Sunday, April 29, 2007

Three Quakers and a Muslim walked into a politician's office... (cont'd)

Friendly Lobbying, Step 2

So I let the local FCNL coordinator know that my request for a visit to the senator's office had been heard and granted. I also let her know that under no circumstances was I going to go alone. She put me in touch with two other Friends interested in speaking with the senator's aide on the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act. One of the Friends, Monica, a homemaker and clerk of her Quarterly Meeting, knew Mazhar, a doctor of the Muslim faith, active in the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), so she contacted him. The other Friend, Michael, was a contractor. When I spoke with him on the phone, I heard his deep sadness for the tragedy that is the Iraq war and for the unjust and inhumane treatment of those taken into custody in conjunction with the war on terror. He was anxious to be part of the lobbying project.

So there we were: three Quakers and a Muslim. Now we just had to get our act together.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Three Quakers and a Muslim walked into a politician's office...

No, it's not one of those bad religious jokes. It's the story of my first political lobbying experience.

It all started back in February, when an FCNL staff member came to a nearby monthly meeting to speak about the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, introduced into the Senate by Arlen Specter (PA) and Patrick Leahy (VT). The bill started out in life as an amendment to the Military Commissions Act, which strips individuals (even American citizens...ever read about the José Padilla case?) of the right to challenge their detention in a court of law once they've been branded "unlawful enemy combatants" by the government. Sen. Specter was actually troubled enough about the abrogation of the right to habeas corpus that he tried to amend the MCA. However, when his amendment did not even come up for discussion he voted for the MCA anyway, hoping --as he later explained-- that the courts would overturn it. I won't even comment on this dismal state of affairs, with Congress passing the buck to the Supreme Court because it can't do what's right in the first place. (BTW, the Supreme Court's decision a few weeks ago not even to hear the habeas corpus case brought on behalf of Guantánamo detainees tells you that even the Justices --how did they ever get that name?-- have been infected with the we-can't-offend-the-neo-con-voting-base virus.)

Well, since the last election, Specter is no longer chair of the Judiciary Committee. He is, however, our state's senior senator and quite influential. So FCNL see Pennsylvania as a key state in getting this law passed. So they're urging PA residents to lobby the senator to try to get hearings on the bill, which is the next step in moving it forward for an eventual vote. Strange, isn't it, that the senator who sponsored a bill in the first place needs to be lobbied to move it forward? Well, no one will ever accuse me of being politically astute.

Friendly Lobbying, Step 1

I was ably mentored in our endeavor by the local FCNL coordinator. She advised me that t
he first step was to fax a letter requesting a visit to the Senator's Washington,D.C. office, as well as to his Philadelphia office (the location we were interested in). The fax was to be followed up by a phone call verifying that it was received. The first few phone calls didn't seem terribly promising. I was told by someone in the Washington office that yes, they had received the fax and that someone would be in touch with me. Sure, I thought ...prepared to call again the next week. The next time I called I was told that the scheduling person was out of the office for the next two weeks (it was Easter/Passover time by then) and that I should call back after this period. OK, I thought. Just needs a bit of persistence. Then just a couple of days later, upon returning from work, my husband said that someone had called and left a message. I immediately returned the call. It was a staffer at the Philadelphia office who said that she had gotten my previous messages but could not locate the letter I had faxed. I sent it again the next day, called to verify, and yes, this time it arrived safe and sound. Less than a week later, I received a call from another very affable aide to the senator who offered to speak with us, even though, as he said, his area was not human rights. He did promise to listen to our concerns and to relay them to the Senator's Washington bureau...
(more to come)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I am not going to watch his video.

I am not going to read any of his quotes. He holds no fascination for me.

I refuse to be turned into a violence voyeur.

BTW, is anyone considering how all this publicity is registering in the minds of other deranged persons?

Besides, I already know all I need to know:
  • Rapid-fire guns and assault weapons are too easily obtainable in the US.

  • They are not "arms" that anyone has "the right to keep and bear." They are machines of war, meant to cut down as many people as quickly as possible.
  • All the lawyers we turn out in this country and we don't have a saner interpretation of the 2nd Amendment yet? Are they all working for the NRA?
  • Sorry if hunters take offense, but I agree with the reader who commented on Bob Cesca's blog: anyone who needs assault weapons to hunt deer or ducks is a lousy hunter and should find another hobby. Either that or go work in a slaughterhouse. (Better yet, try some vegetable protein for a change.)
  • I also agree with Bob Cesca that 1) we unconsciously assimilate all the subtle (and not so subtle) signals beamed at us by the media to make us dissatisfied with ourselves and resentful of others. We're constantly measuring ourselves against others, judging ourselves and them ... and money is our only measure of worth (with sexual prowess running a close second and the shear mass of consumer goods we can pack into our living space a close third). Fortunately, most of us don't resort to machines of war to put an end to our misery while taking others along with us, but we certainly need to nurture more acceptance of ourselves and compassion for others... and, as someone once said, we need to learn to LOVE people and USE things (the former lavishly, the latter, sparingly), not the other way around; 2) resorting to violence is modeled at the highest levels of our American society, while cooperation and working out differences nonviolently are skills considered good only for weaklings; 3) health care --including mental health care-- should be universally available and FREE.

