Saturday, May 31, 2014

The magic will go on

It was hard to distinguish the tears from the sweat this morning. Another rockin' Zumba class led by the incomparable Julie White at Unique Phyzique, only the most fun fitness studio in PA if not the world. However, hugs and fond farewells followed today's class, the last until UP opens its doors at a new location in the (hopefully) near future.

So, along with so many other UP members, I'm sending my very best wishes to Julie and husband John for success in their future ventures. And to the owners of that little strip of business real estate on Rt. 30, expect a large water bill getting it to cool down!

Speaking of which, today's cool-down was "Magic" by Cold Play.  And indeed, the magic will go on...





(BTW, if you have to develop arthritis in your knees, I highly recommend Zumba as the most entertaining way to do it and the easiest way to remain blissfully oblivious to the symptoms.)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Because signing Internet petitions isn't enough

 Updates, 2/4/2014:
 Witness Against Torture just uploaded these videos to YouTube

Andy Worthington speaking
http://youtu.be/00FIXfhNkZo

Ret. Maj. Todd Pierce speaking
http://youtu.be/-lAo84Tzd58

 _____________________________

 
  Been so busy at work all week that I haven’t had time to unpack and share my impressions of last weekend’s Close Guantánamo events in D.C.

   Friday, January 10. I took a vacation day so that I could attend the screening of Doctors of the Dark Side, Martha Davis’ documentary on the complicity of psychiatrists, psychologists, and medical personnel in the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used by the CIA. I especially wanted to attend the screening because it was going to be followed by a panel discussion by British journalist, blogger, and author of the Guantanámo Files, Andy Worthington. I had the pleasure of meeting and saying a few words to him before the film.

  Doctors of the Dark Side was disturbing, to say the least. Subjecting any human being to physical or psychological torture for any reason is always illegal and immoral. Period. (Never mind the fact that torture is ineffective.) No matter what they may have done or what information they supposedly possess. The fact that White House attorneys agreed to walling, stress positions, enclosing prisoners in a small box with an insect (who thinks up this stuff anyway?), and of course, the pièce de résistance, waterboarding, is absolutely repugnant. It is even more shocking and sad to learn that medical and psychological professionals, whose sword duty it is to safeguard individuals in their care, collaborated instead in their torture. I have to agree with Nathaniel Raymond of Physicians for Human Rights that these acts of complicity constitute “the single greatest scandal in the history of American medical ethics.”


 Yoo has appealed to history, pointing out that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Pierce, however, asserts that the Geneva Convention supersedes any sort of war powers that would allow the president to suspend habeas corpus or authorize torture.
Panel members: Maj. Pierce, Andy Worthington, Stephanie Rugoff
  Another panel member, retired Judge Advocate General, Maj. Todd E. Pierce, offered some interesting remarks on the legality of rulings handed down by White House attorneys John Yoo and others.
 
  Also participating in the discussion following the film were retired CIA officer Ray McGovern and Stephanie Rugoff of World Can’t Wait.












Saturday, January 11. Well, I can say that I’ve taken part in vigils and marches in Washington, D.C. in falling snow, in withering heat, and now in drenching rain. Still, I was proud to join with members of National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Amnesty International USA, Code Pink (who lent me an orange t-shirt), Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, Center for Constitutional Rights, Veterans for Peace and others in marching from the White House to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I parted with the group and headed home at that point. However, dedicated members of Witness Against Torture entered the museum and conducted a living exhibit, urging us all to work to Make Guantánamo History. View their courageous action:

Friday, January 3, 2014

Time paused, resumed, then paused again

  Our first snowstorm of 2014.  Went back to work yesterday after a wonderful twelve-day holiday, only to have a snow holiday today.  Everything seems almost eerily quiet and still.  The branches are lined with snow, and only the wind shakes off a few stitches now and then.  At 17° it's way too cold for any melting.

   I've been doing some work at my desk by the back window. The sun is shining and shadows slowly cruise from one side of the ocean of white to the other. Listening to classical music on Radio Swiss Classic (French announcement version).

   Reigning over all is the calm that only a snowfall can bring.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tree of Life

During Meeting for Worship this morning we remembered one of our beloved members who recently passed away.  Louise was a birthright Friend.  The Spirit spoke eloquently through her words and actions, especially during the last few years when her delicate health forced her to become a shut-in. We rarely saw her, but she would send Spirit-filled greetings and messages to us in response to cards and phone calls.


