Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Realization

These past weeks of preparation for Christmas have been a time of spite of myself. Even amid all the rushing around, my good old faithful internal reflection machine still managed to function on auto-pilot ("where did the years go? how did I get like this?"), and while trying to keep up with activities that I've taken on for various "causes," I found myself a bit discouraged and down in the dumps just before Christmas.

It seems that I involve myself now with nothing but problems ... on an international scale (war, peace, torture, Guantánamo prisoners, Amnesty International), professional scale (looking for new and innovative ways to help the students grasp what I'm trying to teach them), faith community scale (our Friends meeting is in a very precarious financial state), or domestic scale (son #2 and his eagerness to go touring with a rock band).

Nothing but problems to work on...somewhere
along the way I had lost the joy that Quaker spirituality had brought me, as well as my ability to enjoy music, food, and the other good things that God has had the goodness to sprinkle along my path.

Then I remembered some things I had read and learned this year, especially these words of wisdom from Deepak Chopra:

We aren't here to make the world evolve. We are here to evolve as individuals and then to spread that influence.
Let us not demand of ourselves that we alone must be the agent of change. In a fire brigade everyone passes along a bucket, but only the last person puts out the fire. None of us know where we stand in line. We may be here simply to pass a bucket; we may be called on to play a major role. In either case, all we can do is think, act, and say. Let us direct our thoughts, words, and actions to peace. That is all we can do. Let the results be what they will be.
Let us realize that engagement and detachment aren't opposite--the more engaged we become, the more detached we will have to be. Otherwise, we will lose ourselves in conflict, obsessiveness, anxiety over the future, and feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Keep in mind that we are pioneers into the unknown, and uncertainty is our ally. When our minds want closure, certainty, and finality, let us remind ourselves that these are fictions. Our joyous moments will come from riding the wave, not asking to get off at the next station.
Read his entire essay, "Where is Peace in a Time of War?."

...and I heard a voice tell thing at a problem at a step at a time...but above all, be at peace and in love with this life.

So that's my New Year's realization...

Happy New Year!


No sooner had I finished writing the above entry, than I went to check my email and read this sad message from our peace group's coordinator:

3,000 U.S. Troops Dead in Iraq Civil War

...a young man from Texas, apparently, has joined his comrades...and 650,000 Iraqi casualties.

May he rest in peace. May his family find consolation. May they all rest in peace.

May God help us to end this insanity called war.
It's up to us to make it a happy & humane 2007!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2006

The animals asked no questions
and shepherds believed a tale
whispered by angels upon the night wind

The one who most who needs love
always comes in disguise
and says:
Here I am
Take me in.

Merry Christmas!
Bethlehem graphic from mennolink clipart

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hmm...sounds vaguely familiar

Anyone out there a Marcus Borg fan? I'm reading his newest book, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006).

After calling Jesus a "Spirit person" or mystic, Borg gives this description of a mystic:

Mystics have, to use the broad traditional definition, and "experiential" knowledge of God." Mystics already know something more; namely, they know the immediacy of access to God. Not immediacy in the sense of "ease," as if access to God is easy, but that God is accessible to experience apart from mediators, that is apart from institution and tradition. Mystics stand in an unbrokered relationship with God. They do not intrinsically become anti-institution or antitradition--but they know that no institution or tradition has a monopoly on access to the sacred. For this reason, mystics have often been distrusted and sometimes persecuted by the official representatives of the religious traditions in which they have lived. (pp. 133-134)
Sounds a little like George Fox's brand of spirituality, no??

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Uncle Sam knows best

On Friday the CIA's Publications Review Board forced the New York Times to publish the censored version Flynt Leverett's and Hillary Mann's op-ed piece on US diplomatic relations with Iran. The authors provided quotes from the redacted passages that had already appeared in the press, proving to the CIA that the op-ed contained nothing that was not already in the public record. No dice. Here's a sample of what the Review Board has wrought:

My favorite part is this sentence:
Our experience dealing with xxxx xxxx Iranian diplomats over Afghanistan and in more recent private conversations in Europe and elsewhere convince us that Iran will not go down such a dead-end road again.
Wow, what a great fill-in-the-blank party game! What could that "redacted" (i.e., censored) adjective describing Iranian diplomats have been???? Perhaps "...determined Iranian diplomats?" How about " Iranian diplomats" or dedicated or how about exasperated? What does our government want us to think about the Iranian diplomats that it has to deal with? That they are cagey, two-faced, volatile, thuggish, or just plain EVIL. The only adjective the authors could have used that would have passed muster with the Review Board would probably have been something like #*$?//* ... a qualifier unprintable other than for reasons of State.

I have to agree with news analyst Daniel Shorr who remarked on NPR's Weekend Edition yesterday, "This is a redaction-mad administration.... I think that whenever they can, they will say you can't see this, you can't. Why can't you see it? Just because you can't see it."

Well, you know what Thomas Jefferson said:

Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Finally ready for Christmas day of shop-till-you-drop, a half-dozen packages wrapped and shipped, and three dozen mini-breads later

...Really, I have to get a handle on this Christmas preparation thing. I wear myself out every year, even though I tell myself that things have gotten easier since the kids have grown!