Ascolta il tuo cuore se batte,
Guarda dove corri e fermati,
Ascolta il dolore del mondo;
Siamo persi per la via

orfani di vita
macchine da guerra
ma perchè ?

Listen to the beat of your heart.
Look where you're running and stop,
Listen to the world's great sorrow;
We're lost souls
life's orphans
machines of war
why oh why ?
--Andrea Bocelli

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Reality Check
      Part 1

Am I the only one these days who feels like they're part of The Truman Show? My lovely neighborhood, the peaceful surroundings I work in, it all seems like a carefully constructed, totally artificial stage set. What’s worse, I have this gnawing suspicion that a malevolent someone or something is lurking behind the picture-perfect scenery.

I know I’m not supposed to peak behind the set. I should ignore the special effects guy behind the curtain. If I had half a brain, I’d go about my daily business and enjoy the serenity that my government provides for me instead of fretting about 300 prisoners subjected to physical and mental torture in Guantánamo Bay prison, or 600,000 Iraqis who have perished since our country’s leaders decided to take the fight to the enemy. Nor would I be troubled by the immorality masked by the lovely façade. After all, America is a Christian country.

Could it really be that Jesus Christ, whose titles include Christus Victor, Rex Coelestis, and Christus Pantocrator, was once simply Jesus of Nazareth, Yehoshua? Before he started appearing to emperors in their dreams and making promises like In hoc signo vinces, did he actually go around saying crazy things like, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you? When the Roman soldiers showed up to take him away, did he really order his followers, Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword? Well, if he did, it seems that things got back to normal soon enough. The secular and religious authorities built imposing cathedrals to impress the faithful with his glory and majesty (as well as theirs) and the itinerant rabbi and healer was locked securely in a tabernacle where he couldn't do any more harm.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in October 2005 revealed that two out of three citizens of our Christian country believe that torture is justified under certain circumstances. Three out of four American Catholics hold that torture is sometimes permissible,(*) while over 80% of evangelical Christians support the administration’s doctrine of pre-emptive war. (See reference to Borg's book below.)

It’s not that I’m picking on Catholics or evangelicals. The cited statistics simply illustrate the degree to which Christianity has become part of the woodwork. Few Christians bother to peer behind the set of this long-running, captivating production called The War on Terror that features pre-emptive warfare waged in the name of Christ and prisoners who are systematically denied their human and legal rights …a carefully scripted performance in which pacifism is denounced as unpatriotic and an argument must be made for notdropping bombs…the blockbuster Broadway hit in which the US is cast as the good guy in the white hat and –of course—the winner.

Small wonder that Marcus Borg writes about “the imperial captivity of much of the church in the United States.” (Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, 2006, ISBN 0-06-059445-4

This is not reality the way Yehoshua taught us to see it. He said that all human beings were sons and daughters of a divine Father so generous and compassionate that he causes the rain to fall on the obedient and the disobedient alike. A Father who watched day after day, from the highest window of the house, for the return of his delinquent son and then ran to embrace him as soon as he spotted him schlepping down the road toward home. Jesus’s teaching was unequivocal: You are to be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.

And for his teaching he paid the real, the ultimate price.

*Tom Carney, "Americans, Especially Catholics, Approve of Torture." National Catholic Reporter, (March 24, 2006) v42 i21, p5.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday and Jesus is still in a cell, still being tortured, still awaiting execution. Every once in a while they extract him from his cage and make him stand trial before authorities who have already condemned him.

The chief priests of our religion collude with the Emperor, lest their temples lose their privileged status, lest they be accused --oh horrors!-- of treason or blasphemy or of inciting public disorder. So they shout like puppets on a string, "For God and country."

Or they keep a deadly collaborative silence, ignoring the brown-skinned man held in a pen like poultry. They do not cry out at his unjust imprisonment or at the false accusations brought against him or at his lack of a proper advocate before the law.

The chief priests have forgotten the words of the prophet quoted by the Prophet:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Can Christianity ever be anything less than subversive if it is to remain faithful to the prophets who defended the defenseless?

Jesus is still being held prisoner at Guantánamo Bay.