Sunday, January 30, 2005

By Any Other Name

‘I see the Jewish people as a nation with the holy task of establishing a nation of peace, non-violence, and universal brotherhood in Zion. Zion is our ancient homeland from which we were driven several times because of our sin against this holy calling. Our right to exist depends on putting this calling into practice. This means that we can only return to Zion if there is justice and honesty in our relationships with our fellow human beings, with our Arab brothers who live in this land. If we behave with violence, in a spirit of hostility and estrangement and not according to the holy Jewish principle of "what is hateful to you, do not do to others," then we are sinning most grievously and putting ourselves in extreme physical and spiritual danger. That is why I see Jewish-Arab peace as our most important obligation. And I consider the emergency situation today as scandalous and shameful for the people of Israel.’

Natan Hofshi (1889-1980)

This quote from a Jewish immigrant to Israel in the early 20th century, He was saddened when his people chose violence and retribution as a means to create and maintain their new nation and he predicted exactly the repercussions which have come about. He expresses so well the philosophy underlying my own feelings on this subject. Both in regards to Israel and Christians and the distinction between persecution of a people for who they are or what they believe versus justifiable condemnation of those hubristic behaviors which they do in the name of their doctrine or national policy. A bully is a bully by any other name.

The roots of the modern terror campaigns are partly in the way that the State of Israel was created and forced down the throats of those who had lived on the land for millennia. Terrorism worked for the Zionist terrorists who were given into after they wreaked terror on the British occupiers after WWII. And ever since they have had to hang onto their gain by committing untold atrocities against their neighbors. They sowed the wind of terror and are reaping the whirlwind of revenge. Both sides are now caught in an endless cycle of retaliation. Meanwhile they are slaughtering the souls of their children. For this is the result of a child reared in an environment of hate, fear and pain. Violence becomes the only thing they know. I have seen photos and video of Israeli soldiers bulldozing homes as punishment for one member of a family being involved in any act of dissent from shouting out slogans to throwing rocks at tanks on up to participation in acts of violence with bullets and bombs. I have seen video of Israeli soldiers enticing a small crowd of Palestinian children with promises of candy to approach the fence and then shooting dead the first one to reach it. The soldiers are so jaded and steeped in the spirit of revenge they can see no difference between the child of today and the terrorist he may become in the future and they see no connection between their own acts and the creating of the spirit of revenge in these children. This is why so many children are willing to make of themselves a weapon of revenge--many of the suicide bombers are teens or recruited and begin their training in their early teens. Bullying begets bullies.

If being a friend of Israel means condoning this or empowering it then count me out. True friends tell each other the truth even when it is hard to hear. And the truth is they cannot create their safety with bombs and bullets or even fences. Trusting in these is not trusting in God. It is the saddest thing of all that a people who have borne centuries of oppression by others have chosen as their own a policy of oppression. Whether Zionist, Palestinian, Islamist or Christian, whether, American, Israelite, British or Iraqi, when one walks like a bully, talks like a bully, behaves like a bully they are nothing but bullies by whatever name.

This is just as true for those Christians who draw down the wrath of others with their arrogance for the resulting violence against them has nothing to do with being persecuted for the Name of Jesus or for following the path He espoused which was one of humility, gentleness, compassion and love and a complete rejection of violence or vengeance as a means to attain anything, including justice. Jesus said those who live by the sword will die by the sword. The Prince of Peace understood that violence begets only violence; that war generates only war and never peace.

Christian's are going to reap the whirlwind America is sowing in Iraq and this will have nothing whatsoever to do with suffering for the Gospel or the name of Christ or the God they claim. It will not be for the scandal of the Gospel that they suffer but for the scandal of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and of babies with bloody stumps for limbs and small children with nothing but a blister for a face, of little girls covered in the blood of their parents; the scandal of children and their mothers dying of malnutrition because food production and delivery is compromised, of dysentery and other easily preventable disease because we bombed their sanitation and water systems into rubble and prevent cheap medicines and simple medical care from reaching them while our Generals give speeches to large crowds about their god being bigger than the god of their enemy; the scandal of small children being raised up in a war zone, learning fear and despair and hate and revenge while their tender minds and souls are still forming. I have seen the photos and so have billions of Muslims. None of this is making Americans safer here or abroad. None of it is making Christians safer anywhere either because it is being done in the name of the Christian's God. Even I would reject that God if forced to believe that this is what He intends or demands. I choose to believe that God is not a bully by whatever name He/She is called.

