Tuesday, December 25, 2007

And the Light shines in the darkness..

Lately I've been meditating on John 1:5:
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
I find it particularly interesting that the alternate translation is "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it."

Depending on which version of the Bible you like best, the main translation will be either "understood" (sometimes "comprehended") or "overcome" (sometimes "conquered" or even "extinguished"), with the alternate translation given in a footnote.

Long,long ago, when the Catholic Mass was in Latin --the Tridentine Mass, as it was called-- we used to read "The Last Gospel" just before Mass ended. It was the first chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 1 through 14. And, if I remember correctly (haven't had time to dig out my old St. Joseph's Missal, but we humans have a tendency to remember things that happened when we were children much better than things that happened just yesterday), verse 5 read: "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness grasped it not."

So, although I certainly don't know any Greek, I conclude that the original Greek word must have had both a literal and figurative meaning, just as our word "grasp" does: "to grab," "to hold on to," as well as "to comprehend."

What a coincidence: I attended Mass with my family today, and those verses were read at the (main) Gospel!

Interesting, too, because verse 5 seems so true today, however that central word is translated.

Recently I read In Defense of Waterboarding." In this piece by columnist Mark Bowden, he declares that Abu Zubaydah has so much blood on his hands that torturing him by waterboarding was not wrong, nor should anyone be prosecuted for conducting this "enhanced" interrogation, whether the process yielded actionable information or not.


Like most Americans, Bowden is sincerely seeking ways to keep our country and our people safe from terrorism, not an easy task. However, stripping prisoners of their human rights is not the way, nor will torture keep us safe. I also find it curious, at a time when politicians are vociferously declaring the U.S. a Christian nation, that we're so quick to abandon the command of our Leader to love our enemies -- or at least not to torture them. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it."

The verse from John also brings back the close of last Saturday's peace vigil, when we read from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other visionaries of peace and justice. At a time when many armed conflicts flare all around the world, their words reminded me also that there we were, working for peace, as are innumerable persons in all countried. "The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it."

Holy and happy Christmas to all!

______
image courtesy of gospelgifs.com

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pentagon living from paycheck to paycheck

Imagine: according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Pentagon is running out of money:
He said Congressional funding for the wars was inadequate and budget constraints were undermining planning...."Funding the war in fits and starts is requiring us to make short-term plans and short-term decisions."
Seems that $500 billion just doesn't go as far as it used to in my grand-pappy's day. Maybe because the war in Iraq is a gaping money pit? Thanks to the Cost of War website, we can actually watch the dollars roll before our eyes:

Cost of the War in Iraq
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But wait ...the Secretary said something else that has been hailed as "uncommon sense" by the Los Angeles times: allocate more money to diplomatic efforts. It seems that we spend
only $36 billion a year on the State Department to win friends and defang enemies. That's "less than what the Pentagon spends on healthcare alone," Gates said. He called for a dramatic increase in spending on "the civilian instruments of national security: diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action and economic reconstruction and development."
Well, Mr. Secretary, money doesn't grow on trees, as my mom used to say. Unfortunately, we just heard the speechifying this week, as the question of funding for the war was considered in the Senate. The very idea of tightening the Pentagon's budget is enough to unleash the rhetorical fury and patriotic fervor of some of the members of the Millionaires' Club. Limit the Pentagon's spending? Are you on al Qaeda's side or something?

...What could you do with 500 billion dollars?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The King of peace and other tall tales

This story was inspired by Cindy Sheehan's, although mine isn't as good (or as sad).

Once upon a time there was a kingdom not of this world. The ruler of this kingdom forbade his subjects to take up the sword. Love of enemies was so important to him that he phrased the command 4 different ways so that people would understand:

Love your enemies
Do good to those who hate you
Bless those who curse you
Pray for those who mistreat you.

He said that to be considered great in his kingdom we must serve others, and that to become powerful we must become as dependent as children. But he knew the other kingdoms would not be friendly --at least not right away…so he cautioned his subjects to be like shrewd snakes and like innocent doves when they went about the world…

The gentle king perished at the hands of his enemies, the occupying forces, leaving his mother to weep as she held her dead son in her arms…

But unlike powerful earthly kings, his spirit lives on in his followers who work to establish the Peaceable Kingdom. He lives on in those who lead movements of Satyagraha and nonviolent resistance…and there have been many victories, some great, some small.

And he lives on in those who mourn.

Blessings, comfort, and courage to all those in whom the spirit of the King of Peace lives on!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A father's ocean of darkness

"I saw, also, that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings."
Journal of George Fox, Chapter 1


Well, I guess there isn't a Quaker around who doesn't know that quote. These past few days, seems I've been even more acutely aware of that murky ocean, especially with yet another horrible shooting rampage in Colorado. However, there's a local tragedy that has me feeling really sad: the sexual assault and bludgeoning death of a 14-year-old girl, allegedly by her mother's boyfriend. He was high on crack at the time. The young girl's father works at our university, so I can't get him out of my mind. How will he get through the holidays? How do you go on after something like that? Really holding that poor, bereaved father in the Light.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Learning to Cast Off Fear

This evening I attended my first peacemaker training session, facilitated by a seasoned Quaker and peacemaker. Did a lot of role playing --not my favorite thing, but it's much more kinetic, that's for sure.

After listing all the things that we are right to be afraid of in participating in nonviolent actions, we practiced what Gandhi called "casting off fear." We each chose a type of tree that we would like to be (if we could be a tree!) and practiced breathing into our
hara (or center) and visualizing ourselves as that tree, rooted, branches spread, and steadfast. We paired up and each one tried to push the other over, first in an ordinary stance and then after having done the breathing and visualizing. It works!