Thanks to one of the Haverford College horticulturalists, we obtained a cutting from the great elm tree of Shackamaxon.  According to tradition, it was under this tree that William Penn signed a Treaty of Amity and Friendship with the native inhabitants of the land.





After silent worship punctuated by inspired readings, we took turns spreading soil around the base of the tree.  Louise's daughter sprinkled some of her mother's ashes, and our First Day School children scattered flower petals and seeds.




 Then our Friendly horticulturalist added supports so the sapling would withstand harsh winds and grow strong and tall.


One of the readings was this touching excerpt from William Penn's More Fruits of Solitude:

  And this is the comfort of the good, that the grave cannot hold them, and that they live as soon as they die. For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity. Death, then, being the way and condition of life, we cannot love to live, if we cannot bear to die.
They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. Death cannot kill what never dies.
 Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle, the root and record of their friendship. If absence be not death, neither is theirs.
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
 This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reza Aslan, Jesus, and me

  Update:  some real reviews that discuss Aslan's work, not his religion:

Dale B. Martin in the  New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/books/reza-aslans-zealot-the-life-and-times-of-jesus-of-nazareth.html

Anthony Le Donne's blog
http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-usually-happy-fellow-reviews-aslans.html

 ______________________________________________

 Hard to express how profoundly disappointed I am with media reaction to Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. I won't talk about (or link to) the ambush conducted by a Fox News interviewer. John Oliver's three-parter is friendly and fun, and Sister Rose Pacatte's interview is a respectful exchange. However, an NPR interview was just long enough to allow Aslan to give a bare-bones version of his viewpoint., while an essayist on Huffington Post takes the author to task for doing serious scripture criticism. Come on, scholars established long ago that the "Evangelists" adapted and embellished the Jesus story, even putting words into the Nazarean's mouth.

   Someday maybe I'll read a scholarly review that gives a more substantial and nuanced analysis of Aslan's portrait of Jesus. In the meantime, here are my personal impressions. I'm no scripture scholar. I cannot read Koiné, Hebrew, or Aramaic and have taken only a few introductory courses in biblical studies. I'm just a lay person --and practicing Christian-- who has always had the suspicion that Jesus of Nazareth was very different from the Christ of the Nicene Creed, the dreaded authoritarian God-Man who sits at the right hand of the Father judging us all. To satisfy my curiosity, I've devoured historical studies by investigators from Ernest Renan and Albert Schweitzer to the Jesus Seminar. Jewish scholars such as the last Geza Vermes hold a special appeal for me (after all, Jesus was a Jew). So, when Aslan's book was published I needed no prompting by Fox News or Comedy Central to run out and get it.


SPOILER ALERT: OK, so you probably know how the Jesus story ends. However, if you'd rather discover Aslan's version on your own, skip the paragraphs in blue.

    Aslan recounts "the story of the zealous Galilean peasant and Jewish nationalist who donned the mantle messiah and launched a foolhardy rebellion against the corrupt Temple priesthood and the vicious Roman occupation." (p. 169)  Jesus of Nazareth figures in a long list of unsuccessful messiahs who lived and died in what we know as the first-century-B.C.E. Holy Land. He was a zealot (not to be confused with a member of the Zealot Party, which would come much later).  Zeal constituted "a model of piety inextricably linked to the widespread sense of apocalyptic expectation that had seized the Jews in the wake of the Roman occupation...The Kingdom of God was at hand. Everyone was talking about it. But God's reign could only be ushered in by those with the zeal to fight for it." (p. 41)

    The priestly class was the target of Jesus' particular ire, "those who profited most heavily from the Temple's commerce, and who did so on the backs of poor Galileans like himself " (p.99) and who secured their position and livelihood by colluing with Rome. Jesus healed the sick and forgave sins without charge, thus undercutting the Temple cult and rendering the priests unnecessary. Jesus' message was always directed at his own people, whom he wanted to liberate, and it was always as political as it was religious. Although Jesus was not the pacifist that some modern theologians make him out to be, he was not "a violent revolutionary bent on armed rebellion" either, "though his views on the use of violence were far more complex than it is often assumed."  Jesus may have spoken in parables about the Kingdom of God, but his disciples knew what the coded language meant. His dramatic cleansing of the Temple revealed him as an uncompromising adversary of the reigning political system and led to his arrest. (His execution was not, however, preceded by the dramatic confrontation with Pilate, as recorded in the gospel of John.) The titulus nailed above Jesus' head proclaimed his crime. He was a common lestes who aspired to be King of the Jews. In other words, he was executed for sedition. Because crucifixion marked a Jew as accursed, Jesus' followers infused a salvific message into his death, and a later generation of learned writers scoured Hebrew scripture for prophetic words to explain the mission of the Nazarean.

