Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Killing at Haditha

In an interview on CNN, a doctor who saw the bodies of those brought into the hospital after the shootings by Marines at Haditha, which I have referred to as a potential My Lai of Iraq, was very disturbing.

All of the bodies came in with bullet holes in the early morning- hours after the attack had taken place. Why the delay?

Among the bodies were children of 5, 3, and 2 years of age. Impossible to believe these were mistaken for insurgents. Another victim was 76. A very unlikely insurgent as well. What possible justification can be offered?

This event took place on November 19, 2005. Again, why the delay? Why do we find out about this potential war crime only now- 6 months later?

Americans have more than a right to know of events such as this. They have an obligation. Americans supported this invasion by a substantial majority. They are obligated to understand that perhaps 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died. Many of these are collateral damage victims- a euphemism which I doubt provides much comfort to the families of the deceased. Many, of course, are the victim of insurgent and sectarian violence- which the US due to low troop numbers has been impotent to prevent. In the case of Haditha, the growing impression is that more than 20 were murdered in cold blood.

It is not enough for people to change their views on this war. If they supported it, they are morally culpable for these outcomes which were entirely too predictable.

One final thought: CNN reported that 15 of the families of those killed were given payments of $2,500. $2,500??? For the wrongful killing of a family member? Compare that to the outcome of any wrongful death lawsuit in the US and you will see that $2,500 is not only laughable, it's insulting.

We must expect much more of our nation and its military. We must expect that the military more quickly investigate and resolve such cases as Haditha. We must expect that justice for perpetrators is served quickly, and that accountability among military and goverment leaders is recognized. We must expect that a meaningful and heartfelt expression of remorse and apology is offered, officially, from our goverment. I know that no amount of money can replace loved ones, but since we so often do put a price tag on life when crimes such as this occur, we must make a meaningful offer of compensation to allow families to begin to rebuild their shattered lives. All of these steps are absolutely necessary if we are going to be a nation that can move in the direction of being a nation at peace with its conscience, and a nation capable of making future peace with the Arab/Muslim world.

This war has been a mistake from its inception. The weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorism used to justify the war were not there. We have turned Iraq into the new Afghanistan- a training ground for terrorists. We have made the mistake of our invasion worse with Abu Ghraib, "Bring it on" and the use of the word "crusade" by our President, the limitless detentions at Guantanamo, and now Haditha. We must now begin to turn the tide. We must provide security to Iraq, and get out of that nation as quickly as is possible while keeping the safety of the people there as our paramount concern. And we must drop the facade of infallibility and admit our error and begin to rebuild relations in an area of the world that provides us with great challenges. If we continue to fail, it will be at our peril.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

We must be the change...

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, speak. He told the following story (recounted below from my notes of the lecture):

There was a child who lived near my grandfather who ate too many sweets. His body began to develop a rash as a reaction to his eating sweets. The child's doctor said he must give up the sweets. The parents told the child he could have no more sweets, but they still had them in the home and others ate sweets at family dinners and the like. The child would sneak sweets at every opportunity. The parents would punish the child, but they were getting nowhere. The brought the child to grandfather, and asked him to talk to the child. Grandfather thought for a moment, and then told the parents to bring the child back in fifteen days. The parents were perplexed, and while their confidence in the holy man may have been shaken somewhat, they would not challenge him. So, they came back in 15 days. Gandhi took the child aside and spoke to him very briefly, perhaps only a little more than a minute. The child went home with his parents and never touched sweets, and his health improved. The parents were amazed. They later went back to Gandhi and asked him how he performed the miracle. He told the family, "I had to make you wait 15 days so that I myself could give up sweets." When grandfather spoke with the child, he told the child that he would not eat sweets until the doctor told the child that sweets were acceptable again. This convinced the child to give up sweets because someone as important as Gandhi was willing to do so.

Gandhi taught that "we must be the change we wish to be in the world." Thich Nhat Hanh said, similarly, "Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World."

In roaming about the web and looking at websites that discuss the war in Iraq, I see too many sites the say they are seeking peace, while they are using the language of violence. I am reminded of anti-war activists of the Vietnam War era who said they wanted peace while they threw rocks and/or verbally abused the police and other government officials.

Did the Vietnam War protesters who acted in such a fashion help to bring the war to an end? [Note: not all protesters acted in such a manner.] Maybe. Did they promote peace, creating conditions where war was less likely in the future? Almost certainly not. That is part of the reason that in the 2004 election, 30 years after the end of the war in Vietnam, there was so much bitterness in the nation that the conduct of the two candidates all those years earlier during the war could become a political issue.

Opponents of today's war, whether on the Web or elsewhere, need to drop the language of violence and adopt the language of peace. This language of peace needs to start at the heart and work its way out from there. Our peaceful approach should be apparent to those around us as they watch us live. To use another quote from Thich Nhat Hanh- "To have peace, we must be peace."


Note: Another example of religious consilience: Gandhi is a Hindu. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Follow-up on the My Lai of Iraq

From CNN:

Pentagon sources: Civilians likely killed without provocation
Photos from scene said to be 'inconsistent' with Marine account

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An ongoing military investigation supports allegations that U.S. Marines in November killed 24 innocent Iraqi civilians without being provoked, senior Pentagon sources said Friday.
Charges, including murder, could soon be filed against Marines allegedly involved, the sources said.

Will Americans be outraged? Will they care at all? Time will tell.

My concern: That Americans won't be outraged, but rather feel, like I've heard so many say over the past few years, "Well, they killed thousands of us on 9/11."

Of course neither the government of Iraq or the citizens of Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. Besides, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

It goes without saying that I think Americans should be outraged. But, I thought they should have been outraged from the first day of the invasion. Needless to say, I doubt my views will be reflected in the general American mindset.

CNN story:
My earlier post on the subject:

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Comment regarding "A Christian Fatwa?"

A reader (perhaps from the United Kingdom?) commented regarding the post below entitled A Christian Fatwa?

Thank you, sir!I (and the silent majority of Muslims) concur with you whole-heartedly and whole-mindedly.

I am very grateful for this brief comment. It warms my heart.

I thought I would extend somewhat my earlier comments regarding Islam and Christianity.

Muslims and Christians are brothers and sisters. We have clear and obvious differences in regard to our beliefs and how we worship, but none of those differences require us to be enemies.

We both (as well as those who are Jewish) worship the God of Abraham. We are people of whom kind treatment of others is expected as a tenant of faith. We are both people who struggle on the spiritual path- a path of both inner growth and improvement of the world in which we live. Instead of building up arms of war, we should be extending arms of friendship and embracing our brothers and sisters.

After 9/11, I knew what was going to happen in this nation. The US has always had difficulties regarding race and religion. 300 years of slavery. 100 years of terrible legalized discrimination against African-Americans. Persecution of Catholics and Jews. Internment of the Japanese during WWII. I knew that some would seek to blame Islam and Arabs generally for what had happened. Not only did some cast blame, some took violent actions.

I took it upon myself to learn more about Islam. I knew enough prior to that date to know that the stereotypes were not accurate, but not enough to challenge those stereotypes and those who would assert them. I read books about Islam by fair-minded people (like Karen Armstrong), and, most importantly, I read the Quran. I had a Muslim student in class who told me once that some people take up the challenge during Ramadan to read the entire Quran. I didn't quite make it, but I eventually finished. I learned so much. First, my personal spirituality was enriched. Second, my sense of Muslims as brothers and sisters was strengthened. Finally, I learned that the Quran is not a "blueprint for violence", but, quite to the contrary, would specifically prohibit the acts of terrorism that we often see committed in the name of Islam.