I learned that a peacemaker's mission during a nonviolent vigil/rally is to 1) serve the other participants, 2) maximize the effect of the event, and 3) ensure safety. We do this by fulfilling our role: setting the tone, providing information to the participants, and minimizing conflicts. We learned how to deal with situations such as: hecklers, witnessing a violent scuffle, someone get injured or faint, and having our route blocked by the police.

We learned the 3 nonviolent techniques of intervening, intercepting, and isolating. We also learned when it's appropriate to call for police assistance (when someone has a weapon or when someone is injured), how to guide participants along a route or around a corner, how to direct them calmly away from a potentially panicky situation...and most of all, that it's important to


I feel a lot more reassured and conf
ident now.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Of pots, pans, and parables

The pots and pans have been washed. The good china and special-occasion serving plates wait on the dining room table to be put away. Containers of leftovers crowd the refrigerator... The boys and their friends are watching a comedy and laughing uproariously. Jude, the visiting betta splendens, has survived his first day at our house. Here's what he looks like.

Had a great time watching Godspell again after dinner. Someone put the entire movie --in 12 parts-- on YouTube. Must be a violation of copyright, so if you feel like reminiscing, better get to napoholic's page fast.

"That's so hippy!" exclaimed my almost-20-year-old, as he watched scenes from the movie for the first time on my laptop screen.
Godspell came out 36 years ago ... I was his age, and many of us were filled with a spirit of rebellion but also with an intense idealism. Peace...love...dreams of a better world. So what happened?

I'm reminded of the parable of the sower, which Jesus tells and the ragtag band of disciples act out:

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear....

Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matt 13: 1-9, 18-23)
Many of us heard the message of peace and of a more just world, but then "the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth" caused us to forget our idealism...and now peace on earth seems farther out of reach than ever. As Peters Lems of AFSC once said, peace will come not when we want it badly enough but when we've done enough.

Time to become that good soil. Time to hear the word again and understand it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving subtext

This morning I came downstairs and felt particularly thankful that Jude was still alive. Jude, a tropical fish, belongs to our older son's girlfriend. He brought Jude home from college over the holiday since his girlfriend Thank God! Last year he was depressed but this year he is happy couldn't take him home on the plane because of security rules...sort of difficult for a fish to survive in the regulation 3 oz of water. Jude's probably wondering why the floorboards are vibrating. As usual,it's our younger son disturbing the peace and quietThank God he's found his passion playing his electric guitar. Though I sure miss my mom who died 5 years ago of Alzheimer's thank God for letting me be at her bedside when she passed on and I miss her companion and also a cousin who used to come on the holidays, I'm glad my husband's parents will be coming Thank God my mother-in-law is mobile enough, after so many strokes, to come here for dinner. There's peace in our household, enough to eat, and we're all together.


Scene from the movie Godspell.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Reigning on our parade

Someone in our peace group was wondering out loud this morning about the success of the surge. She wondered if she was raining on someone's parade by doubting that victory was within sight.

Raining on someone's parade? Yes, of course, that's what it will all come down to for us: a big parade for the "winning" side. Winners who have not lost a loved one. Winners who will have secured their political jobs in this country. Democratic candidates who will breathe a relieved "whew! ... glad I didn't support that bill to defund the war!" And, of course, the pro-victory supporters who stand on street corners chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" (Because that's who it is really all for: the USA.)

So...the current "calm" in Baghdad justifies it all? Curve Ball's lies, the suicide bombing of the UN embassy, Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, white phosphorus, financial corruption, and ethnic cleansing...Iraqis who have fled...almost 4,000 American military casualties, and the latest estimate of over 1 million Iraqi deaths, the mortgaging of our children's financial future? How soon we forget in the pleasant glow of being the winners!

The only stories we will hear will be those of families who have managed to survive, thanks to the resilience that the Iraqi people are blessed with, the will that saw them through the reign of Saddam Hussein when it suited us to support him. May God bless them! They deserve it after what they've been through.

Does anyone read the blogs that are written from within Iraq? I mean, besides the one written by Michael Yon? Here are a couple:

Baghdad Burning: Riverbend
http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/
Authored by a young Iraqi woman since August 2003, the blog entries have since been published in book form. She and her family have been forced to flee to Syria.

Inside Iraq
http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/iraq/

This one has multiple authors, Iraqis who work as reporters for the McClatchy group. They too attest to the current "calm" ...but read on.


It's easy to cheer the winners on...when we're safe over here. These Iraqis who are in the middle of it, they're the ones who will tell us, years from now, whether the dying and destruction was all worth it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Accidental ruminations of a peace activist

Haven't had much time for blogging these past few months. I would never have suspected, back 30 or so years ago when I became a librarian, that the job could become so hectic and stressful. Sometimes I look back over my day --or my week-- and wonder just what I've accomplished. Do I produce anything? Do I perform a service? Am I really an educator? Not so sure anymore.

Anyway, my job is not what I want to blog about tonight. Though I may have been too busy to write much these past months, that hasn't kept me from reflecting ... ruminating might be the better word...

A few weeks ago I wrote about some counter-demonstrators --they prefer to be called pro-victory advocates who hold "victory rallies" -- who had joined us peaceniks ("moonbats" the pro-victory crowd calls us) in front of the county courthouse on Saturday mornings. I mentioned a young, attractive, articulate pro-victory woman who blogs, takes videos of us that she uploads to YouTube, and regularly ridicules us. Although the young woman has lately taken to befriending us, approaching some of us, asking our name, trying to make small talk, she remains obsessed with our group's coordinator and demonizes her relentlessly on her blog. Her associates post comments calling our coordinator all sorts of obscene names, and during the vigils they shout accusations at us through a megaphone from across the street. "Every time you march you get another American soldier killed..." I was letting all this upset me.

