Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Quieter Place


I live in a quieter place
where traffic noise happens
as surprise – intrusion –
and even the sound of the
furnace forces its way into
consciousness – I am here –
I am working – notice me –

In this quieter place, there is
sound aplenty – late season
crows cawing their way across
a fog-laden skyline . . .
peeping calls from the winter
birds who will stay on nestled
into the massive forsythia
surrounding the east and south
of the house creating cover still,
their leaves not yet dropped . . .
maple leaves and the wind that
blows them creating their own
soft symphony – like I said,
it is a quieter place, this place
when I can hear a leaf drop
to the waiting, welcoming,
ground below

 – and it beckons
my soul – peace, be still

Saturday, September 29, 2012

All My Children*


Photo by Ken Mayer at flickr.com
Jesus wasn’t merely making conversation on that walk to Capernum.  He was giving his verbal last will and testament to his children:

Listen to me; this is important. . . way more important than who gets Mom’s pearls or Dad’s shotgun. . . I’m leaving soon and there are things you need to know . . . Dad loves you . . . don’t ever forget that . . . don’t fight when I’m gone – there’s nothing to fight over – haven’t I always taken good care of you?  There’s plenty for everyone.  You’re all my favorites, so stop fighting about it and grow up.  Keep learning like you’re in school . . . keep loving like I’m your dad . . . keep trusting that I’ve got you in my arms . . . take care of your kids like I’ve taken care of you . . . and remember – they’re all your kids because they’re all my kids.

______________________
*Excerpt from last Sunday's sermon reflecting on Mark 9.30-37, where Jesus speaks of his own approaching death, the disciples' desire to be 'first', and children.  The whole scene reminded me of times when sisters and brothers fight over who gets what when their parents die, as if the thing somehow proves the love, the life, the bond, of the parent who has died.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Cloud Lightning


Driving home last evening, I was treated to a magnificent sky.  The star of the evening was a lightening show contained totally within one very large billowing cloud that seemed to reach from the mountains to the sky.  Most amazing to me was that the cloud was white and puffy – like the clouds you see on a sunshiny day in summer.

I think I knew that could happen, but I’ve never seen it before.  And it was magnificent.

Trying to find out more about what I saw, I went googling this morning and landed on NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) site, which explains what I was seeing.  In the dense article of explanation (while admitting there is much we still do not understand about lightening), this paragraph caught my attention:
Opposite charges attract one another. As the positive and negative areas grow more distinct within the cloud, an electric field is created between the oppositely-charged thunderstorm base and its top. The farther apart these regions are, the stronger the field and the stronger the attraction between the charges. But we cannot forget that the atmosphere is a very good insulator that inhibits electric flow. So, a HUGE amount of charge has to build up before the strength of the electric field overpowers the atmosphere's insulating properties. A current of electricity forces a path through the air until it encounters something that makes a good connection. The current is discharged as a stroke of lightning.  Lightning basics

All kinds of metaphors come to mind, especially in such a time as this when my country is so divided by its politics, among other things.  ‘Positive’ and ‘negative’ areas grow – oh, yes they do.  The conundrum is that which is positive and which is negative depends on where you’re standing in human terms.  But the beauty of lightening is that ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ are not freighted with moral judgment.

Even better, ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ charges are attracted not to their own ‘kind’, but to the other, positive to negative and negative to positive.

I am looking forward to reading Steven Johnson’s new bookFuture Perfect, in which Johnson makes the case for the possibility of progress in a ‘networked age’.  In an interview, Johnson opined that our vast diversity of thoughts and ideas and worldviews is actually a strength rather than a weakness.

While I hold to that view intellectually, emotionally I despair when so few people agree with me and my worldview.  What’s wrong with all of you, I secretly wonder.  Why don’t you see?  Why don’t you get it?

Turns out it’s my intellect rather than my heart that is more right, according to Johnson: the world needs not only Beths but also opposite-of-Beths in order to progress.

Which brings us back to cloud lightening.  Just like the incubated space within the cloud, we live in incubated spaces, largely protected from each other.  We’re ‘free’ to think as we like, so long as we think like each other.  But every now and again, when conditions are just right, your electricity and mine will force a pathway towards each other and the result will be electric!

And that, I think, is a good thing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

God's Spatula


The descriptor used by Priscilla in this morning’s study group has stayed with me.  Does God really have a spatula, ever at the ready to address wrong-doing with a good swift whack to the unsuspecting but oh-so-deserving behind?

Is Hell the preserve of those for whom no amount of spatula whacking will do?

Is God really just like my Grandma back in the day when she was a mom and could and would chase a recalcitrant child through the house for a ‘good’ switching?

Years ago, I heard Bill Cosby do a fabulous routine about how his own parents became different people – people he did not and could not recognize from his own youth – when they became grandparents.  It was so funny because it was so true.

Maybe that’s how it is with God.  Maybe God is actually not a parental figure at all.  Maybe what God is more like than a parent is a grandparent, whose spatula-wielding days are long, long past.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jesus Wept & Sarah Laughed


Jesus beheld the human condition and his response was to cry.

Sarah beheld the promises of God and her response was to laugh.

Jesus believed, too much, perhaps, in what he saw.

Sarah disbelieved in even the possibility of what she heard.

Jesus beheld death.

Sarah was promised life.

Maybe they were both right:

it is right to cry in the face of death

and to laugh in the face of life.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

7 Reasons I Love Bread


1. The smell
2. The many different kinds - flat or fluffy, crunchy or soft, mild or pungent in flavor – I love them all
3. Melted butter on warm bread fresh from the oven running down my chin as I take the first bite
4. The many things it ‘holds’ - hats off to Lord Sandwich
5. The body of Christ
6. The satisfying crunch of the perfect crust
7. Did I mention the smell?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I Wish I Knew

From NASA's Mission to Geospace site

Heat & light
companions
the sun shines
gloriously
whether I
can see it
in the daytime
sky . . . or not

Is it faith to know this?
Or is it belief?
Is there a difference?
I wish I knew.

