Friday, December 29, 2006

Give Peace a Chance

As 2006 draws to a close and we enter our fourth year of war in the midst of Muslim countries, I call to your attention an editorial that appeared in the New York Times on Christmas Day about St. Francis of Assisi and his overtures towards Muslims during the crusades:
Francis was not impressed by the Crusaders, whose sacrilegious brutality horrified him. They were entirely too fond of taunting and abusing their prisoners of war, who were often returned to their families minus nose, lips, ears or eyes.

In Francis’ view, judgment was the exclusive province of the all-merciful God; it was none of a Christian’s concern. True Christians were to befriend all yet condemn no one. Give to others, and it shall be given to you, forgive and you shall be forgiven, was Francis’ constant preaching. “May the Lord give you peace” was the best greeting one could give to all one met. It compromised no one’s dignity and embraced every good; it was a blessing to be bestowed indiscriminately. Francis bestowed it on people named George and Jacques and on people named Osama and Saddam. Such an approach, in an age when the most visible signs of the Christian religion were the wars and atrocities of the red- crossed crusaders, was shockingly otherworldly and slyly effective.

Symbolic gesture, Francis’ natural language, was a profound source he called on throughout his life. In one of its most poignant expressions, Francis sailed across the Mediterranean to the Egyptian court of al- Malik al-Kamil, nephew of the great Saladin who had defeated the forces of the hapless Third Crusade. Francis was admitted to the august presence of the sultan himself and spoke to him of Christ, who was, after all, Francis’ only subject.

Trying to proselytize a Muslim was cause for on-the- spot decapitation, but Kamil was a wise and moderate man, who was deeply impressed by Francis’ courage and sincerity and invited him to stay for a week of serious conversation. Francis, in turn, was deeply impressed by the religious devotion of the Muslims, especially by their five daily calls to prayer; it is quite possible that the thrice-daily recitation of the Angelus that became current in Europe after this visit was precipitated by the impression made on Francis by the call of the muezzin (just as the quintessential Catholic devotion of the rosary derives from Muslim prayer beads).

It is a tragedy of history that Kamil and Francis were unable to talk longer, to coordinate their strengths and form an alliance. Had they been able to do so, the phrase “clash of civilizations” might be unknown to our world.

Francis went back to the Crusader camp on the Egyptian shore and desperately tried to convince Cardinal Pelagius Galvani, whom Pope Honorius III had put in charge of the Crusade, that he should make peace with the sultan, who, despite far greater force on his side, was all too ready to do so. But the cardinal had dreams of military glory and would not listen. His eventual failure, amid terrible loss of life, brought the age of the crusades to its inglorious end.

Donald Spoto, one of Francis of Assisi’s most recent biographers, rightly calls Francis “the first person from the West to travel to another continent with the revolutionary idea of peacemaking.” As a result of his inability to convince Cardinal Pelagius, however, Francis saw himself as a failure. Like his model, Jesus of Nazareth, Francis was an extremist. But his failure is still capable of bearing new fruit.

Islamic society and Christian society have been generally bad neighbors now for nearly 14 centuries, eager to misunderstand each other, often borrowing culturally and intellectually from each other without ever bestowing proper credit. But as Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, has written, almost as if he was thinking of Kamil and Francis, “Those who are confident of their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faiths of others. ... There are, surely, many ways of arriving at this generosity of spirit and each faith may need to find its own.” We stand in desperate need of contemporary figures like Kamil and Francis of Assisi to create an innovative dialogue. To build a future better than our past, we need, as Rabbi Sacks has put it, “the confidence to recognize the irreducible, glorious dignity of difference.”

In 2007, let us hope and pray that we find leaders like Francis of Assisi, and let us work hard to make it happen. Happy New Year.

It Was Based on a Lie

The Republican revolution of 1994. Paul Krugman tells us why:

But the truth is that the movement that took power in 1994 — a movement that had little to do with true conservatism — was always based on a lie.

The lie is right there in “The Freedom Revolution,” the book that Dick Armey, who had just become the House majority leader, published in 1995. He declares that most government programs don’t do anything “to help American families with the needs of everyday life,” and that “very few American families would notice their disappearance.” He goes on to assert that “there is no reason we cannot, by the time our children come of age, reduce the federal government by half as a percentage of gross domestic product.”

Right. Somehow, I think more than a few families would notice the disappearance of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and those three programs alone account for a majority of nondefense, noninterest spending. The truth is that the government delivers services and security that people want. Yes, there’s some waste — just as there is in any large organization. But there are no big programs that are easy to cut.

As long as people like Mr. Armey, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay were out of power, they could run on promises to eliminate vast government waste that existed only in the public’s imagination — all those welfare queens driving Cadillacs. But once in power, they couldn’t deliver.

That’s why government by the radical right has been an utter failure even on its own terms: the government hasn’t shrunk. Federal outlays other than interest payments and defense spending are a higher percentage of G.D.P. today than they were when Mr. Armey wrote his book: 14.8 percent in fiscal 2006, compared with 13.8 percent in fiscal 1995.

Unable to make good on its promises, the G.O.P., like other failed revolutionary movements, tried to maintain its grip by exploiting its position of power. Friends were rewarded with patronage: Jack Abramoff began building his web of corruption almost as soon as Republicans took control. Adversaries were harassed with smear campaigns and witch hunts: Congress spent six years and many millions of dollars investigating a failed land deal, and Bill Clinton was impeached over a consensual affair.

But it wasn’t enough. Without 9/11, the Republican revolution would probably have petered out quietly, with the loss of Congress in 2002 and the White House in 2004. Instead, the atrocity created a window of opportunity: four extra years gained by drowning out unfavorable news with terror alerts, starting a gratuitous war, and accusing Democrats of being weak on national security.

Yet the Bush administration failed to convert this electoral success into progress on a right-wing domestic agenda. The collapse of the push to privatize Social Security recapitulated the failure of the Republican revolution as a whole. Once the administration was forced to get specific about the details, it became obvious that private accounts couldn’t produce something for nothing, and the public’s support vanished.

In the end, Republicans didn’t shrink the government. But they did degrade it. Baghdad and New Orleans are the arrival destinations of a movement based on deep contempt for governance.

This is important to pay attention to because the line we are hearing now from Republicans is that it was corrupted individuals who ruined the revolution, but the goals of the revolution to shrink the size and scope of the government remain worthy. It is certainly true that we have witnessed an extraordinary amount of corruption over the last eight years. But the more important truth is that Americans value and depend on the social safety net that has been in place since the great depression. And with the complete failure of the private sector to deliver affordable healthcare they are getting ready to support the expansion of the government even more to bring coverage to all Americans.

When you are super rich or have lots of corporate and lobbying connections that provide for your every need and want you don't need the government. The other ninety-eight percent of the country depends in some measure or another on a large, effective government. It's time to ignore those who vilify it and elect those who want to make it better. This last election made a good start.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Deep Redemptive Connection between Spirituality and Depression

In this review of a book on modern art written by psychiatrist Joseph Schildkraut by Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times, I was seized by the word "redemptive" which the physchiatrist Schildkraut used to connect spirituality and depression. It is often hard to see the forest for the trees if you are not sitting on the physician's side of the table.

Joseph J. Schildkraut b. 1934
The Creative Mind Reader

Published: December 31, 2006
Joseph J. Schildkraut had been peering into a murky Rembrandt etching called “Saint Jerome in a Dark Chamber,” when he started wondering about the artist’s mental health. In the picture, the bright light outside a window doesn’t penetrate the gloom where Jerome sits at a table reading, head in hand, “in a manner,” as Dr. Schildkraut would write, “typical of melancholia.”