Didn't help any that some of those who stood on our side of the street were unable to keep their composure and chose to yell back at the pro-victory crowd. "We're working for peace, you s.o.b.!" -- Wow! Now there's something that emanates from a genuinely peaceful soul :-)

I'm also our Quaker meeting's FCNL contact (Friends Committee on National Legislation). I get various emailings from them concerning proposed legislation related to the war and the issue of torture, with information on Congresspersons to contact. Oh, and did I mention that a few of us started a local anti-torture organization affiliated with the National Religious Campaign against Torture? NRCAT launched a campaign to get churches in the U.S. to show Ghosts of Abu Ghraib during the week of October 13. I was in charge of getting publicity out to local newspapers, and I also attended several of the local showings to participate in the discussions. (Seeing that film multiple times is devastating.)

Ah yes, and then last weekend was Veterans Day. I really don't know what got into me, but I posted a comment to an editorial that appeared in
America. I still can't get over my own brazenness. I mean, talking back to the Jesuits! I must really be losing it. However, I made a new cyberfriend along the way. It was his response to the America editorial that prompted me to write mine. We've had a few exchanges, and he introduced me to the Center for Christian Nonviolence, and the teachings of Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a Catholic priest of the Eastern (Byzantine) rite. I've listened to a few of Fr. McCarthy's talks and have been really inspired and strengthened by them.

So, I've spent a lot of time ruminating on things, such as :

  • respect for our flag and country raised to the level of idolatry
  • our national defense devolved into a policy of national vengeance
  • the natural, healthy desire for security that has morphed into almost hysterical fear, even leading to the justification of torturing "high-value" detainees (and quite a few prisoners being held for no good reason)
  • our democratic republic that has become rule by the military-industrial-congressional complex
...and wondering if we're not really crazy after all, we moonbats, who try to touch at least some of this with the spirit of Christian nonviolence.

However...all in all, amid all the work and stress at my job and the antics of the pro-victory folks, the Spirit has managed to deepen my own inner sense of peacefulness and my understanding of what Christian nonviolence means.

Must be what Jesus meant when he promised us peace, "not as the world gives it."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Crescent Moon

There's a beautiful cream-colored crescent moon out tonight. Made me think of this poem that I learned when I was little:
The Moon's the North Wind's cookie
He bites it, day by day
Until there's but a rim of scraps
That crumble all away.

The South Wind is the baker
He kneads clouds in his den,
And bakes a crisp new moon that ...
greedy.... North.... Wind ....eats....again!

by Vachel Lindsay
Instruction sessions have wound down. Life at work is quite a bit saner. Gee, maybe I'll even start blogging again!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Photos of my recent trip to Monterey

...we even got to experience the San José earthquake of Tuesday evening, October 30!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

As the drums rumble for war with Iran

This video made me cry...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUh1HGpa7QM



"Love is not a luxury
and it's not a crime..."

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Caution: woman armed with tambourine!

I sang my heart out and beat my knee black and blue with my tambourine to drown out the absurdity of it all.

When I arrived at the corner of High and Market, the pro-war counterprotesters were already gathering in front of the courthouse, as they have for the past month or so, waving huge American flags. Some dressed in khakis, others in denim jackets liberally decorated with flag patches. I must confess that I never thought the sight of my own country's flag would frighten me, but the war supporters just have a way of brandishing it like a weapon.

When Karen got there, she calmly led our group to the corner diagonally across the street. The spokesperson for the pro-war group is bragging that they succeeded in "taking" the courthouse...but they were not able to silence us or stop us from holding our vigil. Volunteer observers from the ACLU were also present. I'll be interested in reading their report.

Our little rag-tag quartet --consisting of guitar, mandolin, flute, and tambourine-- stood behind the rest of the peaceniks, who effectively absorbed the noise emanating from the boom box that the pro-war group was blasting on the other side of the street. Occasionally some of the counterprotesters revved their motorcycles too. We raised our voices in songs by Neil Young, John McCutcheon, Woody Guthrie, and others. Someone requested "Let There Be Peace on Earth," and singing that one, as well as "We Shall Overcome" raised my spirits.

As we stood for our closing moment of silence, someone across the street thundered at us that every time we marched we killed another American soldier. Funny, we've tried to put ourselves in their shoes, imagined how we must look to them.

I wonder if they ever do the same.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Eyes Wide Open Across PA at Schuylkill Friends Meeting, Phoenixville, PA
October 13, 2007



Shadows that linger
shadows that remind
shades of loved ones that used to be
   that might still have been

As faithfully we watch and work
the shadows take on an incandescent glow
   Peace shines forth.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Eyes Wide Open Across PA

It's 6:30 am. I rarely get up this early when it's not a work day. But the work today is to assemble and staff the Eyes Wide Open exhibit. The AFSC facilitator spent the night at our house. Before bed it was our sad task to check the website icasualties.org for newly fallen American soldiers from PA so we can put the number on our sign...

OK...I have a date with 175 pairs of boots and 50 pairs of civilian shoes...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A pickup truck full of boots

On Saturday our meeting will be hosting Eyes Wide Open Across Pennsylvania: An Exhibit on the Human Cost of War. An EWO groupie for some time now, I decided it was time to become an organizer. We needed to collect the exhibit from Kennett Friends Meeting. Two members of our meeting, one of whom owns a pickup truck, kindly offered to transport the exhibit.