I read of young men
privileged in the 1880's
to live and work actually
inside ‘The Castle’ --
Smithsonian’s first
building –
and for an instant I dream
of that past life as if it were
my own – until I remember:
it couldn’t have been –
no girls, you see –
and the dream ends
on the trash heap of
impossibility –


The sun shines whether
I see it or not –
do the lights of the ignored
blaze forth whether we
acknowledge . . . encourage . . .
nurture . . . them – or not – ?
I wish I knew

it would give me hope


Friday, September 21, 2012

International Day of Peace: Let’s Cease Firing


One of the aspects of September 21st as the International Day of Peace, so declared in 1981 by the United Nations, is a call for a global and personal cease fire today.

I know what a global cease fire would look like.  But what about a personal cease fire?  Who am I ‘firing’ at?  And what would happen if I stopped, if only for a day, if only for this day?

Political campaigns (the very word campaign is evocative of violence, as in Sherman’s campaign in the Southern states during the Civil War) are inherently violent and in the US, we’re right in the midst of it all.

For today, I will not watch or listen to any political commentary by either side.  For today, I will not say anything about either candidate.  My own political cease fire will resemble a fast from politics, as I know of no other way just now to avoid participating, directly or indirectly, in the violence they wage.

For today, I will not speak violence against any person.  

For today, I will be at peace with my neighbors.

For today, I will pray for the world – the whole world – instead of my own personal ‘home team’.

For today, I will seek and be peace.

And who knows – maybe tomorrow will look like today.

And maybe the next day will be even better than that.

Right now . . . bombs and drones come from the sky bringing not life but death . . . Right now . . . people we know have bodies filled with cancer and the best that can be done for them is to attack and wage war against the very bodies in which they live . . . Right now . . . families are broken by misunderstanding, violence, bullying, and refusals to reconcile . . . Right now . . . Oh God, right now, we are so broken . . . so far from Your peace . . . forgive us God, we pray . . . right now.  –Adapted from Peace Prayer from last years’ peace vigil at McDowell Presbyterian.


________________
*For more information and ideas about how to celebrate the International Day of Peace, check out Presbyterian Mission YearbookCPI and The United Nations web pages.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

6 Things I've Learned on the Dance Floors of Life

Ever my own harshest critic, I wrote on the
back of this pic intended for a friend,
"Don't remember me by this."

When I was 12 or 13, I went to my first dance and to my utter shame and horror even today, when a boy got up the nerve to ask me to dance, I blurted out, “No.”  Not “No thank you.”  Not “I can’t dance.”  Not “Why yes, I’d be glad to.”

Who knows how that artless moment in the life of an awkward teenage girl might have changed the course of her history.  I still cringe when I think of it.  I’ve never had the nerve to tell the boy become man how sorry and embarrassed about that moment I was even then and I can only hope he has forgotten it.

I set a great store by being asked.  Who doesn’t?  It’s flattering.

In that moment, I was terrified and my fear did the talking for me, more’s the pity.

But I am a full-grown woman with children and a grandchild now.  I’m pretty well past being afraid to dance.  Yet I find that I still blush like a school girl to be asked.

And that makes it hard to say no when I know I should.

Thus I’ve had to remember some things of late that I learned on the dance floors of life:

1. I am not an awkward teenage girl any more.
2. I don’t have to say no out of fear, but neither do I have to say yes out of fear either – fear that I won’t be asked again, fear that unless I say yes, I won’t be loved or appreciated.
3. It’s ok to be flattered by being asked, but I still decide with whom I dance and why.
4. Corollary to #3: of course I’ll be asked to dance; why wouldn’t I be?  I am a wonderful dancer.  My would be dance partner has already decided for themselves that they’d like to have me as a partner.  I get to decide whether I’d like to have them as a partner.  (You decide what’s best for you; I decide what’s best for me.)
5. The obligation created by being asked to dance is not to say yes; the obligation created is to answer with kindness and dignity and thoughtfulness and integrity.
6. Regretted ‘nos’ of the past cannot dictate the answers of the present.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

If You Would Know the Wind


If you would know 
the wind and its 
courses through
space and time,
watch the leaves
in fall as they 
dance to a beat
none save they
can hear, move in
time with a conductor’s
wand none save they
can see 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Water, Water, Everywhere*


Jack & Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water . . . 
The itsy, bitsy spider went up the water spout . . . 
Over the water and over the sea . . . 
Little drops of water . . . 
There’s water in the rain barrel . . . 
Dark brown is the river . . . 
Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream . . . 
Down by the old (not the new but the old) mill stream . . . 
March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers 

Nursery rhymes and songs I learned as a child echo in my mind as the rains come and come and come.  Water is much with us, and a good thing.  But this week, I have been mindful of water in a way I haven’t been since spending time in Iraq, where the water is often unfit for human consumption, and being a desert clime, incredibly scarce.

Illustration of The Ryme of the Ancient
Mariner.  Illustrator:  Paul Gustave DorĂ©
For while the rains come here in a poor imitation of the monsoons of Asia, the water in the ground, coming as it does in my small village, through a water treatment plant instead of a spring or well, is unfit to drink.

They’ve found E-coli in our drinking supply.  Thus we are to boil all our drinking water.  No problem, I thought.  I’ve done this before.  So I boiled a good supply of drinking water, and in anticipation of the water being shut off to find the source of the problem, filled the bathtub with water for cleaning and flushing.  I washed the dishes and then rinsed them with Clorox.  And I remembered to keep my mouth shut in the shower (not as easily done as you might think).

No problem, I told myself – I’m an old hat at this.

But I forgot one thing: I brushed my teeth with the water from the sink.

Oops.

And then I remembered that you can’t forget anything.

And what I forgot is the most important thing of all: mindfulness.  Mindfulness of everything you do is called for when the drinking water isn’t safe and water itself is in short supply.  Bathing becomes a luxury instead of a daily routine.  Securing drinking water is part of the daily routine; there is, there can be, no forgetting.

I’m lucky – this is only a temporary situation for me.  I will not have to hand carry water from a distance.  I will not have to keep bleaching my dishwater.  I will not have to remember to boil any water that could go into my mouth.

No one that I know who does have to do these daily chores necessary to sustain life complains.  It’s simply the way things are.  It was my own attitude as well when I was there.  But I am here now, and in the land of plenty, with so very much for which to be grateful, I must continually remind myself to the task of gratitude.  I wonder why that is?  I wonder why we with so much are so often the least grateful?  I am sorry for the interruption of our steady supply of good water and its impact on others less able than I to cope.  But I am also grateful – for the reminding call to be grateful, if nothing else.

