Friday, June 30, 2006

Consequences of the War in Iraq

The Columbia Dispatch is reporting that a survey of foreign policy experts is casting doubt on the effectiveness of the war in Iraq. 84% of those surveyed do not believe that we are winning the war on terror. 87% believe that the War in Iraq is hurting the efforts against terrorism.

One participant in the survey, a former CIA official who described himself as a conservative Republican, said the war in Iraq has provided global terrorist groups with a recruiting bonanza, a valuable training ground and a strategic beachhead at the crossroads of the oil-rich Persian Gulf and Turkey, the traditional land bridge linking the Middle East to Europe.

"The war in Iraq broke our back in the war on terror," said the former official, Michael Scheuer, the author of Imperial Hubris, a popular book highly critical of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism efforts. "It has made everything more difficult and the threat more existential."

The survey was non-scientific, but the results are not surprising.


Yesterday's Supreme Court Ruling

Some analysts [such as at the Washington Post (registration required)]are beginning to discuss the implications of the Supreme Court ruling yesterday regarding military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees, and the implications may stretch well beyond that issue.

The President justified his plan for military tribunals, as well as his NSA domestic spying and other plans, as "war measures" falling under his commander-in-chief powers that result from the 2001 authorization passed by Congress.

The Court rebuffed that thinking with its ruling.

Some Republicans are joining that thinking. Quoting from the Post:

Bruce Fein, an official in the Reagan administration, said the ruling restores balance in government. "What this decision says is, 'No, Mr. President, you can be bound by treaties and statutes,' " he said. " 'If you need to have these changed, you can go to Congress.' This idea of a coronated president instead of an inaugurated president has been dealt a sharp rebuke."

"There is a strain of legal reasoning in this administration that believes in a time of war the other two branches have a diminished role or no role," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who has resisted the administration's philosophy, said in an interview. "It's sincere, it's heartfelt, but after today, it's wrong."

Perhaps now the country will have the debate it should have, rather than accepting simple assertions by the Administration. The President may now have to go to the Congress and get legislative authority for his actions. That may spark that debate.

One caution, also from the Post article:

"The Bush administration has been very successful in defining the debate as one of patriotism or cowardice," said Andrew Rudalevige, author of "The New Imperial Presidency" and a Dickinson College professor. "And this is not about that. This is about whether in fighting the war we're true to our constitutional values."

We cannot allow ourselves, as people who stand up for the liberties our Constitution provides, to be painted into a corner by Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and other Bush supporters. Defending the Constitution is patriotic. So is opposing this President when his policies are detrimental to that Constitution.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Big Lie Technique against the NY Times

Looking over blogs and new sites today, I'm beginning to sense a "Big Lie" campaign begin used by the White House and their Republican supporters on the blogs, at Fox News, and on Republican talk radio. They keep talking about the release of classified information by the media.

Well, the financial tracking program was not a classified program.

But, they hope, if they keep repeating the lie, perhaps people will believe it (like the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection).

Roger Cressey, a former official from the National Security Council, made non-classified nature of the program clear last night on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Go here to watch the video (click on "Watch the video" under "War on the Media"). While he didn't think disclosing the program was helpful, he believed that terrorists were likely to have known about the monitoring of financial information for some time and also to have responded by changing their methods long ago. It was not a classified program, he said.

So, when Andrew Sullivan quotes a San Francisco talk show host as saying the following...

"If he were to be tried and convicted of treason, yes, I would have no problem with him being sent to the gas chamber. It is about revealing classified secrets in the time of war. And the media has got to take responsibility for revealing classified information that is putting American lives at risk," - San Francisco talk show host Melanie Morgan, on what she'd be happy to see happen to the NYT executive editor, Bill Keller.

... we're really seeing an effort to intimidate through dishonesty (by Morgan, not Sullivan). Yes, the US has the death penalty on the table for treason, which has a precise legal definition. Publishing non-classified information wouldn't seem to fit.

The supporters of the President cannot "big lie" the NY Times into a treason charge.

Their message is quite clear: How dare anyone challenge the Imperial President?


The New Justice O'Connor?

One more thought on today's Supreme Court ruling regarding Guantanamo detainees-

If Roberts had voted, given his support of the Bush Administration as an appellate judge, the decision would likely have been 5-4.

That puts Justice Kennedy as the swing vote.

Is he taking over the role that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor played for years- preventing the court from swinging too far right or left?

In the politicized court, a moderate may well feel a very heavy responsibility, and face a real challenge. If Kennedy takes that responsibility and challenge, more power to him.


A short peace for the Episcopal Church??

According to various news sources, including here, the halt on pushing forward gay priests for consideration for consecration as Bishops did not last long. Apparently an openly gay priest w/ a 24 year partner from California is one of four candidates for the office of Bishop of Newark.

As I said previously, I didn't think the "middle way" would hold for long.

It didn't hold even as long as I thought it might.

Conservatives have criticized the decision of the Convention as inadequate.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has begun paving the way for a division of the Anglican Communion (hoping for something short of a full divorce). More here.

Liberals are pushing a gay candidate immediately on the heels of the Convention.

The issue could not be postponed or avoided. People of conscience will have to do their best to discern what they believe God wishes them to do, and act accordingly. No doubt that discernment process will not lead all to the same decision. The Anglican Communion will either agree to disagree or split. I fear mostly the latter will take place.

Time will tell.

Apparently not much time.


Justices Slow the Imperial President

MSNBC reports that the Supreme Court has ruled that President Bush has overstepped his proper boundaries as President by ordering military trials for at least some Guantanamo detainees. The ruling was 5-3, with Justice Roberts sitting out because he had ruled (in favor of the administration) on the case as a lower court judge before his appointment.

One problem with this decision- there appear to have been multiple opinions written. If not a unified decision from the 5 in the majority, the impact of the decision could be muted.

Among the majority, quoting the MSNBC article...

The ruling ... was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who said the proposed trials were illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions.

“Trial by military commission raises separation-of-powers concerns of the highest order,” Kennedy wrote in his opinion.

In his own opinion siding with the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said that “Congress has not issued the executive a ’blank check.’ ... Indeed, Congress has denied the president the legislative authority to create military commissions of the kind at issue here. Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary,” Breyer wrote.

Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito all wrote dissents. Again, from MSNBC, Thomas wrote...

...a strongly worded dissent, saying the court’s decision would “sorely hamper the president’s ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy.” The court’s willingness, Thomas said, “to second-guess the determination of the political branches that these conspirators must be brought to justice is both unprecedented and dangerous.”

Another clear example of a Republican, not a conservative, dissent. Conservatives believe in limited government. So, to "hamper" an elected official is not necessarily a bad thing, when that official seeks to expand his/her powers and violate constitutional protections. Furthermore, history has shown that the "political branches" sometimes need second guessing if we are to preserve our liberties and constitutional rights- witness slavery, segregation, imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, the earlier ruling from the Court on limitless detentions at Guantanamo. These cases have enjoyed either majority support (in both the political branches and the general population) or majority apathy. In a constitutional government, the majority should not always rule- the Constitution comes first.

