Monday, January 31, 2005

Hitler's Bakery

If Hitler ran a bakery, all full of doughnuts and pastries and sweet streudel delight, would I shop there? What if I knew that the proceeds from Hitler's Bakery went to fund Auschwitz and Dachau, would I continue to patronize his establishment?

What if it were legal in my country and the norm? What if everyone else in my community shopped at Hitler's? Knowing that Hitler used this money to fund mass starvation, torture and murder, could I continue to shop there?

What if I weren't sure if I'd be able to get baked goods anywhere else? Would that make it justifiable?

To all of the above, I'd have to say, No. Given the Hitler scenario, I certainly hope I would not follow the path of least resistance. I'd hope I would find an alternative to baked goods or do without. I'd hope I would not go along with the crowd.

The choice actually seems quite clear, doesn't it?

Consider this, then:

In the U.S., 40,000 people die each year due to car wrecks (world-wide, there are millions killed each year in auto accidents). Auto accidents have killed almost three million people in the United States since 1900, disproportionately killing the young and the elderly.

Additionally, air pollution from sources including motor vehicles is estimated by some to cause an additional 30,000 deaths each year in our country. Add to all of these deaths the huge number of lives disrupted due to respiratory problems or physical trauma resulting from cars and their offal and the human cost soars into the millions each year.

Furthermore, we have astounding damage to our environment that has resulted due in part to pollution from automobiles. Our air is less breathable and our waterways are polluted to the point of being unsafe for humans to swim in or fish.

On top of all of this death and destruction, we pay billions of dollars on our military to keep "our" supply of oil safe so that we can continue to inflict this damage to ourselves and our environment. (For the record, our defense budget for 2003 was $396 BILLION, more than three times the budget of any potential U.S. enemies. Our next closest competition, Russia, spends $60 billion.)

The facts are not disputable. The reality is clear. Our automobile culture kills millions, costs hundreds of billions and destroys the environment.

Are we shopping at Hitler's Bakery?

I will concede that this analogy is imperfect. Hitler, after all, was a fiend and a deliberate murderer and no one drives a car with the intent to kill.

I use the Hitler analogy because it is difficult to find a better one. Generally speaking, when something has the potential to cause the amount of damage driving does, we either outlaw it or avoid it out of common sense.

This is not the case with motor transportation. I believe this is true primarily because we “eased” into the situation in which we currently find ourselves. When we began driving over 100 years ago, there were few cars, few drivers and, as a result, few negative repercussions. As we know, however, driving cars for personal transportation caught on and now it is the ideal to which the citizens of the world aspire.

Of course, another reason we have become dependent upon cars in spite of logic is because this is what the oil and automobile industries want of us. They have bought and paid for the support of the government and the governed as part of an effective marketing strategy and we have entered this relationship consensually.

So, what now?

Now, we begin to change our lives. It is not utopianistic wishful thinking nor is it impossible. It is in our best interests and very do-able.

If we truly believe that individual driving should be the exception rather than the rule and that, indeed, driving cars is a practice we and our world cannot abide, we simply change.

Let us live our lives in smaller circles. Live within five miles of where we work, play and go to school. Once we've shortened our commutes, we can then easily walk, bike or use mass transit. Families might begin, if they must, by becoming one car families, but the goal must be to become car-free. The exception rather than the rule.

Let us demand that our government quit pushing for more roads and bridges for autos and instead focus on mass transportation solutions for our mobility questions. Let us end subsidies for the oil and automobile industries. We have better uses for our money.

We lived without cars for most of history. Many people still live that way today. It is completely feasible if we believe it to be the right thing to do, and this, of course, is the question that must be answered.

There are those who will say, "This is the world in which we live. Our culture is dependent upon the use of automobiles and we cannot do anything other than continue to use cars. The best we can do is to work to make them more clean and less damaging."

This is the excuse of an addict. We "cannot" change significantly our dependence upon cars precisely because we do not wish to. We have a monkey on our backs and it is made of oil and asphalt.

Would it be absurd and horribly immoral of us to shop at Hitler's Bakery had it existed when he was alive? What if there were no easy alternatives? What if everyone else was shopping there and it was legal? Wouldn't it have been acceptable?

Is it immoral of us to shop at Hitler's Bakery today?