When I met them at Kennett Friends, they had almost finished loading the boot-filled bins into the pickup. I packed the bags of civilian shoes and a few other odds and ends into my Corolla, and about an hour later everything was stacked in our First Day school building.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Dispensing with dispensationalism

I'm currently reading The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, by Barbara R. Rossing. The author traces the origins of dispensationalist Christianity, or the Premillinennialist doctrine of those awaiting the Rapture, the Tribulation, and finally the Glorious Appearing of Jesus ... who will lead the earthly bloodbath to end all bloodbaths.

I guess what I really find strange about all this is that the preachers and followers of this doctrine are so convinced that they're on God's good side and that they're going to survive Armageddon. I mean ... isn't that just a bit presumptuous ... and convenient?

Although this blow-by-blow interpretation of the Book of Revelation has only been around for about 170 years, that's long enough for several generations of Christians to have become indoctrinated. In the U.S., it became really widespread thanks to the book by Hal Lindsey, The Late, Great Planet Earth, published in the 1970's. Back then, it was the USSR that was supposed to be the incarnation of the Antichrist. Since then, Lindsey keeps conveniently updating his blueprint for earth's destruction as world events change. (Gee, why didn't God think of that? I mean, how does She expect us to relate to all those shepherd types? I've never met a shepherd in my life!) Now, of course, Islamic extremists constitute the Antichrist.

This particular theology of the last days derives entirely, as Rossing tells us, from 3 verses of the Book of Daniel:

Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him. " (Daniel 9:25-27)

John Nelson Darby, a 19th-century English preacher who later came to the U.S., took these 3 verses and made them the key to understanding the Bible. The main tenets of his dispensationalist doctrine have been bandied about so freely in the media, that many people do not even realize that:

--There is no mention of a rebuilt Jerusalem temple anywhere in the New Testament, including Revelation;
--Neither Daniel nor Revelation uses the word Antichrist;
--There is no record in Revelation or Daniel of the Antichrist making a covenant with Israel;
--There is no record in Daniel or Revelation of the Antichrist breaking a covenant with Israel;
--There is no mention that the Jews will set up an earthly throne in Jerusalem. (The Rapture Exposed, p.41)

Rossing concludes: "To make sense, their biblical chronology must combine bits and pieces of the Bible written many centuries apart and under very different circumstances into one overarching narrative." (Sort of the way the Church "harmonized" the four gospels, except that the discrepancies in their dates of origin aren't nearly as extreme.)

Here are some other things Rossing says:

"The dispensationalist vision of the biblical storyline requires tribulation and war in the Middle East, not peace plans."

"Whenever people invoke biblical prophets to support a program of violence or injustice, this is a misuse of the Bible. This is extremism."

Or, as a Jewish theologian put it, this interpretation amounts to: "God so loved the world that he sent it World War III."

It occurs to me that parts of the Bible such as the Book of Daniel and Revelation, with their phantasmagoric imagery, are very susceptible to all sorts of vivd, imaginative interpretation ... and people just seem to get lost in the fantasy of it all. Left Behind was a 12-book series and went on to spawn graphic novels, radio dramatizations, film versions, a video game and, of course, the inevitable website. In the meantime, there is no trace of comprehension --let alone empathy-- for those caught in the Middle East conflict.

On the other hand, simple directives such as: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...." well, they leave little to the imagination. Nothing much you can do with them except ignore them... or put them into practice!

...I'm eagerly making my way toward Rossing's "message of hope."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Prisoners of fear

Deepak Chopra again tries to sow wisdom where our leaders sow only fear and anxiety:

How to Feel Safe and Secure (Part 2)
http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2007/09/how_to_feel_saf_1.html

"...in regard to terrorism, the most frightened voters are being allowed to dictate security policy. Unless you are personally anxious, you are considered unrealistic in the face of the terrorist threat, and politicians feel forced to be "strong on security," meaning that they must appeal to fear rather than to courage, patience, and trust."

Personally, I think that an empire cannot feel secure. An empire knows how much it has ... and how much it has to lose. As far back as 1948 (just after our victory in the "good war" that is currently being eulogized in a PBS series), George Kennan, head of the State Dept. planning staff, predicted that the U.S. would soon become "the object of envy and resentment" because it had "about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population." In 2004, the U.S. United States accounted for 4.6 percent of the world's population and 33 percent of global consumption (see http://earthtrends.wri.org/) As Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer explains in his book Brave New World Order:

"The goal of the United States in the emerging world order, Kennan stated, was 'to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.' In order to maintain this disparity and defend U.S. national security, the United States had "to cease to talk about vague and ...unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization.' Instead, he noted, the United States had "to deal in straight power concepts.' "

Thus did realpolitik, rather than an ethic of cooperation and sharing, become the foundation of our country's foreign policy.

That was back in 1948. Since then those who formulate our country's foreign policy have become more talented in talking a talk of "human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization," while clandestinely setting up a system that benefits us first and others second. And often those "others" have been the less humane and democratic elements of the countries we deal with.

