by Stephen Michael Murphy
In the 2000 years since his mission of compassionate aid to the poor and confrontation of the rich, our world has been transformed but remains sadly unequal. To the wealthy, a living Jesus said “sell what you have then distribute the money to the needy and follow me”. A tall order in a gruesome time when the only social safety net was the one you caught your fish with. In ancient Judea, prices were so high Jesus and his followers may have been supported by donations from viewers like you. The New Testament made reference to his finances with three kings gifting gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus, Roman soldiers on Calvary gambling for his expensive garments, Mary riding on a donkey (a year one equivalent of an Escalade), even the mention of a treasurer, a guy in charge of the money bag. Jesus may have been running a very early version of a nonprofit with a 12 member board of directors, no earthly kingdom but sufficient cash flow to support a 3 year waking the spirit tour.
After all, being human is expensive. In my neighborhood pennies were from heaven, the corned beef was sliced thin and an old world shadow influenced our monetary and emotional rate of exchange. Most parents hit their children without a second thought creating a lower middle class pecking order of oppression. Abused kids were everywhere looking for someone weaker than themselves to dominate. Being sensitive to injustice, short tempered with middle weight boxing skills; I had frequent encounters with the animal dark side of adolescence. Our guardian angels were the enlightened public school teachers of the 1960’s ilk peppered through our district and less from a Catholic church paralyzed by its own dogma. Later as a young working class hero, I put corporate money ahead of my principles advancing as a promising executive. The offers were lucrative but at every turn their corporate philosophy involved moral compromise. So I grew my hair long again, wrote songs in the corner office and ran marathon miles like Forest Gump to get away until I finally got away to a new world.
Compared to Sub Saharan reality, I was never poor for a millisecond because I’m a white man born in the United States of America. I wasn’t degraded or limited by racism the way black and brown people are so a chance to own a piece of the rock was a given. Other white men handed me Reebok stock tips when Reebok couldn’t afford to sign Shoeless Joe Jackson to an endorsement deal. Domino’s franchises knocked three times as home delivery of hot food with cheese on it was still considered unhygienic and American real estate was the one gift that kept on giving until daddy took the T-bird away. I slaved for computer giants in their infancy but was never Homo erectus enough for the dramatic killing. After some soul searching, I found my societal category as a card carrying member of the IPWO (intentionally poor with options) explaining a passion for music early and working at a nonprofit later as a path to sanity.
In the west, we have the luxury of choosing a lifestyle. One third of the planet though will unintentionally live another Christmas in extreme poverty. The primary causes according to “Hunger Notes” are harmful economic systems that benefit the 1% with a negative impact on the already poor in developing countries. Ill effects from the same financial systems have now appeared at holiday tables of the world’s middle class. The predatory capitalistic machine is global in scope and applied with countless examples of unabashed exploitation. In Ethiopia, western investment firms have leased prime farm land some 50 million acres (size of Nebraska) at the lowest rent and the cheapest labor to grow staple crops shoring up food supplies for fat industrialized nations. These deals further exacerbate food security issues in a country where starving to death is one of the leading causes of death. This is a deeply rooted form of barbarism that’s been par for the course throughout human history; power, oppression, control, defended by the old chestnut “it’s only business.” The faithful opposition while well intended and forever vigilant has always been outfoxed by the needs of the aggressive animal within.
Trying to write at Christmas about justice, humility and self understanding feels more like a child’s wish list for Saint Nick. My wish is that Jesus on his birthday could ask the worst of us (especially the ones who pose as the best of us) to give up their vampire like feeding and live again as human beings. He might demand that the privileged sitting at Midnight Mass use their “Exceptionalism” to modify the harmful economic systems that benefit their balance sheet while increasing the stress on a billion families around the globe. This is the reason Christmas as an adult is never as good as we remember; inequality and social injustice have a transcontinental vibration that kills a holiday high.
While there are no easy answers, there is a bottom line that humans mistakenly assume they understand. We are animals with brains that trick us into thinking we are not.1. We’ve learned to mask our violent unpredictable animal needs with civilized jargon and political correctness letting lawyers, guns and money do the dirty work while we surf the internet for shoes. Anxiety can be softened by religion and extreme behavior blunted by law but in our thoughts we are one closed supermarket or foreclosed mortgage away from anarchy.What if misery and suffering like this has a meaningful purpose in our lives. What if learning from it helps us evolve and illuminates the divine. It’s a common sense approach to God whereby our intellect is used to discriminate the real from the apparently real. By simply recognizing the darkness, the animal, we recognize the light. Making this distinction eliminates confusion creating common ground for change. We identify with the substrate of being and definitely disturb the peace less often.
Being human we’re born to make mistakes and it’s raining hard with our vital functions demanding new behaviors or we will be reset. Our actions have broken the world and we must repair it1. The life and especially the death of Jesus is in itself a complete guide to repairing the personal, social and environmental condition of humankind. While the appearance of a God man is a function of this reality, it’s a rare occurrence. The elegant message of Jesus of Galilee has been embedded in our collective consciousness with concepts so profound our bean counting left brain tends to miss the point. Fortunately, there’s a kind of hush even as Marie Antoinette awakens to yet another white Lexus topped with a large red Christmas bow. It’s the hush that precedes the spark, that decorates the tree, that holds the family close, in the house that love built. We’ve already been shown the greater our capacity to forgive (“father forgive them for they know not what they do”), the greater the light will shine upon us, between us, like a brilliant star bringing at least one silent night of joy into the chattering world of 2017. After all we’re only human …….Merry Christmas and blessings for a Happy New Year…
“Only Human After All”, a tune off the “Nobody Knows How Deep It All Goes” CD: Lyrics and music written by Stephen Murphy (c) 2010..2017 Lead Vocals by Adrienne Muse
1 Leaves of Grass Tim Blake Nelson 2009