   Why did the story of this would-be messiah not perish with him? Because his followers were convinced that he had risen from the dead and did not stop proclaiming it. While the Resurrection is a phenomenon that cannot be submitted to historical inquiry, "there is this nagging fact to consider: one after another of those who claimed to have witnessed the risen Jesus went to their own gruesome deaths refusing to recant their testimony....It was precisely the fervor with which the followers of Jesus believed in his resurrection that transformed this tiny Jewish sect into the largest religion in the world." (p. 174, 175.)                                  .  
   
    However, what we know as Christianity got off to a fractious start to say the least. Conflict arose between James the Just, brother of Jesus and head of the "mother assembly" in Jerusalem, and Saul of Tarsus, who took the name Paul after his conversion. Paul and James clashed over the extent to which Jewish law should continue to be observed, although the writer of the Acts of the Apostles downplayed the animosity existing between "these two bitter and openly hostile adversaries."  However, once the mother assembly in Jerusalem was annihilated by Rome, "Paul's Christ ...obliterated the last trace of the Jewish messiah in Jesus." (p. 190)  The gospels, written six decades after the death of Jesus by persons who had not known him personally, were addressed to non-Jewish audiences. "Scattered across the Roman Empire, it was only natural for the gospel writers to distance themselves from the Jewish independence movement by erasing, as much as possible, any hint of radicalism or violence, revolution or zealotry, from the story of Jesus, and to adapt Jesus's words and actions to the new political situation in which they found themselves." (p. 149). Thus did the no-account peasant and would-be messiah become God incarnate, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ.

  Reza Aslan has a B.A. from Santa Clara University, a master of theological studies from Harvard,  an M.F.A from the University of Iowa, and a Ph.D. in the sociology of religion from the University of California at Santa Clara. He currently teaches at the University of California, Riverside.

  That master of fine arts is certainly evident in Aslan's vivid, you-are-there writing:

    The priest takes your sacrifice to a corner and cleanses himself in a nearby basin. Then, with a simple prayer, he slits the animal's throat ... This is as close as you will ever by to the presence of God.  The stink of carnage is impassible to ignore. It clings to the skin, the hair, becoming a noisome burden you will not soon shake off.  The priests burn incense to ward off the fetor and disease, but the mixture of myrrh and cinnamon, saffron and frankincense cannot mask the insufferable stench of slaughter.Still, it is important to stay where you are and witness your sacrifice take place in the next courtyard, the Court of Priests.  Entry into this court is permitted solely to the priests and the Temple officials, for this is where the Temple's altar stands: a four-horned pedestal made of bronze and wood --five cubits long, five cubits wide-- belching thick black clouds of smoke into the air. (from the Prologue, pp. 4, 5, 6).

   This kind of writing is a rare joy.  If you don't believe me, we can spend some time together in the Bible studies section of the university library where I work and sample tomes written over the last 200 or so years. See if you're still awake after a half-hour of erudite, footnoted prose, liberally sprinkled with essential Bible vocabulary in the original ancient languages. Aslan has the good sense to organize his references into a separate 50-page section following his narrative. He knows how to construct a good read and plunges us right into the turbulence of the era.

  I perused those 50-pages of scholarly notes, by the way,  lingering over those that were most interesting to me.  I recognized many sources cited by John Dominic Crossan and others, although  Aslan sometimes reaches different conclusions. Notably, Aslan's Jesus believed the end times to be near, a view not shared by Crossan and other recent scholars.

   More problematic, even painful for me is Aslan's treatment of Jesus' teachings, particularly the Sermon on the Mount and the parables. Although he is not unique in this, the author affirms that Jesus in no way departed from Jewish law, and he considers the contrasting formula "You have heard it said ... but I say to you" to be later a later interpolation. I'm familiar, of course, with Jesus' assertion, "I have only been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 15:24). However, if Jesus did not mean his teachings to have universal application, I guess I feel a bit...well...left out. I too want to be part of bringing the "upside-down kingdom" into being. However, what role can a 21st-century follower have if "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" is just code for "please Lord, help us kick the Romans out as soon as possible"?   What bearing does the message of a nationalistic Jesus have on Marcus Borg's vision of "the world as if God were in charge?" Or on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Beloved Community?  Jesus becomes just another liberation figure, no more or less admirable than Garibaldi....