I am by no means a sholar on the subject of Islam, but my studies have been very important for me personally and professionally. The personal reasons are alluded to above. The professional reasons have to do with my work as a teacher. Now I can teach my students, using their questions and statements as opportunities, that their stereotypes are inaccurate, and not helpful to ultimately solving our problems with the terrorism that is found in the world.

The vocal, and sometimes violent, minority in the world of Islam twist the faith to promote their objectives and justify their immoral acts- just as some Christians have done past and present. The "silent majority", to use the words of the reader, are people of faith and love. We must strengthen the bonds of brotherhood between that majority and the majority of Christians who would seek to create a "beloved community" of love and peace.

Written in peace and love to all my brothers and sisters of faith,


An example of consilience of religions...

A buddhist quote offered by Lama Surya Das

Compassion is an attitude, Love is an action.
~ H.H. the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa
... and the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.
-Jesus of Nazareth

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Christian Fatwa?

Via Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish (

Nicolas Almeida, a Catholic and former Mumbai municipal councillor, offered a reward of 1.1 million rupees ($25,000) for the head of author Brown, leading a Catholic journalist to compare Almeida to the Taliban.

This is obviously disturbing on its face.

It also serves as evidence for a point that I make in my classroom- all religions are, at times, taken to extremes by some individuals and groups. Since 9/11 there has been a tendency by some to characterize Islam as, by its very nature, a violent religion. Pat Robertson, for example, in his ignorance sited a certain number of passages in the Quran that dealt with violence or war. As if one could not find similar passages in the Bible. If I sited the number of such passages in the Bible, would I be justified in saying Christianity is inherently violent? Of course not.

Violence is wrong. Violence based upon religious justifications is a perversion. We need to be wary of the sense of righteousness that some can develop from their religious experience. Nothing is so dangerous as absolute certainty.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Da Vinci Code and Mary Magdalene

In Newsweek, Jonathan Darman has some interesting things to say about Dan Brown's treatment of Mary Magdalene. A quote from his article, found at

Indeed, for all its revolutionary claims, The Da Vinci Code is remarkably old-fashioned, making Mary important for her body more than her mind.... The current Magdalene cult still focuses on her sexuality even though no early Christian writings speak of her sexuality at all.

Mary Magdalene, in the gnostic works, as well as in a more limited way in the New Testament, comes across as someone who may have been important in the 'Jesus Movement' that was developing. It was to her, according to the Gospels, that Jesus first appeared after the resurrection. Gnostic works imply that Jesus appreciated her as someone who saw 'the light', and, although her answer to their questions were treated with some hostility, in the Gospel of Mary the disciples did turn to her for her insights when they were in spiritual crisis. These gnostic works were apparently an outgrowth of a tradition in which Mary was a key figure.

A truly revolutionary work would emphasize the mind and spirituality of Mary. Is Mary to represent the 'divine feminine' to us because of her pregnancy, or because of her other contributions? Does Mary matter only if she married Jesus, or should we be thinking of her in a more expansive role as a founder of the early church? Brown reduces Mary to her body, to a mere vessel. This does little to advance our thinking about the role of women in the church- past or present.

I think there is more to be explored.


Sang Real

This is a thought that just came to me and is only partially developed...

The Da Vinci Code's thesis is that Mary Magdalene had Jesus' child and that this child becomes a "royal bloodline" in France. The blood of kings, royal blood ('sang real').

Theologically, that doesn't make any sense to me. If Brown said that the descendents of Jesus became social workers, organizers of international charities, or religious leaders, that would make sense. But earthly rulers. Doesn't fit.

In some ways, that argument by Brown is more of an affront to Jesus than any claims about his having been married. Jesus made clear that His kingdom was "not of this world." If Mary was the first and true leader of the new Christian movement, as Brown alleges, I think she would have imparted a different approach to her offspring, one more consistent with the teachings of Jesus.


God enters...

God enters by a private door into every individual.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What the Da Vinci Code Got Wrong

In the previous post (directly below) I went through some areas where Brown was at least on the right track in a broad way in his novel. My discussions of area of support for Brown were general in nature. In that general sense, Brown does us a service.

In discussing the shortcomings of The Da Vinci Code, the points made will, of necessity, be much more specific. I will avoid the trivial points raised by many Brown critics (such as there not being 666 windows in the Louvre or his incorrect dating of some documents) or the non-trivial but not central (such as the fact that Leonardo could not have intended the name of the painting Mona Lisa to be an anagram for Egyptian divinities since he did not call it the Mona Lisa, which was a name given the painting in a later time), but instead focus on the important claims in his book that realate directly to his thesis- that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, had a child or children, that these children formed a royal bloodline in France, and that the Church has worked fererishly to keep this secret away from Christians.
  1. Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea did not create the notion that Jesus was divine. The notion of Jesus' divinity is found in documents that go back to the first century B.C.E. The canonical gospels contain such explanations of Jesus. While some of the gnostic works emphasize Jesus humanity, many focus on his divinity. Some works, for example, have a dual notion with there being a Jesus (the physical, human figure who died on the cross) and the Christ (the divine spirit who inhabited the body of Jesus but departed from him before his death on the cross). The Gospel of John, a canonical work, most clearly states the concept of Jesus divinity, and this was written nearly 200 years before Constantine and the Council of Nicea. The divinity of Jesus was a given at the Council of Nicea. The effort to resolve disputes over the exact nature of the divinity were dealt with, but divinity was accepted by the church at this time. If Constantine and the Council of Nicea did not create the notion of divinity of Jesus, they certainly did not do so to cover-up a human marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
  2. Nor did Constantine or the Council of Nicea create the biblical "canon" and reject some 80 other "gospels." Constantine did not choose and finance a canonical Bible, as Brown claims. The canon arose through a process much more free-wheeling and complex than Brown's claim that it was created by a simple declaration. Again, if Constantine and the Council of Nicea did not create the canon, there is no cover-up.
  3. The Secret Dossier of the Priory or Sion is a known fraud. The group called the Priory of Sion has not had a continuous existence since 1099 as Brown claims. The documents that make the claim to such a history were the creation of a Pierre Plantard at some point in the middle of the 20th century. He then put them in the Bibliotech National in France. Then he "discovered" these "secret" documents in the national library in the middle 1970s. I don't even know where to begin with how ridiculous this is- with placing documents of a secret society that they are willing to die for in a national library; with then allowing them to be released to people like the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (from which Brown draws much); with the fact that Pierre Plantard made sure to add his own name to the royal bloodline (making him a descendent of Jesus). For a so-called secret society, the Priory of Sion did a lousy job (as did its alleged Grand Master Leonardo da Vinci if he in fact gave away all the secrets in his paintings as Brown and others now allege). If the Priory of Sion has not existed for hundreds of years to protect the secret, then the question of whether the secret exists is seriously called into question.
  4. There is not a "historical record," certainly not a long one, as Brown has Teabing say in the novel, that Jesus and Mary were married. Teabing says he will not "bore" us with citing all the multitude of sources. I wish he would, because I'm not aware of any. The sources cited by Brown in the book and by others who make the claim are found in primarily in the Gospel of Phillip (and somewhat the Gospel of Mary where it is said, as in Phillip, that Jesus loved Mary more than others). These sources rely on pretty loose interpretation to support his claims. In one citation from Phillip, Brown says that the document tells us the Jesus "kissed [Mary] often on the mouth." Problem is, the word mouth is not in the text. Inconveniently, the work that would tell us where she was kissed is missing from the centuries old document. It could just as likely say "cheek", or "forehead"- even "hand". Kissing a woman on the cheek may have been notable (controversial?) in Jesus' day, but surely less provocative, less sexual, than kissing her on the mouth. Brown also says, correctly, that Phillip says that Mary was Jesus' "companion." This, Brown says (through Teabing), any Aramaic scholar would tell you means "spouse" when examined in Aramaic (the language Jesus and his disciples would have spoken). The problem here is that the Gospel of Phillip was not written in Aramaic, but probably originally in Greek, and the only existing copy is in Coptic (an Egyptian language in which most of the gnostic works we have were written). To translate the Coptic word to English, and then the English word into Aramaic is not a particularly fine piece of logic. Instead, it is an example of twisting the evidence to get the result desired in advance. The evidence of a traditional belief in Mary as "the grail" that was suppressed by a church jealously guarding its power simply does not exist. There is no canonical or ancient non-canonical work that says or even strongly indicates that Jesus and Mary was married. (And, by the way, the notion that Jesus may not have been married is not so absurd as Brown makes it sound. He says that Judaism virtually forbade celibacy. Well, celibacy is not the norm among any large society. However, the Essenes, generally associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls, which Brown mentions in the book, practiced celibacy. It did happen, and it happened during the time period in which Jesus lived.) In this case there is no cover-up because there isn't anything to cover-up.
  5. In Leonardo's Last Supper, there is no valid reason to believe that it is Mary Magdalene rather than "the beloved disciple" John to Jesus' right. The church folklore about John is that he was very young during Jesus' life, which is what allowed him to still be alive late enough to have written the Gospel of John. While the figure in question in the painting does look feminine, this is not at all uncommon in paintings of Leonardo's era- this is how young men were generally portrayed. But let's suppose, jut for a moment, that Brown is correct: the figure is clearly a woman (with even evidence of a bosom, as the book says). As a Grand Master of an organization willing to keep this matter a secret to their death, why would Leonardo paint this so obviously, at least in Brown's estimation, on a wall for anyone to see? Wouldn't that put his secret in jeopardy? (This is a common flaw in conspiracy theories- the oxymoronic argument based on an "obvious secret.") Here, if Leonardo was a part of a cover-up, he did a terrible job. But, in the labored logic of a conspiracy theorist, perhaps the failure to cover up is evidence of a cover-up?