___________
*From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Enough Shame to Go Around


R. Cort Kirkwood, managing editor of the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, writes this*

Given the refusal of Moslems [sic] to assimilate**, as well as the range of successful Moslem demands upon European elites for heretofore unimagined 'rights' and public and corporate policies, one wonders when Christendom’s benighted lands will relent and sanction not only honor killing but also bride burning, genital mutilation and the other merry folkways the Islamic horde brought with them...White Swedish women are suffering a wave of unprecedented rape and mayhem at the hands of their country’s Mohammedan [sic] guests***. ... The inevitable Islamic conquest of Europe and its affiliated horrors would never have been possible had Europe remained true to its Catholic faith, the bulwark that stood firmly against Islamic conquest for 10 centuries...Until the West awakens from its spiritual slumber and raises the Cross, it will continue losing the fight not against 'terror' but against Islam itself.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) originates not with Islam, but with Ancient Egypt under the Pharaohs and the Roman Empire.  Wikipedia: FGM Indeed, some Islamic scholars have issued fatwas (legal ruling or interpretation of Islamic law by one in authority to so rule) against FGM.

Rembrandt portrays himself as the Levite
placing his concubine on an ass to be
carried home and spark a war
The majority of so-called honor killings in the world today are committed by Muslims, until one expands one’s definition of ‘honor killing’ to include what in the West are called ‘crimes of passion’ (the husband who kills his wife in a fit of rage over her real or perceived infidelity, for example).  Then the shift is dramatic.  Moreover, there is a history of honor killings across Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism.  The Bible contains what modern-day feminists refer to as ‘texts of terror’ against women, one of the most notable being the murder of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19).

In this story of a woman who is sacrificed by her husband for rape and murder in order to preserve his own honor and life, it is worthy of note that at the beginning of the story, the woman is identified as being ‘unfaithful’ to her husband.  Her offense?  She left him and returned to her father.  Why include such a detail in the first place?  Perhaps to suggest that her death and mistreatment by all in the story was somehow warranted or justified.

Mr. Kirkwood, you may have forgotten your own religious history, but trust me on this: women have not.  Even today, orthodox Jewish men insist in the United States that they should not be required to ride the bus with women (does this remind anyone of a woman in Alabama who sparked a revolution by staying seated?).  Christians around the world – the majority of them, in fact, as most Christians are Roman Catholic – insist that women are inferior to the point that they may not serve in leadership roles within their own church, based in part on the teachings of a man (St. Augustine) who held that women do not have souls.

And by the way, the Catholic faith that was, as you put it, “the bulwark that stood firmly against Islamic conquest for 10 centuries” is the same faith that gave the world the Crusades.  And ten centuries later, the people of Iraq still remember, carrying as they do the genetic reminder in the random child with red hair or green eyes, the invasion of their lands ‘for Jesus’.

That you still insist on using the language of ‘Christendom’ says much.  Your language choice reveals a willingness and desire to cling to the worldview that Christianity is a conquering force engaged not in spiritual, but temporal, battle.  This, sir, is the worst kind of theology, betraying the man who did not use his cross as a sword, but mounted it as a shield behind which we all may stand.  God may require my allegiance, but the Divine neither needs nor requires my defense, especially when that defense would require me to do violence against others whom God has also created in the divine image and declared ‘very good’ from before the beginning of time.

Do I support the mistreatment of women under any guise?  Of course not.  But please, please, please, do not make your arguments against Islam in general and believing Muslims in particular, on the mistreatment of women.  The mistreatment of women knows no religious, social or cultural bounds.  It is an issue not of religion, but of power.  So, please, climb down off our backs and make your arguments elsewhere.  For the fact is your own heritage, which includes burning women as witches, the torture and murder of Joan d’Arc for the ‘offense’ of wearing trousers, the exclusion and excoriation of women throughout history, the modern-day sanction against women for daring to get on yet another bus and speaking their minds (Nuns on the Bus), the erasure of women from the history of our faith, is one in which you can take no pride, sir.****


__________________
*Taken from a FB entry on We Are All Harrisonburg.  Best research indicates that this appeared as part of a blog post by Mr. Kirkwood in 2007 at Taki's Magazine.  In the posting, Mr. Kirkwood also claims that what he calls Western Europe's 'Catholic culture' of chivalry and the good treatment of women was eroded by Islam.  One hardly knows where to begin.  Medieval poets may have waxed eloquent about chivalry, but women were hardly 'elevated' as Mr. Kirkwood claims.  In point of fact, until very recently in the history of the world, violence against women has been viewed as a male prerogative.

**I never know what folks mean about someone’s refusal to ‘assimilate’.  I can only guess Mr. Krikwood’s intentions here, but I also remember growing up in Fairmont, West Virginia, where there was a huge immigrant population formed during the heyday of the coal mines, when workers were needed to go underground and were sought after from far-away lands.  Thus growing up in Fairmont, many of my friends’ grandmothers did not speak English.  They were all Christians, largely from southern Italy and central Europe.  And I have never taken it as a negative to society as a whole or to me personally that these women largely remained at home.  The impact on them is another question.  But we cannot overstate how very hard it must have been to enter into a society whose language they did not speak and whose ways they did not know.  If there was a problem, maybe it wasn’t theirs.  Maybe it was ‘ours’ – for not making the women more welcome.  In my mother’s hometown of Williamson, West Virginia, an immigrant family from the Middle East rejected the church denomination they had been accustomed to and instead came to the Presbyterian Church my mother attended as a girl because the women there, unlike the other church, made his wife welcome.  Whatever happened to hospitality, Mr. Kirkwood?

***This claim is widespread amongst conservative media outlets in the US, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to locate any accurate, unbiased reportage on the claimed phenomena from any source.  One source reported a gang rape by children against children, claiming that authorities had not released the identities of the perpetrators, but ‘we all know they were Muslims’.  This is hardly objective reporting.

****And if there is to be religious shaming, let us not forget the systematic rape of Bosnian Muslim women by Christian Serbs during the Bosnian War of the 1990s.  Wikipedia

Saturday, September 15, 2012

And So It Goes: Violence, Vengeance, Anger, and Aiming at the Wrong Target

Mosque in Harrisonburg after Friday's vandalsim

The local mosque in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was defaced on Friday, as Muslims in many other parts of the world demonstrated against the film whose name I do not know, dishonoring the Prophet Mohammed, with outbreaks of violence reported.  And we all know what happened earlier in the week in Cairo and Benghazi.