Ribbon of highway Posted by Hello

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Old Testament, God and War

I've been in conversation with various war supporters over this whole preemptive invasion we've got happening in Iraq. As a pacifist, I am opposed to this invasion.

These conversations have been with individuals who identify themselves as Christians and have generally been theological in nature. All of these war supporters have agreed that Jesus certainly sounds pacifistic, but that they just can't get around that the God of the Old Testament did wage war. And, they say, God doesn't change.

I've been doing some research on this point and have responded to one of my war-supporting friends thusly:

It seems to me that if you want to argue the possibility of Christians supporting a military based on what the OT has to say, then you have to correctly recall what God had to say about the military in the OT.

Early on in the OT, you have God as sole deliverer. That is, God's people were in trouble and God saved them without any military support from the people.

As in the story of the flood.

[Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them...” Genesis 6]

As in the Exodus.

[I will sing to the LORD because HE has won a glorious victory; he has thrown the horse and the rider into the sea... Moses' song]

The concept of Israel wanting to depend upon kings and horses and chariots (military strength) and God rebuking Israel for these desires is repeated throughout the OT.

Later in the Bible (in Joshua, Judges...), you do have mixed situations of God winning the fight, but then Israel's army going in and mopping up (killing all survivors).

As in Joshua, as in Gideon, later on, as in David and Goliath.

You might be tempted to ask, "What changed? Before God wanted to be the deliverer and now God is willing to let an army do some of the work? Has God changed?" And I think that is a good question to ask. More on that later.

Throughout this time (Joshua and the settling of Israel, pre-Kings), you still have God telling Israel to not have a standing army, to not have the latest in weaponry (chariots and horses). God wanted Israel to trust in God, not its military. "I gave you the victory...your swords and bows had nothing to do with it." Joshua 24:11-12

When Israel began demanding a king, like all the other nations, God was opposed to the idea, knowing rightly that it would lead to Israel's trusting in its own power and not God. Samuel warned Israel that going the King route would result in a king that drafts their sons into a chariot army, that would make their children work for the king, that would tax them to support this military and royal infrastructure, but, as you know, the people persisted and God relented.

Did God relent because it was the right thing? Clearly not.

God warns in Deuteronomy: When you do get a king..."he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, "You shall not return that way again." Neither ... shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.

In Deuteronomy, God goes on to say that "When you are in battle, and you see chariots and horses and are outnumbered, do not fear. I will be with you."

Despite these warnings and rules, the time of the Kings in Israel was the most war-torn period of the OT. And, it seems to me, this is exactly BECAUSE Israel was trusting in an army.

And so, for those who point to the OT as a reason for supporting our military, it seems to me that they're comparing apples and oranges.

Israel, when it was most right with God, had a small volunteer army only used for special occasions when God called for it.

We have the most massive military machine on earth.

Israel did not use the latest technology available.

We are always on the cutting edge of killing technology.

Israel was trusting in God to deliver.

We are clearly trusting in our military and hoping that God uses our military to deliver us.

The concept of God in the OT using an army or allowing an army to kill to further God's will (as in when Israel was overtaken by the evil Assyrian army) in no way endorses us taking part in such an army.

Or, at the most, you might stretch that to say that there are certain times when God has told some to go and kill the men, women and children of a kingdom; but if we were to consider doing so, well, we better be pretty damned sure that it's God speaking.

Myself, I don't see it happening.

I think of Isaiah, whom God had run around naked for three years. Does that mean you and I ought to be running aroung naked? No. That was a specific occasion called for by God. But our norm should be not running around nude.

As in nudity, so in war. As Christians, our norm must be Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies, to stand up to evil but turn the other cheek.

And you know, Jesus did reinterpret the law ("You have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,' but I tell you to turn the other cheek...You have heard it said, 'Hate your enemies,' but I tell you: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.")

Does that mean that Jesus thought God had changed? No, but it could mean that people were wrong in their interpretation of what God had done. Or simply that Jesus had an even better teaching from God. Regardless, this is a definite change from Old to New Testament.

Maybe there would come a time where God would call us to do something (like kill) that is so completely far outside the norm of Jesus, but that would be the exception rather than the rule and even then, we must trust in God to do the delivering and not a military.

