Monday, March 29, 2010

Children Need Both Parents

I agree. Having both is a very good thing.

Then, for sure, we should never seen parents of children to fight wars on our behalf. And we for sure should not deploy both Mom and Dad if both are serving in the National Guard.

And if, perchance, the Guard or Reserve member is a single parent, they should never get near deployment, especially not for multiple tours in war zones.

Gee, that might mean we would actually have needed to draft people into our armed services and train them in order to have enough bodies to fill all the holes needed.

I wonder how the Tea Party folks would feel about a military draft again? Would that be considered an encroachment on their liberties by big government?

If continuous military intervention is necessary to keep our empire in existence, what does it say when we will not require universal national service?

Meanwhile, pray for all parents and their kids--especially the parents who wear the uniform because we don't have the courage to ask all our citizens to wear one for even a little while. We don't deserve the dedication of those who serve on our behalf.

Easter blessings! He is risen!


Living History

It could all come to an end soon. The Living History Day at Milwaukie (OR) High School could be a thing of the past. This annual November celebration of veterans and their storytelling may soon become another casualty on the battlefield of the empty and bankrupt economy and national priorities of the United States of America.

I've gone to several. I've shared some reflections with students a couple of times. It's always been with very mixed emotions. First, I'm a Cold War veteran, not a combat veteran--unless you call the 2.5 years of changing work shifts every 96 hours and stumbling through constant fatigue due to interrupted sleep cycles "combat". It wasn't fun. It may have aged me by a few years.

I served in a time when service was mandatory (aka, "the draft") but accompanied by a lot of negative baggage due to America's deep divisions and indecision over the Vietnam War. We "solved" that problem by stringing it out four years longer than need be. That way, we could have "peace with honor". As a nation, we dodged the draft question with a lottery system and by eventually ending the draft. We left our armed forces to choose from among the few, the proud and the unemployed. And those who can't afford college any other way. I'm all for people who want to go to college to actually get an education and are willing to serve for it.

Living History Day has enabled many veterans to hear a hartfelt "thank you" too long denied them. But too often those few moments of thanks have been followed by a dismissal from our nation plague with a very short attention span and little desire to know what those who served actually did and what they carry with them.

"Now that we've thanked you, our duty is done," we seem to say. "We can now feel good about ourselves, so go away to wherever you were."
Or we put flags and anthems in the place of God and make it about worship rather than self-examination and reflection. Yes, we humans can even come to worship war. We certainly do like to collect war machinery like art treasures.
Unfortunately, the real stories about war that we need to hear have frequently been lost to us. Either the person who carried them did not survive, or they returned alive but did not "survive".
I just tried to call my friend Jack's wife Nila. Jack died a year ago today. One steamy night in Georgia some years back after I related what someone had done to a family member, Jack said to me, "I've got a lot of blood on my hands already. If someone had done that to my baby, I wouldn't have any problem taking him out."
He didn't mean "take him out to dinner". No other human being has ever said those words to me.
I miss Jack, and I regret not hearing more of the stories behind the few startling words I did hear. I regret every stitch of the living history that is lost to us each day.
Rest well, Jack.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blessed Are The Poor. In spirit, that is.

John 12:1-13.

Technically, Judas had it right. Three hundred denarii, or about a year's worth of wages for a laborer, would have done a lot more good if spread around to the poor of Bethany or Jerusalem, or wherever.

Instead, Mary the sister of Lazarus dumps a whole year's pay on Jesus' feet. Where'd she get that kind of money to begin with? Why wasn't her heart in a better place, we ask?

Well, perhaps it wasn't in too bad a place.

After all, Jesus had just a few days earlier given back the life of her brother Lazarus. To think that she, sister Martha and Lazarus gave a dinner in Jesus' honor is no stretch at all. Hello! I'd do that if somebody had just brought me painlessly through a root canal!

Jesus seems to be insensitive to the needs of the poor. "You always have the poor with you. You do not always have me." Before we go the wrong direction with this, we should remember where Jesus spent his time and with whom. Jesus found the kingdom of God most alive and most operative among the poor, precisely where good news was most needed.