First of all, it just would not feel like Christmas if I didn't make my various
quick breads to give as little gifts. This personal tradition of mine goes back so far that its origin is lost somewhere in holiday lore. Date-nut, cranberry-orange, and almond are the perennial stand-bys, and then there's always a new variety or two. This year I discovered French vanilla flavoring extract in the baking section, so I thought I'd try it. No, I did not say Freedom vanilla! And anyway, who knows what's even French about it. But it makes the breads smell heavenly as they're baking. It's a bit sweeter and has more character (as the wine connoisseurs would say) than the regular vanilla extract. So now I've added a French vanilla-nut bread to my repertoire. By doubling the recipes I can turn out up to 8 mini-loaves of each variety per batch. I made a third batch last night ... bringing the total to almost 3 dozen....of course, the first 20 or so have already been distributed, mostly to colleagues.

Last evening's batch of mini-breads will be distributed this evening at the annual Christmas party that one of the moms continues to host at her house since the days when our kids were babies and we all met once a week for "play group." The first-born of the group have just completed their first semester at college. The menu has always been spaghetti or lasagna and meatballs, salad, and Italian bread. I've been the contributor of the meatballs for the last few years.

Time was when one of the dads would grab his guitar and he and I would accompany the kids on a caroling tour of the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the other moms would clean up after dinner, make coffee and cocoa, and set out dessert. One of the moms continues to make Christmas cookies that are true miniature works of art ... still, I have no problem whatsoever eating as many as I can stuff down.

Nowadays the kids go out caroling by themselves. Amazing!
I don't have to shop for toys anymore, but I've managed to fill my free time with other activities. Each year I seem to begin the Christmas preparations --sending cards and doing the (fortunately) small amount of gift purchasing that I have to do-- later and later. Last week our Amnesty International chapter hosted a Global Write-a-thon, and my job was to get model letters enlarged for copying by the guests. We netted over 125 letters on behalf of prisoners! Then this First Day the kids at our Friends Meeting did their annual "Christmas in the Fields" play. No one knows why it's called Christmas in the Fields. Maybe someone out there in Quakerdom knows... Anyway, I offered to accompany the caroling and, as it had been about 15 years since I strummed a chord, I had to spend considerable time practicing. The kids did a cute little skit, featuring Gandhi, MLK, Lucretia Mott, Harriet Tubman, and Isaac Hopper talking about non-violent activism.

The day before the pageant, I had done my first bit of Christmas be completed the day after the pageant....and then several items had to get shipped by mail this year to relatives who will not be stopping by.

One bit of simplification: I did substitute contributions to the AFSC in the name of several relatives and friends instead of buying them something. Determined to do more of that!

Of course, they still got homemade mini-breads!

loaf from
carolers from
tinpan at Fortunecity

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On reading between the lines

"We do know [Jesus] preaches peace...but it did not mean [Jesus] was against a nation going to war."
The above quotation came from a story that I originally read in my SojoMail (from Sojourners), but that Jim Wallis has since posted as a Beliefnet blog entry, "Will Braun: Christian Soldier Returns to Front Lines Unarmed,"
(published in its original form in Geez Magazine ...check it out!)

It's the story of Logan Laituri, a US soldier who had served on the front lines in Iraq. Logan reached a new understanding of his Christian faith, sought CO status, and requested to be sent back to Iraq unarmed. His commanders dragged their feet on putting his request through and Logan was eventually transferred to a non-combat unit. After his term of service was up, he joined a Christian Peacemaker Team ...and got his wish at last to go back to Iraq unarmed. He has his own blog, Courageous Coward.

Logan got some really way-out comments from Christians when he told them he could no longer in good conscience bear arms:
"One commander, who is also a Baptist preacher, assured Laituri that since he was a Christian, Jesus had died for all his sins, and therefore he was already forgiven for whatever he would do on the battlefield."
Say WHAT????

and this:
"His then-girlfriend's father told Laituri he was part of God's hand in bringing judgement to Muslim extremists."
Onward, Christian jihadists!

The comment about Jesus preaching peace yet not objecting to nations going to war was made by Army Chaplain Maj. Norman W. Jones. I can't think of a more agonizing vocation than that of an Armed Forces chaplain. I understand those who say that if the churches are really serious about preaching Jesus' message of peace and love of enemies, then they should stop supporting nationalistic wars and refuse to send their clergy to serve. On the other hand, as Maj. Jones says, "I'm here to support the soldier." Soldiers do not send themselves to war. How, then, to refuse to minister to them as they come face to face with death?

Nevertheless, the statement, "We do know [Jesus] preaches peace...but it did not mean [Jesus] was against a nation going to war," almost invites the question: "What nation would Jesus take up arms for?" (Trick question: he'd fight on our side, right?) It just made me stop cold.

How we Christians do manage to wiggle out of a simple gospel....

Logan got it right:
"One superior berated him, saying his actions benefitted the enemies of America– an insult Laituri took as affirmation, given Jesus' invitation to love the enemy."

Friday, December 8, 2006

The Return of the Blob
..............................uh...make that "the blog"

Well, one cascading style sheets course, lots to do at work, problems with my favorite 16 1/2-year-old, one Financial Stewardship Committee meeting (more on that to come), one message digest (more on that too), and a few weeks later, I'm finally getting back to blogging.

Um...but first I have to practice the guitar a bit. I have exactly one week to relearn how to play chords to accompany Christmas carols to help out the kids when they do their little Christmas pageant, which at our meeting is called Christmas in the Fields. So I'll just leave you with this thought for the day:

Sometimes Christians need to read between the lines.

And just what prompts this ingenious thought? This quote:
"We do know [Jesus] preaches peace...but it did not mean [Jesus] was against a nation going to war."