Brown's work is absolutely dependent upon all of the issues mentioned above to support his thesis. Take them away, and all you have left is a quest/thriller novel. And, that is all that you have when you read the book.

My objections to Brown are not so much religious. Is it possible that Jesus married? Anything's possible. My objections come more from the area of a historian interested in truth. Brown published his "FACT" page at the front of his novel. Nothing that he mentions on that page can withstand the scrutiny of anyone interested in pure facts. His descriptions of buildings, organizations, and documents are all flawed. So much for his claim to "FACT."

Why would I not be religiously undone if Brown's claims were true? Brown says the the Priory of Sion was devoted to protecting a secret, and Opus Dei and "The Church" so devoted to destroying that secret, because it was so earth shaking that it would destroy the church. Well, his book has been out for 3 years. Holy Blood, Holy Grail has been out for nearly 30, as I recall. The secret has been revealed. And the Church still stands. Therein lies the lesson for us. Our faith cannot be shaken by such claims. There is no need to call for a boycott. No need to picket. We can all use this as an opportunity to explore our faith, to look into our church's history, to examine documents that, it is true, some have not wanted us to see. To explore who Jesus was and is. To refuse to accept the received wisdom, but instead to determine for ourselves how we will relate to God, and how best to create His Kingdom here on Earth.


What the Da Vinci Code Got Right

The movie based on Dan Brown's book came out this weekend. The reviews have not been too flattering, but I hear it's doing pretty good business. As with the book, the movie provides an opportunity for reflection on matters of faith, and that is a good thing. Americans are more interested in matters of theology and church history now than they have been in generations. So, in that spirit, I thought I'd reflect on what Dan Brown got right, and what he got wrong in his work (which I presume will be largely reflected in the movie). First, what's right...
  1. There was not immediately a single, unanimously understood, sense of Christianity. While today we have our different denominations, the differences on the essentials are not that great. They were great in the 100+ years after Jesus' crucifixion. Some "Christians" were very Jewish. Some rejected Judaism entirely and rejected the God of the Old Testament as not the God of Jesus, but a lesser god. Some emphasized Jesus' divinity, some his human nature, and some saw the two as completely separate. Some emphasized Jesus, his crucifixion, and resurrection as keys to salvation, some emphasized Jesus as a wisdom teacher, whose wisdom would lead to "salvation." There may be much for us to learn from looking at these various approaches to following "The Way."
  2. "The Church" did in fact make an effort to repress, if not cover up, dissenting views. Opposing views were labeled "heretical" and people too closely associated with those views could be in mortal danger. Efforts were made to do away with the non-canonical works which have been discovered in this century and (mis)used in Brown's book. This is why these writings were hidden away, only recently to be discovered by archeologists. Some of these views and writings developed during a time relatively close to the life of Jesus, when the oral tradition on his teachings and works were still very much alive. Studying them may provide insights for us as to his work, and as to what our works should be.
  3. "The Church" has not been kind over most of its history to women in terms of recognizing their spirituality and spiritual contributions, or in terms of basic human rights. Labeling Mary Magdalene a prostitute was non-scriptural, and in so labeling her, the Pope may have been libeling her. Women, according to the canonical gospels, played a significant role- not clearly defined but obviously present- in Jesus' ministry. Paul makes clear that among key teachers he included women. Later, however, the Church marginalized women, and worse, depriving generations of their contributions. The 'sacred feminine' exists in the sense that women can bring God's presence into this world, and we would do well to recognize this and recognize those aspects of modern theology and religious thinking that still reject women as fully equal to men.
  4. Modern Christians may have a sort of stereotyped view of Jesus. Although creeds still used today and the theology of virtually all Christian churches would say that Jesus was both God and man, the God side gets the emphasis. The common image of Jesus is of the God walking on the water, not the walking on the roads around Galilee. I remember watching the TV movie Jesus of Nazareth when I was younger and feeling that the "Jesus" in that movie was kind of creepy- never seeming quite connected to the real world, with a far-off look on his face. Movies that deal with the more human aspects (The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ) tend to be controversial. It is good for us to be awakened to the human side of Jesus, and to think of his human work and nature, and how we, as humans, can follow in his footsteps on land, even if we cannot follow them across the waters.
  5. Dan Brown has been right in saying that the conversations his book has generated are good for us. The church I attend, and I hear many others, are having formal discussions of the book/movie so as to explore the matters of faith and history raised by The Da Vinci Code. Asking and answer questions is always good.

All that said, The Da Vinci Code has more wrong about it than what it is right, or at least, in my view, the wrong is of greater weight than the right. But, I will save that for my next post.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

My Lai Revisited?

From CNN online:

Lawmaker [Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn.] says Marines killed Iraqis 'in cold blood'

A decorated Marine colonel turned anti-war congressman said Wednesday that Marines killed at least 30 innocent Iraqi civilians "in cold blood" in Haditha in November, suggesting the attack is twice as bad as originally reported.

This is very sad news. And very disturbing. Could become the My Lai of Iraq.

An investigation is on-going. I'm not prepared to speculate on the accuracy of the report. I also cannot accept any effort to use this event to indict the entire US military. We do not need to repeat "Baby killer" signs and spitting on soldiers at airports.