In short, I might concede the concept of an army based on the OT, but only if said military is done in an OT manner:

1. volunteer army amassed in time of crisis

2. only when God has told us to

3. without all the latest military weaponry and

4. without the HUGE drain on the budget that accompanies disobeying the first three rules

Actually, upon thinking about it, I probably would concede the concept of such an army.

I've tried to construct this argument in terms that someone concerned with reconciling the tension between the Old and New Testaments in regards to violence would feel comfortable with. I hope you find it compelling and, should I be right, that God might convict and change your heart and mind on these points, friend.

Cindy's Peace Dove Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A sassy grrrl's prayer

After a few warm winter days teasing us with an unlikely spring, the Cold has returned today. Ah well, it is still January, after all. After the wise words of Rick the other day, I thought I'd share some wisdom from my daughter, Sarah, from when she was a wee six-year-old, trying to avoid sleep by saying the longest prayer possible.

It was so impressive that Donna began writing it down (catching only about half of it). And it went something like this:

God make the butterflies fly with happiness on a pure,

clean earth and make the bright and

happy rainbow's feet dance with joy,

because we don't want any sad rainbows.

Help the people stop killing and

throwing trash on your clean earth, God.

We know you have lots of rules, God, but

they are rules for not hurting people but for helping them.

Don't let anyone go hungry, Oh No, God!

And those sick people should feel better and

those killers stop killing because they learn about you

and your good rules.

Because I know what's important, God, and

killing people is not important and

throwing trash on the ground? Not important, God!

We want our lakes and rivers and oceans to be clean

and flow happy.

And our clouds, God?

The white clouds?

We don't want them dirty and gray, even on sunny days,

well, that's just nasty!

We want white clouds in your sky, God.

And the animals, God, don't forget to help them,

because you know I love animals!


Hang in there... Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Frankenstein's Lesson

Pity poor Frankenstein.

Victor Frankenstein's life was marked by horrible tragedy. His wife and loved ones killed. His life's work responsible for the deaths of many innocents.

In the end, the only thing that gave Frankenstein's life meaning was his mission to destroy that which he created.

With a casual remembrance of the story, it is easy to feel sorry for the sad scientist. But we must remember that Dr. Frankenstein brought his ruination upon himself. The intelligent, aristocratic son of wealthy parents, Frankenstein decided to play God. What he made was not a monster, but simply a creation. Frankenstein himself turned the creature into a monster.

When, in his final moments, Frankenstein sought to ensure the Creature's demise, Frankenstein was not being noble. He was simply trying to end the abomination which he created.

Clearly, the monster in this great story is Victor Frankenstein.

Call it Frankenstein's Lesson. It is a lesson that sorely needs to be relearned.

I bring to mind that story to state beyond a shadow of a doubt that George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq was not a humanitarian effort. It must be remembered that Bush is simply trying to end the abomination that his father helped create.

There is an attempt afoot to rewrite history. In this rewrite, the U.S. is the hero-liberator of an oppressed people. Those who opposed the war are isolationist-cowards.

This is the Big Lie.

Repeat it often enough and loud enough and soon it will be in the history books.

But before this becomes accepted history, let's first revisit actual history.

Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979. He promptly and – with Reagan administration support – began a war with Iran. While the Iran-Iraq war continued, from 1980 to 1988, the Reagan/Bush administration sold weapons to both sides. Nominally, we were supporting Saddam because we thought Iran was worse than Iraq.

In the meantime, Oliver North and others of the Reagan team were fighting a secret war in Nicaragua. The Reagan team illegally raised money to wage this war in Nicaragua – unapproved by Congress – by selling arms to Iran. So, we were supporting Iraq/Saddam ideologically, but selling weapons to Iran for pragmatic reasons.

We supported Saddam as he got his weapons of mass destruction and as he gassed the Kurds. It wasn't until 1990, when he invaded Kuwait that the U.S. began to oppose Saddam. That's the actual history of the Reagan/Bush I, and now, Bush II legacy.

All this time during the 1980's and into the 1990's, the Peace and Justice crowd were busy trying to stop all this illegal and immoral war-making and tinkering with other sovereign nations. The Peace and Justice community opposed the Reagan administration's selling of weapons and support of BOTH SIDES in the Iran/Iraq War.

Of course, the Reagan/Bush administrations ignored those meddlin' hippie kids and waged their wars anyway. Reagan let a few faithful followers fall on their swords and take their minimal punishments for laws broken and people killed, and then proceeded to do what they wished.