To get back to Deepak, it is a simple matter to understand why it is so hard for those who lead us and for those who follow them to practice the detachment that he suggests, the kind that "brings a stable sense of self that isn't prey to the wild mood swings of current events," let alone the empathy and compassion that reach out to a world of such glaring disparity. Our national leaders are prisoners of their own blind greed for power and they stay in power by keeping the empire's citizens shackled in fear. We citizens do little to help lower our own anxiety level by buying into (literally) a culture of rampant consumerism.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Quaker Week, Sept. 22-30

Just found out that Quaker Week is coming up in Britain!

http://www.quaker.org.uk/Templates/Internal.asp?NodeID=93357

Also, as a way of letting people hear individual Quaker voices, they're sponsoring a blog to which three "diarists" contribute their thoughts:

http://www.quaker.org.uk/Templates/qwHomepage.asp?NodeID=95002

Found also a series of videos about the Quakers on YouTube, produced by Friends at Watford Meeting, Hertfordshire, UK

Introduction to Quakers, Part 1
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=q-rdImcwTFw&mode=related&search=

Introduction to Quakers, Part 2
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=O2hfmd-RY-I&mode=related&search=

Quakers and the Bible
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=fqP2l77qEmY&mode=related&search=

Quakers and other religions
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=JdmhUCqhPbc&mode=related&search=

For all titles, see
http://uk.youtube.com/user/srekauq

Great article in The Guardian:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2174610,00.html

Let the peaceful light shine!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I think we're winning!

More than three-quarters of the displaced were women, and children under 12, reducing families to poverty, and compounding the sense of social dislocation.

“The men who were the breadwinners are no longer part of the family. They either fled or joined armed groups,” the report said.
Refugees in Their Own Land: 2m Iraqis Forced to Flee Their Homes

Seriously, though...I think I've finally figured our federal government out: the military is no longer subject to a civilian commander-in-chief. The President is now first and foremost a military commander and it's the civilians who are subject to the military...which exists to protect the interests of Halliburton et al. Difficult to draw any other conclusion after our senators, obeying the commander-in-chief's every whim, refuse even to extend the leave time of service personnel who are already being sent to Iraq for 2nd and 3rd tours of duty and keep babbling meaningless slogans like "recipe for defeat."

It's taken me a while to realize it, but our federal government is officially dysfunctional.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Solve the word problem and go to the head of the class

Our meeting will be hosting the Eyes Wide Open Across PA memorial next month, and this morning I'm going to worship at a neighboring meeting so that I can recruit volunteers for EWO from among their members.

The original Eyes Wide Open was a memorial consisting of a pair of boots for each American service person killed in the Iraqi conflict. The American Friends Service Committee first assembled the memorial in Chicago in 2005, when the body count stood at 700-something. It toured the country for two years, adding boots as the number of casualties rose. By the time the number of American military casualties got to 3,000, the memorial had become just too massive to haul around. It was assembled for the last time last May. Since then, the AFSC has dispersed the boots to its state chapters, who continue to mount the exhibit, each one memorializing the number of dead from its state. I've volunteered for the memorial and blogged about it previously.

EWO also includes a proportionate number of shoes of various sizes and styles, representing the Iraqi civilians who have perished.

I've always been poor at math, so maybe someone can answer this word problem:
If 3,775 American military personnel have perished in the Iraq war to date, and the O.R.B.' s latest estimate of Iraqi civilian casualties stands at more than 1,000,000, what would be the proportion of civilian shoes to military boots that AFSC would need in order to mount a representative memorial to Iraqi civilians, if they were still doing the original exhibit?


The O.R.B., or Opinion Research Business, is one of the UK's formost "corporate and issues-led market research companies." They report in a recent news item that their research has shown that over 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians have died. The O.R.B.'s methodology is similar to that used by researchers at Johns Hopkins, who reported last October that over 655,000 Iraqi civilians had perished in the violence.

And after you've answered the word problem, maybe you can answer this question for me:
Why?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Prayer Surge for Peace

I've been successfully recruited by Sojourners for their "prayer surge" to our Congress...it's sort of like volunteering to invade the Senate and House with a contingent of prayers for peace.

So, ever the spiritual foot soldier, I sent this prayer to inspire our Senators and Representatives to withdraw from Iraq and dedicate the billions to aid for the stricken Iraqis instead :

O Divine Spirit,
Inspire our members of Congress that they may reflect and remember that our true safety lies in you, not in our armaments or our nuclear payloads. As Jesus reminded us, you are the mother hen, longing to gather us all safely under your wings. May we learn to take refuge in you and in you alone.
--Amen
Hey, it's an all-volunteer army! So go sign up in the spirit of peace:
http://go.sojo.net/campaign/surgeforpeace

Sunday, September 2, 2007

September Evening

Savoring
my paneer korma

conversing
with my college sophomore son
and his girlfriend


so sweet
in her white dress

with her long brown hair

I’m too young
I think

in a wine-woven haze
to have a son in college

with a girlfriend

Strolling down
to the ice cream parlor
I order crunchy cappuccino
in a cone

a baby scoop
but decadent enough

for a 55-year-old

Listening to a street musician
in Davis Square
who peddles his music
from place to place
though stuck in the 60’s and 70’s
Beatles
Simon & Garfunkle
Ne
il Young…

I applaud heartily
and drop money

into his guitar case


An elderly couple
and a flower vendor
are noticeably
less animated

And I lick
my cool
September breeze-swirled

ice cream cone
as the stores and the street lights blend
into my wine-woven haze







Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Crossan on Justice and Love
My proposal is that justice and love are a dialectic--like two sides of a coin that can be distinguished but not separated. We think of ourselves as composed of body and soul, or flesh and spirit. When they are separated, we have a physical corpse. Similarly, with distributive justice and communal love. Justice is the body of love, love the soul of justice. Justice is the flesh of love, love is the spirit of justice. When they are separated, we have a moral corpse. Justice without love is brutality. Love without justice is banality.
--John Dominic Crossan. God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. (p. 190) HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.
I don't really know what to add to that one...except that Crossan explains why, in spite of how futile it sometimes feels, that I believe that I must be an activist for peace and justice, doing the little bit that I can.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Getting to Know You