That said, if it turns out to be true, I can't say that I'd be surprised. Like Vietnam, the enemy is hard to identify. Like Vietnam, the enemy is hard to find. Like Vietnam, the fighting doesn't secure territory and may not seem of value to the soldier on the ground at times. Like Vietnam, support for the war is declining at home and this must affect morale. Therefore, like Vietnam, it is entirely plausible that frustrated soldiers may have crossed the line. If true, we will need to deal with those soldiers.

Ultimately, we must also not allow this episode, if accurately reported, to undermine our understanding that there has been an overall policy failure in Iraq- a policy failure of profound moral dimensions. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died since the US invasion- innocent civilians. Perhaps, by some accounts, 100,000.

Now, maybe, 100,030.

Piling tragedy on top of tragedy.


Law of Unintended 'Benefits'??

Headline from NY Times online:

U.S. Said to Weigh a New Approach on North Korea

WASHINGTON, May 17 — President Bush's top advisers have recommended a broad new approach to dealing with North Korea that would include beginning negotiations on a peace treaty, even while efforts to dismantle the country's nuclear program are still under way, senior administration officials and Asian diplomats say.

Here may be evidence of an unintended benefit of the Bush Administration's decision to go into Iraq. Despite the denials, our military is stretched thin. Despite similar denials, the opinions of other nations do matter (even 'Old Europe') and we cannot easily 'go it alone.' The support of the American people has evaporated (President Bush's ratings are the lowest since Carter in the midst of the last serious crisis with Iran).

Fact is, whether people in the Administration want to go after the other Axis of Evil nations or not, we can't. Aside from air strikes, I can't see how any meaningful military options are on the table.

We are simply going to have to find a more creative, and, of necessity, peaceful methods of dealing with the nuclear ambitions and threats of North Korea and Iran. No choice. Any saber rattling at this point is mere bluster. Everyone knows it. Perhaps now the serious work will begin.


By the way- the Korean War ended in 1953. Wouldn't you say that a 'peace treaty' is a little overdue?


A Comment-

From a reader...

Although the year is unimportant, nor the actual names of the participants, there was once a televised "summit" with all sorts of “important” people to look at the drug trafficking problem. Included were Coast Guard representatives, DEA officials, Senators, etc. If I remember, this telecast was broadcast over several evenings. In the end, after examining all of the scenarios for keeping drugs out, the solution was simple- Remove the demand for drugs. I believe that if the allure, or lack of consequences, remain for people to come into our country illegally- (i.e. taking advantage of an easy mark) then we'll never place enough Border Patrol/US Troops there to stop them from coming in.

I think this is a very good point. If there continues to be a "draw" to this country, people will come. They will make the effort to get past whatever obstacles we put in their place. It's also rather like what is said about the issue of drugs domestically- as long as people will buy drugs, there is no way to put enough police on the streets to stop the drug trade.

In addition to the demand for drugs that Americans have, which draws many in, we may have to look at other attractions. Perhaps we need to look at the issue of economic development in our neighbor directly to the south, as many, most, come to America for work not related to the drug industry. There are certainly other areas that must be addressed.

At least in terms of naming what he is doing, the President is right. The effort to deal with illegal immigration must be "comprehensive." We're going to need to think really big to deal with this one, and, as the reader suggests, a significant part of what we need to do is examine our own behavior in this country regarding the issue of drugs.

Thanks for the thoughts. Important point.


The Greatness of Dr. King

Martin Luther King, Jr. was just a young man in his 20s when he burst on the national stage in Montgomery, Alabama as leader of the bus boycott. As the boycott went on, he increasingly became a target, quite literally, of white terrorists (a term of today intentionally applied to the circumstance). On January 30, 1956, his home, with his wife and baby inside, was bombed. An angry crowd- the people in town had grown attached to the eloquent newcomer- gathered outside his home. Dr. King's words to the crowd...

"We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: 'He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.' Remember that is what God said.... We must love our white brothers no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: 'Love your enemies; bless those that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.' This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love."

Love becomes a 'transformative power' for Dr. King. We transform ourselves, and we transform those who would be our enemies. In fact, love becomes the only such power in his eyes.

Is this message no longer valid? If so, then not only was Dr. King wrong, but, as he said, "If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong... Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer... justice is a lie... [and] love has no meaning." We must decide whether we truly believe in the message of Jesus, and are thus followers of the way. If we are true followers of the way, then our current path in dealing with our terrorist problem cannot be the right one. We will not 'transform' our enemies with violence but with love. We cannot declare a war on terrorism and try to kill all the terrorists and expect a transformation to a safer, happier, more loving world. If we continue to pursue such a policy, we will also continue to make enemies faster than we can kill them.

The path of love is the only path. As the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s teaches us, this does not mean we fail to define and confront evil. It does not mean we sit and wait for the situation to improve on its own. It does not mean we are idealistic dreamers, but instead idealistic actors- believing in Jesus' message that we can create a just and beloved society (the Kingdom 'among/within us' in Luke's Gospel), and acting in accordance with that belief.

It also does not mean we will not suffer. Dr. King was murdered, and his family and the nation suffered. He knew this could happen to him from the beginning of his involvement in 1955 until his last speech in 1968 in which he spoke of his own death the night before he was killed.

But the suffering can be redemptive, and can create the world we wish to have, and that God wishes us to have. Through our suffering, through our sacrifice, we can create a world in which, as Dr. King said (quoting the prophet Amos) "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Are we prepared to make the sacrifice as a nation? Or will we continue down the path that makes us feel superficially on the side of the right, but in fact leads us towards only more hatred and death?

We must choose.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Unbelievable Numbers

The situation on the ground in Iraq is incredibly discouraging. It has been on my mind not only because it is such a crucial issue faced by our nation, but also, more personally, because I have a student who has a parent about to be sent there.

The Iraqi civil war too the lives of another 42 persons on Tuesday. The most horrible attack was in the Shaab district of the capital. Two minibuses attacked a market. The first shot 7 persons down, then when a crowd gathered, a second minibus detonated its payload near a petroleum truck. The truck became a fireball, killing another 17 Iraqis and wounding at least 38. (Aljazeera is reporting the death toll from this attack at over 40.)

I fail to understand how this is not generating more discussion in the US. How can we find this situation tolerable? How many Iraqis and American soldiers must die before we demand a change in policy?

At least 17 Iraqis were killed in other attacks in and around the capital and two police officers shot dead in the northern oil hub of Kirkuk.

It is the responsibility of the United States to secure that nation. Saddam was a terrible tyrant. But we cannot simply ignore the unspeakable violence and death in Iraq with the simple justification that Iraqis are better off without him in power. They are. But they would be better off still if US policy makers did the necessary job to secure the nation. I doubt the parents of the seven year old girl killed by a guerilla mortar yesterday feel particularly satisfied today with their lives after Saddam.

Al-Zaman reports that hundreds of Iraqis are fleeing Basra for Baghdad every day because security is even worse in the southern port city than in the capital. The armed gangs that dominate the city are also interfering with oil exports. The paper's sources say that thousands of Iraqis once resident in Basra are living with relatives in Baghdad, waiting for the security situation to improve in the southern port city. Wealthier Basrawis, fearful of being assassinated or kidnapped by the gangs, have come up to Baghdad and rented homes for their families.

We broke it. We own it. We haven't fixed it. Iraqis have electricity only a few hours a day in the capital. Malnutrition is on the rise because people cannot keep food. Attending mosque is a fearful event because of sectarian attacks. No Iraqi could have any rational feeling of safety.

