerable, and real in my communication. I find that an individual can become anyone online, and there is very little context for communication. When I discuss things with friends, I know their story. I have heard them tell me their wounds, their dreams, and I know their perspective. There is context for our dialogue. I hope to create context by sharing my own story, and inviting you into it.

I can only speak from my journey, share my own hurt, confusion, and eventual hope around this contentious issue and hopefully you can make some sense out of my mess! I will attempt to summarize my journey towards non-violence to give you the context of my worldview and to allow you into my experience. Thank you for participating in my journey with Truth

The Journey

My early exposure to the combination of religion and war is probably very typical for someone growing up in a white, conservative, Christian home. I learned that Jesus was a white guy with blue eyes and brown hair, voted republican, was one of the founding fathers of this country, and anyone who disagreed with America therefore disagreed with God and should be invaded and taught to obey “Gods law”; which included Democracy, legislated morality, and a free market. When the tragic event of September 11th took place, I believed that it was the result of Islamic terrorists who hated America and Christianity and wanted to hurt us because they were evil and we were good. I therefore believed that it was “just” and right for our country to invade theirs and to defend against the impending doom of “Islamic Terrorism.”
As I became a young man and started making decisions about my life, I quickly became a true-blue conservative, patriotic, machismo-filled young man who was everything George Bush could hope for in a young voter. Due to several unfortunate events in my adolescence, I ended up spending 18 months in a program where my safety was often seriously threatened and I developed a huge complex around being tough, strong, and capable of defending myself and others. When I was 17, I seriously contemplated joining the Marines as a force recon specialist. I trained in many forms of martial arts for years and was planning on becoming a UFC competitor. When I turned 21, I bought myself a gun and a concealed carry permit. I engaged in many heated discussions with individuals of varied faiths and spiritual traditions, convinced that it was my duty as a crusader of Jesus to crush all infidels with the double-edged sword of debate and arrogance (more commonly known as “apologetics“). I voted for Bush, made fun of liberals, went to a big church full of rich white people, kept a gun under my bed and a bible in my pocket, and shopped at Wal-Mart. My worldview was impenetrable, as I had surrounded myself with like-minded friends and teachers.

About two years ago, a good friend and mentor gave me the books “Jesus for President” and “An Irresistible Revolution”  by Shane Claiborne. They were at first offensive, then confusing, and finally fascinating and convicting. Shane clearly laid out all of Yeshua’s teachings on non-violence, forgiveness, and love, and contrasted them with the rampant militarism, widespread capitalist exploitation, and police-state occupation that make up the system we know as “The United States of America”. Shane told stories of incredible forgiveness and love in the face of tyranny. He shared personal experiences with living in the heart of a marginalized, violent, and impoverished neighborhood in Camden, PA. He opened my eyes to the power of simple acts of love, through the life of Mother Teresa, whom he lived with for a period of time. He spoke of the power of “the third way”, of dealing with violence and terror. And I felt a response deep in my soul to the teachings of this young activist.

I wanted more. I read the biographies of Mother Teresa, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and Martin Luther King Jr., and approached the Hebrew scriptures from a new perspective. I listened to pod casts, read various blogs, subscribed to “Ad-busters“, and absorbed every opinion that I could on this powerful form of resistance known as “active non-violence”. It contrasted so greatly to the image of a crusading white Jesus that I eventually had to completely abandon everything I had ever known about the world, my spirituality, and my role in this crazy thing called humanity. My search for truth deepened as I joined Anarchist clubs and showed up to Communist bookstores to discuss politics and oppression. I tapped into the marginalized social groups in my community, and became friends with drag queens and prostitutes. I hung out with dirty hippies, homeless junkies, and drug dealers, and started seeing my Rabbi in strange places: hidden underneath cardboard boxes, waiting at an abandoned bus stop, in a lonely corner of a street alley, and often times badly needing a shower. I started conversations with Mormon missionaries, Sufi mystics, and regular people with the intent not to “convert”, but to learn from them and to love. I realized the power of non-violent communication in my daily interactions with people, as I moved from an arrogant defensive posture to an open and loving offensive. And I sold my gun ;)

I share my experience with this not to make any claims about truth or to influence your journey or your decisions in any way. I simply believe in the power of vulnerability and relationship, and I would love to engage you, the reader, in the spirit of openness and honesty. Many of my experiences are extremely embarrassing and painful for me to look back on and realize, and this is the first time I have ever really talked about them to anyone but my wife and brother As we move forward in this discussion, I want to encourage you, the reader, to also engage and share your experiences and speak your truth. And I want to thank you for listening and validating my experience. Writing this article is very healing for me.

Also, I highly encourage you to find and read Shane’s books. They can be found here:

If you cannot afford a copy, please let me know and I will gladly buy and send you his book, “Irresistible Revolution“. Whether you name your first child after him or burn his books in a pile behind your church, I don’t really care. I believe they are relevant to this discussion, whether or not you agree with Shane’s perspective.

I leave you with a peace mantra by Satish Kumar, that was popularized by Mother Teresa:

Lead me from death to life,
 From falsehood to truth;
Lead me from despair to hope,
 From fear to trust;
Lead me from hate to love,
 From war to peace;
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe


--- Jeriah Bowser ---

*** Read part 2 here.***