In a paper for The American Journal of Psychiatry in 2004, the doctor analyzed the image as “essentially communicating” to him “in the same way that depressed patients did when, in their labored speech, they tried to describe what was going on in their minds.” He continued: “They often couldn’t describe what was there, and when they could, they couldn’t relate one mental representation to another. And most important, they would often say: ‘I can see the light out there in the world, but the light just doesn’t get into my brain. My mind remains dark — it is black.’ ”

You might call this Dr. Schildkraut’s Van Gogh hypothesis. Virginia Woolf, Tchaikovsky, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among other depressed or suicidal geniuses, have fueled the theoretical connection between mental illness and artistic creativity. Today brain scans are starting to pinpoint the actual physiology of specific mental processes, both unhealthy and creative ones. Compulsive gambling can now be linked to problems in the frontal lobe. The cortical region that controls the left hand is often enlarged in the brains of violinists.
Dr. Schildkraut trained as a psychiatric researcher in the era before M.R.I.’s and Prozac. A kid from Brooklyn, the son of parents who never went to college, he attended Harvard, where one day he wandered past the window of a Cambridge bookstore and fell in love with several reproductions of paintings by an artist he thought was a woman named Joan. After working up the nerve to inquire inside, he learned, among other things, that Joan Miró was a man. For $5, he bought the posters, pinned them to his dorm-room ceiling and began a lifelong fascination with the psychology of art.

In the meantime, he helped to revolutionize the psychiatric profession. As a young researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland, he noticed that depressives who didn’t respond to talk therapy often came to life after taking certain drugs. A groundbreaking paper that he published in 1965 suggested that naturally occurring chemical imbalances in the brain must account for mood swings, which pharmaceuticals could correct, a hypothesis that proved to be right. “Psychopharmacology was still new,” his wife, Betsy, recalled, “and the hypothesis was widely doubted. But he was a dreamer.”

Schildkraut spent decades as a professor at Harvard, founding a neuropsychopharmacology lab at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, which served patients who couldn’t afford to pay for medical care. When research into genomes and DNA began to change medicine and another generation of scientists started to take over the field, he decided, being, as his wife put it, an old-fashioned intellectual, to focus on his early passion: he returned to Miró, who, Dr. Schildkraut came to believe, was depressive, citing the artist’s description of himself as “tragic and taciturn.” Miró’s signature blobs and squiggles, he said, served as an escape for the Spanish artist and healed his soul. Miró experts and relatives weren’t too happy with this analysis, which came out in a book, “Depression and the Spiritual in Modern Art: Homage to Miró,” which the doctor helped edit, but then a grandson of Miró’s contacted the doctor and affirmed the artist’s condition.

Dr. Schildkraut also mused on the grumpy, gloomy Abstract Expressionists, combining stories of their lives with views of their art to find among them “a high prevalence (about 50 percent) of depressive disorders and preoccupation with death.” By bringing (suicidal) artists like Rothko, Gorky and Pollock “into direct and lonely confrontation with the ultimate existential question, whether to live or to die,” he wrote, “depression may have put them in touch with the inexplicable mystery at the very heart of the tragic and timeless art that they aspired to produce.”

If there was a bright side to depression, Dr. Schildkraut saw it. “Depression in the artist,” he noted, “may be of adaptive value to society at large” — meaning it could inspire great paintings, symphonies and novels. That’s a controversial idea, insofar as it raises a moral dilemma: does treatment, while benefiting the patient, come at a cost to culture?

But this wasn’t how Schildkraut framed the issue. He saw a deep, redemptive connection between spirituality and depression. For him, depression was not a weakness but simply “one of the things that humans happen to be capable of experiencing.” It had its uses. “Depression turns you inward,” he explained. “In some senses the artistic calling becomes easier with a depressive illness.”

Gerald Ford

Former President Gerald Ford is dead at 93. Ford had the unenviable task of being chosen by Richard Nixon to be Vice President after Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in disgrace. Then, when it was Nixon's turn to resign in disgrace, Ford stepped in as President. "Our long national nightmare is over," he said. But then a month later he pardoned Nixon and probably sealed his fate as a two-year President. At the time it was highly controversial; now it is generally agreed that it was the right thing to do so the country could move on.

I was just becoming politically aware and active during these years. I had an aunt who worked in the White House for Nixon and Ford and who fed me lots of Republican memorabilia and propaganda. But I was already "lost" to the other side and did my first political campaigning on behalf of Jimmy Carter.

Ford, like Nixon, was considered a right-wing conservative in his day. But in today's Republican party they would be seen as left-leaning moderates. Ford and his wife Betty were vocal supporters of a pro-choice stance for women and of gay marriage.

Let us offer prayers of thanks for his service to our country and prayers of support for his family as they grieve his death.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Francis of Assisi

In direct contrast to the story (previous post) of the Anglican Bishop of Nigeria we have this New York Times Op-Ed piece about a 13th century follower of Jesus who understood what the gospel was all about:

AMID all the useless bloodshed of the Crusades, there is one story that suggests an extended clash of civilizations between Islam and the West was not preordained. It concerns the early 13th-century friar Francis of Assisi, who joined the Fifth Crusade not as a warrior but as a peacemaker.

Francis was no good at organization or strategy and he knew it. He accepted the men and women who presented themselves as followers, befriended them and shared the Gospel with them. But he gave them little else. He expected them to live like him: rejecting distinctions of class, forgoing honors of church or king or commune, taking the words of Jesus literally, owning nothing, suffering for God’s sake, befriending every outcast — leper, heretic, highwayman — thrust in their path.

Francis was not impressed by the Crusaders, whose sacrilegious brutality horrified him. They were entirely too fond of taunting and abusing their prisoners of war, who were often returned to their families minus nose, lips, ears or eyes.

In Francis’ view, judgment was the exclusive province of the all-merciful God; it was none of a Christian’s concern. True Christians were to befriend all yet condemn no one. Give to others, and it shall be given to you, forgive and you shall be forgiven, was Francis’ constant preaching. “May the Lord give you peace” was the best greeting one could give to all one met. It compromised no one’s dignity and embraced every good; it was a blessing to be bestowed indiscriminately. Francis bestowed it on people named George and Jacques and on people named Osama and Saddam. Such an approach, in an age when the most visible signs of the Christian religion were the wars and atrocities of the red-crossed crusaders, was shockingly otherworldly and slyly effective.

Symbolic gesture, Francis’ natural language, was a profound source he called on throughout his life. In one of its most poignant expressions, Francis sailed across the Mediterranean to the Egyptian court of al-Malik al-Kamil, nephew of the great Saladin who had defeated the forces of the hapless Third Crusade. Francis was admitted to the august presence of the sultan himself and spoke to him of Christ, who was, after all, Francis’ only subject.

Trying to proselytize a Muslim was cause for on-the-spot decapitation, but Kamil was a wise and moderate man, who was deeply impressed by Francis’ courage and sincerity and invited him to stay for a week of serious conversation. Francis, in turn, was deeply impressed by the religious devotion of the Muslims, especially by their five daily calls to prayer; it is quite possible that the thrice-daily recitation of the Angelus that became current in Europe after this visit was precipitated by the impression made on Francis by the call of the muezzin (just as the quintessential Catholic devotion of the rosary derives from Muslim prayer beads).

It is a tragedy of history that Kamil and Francis were unable to talk longer, to coordinate their strengths and form an alliance. Had they been able to do so, the phrase “clash of civilizations” might be unknown to our world.

Francis went back to the Crusader camp on the Egyptian shore and desperately tried to convince Cardinal Pelagius Galvani, whom Pope Honorius III had put in charge of the Crusade, that he should make peace with the sultan, who, despite far greater force on his side, was all too ready to do so. But the cardinal had dreams of military glory and would not listen. His eventual failure, amid terrible loss of life, brought the age of the crusades to its inglorious end.

