A few words on the passing of John Trudell

 

“Protect your spirit because you are in the place where spirits get eaten.”
~John Trudell

I read today that John Trudell died. It had been reported for a while that he was unwell. He was someone who was a figure of significance to and influence on me for a number of reasons.

Coming of age in Saskatchewan in the 1970’s, in a poorer neighbourhood and attending a school that included many aboriginal students it was hard to miss the rise of the American Indian Movement and their resistance to settler colonialism. It wasn’t called settler colonialism back then and there wasn’t much understanding of it among white people, even among liberals or the left, unless someone went to a mixed school or associated with aboriginal people. That was not particularly encouraged.

Nonetheless, some of us did associate through attending cultural events, like powwows, going with friends to visit their families on reserves, working and living in the north on reserves (which I did later for quite some time) and just generally having normal human interactions and relationships.

There was a militant resistance among aboriginal people developing and some of us wanted to know what specifically was being resisted and how and why because people we loved were deeply affected by the issues involved.

I heard about the history of residential schools, police abuse, prison and justice system oppression. I had heard about the Wounded Knee incident and the Pine Ridge shootout with the FBI, for which Leonard Peltier was wrongfully convicted and for which he is still wrongfully serving time. The names of AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means also circulated as did the name of John Trudell who served as AIM chairman.

John Trudell was a prolific writer and frequent speaker. His speeches were circulated in some radical publications and interviews were broadcast on university stations or on other counter-cultural community radio programs after that. He was well known among prison abolition/reform activists as well because of the Alcatraz incident in the 1960s and his ongoing involvement with prison justice issues among many others.

There was a contentious point where he testified in a trial involving AIM members in order to exonerate someone who was potentially going to be wrongly convicted. This split off a section of his supporters, some of whom called for a boycott of his writing and music. I’m pretty biased in this regard, having been married for quite some time to a man who spent over two decades in prison for a wrongful conviction. Had someone spoken up and told the truth then, regardless of consequences, he would not have had to go through such an ordeal. So my sympathy very much lies in the Trudell camp on that issue.

The events involving the American Indian Movement, the members of that group and those who were influenced by them provided what I would have to say was my first introduction to developing a political consciousness. I am very grateful for that.

His poetry especially has been something I’ve sought out to read and listen to over the years. His talks and interviews are particularly insightful as well. There are many on YouTube and elsewhere. He has numerous books out also.

Travel well, John Trudell.

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Sisters of Mercy-Gimme Shelter

 

Someone on YouTube has done a video to go with Sister of Mercy’s cover of the Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter. It’s quite compelling.

 


There’s more writing coming eventually. I’m just kind of exhausted these days. The usual thing…way too many projects, way too many changes to incorporate and not nearly enough time. I feel like an espresso machine with the hot water being forced through and these little dribs and drabs of coffee spewing out at random intervals. If I believed in a big barista in the sky I’d as them to ease up somewhat.Coffee cup

I am drinking tea (with milk and cardamom) as I write this so I don’t think a big sky barista can handle that, it’s slowly warmed til boiling (twice) not pressurized. Popular caffeine drinks can encompass world views as much as anything else. That’s The Anthropology of Caffeine Preferences in brief.Coffee cup

Cheers.Coffee cup

By NellaLou Tagged

…how sea lions swim in cursive

Enjoying this music.

Sage Francis – Sea Lion (Feat Alias, Will Oldham & Saul Williams)

The force of my love was strong. The sea lion lay down long. Song in the air. Why should singer care? When singer can be among song.

Ma, Ma–look what i did, Ma. Look what i did to my hands, I broke ’em.
You gave me the stone, gave me the chisel, didn’t say how to hold ’em.
Didn’t say to give away every piece of the puzzle ’til i was left with nothin’.
But i took it upon myself to crush it up and distribute the dust.
Get in the bus. Hop in the van. Jump in the water. Crawl to the land.
Build another castle out of sand. Break it down and then get into the saddle again.
I’m going city to city – i’m already lost. Tell the boss who is new in town.
I’ll ride this horse ’til it it bucks me off and i’m forced to shoot it down.
I’ll take him out for some gasoline. Trade this cow for some magic beans.
Gonna make mom proud of the deals that I made, ’cause I’m just a modern day Johnny Appleseed
But i’m glad that I never passed the genes, and I never put down the axe.
Piano man got a checkered dance floor to grace and a painful look on his face.
‘Cause the crowd is packed and the louder they clap
the less he is able to make the connection between what he sees
when he hears certain notes and the hurt that is shown in his facial expression. Ahhhhhh.
I don’t need your “go ahead” to go ahead. No, I know no one said it was gonna be easy,
but sweet jesus who wants to sleep with me?
Way too many moves to learn. Not enough people to put ’em on.
Look it, mom! No hands. I built this suit of armor with wooden arms.

The force of my love was strong. The sea lion lay down long. Song in the air. Why should singer care? When singer can be among song.