Then, as now, Americans looked the other way. Believed the Big Lie.

Now, twenty years after initially setting up Saddam Hussein, Bush II convinced enough Americans that Saddam is a menace and that we must wage war against his country. Ignore the fact that we set him up in the first place. He had to be brought down. The creation had become a monster.

While Bush is pushing this new Big Lie, he is dropping poison from the skies in Colombia, killing crops and the poor farming communities that depend upon those crops. Again, the Peace and Justice community is yelling out the injustices that are being committed in our name.

Twenty years from now, when the next generation of Bush is in office, he will tell the world, “We must go to war against Colombia. The people there are being menaced by an evil dictator.” Then, as now, the new Bush will say, “The peaceniks would have us bury our heads in the sand and do nothing, but we must act.”

Of course, the real history will be that the peacemakers were calling for justice all along. Unfortunately, that will be forgotten as the next Bush will insist on killing more innocent adults and children and all the while he will say it was unavoidable. And, again, people will believe him because the creation will have become a monster.

We are being sold a Big Lie. Don't buy it.

NO WAR! Posted by Hello

Monday, January 24, 2005

Tsunami: moving beyond charity

Words of profound wisdom from my good friend, Rick Axtell:

The outpouring of charitable response to the tsunami tragedy is heartening. The generous public and private impulses are inspiring responses to a disaster that is one of the worst the world has seen.

As with Hurricane Mitch that devastated Central America in 1998, today's outpouring is largely media-driven. But several years hence, Honduras and Nicaragua have received little of the $9 billion pledged in the immediate aftermath of the crisis. And half of what they did receive was in the form of loans, to be paid back with interest.

When the media attention subsided, the U.S. Congress set a two year deadline on reconstruction funds, and the promised aid dried up. Three years after the hurricane, 20,000 Honduran victims were still without homes. While generous initial responses are laudable, suspicion of media-driven, focus-of-the-moment compassion seems warranted when one recognizes the short attention span with which we approach events that clearly require long-term commitments.

Further, one wonders why the media has concentrated on this tragedy to the exclusion of others to which we have turned blind eyes. Obvious reasons are the shocking horror of the tsunami, its utter randomness and widespread destructiveness, and the seemingly unprecedented levels of suffering--all from a single cataclysmic event. We cannot help but be moved by such agony.

But another reason for our disturbingly selective compassion might be that the media have been able to present this particular story largely without complexity; i.e. as a horrifying act of nature, period. That narrative, if it's the whole story we get, reflects a lack of systemic analysis that is likely to lead to incomplete and short-term, if not detrimental, responses.

For example, media coverage is not asking why debt-ridden Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been unable to afford a tsunami warning system. (One-fourth of Indonesia's national budget goes to debt service payments to the IMF or first-world banks--and that's just paying interest on debt).

The coverage is not asking why fishers in Sri Lanka and India live in such deplorable, crowded, and inferior conditions that whole ramshackle villages were simply washed away.

Nor is it analyzing the structure of tourism in Thailand's beach resort areas--a development model that has created a dual society consisting of playgrounds for the elite, catered to by desperately poor service laborers.

And it has done little to educate us on how civil wars in both Sri Lanka and Indonesia's Aceh province have exacerbated poverty and undermined genuine development, much less to analyze the roots of these conflicts.

Such emphases would require the media to operate in an uncharacteristic educational and analytical mode. So, with a simplified image of this tragedy, we can open our hearts and give, freed of any systemic understanding of the host of underlying realities that victimize the poor who always suffer disproportionately in natural disasters.

That this crisis can be presented as merely a natural disaster partly explains why it has gotten such enormous coverage while chronic situations like Sudan (2 million deaths, 1 million refugees), Congo (4 million deaths, 1000 children dying daily, 1 million refugees, a total of $188 million in humanitarian aid in 2004), or Colombia (1 million refugees) remain largely absent from public view. But these tragedies are complicated; they require informed understanding and analysis; and they are largely creations of human cruelties and systemic realities that implicate us.

Media coverage has facilitated a genuine outpouring of charity that the human suffering in this crisis rightly elicits. But how do we respond in ways that move us beyond the public's dependence on media priorities for determining our compassion's attention span? And how can we address human need with a vision that goes beyond charity and toward genuine justice, fairer distribution, and real structural change?