Defacing a mosque might seem ‘small’ in light of these other events, but they all bring to light the inherent problem with enacted anger and the desire for vengeance in the form of violence: it never hits the ‘rightful’ target (if there be such a thing).

Thus do folks around the world give vent to their spleen by attacking people who had nothing to do with the film and may not even have known of its existence and, as many of the targeted folks have made clear, disagree with its contents.

And in counter-attack, unknown people closer to home for me attack a building and thereby the people who worship there, none of whom have anything to do with the demonstrations and violence around the world.  The Muslim community in Harrisonburg simply has the misfortune of being handy by virtue of proximity.

So to the Muslim community around the world engaging in violent demonstrations, I would say that most Americans have not even heard of this film, most will not view it, of the ones who view it, most will find its contents disgusting and disturbing, and none of those you are attacking had anything to do with the film or its publication.  If there be an enemy, you’re aiming at the wrong one.

And to my fellow American citizens (presumably most of whom self-identify as Christian) who are speaking anger and rage at all Muslims, who are engaging in vandalism and violence (yes, our words can be as violent as our fists), take a breath and take a moment to watch the counter-demonstrations in Libya, where thousands of Muslims have gathered to protest against the violence to our embassy officials there, holding signs in a language many do not speak (English) in order to show their solidarity and support with us.  And remember that like Christians, Muslims around the world number in the millions, if not billions.  Yesterday, most of ‘them’ behaved like most of ‘us’ – by going to work, to worship, loving their families, praying for peace.

The outbreak of violence anywhere has the potential to bring out either the best – or the worst – in each of us.  The vandalism against the mosque in Harrisonburg is an example of the worst.

In response to the vandalism, the Muslim community there has invited the Harrisonburg community to an Open House at the Mosque from 4.30 - 6.00 p.m. for gathering and celebration of the best of that community.  Visit We Are All Harrisonburg on FaceBook or the Mosque's web site at IASV.org for more details.

Our Muslim brothers and sisters in Harrisonburg are modeling to rest of us the spirit of the best of us in response to this violence.  If you’re in the area, I hope you will attend.  If you cannot, I hope and pray you will send them messages of love, encouragement and support.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

BethRant5: Ignorant Immolation


I should not publish this.  There is far too much of me in it.  This is my reaction not to the actual events in Egypt and Libya, but to the remarks of Mr. Romney.  My reaction is not born of any political preference (believe that or not).  Rather, my reaction is born of having been in Iraq in 2005-2006 during a time when the country was literally on fire and four of my colleagues were held hostage.  One of them, Tom Fox, would be murdered.  During that time in Baghdad, we, the free ones on team, heard many words from many people.*  And many of those words were fraught with the same kind of judgment, advice, and preferred language echoed by Mr. Romney.  My words below are not elegant.  But please believe me, they are heartfelt.  For I cannot get the image of the Tweet from the US Embassy in Egypt out of my mind: “Of course we condemn breaches of our compound, we're the ones actually living through this.”  Those words were not typed.  Nor were they whispered.  They were screamed.  Sadly, we were too busy talking to hear the plea embedded in them.  I do not speak for the people affected by these most recent attacks; that is a presumption I cannot carry.  What follows is merely my own visceral response.



Sadness . . .
Confusion . . .
Image overload . . .
Puzzlement . . .
Fear – not for self – but for others –
held hostage with only their cell
phones to protect them – shouting
out their Tweets – we mean you no harm . . .
We are not all the same . . . calm down . . .
Please . . .

Anger at the relentless infocycle
that demands a response, an answer,
an explanation, a comment, a stand –
in the place where there is no standing –
only reaching –
Principles are the things you stand on
when the ground is steady under your feet

But when the earthquake comes,
you just grab – onto whatever looks
like it’ll hold you up – even if only
for an instant –
whatever will buy you time –
even if only another moment –

The luxury of distance makes us
cruel . . . and foolish . . . and despised
by those in the earthquake
who would grab our hands if only they could

Sometimes silence is not the only answer,
but the best – especially when our hands
are just too short to grab hold and save

I have stood on that moving ground
and hated the very breath those
at safe distance drew as their
exhalations brought proffered
reason and logic and principles –
as if such things ever mattered
to the dying – or the frightened –

Give me not your logic, I wanted to
scream – give me your help.
Tell me not what to do or not do –
do it for me – but you can’t,
can you?  Then shut up –
for your voice is a distraction
I can ill afford
for if I turn away, even for an instant,
I risk . . . everything . . .
Imagine that I have turned to hear you
and what you have to offer me is a
soap commercial –
I am screaming for help –
and you offer me your principles,
call them universal,
and demand my apology.
I am dying.
And you want apology.
Well, I am sorry to have
inconvenienced you with
my reality . . . here . . .
on ‘the ground’ . . .
What the hell does that
even mean?
Aren’t we all ‘on the ground’?
Aren’t you dying too?
Am I really so very impersonal,
so theoretical, to you, that you
cannot even imagine my death
as your own?

Please, please, please,
if you cannot save me,
just stop – stop talking –
stop.  Stop and pray
or stop and do nothing.
For that would be better
than this.  Please.  Please.


__________________
*Rush Limbaugh called the kidnapping of my colleagues in Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) a hoax and then went on to say that if it wasn’t a hoax to get attention, then he hoped my friends’ heads rolled, because that would teach lefties like us a good lesson.  Strangers made comments on an on-line petition calling for our guys’ release expressing the same sentiment – that they hoped my friends were beheaded.  After Tom’s murder and the release of the remaining guys, fellow Christians called us dupes and idiots and ungrateful and worse.  Colleagues within the Christian peace community wrote about our folly.  From a safe distance, far too many, friend and enemy alike, felt great freedom to tell us how we got it wrong.  I’ve never said this before now.  Thanks for that (read the sarcasm, it is intentional).  Fortunately, I cannot recall the physical sensation that I know I felt at the time – gut punched is the best descriptor I’ve got.  Especially when it came to those with whom we thought we were in common cause – that was the worst.

All I have to offer those in the embassies around the world tonight who are fearing for their own safety are my prayers and my most fervent wish and hope that this fever pitch passes, that they may rest safely and well this night and always.  I would give you my hand, but I am too far away.  For that, I am more sorry than you can ever know.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Waking Up

She's there again -- Ms. Goose -- honking her wake up message for all to hear.  And he's there too -- listening Bird, answering Bird, whistling a lovely pitch (what key is that?).