We know, again from the lessons of history, that we have at times needed the courts, the non-elected branch, to step to the plate and preserve freedom. Despite the wishes of Justice Thomas, the Court appears to have done so today.


More on the Whine House

Last night on MSNBC a former national security council member from the early days of the Bush Whine House said, in essence, that the complaining about the NY Times report of financial data tracking is much ado about nothing.

He said the program was not classified. Further, he doubted whether the report surprised the terrorist groups at all. He indicated that they had already taken their financial movements underground.

Two questions:
1. Why does the Administration attack only the NY Times and not the generally conservative Wall Street Journal, even though the WSJ ran the story on front page as well?
2. Why does the Administration attack the media who print the leak and not focus like a laser on the leaker of the information? Perhaps such a focus would be a little too close to home??


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Presidential Whining

President Bush needs to stop whining about the medial reporting his abuses of power. His latest attacks, of course, are on the New York Times (his administration singles out the Times even thought the Op-Ed conservative Wall Street Journal also outed his administration's financial data harvesting).

If the President was not acting as if his office gave him unregulated authority (see here), and not repeatedly ignoring evidence that runs counter to his theories rather than misleading the nation (see here), then oversight such as this by the media would not be necessary.

It would also not be so embarassing for him when it occurs.

It's becoming the case that when the President says that your behavior is "disgraceful," and the Vice-President says he is "outraged" by your actions, you should consider yourself to have done a good day's work.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Imperial Presidency

President Bush has made unprecedented use of so-called "signing statements" in approving legislation, statements which say "he reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard a measure on national security and constitutional grounds." While spokesman Tony Snow says that these are not acts of civil disobedience, they are evidence that this President feels entitled to go it alone, not necessarily follow the laws he signs, and act as if he, and he alone, understands what is in the interest of US national security.

This is a complete subversion of the key principles of checks and balances found in our Constitution. No one branch of government is to exercise the sort of power this President has seized for himself.

The Congress seems helpless to do anything about it for political reasons. Republicans don't want to attack this President too harshly because it may damage their party's prospects both in the '06 midterm elections and the '08 presidential election. Democrats are running scared from the "weak on national security" tag.

Cases regarding these types of issues are difficult to deal with in the courts due to the fact that with all the secrecy, it is a challenge to find an individual to bring a case. Groups like the ACLU can file suit, and have, but such suits are slow in moving. It is also unclear how this very Republican Supreme Court (they are not conservative- believing in limited government- they are Republican) will handle such cases when they arrive.

This President (and his surrogates) who lied about the nuclear capacity of Iraq, who lied about the al-Qaeda-Iraq connection, who's administration has maintained Guantanamo Bay with its policies of mistreating prisoners and holding them indefinitely without legal counsel, who's administration has been widely reported to have maintained secret facilities in other nations and has sent some captured individuals to nations known to practice torture, who has denied the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to "enemy combatants," who has seen Abu Ghraib and Hadditha on his watch, and who is willing to leak information when it serves his purposes (Valerie Plame) but attacks leaks when they demonstrate his constitutional abuses (NSA wiretapping and Treasury Dept. tracking of financial information)... is this the person we wish to possess unchecked powers?

On this issue, liberals and conservatives can unite- this is a government, and a President, out of control, operating outside the appropriate constitutional limitations. Balance and restraint must be restored.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Westboro Hate-Church at it Again.

The Westboro Baptist Church is planning another funeral protest. This one will be in Flint, Michigan. The funeral will be that of Lance Cpl. Brandon Webb, who was killed in Iraq on June 20.

This despicable hate-group is attempting to hide behind the first amendment in support of their mean-spirited, anti-Christian activities.

Here is the point: Just because someone has a right to do something does not mean it's the right thing to do. That is the heart of this issue. While the state can and does impose reasonable restrictions on protests/demonstrations/picketing, in general, such activities are protected by the first amendment. As a legal matter, that may be of significance regarding the laws passed by both the Michigan and national legislatures.

As a moral matter, however, the first amendment is irrelevant.

As Christians, we are called to spread love, not hate. We are called to alleviate, not cause, suffering. We are called to love all- "even the least of these"- and hate none.

If this hate group will not cease and desist, then people in the communities where they intend to protest are going to need to find ways to non-violently inhibit their activities, defending the families of those who have died so they may bury their loved ones in a way that will bring peace to all involved. Thought as to the proper method of counter-protest needs to be given so as to not add to, but instead remove, suffering from the families at this very sad time.

Hate groups must be resisted, but they must be resisted with love. That is the only way.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Misleading the American People

CNN is reporting that a person inside the CIA told Bush administration officials that the evidence on Iraq's WMD programs was faulty, but was ignored. This official crossed out of a report, for example, some of the most dramatic and compelling of then-Sec. of State Colin Powel's report to the UN about mobile biological/chemical weapon labs. He said the facts weren't there. The Bush administration ignored him. Then they misled the American people and took the nation to a war that was unnecessary.

And look what it has done for us: a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda has been created; we've been unable to finish the job in Afghanistan; we have more that 2500 dead American soldiers; we have spent billions of dollars; our military is stretched too thin; we are weakened as we attempt to deal with real threats in North Korea and Iran; our moral standing has been disastrously damaged by Abu Ghraib, Hadditha, and Guantanamo Bay; our constitutional liberties have been threatened by the NSA domestic spying and the monitoring of international money transactions- without warrants; our economy is suffering from high gas prices brought on, in part, by concerns over oil market stability. And, we're no safer now than we were before the invasion.

How can any member of Bush's team live with himself/herself after the damage they have done?


Friday, June 23, 2006

Home Grown Terror

In an earlier post I expressed my concern about terrorists within the United States- people who, for one reason or another, are willing to harm others to advance their agenda.

MSNBC reports that Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has described the terror group arrested yesterday for planning to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago among other sites as "home grown" terrorists. Fortunately these individuals, if they are what they are presented to be, were arrested before they were ready to do harm. However, their arrest should be a warning to us all.

We need to examine our nation to try and understand why we have people who are willing to go to such extremes to push their political causes. Is it because they are so marginalized that the philosophy of al-Qaeda sounds reasonable to them? Is it because of their economic circumstances, which cause them to see a threat in any minority group? Is it hateful indoctrination, such as by people associated with the Westboro Baptist Church, that gives them a sense of certitude in their righteousness and leads them to a willingness to cause suffering to others?

My guess is that it is a combination of factors. But, while our attentions are focused on international terrorism and on Iraq, we may be missing a critical opportunity to deal with problems at home- problems of poverty, disenfranchisement, racism, religious hatred, and a maliciousness in political dialogue- that may be presenting a threat to our nation greater than anything ever posed to us by Iraq.

We need to deal with these domestic challenges. The terror cell disrupted by law enforcement yesterday is not likely to be the last. And we may not be so lucky as to catch them next time. We need to go at the root causes of our home grown terror threat. If we do not, we simply do not have enough law enforcement resources to deal with the threat.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Details on Episcopal Reversal

The Episcopal News Service reports from the Convention...