Death squads are responsible for the 700 to 800 assassinations during the past month in Basra.

This situation should be considered intolerable by all Americans because this situation is our responsibility. As we enter a political season, any candidate who wishes to be credible must lay out a plan for how we will secure Iraq for its people, and give them a chance to have lives the approach normal. We should accept nothing less from any national politician.

--Statistics and figures come from the website Informed Comment ( which is one of the best available on the web regarding the conditions in Iraq.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

From my inbox...

Maybe I like this just because it gives me an excuse to mess things up. But, since I have, do, and will mess things up, the thoughts below, which, quite literally, came from my inbox this morning, are useful.

It is good to remember that one of our goals in life is to not be perfect. We often lose track of this aspiration. When we make mistakes, we think that we are failing or not measuring up. But if life is about experimenting, experiencing, and learning, then to be imperfect is a prerequisite. Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead.

This doesn't mean that we don't strive to be our best. We simply accept that there is no such thing as perfection-especially in life. All living things are in a ceaseless state of movement. Even as you read this, your hair is growing, your cells are dying and being reborn, and your blood is moving through your veins. Your life changes more than it stays the same. Perfection may happen in a moment, but it will not last because it is an impermanent state.

Trying to hold on to perfection or forcing it to happen causes frustration and unhappiness. In spite of this, many of us are in the habit of trying to be perfect. One way to nudge ourselves out of this tendency is to look at our lives and notice that no one is judging us to see whether or not we are perfect. Sometimes, perfectionism is a holdover from our childhood-an ideal we inherited from a demanding parent. We are adults now, and we can choose to let go of the need to perform for someone else's approval.

Similarly, we can choose to experience the universe as a loving place where we are free to be imperfect. Once we realize this, we can begin to take ourselves less seriously and have more fun. Imperfection is inherent to being human. By embracing your imperfections, you embrace yourself.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Our borders

Reports indicate that the President is considering the use of the National Guard to stop illegal immigration along the border with Mexico.

Why not just hire more Border Control? Isn't that what they are trained to do? Why increase the strain on the military that has been created by the extensive stay in Iraq and heavy use of the National Guard in that country?

Putting the National Guard on the scene in the midst of a national debate/conflict over the issue of immigration is politics rather than problem solving. Use the National Guard until the political crisis passes, then go back to business as ususal. This is evidence of a White House more concerned with its poll numbers than with governance.


"Love one another as I have loved you"

Yesterday after church during a discussion of the Gospel reading from John in which Jesus was giving some final instructions to the disciples before he left them, the statement was raised that doing so can make us "happy."

So often we think of "commandments" only as burdens. How hard it is to love our enemies. How hard it is to always look to the needs of the poor and sick. So much work.

Work? Yes. But also great reward. We forget sometimes that doing these things can bring joy to our own hearts. They can give meaning to the lives we live. They nourish our soul.

It was nice to be reminded of this important perspective.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Another thought from a reader...

A reader, commenting on the previous comment where another reader referenced the book of Revelation...
I believe, as well, that truth and right will prevail. However, I can't help but believe that our faith work actions until then must continue to be stronger than ever. If we become too confident in the outcome, might we begin to think that what we do, or don't do, won't really matter in the end? Won't our actions have some bearing on the final outcome on Jesus' return?

As I've said previously, I agree that our actions are very important, at least at a personal level- that is, for our personal journey and spiritual growth. The third sentence in the comment above does indeed show a potential danger in over-reliance of "faith" in the sense that we can become over-confident and fail to live up to the challenges that our faith asks of us. We can become so comfortable that we fail to follow the mission of caring for those in need around us, for example.

As to "end days," this is an area that I simply cannot address with any confidence. Perhaps I have not devoted enough thinking to the topic. Perhaps I just don't know what I believe. Largely, however, it is due to my attitude that I must try and deal with my own journey, living as I feel called to live, and leaving issues of judgment and the end times to a higher power. Apocalyptic issues don't occupy my very much.

I don't know whether our actions- hopefully our good work actions- will influence the end times. I don't even know if there will be "end times" as many consider them (or if many have been simply led astray by symbolism in a book like Revelation). What I do now is that our actions can do good now, are consistent with my ethical/religious vision, are consistent with Jesus' call to us, and move us closer to making God's Kingdom appear here and now. That is enough for me.


Friday, May 12, 2006

The "War" on Terrorism

The so-called "war" on terrorism is a metaphor, and a metaphor only. It is time for us to admit that before irreparable harm is done to the US Constitution.

The "war" on terror is more like previous efforts in US domestic politics than foreign wars. The "war" on terrorism is like the "war" on poverty or the "war" on drugs. It is not like WWII, for example, or the Civil War, each of which Pres. Bush has used to justify his actions that have been of questionable constitutionality.

Unlike those true wars:
  1. There has been no declaration of war. This is not a trivial point. I know there was no declaration of war in Vietnam or Korea, or other foreign conflicts since WWII. That has been one of the key problems in some of those conflicts. We need to restore the wisdom of the founders and have declarations of war when our nation's military is sent in any significant way into a foreign conflict. This both can help to slow a push to war, and also help lead to success in a war once the decision to fight has been made.
  2. In previous true wars, the objectives have been related to the military destruction of the enemy's army. In other words, to kill an enemy until that enemy capitulates. This is neither possible nor desirable in the case of terrorism. We cannot kill all of the terrorists. In fact, in killing many terrorists we are creating more. The proper understanding of the effort to deal with terrorism is to look at it as a combination of law enforcement and political efforts.

In previous wars, US citizens were asked to make great sacrifices. The collected tin and other items used to make munitions. The dealt with rationing of gasoline and other necessities of life. They paid more money in taxes and/or bought war bonds. These sacrifices had both psychological and practical effects- committing the people to the war.

In the present situation, with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are asked to sacrifice nothing, except their civil liberties. We are to entrust the government, and the super secret NSA (which until the 1990s, the US government would not even admit existed), to listen to our phone calls and emails if they think that there may be a connection to terrorism. No warrants. No probable cause showing. This despite the fact that there is a specific court that has been set up to deal with precisely such cases, protecting the necessary secrecy of the searches and national security secrets (a FISA court, it is called- which even allows for getting the warrant after the fact).

Don't ask Americans to pay for the war (about $1Billion a week), instead promise them tax cuts. Don't even ask them to accept higher gas prices which are the consequences of middle east uncertainty, instead offer them a $100 credit for gas expenses in driving their SUV. But do ask them to give up freedoms- in the defense of freedom, we are told. It's rather like the old line from Vietnam: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

America is not simply a geographic entity. America is an idea. An idea expressed no where better than by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. We need, now as in Lincoln's time, to show that a government conceived in freedom can long endure. If we do not preserve American freedoms, then the nation itself is not truly preserved, only its borders. If we allow this President to bring about the erosion of our liberties (a President who, according to today's poll, has only 29% job approval rating), how much more could we lose to a much more popular president during another dangerous time?

Lincoln and FDR, presidents that President Bush often uses as justifications for his actions, were fighting true wars, and to my knowledge, did not take actions threatening civil liberties in secret, as Pres. Bush attempted to do. Further more, their actions may also have been wrong (as putting the Japanese in interment camps was), and, just because they played fast and loose with the Constitution at times, this does not necessarily justify the current President's actions.

The current President's use of the NSA is not justified. Certainly we should not give this sort of power to a President who has actually increased the threat of terrorism to the US by launching a war on Iraq on the basis of what can only be called, at best, faulty intelligence which turned out to be wrong.