That would require giving to organizations that are committed to reconstruction and sustainable development for the long terrm. But it may also mean that we raise our voices and open our wallets in ongoing responses to other great crises where faceless victims suffer in deafening silence. And it certainly means that we must engage in the structural analysis that exposes the real roots of suffering in crises that are painted far too simplistically in a culture that wants to feel good about its generosity while neglecting the prolonged engagement and systemic change that might lead to a more just and peaceful world.

Rick and Jordan Posted by Hello

Water Ways

The Great Undoing

from the banks of the ohio

There should be a great Un-doing of it all

Not because progress is bad

But because our progress has been bad.

No sooner had we settled the banks of the Ohio

here in Louisville

had we turned our streams and river into toilets and sewers.

Our progress, in building this city of many neighbors and communities,

was paid for at the cost of our water and wildlife

and ultimately us.

This was wrong.

We didn't err in desiring to have a city,

just in our design.

It was cheaper, remains cheaper, to use Beargrass Creek as a sewer.

However, what is cheaper in the short run is rarely,

if ever,

cheaper in the long run.

And what is cheaper in the long run,

is cheaper.

This is because, unless you're counting on an imminent destruction of the world,

there is no short run.

This is our world and will remain so forever.

At least, one would hope.

I hesitate to bring this up . . .

at the confluence of the beargrass and the ohio

At the confluence of the Beargrass and the Ohio

where a wild winter wind

blows the leaves back up the oak tree,

Where the mallard and his mate huddle

beneath a fallen sycamore,

Where eddies swirl and dark waves

kiss the shore goodbye,

There are no addresses.

No street numbers to be marked on a map

and kept in a file cabinet at city hall

with a corresponding Owner’s name

Because there are no Owners.

There are no claimants on the water

as it rolls from creek to river to ocean

and back again.

And it surprised me today

as I thought about it,

That no one had ever bought the Ohio outright.


Great Blue Heron on the Ohio Posted by Hello

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A letter to Henry David

I went to the city because I

wished to live deliberately, to

front only the essential facts of life,

only to find it considerably difficult.

No slight to you sir, but

I have found it much easier

(altho certainly not easy)

to live in community with the woods

than to live in community with people.

People in my community have tended to

stubbornly have other ideas

and make decisions apart from nature's

formidable wisdom

or mine.

That being said,

I remain in city and

in community with others

in hopes that I will see if I cannot learn

what it has to teach, and not,

when I come to die,

discover that I had not lived.

Mando Madness Posted by Hello

Friday, January 21, 2005

A time for anger...

For W and his spawn

Shame on your god

Your arm-breaker

Your life-taker

Your freemarket witch

Your sonofabitch


Damn your god!

Who preaches war

That corporate whore

That distorts scripture

So the rich can get richer

On the backs of the poor

Taking more and more and more...

Shame on your god

Your upside down

Vulgar, hideous clown

Your backwards, inside-out

Bloodthirsty boyscout


And shame on you

We had a perfectly good God

Prince of Peace

Making a feast

For ALL God's children

Black, white, straight, gay

Preparing the Way

Good God! We had a Good God

And you killed him

You religious,

You white washed tombs,

You serpents,

You blind guides,

You gnat-straining, camel-swallowing, hellspawn-making

Blind Fools

Shame on you

And shame on your god.

This one's for you, Mr. President

For W. Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Grasshopper and the Ant, Redux and Redux

A conservative acquaintance forwarded me the following story:

The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he's a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why we should allow the ant to be warm and well-fed while others are cold and starving.

CBS, NBC, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper, and everybody cries when they sing, "It's Not Easy Being Green." Jesse Jackson stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house where the news stations film the group singing, "We shall overcome." Jesse then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

Tom Daschle & John Kerry exclaim in an interview with Peter Jennings that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his "fair share."

Finally, the EEOC drafts the "Economic Equity and Anti-Grasshopper Act," retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, the government confiscates his home.

Hillary gets her old law firm to represent the grasshopper in a defamation suit against the ant, and they try the case before a panel of federal judges that Bill appointed from a list of single-parent welfare recipients. The ant loses the case.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing the last bits of the ant's food while the government house he is in, which just happens to be the ant's old house, crumbles around him because he doesn't maintain it. The ant has disappeared in the snow. The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident, and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.