Donald Spoto, one of Francis of Assisi’s most recent biographers, rightly calls Francis “the first person from the West to travel to another continent with the revolutionary idea of peacemaking.” As a result of his inability to convince Cardinal Pelagius, however, Francis saw himself as a failure. Like his model, Jesus of Nazareth, Francis was an extremist. But his failure is still capable of bearing new fruit.

Islamic society and Christian society have been generally bad neighbors now for nearly 14 centuries, eager to misunderstand each other, often borrowing culturally and intellectually from each other without ever bestowing proper credit. But as Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, has written, almost as if he was thinking of Kamil and Francis, “Those who are confident of their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faiths of others. ... There are, surely, many ways of arriving at this generosity of spirit and each faith may need to find its own.” We stand in desperate need of contemporary figures like Kamil and Francis of Assisi to create an innovative dialogue. To build a future better than our past, we need, as Rabbi Sacks has put it, “the confidence to recognize the irreducible, glorious dignity of difference.”

May the Lord give you peace.

This is the new spiritual leader of a group of 21 breakaway American Episcopal congregations who are unhappy with the American church's views on homosexuality and the ordination of women. From the New York Times yesterday:
The way he tells the story, the first and only time Archbishop Peter J. Akinola knowingly shook a gay person’s hand, he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done.

Archbishop Akinola, the conservative leader of Nigeria’s Anglican Church who has emerged at the center of a schism over homosexuality in the global Anglican Communion, re-enacted the scene from behind his desk Tuesday, shaking his head in wonder and horror.

“This man came up to me after a service, in New York I think, and said, ‘Oh, good to see you bishop, this is my partner of many years,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘Oh!’ I jumped back.”

This man recoils at the realization that he touched a homosexual. (Can you imagine Jesus telling this story.) He believes homosexuality is an abomination akin to bestiality. He supports a bill in Nigeria’s legislature that would make homosexual sex and any public expression of homosexual identity a crime punishable by five years in prison. I think it is safe to say that he fits the definition of a bigot. He holds equally draconian views on women.

Some American Christians argue that the fact that the Nigerian and other churches in the developing world hold these views and are thriving while American mainline Christianity struggles proves the worth and "truth" of the conservative position. If this were really the choice we faced I would rather Christianity die than turn the clock back on a hundred years of Western progress in human rights.

Mainline, and particularly liberal, Christianity has real problems which it is just beginning to figure out and address. The reports of its demise, however, are premature. But one thing is for certain: its long public support for human rights and legal protections for blacks, women, and gays and lesbians is not only been the morally right thing to do but it is also in response to the prompting of the spirit of God. And where there is bigotry and support of discrimination against women or homosexuals or anyone else, we can be sure that God is not the prompting force.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

E.B. White's friend...

There is a new film version of the classic children's story, Charlotte's Web, just out this week. Our family went to see it yesterday. My kids and I had become very attached to the animated version from the late 60s with the voice of Debbie Reynold as Charlotte and Paul Lynde as Templeton. So I wasn't sure whether I'd accept this new remake. For anyone who wants to revisit their old friend, it was a wonderful adaptation.

Yes, a few devices were added to White's classic. Some bovine methane jokes. (We need to keep the older siblings laughing.) A couple of bumbling crows who are slow to learn were quite funny. The arachnaphobic horse--Robert Redford's vocal talent here--was also a welcome addition. None of these things detracted or denigrated the original White story.

This newest version is set in the late 50s--not long after White's classic book was first published. From costumes, to the farm and farmhouse, to the county fair amusement rides, it was a great treat for the eyes as well as the ears. It was Maine, much like E.B. White must have envisioned it as he was writing his classic tale.

But nothing that was done visually can compare to the original work that White gave us on the page. I have never read an autobiography of White and as many times as I'd read the book or seen the movie it was not until this version that it struck me--had White his own Charlotte at some point in his life?

The film, narrated by Sam Shephard, thankfully ended with the same text that closes the book:

"Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charolotte was both."

Friday, December 22, 2006

Keith Ellison Speaks

Blogging here has been light as the holidays approach. There really are more important things in life. But I caught this post in the New York Times and wanted to call attention to it. Incoming Representative Keith Ellison is going to do MN proud:

In an interview late this afternoon in CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, the incoming Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to the House of Representatives, talked about his reaction to the objections by Representative Virgil Goode, Republican of Virginia, to his election and decision to take his oath of office by swearing on the Koran.

Mr. Ellison: Well, what I’d tell him is that, you know, there might be a few things about Muslims that he might want to know. He might want to know that Muslims, there are about five million in the country, that they’re here to support and strengthen America, that they are nurses, doctors, husbands, wives, kids who just want to live and prosper in the American way, and that there’s really nothing to fear, and that all of us are steadfastly opposed to the same people he’s opposed to, which is the terrorists.

And so there’s nothing for him to be afraid of, and that what we should do is to tell our constituents that we should reach to each other, not be against each other, and we should find ways for common ground.

I would urge Congressman Goode to have his congregation reach out to a synagogue or a mosque and start some interfaith dialogue so that we can increase understanding among each other, as Americans of different faiths. That’s what I’d tell him.

Mr. Blitzer: Do you think he’s a bigot?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

After Jesus on CNN Wednesday evening 12/20

CNN is airing a new documentary on the beginnings of the Christian Church for the first 300+ years on Wednesday evening Dec. 20th.

To learn more about it, here's the link:

Monday, December 18, 2006

Most Inspiring People of 2006

Part of who I am today is what I learned from living alongside the Amish community when I was a child. I am still learning from the Amish today. This summer I witnessed the Amish working together to rebuild barns and replace roofs of their friends and neighbors following a tornado in Holmes, Co Ohio.

It was the Amish families in Nick Mine, PA who were voted the Most Inspiring People of 2006 by Their ultimate act of forgiveness can only come from a faith that is immediate and essential. What happened to this community is both tragic and redemptive. It makes one ponder where a different U.S. response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 would have taken our world.

Here is the article from

Most Inspiring of 2006: Why the Amish Won
With an act of radical forgiveness, a grieving community showed the world an alternative response to violence.

This year’s 12 most inspiring people once again proved the power of individuals to act with love, courage, and forgiveness in the most challenging situations. We asked you to choose between some tremendously inspiring folks, and we were in for some surprises. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who spoke against racism and anti-Semitism, and "green" evangelical Rev. Richard Cizik, who works to save the environment, were knocked off in the first round.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that a homeless Detroit man, Charles Moore, who returned $21,000 in savings bonds he found in the trash to their rightful owner, defeated billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett, who this year gave the biggest charitable donation in history. Some of you wrote that Moore’s story reminded you of the New Testament lesson of “the widow’s mite.” Moore gave everything he had, because of his deeply grounded sense of honesty and integrity, shattering stereotypes about homeless people in the process.

Some other truly remarkable people lost by a slim margin. Elissa Montanti, the “saint of Staten Island,” who with single-minded devotion cuts red tape to get prosthetic limbs and medical help for war-maimed children, lost narrowly to Todd Corbin, a marine who courageously saved the lives of his unit in Iraq. One remarkable teenager—Adam Zuckerman, who is already one of the country’s most outspoken activists for Darfur—was edged out by another teen, Jason McElwain, an autistic boy whose amazing final-quarter shots for his high school basketball team proved that disability is no impediment to achieving your dreams. Another inspiring child, Bindi Irwin, daughter of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin who has taken up her father’s mantle of wildlife preservation, was chosen over wheelchair-bound actress, Kathleen Traylor, who started a theater where the disabled showcase their formidable acting talents.