The fog hangs over the distant lake as the sun slowly moves across each droplet suspended in mid-air.

And for a moment, all is stillness.  Ms. Goose is drawing breath, Bird listens, and in the in-betweenness, a splash -- heard as clearly as if I were the one diving into the so-cold water -- travels across the distance from lake to me.

That sound -- that single quiet splash in the even quieter morning -- vivifies . . . everything.

I am alive.

And it is a good day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wake Up!

The first bird I hear -- not the first to speak, surely -- this morning, is a lone goose, honking persistently into the quiet of sun newly risen, fog quietly leaving,

Wake up!  

Get up!

It's time to get moving!

We have flying to do!

The answer he receives is not from his own kind.

Perhaps it is a crow -- but if so, she's feeling awfully sweet and tender this morning.  Or maybe it is a starling -- more full-voiced than she has ever been.

Whatever the bird, Goose honks and Bird answers and nothing is resolved.

Each then flies their own way, Goose trusting the other geese to follow, Bird neither knowing or caring, knowing only that the flock will be there in the trees when she retires tonight.

What a wonderful way to begin a day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Standing in the Gap of Justice


Yesterday my friend Rhonda preached while I sat in the pew - a nice change-up.  She took as her text a reading from Ezekiel, with her sermon title taken from the NIV, “Standing in the Gap”.

Yet it was not Ezekiel, but Abraham who drew my attention as Rhonda referenced Abraham’s bargaining with YHWH over the fate of Sodom.

Lawyer me was reminded of Blackstone's formulation, Better 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer, a concept which actually harkens back to the Genesis account of Abraham’s wrangling with the divine.

Astonishing as it is that one should stand in such intimate relation to God that he could and would dare to recall God to God’s highest and best self, today I am struck and saddened by how far we have strayed from Abraham’s heart for his fellow human beings.

In the New Testament (John 11.50), there is a vastly different correlative where Caiaphas proclaims that it is better that one man die (for the nation) than that the whole nation should perish.

The contrast is startling: Caiaphas feared Rome more than he feared God; Abraham feared neither.

Caiaphas, it would seem, stood on the ground of reason, while Abraham, who used reason, stood on the ground of God’s own self.

Caiaphas sought safety; Abraham sought justice.

And therein lies all the difference in the world.

For Abraham would preserve the many guilty in order to save the innocent few.

We, like Caiaphas, would surrender the many innocent in order to slay the guilty few.

Think not?

Consider then our many perceived ‘enemies’ around the world.

The one at the top of the headlines in this election cycle in the United States is Iran.  ‘Nuclear ambitions’ are nothing to be taken lightly.  Yet the philosophy of first strike/pre-emptive war, grounded in the fear of what might happen, demands and even exalts the Caiaphas worldview – better them than us . . . better thousands of their innocents die* to try to get at the one or few guilty among ‘them’.

The voice of Abraham, the voice that cries out to God to spare the guilty in order to protect the innocent, has all but disappeared from our national consciousness.

When did the innocent become so expendable?

If the world is to be governed by Machiavellian ideals, then so be it.

But airwave commentators, preachers on Sunday and the common citizen in these United States must stop at once any invocation of God and God’s blessings upon us when we hold so lightly what God holds so dear.

We must stop decrying our claim to value life above all else and admit that, in fact, our first principle is ‘me first’.

We must admit that our fears are larger than our faith.

We must surrender any notion that we as a nation are or ever were governed by anything even approaching the vision of Christ proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount.

Either that or we must surrender our drones and get down to the very hard work of making, being, and giving peace to our enemies and bargaining not for our lives, but for theirs.




________________________
Abdul Hakeem before his surgery
*Who do we think dies when we bomb distant peoples and lands from afar?  Children, women, the elderly, the powerless, those who do not have access to bomb shelters.  We were willing to and did kill Qadafi’s family in order to try [unsuccessfully] to kill him in the 1980's.  We were willing to and did kill and maim the children of Fallujah in order to try [again unsuccessfully] to kill or quell the Sunni insurgents of Iraq in the early 2000's.  I met Abdul Hakeem, one of the many children injured or killed in our strikes on Fallujah while we were both in Amman, Jordan.  We were willing to and are killing the innocent to try to get at the guilty with our drone strikes.  Just five days ago, 13 civilians were killed in Yemen when a drone strike missed its intended target. RT

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bear Stuffing


“What do you want to enter in the fair next year?  You could do a drawing.”

“I don’t want to draw.  I want to stuff a bear.”

This was the exchange grandson Rowen and I had during his first county fair.  In the morning we saw the “aminals”, even touched a cow, a sheep and a goat (but it was a no go to touching the pig).

As amazing as the animals were to him, the exhibits really captured his imagination, especially the Lego creations and the taxidermy displays.

Thus did Rowen decide that next year, his entry should be a stuffed mounted bear – until I told him “that’s fine, but first you have to hunt and kill him.”

“But I don’t want to kill a bear, Gran.  I just want to stuff him.”

“I understand, Rowen.  Believe me, I understand.”

Teddy No-Eyes with some friends
Perhaps it was no accident that the next day at church, Pastor Gran did her sermon illustration during the time for the young by bringing out her own childhood teddy bear and pondering whether his torn and ragged body and holes leaking stuffing evidenced a lack of care or the greatness of the love bestowed.  Rowen just thought it was funny that he had no eyes, little understanding the heathen I was at his age, ripping the plastic eyes literally from their fabric sockets just to see if I could.

I imagine my 5-year-old treasure of a grandson in his bed dreaming about stuffing bears and I wonder what that looks like to him.  Somehow I suspect it’s a much gentler vision than my own.  Oh, how I envy those 5-year-old dreams.

I think I'll take Teddy No-Eyes to bed with me tonight.  I wonder which will be keeping the other safe and from whom.  Such is the certitude of the 5-year-old that I'm pretty sure Rowen wouldn't even have to ask:  "why, we're keeping each other safe, of course!"

Bread on the Ground


Thursday I was running late to meet Merwyn DeMello* to prep for our day of meetings with faculty and students at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).  I was late and I was lost among the myriad of buildings and grounds.**  This is the excuse I offer to God in my regret that I did not stop for the moment it would have taken me to rectify a wrong.