The 75th General Convention June 21 approved a resolution that calls on bishops and Standing Committees to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

Resolution B033 comes in response to the Windsor Report's suggestion that the Episcopal Church "effect a moratorium on the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same-gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges" (Windsor Report, paragraph 134).

Resolution B033 was brought to the Convention at mid-morning of June 21, the final legislative day, during an extraordinary joint session of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold relayed the text of the resolution that was proposed by Bishop Dorsey F. Henderson of Upper South Carolina, the bishop chair of the Special Legislative Committee on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

"We are trying to deal with something that does not fit easily into the legislative process," Griswold told the bishops during their discussion. "I hope we can find a way in which to maneuver through this that doesn't make us victims of the legislative process that gets us absolutely nowhere. If we aren't clear by lunchtime, we might as well forget the whole thing."

He added, "If we don't have something substantial, it will be very difficult for the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite the Presiding Bishop to the Lambeth Conference. I do know the complexity of what the Archbishop dealing with, in communion terms, and he needs for something clear to come from the Episcopal Church."

Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori urged support for the original resolution. She compared further strain on the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion as similar to separating conjoined twins.

"Ethically, one cannot proceed to separate two conjoined twins until one is reasonably certain both can survive on their own and live full lives.

"I don't think we're certain that the two offspring are capable of living separately and healthily," she said.

"My sense is that the original resolution is the best that we're going to do today," she added. "But I can only support it if we understand that it's not slamming the door. It has to leave the door open for further conversation and consideration in the very near future."

During the debate in Deputies, Jefferts Schori asked to be invited to speak to the House. The deputies agreed and she reiterated the comments she made in the House of Bishops, saying that the image of conjoined twins came to her the day before when Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana spoke of there being one church and two minds.

She went on to say that she is "fully committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in this church," she said.

This is a classic example of what the Episcopal church proclaims itself to be... The Middle Way.

My guess is that the middle way is going to leave no one happy for long. The conservatives are going to ask for (demand?) more. A clearer statement. A longer moratorium that is to become permanent. The liberals are going to see this as a repudiation of their consecration of Gene Robinson. They are going to look to a quick end to the moratorium. Some may even try to force the issue by bringing forward candidates to cause a confrontation.

Katharine Jefferts Schori used the analogy of conjoined twins. I think a better analogy is the debate in the US over abortion. There simply isn't much middle ground. What needs to happen, and there is hope for this in the resolution, a hope expressed by Schori, is a prolonged engagement between the liberals and conservatives on this issue until there is broader agreement, and, when agreement cannot happen, an agreement to disagree.

This can happen. Sucess will come when both sides recognize that there is a great deal more to the Episcopal church than this single issue. There is, dispite any differneces on this particular issue, plenty of reason for us to gather around the communion table together.

If we define our church by the differences on this issue, however, no resolution will be of use, and the end is near.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Episcopal Reversal?

Reuters has reported that the Episcopal Convention has changed its direction from yesterday and agreed to "curb" consecration of gay bishops.

Andrew Sullivan quotes from the resolutions (which I have not found yet) as follows:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

This is a rather stunning turn of events because, as I understand it, the same people who rejected a moratorium yesterday must have accepted it today.

As I said previously, the news trickles out of the Convention somewhat haphazardly, so I will withhold any more comment until I have seen more details of the resolution passed and the analysis of that resolution.


US Soldiers Charge With Murder

CNN is reporting that 8 US troops are being charged with murder, in addition to other charges, for the killing of Iraqi civilian Hasham Ibrahim Awad in the town of Hamdaniya, Iraq. While this story has been available off and on in the US media, we can imagine how much more closely the Iraqi population has been following the story. The same is true of the alleged massacre in Hadditha (in which 24 civilians died), which still has an open investigation taking place.

The people of Iraq are following these stories, no doubt, and having their opinions of the US and its troops influenced by what is undoubtedly less than favorable news treatment. The straight story is bad enough, but it must be much worse as "spun" by Al-Jazeera.

For this reason the US needs to hold itself to the highest standards. In reading commentary on the tragic deaths of two US soldiers discussed in an earlier post, some, such as myself have been critical of the US for allowing refusing to confirm the application of the Geneva Conventions to the US holding of so-called "enemy combatants" and the mistreatment detainees receive at Guantanamo Bay and the abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib. At times, the reaction to that has been to say that because we are fighting such an evil enemy, we may need to use methods similar to their methods.

An example of such a reaction was posted by Andrew Sullivan on his blog from an email he received:

"Until you can show me evidence that a U.S. Government interrogator has taken a dull knife, cut into the throat of another man or woman, and sawn through skin, muscle, tendon, and bone until the head of that persons detaches from their neck, please don't make such an intellectually dishonest comparison between these barbarians and our own government. Our enemies are fundamentalist nihilists. We may have to fight a harder, dirtier war against such a disgraceful enemy. But we still must do what is necessary to win."

I am with Sullivan in believing that this is misguided thinking. Torture is not morally acceptable. If we take the low road, we encourage others to go there as well- and there are too many in the world who need no encouragement. We must maintain our moral authority to demand humane treatment of all people in war and peace by demonstrating such behavior ourselves at all times. We must bring the perpetrators of terrorism to justice, but we must not subject them to torture or any inhumane treatment. If we do so, we put our citizens and soldiers at risk. "If the US does it, why shouldn't we?"

In my earlier post, I did not mean to say that President Bush is directly responsible for the torture, killing, and mutilation of the two soldiers who had been missing in Iraq. The people who took the malicious steps are responsible for that. However, President Bush, and others in his administration, with their statements questioning and dismissing Geneva conventions, permitting endless detentions, failing to take quick action when allegations of abuse have arisen, have helped to create a climate where such events are more rather than less likely. Those individuals who have taken part in the abuse and torture and killings of civilians, have no doubt taken their cue, to some degree, from the administration's statements, and the actions of these individuals have provided a justification in the minds of others for such murderous actions as suffered by these two unfortunate men.

In 2000, as he campaigned for President, George W. Bush said that Jesus was the most influential person from history in his life. Why? "Because he changed my heart." I hope the President will be open to having his heart further changed in the direction that the Prince of Peace may lead him, and will see the error of being anything other than absolute in his statements about what constitutes humane treatment of those individuals against whom he has declared war.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Very sad news

MSNBC reports that the two missing soldiers have in fact been killed. In fact, they appear to have been tortured and their bodies "booby-trapped." Apparently their bodies were so badly mutilated that they cannot be identified without DNA analysis.

Earlier I reflected that they would reap what their President had sown. I'm heartsick to say that they did.


No Moratorium

The Episcopal Convention has rejected a moratorium on gay bishops, according to the Associated Press.

The devil's in the details on these sorts of things- if you'll pardon that pun- so more analysis later.


Monday, June 19, 2006


We now have soldiers missing in Iraq. An al-Qaeda associated group claims to have them.