Had an interesting telephone conversation with my state representative today. He actually called me. Well, no, he really called and asked for my husband, who wasn't home. Then he said that he only had the names of my husband and older son as registered voters living at our address, and that if there were any other eligible voters residing here, he'd get them registered if I gave him their information. In other words: I don't seem to have your name on the list, ma'am. Well, I said, you mean you don't have ____________ (my last name, different from my hubby's) on your list? I vote in every election. I voted in the last one. Oh...he said a bit embarrassed ... yes, here it is. My apologies, it was on the last name on the previous page. (Of course, as my last name begins with the letter the just preceding the letter my husband's last name begins with).... Thus we established our mutual identities.

He asked if there were any issues I was particularly concerned about or anything he could help me with. Well, in spite of the fact that this was a state representative, and thus unable to do very much about any national issues, I figured, what the heck! I have an elected official on the phone! So I launched into my concern about our country's practice of torture, told him about the local interfaith advocacy group we had formed...the movie The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, and how NRCAT is sponsoring screenings during the month of October. And imagine: the rep actually attends services at one of the local churches where the film will be shown!


Are we planning to march on Washington soon, he asked. No, I replied, but told him about our lobbying visits. He strongly suggested that we pay a visit to the local office of our Washington representative. OK, I said, thinking to myself that he probably wouldn't be very interested. But we'll do it anyway.

The representative said how amazed he is at the range of subjects his constituents are interested in...

I also brought up military recruiting in the high schools, mandated by the infamous recruitment clause in the No Child Left Behind Act, which he agreed was not a praiseworthy practice.


To bring things a back to the state level, I said, how about the rise of gun deaths in the city of Philadelphia? We may live in "safe" suburb, but ... no burb is an island. Is there anything you can do in Harrisburg to make it possible for the city to pass a stronger ordinance to limit the purchase of handguns? (In case you're not aware, the state of PA has rather lenient gun laws and no city is permitted to make any law that is more stringent than the state law.) The representative agreed that the state legislature needs to give Philadelphia the constitutional power to pass a tougher gun law ...if they can get this past the rural folks, who are so afraid that their 2nd amendment rights might get a bit curtailed around the edges and that they won't be able to get all the hunting rifles they so desperately need.

We say we believe in God and in the rule of law. But what we really believe in is the power of firearms and other weapons of minor or mass destruction to protect us. Soon it will be the law of the jungle here.


Anyway, turns out the representative's office is right down the street. Is he ever going to be sorry he gave me his address! But seriously...a nice man to speak with. A very good listener. Made me feel a bit better about my elected officials...at least some of them.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Minority View

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matt. 5:11-12.

I thought of this passage --actually the last of the Beatitudes and the one not quoted very often-- when I read the harsh words in our local paper today aimed at the director of our peace group. While she's as human as the rest of us and has her faults, Karen speaks with a prophetic voice. Prophetic in the sense of "speaking for," in this case, speaking for those who wish to see our government and that of other nations diversify their security portfolio, one might say, rather than sink all their efforts and funding into military means.

Karen also illustrates,
I think, another one of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. I've often heard this teaching of Jesus interpreted in terms of sexual purity. However, I remember once reading a commentator who said that a better translation would be Blessed are the single-hearted. In other words, someone who has his or her heart set unwaveringly on a lofty, noble goal and who will not be moved.

She always says what she knows to be true, even if sometimes she may say it a bit undiplomatically. Still, the charge that she spews "venom," is itself rather venomous. I'm also amused at those who see only military might as capable of keeping our rights alive and who never acknowledge that another way of keeping them strong is to exercise them regularly in public, particularly when this is likely to be met with contempt and ridicule.

I guess I can understand that seriously calling into question military recruitment isn't something likely to earn one accolades. Still, it's amazing how pitiless people can be toward someone who entertains a point of view so different from that of the dominant culture.

I sent a very strong letter to the paper myself last weekend. I chose my words carefully, and certainly did not call any person or persons names, but I did decry what I believe to be misdeeds on the part of our Executive and Legislative branches. I think my letter has a chance of getting published.

So I'm bracing for the worst.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Just another presidential election
...Just another bunch of wannabes

Back in 2004, when the 1,000th American soldier was killed in Iraq and the Presidential elections were imminent,David Batstone of Sojourners wrote: "I want to hear how the candidate will be a peacemaker."

The body count now stands at 3684 ... my God! I just realized that this is almost 3 times higher! (not to mention the estimated 650,000+ Iraqi civilians...but heck, who cares about them? And anyway they should be grateful to die for their flag, right?)

So how about the latest bunch of hopefuls? What do they have to say? One would think that with body counts rising steeply, one of these individuals --who do not hesitate to say, "Give me money (to the tune of millions of dollars) so I can occupy the throne of the empire," would at least have some novel idea, an original thought or two about how to de-escalate hostilities and bring some real, lasting peace to this poor old war-scorched earth. Well, don't get your hopes up. It seems that "peace is not presidential," in the words of Frida Berrigan. She notes that "...most Democratic candidates for president speak of increasing rather than slashing the military budget." Needless to say, none of the Republican candidates is planning a "radical re-vamp of the Pentagon budget or taking on the weapons manufacturers who reap the benefits of a war-without-end strategy."