There on a beautiful sidewalk lay an equally beautiful loaf of bread.  I thought about stopping, but I didn’t.

Why would someone stop to pick up a loaf of bread from the sidewalk if she didn’t plan to eat it herself?  And what would she do with it?

Some of you will already know the answer.

Among my Muslim friends and acquaintances, bread is a sort-of holy thing – the very stuff of life – and it is never thrown away or discarded.  All of the leftover bread scraps are gathered together at the end of a meal for use.  If the bread is stale, it will become the base or bed for soups like tashrib or fried in olive oil as a sort of chip for dipping in humus or simply eaten the next morning for breakfast.

And if one has leftover bread when on the move, you simply leave it in an elevated place, for someone who may need it.  It is a literal leaving of food for the poor, a small but integral and integrated part of daily life which remembers the needs of the poor.

This custom of preserving bread reminds me of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, where at the end of the meal, the leftovers were gathered (Matthew 14.20).  In the West, we tend to focus on the abundance of Jesus’ providing, marveling that from such a small start, there even were leftovers.  But this misses the point of the custom in that part of the world that nothing be wasted, that all be provided for, for those ‘leftovers’ of bread and fish would have just as surely gone to feed the poor as the bread I saw one day walking the streets of Amman, Jordan.

Thus do I offer sincere apology both to the Lord of my life and to the one who may have had need of the bread that I did not simply stop and take the care to place on a nearby wall.



___________________
*Merwyn is the co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).  We spent the day at EMU engaging with folks there about CPT’s life and work and how the Academy and those ‘in the field’ might intersect in more intentional ways.

**Note to EMU admin: I loved the peace in many languages sign pole, but as a visitor, I would have also loved more signage pointing me to The Commons.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Hearing Heart

A sermon excerpt reflecting on the story of King Solomon,
two mothers and a baby about to be split in two

As James would have it, foolishness says it is wise, but wisdom keeps its mouth shut.  Foolishness is ambitious, wanting many things for itself; wisdom could care less about such things.  Foolishness tells lies to get ahead; wisdom speaks the truth no matter the consequence.  Foolishness doesn’t care about other people; wisdom strives always to get along with others.  Foolishness makes war with others every chance it gets; wisdom strives always for peace.

When seeking to know whether someone is wise or not, we have already asked the wrong question – the issue is not whether a person is wise – the issue is whether the choice they make is wise.  For the sad fact is that a person can be wise one moment and foolish the next; and so it was with Solomon. . . so we would do well to speak not of the ‘wisdom of Solomon’, but rather of the ‘wisdom of Solomon’s choice’.

Solomon prayed for this gift, the gift of wise choosing, for the ability to understand and discern, to make good, just decisions . . . that was his prayer and it was a prayer granted by God.

But it was still up to Solomon to exercise the gift . . . it was up to him to act wisely . . .

Like all of us, sometimes he did; sometimes, he didn’t.
Raphael's Judgment of Solomon
On the day touted as celebratory of Solomon’s great wisdom, two women came to the King, the person with the authority to resolve disputes, to settle an argument about a child – this is not only the first recorded legal decision; it’s the first recorded child custody dispute, filled with all the drama and pathos of such fights in our own time.  Where there were two children, now there is only one.  To whom does he belong?  With whom should he live?  What is best?  What is true?  Where resides love?

For this is the foundation of Solomon’s wise decision – love, not biology.  The true mother is the one who loves, not necessarily the one who births.  Think about that for a moment.  What does Solomon say for his ‘judgment’ in the matter?  “Give the first woman the living boy . . . she is his mother.”

The first woman is the boy’s mother because the king said so.

What Solomon’s wisdom sought was love . . . that was the result the test was designed to produce . . . love . . . the true mother was the mother who loved . . . now most have assumed that the one who loved is the one who birthed and that was probably the assumption at the time.  But notice what Solomon does not say . . . Solomon does not say she gave birth to the living boy . . . he is not necessarily making a statement of fact; but he is definitely making a conclusion of law, a decision . . . she is his mother . . . the King has spoken, the decision has been made.

And isn’t that what the wisdom of Solomon understood?  He didn’t see the results of genetic tests . . . he saw mercy . . . He didn’t hear witnesses with proof . . . he heard sacrifice . . . He didn’t decide biology . . . he decided love . . . and therein lies wisdom . . .

This is what the people saw that day in court . . . for as the story says, they saw the wisdom of God, the wisdom that James reminds us which comes from above and brings with it mercy and love, peace and justice.

Did you know that one of the names for Jesus in the Bible is “the Wisdom of/from God” [1 Corinthians 1.24 & 30]?  Another name for Jesus is ‘Love’ (‘Love of God’) [Titus 3.4].  In Islam, Jesus is sometimes referred to as the ‘heart (or soul) of God’.  In Jesus the Christ, are wisdom and love entwined into the very heart of God.

If we can understand this and claim this for ourselves, if we can pray the prayer of Solomon, “give your servant an understanding mind”, or maybe the better prayer, as this phrase in verse 9 can be translated, “So give Thy servant a hearing heart”, if we can ask God for a ‘hearing heart’, perhaps we can come to the place of wisdom . . .

The place that seeks the best for the other. . .  that loves even when love costs us that which we love . . . the place that knows it isn’t always about me . . . the place that knows that even though there are times when I will fail, I can still stand back up and begin again, love again, receive and extend mercy again . . . seek and be peace . . . again . . . choose wisely . . . again.

For beloved, even a fool can be wise.  Just ask King Solomon.

Let us join our prayer with his . . . Lord, Give Thy servant a hearing heart.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

BethRant4: E-N-O-U-G-H


Enough.

I will say it again.

Enough!

Enough!  Enough!  Enough!

Stop it!

Right now!

I mean it!

Go to your room if you can’t speak nicely to others!

Enough!

For all you Twitterheads who hide behind made-up not-so-clever handles and all you blog responders doing the same – enough already with the ugliness.

I’ve had it with each and every one of you.

Your insults are not even creative.

They’re not only mean; they’re demeaning.

You’re demeaning me as well as you because we are fellow human beings.

And I, for one, have had it with each and every one of you.

People on the Left call for the death, murder or suicide of Ann Romney.  Red Alert

Really?

Shame on you!