Defending our liberties and defending our nation from terrorists are not actions in opposition. They must be undertaken simultaneously in order for either to be truly successful.

From a reader

I have recently finished a bible study on The Book of Revelations, a difficult but interesting task. It has lead me to believe that John calls us to be "better" Christians not through fear (and parts/most of Rev. can be scary and disconcerting) as many fundimentalist/literalist would have us believe, but that that there is hope in the belief that in the end good will triumph. If we believe that Jesus will return and that truth and right will prevail,then we know the future and it is that future that should shape our present. By living as Jesus called us to live, our actions and choices must reflect our faith. And I agree, not any easy task and a difficult path, but it is a journey that is meant to be shared. In rereading this comment, I see my comment as confusing, but I certainly agree that we need more actions that proclaim us as christians than we need words. It is, perhaps, the lack of action, that has taken the power away from our words.
Not confusing to me. Thanks for taking the time to write, and for your thoughts.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Reflecting on some earlier posts, I wonder if I've left the impression that I don't think words matter. Well, I've put quite a few of them on this page, so I guess that's evidence I think they are of some importance.

Also, I think that in saying what we believe, we are often issuing something of a challenge to ourselves. Once we let the words out, perhaps we feel a higher obligation to live up to them. That why wedding vows, oaths of office, etc.

I often talk in my history classes about the challenge that America has to live up to the words in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. We've often failed. But, the words have never left us, always remind us of what our goal is, and they make us think about what need to do to get closer to our ideals.

Part of my personal objective in putting all these words on this page is to get them out there, to challenge myself to live up to my beliefs. Just like it has been a tremendous challenge for the US to try to measure up to its ideals, I have a lot of work to do in order to live up to mine as well. I hope I will give my words substance with actions that increasingly reflect them. That is my challenge to myself.


Life, and Death, in Baghdad

Nearly 1,100 people have been "executed" in Baghdad in the last month. (I put executed in quotation marks because these are killings outside the legal system. They are most like what we would call a mob hit in the US.)

Most of the dead were handcuffed or tied up with a gunshot to the head.

Many show signs of torture.

Some have been beheaded.

Bodies are dumped all over the city.

How could the US not have anticipated this? After the fall of the Soviet Union and puppet regimes in Eastern Europe, this sort of sectarian/ethnic violence was rampant. It took years to bring it to a halt in the Balkans. Similarly, we have seen such violence as a result of the breakdown of regimes in Africa. With repressive regimes gone, ethnic and religous power struggles began.

Saddam kept his country together with terror. Absent Saddam, the US should have anticipated the violence that has occurred. The US government should have, once the decision was made to go to war, put enough troops on the ground to provide security for the country, using the experience of US and UN troops in the Balkans as a model. Surely someone in the State Dept. or DOD or CIA keeps track of at least our most recent history.

As I've said before, this sort of incompetence is immoral.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Re: Look Within

A comment:

Could you be more specific about what you mean when you speak of the "quality" within humans that "if nurtured, can lead to their salvation." Are you speaking of eternal salvation or more of a rehabilitation into society? I have learned through scripture that "there is none righteous, no not one." There is no redeemable quality within man by which we can be saved, but that Jesus imputed his righteousness to us when we receive Him. What do you think about Romans 13:3-4, especially the portion that says "But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil."

The interpretation that salvation lies outside of ourselves completely is a common one in Christianity today, but was not always so. First of all, the competition between various interpretations of Jesus, his message, and his work, clearly shows that many early followers picked up a sense that Jesus was telling people to look inward to what they were given as a gift from God, and to develop that. So, if one looks at some texts that were considered "scripture" among many early Christians (such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Truth), you find these types of sentiments expressed.

Secondly, these expressions in non-canonical works are not inconsistent with the Bible that we know today. For example, as mentioned in a previous post, a possible interpretation of Luke 17:21, and the interpretation used in the Eastern Church, is Jesus statement that "the Kingdom of God is within you." In 1 Cor. 6, Paul writes, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you..." There is ample evidence in the mainstream Bible of this sort of belief in a "divine spark," if you will. And it is not at all uncommon, particularly in regards to the Holy Spirit, to hear modern Christians speak of having God within them. People also commonly say, perhaps saying more than they intend, that they have Jesus in their heart.

2 Thoughts in direct response to the comment:
  1. This does not imply that we don't need God or anyone else to be saved. It means that we have a gift from God (which obviously implies a need of the gift giver) that needs to be cared for and nurtured through our actions as tangible expressions of faith. We also need the community of believers around us to help us stay the path of "The Way."
  2. When applying this thinking to the issue of capital punishment, I am thinking in terms of eternity rather than in terms of rehabilitation into society. I have many concerns about the death penalty [the possibilty of false convictions (which we have seen in some cases); the arrogance of taking the power of life and death into our hands; the message of violence that it sends (like a parent striking his/her child to teach the child it's wrong to hit); etc.] but most on point with this comment is that with capital punishment we extinguish the divine spark before it has been given the fullest opportunity to be developed. I'm not suggesting we set murderers free, even those who undergo "Jail-House conversions," as there is still the proper issue of justice in society. I am suggesting, in part, among other concerns, that we should not take it upon ourselves to extinguish life and the opportunity of achieving a full relationship with the divine.

Finally, I don't disagree with the final quote from Romans at all, in fact, I think it supports my point. It fits w/ an anecdote from my pseudonym Gandalf the Grey in the Lord of the Rings. Frodo says it is a pity that Bilbo didn't kill the creature Gollum. Gandalf asks Frodo (paraphrasing), "Some live that deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Do not be so quick to deal out death in judgment." With that sentiment I agree. God gives us life and the spark that makes us fully human, not mere organisms. I am content to let God handle death as well. I should not presume to be his avenger. History has shown us too many cases (w/ 9-11 being one of the most dramatic) where people think they are bringing God's judgment of death to people. People who do evil should rightly have fear, but not of me. And if I should not have that power, and I don't think any other individual should have that power, then should a collection of individuals- the government- have that power? Do we invest our government with that divine authority? And are we really that confident in our government to think it should have that power?


More on Faith and Action

It's become clear through historical research that there was a real competition in the years after Jesus' death to define "Christianity." Among the divisions were the more "literal" Christians (stick to the accounts in the 4 main Gospels known to us today, and take the words pretty literally) and "seeker" Christians (gnostics and others, using other "Gospels" such as Thomas, and using allegory and interpretation more than a literal approach). Of this second group, Elaine Pagels (who has written extensively on the gnostics and their religious writings) says,

They felt that faith was necessary, but as a first step. It's not where you stop, it's where you start. After that, you start exploring. You try to understand and verify in your own experience and seek.
Perhaps that's a better statement of the faith/action issue than I've achieved below.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Comments Encouraged

I thought I'd take a second, after responding to a comment in the post below, to encourage anyone who happens along this site to make comments on anything they read.

Blogs are about dialogue, I think. I'd love to hear what others think about the reflections I post. I think it will be good for me to hear people's thoughts, whether in agreement or not. If you agree, you may add to something I've been thinking, helping me to further develop my thoughts. If you disagree, you may cause me to abandon a bad idea, more deeply explore my present thought, or find a better way to express my views.

When I get comments, I may reply on the blog itself. I won't use any names. After all, I'm not even using mine.

So, type away. Let me know what you think too.

Continuing to wander the path of...

A Comment on "The Way"

A reader (I won't use names when referencing comments on this site) wrote, along with much general agreement, the following:

What I fear about your comment is that interpreting "The Way" to mean to be like Him in deed is watering down this statement, making it more generic and widens the path. see Matt.7:13.