In the second round of voting, Lance Corporal Todd Corbin of Ohio was named one of the final three. He is an outstanding example of heroism under pressure. On patrol in Iraq, Corbin saved the lives of many of the men in his unit, carrying people off the field of battle under heavy fire. At one point, he carried his wounded patrol leader over his shoulder while returning enemy fire with his free hand. When he drove away—in a 7-ton truck with three flat tires—he had the entire remaining platoon safely inside. His courage is only equaled by his modesty and faith. In an interview with Beliefnet, he explained, “The way I was raised, you always put yourself out for other people because there is going to come a time when you are down and are going to need someone to help you up. It is the core of my family values.” He added, “I always say people should not credit me with what happened on May 7, but credit God.”

The other two final candidates showed the kind of radical forgiveness that some have called miraculous. Both finalists suffered the horror of having of having family members brutally murdered. Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, hid in a tiny bathroom for three months and emerged to find her parents, siblings, and thousands of countrymen dead. At first unable to pray because of her anger, Immaculee surrendered “everything to God” and in a vision understood what Jesus meant when he said “Forgive them, Father, for they don't know what they do.” She prayed for her enemies and the anger was lifted. She reached out to her father’s killer, and has been lecturing all over the country on the power and importance of forgiveness. Her inspiring example is a beacon for many Beliefnet users.

The Amish of Nickel Mines, Pa.—a pacifist religious community in rural Lancaster County who practice a simple farming life without modern conveniences much the same as their 17th century Swiss-German forbears—suffered a shocking intrusion into their world when a local milkman, Charles Roberts, invaded a one-room schoolhouse, shooting 10 young girls, leaving five of them dead. During the ordeal, one of the girls, 13-year-old Marian Fisher, offered to be killed first in hopes that the others would be spared. (View video: A Young Girl's Sacrifice.) A Beliefnet member wrote of this event: “I cannot ignore this unbelievable act of love by a girl this young. In my mind, this little girl did no more or no less than Jesus did for us on the cross.” Within hours of the shooting, the families of the children not only expressed their forgiveness of the killer but reached out to his family, giving food and raising money for his wife and children. In a Beliefnet video interview, Herman Bontrager, a spokesman for the Amish of Nickel Mines, explained, “The Amish believe that we must forgive because we ourselves need to be forgiven. [They're] trying to live the way Jesus lived. He turned the other cheek, he told us to love everybody, to love our enemies." A Beliefnet member noted, “The message of forgiveness, rather than vengeance, goes to the heart of how we should behave toward each other. This is an extreme example of how true faith and true forgiveness can be awe-inspiring. If the Amish can forgive the man who killed their children, how much more should the rest of us be able to forgive the petty hurts and perceived insults we receive each day?”

For the incredible example of living faith on the part of an entire community that lost its children, the majority of Beliefnet users cast their votes for the Amish. And the editors of Beliefnet follow their lead by naming the Amish of Nickel Mines, Pa. the Most Inspiring People of 2006.
Belief on the Street: Could You Forgive--Like the Amish?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

District Prayer Request

From interim District Executive Tim Button-Harrison:

Please be in prayer for the hundreds of adults, families and children being impacted by yesterday's raids at six Swift meat-packing plants across the midwest. These raids, conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, occured at facilities in Greeley, Col; Grand Island, Neb.; Cactus, Texas; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Worthington, Minn. Also be in prayer for churches, schools, and communities as they seek to respond to the needs of families that have been separated.

Tillman's Family Wants Answers from Military

Via Andrew Sullivan, I caught this extraordinary ESPN piece on the death of former pro football player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman and the continuing push by his family for a fuller investigation. Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, who directed the first inquiry into the death had this to say about why he thinks the parents can't "let go" of their son's death:
"But there [have] been numerous unfortunate cases of fratricide, and the parents have basically said, 'OK, it was an unfortunate accident.' And they let it go. So this is — I don't know, these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs."

In a transcript of his interview with Brig. Gen. Gary Jones during a November 2004 investigation, Kauzlarich said he'd learned Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother's body was returned to the United States.

Kauzlarich, now a battalion commanding officer at Fort Riley in Kansas, further suggested the Tillman family's unhappiness with the findings of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in their lives.

In an interview with, Kauzlarich said: "When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough."

Asked by whether the Tillmans' religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, "I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know."

Worm Dirt. Makes you wonder how much Christianist pressure there really is in today's military. But apparently there are athiests to be found in foxholes.

Body of St. Paul Found?

From Time Magazine:
The Vatican says it has found the long-missing sarcophagus of the first-century saint, but that shouldn't be taken as gospel — at least not yet...

In truth, the eight-foot white marble sarcophagus that Vatican archaelogists uncovered beneath the basilica St. Paul Outside the Walls is more a question of lost-and-found than a brand-new find. The Church has known that a relic believed to be the first-century saint, who wrote the earliest books of the New Testament and was Christianity's first great evangelist, was somewhere beneath the current basilica. But around 1823, the year that a previous, ancient church on the location burned down, they lost track of it. Interest was rekindled four years ago when many Catholics streamed into Rome for Christianity's millennium and were disappointed to find no relic of the Saint. Two years later the archaelogists began digging, and this year they uncovered the sarcophagus and a protective slab inscribed in latin saying "To Paul, Apostle and Martyr." They were heartened by the presence of three holes in it (now stopped up with plaster) through which ancient pilgrims would have put cloths to come in contact with an object of veneration.

Whether you believe that they were actually venerating Paul's remains may depend on how you feel about the authority of the Church. The white marble, says Professor James Strange, an archaelogist at the University of South Florida "immediately tells you that this was a self-conscious, elaborate ritual burial" of a sort that the church at Paul's time would not have been capable. The Latin inscription, says Bard College's Bruce Chilton, author of a book about Paul, does not reflect Paul's Roman Christian community, which would have written it in Greek.

Neither fact rules out the possibility that the sarcophagus might be Paul's; his bones could have been recovered and reburied in the earlier church, which was built in about AD 390. But not even church representatives, who say that there is "incontrovertible evidence" that Paul was buried at the site, are willing to guarantee that this sarcophagus will contain him. X-ray tests on it have already failed because of a layering of concrete and plaster that still surrounds most of it. And the more than 300-year gap between Paul's reported death by order of of the Roman emperor Nero in AD 68 and the construction of the old church leaves considerable room for doubt.

The Church has said that it may try to open the sarcophagus, but hasn't set a date, which is consistent with the preferred speed of both the Vatican and careful archaelogists. If they do, and they discover the bones of a single man whose skull appears to have been forcefully separated from his body (Paul was beheaded) then the scholars will be much more receptive. Carbon dating might at least attest to a first-century provenance.

Until then, the sarcophagus is a little like your great-great-great-grandmother's precious pearls, which the family knew were somewhere in the attic, and finally turned up when someone went digging. You knew they were there; you found them again. The family is free to believe that they are worth millions; but an objective gem assessor might apply a tougher set of criteria.
Should be interesting.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A documentary series about Pastor Jay (Bakker)

More "pop culture" religion found on Beliefnet.

Titled as "One Punk Under God" and subtitled as "The Prodigal Son", the Sundance Channel is airing a 6 part documentary series on Jay Bakker the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker which will air weekly and begins tomorrow 12/13/06. (I don't have direct t.v. and my cable company doesn't provide the Sundance Channel, but it looks like you can view it online.) The series was filmed by the filmmaker who made a documentary series about Tammy Faye. (I've heard about this documentary, but never saw it.)