But He didn't consider poverty to be a blessed state. He considered having one's heart in the right place to be a blessed state--which had everything to do with how one saw and responded to poverty, the need for grace, the need for healing, the need for hope.

Judas, a chronic embezzler according to John, did not have his heart in those places. But he almost succeeds in pulling the cloak of legitimacy over his argument.

Jesus points to Mary as the counterexample. Mary understood what was at stake. She understood the difference between what's expensive and what's truly valuable.

Jesus is about to go to Jerusalem for the final confrontation in his life. There he will give what's very costly to obtain what's very valuable: his life so that we might have life.

One year's pay would have done some good in and around Bethany. And that would have been the end of it. A world changed for generations by the love of Christ does a world and an eternity of good. If we worship the wrong things, that doesn't happen.

Jesus was arrested and tried and convicted by people who couldn't see what was truly valuable. He was accused not for doing evil things but for doing good things that went outside the thinking of the leaders of his day. May He always continue to do so.

And may the witness of Mary endure forever. Thanks be to God.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Culturally Normative Moral Reasoning

I get periodic updates from the Barna Institute about trends in the lives and attitudes of the American faith community.
That's a badly worded statement. We aren't a "faith community" neatly bound into a cohesive body. We are frequently like the same poles of two magnets, like the flyweights in a centrifugal clutch. We frequently repel each other and fly apart.
But we are steadily being shaped and re-shaped by what we do, how we spend our time.
Consider the discussion of our modern media addiction in this piece:
For well over a decade now, I have contended that our electronic culture not only changes how we spend our time. It changes how we are built, how our brains act and wire themselves as we begin to grow and develop into human beings.
Not only does it change us behaviorally. It changes us phycially and electrochemically. And that has implications across the galactic spectrum of intelligent life.
Find the words "culturally normative moral reasoning" in the linked article.
Tell me what you think about that. Put your imagination to work here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gulf War 2010

Everywhere I go these days I see a gulf opening up among my fellow citizens.

I struggle to understand the gulf that our political landscape has become. When there's all gulf and no shoreline, there isn't much left. I believe government is "us", all of us, unless we abdicate our role in government and leave it to only the few and the powerful who fill the vacuum that we leave.
I believe government is not the only tool for carrying out vital functions that a safe, orderly and good society needs.
But there are important areas where it is really the only tool, and that is precisely why we as a civil society have contracted with one another to have a government at all. Ronald Reagan became president largely on an anti-government platform and sanctioned much of the extreme terminology widely used today without much understanding.

Karl Rove, of course, articulated a kind of scorched-earth, single-party rule obtained by creating fear and distrust and using nearly any means possible to discredit and defame and divide those outside the circle of ideological purity. Rove's assassination of John McCain's character in the 2000 South Carolina primary led to the ascendancy of George W. Bush in the race for the GOP nomination.
Now whether Bush or McCain would have been the better nominee or president in 2000 is not the issue. Rove's tactics should have led to a full-scale repudiation by the entire party, the entire nation. It did not happen. Instead, Rove got the job of puppeteer-in-chief in the White House.

Rove may be gone from the White House, but he continues to work behind the scenes as he always did; and his legacy is broadening. Privateers such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly found out how to profit wildly from this self-destructive (to the country) brand of loathing-by-definition. It is important to remember that these folks are primarily interested in self-promotion and financial gain. It is not thoughtful, reflective journalism.

Their entire business model collapses when there is consensus. They are not programmed to lead us consensus but instead to conflict and contempt. The more, the better; but our country is not the better for it. Their foothold should vanish for lack of an audience, not because we had further tuned out but because we had all risen to something far above it.

Meanwhile, one of the most important tools we have ever had for doing things and doing good falls farther into disrepair and distrust. I'm not sure how much we can recover from this, especially as America faces its fiscal holes, diminished world power and a diminished value-added economy. For most of our nation's history, we have approached the world from a position of abundance and prospects of limitless growth, believing that we were the exception and would always be so. When that falls apart, as I believe it is doing before our eyes, I'm not sure where the retrenchment will finally come to rest.
That concerns me. I believe that we are not at all immune or exempt from the forces and the responses that led to the rise of Nazi Germany. I'm sure that if anyone had told educated Germans in 1914 what they would become 20 and 30 years later they would have screamed "Niemals!"--not ever! But after 1945 in a number of tragic sites in Europe, death camps were turned into museums of contemporary history. At the exits to all of them, memorial plaques in cast bronze have had to transform "Niemals" into "Nie wieder", never again.
Never again--until the next time.