Understanding this is why I cannot condone nor support our own nation's current engagement in a war on terror. And why it is especially difficult to understand the massive numbers of Christian's who support it. Bush is choosing the tools of evil to fight evil just as Israel has been doing for over half a century. So his claim to be doing this in the name of God or democracy, of freedom or peace, of safety or justice is completely bogus and does nothing but besmirch the names of these ideals and the very name of the God he claims to obey. For, if this is obedience to his god then his god is not my god for this god is a bully by any other name.

My measure for recognizing the work of God in the actions of others is in the Golden Rule, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 25, Galatians' list of the Fruits of the Spirit and the verse in Ephesians which says Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God in Christ hath forgiven you. Any policy or doctrine that attempts to justify anything else is not of the God of Jesus who is the God of Love, Mercy, Grace, Justice, Peace and Salvation.

I take seriously the injunction 'by their fruits you shall know them'. There is nothing of the Fruits of the Spirit or the example of Jesus in the actions of our government today and this makes a lie of their claim to be acting in the name of God. And thus by my lights, all those Christians who support these policies and make a show of patriotism are guilty of idolatry. One can not serve two masters.
By the same token, I believe that all those issues so many Christians keep on the national agenda are misguided. Especially the pledge of allegiance. Once again the attempt to swear loyalty to two masters and to get away with it by conflating God with the Nation. They are not one and the same. As for attempts to mount plaques or engravings of the ten commandments: putting your trust in a list of rules is not putting your trust in God.

The whole revolutionary meaning of the Gospel was that, when the Spirit of Love inhabits your heart your behaviors naturally flow from that love and the rules are extraneous. Thus the prophets spoke of God's word written on men's hearts. The attempt to impose rules from without short circuits the direct line between the heart of God and the heart of His child, it always forces an individual to choose between two masters. And it is very very confusing when the human masters claim to be acting in the name of God.

But of course I understand that as long as we are human souls inhabiting mortal bodies we will always fall short of the perfection of the Spirit. That is where the principles of humility and forgiveness are so important. True justice is rooted in these and not in punishment or revenge. Because once any individual comes to a true understanding of their own weaknesses, their own inability to gain perfection by the power of their own will, they will find it impossible to stand in judgment of others or to be the instrument of the coercion of others. Once one understands by the examining of one's own soul that all behaviors which are not born out of Love (all the other fruits of the Spirit ore subsumed in this one) are born out of it's absence where fear and pain become the seeds of hate and despair. And once that is understood, it is easily seen that all sin is rooted in fear and pain experienced in the absence of love. And thus it follows that the response of anyone whose heart is ruled by Love to any sin in self or others must be rooted in compassion. The roots of compassion are in the experience of acknowledging that the fear and pain of another is the same as the experience of one's own fear and pain. Also known as empathy, this is the love that bonds souls into community.

None of this means that one must condone the sin, but that it is the very height of arrogance to condemn the sinner, or to take vengeance on them. Arrogance because it is willful unwillingness to see that 'there but for the Grace of God go I'. This is as much true for the acts of the terrorists on 9/11 as for the wounding acts of gossip born of a sense of superiority and the acts of rudeness and incivility born of impatience.


None Dare Call Us Sane

This article by Jules Siegel on Alternet reviews the book: Guantanamo: What the World Should Know by Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray and asks: Thus Ends Democracy in the United States?
If anyone, after reading this, still thinks Bush is a man of God and fighting a just war than your definition of ‘man of God’ and ‘just war’ is about as twisted as W’s syntax, Clinton’s definition of ‘sex’, Ms. Rice’s definition of ‘integrity’ and Gonzales’ definition of ‘torture’. And if you are not absolutely for certain sure that all of your opinions are the same as Bush’s, you can never be absolutely for certain sure that it won’t be you one day given the right to defend yourself in a secret interrogation cell but not in an open court room.
Even if torture could be justified in some rare instance like the ‘ticking bomb’ hypothesis, it could never be justified under these conditions:
Thousands rounded up willy-nilly and packed by the hundreds like sardines into shipping containers (shades of Auschwitz) with only fifty out of those hundreds surviving the transport (shades of the slave trade). The shooting of extra breathing holes into the containers thereby killing more whose corpses go along for the ride. And surely someone along the line of decision makers could have made the judgment that a ninety-plus year old man who cannot walk without a walker could be safely ruled out as a potential terrorist and at the very least needn‘t be shackled to his walker! Same goes for the very young boys and men who showed signs of mental incapacity.
The shame of this episode of our history will be on us for generations. We have forfeited the right to be thought of as the moral leader of the world. We are no longer the shinning beacon of freedom, democracy, civil rights, equality before the law or justice. And the only reason the majority of Americans still seem to think so is because the definitions of those words have been tortured into inanity by the pundits, propagandists and the media which tolerates the misuse of words in forums that are billed as the rational, objective, and impartial imparting of the facts. Thereby creating an illusion that we all now live within. So that none who still know the original meaning of the word ’sanity’ dare call us sane.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Inaugural Address That Wasn't

Oh, let us dream of the possibilities!


Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Warning for Rep. Gerald Allen of the State Legislature of Alabama and anyone else with similar bright ideas:


I’m too livid right now to write a coherent response to this but the jist is that Allen is working on legislation that would forbid public monies to be spent on media that depicts the gay lifestyle in a favorable light. Contemplate that for a moment. Really. Chew on it. And if you don’t start to feel like you are about to choke on it, you just aren’t getting it.

First, he wants his law to apply against media that depicts homosexuals in a favorable light but not necessarily media that is unfavorable. Like for example hate-mongering.

Second and most scary of all, once a law like this exists anywhere in America, it wouldn’t be long before someone somewhere is attempting to mimic it for whatever agenda they might have. Here is a list of the kinds of information that could start disappearing off our library shelves:

Facts about contraception, facts about sex, facts about Government misdeeds, facts about unpopular religious views, facts about unpopular political views. Media which depicts the complexities of the abortion choice in a favorable light, media which depicts any sexual behavior outside of marriage in a favorable light, media which depicts any current administration in an unfavorable light, media which depicts corporate products or behaviors in an unfavorable light (the veggie libel laws already serve this purpose), media that depicts any of America’s history in an unfavorable light, media which depicts non-whites in a favorable light, media which depicts dissenters in a favorable light….it would be endless. The slippery slope into the bliss of ignorance. How far off could Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 be once we have a law like that? Do I need to start memorizing my favorite book today?


Monday, January 17, 2005

Recalling 'A Drum Major for Peace'

MLK once requested: "If any of you are around when I meet that day, I don't want a long funeral. If you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Prize, that isn't important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards. . . . I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King tried to give his life helping others. I want you to say that I tried to be right on the war question. . . . "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, that I was a drum major for peace."


Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Jesus Agenda

Here is a link to another voice in the rising chorus pitting Jesus' own words against the deeds currently being done in his name. You can expect to find more such links on Joystory as I am on the prowl for them. I need to hear more voices singing the song that is in my own heart. If anyone can point me in the direction of more discussion along this line, I would welcome it.


On a Horse Called Faith

This story about a philosopher/Christian, 'Doc' Mishler, on a pilgrimage across America engaging Christians in dialog about the teachings of Jesus is inspiring. He challenges those he encounters with the words of Jesus found in Matthew--the Sermon on the Mount; admonitions to feed the hungry, to turn the other cheek, to resist not evil with evil, to give to the needy, to clothe the naked etc. He summarizes their responses in this article and critiques their rationalizations--with respect though with bluntness.

How is it that so many who call themselves Christians can shrug off most of the actual teachings of the one they call 'Master' as though they were irrelevant? It is this very attitude that makes me cringe to hear the word 'Christian' today as it has become toxic with the accretions of patriotism, just war rationales, bigotry, hatemongering, holy war, prisoner abuse, commercialism, self-righteousness, 'compassionate conservatism' which in essence bleeds the needy to feed the greedy, and so much more that is antithetical to all that Jesus stood for in word and deed. I am struggling with anger at my nation's Christian community over these and related issues.

As I have mentioned here before, I came out of the fundamentalist sect into which I was born after 35 years and spent the next decade learning to think for myself and had just about found a certain peace with acknowledging my Christianity again when 9/11 happened followed by Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and accompanied by calls to silence dissent. This last especially disturbing for me, for after what I went through, I value my freedom of conscience more than my life.

Stories like Doc Mishler's are inspiring. I wish I had the courage he has. I hope he is able to get a genuine dialog on this issue going all over America. I believe the glaring lack of a concerted and passionate repudiation of the Abu Ghraib abuse by our nation's Christian communities is one of the most shaming episodes ever for the National and Global Body of Christ. According to Jesus' own words in Matthew 25 the treatment of the prisoners there and elsewhere amount to no less than abusing Jesus himself. There is no ifs, no ands, no buts. There is no justification from within a philosophy that can call itself Christian unless Christian has lost all connection to Jesus.