      Bring it on. I find these challenges to my own Christology every bit as passionate as the quest for the historical Jesus.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Today's my day...featured on Smith!

I'm so excited that I'm having trouble getting to sleep!  My six-word memoir was featured as the Memoir of the Day on the Smith Magazine website today!





The six-word memoir is said to have been invented by Ernest Hemingway who, when challenged to write an entire novel in six words, responded, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Smith Magazine invites members of the community to contribute their own six-word stories on a variety of topics.  It's a lot of fun when readers "favorite" your story or leave comments. No matter how intimidated you might be about writing, who can't come up with six words?

 Thanks, Smith Magazine! Made my day!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

suspicious individual
...OK, really just one day of the summer -- last Wednesday, July 24, to be specific.  Joined friends from Witness Against Torture, World Can't Wait, Code Pink, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Amnesty International, and Veterans for Peace in holding a vigil outside the Dirksen Senate building and then went inside to attend the "Hearing on Closing Guantanamo: The National Security, Fiscal, and Human Rights Implications," convened by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL). I also met and spoke briefly with activist Ray McGovern.

The following persons gave testimony during the hearing:

Army General Paul Eaton (ret)
Brigadier General Stephen Xenakis (ret)
Frank Gaffney, Founder and president of the Center for Security Policy
Navy Lt. Joshua Fryday
Elisa Massimino, President and CEO, Human Rights First
Two invited members of the House of Representatives, Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mike Pompeo (R-KS)
Senators Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, and Ted Cruz also gave extended remarks.

The video is now available for your viewing pleasure on the C-SPAN website:
http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/BayPris




Some highlights:

In his opening statement, Sen. Durbin reminded those attending of former Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld's approval of the use of torture, and he quoted Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who wrote that "a state of war is not a blank check for the president."  The main thrust of his argument was that detainees can be safely held at supermax facilities in the U.S., from which no one has ever escaped.  In fact, according to the senator, nearly 500 terrorists have been tried in the U.S. and are currently being held under supermax conditions. Unfortunately, in emphasizing the airtight security of these prisons, Mr. Durbin gave the impression that all Gitmo detainees are actually guilty of some crime. To the contrary, 86 of them have been cleared for release long ago by the Combatant Status Review Tribunals and need to be returned to their own homelands or resettled in a third-party country. As a matter of fact, I do not remember any mention of the fact that the vast majority of detainees were captured far from the battlefield after being betrayed for a hefty ransom proffered by our government. 

Finally, I must confess to being less than delighted with the senator's reassurances that we'll take care of any detainees who dare to resume hostilities against the U.S. (uh, how can one "resume" an action that one never began?) by clobbering them with a drone.  A truly comforting thought on many levels...

Gen. Eaton reminded the committee of the "Gitmoization" of Abu Ghraib and stated that there is "no national security reason to keep Guantánamo open."


The most riveting statements were made by Brig. Gen. Xenakis, a practicing psychiatrist who has examined at least 50 of the detainees over the years. He unequivocally condemned force-feeding the hunger strikers, deploring the fact that military medical personnel are placed in an "untenable position," as force-feeding is in blatant violation of medical ethics and international human rights standards. He called for "independent doctors and nurses" to be brought in to care for the detainees.

Frank Gaffney made the breathtaking generalization that Guantánamo must never be closed because the detainees are all dedicated to the "doctrine of Sharia" and therefore "believe it's their duty to destroy us." He also cautioned that detainees, if transferred to supermax facilities on the mainland, will start to "proselytize" in the U.S. prisons.  Mr. Gaffney has obviously never read any of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal transcripts and seems to have a spotty understanding of Islam, to say the least.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein had the clearest appreciation of why some detainees are on hunger strike. She explained that a hunger strike is a form of protest, not attempted suicide, and reinforced the stance that force-feeding violates "international norms and medical ethics."  She also reminded those present that locking prisoners away indefinitely without trial is "not the American way" and "makes a myth out of our legal system."  Not to mention the revelation that it costs $2.7 million per year to keep each detainee at Guantánamo.  One can only hope that fiscal concerns will convince those not moved by ethical or constitutional considerations.

Finally, I can only conclude that Rep. Mike Pompeo and Sen. Feinstein, who have both toured Guantánamo, must have visited two different places.  Sen. Feinstein was lucid enough to see that "everything down there is so deceiving," including the shiny new courtroom with no trials scheduled, and came away convinced that Gitmo "falsifies our principles." Congressman Pompeo, on the other hand, made the following edifying statements:

"There are no human rights violations occurring at Guantanamo Bay."