My wife and I both said in 2008 that anyone running for president would have to be crazy to want the job and to believe that they could do it. What sane person would want to try these days? I believe Obama has done a rather mediocre job and has made many mistakes. We have always feared for his life as President. Perhaps being seen as weak and vulnerable by radical opponents is the only thing keeping him alive today. Had he been stronger, would he have survived a year? Those are deeply repugnant thoughts about a country and a people I love, but I can't escape them. I have eyes and ears.

But here's a thought I also have: most worship services that I attend offer no petitions and prayers on behalf of our president and other leaders. Some offer what seem like canned perfunctory prayers "for kings and all that are in authority", etc. I haven't experienced any that seem to have real heart behind them. We had special prayer times after 9/11 in most churches. Some had special prayer services after Hurrican Katrina.
When was the last one you saw on the schedule specifically to pray for our leaders, the wars, health care, our fellow citizens?
Funny. The homeless people I worship with always want to pray for the President and out soldiers.
As the Brits might say, "There's a bit of headroom there," meaning there are miles of room for improvement. Years ago in Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain titled a chapter "You Can't Pray A Lie".


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rome, USA . . . and the Way of the Cross

I remember President Nixon. I don't miss him, but even those insane times seemed to make more sense than the present ones. I'll write more about that in a couple of days.

On Friday, a buddy from USAF days sent me the youtube link to a patriotitc "thank-you" song by a group of third graders. It would be great to get kids to sing that well in church. But here ya go. Have a listen:
I listened to the song and read the words. On the web page, I saw that there are dozens, if not more, of such patriotic songs. Of course our soldiers and their families deserve our undying thanks, love, support and prayers.
They also deserve something else: the very best exercise of citizenship that the rest of us can muster. Freedom is something WE do. It is not done for us by soldiers.

Randomly, I clicked on one of the additional songs by a young woman named Sarah Bettens:

A few measures into the song, the beautiful young blond woman dressed in a black gown and standing in front of members of all branches of our military services sang these words:

"Fighting for freedom, for equality, for freedom for me and you..."

The song and the little acting sketch leading up to the song contained yet another variant of an oft-repeated but little considered premise: that our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are fighting for our "freedom" and the survival of the U.S. Constitution.

Say what?

I maintain that these wars have absolutely nothing to do with our freedom and our Constitution. Maybe freedom and the constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan--but we can hardly give or impose such things on those folks. They first have to want them, then fight for them themselves.

Our current wars MAY have something to do with our safety and security, but perhaps even less of that than we might think. Safety and security are very different from our freedom and our Constitution. However, it is human nature to seek simplistic answers to complex problems. That takes less work and brain power. By default we choose the path of least resistance.

Simply put, Rome in Jesus' day rested on belief in the Pax Romana, the gospel of peace through military victory. Pax Romana meant a brutally imposed subjugation of ruled peoples through as many public executions as it took to bring compliance. Caesar was procalimed and worshiped as the son of God. Or else! The whole shebang ran on a grinding extraction of tribute. For that, Rome recruited any corrupt regimes and their tax collectors who could keep the money rolling in.

Pax Romana was hardly the peace and freedom taught and lived by Jesus and Apostle Paul, a peace through justice and the way of the cross. In many ways we are becoming the modern day Rome staggering into bankruptcy and decline to preserve an idealized past vision of ourselves while avoiding reconciliation with the way ahead. Rome worked completely on pay-go, no matter how much it killed local economies and how much resentment it bred across the empire. They didn't have China to borrow from. We may well be even more delusional than they.

Here's something for us to remember today as followers of Christ:

Justice must be blind. Faith must never, ever be.

And our faith must never let us substitute patriotism for God.