My heart is breaking not just for the hungry and ailing babies, lacking food and medical care or even love, (whether in war zones, quake zones or greed zones) but for every other suffering soul on this planet. Even for those who have perpetrated evil deeds, for I have come to understand that such deeds are always born of pain. And when such pain is allowed to fester by all those who witness it-- victim, perpetrator or bystander--the culpability for the consequences must be shared by all. This is the meaning of the Body of Christ. And it is the meaning of Community. Thus any social justice system that does not take this into account cannot safeguard either community or justice.

This is my current understanding of the Gospel after many years of reading in Psychology, Comparative Religion, History and the History of Christianity coupled with observing human nature with the trained eye of a writer. Coming to understand it this way made it possible for me to re-embrace my own Christianity. But I have found few who understand, let alone agree, and none face-to-face.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

First They Came for the Terroists...

Thom Hartmann asks: "Where are the true democrats among the Democrats? (Or, for that matter, the true republicans among the Republicans?) Have they all lost their voices?
First Bush and Gonzales came for the terrorists, but I was not a terrorist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the enemy combatants, but I was not a combatant, so I did not object. Then they came for the protestors resisting "free speech zones" near Bush campaign rallies, but I was not a protestor and so I only voiced my unease.
If we - and our elected representatives - do not speak out now, loudly and forcefully, it may not be long before they come for the rest of us."


Monday, January 10, 2005

Storytelling as empowerment, healing & validation

I was quite moved to see this comment in an article about the aftermath of the tsunami shortly after I wrote my recent post Losing All to the Abyss:

People here need to talk; they want to share their personal stories

I felt connected in common humanity with the victims of the tsunami even more than before, for I understand on a very deep level how important being able to tell your story is. I wish I knew of a way to apply my peculiar passion for story to help them out in this way. But I doubt very much that listening and telling stories is on the agenda of any aid agencies right now. It probably seems there are so many more pressing necessities. But if they were to understand that it is often the intimate detail of a personal story that can motivate others to contribute aid maybe they would consider begininng such a project.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Losing All to the Abyss

The last two weeks of 2004 threw several wrenches into the machine of my ambition, various holiday related events served to constrain my time and the availability of the computer. Like guests sleeping in the living room so that my shortened sessions needed to be conducted in the dark and on the hush. Hard to opperate a keyboard that way. Hard to copy from handwritten rough drafts and notes or take quotes out of books. Hard but not impossible with one of those little book lights. At least as long as the batteries kept the light bright. But it still cramped my style and made easy tasks difficult and hard tasks ardurous. Yet I persevered because I was full of hope and ambition and expectation of success and assurance of the meaningfulness of my efforts.

Then the Monday after Xmas I woke with a sore throat which soon progressed to a full blown cold with cough and fever. Still I persevered, even though the fever compromised my iffy vision and the cough began to wear me out. Maybe it was the slow accretion of all of this with the final wrench being the news coverage of the Tsunami which seemed to wrench me out of my hope and make my ambition seem pointless. Whatever is to blame, all I know is that this week I am struggling to keep claim to my right to write. Maybe it is the fever taking the fight out of me and carrying those images of the Tsunami waves and the hoards of survivors with eternity in their eyes into my dreams along with the ghosts of all their lost ones, where the clamor of their cries of fear and grief demand of me to justify the relevance of my feeble words, of my frivolous stories and fustian poems, of Joystory even of Joy's story. My only answer is that my words and my story are the only ones that are mine to speak and without them I am as one who has lost everything to the abyss.


Friday, January 07, 2005

A day that will live in infamy!

How will we ever live down the shame? Gonzales was confirmed. The vote was 60-36 in favor. Not a mandate by any means. It was not surprising that every Republican voted in favor. What more can one expect of ditto heads? But it pained me a great deal to see that six Dems did also. These six names especially belong in the Hall of Shame for they have betrayed the principles of the party that has always stood for protecting the weak against the strong, for basic civil and human rights to be considered inalienable, for the fundamental dignity of each and every human spirit.

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Ken Salazar of Colorado

Shame! Shame! Shame!


We Are All Torturers Now

Mark Danner is convinced that the inevitable confirmation of Gonzales will give all Americans ownership in the torture policies he helped this administration devise, institute and justify. I agree. We will all be accountable for the use of tactics such as these witnessed by an FBI counter terrorism specialist at Guantanamo:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more...When I asked the M.P.'s what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occasion...the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.