What moral authority do we have to demand they not be tortured? After Abu Ghraib?

What moral authority do we have to demand their release? After endless detentions at Gitmo?

I certainly hope the missing soldiers are found soon, and alive. If they are not, I fear they may reap what their President has sown.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

How about this?

Amidst the debate at the General Convention of Episcopalians over the issue of gay bishops, the Convention elected a woman to be the new Presiding Bishop. Turn back the clock a few decades and such a vote would have been unthinkable.

Perhaps there's a lesson in there for the current debate.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Another consequence of the mistake of war in Iraq?

MSNBC reports that N. Korea may be ready to test a missile. Of course the work that nation has done on nuclear weapons is widely known. The missile they plan to test, according to a US government official, is a long range missile capable of striking the US.

When President Bush some years ago spoke of the "axis of evil" nations, he listed Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Of the three, Iraq was, then, considered to be the least developed in terms of WMD. But Iraq was the fight that would be "easiest," in the eyes of administration officials, to win. Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld wanted to take the "war on terror" to the world beyond Afghanistan, so off to war we marched.

As a result, Iran and North Korea have had more opportunity to develop their WMD programs while the US has been bogged down in Iraq. Now the US is in a poor position to do anything about Iran and North Korea. We have lost standing in the world community due to our intelligence failures and Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Our diplomatic position, as a result, is weaker than we need it to be to provide either "carrots" or "sticks" as an effort to deal with a growing danger.

We also really have no credibility to threaten military force at this point because everyone knows that we are over extended militarily. Furthermore if Iraq was the easiest fight, and we can't get it finished, we certainly aren't prepared to go to war with either North Korea or Iran.

This is an example of how the US has been left weakened, not strengthened or safer, by the war in Iraq. This is the legacy of the Bush administration.


Senator Danforth

Senator Danforth, who is an Episcopal priest, I've read, made a statement at the Episcopal Convention in Columbus that the church has become too focused on the issue of homosexuality and is in danger of becoming irrelevant- splitting up and becoming a small sect that lacks clout.

On the first point I agree with him. The Anglican Communion has become paralyzed by the issue of the consecration of a gay bishop. This is a consequence of excessive focus on a single issue, and failure to remain aware of all of the areas of agreement within the church. This is a mistake for the church, not unlike the mistake that it would be in an interpersonal relationship. When we focus on our differences, we divide. When we focus on our areas of agreement, we grow together.

On the second point, I cannot agree with the Senator. By expressing concern over the church's relevancy due to its unity or lack thereof, he's speaking like a politician rather than a religious man. The church remains relevant so long as it helps one person have a better relationship with God, so long as it provides love and support to even one person, or so long as it helps to meet the food and shelter requirements of one needy person in one community. The relevance of a church should not be measured like that of a political party. The church is not about power. It is about service.

I hope the Anglican Communion does not divide. It does not need to divide. But if it does, so long as individual churches continue to serve the needs of the people in their communities, those churches remain relevant.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

A sampling of the debate in Columbus regarding the consecration of homosexual bishops.

Resolution A160 echoes the House of Bishops’ March 2005 Covenant Statement in expressing regret with respect to actions of the 74th General Convention. It offers an “apology and repentance for having breached the bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion…” The Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, said toward the end of the hearing that the Windsor Report was acting like a doctor, saying a relationship needs to be healed. “Anglicanism has always responded to the challenge by scripture, reason and tradition,” he said. “Maybe the committee should ask: do these resolutions help us ourselves ... to show the marks of our own crucifixion?”

Speaking against A160, the Rev. Michael Hopkins, an alternate from the Diocese of Rochester, acknowledged that if there is an expression of regret, “it needs to be much fuller and expressed by all.”

Resolution A161 urges “very considerable caution in the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

The Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, deputy from the Diocese of South Carolina raised concerns about what he called the clarity and honesty in A161. “The Windsor Report uses clear language. This resolution doesn’t take the specific language of Windsor seriously enough,” he said. “We have been asked to place a moratorium; the timeframe is clear ... yet the language we get is to exercise considerable caution — a fudge. Let’s be honest, let’s be clear.”

Fair to say that the issue is not resolved yet.


Another Sad Milestone

The number of US soldiers killed in Iraq has now reach 2,500.

2,500 soldiers killed for WMD that were not there, and a terrorism link that did not exist.

At the same time, while Iraq has dominated the news in the US, the situation in Afghanistan- where the terrorists really were- is still not resolved. Today, in fact, the largest military action since the initial invasion into the country is underway in an effort to deal with the Taliban. The Taliban still maintains an active fighting force in Afghanistan, requiring the effort of 11,000 US and coalition forces to fight them.

Not only does the US have two unfinished wars on its hands, it has two wars with no end in sight.

The key difference between the two- the war in Iraq was completely unnecessary and unjustified.


More on the Episcopal Controversy reports,

Gay Episcopal Bishop Urges Tolerance
Associated Press COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 14 - The first openly gay Episcopal bishop said Wednesday that the church's top policymaking body should not heed a request from Anglicans worldwide to place a moratorium on electing gay or lesbian bishops. The Episcopal General Convention, which runs through June 21 in Columbus, must vote on whether to stop electing gay bishops for now so that the embattled Anglican family - deeply divided over homosexuality - can stay together.

Joined by national gay rights activists, New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson urged the convention to reject the proposed moratorium and any discrimination based on sexual orientation. "It's not our job to decide what the Anglican Communion will or will not do in response to our actions," he said at a news conference. "What we're called to do is to, as faithfully as we can, discern God's will and act on it in our context."

This, to me, shows some of the complexity of the issue.

On one level, I agree with Bishop Robinson completely: we must follow our own consciences where they may lead us.

On a second level, we should have some concern for the larger communities in which we operate- in this case the Anglican Communion- and consider the consequences of our actions for that larger community.

Ultimately, however, the weight of the argument must come down to the side of Bishop Robinson's argument. We must never sacrifice our conscience to any authority, or even to any majority. Majorities in our nation's past, and in many of our churches' past as well, have supported slavery and segregation, for example. The Episcopal Church was such a church at one time. People of conscience were right to resist authority and call for change.

At one point in the history of the Episcopal Church, the issue of the ordination of women was nearly as controversial as the controversy over sexuality today. I think history has already proven those who favored ordination of women to be correct in that dispute, but, regardless, those people of conscience who pushed for change were right to follow their hearts and do so.

The notion that we should blindly follow authority had the stake driven through its heart at Nurmeberg at the end of WWII. I know that's an extreme example and I'm not comparing those who oppose gay bishops to Nazis. I'm merely arguing that we cannot simply follow what the power structure might tell us is right when our hearts tell us otherwise. We must be people of conscience first, and follow the chain of command second. To do otherwise would be to be less than fully human- as Henry David Thoreau would say, machines rather than men.

Balancing these interests of conscience and community will represent the great challenge to the Episcopal Church, since consensus is not in the cards.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Intolerance instead of Listening

Apparently Brigham Young University has fired an instructor for an op-ed piece in support of gay marriage.