Anyone who lived through the 80s knows all about PTL Ministries and the sad history of Jim and Tammy Faye. Jim did some of his prison time here in Rochester, MN. Turns out their only son Jay--a grade school boy in the 80s--grew up and decided to minister to people and give them the message of God's all inclusive love. He's clearly "not his father's televangelist"! The documentary series films Jay's life and ministry which takes some interesting turns. (All of this and more can be found on the website above.)

Jay began his ministry with a nondenominational church in Atlanta called "The Revolution" which he started. Church was held in a bar. He began to realize that God's love extended to gays and lesbians and started to preach that message to his congregation. Problems ensued--they even talk church finances in the documentary it says. Ultimately Jay decided to leave The Revolution after transitioning the congregation to a new pastor. He visited his ill mother and also tried to reconnect with his estranged father. Eventually Jay and his wife, Amanda, went to New York where he started a new church.

The website doesn't provide any of the following information: if/where he went to seminary; what his wife Amanda's background is and how they met and married; what he gains, if anything, from doing the documentary series. If the series itself doesn't provide these answers, it looks like there are ways to ask these questions through the website. These are things I'd like to know.

Other than his "look" which is definately punkish, Jay Bakker seems like a regular 30-something who is trying to heal a troubled past and make an honest living ministering to people. His list of favorite musicians seems to be regular -- tends toward classic country including Johnny Cash. (But it makes me feel really old because there are many, many people I don't know.) He's reading Henry Nouwen's The Wounded Healer. (Good book.)

If I saw Jay Bakker on the street inviting me to come to his church without hearing him first, would I follow? Probably not from his outward apprearance. Does it sound like he's got a "valid ministry" -- whatever that means? Tune in and form your own opinions.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Night Before Christmas ACLU style!

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the nation
Friends of Freedom knew it was a special occasion.

Lady Liberty stood taller just off the shore
Her torch shining brighter than a few weeks before

But it wasn't the flame turning her cheeks all rosy
It was thoughts of Snowe, Feingold and Nancy Pelosi

And leaders from every side of the aisle
Who would soon bring the Bill of Rights back into style.

The Amendments had all hurried out of their beds -
Which was no easy task, they were nearly in shreds -

And they rushed to the window on papery feet
As a jolly old man flew right over their street.

"Could it be!?" they inquired as the roof shook and trembled
And they crept toward the mantle, peaceably assembled,

Just as someone emerged from the chimney with flair
In a shiny red suit, with a shock of white hair

And a top hat, and pants all in red, white and blue -
"Wait a minute," the Amendments exclaimed, "Who are you?"

"Don't be frightened my children," he said, "it's no scam.
"You can't have forgotten your old Uncle Sam!"

"Holy crap!" said Free Speech. "Stop right there!" yelled Bear Arms
And Privacy cried "Who shut off the alarms?!

"The Fifth remained silent, but Uncle Sam said
"We've been having some trouble, but Freedom's not dead.

"The Amendments were cautious. "It's just been so long
"We've seen Liberty lost, we've seen so much go wrong.

"The President's trying to mangle and warp us,
"The Fourth is in tatters, so's Habeas Corpus!

"The old man sat down - he had had quite a ride -
But he told them "Don't worry, the Law's on our side,"

'Cause the nation's fed up and more people are crying
"For Justice and an end to illegal spying,

"And secret abductions by the CIA
,"And laws that would take women's choices away,"

And Gitmo tribunals and secret detention,
"And other intrusions too numerous to mention - "

"Not so fast," said a grinchity voice from above
And Don Rumsfeld pushed past the Fourteenth with a shove.

He was covered in soot and he looked kind of scary.
It seemed like his Christmas had not been so merry.

The Amendments said they weren't happy to see him:
"You tried to throw all of us in the museum!

"You've done so much the Constitution forbids!"
"And I would have gone on, but for you meddling kids!

"Uncle Sam told him "Rummy, your plans just won't do,
"So we've got a brand new timetable for you!

"And as Rumsfeld retired and crept into the night
The Amendments cried out "Have a good secret flight!

"From the distance they heard him reply with a snort.
"Bye-bye, Rummy!" they answered, "we'll see you in court!

"Uncle Sam rode the chimney up out of the room
And, like Frosty, he said "I'll be back again soon.

"But they heard him exclaim "Oh, and just one more thing!
"This year, when the holiday bells start to ring,

"Try to honor religion. Honest faith can't be wrong.
"It's America, can't we all just get along?

"So, on Christian," he cried, "Muslim, Hindu, and Jew!
"On Quaker! On Shaker! And Atheist too!"

On Buddhist! On Taoist! And to show we're not chickens
"We'll file a few lawsuits defending the Wiccans!"

Your belief is your right, so get out there and savor it.
"Uncle Sam's not a preacher, and he doesn't play favorites!

"So this holiday season, whatever you do,
Warmest wishes for Freedom, from the ACLU.

Annan Shares What He's Learned

The Washington Post published the text of Kofi Annan's speech this morning that Annan delivered today at the Truman Presidential Library. He writes and speaks in broadstrokes--yet every citizen should be able to comprehend his lessons. Annon has lived a difficult 10 years with the U.N. He has seen it turn 60, created during the Truman Administration. I have always seen it as a tool of hope for our global future as it was envisioned. It has certainly been "used and abused" by our nation during Annan's tenure. Annon is 'plainspoken' (like Harry S. ) on that point!

What I've Learned
By Kofi A. Annan
Monday, December 11, 2006

Nearly 50 years ago, when I arrived in Minnesota as a student fresh from Africa, I had much to learn -- starting with the fact that there is nothing wimpish about wearing earmuffs when it is 15 degrees below zero. All my life since has been a learning experience. Now I want to pass on five lessons I have learned during 10 years as secretary general of the United Nations that I believe the community of nations needs to learn as it confronts the challenges of the 21st century.

First, in today's world we are all responsible for each other's security. Against such threats as nuclear proliferation, climate change, global pandemics or terrorists operating from safe havens in failed states, no nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others. Only by working to make each other secure can we hope to achieve lasting security for ourselves. This responsibility includes our shared responsibility to protect people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. That was accepted by all nations at last year's U.N. summit. But when we look at the murder, rape and starvation still being inflicted on the people of Darfur, we realize that such doctrines remain pure rhetoric unless those with the power to intervene effectively -- by exerting political, economic or, in the last resort, military muscle -- are prepared to take the lead. It also includes a responsibility to future generations to preserve resources that belong to them as well as to us. Every day that we do nothing, or too little, to prevent climate change imposes higher costs on our children.

Second, we are also responsible for each other's welfare. Without a measure of solidarity, no society can be truly stable. It is not realistic to think that some people can go on deriving great benefits from globalization while billions of others are left in, or thrown into, abject poverty. We have to give all our fellow human beings at least a chance to share in our prosperity.

Third, both security and prosperity depend on respect for human rights and the rule of law. Throughout history human life has been enriched by diversity, and different communities have learned from each other. But if our communities are to live in peace we must stress also what unites us: our common humanity and the need for our human dignity and rights to be protected by law. That is vital for development, too. Both foreigners and a country's own citizens are more likely to invest when their basic rights are protected and they know they will be fairly treated under the law. Policies that genuinely favor development are more likely to be adopted if the people most in need of development can make their voice heard. States need to play by the rules toward each other, as well. No community suffers from too much rule of law; many suffer from too little -- and the international community is among them.

My fourth lesson, therefore, is that governments must be accountable for their actions, in the international as well as the domestic arena. Every state owes some account to other states on which its actions have a decisive impact. As things stand, poor and weak states are easily held to account, because they need foreign aid. But large and powerful states, whose actions have the greatest impact on others, can be constrained only by their own people. That gives the people and institutions of powerful states a special responsibility to take account of global views and interests. And today they need to take into account also what we call "non-state actors." States can no longer -- if they ever could -- confront global challenges alone. Increasingly, they need help from the myriad types of association in which people come together voluntarily, to profit or to think about, and change, the world. How can states hold each other to account? Only through multilateral institutions.