Our soldiers on the ground are in belt-tightening mode. Meanwhile, contractors deliver ice cream in the full panoply of flavors to the Imperial Headquarters in the Green Zone, and Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman post astronomical profits from the fighter planes, nuclear powered subs, and ballistic missile components the government orders from them. As Frida reminds us: Al Qaeda has no fighter planes. These items, reliably churned out by the industrial-military-congressional complex, did not protect us from the 9/11 attacks and will not produce "victory" in Iraq (whatever victory means).

Typical of this gang of self-serving emperor wannabes is Mitt Romney who just won the Iowa straw poll. A truly original thinker, Romney has come up with a new way for young people to show their love for their country: stump for their old man. You see, he says,the reason that none of his 5 sons (ages 37 to 26) is out there fighting in the military is that they're all "helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."

The empire marches on...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


From the Labyrinth of Memory...





I gorged myself

on mesas




and eavesdropped
on St. Francis

communing with a prairie dog










and laughe
d
as he danced on water

I drank my morning coffee
in the company of tall pines
and Pedernal




and made







n
ew friends













but mostly
I walked




and walked...





while mesas
watchful and
ponderous

stood
the test of time




Saturday, July 28, 2007

There's something about a mesa

I've gotten used to the idea of spending summer vacation in the high desert. When the weather gets hot and muggy here, I find myself thinking about the desiccating heat of New Mexico, its barren landscape, striated rock formations punctuated by an occasional sprig of green, and a place called Ghost Ranch. There's something relaxing about the mesas. I sit and stare at them for hours. There's something cleansing about the sandy, pebbled terrain from which they rise, something that allows me to forget the meaningless routine of much of my daily existence. routine. Allowing the tenderly abrasive landscape to rub away the material surface, I am again exposed to the Spirit beneath.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thanks to a discussion on a French-language Quaker site, I feel like reposting these thoughts that I wrote for a previous version of my blog.

...More recent thoughts on the subject to come.

_______________

The Nonviolent Atonement

--and its shorter form: "Violence in Christian Theology," both by J. Denny Weaver

About a year ago I came across a collection of essays entitled Teaching Peace: Nonviolence and the Liberal Arts (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). One of the essays, "Violence in Christian Theology," was contributed by J. Denny Weaver, who also co-edits the book with Gerald Biesecker-Mast. The essay, as it turns out, is based on Weaver's longer work, The Nonviolent Atonement (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001).

Weaver is a professor at Bluffton University, which is affiliated with the Mennonite Church, USA. I presume that his writing is grounded in nonviolent Anabaptist theological thought (something I don't know much about). In "Violence in Christian Theology," Weaver "outlines the way that a presumed standard Christian theology has accommodated violence." He does this by "focusing especially on on the central Christian doctrine of atonement" and he finishes up "by sketching a specifically nonviolent understanding of atonement."

Words like "error" and "heresy" constantly rang in my head as I read this essay. My grade school religion teachers took great pains, especially during Holy Week, to describe the sufferings of Jesus to us in excruciating detail. I can remember a particularly graphic retelling of how the soldiers fashioned the thorny crown and pressed it oh so slowly and sadistically into Jesus' forehead until blood spurted out. (The blood-drenched stills I saw in the "souvenir" book to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ --which I did not go see-- were only slightly more vivid than my gradeschool memories. Maybe Mel attended the same gradeschool?)

Explanations of Why Jesus Died for Us

Weaver first summarizes the interpretations of the passion and death of Jesus that form the basis for traditional Christian atonement theology. They are as follows:

a) Christus Victor: According to this explanation, Jesus was the ransom paid to Satan, who held the souls of sinful humanity hostage. This was "the predominant image of the early church." In a variation on this theme, a "cosmic battle" is described as having been waged between God and Satan. "God's son was killed, but the resurrection then constituted the victory of God over the forces of evil and definitively identified God as the ruler of the universe."

b) Satisfaction atonement: "the predominant atonement image for much of the past millenium," developed by St. Anselm in 1098 in is book Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). "Human sin had offended God's honor and thus upset divine order in the universe. The death of Jesus as the God-man was necessary in order to satisfy God's honor and restore the order of the universe." The Protestant Reformers devised a variation on this theme. "For them, Jesus' death satisfied the divine law's requirement that sin be punished. With his death Jesus submitted to and bore the punishment that was really due to us --humankind-- as sinners." I think this is also sometimes referred to as the "substitution theory" of atonement, an innocent Jesus substituting himself as victim and paying the price that we sinners should pay.

c) The "moral influence" atonement image, developed by Abelard (1079-1142): "God the Father shows love to us sinners by giving us his most precious possession, his Son, to die for us." According to this interpretation, Jesus' death is not so much an act that placates a vengeful God but "a loving act of God designed to get the attention of sinners and reveal the love of God for sinners while they were yet sinners."

Another succinct explanation of these interpretations of the atonement can be found at http://www.quakerinfo.com/atonement.shtml.

Who Needed Jesus to be Killed and Who Killed Him?

Weaver proceeds to the inescapable question of "who needed the death of Jesus?" The answer (in multiple choice fashion, using the letters assigned to each theory) is a )the devil, b) God's honor, or c) we sinners. This leads the author to the jackpot question: "Who arranges for or is responsible for the death of Jesus? Or put most crassly, Who ultimately killed Jesus?"