In what universe is that kind of talk acceptable?

I really want to know.

What world do you inhabit where it is acceptable to speak such vitriol and violence?

And to those on the Right, before you get too smug, here is but a small sampling of insults your kind hurled at  Michele Obama after her speech last night:  Enslavers (does the racial context escape you?) . . . ugliest First Lady . . . Godless . . . “the first cow” . . . not even minimally attractive . . . patron of Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. . . . The Blaze

And there have been death threats against Mrs. Obama as well.

This is not acceptable.  And I do not care one whit about your free speech rights.  Reality and facts matter.  Your diatribes, unfortunately, matter too.  They matter not because our opinions are important; rather, they matter because you are lobbing mini-WMD and like all WMD, they land where they will and do great and unforeseen damage.

Our president is not a Nazi.  And you are not living under occupation.  Trust me on this – you would know if you were – well, your family would – because you would be dead.

Mr. Romney is not a people-hating robot.  He, like you, is a human being.  He, like you, has wonderful and not-so-wonderful traits.  Unlike you, however, he had the guts to enter the political arena and actually apply for the job of president instead of calling out from the cheap seats.*

The women who loved and married and have made a life with these men are not antichrists, demonic, nor do they suck the air out of your lungs simply because they draw breath on the same planet with you.  They are people.

Disagree with their ideas, their political stances?  Sure.  Even passionately.

But please trust me on this: you reveal far more about yourselves than you ever will about them with the things you say.  Comments about a female public figure’s appearance, body type, clothing, and so forth, reveal a deep-rooted sexism.  (Think not?  When was the last time you wondered how much Paul Ryan’s tie cost?)  And when it comes to some of the things said about Mrs. Obama, the racism is overt.  As a woman, I can assure you fellows that there is not one single woman on the planet who cares even a little bit about your preference for certain types of butts.  Not one.  So do us all a favor and keep it to yourselves, won’t you?

And maybe your family and friends agree with you.  Maybe.  Or maybe at least some of them are just too polite or too frightened to tell you what they really think.  Here’s the thing: racism isn’t just wrong; it’s foolish.  It prevents you from seeing the good and worth and contributions of people who can actually make your life better.  It causes you to be afraid when there is no cause to be.  It blinds you to reality.  And it turns you into a bully.  And nobody wants to hang out with a bully.  Nobody – not even other bullies.

Finally, if you dump out so much outrage over nonsense (and yes, what Mrs. Obama or Mrs. Romney wear and how they look in it, disagreeing with the fact that they both love their husbands and have the job of giving them public tribute, or that their story is not your story, is nonsense), what will you have left for the things that really and truly matter?  And we have serious issues facing us that really matter – things like whether our foreign policy should be driven by an us-first worldview or not; whether drone strikes that kill civilians can continue while we claim to be a just and good society; whether using more than our fair share of the world’s resources is something we can change (we already know we should); whether Mr. Obama’s vision of government or Mr. Romney’s makes the most sense for economic survival; whether we can come together as a nation over anything other than devastating crisis?

So here’s a thought: before you put fingers to keyboard, pause for just a moment and pretend that everything you write will appear in your own local newspaper with your picture beside it and that your children and family and co-workers and fellow church members (not to mention God, who already knows what you’re up to anyway) will all see it and know it was you doing the talking.  Will you be proud of what you said?  Will you stand by it?  Or will you have to explain it away, “Daddy was jut blowing off steam, honey.  He didn’t really want Mrs. Romney to die.  He doesn’t really hate black people.”

As a fellow human being, your hatred shames me and your anonymity disgusts me.

RantEnd



________________
*Just so we’re clear: yes, that was an insult.  I am not saying that we cannot or should not engage in fierce and even strident debate.  Demonization of our opposition, however, is (1) ridiculous (that is, it makes the one doing it look like an idiot); (2) a waste of time and energy; (3) demeaning to our public discourse; and (4) destructive of our civilization.  Yes – it’s destructive.  Every word we speak has consequence.  Do you really think that Michelle Obama and Ann Romney aren’t human beings with feelings?  Ann Romney has MS.  Do you think the stress of the campaign, let alone the stress of your hurtful and frightening remarks has no impact on her and those who love her?  And Michelle Obama still has two young children at home.  Do you think they don’t hear what you say?  Or wonder why people hate the mother they love so much?  Do you think your children would be proud of you for what you’re saying?  Or would they be frightened that Mommy or Daddy could be so violent against a stranger?  And perhaps even worry about what you might do to them if you get mad?  Words matter.

The Bringer of the Dawn


When I was a student chaplain in the children’s hospital section of Robert Wood Johnson hospital in New Jersey, I was called to sit and wait with parents whose son was being cut out of his car by the jaws of life.  They had been to the scene and sent to the hospital to await his arrival.  Down I rushed, in my standard black suit with my chaplain badge prominent around my neck.

When the mom saw me, a horrible thing happened.  She dropped to the floor – literally dropped – as if the very life had been sucked out of her, she dropped and began screaming her pain and agony.

She thought my presence meant he had died.  After about the half second it took me to realize what was happening, I did the only thing I could think to do – I dropped to the ground beside her.  I laid as close as I could get to her and put my face right into hers.  I called her by name.  And I began to tell her that her son was not dead. . . that she had seen him with her own eyes and knew he lived.  I touched her, I held her, I pulled her face into mine and we laid in the middle of that hospital hallway floor together until she could see me and hear me and believe me.

I’m sure it was only moments, but it seemed like forever, that time when she could see or hear nothing except me dressed in black, come, she was sure, to tell her the worst news of her life.  Somehow the moments passed and slowly we arose, hands held together and slowly she could believe that if I was an angel, it was not as the Angel of Death that I came, but as the Angel of Love.

That’s how I see God in my woundedness . . . lying there on the floor beside me . . . speaking softly, gently, persistently, into my heart, that my worst fears are not true, that God is right there, that the dawn comes.  I, of course, was and am limited by skin, but not so God, who lies not beside us, but crawls up inside the hardest parts of us . . . the dark places where no dawn has ever been . . . and whispers . . . I am here . . . fear not.