I'm currently reading Three Cups of Tea, the story of Greg Mortenson's stumbling journey into building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He didn't set out to be a missionary and convert anyone. Yet he, born to a renegade Lutheran school builder in Tanzania, has done far more with far, far less to bring peace and freedom than the trillion dollars we have spent on the two most recent wars. We're still spending. Our debt is rising.

But see:

If ever we needed validation of the way of Christ and the way of the cross, Mortenson's work should do it for us.

I doubt that he will ever have a song and viral videos written for him. But he should have. Some kinds of virus can actually save lives. They need to be spread.

If it's prophetic, it's probably not popular. If it's popular, it's probably not prophetic.

Jesus' journey that we mark in Lent puts us in mind of that. The way of the cross is not the easy way out. The way of the cross is not cut-and-run. By comparison, it can make military intervention look like a two week cruise.

Which way do you think Jesus calls us to?

Pax Christi,


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Going Viral

His (I'm assuming the driver is a guy) Jeep was parked at the Bi-Mart store where I bought lawn food with moss killer and canned tuna.

To clarify: the lawn food has moss killer added. But it doesn't have canned tuna. Although in today's world of declining ocean health, the tuna could sure have moss killer in it, too.

I notice the poster or sticker is covered with clear plastic. It probably doesn't stick to plywood very well. And the board is attached to the spare wheel with bungee cords. That way, it can be taken off at night so no one rips it off. And maybe it can be transferred to another vehicle.

No doubt, Sarah Palin has gained a following and will be a force in the public life and politics of America for some time to come. Get disgruntled people together, give 'em a catchy and succint phrase to express their discontent; and you, too, could go viral overnight. Of course, it didn't hurt to have lots of name recognition beforehand.

Thank God we still have that freedom here.

But it takes more than freedom to live here. It takes responsibility, and information and sweat equity to accompany all our words and phrases. When was the last time one of your co-workers or coffee chums actually offered more than complaints but actual workable solutions to problems they were willing to commit their lives to?

I'm currently reading Three Cups of Tea. It would do our country and our world a mountain of good if more of this thinking and action went viral.

Some infections actually save lives.



Monday, March 1, 2010

Creedence Clearwater Revival

For as long as I live I will love the music of J.C. Fogarty's band Creedence Clearwater Revival, CCR for short. My friend John found a lot of meaning in "Who'll Stop the Rain?" It rained a lot where John was in Vietnam.

Some of my USAF Russian language classmates who served in Japan encountered odd renderings of "Proud Mary" by local Asian bands playing in the Airmen's Club on base. "Plowed Maly. . ." they sang over and over.

My favorite songs were always different ones, though. On the light side, it was "Lookin' Out My Back Door."

But by the time CCR came along with their more mature stuff, the idealism of folk music was not longer that of the people. Beatles were beaten. Soul had wrung its heart out. Peace and love were in pieces. Wood was stocked. And the danged country was just going to do what it was going to do: draft more young men, send them to a war it never really wanted to know or believe was happening, a war that lasted four times as long as World War II.

To really get to the logical, moral, spatial and spiritual disconnect of the whole era, nothing much gets you down the road like CCR's "Graveyard Train" and "Run Through the Jungle".

They won't be rending these works into 75-second emotibites on American Idol anytime soon. And if they try, I just might have to move to the Khyber Pass.

Saturday we walked in the West Hills of Portland. Older homes worth some bucks. Somebody's always doing a remodel up there. You can tell because there's always a porta-potty onsite.

Clearwater, huh? In a porta-potty? You promise?

Please, leaders of our country, solve problems. Soon. Please! Don't tell me cutting taxes will balance the books when we are already running trillions of dollars short. Don't tell me you can build a bridge over the Grand Canyon of health care costs with band aids and toothpicks and fabric scraps. Don't tell me the canyon isn't there. Don't tell me you about a magical future doing it your way when all you care about is winning the next heat on the talk show circuit and the next election. Don't tell me you love America and I don't. You love money because you have it. And I don't. Guess that's why I'm not one of our leaders. Gotta be really rich to do that these days. Then, you get even richer.

Leaders, don't tell me there is clear water in the porta-potty. After all, I use these things sometimes. I know what I leave there.

I feel like running through the jungle most days lately. Hear the train a-comin'?