Friday, February 25, 2005

Will we hear about this on the nightly news?

Bob Herbert writes in today's New York Times ("Thrown to the Wolves") about Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was returning home from a visit to Tunisia.

While attempting to change planes at Kennedy Airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything, but his life would be ruined.

Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was tortured.
Mr. Arar is the most visible victim of the reprehensible U.S. policy known as extraordinary rendition, in which individuals are abducted by American authorities and transferred, without any legal rights whatever, to a regime skilled in the art of torture. The fact that some of the people swallowed up by this policy may in fact have been hard-core terrorists does not make it any less repugnant.
A lawsuit on Mr. Arar's behalf has been filed against the United States by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer with the center, noted yesterday that the government is arguing that none of Mr. Arar's claims can even be adjudicated because they "would involve the revelation of state secrets."

This is a government that feels it is answerable to no one.

How have we come to this from our founding ideals?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Amendment VI: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

My friends, we must defend our own Constitution.
-Deuteronomy 27:19 19 "Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice." All the people shall say, "Amen!"
-2 Chronicles 19:7 7 Now, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take care what you do, for there is no perversion of justice with the LORD our God, or partiality, or taking of bribes.
-Ecclesiastes 3:16 16 Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well.
The following verse may have other than messianic application:
Isaiah 53:8 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.

Isaiah 59:14 14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter.

Micah 7:3 3 Their hands are skilled to do evil; the official and the judge ask for a bribe, and the powerful dictate what they desire; thus they pervert justice.

Yes, I used to be a Bible thumper, and though I abhor the misuse of scripture, the Bible still shapes my thinking in very positive ways.

Let us, the people, take back our nation... "that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

The BB

Plus ça change....

In my class tonight we were looking at a statement from the Fourth Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World of Asia. This came from their meeting in Tokyo in September 1986.

Given the current concerns about the role of media in American society--consolidation of ownership, government manipulation, impact of the internet, censorship and secrecy, bias and disclosure--I found some remarks by these Asian bishops from 19 years ago to be most intriguing.

3.6.2. Finance and the mass media determine to a very large extent the destinies of nations; in fact, finance uses the media to this end. Those in power are well aware of the potentialities of the mass media, which they manipulate to mold public opinion and to consolidate and perpetuate their positions. One test of the freedom prevalent in any society today is the degree of autonomy enjoyed by the mass media. [emphasis mine]

Wow! A nice polished summary, completely applicable to here and now. The subsequent paragraph opens with this sentence:
3.6.3. Today, the mass media in Asia are predominantly controlled by authoritarian governments or by a handful of economically and politically powerful persons, while the vast majority of the Asian people are passive recipients.

Try re-reading just the bolded portion [again, emphasis mine].

It would seem that the world's sole remaining superpower has not made good progress.

The document may be found in Rosales, Gaudencio and Arevalo, C.G. (Eds.). For All the Peoples of Asia, FABC Documents from 1970-1991, volume 1

The BB

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Secret Genocide Archive

NY Times op-ed columnist NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF reminds us all in an article published February 23, 2005, that the world is accountable for standing by when genocide takes place. As he puts it:
During past genocides against Armenians, Jews and Cambodians, it was possible to claim that we didn't fully know what was going on. This time, President Bush, Congress and the European Parliament have already declared genocide to be under way. And we have photos.
It seems that there is "a secret archive of thousands of photos and reports that document the genocide under way in Darfur." Kristof shares four of these photos with us, undoubtedly not the most grisly.

While the UN has declared that it cannot definitively say that genocide has taken place in Darfur, it is clear that grievous crimes against humanity have occurred and they need to be dealt with. Yet we seem more ready to launch an invasion over the unproven possibility that weapons of mass destruction may exist than to deal in any effective way (I would hope multilaterally, and especially in cooperation with African states) with mass killings we know are happening. Where is our collective sense of horror? of outrage? Are we content with wringing our hands, making tut-tut noises, and telling ourselves we are helpless?

Helpless? The victims of Darfur were helpless. How dare we think that we are? We are free to speak out, to mobilize, to educate, to rally public opinion, to raise awareness, to pressure our elected officials, to make our opinions known. We have access and networks. The people of Darfur do not have such means.

The Anglican Communion News Service was sending reports from southern Sudan about various forms of injustice and violence long before this was making headlines in the mainstream press, and I found myself praying for the Christian and traditional animist peoples there before there was talk of genocide. Yet for all my awareness of the issue, I was not taking proactive steps to learn more, nor telling others what I had learned. So I join the ranks of guilty bystanders and cannot pretend to more righteousness than anyone else.

What does it take for me, for all of us to wake up?

Ask not for whom the bell tolls....

The BB

Our Lady of Sorrows, retablo in New Mexican style by Elena Slusher Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The World of Books

I grew up near the intersection of Fresno Street and Belmont Avenue in Fresno, California. We lived about one mile from downtown, where the Fresno County Free Library (now called the Fresno County Public Library) main branch was located, along with the old Courthouse and City Hall. My mother would take me to the library to check out books, and I read avidly. Father had taught me to read when I was only three, using my alphabet blocks and showing me how to sound things out phonetically. (It was all too long ago for me to recall how I overcame the challenge of non-phonetic orthography.)