Oh God I think I’m dead
I can’t see outside my head
Brains and bloods and cryptic gang men
Czars and warlords breaking bread
Thoughts are thought
What’s said is said
I thought that ‘fore you said it
I didn’t mean to think out loud
My tongue slipped but who let it?
Let it be, let me be, let me go, nah let me out
My manhood nods and whispers when my father screams and shouts
Dear dad I’m sad you’re dead
A new man standing in the pulpit
He bows before a wooden cross and forces praise the culprit
I’m a tenor in the choir but I sing a different song
Of how the wheres and whys of now all prove I don’t belong
But I’m staying I’ve planted seeds and plan to watch them grow
I’ve watered all my wishes dreams fulfilled more seeds to sow
And I promise to learn to love the way I’ve learned to fear
To unknot all the inhibitions tangled in my hair
To let my ego mound in piles around the barber chair
And make a graceful exit from my vexed troubled years
I’ve decided I’ve been invited to my own resort
Where knights can leave their armor neatly piled by the door
And every woman, child, and man will gather by the shore
and study how sea lions swim in cursive

The force of my love was strong. The sea lion lay down long. Song in the air. Why should singer care? When singer can be among song.

By NellaLou Tagged

The Necessity of Judas

The eve before Good Friday one television channel was playing the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. I first saw that movie when I was pretty young and impressionable. It is one of my favorite movies, partly because it’s about one of the great narratives of human history, which continues to influence events today, despite the many proclamations of secularism in Christian influenced cultures, and partly because it contributed to my turning away from Christianity as a religious belief system. The actor, Ted Neely made Jesus seem to be a human being to my young mind and this to me both removed a lot of the mystification of divinity I grew up with regarding the Jesus figure and made the story far more interesting as a part of human mythology.

By Christian influenced culture, since many wish to try to deny this, I am talking about the symbols of and allusions to Christianity as well as the stories, themes, interpretations and meanings derived from Christianity. Rather than write a whole essay about that I’ll just take one clear example–popular film if chock full of Christian imagery. The essay The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure  by Anton Karl Kozlovic in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, gives a lengthy outline of just how deep this thematic stream goes. It also outlines 25 structural characteristics of cinematic Christ figures which one might want to apply to films that range from Bad Lieutenant, The Matrix and The Truman Show to Superman and Star Wars. Those are some of the films cited to demonstrate the author’s point.

David Loy wrote a piece called Jesus and Buddha as Stories? in which he examines some of the psychological necessity of collective human mythologizing as well as it’s social utility. Mythology gives meaning to what might otherwise appear to be a collection of random events.

Jesus Christ Superstar, is of course an obvious interpretation of the Christ story. I watched the movie as I wrote the outline of this post during the commercials. I also following along with the libretto (script) which is a lot shorter than you might think. I like the music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice respectively, the way the characters portrayed, the actors, the costumes, the sets, the cinematography, Norman Jewison’s direction…pretty much everything about it. I’ve watched it every year since I was a kid. I like it because it always gives me something interesting to think about. Not necessarily Christian things per se, but aspects of life’s questions.

So the question that is striking me this time is about the absolute necessity of Judas in the story. I’m talking primarily about this movie version and not solely about the story as it is told in the biblical gospels allegedly through the memories of the apostles.

In a paper entitled The Messiah vs Jesus Christ Superstar [pdf],  Prof. Richard Vaggione OHC writes:

The author of the libretto, Timothy Rice, rejected the persona of Jesus familiar in
the Bible stories. In an interview he admitted his fascination with Judas, without whom, he said, there would be no Christianity. It was Judas who directly caused Christ’s martyrdom, creating a tragic heroic figure around whom a whole religion would coalesce. To make his Judas come to life, he portrayed a different kind of Christ; an imperfect flesh and blood martyr. In fact, in materials sent to radio stations in both recorded and printed form with the original album of Jesus Christ Superstar, he said "The idea of the whole opera is to have Christ seen through the eyes of Judas, and Christ as a man, not as a God. And the fact that Christ himself is just as mixed up and unaware of exactly what he is, as Judas is."7 Therefore, Rice created Jesus as a fallible human.

Judas, the disenchanted disciple, sings some interesting things in the movie. His viewpoint sounds very similar to disenchanted disciples and confused spiritual seekers today.  At the very beginning of the movie he sets up the story line to come. From the libretto:

My mind is clearer now –
at last all too well I can see where we all soon will be
If you strip away the myth from the man
you will see where we all soon will be
Jesus! You’ve started to believe
The things they say of you
You really do believe
This talk of God is true
And all the good you’ve done
Will soon get swept away
You’ve begun to matter more
Than the things you say

The interplay between Jesus and Judas is portrayed very much in the vein of teacher and student. A case could also be made that their polarity in terms of good and bad, which is far too oversimplified in popular glosses, represents the psychological interplay between all kinds of forces:

  • confidence, doubt
  • ideal, obstacle
  • hope, fear
  • loyalty, disloyalty
  • strong, weak
  • accepting, rejecting
  • emotional, rational
  • sacred, profane

Yet all of these aspects are present in both of the male characters. Each of them, from their particular perspectives felt they were doing the right thing in the circumstances. Both ended up dead through violent means. Judas hung himself and Jesus was crucified.