The hunger strike currently in progress is "a political stunt orchestrated or encouraged at least in part by counsel for the detainees."

There is "no question of the constitutionality of Guantanamo."


In short, the arguments to close Gitmo rested on universal human rights considerations and the rule of law, while those who maintained that the prison is essential to our national security appealed to naked fear.  As Sen Leahy put it, "We are the most powerful nation on earth. Why are we afraid to use our justice system?"

  Good question.
_______________
Thanks to Witness Against Torture for the photo of the suspicious, jumpsuit-clad individual.
#closegitmo

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Taking Torture Personally


Today is International Day of Support for Victims of Torture and the 140th day of the Guantanamo Bay detainee hunger strike. I headed down to Washington, D.C. to take part in the protest in front of the White House organized by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Amnesty International USA, Witness Against Torture, World Can't Wait, Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition, and many other human rights groups.






We displayed the names of the 86 detainees cleared for release years ago, yet still imprisoned. Many are on hunger strike, the only means they have to get the American government to notice their plight and let them go.







We condemned the force-feeding of the detainees who are on hunger strike.








    We demanded that Pres. Obama stop    
wringing his hands, go over Congress' head and close Gitmo.










In obedience to the Light Within, I follow the example of Friends who supported their imprisoned brothers and sisters in 17th-century England, who have long worked to improve prison conditions (even for those convicted of grievous crimes), who helped slaves escape to freedom, who were part of feminism's First Wave, and who currently assist vets in obtaining the medical benefits they so desperately need.

I affirm that those whose legal and human rights are being violated have the right to protest nonviolently, even if the only way they can do so is by fasting.I denounce force-feeding as torture and deplore the pain and suffering inflicted on them.

I march, clothed as the detainees were clothed when they first arrived at Gitmo, because they cannot march. Their fast is their voice, my footsteps are mine.

However, when all all is said and done, I was just there for decoration. My friend and fellow Quaker Megan really lived her conviction and joined those who chose to risk arrest and were indeed arrested. Not sure I'll ever have that sort of courage.  She stood before the the White House fence radiating a quiet, assured, loving peacefulness. A real example of what it means to live the Peace Testimony.
   
  Unfortunately for the cause of those subjected to torture and solitary confinement (but fortunately for gays who have also been awaiting justice), the Supreme Court chose the same day to hand down its momentous decisions. This had two consequences for our group of protesters.  First, we didn't get much press coverage.  Second, I think the absence of recognizable journalists emboldened the police to use more severe tactics.  For instance, I saw them force an elderly, nonviolent vet to lie face-down in the street while they handcuffed him.

Here are some other sites with photos and videos of the protest:

Video of speakers -- vet face-down on ground toward the end
http://youtu.be/61GU8IeFgHI


Medea Benjamin being thrown to the ground
http://www.popularresistance.org/police-brutality-against-codepink-at-white-house-close-guantanamo/

Photo gallery - close-up of Diane Wilson being arrested
www.closegitmo.net

Story on CommonDreams
http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2013/06/25


http://www.popularresistance.org/protest-at-white-house-close-guantanamo-diane-wilson-goes-over-white-house-fence/

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/06/protester-arrested-after-jumping-white-house-fence/


http://www.flickr.com/photos/billyclub/sets/72157634347963763/


http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/34970911


  I hope we Americans find a way to throw off our pall of self-righteousness, paranoia, and vengeance and start treating everyone as children of the same Divine Parent.


Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Hebrews 13:3

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day 100 of the hunger strike

...as so many of those signing would say, time to close Gitmo!

http://www.worldcantwait.net/index.php/calls-to-action/8236-world-can-t-wait-to-place-new-ad-against-guantanamo-in-the-new-york-times

Signers include:
John Cusack, Wallace Shawn, Junot Diaz, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Eve Ensler, Dave Eggers, Glenn Greenwald, Paul Haggis, Bianca Jagger, Ariel Dorfman, Erica Jong, Michael Moore, Ron Kovic, Moby, Tom Morello, Mark Ruffalo, James Schamus, Carl Dix, Oliver Stone, Cindy Sheehan, and Cornel West, joined by attorneys for the Guantanamo prisoners and hundreds of others who stand for justice

Add your name:
http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1170/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=13340

And while some prefer to resurrect dated articles hyping the rate of detainee recidivism, here's a current, in-depth report: