Thursday, May 31, 2007

Road trip

Tomorrow morning at 6:30 I leave with 2 other women to participate in the 2nd QUIT Conference (Quaker Initiative to End Torture, to the uninitiated), to be held this weekend at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. It's at least an 8-hr trip. Not looking forward to spending that long in a car, but I am looking forward to some good conversation on the way down. I thought about blogging live from the conference, but my laptop is too heavy to lug. It was either my laptop or my guitar...and my guitar won. I hear that the library will be open on Saturday, so maybe I'll be able to blog from there.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Eyes, look your last"*

Tomorrow will be Memorial Day. For most Americans, like myself, it means a three-day weekend and the beginning of summer. The weather couldn't be more beautiful here. I sit by my window, basking in the serenity of this Sunday morning.

At this very moment, no doubt, visitors are strolling through the Eyes Wide Open Memorial in Grant Park, Chicago. I happened to catch a glimpse of the exhibit on CNN news last evening. The announcer said that it was a "tribute" to our fallen soldiers. He did not give the name of the memorial or of the organization sponsoring it. He did not mention that this is an exhibit on the human cost of the Iraq War, featuring civilian shoes as well as army boots, shoes of various sizes and shapes, men's and women's, adults' and children's... to remind us of the price paid for this war in civilian casualties. He did not say that the memorial has been touring the country for three years now, forcing us to think about the death and devastation taking place so many miles away; that it is not a "tribute" just to our own fallen --a terrible tragedy that has shattered only a small fraction of American families while the rest of us enjoy this peaceful weekend-- but that it is also a reminder of the thousands upon thousands of Iraqis whose families and lives have been ripped apart by a war of choice, a war of adventurism.

Good for you, Mr. Announcer. You're a consummate spinmeister. You also failed to mention that Grant Park is the last stop for EWO and the last time the exhibit will be assembled, because 3,487 pairs of boots are just too voluminous and heavy and have made EWO too costly to haul around the country any more. Costly in dollars ... infinitely more costly in sorrow and suffering.

I just signed up for an hour of prayer on the EWO wiki. Time to go.

*Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Sc. III.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hidden in plain sight

It's gotten to be a Saturday morning ritual. (Do not be alarmed, fellow Friends. It's a non-religious ritual.) I get up and do some serious reading on the Web while drinking my morning coffee. My job has become too hectic --a meeting at this hour, squeezing in work on a report the next hour ... each of my working hours spoken for by the boss or a colleague for some task or other. So sitting in front of my laptop for a couple of hours of reading, actually sitting in one place doing one thing and not worrying about an obligation that will come due when the minute hand reaches twelve again, is a luxury and a pleasure.

OK, so most of this time is spent reading liberal-ass websites. Forgive my un-Quakerly language, but I just don't know how else to express it. Websites like Commondreams, the Huffington Post, etc. If you want the links, you'll find them to the left. This morning I just discovered a new one: Peninsula Peace and Justice Center's website. Another peace website. I belong to a local peace group. And two anti-torture groups. And the longer I sit in front of my laptop, the more of these groups I uncover. Like the Jesus Gospel site ... remember him? the guy who said that we should love our enemies and bless those who curse us?

And I just found a new commentator, a columnist from Maine, one Christopher Cooper , who minces no words about how pathetic our country's leadership is and how there's little difference between the Republicans and the Democrats.

So I ask myself: with all of us out there, members of this or that peace group who organize and get out the vote, why this war-mongering State, why our elected representatives who cannot deliver a bill to the President and dig their heels in, ready to override his veto and end this horrible war?

How many peace vigils have I participated in since many letters written to the President, the vice-president, the Secretary of State, my senators and many letters to the editor of my local newspapers? All for the three-ring circus that passes for debate in Congress and that results in no change whatsoever. And how many others like me do this?

Are we really invisible, we who hunger and thirst for justice?

Or perhaps...have we not made enough personal sacrifices?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A politics of compassion?

As usual, Deepak Chopra says a mouthful in his recent column:
Since the death of Robert F. Kennedy, candidates don't run on a platform of compassion....Compassion is considered weak nowadays, not a fit platform for anyone running for higher office....
I don't remember RFK very well, nor have I studied his campaigns. But I can tell you that compassion is unknown in politics these days. Unless you're talking about compassionate war or compassionate pre-emptive strikes...

Heck, even the Democrats can't bring themselves to cut off funding for this war. There's going to be a Senate vote today on two amendments brought forward by Sen. Harry Reid, and neither is expected to pass. The announcer reading the news on NPR this morning said something like the votes "would give Reid an idea of how many people are amenable to the idea..." Evidently, and idea whose time has come, huh?

No, the closest we can seem to get to compassion is tying Iraq war spending to benchmarks that the Iraqis have to meet ... in other words, can they clean up the mess we made for them within what we consider a reasonable amount of time? I guess this qualifies as compassionate pull-out.

I wish I had Chopra's confidence in our good nature, however:

Who today is willing to show that they have a heart and can’t help feeling compassionate? I wager that anyone with the courage to display actual love, sympathy, and kindness would rocket into public favor.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Crossan, Christ, and Church History

Finding time to read is becoming a real challenge these days, and finding time to write even more so. On the train this morning I started John Dominic Crossan's latest book: God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now.

Crossan (see page about him at the Westar Institute site) is probably my very favorite
Christian writer ...more of a favorite, if possible, than Marcus Borg, whom I just love to blog about. I've read quite a few books of the "quest for the historical Jesus" variety (although I've never read Albert Schweitzer's book which bears that very title). Of the Christian authors of this genre that I have read, Crossan is the only one who is not afraid to take questions to their logical limit, even if the conclusions he comes to contradict traditional Church doctrine concerning Jesus Christ. If I remember correctly something I heard Crossan say in a radio interview once, he decided to leave religious life because his superiors kept warning him that he was going too far in his probing of Scripture and traditional teaching. He said something to the effect that he finally decided that, if he had to choose between faith and scholarship, he would choose the latter. Or, as he says in his brief online autobiography: "I wanted to be free from the irritation of thinking critically, as I had been trained, but being in constant trouble for doing so."

I must be in Crossan mode these days, as I just finished reading his Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994), which is a briefer version of his earlier book The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (1991). In these books Crossan, using the historical-critical method of analyzing the Gospels (both canonical and other), discards many traditional Christian beliefs, not the least of which are the Virgin birth, the Nativity stories of both Matthew and Luke, and the empty tomb tradition.

Crossan complements Borg, I find, although the latter doesn't specialize in debunking traditional Christian beliefs. Well, at least that's not what he claims he's doing, although the end product turns out to be just as stunningly "revolutionary" as Crossan's. Borg --using what he likes to call the "historical-metaphorical" method-- places Christian doctrines in the historical context that gave rise to them, then returns to the original scriptural passages and breathes back into them the wonder and mystery that the writers were trying to express before their words got "defined" by centuries' worth of church councils and myriad theologians...or reduced to the literal meaning of their English translation. Borg, of course, is also an eminent scripture scholar, and his interpretations tend to coincide with those of Crossan. However, Borg usually goes a step further, presenting his interpretations in the light of what they mean to him as a practicing Christian. In contrast, Crossan's prose has a bit more edge (as well as the occasional mordant comment), and he generally refrains from "confessing" his own personal least in so many words. the next few days or weeks, unless something more urgent comes up that I just have to blog about, I plan to reflect out loud on my reading of Crossan's newest work.

Commentary #1, or, My-- but Church history sure has changed!

I can still remember studying what was called "Church history" way back in what would today be called middle school. I can even see the Benziger Brothers textbook, complete with illustrations, in my mind. If I remember rightly, the History of The Church began with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and continued with the retelling of events recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. After that, the rest of the book pretty much explained, one after the other, the principal heresies and how they had been soundly defeated by this or that Church Father, Pope, Council, or even --mirabile dictu!--some enlightened monarch who became the strong right hand of God by sending his army to crush the heretical horde. In other words, we studied How the Catholic Church Defeated Heretics and Reformers and Preserved the Apostolic Succession Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares. OK, it was a point of view. Or, as Paul would say: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child...

Something I never remember reading in my Church history book was any instance of Church leaders rethinking or reformulating any position or doctrine. Church history was the story of the unfolding of Divine Revelation in an ever forward-moving progression from the time of the Apostles right down to our day. The Church just got better and better. The Holy Spirit saw to that. Only the heretics ever made mistakes. (In all fairness, this is no longer the view of the Church -- if it ever was. Sometimes I wonder if I wasn't taught heresy!)

So, this morning I read the following:

In a magnificently parabolic scene in John’s gospel, Pilate confronts Jesus (or does Jesus confront Pilate?) about the kingdom he proclaims. “My kingdom,” says Jesus in the King James Version of the incident, “is not of this world; if my kingdom were o fthis world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from hence” (18:36)....

Had Jesus stopped after saying that “my kingdom is not of this world,’ as we so often do in quoting him, that “of’ would be utterly ambiguous. “Not of this world” could mean; never on earth, but always in heaven; or not now in present time, but off in the imminent or distant future; or not a matter of the exterior world, but of the interior life alone. Jesus spoils all of these possible misinterpretations by continuing with this: “if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered” up to execution. Your soldiers hold me, Pilate, but my companions will not attack you even to save me from death. Your Roman Empire, Pilate, is based on the injustice of violence, but my divine kingdom is based on the justice of nonviolence. (God and Empire, p.4)

Well, I don't ever remember being taught that Jesus' kingdom was "
based on the justice of nonviolence." After all, wasn't it Christ who appeared to Constantine in a dream and said "In hoc signo vinces?" Freely translated, vinces means "you'll kill more of them than they will of you."

I've been reading more and more of this nonviolence message lately in the writings of certain Christian authors. However, it wasn't until this morning that it struck me that the doctrine of nonviolence, if interpreted in the light of unfolding revelation, amounts to quite a revelation indeed. And to think that it took us over 2000 years to "get it!" Also makes me realize how ahead of their time spiritual teachers like Menno Simons and George Fox were...

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

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

Friendly Lobbying, Step 3

The Sunday afternoon before our visit to the senator's office, we got together at the meeting house where Monica is a member to plan our strategy. It turned out to be pretty simple: She would introduce us and thank the staffer for receiving us; Mazhar would speak about the importance of restoring the right of habeas corpus; Michael would speak about putting an end to torture and other "alternative methods" of interrogation; and I would say something about how, as Quakers, we feel compelled to speak on behalf of those declared non-persons. We thought it a good idea to leave the aide with a letter that could be passed on the senator, and I offered to write it -- or, rather, to piece it together from model letters on the FCNL website.

Friendly Lobbying, Step 4

Monica and I took the train down town together. Michael and Mazhar each got downtown separately. and we all met at the Federal Building, passed through security, and then stopped in the coffee shop to sign the printed copy of the letter that we would leave for the senator.

The rest is pretty anticlimactic.

I remember walking into the reception area of the senator's office suite and thinking: I can't wait until this is over. I announced our arrival to the receptionist, who asked what organization we were with. Interesting have to belong to a group to come speak to the senator or to one of his staff members. Reminds me of Tocqueville, who noted the myriad associations that existed in the U.S. We Americans must have found out early that we needed to organize if we wanted some attention from our elected officials.

The staff member with whom we had the appointment came out, greeted us, took us into the interior part of the office suite, and then ushered us into the senator's own office. It was smallish, almost modest for
the office of a senior senator, with the exception of the majestic, mirror-covered pillar that dominated the room. We each took a place on various pieces of the cream-colored living room set. We talked about the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, torture, Guantanamo Bay, while our host listened attentively taking brief notes. Every now and then I found myself distracted by his reflection on one side of the mirrored pillar

When it was my turn, I spoke about how Quakers have tried throughout our history come to the defense of those treated like non-persons by societies and governments. In the past, black slaves were such non-persons. "Illegal enemy combatants" are the non-persons of our time, I said, as this classification deprives them of the protections of the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I said that we were concerned about the treatment and welfare of prisoners being held in conjunction with our war on terror ... individuals such as Abdul Al-Ghizzawi,, held for 5 years without charge at Guantánamo Bay. We are concerned that he will die in captivity because he has not received treatment for a severe liver ailment. I concluded by saying that restoration of the right to habeas corpus would be the best guarantee that Mr. Al-Ghizzawi and other prisoners can get proper medical treatment, because their detention would be subject to courts operating under international standards of justice. I actually managed to get all that out -- rehearsal pays!

Monica asked our host what he saw as the major roadblocks to scheduling hearings on the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act and what we could do to help. He responded that Sen. Specter is no longer chair of the Judiciary Committee and does not, therefore, schedule the hearings. He urged us to contact those who could lobby the current chair, Sen. Leahy. This suggestion seemed rather strange to me, as we are not Sen. Leahy's constituents. The aide did promise to bring all our concerns to the attention of Sen. Specter.

We ended the visit by thanking, our host and giving him our letter and a copy of FCNL's Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict.

In the lobby of the Federal Building, before going our separate ways, Monica, Mazhar, and Michael talked eagerly about doing more of this sort of thing. Michael especially wants to bring the issue of stem-cell research to the attention of our legislators, as he has a family member for whom it represents the only hope of ever walking again.

I came away a bit discouraged, wondering what sort of real influence three Quakers and a Muslim can realistically hope to have when compared to the paid lobbyists who visit our Congresspersons in droves. Nevertheless, we exercised the power that we have as citizens of what is --remarkably, miraculously--still a representative democracy. And I feel so grateful to have been able to plead personally for the freedom and welfare of Mr. Al-Ghizzawi.