So my final lesson is that those institutions must be organized in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong. Developing countries should have a stronger voice in international financial institutions, whose decisions can mean life or death for their people. New permanent or long-term members should be added to the U.N. Security Council, whose current membership reflects the reality of 1945, not of today. No less important, all the Security Council's members must accept the responsibility that comes with their privilege. The council is not a stage for acting out national interests. It is the management committee of our fledgling global security system. More than ever, Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system. Experience has shown, time and again, that the system works poorly when the United States remains aloof but it functions much better when there is farsighted U.S. leadership. That gives American leaders of today and tomorrow a great responsibility. The American people must see that they live up to it.

What One Liberal Christian Believes

Carol Balderree writes a regular column for the Heber Springs, Arkansas Sun-Times. This was a good one:

...Perhaps the greatest rift between liberal and conservative Christians is over the issues of inerrancy and infallibility. Conservative Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God, without error, and is therefore historically factual and to be taken literally. Liberal Christians view the Bible as both sacred scripture and the product of human endeavor and experience. The Bible was written over a period of hundreds of years by many different people. It comprises the stories of the people of Israel, the life and teachings of Jesus, and the spiritual development of the early Christian community. Liberal Christians understand that these writers were limited by the culture and time in which they lived and by their lack of scientific knowledge. According to Bible scholar Marcus Borg, belief in biblical infallibility, historical factuality and moral absolutes creates an insurmountable obstacle for many Christians, who nevertheless rely on the Bible as the central document of their faith. For them, the Bible abounds in metaphorical truth, which is both more real and intensely more personal than literal truth. They are willing to apply reason to their interpretation of scripture and to adjust their understanding in the light of new medical and scientific knowledge.

As a person of the 21st century, there are things in the Bible that I cannot accept as God’s truth. I cannot believe that the world was created just 6000 years ago, that Adam and Eve were the first humans, that God fashioned Eve from Adam’s rib, that God condoned the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children, or that God destroyed all living creatures on earth by a flood, sparing only Noah, his family, and selected pairs of animals. I don’t believe that God condones slavery, although the Bible never condemns it. I don’t believe that women are inferior to men, although there are plenty of passages in the Bible that would support this view. By the same token, I cannot believe that homosexuality is an abomination when the medical and scientific communities have concluded that it is neither a mental illness nor a moral depravity, but the way that a minority of the population expresses human love and sexuality.

I may disagree with evangelicals on matters of theology, but I have great respect for the work they do in the world. I do have problems with the harsh and intolerant rhetoric of the Religious Right, as represented by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, among others. It is unfortunate that these leaders have come to represent evangelicals in the minds of many Americans. Pastor Jim Wallis, co-founder of “Call to Renewal” and editor of Sojourners magazine is an evangelical Christian who is attempting to counter the influence of the Religious Right in politics and public discourse. Evangelical comes from the word “evangel”, which means “good news.” According to Wallis, the Religious Right preaches a message that is more ideological than evangelical, and includes little about Jesus. In his book “Who Speaks for God,” Mr. Wallis reports that when he asks people around the country what they think of when they hear the words “evangelical Christian,” the answers he gets are invariably a long string of “antis”—anti-abortion, anti-liberal, anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-welfare, anti-immigration, anti-environment, and anti-poor. They describe the Religious Right as “harsh,” “divisive,” “self-righteous,” “intolerant” and “mean spirited.” When these same people are asked what Jesus was like, the answers included “compassionate,” “loving,” “caring,” “humble,” “friend of the poor and outcasts,” “forgiving,” “critic of the establishment,” “peace-maker” and “reconciler.”

There is no wonder that there is so much variation in what we believe about God. We are all so different, and our finite minds cannot possibly grasp the infinity that is the mind of God. For me, the essence of Christianity is to be found in the life and teachings of Jesus. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the gentle, the merciful, and the peacemakers. Pray for your enemies, forgive those who wrong you, don’t hold a grudge. Treat others as you want to be treated. Don’t cast stones. See Christ in all persons. Love God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself and all the rest will follow.

Outsourcing to the Private Sector

Paul Krugman has a good post today in the New York Times about what is wrong Republican efforts during the Bush Administration to outsource so much government work to private companies. After listing numerous costly outsourcing failures at home and abroad he says:

It’s now clear that there’s a fundamental error in the antigovernment ideology embraced by today’s conservative movement. Conservatives look at the virtues of market competition and leap to the conclusion that private ownership, in itself, is some kind of magic elixir. But there’s no reason to assume that a private company hired to perform a public service will do better than people employed directly by the government.

In fact, the private company will almost surely do a worse job if its political connections insulate it from accountability — which has, of course, consistently been the case under Mr. Bush...
There is just no evidence that the private sector automatically does better work than the government. People are people whether they are government bureaucrats or private sector employees. There are good and bad workers in both places. Its the system with its mix of incentives and accountability and work atmosphere that makes the difference.

Healthcare is a case in point. The most corrupt and inefficient healthcare delivery system in the country is our privately run healthcare mess. The most efficient is run by the Veterans Administration. But Republicans fight every effort to expand this government program to include more Americans.

Why? Because the current privately run system, as awful as it is, is part of the patronage edifice of the Republican Party. Republicans block reform to protect insurance companies and HMO's and they in turn contribute big bucks back to the elephant party.

The only saving grace about our current healthcare system is that it has gotten so bad during the last decade that it is no longer possible to claim that more competition or private sector fiddling with the system will cure it. Like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Katrina, the more outsourcing to the private sector we have done the worse everything has gotten. The last six years of unfettered Republican rule has laid it all bare. When there is no accountability, the private sector can actually screw things up worse than any government can.

With a new Congress we now have an opportunity for the doors of this corrupt system to be opened up to the light of day. That should put the breaks to the outsourcing train wreck. Now we just need a competent Administration to run the government we have well. That will take another election.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Winter is Here

Open Circle Update Newsletter article this week:

Winter has arrived in Minnesota, and I have already heard from some of you that you don't like it. I also realize that it is a little easier for me to like since I am not a commuter and can sit inside a warm house and be protected from the elements. Still...

I welcome the coming of winter every year. It forces me to slow down, to bundle up, to think more carefully about even the most simple task like walking outside in the morning to get the newspaper.

Winter's inescapable return reminds me outwardly of the inescapable seasons of cold, barrenness, and darkness in my spiritual journey. Neither can be rushed; I can "go south", of course (to Florida outwardly and to addictions inwardly) but I can't rush the season when it comes. It has its own time frame.

Winter invites inner work: cocooning, reading, writing, thinking, sitting, tying flies (or knitting, baking, etc.). It has its own incredible beauty: the sound of snow falling, the form of leafless trees, Cardinals and Chickadees, walks in the woods. It makes time spent with friends and family more special.

I may be crazy but I can't imagine living where it doesn't freeze and snow.

Blessed are the Peacemakers...

I've been waiting for Carter to write another book on peace in the Middle-East. I hope that progressive faith movements will uplift this book and its message and that it will reach many people who will discuss it and start to ask tough questions of our elected (and appointed) officials.

Here's President Carter writing about his book and its early reception in the LA Times:
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," by Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States of America, published last month.

I SIGNED A CONTRACT with Simon & Schuster two years ago to write a book about the Middle East, based on my personal observations as the Carter Center monitored three elections in Palestine and on my consultations with Israeli political leaders and peace activists.We covered every Palestinian community in 1996, 2005 and 2006, when Yasser Arafat and later Mahmoud Abbas were elected president and members of parliament were chosen. The elections were almost flawless, and turnout was very high — except in East Jerusalem, where, under severe Israeli restraints, only about 2% of registered voters managed to cast ballots.