I can certainly understand that fear. I don't think the danger is too great, however. Following the way of Jesus would be no small challenge, and it would be bringing a belief in his message into action. The path would not necessarily be wide- it would be difficult, without a doubt. It would be generic only in the fact that all people should be treated with the kindness and love that Jesus demonstrated for us and demanded of us. The call to us to follow The Way is unique and powerful, not generic or watered-down.

I know that in my life, it is difficult to see the meaning of faith and belief without an accompanying action. What does it mean to say I have faith in something if an action does not go along with it? This is one reason I think that an emphasis on action is necessary.

Also, I think it is easier to build faith through action than the other way around. Faith is rather like a plant that needs to be tended (action) and watered (action). If I follow "the way," I will see that it works, I think, confirming my faith and nurturing that faith. This process will help me so that, over time, when I follow The Way (or what I think is The Way) and things don't work out like I expect, my faith will not be crushed. The foundation will be there to allow me to question my own understanding of the path or my expectations about outcomes. Very much like this dialogue helps me to challenge my assumptions.

It's not that I don't think faith and belief are important, but rather that I think that in American Christianity, at least, we've developed an imbalance where expressions and testimonials have replaced the kinds of actions that would, in all likelihood, lead to very different acts and results than we currently see in our society. See my posts below on the rate of incarceration in the US and on capital punishment as possible examples.

Thanks for the comment! It's nice to have dialogue.


A sign of illness in a culture

A study by King's College found the following:

The United States has the highest prison rate in the world, some 714 per 100,000 of the national population.

In this the US is "ahead" of Russia (whom VP Cheney recently criticized for authoritarianism) with 532 and Cuba (a police state) with 487. Of a world prison population of approximately 9 million, the US has about 2.1 million.

Worthy of note, not from the King's College study, that African-Americans are about 8 times as likely as whites to be incarcerated. (Source: Human Rights Watch)

Why are so many Americans turning to crime?

Give the high rate of African-American incarceration, I suspect that the answer lies, in part at least, in the fact that many are left behind in the "land of opportunity." A look at America's schools, with their great disparities in resources and quality, largely influenced by geography and race, is ample evidence of this.

We need to do better.

Love one another as I have loved you.
John 13:31-35
[Jesus said,] Never be glad except when you look at your brother or sister with love.
Gospel of the Hebrews 7

Almost speechless

I don't like to get too personal, but this is just embarassing...

"You know, I've experienced many great moments, and it's hard to name the best," Bush told weekly Bild am Sonntag when asked about his high point since becoming president in January 2001. "I would say the best moment of all was when I caught a 7.5-pound perch in my lake."

(Reuters via MSNBC)
Hard to imagine that coming up in my history classes in 10 years.

Over the weekend in Iraq...

51 bodies were found, many of them dumped in front of local hospitals. All executed. Most handcuffed. Dead of single gunshot wound to the head.

At least 5 more found today.

Sec. of State Powell said before the war, "You break it, you buy it." The US now owns this mess in Iraq, and we are demonstrating no real will to clean it up.

Truthfully, and sadly, it may be too late. We may be seeing only the beginning of the nightmare. Pandora's box has been opened to sectarian violence. What follows could well make the crisis in the Balkans look like a picnic given the radicalism that has infected many in that region of the world.

Again, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."


Sunday, May 07, 2006

ABC News Reports...

4000 civilian deaths in Iraq since January. That is the highest total since the end of "major combat operations."

The decision by the US government to limit the number of troops in Iraq so dramatically was not just a tactical blunder. It was immoral. The failure to plan properly has resulted in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. That is a moral failure. When the US took on the authority of regime change and democratization, it took on the responsibility of the care for the Iraqi population. It has failed to meet its obligations due to rosey scenario thinking and a rigid application of the Rumsfeld Doctrine (small and fast forces, not mass forces) rather than an accurate reading of and adaptation to the situation on the ground in Iraq.

As Thomas Jefferson once said (referencing slavery), "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just..."

God is a Dyer

God is a dyer.
The good dyes, true dyes, dissolve into things
dyed in them.
So too for things God has dyed.
Gospel of Phillip

God can dissolve into us, and we can absorb him until He becomes completely a part of us. If we allow this to happen, perhaps it will be easier to take the sort of action discussed in the earlier post regarding 1 John.

Cobra II

Anyone who is serious about understanding the current war in Iraq should read Cobra II by Michael Gordon (military correspondent of the NY Times) and Gen. (ret.) Bernard Trainor. The research work they did, and access they obtained, is simply incredible. The subtitle (The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occuption of Iraq) is a little misleading, since they don't stay with the story very long into the occupation, but that is a small point. They do stay with the story long enough to see the development of the problems with the occupation, and where some serious mistakes were made.

Some key points in the book (made in my words, not necessarily those of the authors):

  • The war in Iraq was clearly a war of choice not necessity. The choice was made for several reasons- because Iraq was more "beatable" than the other "Axis of Evil" nations (Iran and N. Korea); because Iraq had thumbed its nose at the UN over WMD reporting; because Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld and others in the Bush Administration wanted to show that they were willing to globalize the "War on Terror"; because Cheney had a change of heart about the "containment" policy toward Iraq he had advocated during the first Bush administration.
  • The CIA's knowledge of Iraq was absolutely terrible, whether regarding WMD, or the notion that US troops would be greeted as liberators (with "candy and flowers," remember?).
  • Rumsfeld's desire to change the nature of modern warfare was so great he simply wore down the generals who thought that a larger force was needed in Iraq. He wanted a small, fast, and flexible force, even if the generals disagreed. He kept challenging their estimates until they simply gave up the fight with him and basically accepted the notion that they would have to make due with what resources they were given.
  • Rumsfeld is an incredibly arrogant and inflexible micro-manager.
  • Rumsfeld and others who planned the war failed to learn the lessons of history- specifically of peace keeping missions in the Balkans- which would indicate that more that twice the number of troops would be needed in Iraq than they had planned to "win the peace."
  • The fighting of the war itself was often more difficult than we were led to believe during its coverage by the media and reporting by the military itself (in no small part due to false expectations given to the military leaders by the intelligence community).
  • While 18 months of planning went into the preparation for the war, planning for the post-war period only began a couple of months before the war itself, and was never a major focus of the administration (with some key players such as Powell and David Kay choosing to duck out of the process as they thought it was somebody else's mess).
  • In addition to poor preparation, or perhaps because of it, poor decisions were made after the end of "major combat operations" which multiplied the problems on the ground in Iraq created by the insufficient number of troops. An example of this was Bremer's decision to fire the entire Iraqi army, leaving both insufficient American and Iraqi forces to deal w/ looting and insurgents.

A great question asked by the authors at the end of the book: How could the administration, which said it believed that there was an al-Qaeda/Iraq connection, have failed to prepare for the insurgency that followed the war? How could they not have expected terror attacks if the connection was so strong as VP Cheney and others alleged?

Another great question: If they believed that WMD were present in Iraq (Rumsfeld even said, at one point after the war had begun, "We know where they are.") how could they not plan to put enough "boots on the ground" to control all the WMD sites?

Did Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Tenet really believe what they were selling? Or was this merely a war of choice to show, because we had the military might to do so, that we would take the "war on terror" to the world?

Read the book. If you don't, as I do, think the war was a moral failure from the beginning, you will certainly see how it was a tactical failure reminiscent of Vietnam, with Donald Rumsfeld playing the role of Robert McNamara.