Will we ever learn the cosmic lesson that what ever we do unto another we are doing unto ourselves or whomever else we hold most dear whether father, mother, child or...Jesus.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

This is the fruit of arrogance and greed--Capitalism as it is practiced today. Capitalism could have different fruit if it was rooted in a different baseline philosphy than this: that greed is good and not only good but the primary Good that can and would generate goodness for all if it was only given free reign. But this runs counter to every single spiritual tradition and wisdom tradition which ever thrived on this earth. How many more times must the human race relearn the lesson that greed is an invidious soul-sucking compulsion that bears only bitter or rotten fruit. It destroys both body and soul of both perpetrator and victim even when it seems to provide a surface prosperity to its practitioners.

Capitalism could be a force for Good and bear sweet fruit imbued with the vitality of life if onlly its practioners would change their definition of success to include the comprehensive wellbeing of the community (and today that means the global community) and not just the right of a few to a short term profit. A profit whose very calculation is made with skewed facts often refusing to take into account the true costs of production and other times inflating to disgraceful heights the monetary worth of any one person's contribution to the endeavor. i.e. CEO compensation packages worth 500-1000% of the pay and benefits packages of the lowsest paid contributor of value added. And yet the illusion of profit provides its owner with the resources to generate more profit on his own behalf. Even when that profit was calculated by leaving out the costs of damage to the environment, depletion of resources, shifting costs of production to the taxpayer (thruough the variety of incentives offered to lure companies to a locality or keep them there and other corporate welfare practices, and keeping the pay of some laborors so low that the community has to cover some of their living expenses) and then claiming ownership of the resultant 'profit'. Completely forgetting that it took a very large community indeed to make that 'profit' possible.

Capitalism as the concept of pooling money and resources in order to finance things that one person's resources could not is not an evil thing in itself. But when we see the evidence of the bitter fruit of millions of children dying needlessly every year because of the blowback of capitalism as it is practiced today, we should be convicted of the imbalance between our ideals and the reality and we should each be asking ourselves how we are contributing to the proliferation of that bitter fruit.


Monday, January 03, 2005

Proud To Be Heartless

Might the Tsunami put Free Market ideology on trial and reveal it for the cold-hearted bitch in heat that it always has been? That the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith fame is neither magic nor divine? That its premises are not only godless but devoid of the spirit of humanity as well? That when Profit is King all his subjects are slaves? Consider the implications of the thesis presented in the email widely distributed by the Ayn Rand Institute revealed in this article by Matthew Rothschild and then wonder if this stark rendering of the Free Market thesis in the face of a tragedy that has awakened the hearts of the world could be the seed of its own undoing, creating a backlash of repudiation for this ‘proud to be heartless’ coalition of the coercers. Thus is the empty heart of ‘conservative compassion’ laid bare.


Elective Attention and Selective Compassion

When I read this article by Peter Phillips of Project Censored, I felt as though he had been reading my mind. For throughout the week of media coverage of the Tsunami I was comparing in my imagination the climbing numbers of dead and displaced and the pictures of devastation wrought by nature that the cameras lovingly caressed and obsessively replayed with the similar numbers and pictures coming out of Iraq but nearly as obsessively avoided and obscured by the same corporate media.

Meanwhile I was also comparing the outpouring of compassion for the tsunami victims generated by the media coverage with the seeming complacency of most Americans to the same kinds of violent death and displacement in the same numbers by the War in Iraq, and I wondered if the war could have ever been started or (at least ever allowed to continue so long) if a similar consciousness of the carnage had been emblazoned on their TVs from day one of the brief and meatless debate leading up to the war. If the answer, as I suspect, is ’no’ then the media itself has blood on its hands. Sins of omission are just as damning as sins of commission.

But Phillips did not go far enough in his extrapolation for now that the pictures of the Tsunami have been tattooed on our retinas we, none of us, have any further excuse for complacency. If you have the imagination to empathize with those victims of Mother Nature in the Indian Ocean, then you have the imagination to extrapolate those images onto the blasted and radiation (Depleted Uranium) contaminated landscape and the bomb-shredded victims in Baghdad and Falluja and Mosul and… And then contemplate that those bombs are bought with your tax dollars. And that Representatives you voted for (if you voted at all) voted for this war because they feared you would not vote for them if they did not. Or they feared their corporate sponsors would not fund their next campaign or would not give them that defense or energy industry job after they left public service..

Wake up and smell the blood America. It is on your hands. You helped to generate the man-imagined and man-created Tsunami that has engulfed Iraq and you are allowing it to continue by default. And you are condoning the conditions that prevent aid reaching the victims. That is the heavy price of democracy. When things go horribly wrong every citizen is morally accountable for the results.


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