Historical scapegoats (an honor accorded traditionally to the Jews) and exquisitely finessed theological arguments (again provided in abundance by my teachers) notwithstanding, I have to agree with Weaver that the traditional atonement theories, particularly the doctrine of satisfaction, turn God into a "divine avenger or punisher ... one who arranges the death of one child for the benefit of others." The author eventually concludes: "Any and all versions of satisfaction atonement, regardless of their packaging, assume the violence of retribution or justice based on punishment and depend on God-induced and God-directed violence."

The Unpinnings of a Violent Christian Theology

I was thunderstuck by Weaver's essay. To me it meant that the traditional doctrines of the atonement constitute the very underpinnings justifying violence of all sorts in the names of God and of Jesus. After all, here was God himself not only authorizing the violent death of his son but absolutely requiring it. How can such a God, I wondered, then turn around and urge us to heed the words of his son:

"Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword "(Mt. 26:52)?

Or "Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you" (The translation given in The Message of "You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48)?

And what effect does the dying Jesus' plea have: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 22:34)?

God the Father seemed to be claiming some sort of retributive exception for himself, thus making him the Grudgebearer of the Ages.

In pursuing his argument, Weaver shows how the traditional atonement doctrines lead to a warped interpretation of the person of Jesus himself. The Jesus of the gospels becomes "a passive victim, whose purpose was to get himself killed in order to satisfy a big cosmic legal requirement." He counters:

"Rather, Jesus was an activist, whose mission was to make the rule of God visible. And his acts demostrated what the reign of God looked like -- defending poor people, raising the status of women, raising the status of Samaritans, performing healings and exorcisms, preaching the reign of God, and more. His mission was to make the reign of God present in the world in his person and in his teaching and to invite people to experience the liberation it presented...."

What happened to Jesus was what we have seen happen in our own time to people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.: "When Jesus made the reign of God visible and present in that way, it was so threatening that the assembled array of evil forces killed him."

Weaver calls this explanation of the atonement "narrative Christus Victor." To sum it up:

"Narrative Christus Victor... is grounded in assumptions of nonviolence-- the nonviolence of Jesus-- rather than violence. In particular, it does not assume retribution or that injustice is balanced by the violence of punishment.

"It does not put God in the role of chief avenger nor picture God as child abuser. And it is abundantly obvious that God did not kill Jesus nor need the death of Jesus in any way. Jesus does suffer, but it is not as an act of passive submission to undeserved suffering. Jesus carries out a mission to make the rule of God present and visible, a mission to bring and to give life. When this mission threatens the forces of evil, they retaliate with violence, killing Jesus. This suffering is not something willed by nor needed by God, and it is not directed Godward. To the contrary, the killing of Jesus us the ultimate contrast between the nonviolent reign of God and the rule of evil....

"God does not need the death [of Jesus] because [narrative Christus Victor] does not make use of the idea of retribution...If anything or anyone 'needs' the death, it is the forces of evil who kill Jesus. They 'need' the death as part of the futile effort to annihiliate the reign of God. The death of Jesus is very pointedly not something needed by God or God's honor. It is rather what the forces of evil --the devil-- do to Jesus. Rather than being a divine requirement, the death of Jesus is the ultimate indication of the difference between the reign of God and the reign of evil. The reign of the devil attempts to rule by violence and death, whereas the reign of God rules and ultimately conquers through nonviolence."

If God Didn't (Doesn't) Need Jesus' Death

If I understand Weaver correctly, he is saying that Jesus suffered death at the hands of those whose power was threatened by his message of unconditional acceptance and love. I found this theory nothing short of revolutionary as it seems to remove many of the underpinnings of Christian theology.

For one thing, it restores the importance of the actions and words of Jesus before he died. His healings and acts of forgiveness become deeds that we can strive to emulate in an active, life-affirming way.

Of course, narrative Christus Victor creates a few problems of its own. I've raised one already by alluding to Gandhi and King. How was the death of Jesus more "special", more "significant" than theirs? And if it wasn't ... well, then why all the roadside billboards proclaiming "Jesus Died for Your Sins"?

-- The "narrative Christus Victor" explanation ultimately calls into question the divinity of Jesus, I think. Weaver himself does not seem to take his argument to that length and seems to still treat Jesus as, if not the divine son of God, then at least the one to whom God gave a name above every name. But if God didn't require Jesus' death ... then he did not require that infinite act of satisfaction that only the divine son could perform, the very reason the Word became flesh.

Walter Wink, building upon the writings of René Girard and Raymund Schwager, does a bit of foundational unpinning himself by saying that "Jesus never succumbed to the perspective of the persecutors by seeking revenge. He totally rejected complicity in violence....His arraignment, trial, crucifixion, and death also stripped the scapegoating mechanism of its sacred aura and exposed it for what it was: legalized murder." (The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium. New York: Doubleday, 1998).

On he plus side again, the "narrative Christus Victor" explanation encourages us to dwell quite a bit less on the verses in both the Old and New Testaments that show God wreaking vengeance and certainly to cease using them as justifications for visiting violence upon others in the name of God's justice. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer does a more than adequate job of listing and expounding upon these verses in his book Is Religion Killing Us?

Finally, I suspect that there are more than a few theologians out there who would say that Weaver, Wink, Nelson-Pallmeyer, et al., are guilty of projecting onto God and Jesus their own twenty-first century, politically correct notions of divine justice and pacifism. And I'm sure the theologians can muster countless passages from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church to refute these newfangled ideas.

I find narrative Christus Victor a very powerful and even empowering explanation of Jesus' life and death. It gives me the courage to follow the example set by Jesus in his lifetime and to do what I can to help those in need -- not for the sake of saving my soul by doing "good works" but because "This is what the kingdom of God is like" (Mk 4:26).