God of the dawn, yes, but even more, God of our darkness. . . Lord of our sickness . . . Ruler of our lies . . . Healer of our brokenness . . . Companion of our lostness . . . Lover of our worst selves . . . Inhabiter of the worst of our black holes . . . there in all of what we would hide even from ourselves, lives the Bringer of the Dawn.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Breaking In


Not all break-ins are illegal.  But they’re all surprising.  Just so with The God who came to earth and walked among us.  What follows is an excerpt from Sunday’s sermon reflecting on Jesus coming to his disciples after his own death, risen but scarred.

In the Gospel of Luke, we read perhaps the weirdest promise ever made . . . here I am, proclaimed the dead one now living.  Look at me . . . touch me . . . eat with me . . . believe in me . . . but even more, believe me . . .

So Jesus, wounded, just-from-the-grave, Jesus, tells them – the spirit-wounded, sad-hearted, broken followers of no leader – here I am.  Touch me as I have touched you.

That day, that moment, their doubt, their uncertainty, their disappointment, was not, I believe, in themselves . . . it was in him – the one they gave up everything to follow.

I can just hear the musings of their minds –

I was doing fine as a fisherman.  How grand he was with all his talk: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  I did follow and now I fish for nothing.  What do I do now?

Tax collecting was a good living for me.  And at least I had my other tax collecting friends.  Who do I have now?  

Where will we go now?

What will we do . . . now?

Whom shall we follow . . . now?

And there he was . . . right in front of them . . .

And he was the same as always . . . but not . . . for now he had walked through the valley of the shadow . . . and he had the scars to prove it . . .

And herein lies the “T” hard but oh-so-important truth of the Gospel . . . our God lives . . . and living, our God carries scars – the marks of wounding . . . the reality of the cost of our brokenness imprinted on his hands and feet – not as some perpetual sign of our guilt, but as the reality of the cost of brokenness and the enormity of a love that would bear it.

The cost of the brokennes of the world was the very life of God . . . the enormity of God’s love is that God would bear that cost.

Just as it is with us, God’s scars are permanent – they will never go away.

But just as with God, our scars can be borne and transformed.  And we and our world will never be the same, for the Dawn of Love has come among us and we are set free.



Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Tip of the Hat, Wage of the Finger

Do you remember this man?  If not, you
might need a refresher on the history of
labor unions & their influence world wide

With all-due-respect hats’ off to all of us in our many and varied labors, rich and poor alike, this day is reserved to remember and acknowledge the contributions organized labor (that’s right: unions) has made to the betterment of our lives.

And the contribution is not insignificant.

Before you chastize me or suspect my leftist leanings, you should perhaps know that I was not raised to appreciate labor unions much.  And growing up in West Virginia, that was no small feat on my parents’ part, I can assure you.

But here’s the thing: I take the challenges and concerns as a given – that unions can and have often become the very thing they opposed – wealthy and autocratic; that violence often accompanied their efforts (but never forget the violence of starvation and captive labor that began the ‘wars’); and that paying union-negotiated wages and benefits is costly (of course, I think it should be – why on earth would I think that I am somehow ‘entitled’ to purchase cheap goods as a virtual constitutional right without questioning on whose back I stand while I wave my Wal-Mart bargain-basement priced newest gadget?).

So, to borrow from Stephen Colbert, here is my Tip of the Hat, Wage of the Finger list for this Labor Day:

Tip of My Hat

1. Weekends, paid holidays, paid vacations, pensions, and group health insurance, are but a few of the things that up until now, workers both union and non-union in the United States could largely take for granted.  It didn’t happen without a struggle.  And it didn’t happen without organized labor.

2. Labor unions, yes, labor unions, had far more to do with the dissolution of the Soviet bloc than did anything Ronald Regan ever said or did.  Remember the Gdansk Shipyard strike in Poland in 1980, led by Lech Walesa, co-founder of the Solidarity labor union and Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 1981?  Oh, and Mr. Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.  And he was elected President of Poland in 1990.

3. Women in the work place.  We’ve always been there.  That’s right – always.  We just weren’t noticed much down on all fours scrubbing as the fellows walked by.  Or hidden away from view in the sweat shop sewing rooms.  Securing a place for women in the work place included the securing of a safe work place.  In the late 1990's, I visited just across the border in Mexico.  It was a NAFTA tour of sorts, wherein lawyers were shown the effects of so-called free trade on those on the receiving end.  On one of the factories was a sign asking for workers, which specified that the company sought only girls between the ages of 14 and 20.  When I asked our guide the reason, he said there were two: (1) the work required needed small fingers; and more importantly, (2) girls would not organize and would simply do as they were told.  Absent protections from some source, free trade is just another word for exploitation.

4. End of child labor.  As early as 1836, trade unions in the United States proposed laws to establish a minimum age for factory work.  Wikipedia

5. Workplace safety.  Consider one particular example: the fact that buildings in which you do your business today have fire exits and building codes that enforce safety from fire is directly due to the efforts of the ILGWU (the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union) in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, in which more than 100 workers died (largely due to locked fire exits.  That’s right: the exit doors were locked.)

Wage of the Finger

I learned an axiom in seminary: The oppressed becomes the oppressor, referring to our tendency when moving out of oppression to reenact the very abuses once levied against us.  Perhaps this is understandable the same way child abuse is replayed across generations: we do that which we have been taught to do.

In biblical terms, the ‘wage’ of sin (meaning its consequence) is death.  Perhaps the ‘wage’ of oppression is more oppression.  Thus do the imprisoned levy the same abuse upon their former guards once freed and revolutionaries reenact the very abuses that led to revolution in the first place.

It is tempting to say ‘thus it has ever been, thus it will ever be.’  Perhaps.

Organized labor in the United States has succumbed all too often to the very sins they decry.  In my own native West Virginia, the conflicts between management and labor in the mines were, quite rightly, termed the mine wars, for that is what they were.  Meeting violence with violence in the heat of ‘battle’ is one thing.  But the violence didn’t stop there.  It seldom does.

Just as troubling has been the historical tendency for union leadership to more closely resemble the corporate ‘fat cats’ than their own rank and file.  Too many, seduced by wealth and power, have forgotten whose interests they represent.

All of this, however, does not, in my view, argue for the elimination of organized labor.

Years ago, I asked my uncle, who spent his working life in Central and South America working for North American corporate interests there, what the solution was to the exploitation, poverty, and general unrest there.  Much to my surprise, his response was as clear as it was terse: “Labor unions.  Genuine international non-aligned (meaning not controlled by the governments) labor unions.”

He was in a much better position to know than I.