I know that comic books were a mainstay, and I read every word, including the fine print in ads and the legal and copyright notices. Needless to say, I checked out and devoured many books. As time went by I became old enough to go to the library on my own. The old library was replaced with the current brick-faced one and near the entrance I encountered the most magnificent mural I had seen. It was a fired-enamel mosaic illustrating the branches of human knowledge arranged according to the Dewey Decimal System. The colors were brilliant and the symbolism fascinating. It remains one of my fond memories and recently, when I inquired whether any digital photos of it were on hand, librarian Roberta Barton took a photo and sent it to me. You can see it below.

I want to thank Roberta and all the librarians of my life, including my dear friends Cathy Gordon, Jim O'Donnell, Amber Sturgess, and Genevieve Kelly of blessed memory.

The BB

Mural of the Dewey Decimal System in the Fresno County Free Library, Main Branch, Fresno, Californa Posted by Hello

Political Explorations

Until today the political side of this blog has been neglected, though it has been part of my intent from the beginning. If my spiritual and moral values are to be enfleshed--incarnate--then they must have consequences for my life in community.

The word "politics" turns many people off these days, and I must admit that I found myself disinclined to engage in political discussions for the past few decades. Our current situation in America shook me out of that mental and social lassitude last year.

Here is a disgusting, but common, example of someone applying their "values" (from the Daily Kos):
As countless diaries and at least one WaPo column noted two weeks ago, Maya Keyes was kicked out of her home by her father, Alan Keyes, as he put his "family values" in action.
This is where those of us who have a different vision of the values that go with any healthy concept of family (one that puts people and love first) need to stand up and speak out. I am grateful that my family, though it did not and does not approve a lot about me, never kicked me out the house. Nor have I ever ceased to love them and value them, even while I disagree with a lot of their values. First and foremost we are human beings who love each other, no matter how difficult it may be to stay in relationship.

How many teenagers have been turned out of their homes or disowned by parents who would not deal with the reality of a child's sexual orientation? How many have wound up living on the streets, turning to drugs or prostitution? How many have committed suicide? The statistics on this are appalling. These constitute no set of "values" that I want anything to do with.

To me, family values involve love, honesty, forgiveness, communication, mutuality, respect, commitment, consideration, compromise, sacrifice for a greater good, celebration, sharing, and reaching out to include others in the love of the family. Again, I was blessed with an extended family that had many "honorary relatives."

Family values are not about hatred, exclusion, rigidity, moralism, control, and self-righteousness.

How can someone preach hatred of homosexuals and then see gays committing themselves to each other with love and joy as somehow "threatening" heterosexual marriage? Who is threatening whom? Who has a destructive agenda against whom? C'mon, folks, let's get real.

One last mini-rant: May we please revive the useful distinction between who and whom, and learn to use them in a meaningful way? It really does make communication easier. [Note, I am not talking about "correct" usage; languages don't work that way.]

Postscript from the home page of Louie Crew:

Restore Family Values
It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone round your neck than to cause the downfall of one of these little ones. --Luke 17.2
Only love can prevent lesbigay teen suicide.
"In a study of 686 gay men, 337 heterosexual men, 293 lesbian women, and 140 heterosexual women - 35% of gay men and 38% of lesbian women considered suicide. 8% gay men and 23% lesbian women had attempted - compared to only 3% heterosexual men and 14% heterosexual women. The majority of the suicide attempts were before the age of 20; nearly one-third of all attempts were before age 17."
--A. Bell and M. Weinberg Homosexualities: A study of diversity among men and women. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978.)

Visit The American Psychological Association's Resources for Lesbigay Youth

The BB

Interview with Jim Wallis

I commend to your attention the BuzzFlash interview with Jim Wallis, a significant contributor to religious discourse in America from a liberal evangelical standpoint. A man of deep faith and articulate, prophetic commentary, he has much to say that we all need to hear. He is currently touring with his new book, God's Politics. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Jim Wallis: Well, having had two debates this week with Jerry Falwell, I want to tell you that he excludes me. Listen – religion doesn't have a monopoly on morality, and that should be clearly stated. What we're finding in this book tour and in my book signings – from Austin, Texas to Dayton, Ohio to wherever we go – the usual reading to 50 people sitting quietly in their seats has grown to be town meetings with 400 people sitting on the floor.

And they're not just large crowds, they're diverse crowds. You've got Evangelicals who don't feel represented by Jerry Falwell. You've got Catholics who feel the bishops – the right-wing bishops who command them to single-issue voting only on abortion, and ignore all the rest of Catholic social teaching – they don't feel spoken for by them. You've got mainline Protestants who feel left out of the whole conversation and always disrespected. You've got black churches who feel like this is always a white conversation about religion. Latinos, Asian Christians, and a lot of Jews are coming out – rabbis and their congregations. A lot of the synagogues are having book studies on the book. And it's full of [Micah] and Amos and Isaiah, and Abraham, Joshua, Hershel, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. And a lot of the Muslims who are looking for a better, more humane, inclusive religion are coming out to this, too, of course.

A lot of folks who are not religious but would call themselves spiritual are interested, and a whole lot of young people – a whole lot of young people who maybe saw me on Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show, and they are now saying we didn't know that Christians could care about poverty, the environment, or be against the war in Iraq. They didn't know a progressive religion option even existed.

The BB says, check him out!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Life Work of Christ - Dream Fragment

While prolonging my time snuggled in bed this morning, I kept drifting in and out of sleep, with short mini-dreams. In the last one I stood by a jigsaw puzzle titled “The Life Work of Christ.” Waking, I concluded I have to piece together my own Christology.

Hardly a fresh concept, but my unconscious seems to have signaled that part of my doctoral work is on target.