Jeffrey Nielsen, a philosophy instructor, said in an of-ed piece for the June 4 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, "I believe opposing gay marriage and seeking a constitutional amendment against it is immoral."

Nielsen, a Mormon, said he learned of the school's decision regarding him in a June 8 letter from Daniel Graham, chairman of the Department of Philosophy.

"In accordance with the order of the church, we do not consider it our responsibility to correct, contradict or dismiss official pronouncements of the church," the letter said.

"Since you have chosen to contradict and oppose the church in an area of great concern to church leaders, and to do so in a public forum, we will not rehire you after the current term is over," the letter said.

In other words, the LDS can't even talk about the issue.

That's a shame, and an example of intolerance.

If a faith is so weak that it can't handle some discussion and dispute, what is its value.

This is the sort of method for the Episcopal church to avoid as it wrestles with the issue of gay bishops.


A good sign from Columbus.

I wrote earlier about the difficulty facing the Episcopal Church at the General Convention in Columbus. The disagreement over the elevation of The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson to the office of Bishop 3 years ago is a deep one and threatens the unity of the Church. During discussions on this matter, according to a report from the Convention,

"...the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, acknowledged the importance of listening, which 'must be mutual,' he said. 'Listening is always done in context rather than isolation.'

He also acknowledged that the end result of listening may be disagreement 'which we need to face into," he said. "What happens after we finally disagree -- can we find a way to live together?'"

This last sentence holds the key. We must find a way to live together.



Without meditation, our mind is like a crazy monkey that we cannot control.
~ Tulku Mingyur Rinpoche

This quote is from the Buddhist tradition, but meditation has a long history in the Christian tradition as well. It is often lost, however, in the fast paced nature of our modern culture. Also, Christians tend to focus more on prayer- which to me means that the person praying is talking.

I appreciate the Buddhist focus on meditation. Meditation calms the mind and allows us to see the world around us, and the people in it, with greater clarity. We can begin to see the difference between reality and our perceptions of that reality. We can have greater patience and love for those around us.

In the area of meditation we can find an example of the benefit that comes from studying other religious traditions. To study Buddhism does not mean we become Buddhists, even less that we abandon Christianity. It can mean we become better practitioners of our own religious traditions, and also become more understanding towards those of other faiths. That's a win-win situation.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Massive Fraud

MSNBC reports that fraud and abuse from Katrina clean-up and assistance may have cost us as much as $1 billion.

It takes a special kind of mind- peculiarly sick and unethical- to take advantage of such a disaster.

Think of the assistance that could have been provided with $1B.


The World is Flat

I just finished reading The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.

Thinking about reading it? Don't bother. I can't recall the last time a non-fiction book made such a splash for saying so little.

We're losing jobs to India. No kidding?
Walmart is hyper-efficient. What!!??
America would be better off if our kids were better in math and science. Wow!

As a teacher, yes there are some statistics and stories in the book that I may find useful as I teach economic concepts- but the book breaks no new ground. Basically its more than 500 pages of anecdotes to tell us what we already know. Some of the anecdotes are interesting, but not 500 pages worth of interesting (and that's from someone who likes his books long).

So, if you are a teacher, you may want to pick it up at the local library. Otherwise, just watch the news.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Divisive Issue Facing the Episcopal Church

As the Episcopal Church holds its General Convention in Columbus the Anglican Communion is on the verge of coming apart. This Convention faces again the issue of homosexuality and the clergy.

I've listened to and read a great deal of the debate on this issue. Often it is presented as simple- "Read your Bible." It is not.

First, in terms of opposition to gay bishops (or marriage or homosexuality itself), one cannot simply quote the Bible. Without question, the Bible explicitly condemns homosexual acts. Leviticus is very clear on that. The problem, however, for the conservatives who would site these passages is that they lift the passages out of their context. I don't mean to suggest that if read in context the prohibitions aren't really there. They are. By taking these statements out of context I mean to say that the passages prohibiting homosexual acts are in the midst of many other prohibitions. And the others are not all trivial, as some would suggest, and if they are statements from God, as the conservative side would suggest, the we as humans cannot judge them trivial. If the statements about homosexual acts are to be taken as absolute tenants of faith, then what of all the others? I don't see any logic to the notion that the statements about homosexuality are "more important" than statements about looking on a woman's nakedness during her menstrual cycle, or a man having sexual relations with his daughter-in-law. In some cases these prohibitions are a part of the same sentence as those dealing with homosexuality. Either we accept these statements- all of them- as the law, or we don't.

Furthermore, the penalty for a homosexual act in Leviticus is death- not merely being unqualified to be a bishop. Many of the other prohibitions also list death as the penalty. Since the conservative side of the argument (at the Episcopal Convention at least) is not proposing the death penalty for homosexuals, they are guilty of what they accuse us who are more liberal on the matter as guilty of- picking and choosing according to our own understandings rather than accepting the Bible as a complete and literal truth. That's the problem with biblical literalism- you have to take the Bible as whole cloth.

I don't accept the entirety of the Levitican law as properly applied today. I think this law was a product of its time- limited by custom and scientific understanding. I'm not willing to have homosexuals (or witches, or people who have sex with animals, or men who have sex with their daughters-in-law, or men who have sex with both a woman and her mother) put to death. I'm not willing to reject the 10% of the population that is reported to be gay. As we have come to learn through science that people appear to be born gay (not the product of bad parenting, or gay parenting), I'm not willing to reject people as God has made them.

Jesus was asked about which commandments were most important. Love God and love your neighbor, he said. When viewed through this lens, the Levitican law doesn't stand. It is quite simply too harsh for a Christian outlook. It may be relevant to our lives in ways, but as "law" it doesn't fit with a modern, loving approach to the world and those around us.

Does that decide the matter for the Episcopal Church? Not really. There are a lot of issues to consider. There are a lot of arguments to be made. One of those arguments is not simply "Read your Bible," however. When it comes right down to it, I don't think there will be anyone in Columbus who accepts the entirety of the Levitican law. That oversimplified argument falls apart upon close examination.

The other points of debate may deserve more attention. To have success at the Convention, all sides will have to have "big ears" in order to hear what those they disagree with have to say. They will also have to have big hearts, full of love for their "neighbor," in order to reach the best conclusion.



If we're looking for outer conditions to bring us contentment, we're looking in vain.
-Ayya Khema

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Contacting Me

It's been suggested that some people may want to comment on the blog or its posts without leaving a comment for the world to see. To do so, you may send me an Email directly at greypilgrimsblogATyahooDOTcom (sorry, but I type it that way to prevent "phishing").

Click on the Email Me! link to the left to send me a message directly.

Your comments are encouraged to challenge or support posts. Help create a conversation by using either the comment choice below each post, or by sending an email.

Anything you have to add will be appreciated and respectfully accepted.


Westboro Baptist Church

Wow! The more I look into this alleged church the more appalled I become.

First, I find it amazing that any group that believes itself to be a Christian church would be so brazen as to have as its web address (I've changed my mind and decided to link to their site. I think anyone with a good heart would do well to look at this site to get an idea what hate under the banner of Christianity can look like.)

Apparently, in their view, God hates not only "fags". Their website also contains links to other sites, that appear to be run by the Westboro Church as well, entitled "God Hates Sweden," "God Hates Canada," and "God Hates America." Their site on Canada says that God hates Canada because "Canada is a homo-fascist state where the filthy fag agenda has become the law of the land." Regarding Sweden, they say, "Fags have a 3 point agenda: 1) decriminalize sodomy, 2) add fags to the protected classes as victims like blacks, and 3) criminalize Gospel preaching against fags. Sweden's doom is now irreversible!"

Regarding America, to use a longer quotation, the Westboro Baptist Church says,

The Westboro Baptist Church used to pray for the good of America, knowing that God's blessings are mighty and His hand could be stayed from punishing this wicked nation, just as He stayed His hand from punishing Nineveh. America chose to spit in the face of their Creator, instead of heeding WBC's warnings, and now it is too late to pray for this nation.

The leadership of this church, and perhaps its members, now have such a complete understanding of God's will that they know that America- in its entirety- is beyond salvation. The church, in making such a declaration, has placed itself on par with God. God's judgment, as they know it with absolute certainty to be true, is final and forever- there is no use praying for America. Sweden as well. Could their arrogance be any greater? We need to "heed WBC's warnings" which are the equivalent of God's warnings?

I think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that "Nothing is so dangerous as absolute certainty." We are humans and must always leave room for doubt. We cannot possibly put ourselves on par with God in passing judgment against individuals or entire nations.

And we must be on the look-out for people who are so certain. Remember- Osama Bin Laden is certain that he is right and understands God's judgment against America. People a part of hate groups like WBC are the potential home-grown terrorists I referenced in an earlier post. And the internet is their recruiting ground.


Hate groups on the rise

CNN reported this morning a KKK rally at the battlefield of Antietam. It was a small rally by any standard- with only about 30 Klansmen and sympathizers. However, I think this event was a part of a larger trend that is largely off American's radar screens.

Hate groups have been in the midst of a resurgence for many years now- perhaps a couple of decades. What has been fueling this growth?

Some of the fuel is provided by cultural issues and events. The political disputes over affirmative action, gay marriage, and gun control play a major role. Reports of the US nearing a tipping point where 'whites' will no longer be in a majority have caused some to become sympathetic to the arguments of hate groups. Of course September 11, with the portrayal of the event as the US under attack by members of another "race" and religion, has been important.

By far, in my view, the most important reason for resurgent hate groups in the US is the internet. Only 30 will go to a rally, but untold numbers will visit a website. Hate groups- whether the Klan, militia groups, Christian Identity groups, whatever- have used the Web as the means of spreading the message and attracting new members and sympathizers (I simply lack a better word to use, but am aware of the irony of the use of a word rooted in sympathy when discussing hate groups). In researching this matter, I have even found that many race-based hate groups have pages within their sites devoted specifically to children, including games.

The paragraph above is not an attack on the internet. That would be a little too ironic for a blogger. It is simply a warning to all of us. Hatred is "out there" and easily spread on the internet. There is no editor to limit the message of hate. As the message spreads, the threat of people taking that message and converting it to action is very real. Long term, for our nation I am as concerned about home-grown terrorism as I am about Al-Qaeda. There are more Timothy McVeigh's out there in the US heartland. Their hate is being fueled by these websites. Their anger is growing. They are feeling more secure in coming out from their hiding places and protesting at national landmarks.

While these groups often cover themselves in the flag, and certainly use the Constitution's protections, we must recognize that while they are entitled to those protections, they ultimately represent the antithesis of what America is about- justice, fairness, equality, freedom of faith and conscience. While President Bush often mischaracterizes the Al-Qaeda terrorist as being motivated by their hatred of our freedoms, those types of statements may actually fit the home-grown hate groups better.

In our justifiable concerns about the terrorists who come from around the world, we must not neglect to be aware of the serious threat posed by the terrorist next door.


Saturday, June 10, 2006

Situational Ethics

If the death photo of an American killed in Iraq was being aired as relentlessly on television and the web as is the photo of al-Zarqawi, Americans, and our government, would express outrage. We have, in fact, objected to such a thing. And yet, our government, once again, feels under no obligation to refrain from doing what we demand others not do. The goverment released the photo. More than that- they framed it.

Do we believe in situational ethics? It appears so.

Furthermore, do we wish to create a culture of death, where photos such as this become perfectly acceptable to us- so long as they are the photos of the people we have declared "bad" and not of Americans?

As in the treatment of prisoners in war-time situations, if Americans do not want our bad actions to become the new standard in the world, we need to reform our behavior. I know others do worse. And I know they would do so regardless of what we do. But we are encouraging behavior that we at least say we abhor. We need to raise, not lower, the bar. The photographic (emphasize graphic) evidence of Abu Ghraib and Al-Zarqawi sets the bar low, and gives others justifications to mistreat Americans.

Merely another example of self-defeating behavior that is the result of a sense of American exceptionalism.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sweet is his speech

Hands restrained,
feet restrained,
speech restrained,
supremely restrained--
delighting in what is inward,
content, centered, alone:he's what they call
a monk.
A monk restrained in his speaking,
giving counsel unruffled,
declaring the message & meaning:
sweet is his speech.
-Dhammapada, 25, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
A Buddhist thought to convey a universal message. Restraint and sweetness of speech.
These will lead us to peace.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

By The Way...

God hates no one!

Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:8

Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 1 John 4:20


Good for him!

In a follow-up to the post below...

The father of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder is suing members of the Westboro Baptist Church for disrupting the funeral for his son, who was killed in Iraq.

I don't really support laws to make protests of funerals illegal. I suppose they could be written properly- with the definitions and tolerances tight enough that free speech rights aren't damaged. I think that in the rush to deal with this outrageous behavior, however, such careful calculations are unlikely to be written into the code.

In this case, however, Mr. Snyder is suing the protestors for the invasion of his privacy. I think that a civil remedy is the right approach. Penalizing this group financially may cause them to rethink their decision to intrude upon people's pain, and then add to it.

I've done a little looking into this church since the earlier post. They are even worse than I thought before. Apparently their church runs a site named "" (there's no way I'm going to link to that site). That would, by definition, qualify them as a hate group in my estimation.

I surely wish I could support a law making virtually anything such a group does, including protesting at funerals, illegal. I just think we need to be very careful when it comes to dealing with a right so fundamental to democracy as the freedom of speech. Given the excesses of the Patriot Act, the NSA wiretapping, the allegations of secret CIA detention centers, and GITMO, I'm not real confident that such care is likely to be taken in Washington, DC right now.

I sure hope Mr. Snyder wins his case, though.


Not Amending the Constitution

The same-sex marriage amendment is set to fail in the Senate.