The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.

It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents.

What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land. With some degree of reluctance and some uncertainty about the reception my book would receive, I used maps, text and documents to describe the situation accurately and to analyze the only possible path to peace: Israelis and Palestinians living side by side within their own internationally recognized boundaries. These options are consistent with key U.N. resolutions supported by the U.S. and Israel, official American policy since 1967, agreements consummated by Israeli leaders and their governments in 1978 and 1993 (for which they earned Nobel Peace Prizes), the Arab League's offer to recognize Israel in 2002 and the International Quartet's "Roadmap for Peace," which has been accepted by the PLO and largely rejected by Israel.

The book is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and not in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are legally guaranteed equal status.Although I have spent only a week or so on a book tour so far, it is already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk, and I have had interesting interviews on TV, including "Larry King Live," "Hardball," "Meet the Press," "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," the "Charlie Rose" show, C-SPAN and others. But I have seen few news stories in major newspapers about what I have written.

Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that "he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel." Some reviews posted on call me "anti-Semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions." A former Carter Center fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent."

Out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I've signed books in five stores, with more than 1,000 buyers at each site. I've had one negative remark — that I should be tried for treason — and one caller on C-SPAN said that I was an anti-Semite. My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors. I have been most encouraged by prominent Jewish citizens and members of Congress who have thanked me privately for presenting the facts and some new ideas.

The book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers. In many ways, this is more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens.

Obviously, I condemn any acts of terrorism or violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the terrible casualties on both sides.The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this same goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort.

Bennett on Iraq Study Group Findings

Or was conservative commentator William Bennett looking in the mirror?
"In all my time in Washington I've never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority," Bennett wrote on the National Review website. "Self-congratulatory. Full of itself. Horrible."
The description fits him perfectly.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Congratulations Mary and Heather!

The American Progress Action Report summarized the joyful news of Mary Cheney and Heather Poe:

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Mary Cheney and her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, are expecting a baby. The right wing is already on the attack. Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America told reporters the pregnancy was "unconscionable," and that it was "very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father." Carrie Gordon Earll of the James Dobson-led Focus on the Family said, "Just because you can conceive a child outside a one-woman, one-man marriage doesn't mean it's a good idea." As residents of Virginia, Cheney and Poe will also face discrimination due to state law. According to Equality Virginia, "While there are no specific Virginia laws addressing the custody and adoption rights of gays and lesbians, Virginia courts have routinely discriminated against gays and lesbians by finding that the parent's status as gay or lesbian is not in the 'best interests' of the child." The result, says Jennifer Chrisler of Family Pride, is that Poe will "have no legal relationship with her child. She can't adopt as a second parent. She won't have her name on the birth certificate." Asked what the couple could do to give Poe some legal rights as a parent, Chrisler advised: "Move to Maryland."

Funny how "Christians" can take a joyous advent period and demonize it! My husband and I didn't conceive until 15 years into our relationship. I wish Mary and Heather the best of luck as "older" parents. Enjoy the ride! (And move to Maryland!)

Hillary For President?

Arianna Huffington captures the essence of Hillary Clinton perfectly in this editorial:
WHILE THE country is urgently engaged in finding a way out of the quagmire in Iraq, Hillary Rodham Clinton is busy holding private dinners for key Democrats from primary states and remaining curiously silent on the subject of Iraq. Indeed, as she has transformed herself over the last few years from first lady to presumptive presidential front-runner, the profile that has emerged is that of a politician more comfortable following than leading.

There are politicians with great instincts as leaders — those who recognize not just the crises directly in front of them but those around the corner as well. (And these leadership instincts come from the gut, not from a multitude of consultants, strategists and pollsters.) And then there are politicians with great instincts as followers — those who are the first to stick their fingers in the air and notice even the slightest shift in the wind of popular opinion.

Clinton is in the latter category: She is the quintessential political weather vane...
Who is Hillary Clinton? She is certainly bright enough and experienced enough to be President. But she has morphed into a careful, bland, finger-to-the-wind politician who desperately wants to be President. We can find a better Democratic nominee.

Still, if she were the Democratic nominee I would vote for her. She would be far better than the current President and better than McCain or any other likely Republican. And... Bill would be back in the White House. That would be fun.

More Manly Christianity

From the Los Angeles Times:
THE strobe lights pulse and the air vibrates to a killer rock beat. Giant screens show mayhem and gross-out pranks: a car wreck, a sucker punch, a flabby (and naked) rear end, sealed with duct tape.

Brad Stine runs onstage in ripped blue jeans, his shirt untucked, his long hair shaggy. He's a stand-up comic by trade, but he's here today as an evangelist, on a mission to build up a new Christian man — one profanity at a time. "It's the wuss-ification of America that's getting us!" screeches Stine, 46.

A moment later he adds a fervent: "Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!"

It's an apt anthem for a contrarian movement gaining momentum on the fringes of Christianity. In daybreak fraternity meetings and weekend paintball wars, in wilderness retreats and X-rated chats about lust, thousands of Christian men are reaching for more forceful, more rugged expressions of their faith.

Stine's daylong revival meeting, which he calls "GodMen," is cruder than most. But it's built around the same theory as the other experimental forums: Traditional church worship is emasculating.

Hold hands with strangers? Sing love songs to Jesus? No wonder pews across America hold far more women than men, Stine says. Factor in the pressure to be a "Christian nice guy" — no cussing, no confrontation, in tune with the wife's emotions — and it's amazing men keep the faith at all.
It sounds amusing and innocuous enough until we get to this part:
In fact, men taking charge is a big theme of the GodMen revival. At what he hopes will be the first of many such conferences, in a warehouse-turned-nightclub in downtown Nashville, Stine asks the men: "Are you ready to grab your sword and say, 'OK, family, I'm going to lead you?' " He also distributes a list of a real man's rules for his woman. No. 1: "Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down."
That's just what we need: Christian men who grab their swords to put their women and families in their place. A reading of the whole article makes it sound like much of it is to provide cover for men to cuss, be rude, and leave their wives for weekend retreats with the guys, all in the blessed tough name of Jesus.

Moderate Jews Vote to Allow Same Sex Marriage

And to ordain gay rabbis:
The highest legal body in Conservative Judaism, the centrist movement in worldwide Jewry, voted yesterday to allow the ordination of gay rabbis and the celebration of same-sex commitment ceremonies.
The Law Committee that made the decision decided to let it up to local synagogues to decide whether to perform commitment ceremonies and accept gay rabbis. Four members of the committee resigned in protest.

Another small but important step on the road to full acceptance.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Progressive Christian Voices Needed Now More than Ever

I received this e-mail sometime in the past couple days and read it sadly. I'd only learned of this group a month or so ago. I decided to post it because it lists so many other good organizations/resources (and because it came to me again through another listserve today).

Progressive Christian voices are needed now more than ever!
December 2006

Many of the decisions Americans made on November 7 about our national vision and values were encouraging. Perhaps now we will begin, as a people, thinking together in more humane ways about our common life. If so, the effective communication of progressive religious perspectives is absolutely critical, because religion is critical as a directional and sustaining power in American life. Secular viewpoints must not be the only alternative to the rhetoric of the religious right. A strong, inclusive, redemptive, and faithful Christian witness must also be heard. R

egrettably, The Progressive Christian Witness will no longer be able to contribute to this discussion, due to lack of funding. Pacific School of Religion has supported the PCW initiative since its inception ten months ago, with the expectation that outside funding would materialize to make its continuation possible. This has not happened. The Progressive Christian Witness staff will disband and the website will be dormant by the end of December. Rather than lament the end of The Progressive Christian Witness, we write to call your attention to the progressive Christian projects that remain and to urge your support of them. Without diminishing many other fine groups, we note in particular seven progressive religious initiatives that are dedicated, innovative, and have a national reach. You can find out about the specific focus of each of these, and how you can assist, by clicking on its name in the top left panel of this eNewsletter.