1 John 3:18

My children, let us not love one another in word and in tounge, but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:18

There is often a bit of a imbalance between two important aspects of the Christian church- between belief and action. Sometimes I am critical of the writings attributed to Paul in the New Testament. It seems to me that Paul is too often exclaiming, "Believe!", as if that is sufficient. In my readings of the Gospels, from the lips of Jesus I am often hearing him say, "Do!" As the source of our earliest Christian writings, and as the practical foundation of the Christian church (Paul is, in reality, more the 'rock' than Peter), Paul created a bit of an imbalance that we need to be aware of, and, with mindfulness, seek to rectify.

Jesus' preaching regularly reminds us of our obligations to others- to love, to help, to nurture. Often these obligations seem to suffer as American Christians seek to demonstrate their faith through expressions as opposed to deeds. But, what faith is truly demonstrated with expressions? What faith is there if we fail to take the leap of action that Jesus asks of us? If I say, "I believe," but do not act on those beliefs, do I really believe at all?

"I am the way...", Jesus tells us. What I think he meant, at least in large part, was, "Look at how I go about my life, and model yourselves after that." He was merciful to the needy, helped the sick, patient with the children, and kind to those in emotional distress. That is "The Way", which is what early followers of Jesus called their faith long before it was called Christianity. We all need to make that way our way, and I was glad to be reminded of that obligation that I must meet today with the reading at church from 1 John.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Which Wolf Will You Feed?

I'm not sure of the source on this, but this is a story I've heard, and I like it.

An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride, and superiority. The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too." The children thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" The old Cherokee simply replied: "The one I feed."

This story fits precisely with the argument I make about nurturing the divine spark, the kingdom of God, within each of us. We must take positive steps to take care of this precious gift, and give it a chance to grow and bring light to those around us- and also peace to those around us.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Look Within

Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you..."
Gospel of Thomas 70

Amnesty International reports that in 2005 there were at least 2,148 "legal" executions world wide. The United States contributed 60 to that total.

We need to reach within ourselves and bring forth what is within us, the spark of the divine that makes us most fully human, to respect and honor the life given to each person by God, and the potential for developing the divine spark that is inherent in each individual life.

The anecdote of Jesus having an accussed adulteress dragged before him is valuable. The story is included in most Bibles in the book of John (I say most because its placement/authorship is a matter of dispute among Bible historians). When challenged by those who would stone the woman for breaking the law, Jesus says, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." This statement serves multiple purposes. It first punctures the arrogance of the accusers. It also serves as a reminder to those accusers that, despite their sins, they still retain the hope of God's grace, as does the woman who is their target. If they have sinned, and yet still consider themselves to be servants of God, why is the accused woman beyond the reach of God?

Failing to use capital punishment does not forsake justice. It leads to a more humble, human, and humane justice, one that recognizes our human limitations and respects that which God has placed within all humans- that quality, which, if nurtured, can lead to their salvation. We must bring forth this quality to save ourselves from the sin of capital punishment, and to save the potential victims of vengence disguised as justice.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

American Feelings on Iraq

Only 30% support the President in his policies in Iraq, and the support for the original decision to go to war in Iraq is down to 44% (from a high in the mid-60s).

I wonder why the change.

Is it simply because of the fact that the war has dragged on (I read somewhere that by the end of November this year we will have been in Iraq as long as were were in WWII)?

Is it because of the numbers of American casualties? This doesn't seem likely because relative to other wars 2400 deaths is not that remarkable a number.

Is it because Americans are concerned about civilian casualties in Iraq? I don't think this is likely either, since civilian causalties are not widely reported in the media and the estimates we have are relatively vague (there's a big difference between the 37,000 and 100,000 estimates I've seen).

Perhaps rather like a rock wears smoot a rock in its path, American ignorance has been worn away by the tides of information. There were no WMD (we now know that Hussein maintained a false story line to keep Iran intimidated), and there was no Al-Qaeda connection (bin Laden called Hussein's government an apostate regime and there were apparently some Al-Qaeda in Iraq in the Kurdish areas who sought to overthrow Saddam). We were not greeted w/ candy and flowers, and were not able to control a large country w/ a small force, as Rumsfeld predicted. Rather than the blessings of democracy, Iraq is experiencing the plague of sectarian violence because of Rumsfeld's miscalculations. Finally, the threat of terrorism in the world and in the United States has not been reduced, but perhaps even heightened as more radicals have answered to call to target Americans as our President confirms their beliefs the he, and our country, is undertaking a new crusade agains Muslims and their holy lands (we must remember that there are some very holy sites to many Muslims in Iraq). We have created a recruiting poster for Al-Qaeda with our involvement in Iraq.

The war in Iraq was a war of choice, not necessity. One lesson of this war should be that we should never again simply chose war, but only accept war when it is forced upon us by the elimination of all other alternatives. As we have seen, the cost of this choice is simply too high. Finally, Americans seem to be dialing in to the truth.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

At What Price?

All foreign wars I do proclaim
Live on blood and a mother’s pain
I’d rather have my son as he used to be
Than the King of America and his whole Navy!

Lyrics from "Mrs. McGrath"- Bruce Springsteen's version on We Shall Overcome.

Gospel of Judas- Important Revelation?

I was reading a NY Times article today about archeological finds that may have been looted and what ethical constraints should be place on the the use of such items. The article said called the Gospel of Judas "a text that may shed light on the evolution of early Christianity." This overstates, or perhaps misstates, the significance of the Gospel of Judas.

I made note of the Gospel of Judas earlier. I think it is important. It is important not so much for what it may tell us about Judas, or Jesus, or the development of Christianity, but what it says about us. Having read excerpts and watched the National Geographic program, I didn't see anything really new in the Gospel of Judas. Theories about Judas' motivation have bounced around since the crucifixion, I suppose, and the theory that Jesus and Judas colluded to cause the "betrayal" is not that new. The gnostic aspects of the Gospel are certainly not new.

The real question about the Gospel of Judas is, "Why do people care? Why do you find a book about an ancient document at Walmart? Isn't this the domain of obscure scholars? Why are people talking about this book at coffee hour in a small town church?"

For this, we have to give credit to Dan Brown. Dan Brown got almost everything wrong historically in The Da Vinci Code, but he's right when he says- defensively, I might add- that the important thing is that the book is about "big ideas" and now we're discussing those ideas.

Bart Ehrman has said something is happening in America that has not happened since the "end of time" speculation of the 1840s. American is more interested in religious ideas, theology, and history than it has been for 150 years.

I hate to say it, but I must... Thanks, Mr. Brown.


NY Times article:
Earlier Post on Gospel of Judas and Da Vinci Code:

Flunking Geography and Morality

The Associated Press reports today that six in ten 18-24 year olds cannot find Iraq on a map. 2 thoughts:
  • This is ignorance against self-interest. 18-24 year olds are the people most likely to be sent to Iraq.
  • This sort of ignorance strikes me as immoral. As I walked to work today, I approached my school to find its flag at half-mast, recognizing a soldier killed in the fighting in Iraq. Whether you think the war right or wrong- and I think it absolutely wrong in the case of Iraq- don't we owe it to the soldiers, ourselves, and our country to at least know where the war is? How else can we have an intelligent debate on the merits of the conflict and our involvement?

Guess what we'll be doing in my classes the rest of the day? Looking at maps.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Mission Accomplished...

On May 1, 2003, the banner read, "Mission Accomplished."

2260 dead US soldiers later (with a total of 2400 dead).... a feeling of emptiness, not accomplishment.