This is a truly embarrassing episode in Washington. This amendment was doomed to failure from the word go. So, why pursue it? Political posturing, pure and simple. Elections are looming, so drag this amendment out, gin up the conservative base, win an election, then put the amendment away until the next election.

When did conservatives stop being conservatives? When I was coming of age politically, to be conservative meant to believe in limited government. Now it means to use the government to try and enforce a particular moral code on anyone and everyone in this nation. Today's religious right wing GOP has become a group of modern day Pharisees.

We would do well to remember that a major motivation behind the first amendment's separation of church and state is to protect the church from government interference. People on the religious right should be careful what they wish for. Some day a resurgent religious left may begin to force morality on them that they don't support.

Morality does, without question, come into play in government. This being the case, religion will also come into play. But, we should be cautious, and set the bar high- making sure there is a compelling public interest involved before using the government to intervene in what may be a private moral decision. If that standard is met, then act. When it is not, government should stay out.

In this case, the standard is not met. As I said in my earlier post, this amendment does not protect marriage because marriage is not threatened. Same-sex unions are no threat to the nation or its people, and, furthermore, homosexuals do not deserve to be treated, whether married or single, as if they pose such a threat.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Grisly life in Iraq

MSNBC reports that police found 9 heads in boxes in the village of Hadid, near Baghdad on Tuesday. Eight severed heads were found in the village on Saturday. That is the security situation in Iraq at present.

Can you imagine the attention and emotion that would be attached to such an episode in the US?

While MSNBC reports the story, it apparently doesn't merit a headline.

Does Iraqi life matter to us?


Protests at the funerals of those killed in Iraq

An odd trend has developed in recent months. Protestors have been disrupting the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. Even more odd- at least some of the war protestors are apparently not protesting the war, but somehow claiming that the war deaths are God's punishment on the US for homosexuality in our nation. Religion News Blog carries that angle on the story.

I'm not going to deal with the protesting because of homosexuality beyond saying that religious groups that do that simply do not understand the tenants of the faith that require us to act with love towards all humanity. They are entitled to believe that homosexuality is wrong, even sinful. They are not entitled to make other people suffer for their beliefs.

Regarding the protests in general, I believe they are also fundamentally wrong. I have opposed the war in Iraq since the moment it came into view as a possibility. That said, I do not think it is fair to pile on to the suffering of families who have lost loved ones. As a parent, I can only imagine what the parents of the dead soldiers are going through at that moment. Their suffering must be extreme. Their pain beyond anything I have ever experienced. How can anyone in good conscience choose to add to that pain?

Furthermore, the parents are not directly responsible for the decision to go to war. In fact, they may not have even supported the war or their son's/daughter's decision to go. The protestors almost certainly do not know the politics of the families involved. Protest at the Capitol, at the White House, but not at the grave site.

There is a difference between being an advocate for peace and an anti-war advocate. To advocate for peace, we must create the conditions for peace, not the conditions of suffering and anger and hostility. Peace will come through love. Those who lose sons and daughters in the war deserve our love and compassion for their loss, even if we do not believe in the cause that caused that loss.

When we can love even those with whom we disagree, we stand a chance then at creating peace.


Monday, June 05, 2006

A Grim Milestone- 25 Years of AIDS

For 25 years the US and the world have struggled with HIV/AIDS. While progress has been made in treating the disease, whether one is a beneficiary of that progress largely depends on one's geography and wealth. While I know we cannot rush the science, we should push ourselves to do better to open up treatment options to a wider portion of the world's population, and we should put more energy and money into prevention.

Some obstacles are obvious. One is that AIDS is still, wrongly, associated strongly in people's minds with homosexuality. I remember when I first heard about AIDS. It was said to be a "gay disease." I also remember hearing people, including some of the televangelists of the day, either say or intimate that AIDS was somehow God's justice for immoral behavior. This vile attitude, I think, delayed research into treatments and activities in the area of prevention.

Also an obstacle are "abstinence only" approaches to sex ed. No doubt abstinence is best, and the only guarantee against pregnancy and STDs. That said, abstinence only is not realistic. We cannot allow our idealism to get in the way of prevention of what is now a disease without a cure.If we don't do better, the outlook is very bleak.

To date, 25 million people have died of AIDS. 40 million have been infected. At the current rate, according to MSNBC, "AIDS could kill 31 million people in India and 18 million in China by 2025, according to projections by U.N. population researchers. By then in Africa, where AIDS likely began and where the virus has wrought the most devastation, researchers said the toll could reach 100 million." MSNBC also reports that only 1 in 5 AIDS sufferers get the drugs they need.

This is not only a health crisis, it is also a moral crisis. People of faith around the world need to take on the challenge of helping those who suffer from AIDS, and we need to demand of our governments policies that will help to stem the ever growing disaster. We cannot continue our relative inaction (compare our work to deal with AIDS to our expenditures only in Iraq, which have been estimated at $1B per month). We especially cannot continue this inaction due to self-righteousness.

We must be motivated by faith to reach out to those in need.


Amending the Constitution

President Bush will apparently be making some sort of address today calling for an amendment to the Constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Of course, the President has no role in amending the Constitution- that is accomplished by 2/3 of the Congress and 2/3 of the states. His stepping in at this point is simply politics as we move towards mid-term elections.

That's hardly stunning. Politics in Washington? No news there.

What bothers me is that apparently supporters are calling the amendment the "marriage protection amendment."

I didn't know my marriage was being threatened. In fact, it's not. Whatever you may think about gay marriage, the notion that banning that sort of marriage is protecting heterosexual marriage is silly. My marriage was sanctified by God in a service performed by the Episcopal priest of my youth, and sustained by or mutual love. I don't need Washington's protection on this one. Choosing such a name for the amendment is crass and silly.

Marriage in this nation does not need protection from homosexuals. Married people apparently need protection from themselves. 50% of US marriages don't end in divorce because of homosexuality in the US. They end because of infidelity, dishonesty, abuse, and lack of consideration of the needs of spouses. Certainly the one-half of all marriages that end in divorce don't end so that the divorced parties can enter a gay union.

The sanctity of my marriage is not in the least bit threatened if some states choose to allow same-sex marriage. Let's encourage our legislators to deal with the real moral/ethical issues of our day- the war in Iraq, the killing of Iraqi civilians, a President who feels entitled to order warantless wiretapping, the rampant corruption in Congress by members of both parties (by the way, isn't it interesting that Congress gives the President a pass on warantless wiretapping, but is up in arms when a court ordered search of a Congressman's office is conducted as a part of a bribery investigation??).

This proposed amendment, which will fail in the Senate, is merely a diversion, and it comes at a time when we cannot afford diversions.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Non-Violence in History

A couple of books that I can reccommend that show how non-violent methods have been applied across history.
  1. A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, by Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall.
  2. The Unconqureable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People, by Jonathan Schell.

Each of these books describes places and times when non-violent methods of change have been used effectively.


Gandhi's Satyagraha

Sometimes when I speak of non-violent methods of creating change, people say I'm a utopian, and express surprise that I could be a history teacher. "Isn't violence (war) necessary? Look at history."