Why do we make this appeal? Because many Americans with progressive values remain dubious about the capacity of Christianity to be a positive, redemptive force in our society. And, unfortunately, their skepticism seems to be shared by many, if not most, progressive philanthropists—people of wealth who want to do good but who are not sure that religious groups are allies deserving of significant support. Until the influence of religion in our society is taken fully into account, and the healing power of progressive religion is more fully acknowledged, it will be left to us “little people” of limited means to continue to carry forward a progressive religious witness, with the hope that eventually foundations and individuals with larger resources will support the effort too.

We, the PCW staff, regret deeply having to end this project. Yet it has been our privilege to provide ministers and lay leaders around the country (and beyond!) with high level, readable, theologically-grounded material to undergird their proclamation of a progressive Christian gospel. We appreciate the lavish praise our project has received. We are especially grateful to the authors and publishers who permitted us to post their work without charge, in some cases waiving established policies because they thought this initiative to be so important. And we are grateful to Pacific School of Religion for providing the seed money to make The Progressive Christian Witness possible. Now it is left to us as individuals to support the progressive Christian and interfaith groups that remain, and to continue as active progressive witnesses in our churches, our communities, our nation, and the world. Please, give to progressive Christian and interfaith initiatives. They need and deserve your support.

The Christian Alliance for Progress The Christian Alliance for Progress seeks to reclaim Christianity and transform American politics. Through grassroots organizing, community building, and being a Christian voice for progressive efforts we contribute to positive change in our communities. For information or to donate, visit or email us at The Progressive Christian The Progressive Christian is a bi-monthly magazine of ideas and news promoting dialogue, action and understanding within the faith community seeking the common good. Means of financial support include subscriptions, advertising and charitable donations, all of which can be transacted on its website at

The Center for Progressive Christianity The Center for Progressive Christianity is a national network of churches, small groups and individuals seeking an approach to Christian faith that is informed, innovative, inclusive and compassionate. TCPC provides support for affiliates through our active website. Support and join the movement at

Progressive Christians Uniting Los Angeles-based Progressive Christians Uniting supports clergy and lay leaders committed to specific local and global justice struggles. Resources include reflection texts, training, books, position papers, interactive blogging, a weekly e-mail letter, and a template for building a local network or chapter. E-mail:

The Beatitudes Society The Beatitudes Society is a unique new educational organization with an audacious mission: we support emerging Christian leaders at seminaries and divinity schools who will make a prophetic witness for justice, compassion, and peace. Visit us at and learn how you can support our efforts!

Faith Voices Faith Voices ( increases public knowledge of the values and ethical concerns of religious people through educational programs, events, and publication partnerships, and through educational and social networking technologies, such as Synanim, a dialogical internet-based system. You can support our work at

CrossLeft CrossLeft seeks to be a strategic clearing house for grassroots activism among progressive Christians. Our website includes news from other progressive Christian projects, and our efforts are geared toward education, action and developing a strategy for long-term change. Find out about our work at

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Solemnly Swear...

I guess there is a controversy that the newly elected congressman Keith Ellsion is going to swear his oath of office on the Qur'an when he is sworn in next month as the first Muslim to serve in congress. I don't see the big deal. Religious freedom is religious freedom is religious freedom.

If you want to understand where fear has taken some people, read their comments in this article from the Star Tribune today. For the most part, it appears most people understand one basic premise that our nation was founded upon.


WASHINGTON - Rep.-elect Keith Ellison's decision to take his oath of office on the Qur'an is stirring a debate among academics and conservatives, with some of them saying it's only appropriate to take an oath on the Bible.

The Minnesota Democrat says that the Constitution gives him the right to use the Muslim holy book, and that is what he intends to do on Jan. 4.
"Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath," radio talk show host and author Dennis Prager wrote in his online column this week. He said that American Jews routinely have taken their oath on the Bible, even though they don't believe in the New Testament, and that if Ellison refuses to do so, "don't serve in Congress."

But Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the Constitution authorizes people not to swear their oath at all, protecting atheists and agnostics.
"Why would Muslims and others not be equally protected?" he wrote for National Review Online.

Ellison, who told the Star Tribune shortly after his election victory that he planned to use the Qur'an, was attending meetings in Washington on Thursday and could not be reached for comment, according to Dave Colling, his spokesman. But Ellison defended his plan to use the Qur'an, Islam's holiest book, in an interview with Abdi Aynte, a reporter from Minneapolis who writes for the Minnesota Monitor, an independently produced political news blog.
"The Constitution guarantees for everyone to take the oath of office on whichever book they prefer," Ellison was quoted as saying. "And that's what the freedom of religion is all about."

Ellison's decision drew support from one prominent conservative firebrand, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who champions a fence along the border with Mexico and who says that unfettered immigration endangers American culture. "He wants to take his oath on the Qur'an, that's fine," Tancredo said. "I think whatever you believe is necessary for you to uphold your obligations to the Constitution, that is fine with me."

In his weekly column, Prager said Ellison's act is "an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism." He warned that allowing Ellison to use the Qur'an could pave the way for a racist to use "his favorite book" to take the oath of office.

"When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization," Prager wrote. "If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9/11. It is hard to believe that this is the legacy most Muslim-Americans want to bequeath to America."

Ellison is the first Muslim in the nation, and the first black person from Minnesota, to become a member of the U.S. House. His campaign and election have attracted national attention because of his groundbreaking status.

Five years after 9/11 and with the ongoing raw debate about clashing civilizations and Islamic
extremism, Ellison downplayed the role of religion in his drive for office. He nonetheless has acknowledged that his election has thrust him into position as a spokesman for Islam in the United States.

In the National Review, Volokh noted that two former presidents -- Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover -- didn't swear their oath but chose to affirm it.
He said that the Supreme Court has long held that Americans have the right to be treated equally, regardless of their religion, and that forcing Ellison to use the Bible would violate his rights.

"Letting Christians swear the oath of office, while allowing members of other denominations only to swear what ends up being a mockery of an oath -- a religious ceremony appealing to a religious belief system that they do not share -- would be [discriminatory]," Volokh wrote.

Said Ron Eibensteiner, former state Republican Party chairman: "It doesn't matter if he wants to be sworn in on the Qur'an; that's perfectly fine. We have in this country freedom of religion and free speech."

Tammy Lee, who ran against Ellison as an Independent in the Fifth Congressional District, agreed. "This country was founded on principles of freedom of religion. Our Constitution guarantees it, and as a newly elected member of Congress who's going to uphold the Constitution, he has every right to choose what religious traditions he wants to practice."

Radio talk show host Dan Barreiro said he has been "a bit bewildered" by the concern expressed, mainly on blogs, about Ellison's choice. The topic came up Thursday on his afternoon show on KFAN. "The general consensus I got was that most people were not terrified at the prospect that this was something that he might do," Barreiro said. "Certainly there is no law that mandates that a person put their hand on a Bible as any kind of litmus test of their loyalty to the country," he added.

In 2003, Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, who is Jewish, was sworn in with a Bible given to him by a priest who is a friend of the family. The late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, who also was Jewish, was sworn in in 1991 with a Bible from his wife Sheila's family.
Staff writers Joy Powell and Lesley Clark contributed to this report.

Rob Hotakainen is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.