The montage of classical paintings of the crucifixion just prior to the arrest in the garden of Gethsemane during the solo of Jesus talking to God is one of the most powerful moments in the film. It’s like a glimpse into the mind of the man who knows he is condemned. Then the quiet kiss on the cheek Judas gives to Jesus followed by Jesus’ words:

Will you betray me with a kiss?

This moment, as brief as it is, not only seals the fates of both men whose paths have been intertwined until that moment.

Political elements

Judas was a reactionary force. He wanted something more from his life but wasn’t prepared to violate the status quo.  Jesus was revolutionary anti-capitalist and finally seditious traitor to Rome if one gives a political reading to the texts. The chief priest, Caiaphas, who would have been in charge of all the temples, including the one where Jesus threw out the money lenders and other profane people, arranged much of this. The account in Wikipedia is the shortest explanation I could find:

Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas by marriage to his daughter and ruled longer than any high priest in New Testament times. For Jewish leaders of the time, there were serious concerns about Roman rule and an insurgent Zealot movement in Beit Shammai to eject the Romans from Israel. The Romans would not perform execution over violations of Jewish law, and therefore the charge of blasphemy would not have mattered to Pilate. Caiaphas’ legal position, therefore, was to establish that Jesus was guilty not only of blasphemy, but also of proclaiming himself the messiah, which was understood as the return of the Davidic king. This would have been an act of sedition and prompted Roman execution.

Christianity is very much a religion founded on the political. This is because the area at the time was a central focus of political and imperial expansion of Roman territory. The political aspects of life included the occupation of the region by the Romans, the collaboration of certain sectors of the local population with the occupiers, the threats from outsiders, the continuing quests to expand Roman territory through the Middle East and into North Africa, the growing insurgencies within territories, the incursion of Latin language and Roman symbols as emblems of class status, and the constant reminders in daily life of that occupation. For example, Jesus was reported to have said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s." Matthew 22:21, same passage is also in Mark 12:17 ,  Luke 20:25 and Romans 13:7 which was written by apostle Paul. An aside: This is an interesting passage on it’s own as it illuminates a dichotomy between the material and the spiritual. It also points to a transcendence  that often gets injected into much English language Buddhism which, in my view far more favors the immanent, which is quite evident in the Heart Sutra for example, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form…” with the final mantra being not one of transcendence and separation from the material, but a statement of  immersion in understanding wherein such distinctions are meaningless.

It is my postulation that we who have been brought up in Christian influenced cultures continue to enact elements of this passion play on our various stages around the world. It goes something like this:

humble origins —> talent, ability, ideas beyond the ordinary discovered or noticed –> antagonisms emerge —> mistakes/delusions/betrayals —> downfall —> redemption

Not only Jesus but even Judas fits this scenario. Both are redeemed by death.

How many others can we name that fit that scenario? And how intense is the fascination with their lives? In popular entertainment culture this narrative with somewhat different characters is what puts sales of the National Enquirer into the multi-millions.

Variations of this story play out in our lives on a daily basis. Hence Buddhists have things like the Paramitas (Perfections) and Christians have things like the Virtues to help manage the enactment of that particular narrative and others.

In terms of spiritual understanding it may not serve us well to do away with the Judas bits of our psychological personas too readily. Skepticism has some value particularly when there are a lot of potential or wannabe Messiahs on the horizon, as was the case in history at the time Jesus was alleged to live and as is the case now. In times of political instability we are often asked to confront situations that would cause us to question our beliefs or to sell them out to maintain our own comfort. It is a good idea to know where our own moral limits lie. Which lines are we willing to cross and which will we not cross? Who would we betray and why?

But there are other reasons not to reject Judas out of hand. His role was one of the questioner. He questioned himself as well as others. That he couldn’t answer the questions, except by his own death demonstrated the limits imposed by his own character and his own fear and guilt. Guilt and fear are two of the most powerful motivations for tragic events.

The most meaningful questions, all in the same vein, are repeated throughout the gospels. They are posed to Jesus, by Herod, by Pontius Pilate, by his own disciples, and within himself when he attempts to confront God. By implication they are questions all of his followers had to answer one way or another. Judas couldn’t live with it. Thomas doubted it. Peter denied it. Others embraced it.

If we decontextualize those questions for a moment and use the words from the movie,  consider how familiar they look to Buddhists as well.

Who are you? What have you sacrificed?

Do you think you’re what they say you are?

 

SUPERSTAR

VOICE OF JUDAS
Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned
Why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land?
If you’d come today you would have reached a whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication
Don’t you get me wrong – I only want to know

CHOIR
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

VOICE OF JUDAS
Tell me what you think of your friends at the top
Who d’you think besides yourself’s the pick of the crop?
Buddha was he where it’s at? Is he where you are?
Could Mohammed move a mountain or was that just PR?
Did you mean to die like that? Was that a mistake or
Did you know your messy death would be a record-breaker?
Don’t you get me wrong – I only want to know

CHOIR
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar
Do you think you’re what they say you are?