My answer: "Look at history, indeed. Look at the causes of wars past. Weren't they preventable? Couldn't we have avoided Hitler, for example, with a better resolution of WWI? Couldn't we have avoided WWI with less colonialism around the turn of the century? Further, look at the examples of non-violent changes that were massive. Consider Gandhi..."

Gandhi is really the patron saint of non-violent resistance. His word was "satyagraha." This word is actually a combination of two words meaning "truth" and "hold firmly." Hold firmly to the truth. Sometimes it is stated in English as "truth force" or even "soul force."

Why is non-violence necessary, according to Gandhi? This is because no one has a firm hold on absolute truth. We are merely human. Our understandings are necessarily limited. If we cannot grasp absolute truth, then we have no right to use force- violence- to compel anyone to adopt our sense of truth. Only arrogance allows for violence. Humanity recognizes the possibility of error, and thus should not allow us to use force.

Gandhi was not a moral relativist. He didn't think there was no right or wrong. He had an obvious and powerful moral compass. He just held out the possibility of error. How wrong would it be to have dealt out an irreversible punishment (death by violence) in error?

Take America for example. Isn't democracy the best form of government there is? (Churchill once said it was the worst form except for all the others.) I agree that it is. Why not compel others- the Iraqis, for example- to practice it? Well, look at how American democracy has evolved in our more than 200 year history. We have gone from a democracy of white male property-holders to a much more expansive view of democracy. Look at the errors of our democracy (slavery, Jim Crow, denying the vote to women, interment of the Japanese). But we still haven't ironed out all of the wrinkles. Religious questions still can tie our democracy in knots from time to time. We have trouble defining the limitations on our rights, balancing our desires for security with our goals of freedom. We don't have a grasp on an absolute truth of democracy.

Furthermore, our democracy has developed over time because it was free to do so. Can democracy be imposed at the point of a gun? Certainly Saddam was an evil dictator, but how many evil dictators are there in the world? Are we going to force them all to adopt our vision of democracy? What then when our vision changes, as it has in the past? Are we then going to force them to adopt that?

Foreign policy by arrogance is a fool's errand.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.- 1967

"Don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, 'You're too arrogant, and if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I am God.'"

King said this in 1967 regarding the war in Vietnam, but it seems as if he could have said it yesterday.

Abraham Lincoln once said, in reference to a statement that someone believed that God was on the Union side, (and I'm paraphrasing) "The question is not whether God is on our side, which we can never know, but whether we are on God's side."

The vast majority of Americans would say they are Christians and believe in God. We must search our souls. Are we on God's side?


Another Iraqi My Lai??

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military told CNN it is investigating an incident in March near Balad in which Iraqi civilians were killed during a U.S. raid.

The probe comes amid concern over U.S. military conduct in Iraq, stoked by claims of a massacre by Marines of 24 civilians in Haditha last November.

This latest incident under investigation took place on March 15 in the Abu Seffa district in the town of Ishaqi, 10 miles north of Balad.

Iraqi police said 11 people were killed in a U.S.-led raid against a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq site, including five children -- the youngest 6 months old -- four women, and two men were killed. The U.S. military provided a lower casualty count, saying an insurgent, two women and a child were killed.

This in addition to a CNN television report this morning that there are soldiers who may be charged as early as today with murder for yet another incident of killing civilians. I do not know the details of when and where that incident took place, but it appears not to be related to the Haditha killings.

These stories are devastating for the US presence in Iraq. If we ever had a chance to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, it is gone. However, we have no good options. There is no chance of turning over the occupation to an international force- who would want to take that on given what we've seen over the past couple of years? If we continue our presence, we continue to be an irritant which will cause more violence. If we leave on a very short timetable, the likelihood of complete civil war would seem great. No good options remain.

The best I think we could do at this point would be a major change in allocation of resources and focus- away from combat troops (although not reducing their presence for the time being) and introducing substantial numbers of people who can effectively and quickly train Iraqi forces. My reading has led me to believe that this program of developing Iraqi security forces has been the victim of serious underinvestment. That policy needs to be changed immediately in order to bring about the quickest possible withdrawal of US ground forces. As always, I contend that such a withdrawal can only be done with the maximum concern for the security of Iraqi civilians, too many of whom have already died in sectarian violence and civil war.

This is the thorniest of all possible situations, it seems to me. But, it is the fruit of the poisonous tree- the poisonous tree being the decision to invade Iraq in the first place.


Regarding the 3rd case about which I knew little when I posted this morning, reports the following now...
SAN DIEGO, California (AP) -- Military prosecutors plan to file murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman in the shooting death of an Iraqi man in April, a defense lawyer said Thursday.

The eight men are being held in the brig at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base north of San Diego, said Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents one of the men.

The Iraqi man reportedly was dragged from his home west of Baghdad and shot. Both the Los Angeles Times and NBC News said troops may have planted an AK-47 and shovel near the body to make it appear the man was an insurgent burying a roadside bomb.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

And Back Home Again...

As I read histories, I frequently read about what someone considers to be a "brush with greatness." They meet some famous person and are left altered somehow by the experience. They recount that experience for the remainder of their lives.

I have never had that sort of brush with greatness. Instead, I had the opportunity to spend my youth near greatness almost continuously. The greatness of which I speak is an ordinary sort of greatness. The greatness that comes from being a person filled with God's grace, and with the ability to share that grace with people around him. I was blessed to grow up with a saint (with a small 's' as he would always say).

I grew up at a church that had as its patron St. Francis. The rector of my Episcopal parish could not have been more perfectly placed, for he was a man who embodied the philosophy and ideals of St. Francis in virtually every way. He was deeply in touch with the Nature that God created. He practiced great Humility before men and God. He lived a life of relative Simplicity, avoiding unnecessary expense and wastefulness. And, above all else, he lived a life of Love and Peace, and believed that living a life of love created peace.

In so many ways, in words and deeds, he passed lessons on to me about these values. I've lived them out only very imperfectly, but I've never forgotten them. Indeed, they are so deeply ingrained in me that I need not even think of them. I feel them. I feel them when I live up to the ideals I was taught, and I feel my failures to follow the lessons of my youth even more deeply.

The man responsible for planting the seeds of God's love and grace so deeply within me has died. I have tried repeatedly to post an entry since his passing, but find myself left completely inarticulate by his death. I try to write what he meant to me, only to feel that the words are so empty and fail to do him even the slightest justice.

This is the man who baptised me. He guided me from boy to man. He married me to my darling wife. He gave my life of faith direction. He remains in my heart, and always will.

I still am left with a great feeling of inadequacy about these words, but I'm going to hit "publish" below. I simply feel that I must post something, even if I fail completely to capture the moment. My guess is that if I wait until I'm able to capture all of my feelings, nothing will ever be written. So, I close with one final thought...

I love you Fr. Fish. You will always be my priest.


Peace Prayer of St. Francis

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred,Let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is error, truth
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console
To be understood,as to understand
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.