Cute and almost funny in a leaden, xenophobic sort of way. But not a very good analogy for the world, despite what my acquaintance may think. Here's the better parable:

The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper – who happens to be a single parent raising five little grasshoppers – does what she can to provide for her little ones.

Despite working long days trying to bring home food for her children, she never manages to get ahead, as she has to pay the ladybug to watch her children while she's out scavenging.

Winter comes and the ant is comfortable in his anthill. Because he was bigger and could get away with it – and because he didn't believe in no stinkin' communism, he chased all the other ants away, leaving plenty of food for himself. But the grasshopper has no such provisions, she had no community of ants from which she could take provisions and so, as winter settled in, she had no food for her little ones.

Not willing to let her children starve, the grasshopper organized all the ants who were chased away by the Big Ant. They agreed that it wasn't proper that the Big Ant should have so much while they starved, especially since the provisions belonged to all the ants, not just the Big Ant.

And so it happened that they agreed to ask the Big Ant to share the great bounty that was stored within the anthill. The Big Ant, annoyed that they would try to take what he had already taken, said no.

And the grasshopper and ants then said that they weren't asking, that they had come for the provisions and the Big Ant could share or leave. The Big Ant left and the grasshopper and ants had a great feast to celebrate.

But the Big Ant gathered his Big Ant cousins and uncles and brothers and, because they were bigger and stronger, they kicked out all the ants and the grasshopper and her children into the snow, where they perished.

And the next year, when the Big Ant had no community of ants to do the work for him, the Big Ant discovered he could not survive on his own. And so he died.

The Moral?

Might may win the day, but it does NOT make Right.

Thinking of spring... Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

This forgiveness is no small thing

Dona Miriam is a determined, powerful woman. I met her in her village of El Regadio, a small town in Nicaragua. I traveled there this summer with an organization called Witness for Peace. Witness for Peace tries to influence U.S. foreign policy by educating U.S. citizens on our impact in Latin America.

Dona Miriam has lived her whole life in El Regadio. She makes her living by farming there and working in a farmer's cooperative.

In the 1980's, El Regadio was often visited by war. The U.S.-funded Contra paramilitaries were trying to overthrow the Sandinista government and, because El Regadio was such a firmly Sandinistan village, the Contras made regular trips there.

Although war is never pleasant, it is evident that the Contras were not the “Freedom Fighters” that President Reagan declared them to be during his time in office. The people in El Regadio clearly told us this much.

Contras targeted civilian populations, kidnapping, killing and torturing men, women and children. The Contras were terrorists.

Dona Miriam knows. The Contras killed two of her sons.

And yet, when I met Miriam, she was sitting next to Jose. Jose and Miriam have worked together to organize the farmers around El Regadio.

Jose used to be a Contra soldier.

I was in the presence of forgiveness.

How did this come to be? How could Miriam put aside her feelings of loss caused by the Contras? How could she sit there – smiling! – next to this former terrorist?

I listened in awe as Don Jose told the group I was with how he had become involved with the Contras. He told us that he was “just a farmer.” That was all he ever wanted to be.

But in the 1980's, Jose told us that everyone was choosing sides – you had to be a Contra or a Sandinista. The CIA had been busy demonizing the Sandinistas, saying they were spreading communism across Nicaragua. The stories said that, if communism spread, so would poverty and loss of land.

And so, Jose joined the Contras.

The Contras agreed to lay down their weapons in 1990 when Sandinistan president Daniel Ortega lost the election. That was the end of the military fighting.

However, in the years that followed, Don Jose told us that poverty and loss of land was rampant. All he wanted was the right to farm his land in peace but being a Contra did not bring security to his farming, nor did ousting Ortega.

In the years that ensued, Jose realized that the war only led to destruction and hate and that his plight was with his fellow farmers. If he were to survive as a farmer, his allegiance would have to be with the farmers in El Regadio.

With Miriam.

And Miriam, for her part, smiled at her coworker and graciously acknowledged that it had been a hard time for everyone.

And that was it. Don Jose had been forgiven.

The workers in El Regadio told us: Because Nicaragua is in such a spiral of poverty, there simply is no other choice for the poor of the country but to work together. At the time, I thought that this was understandable, but wondered if Jose knew what grace had been shown to him.

In another meeting our group heard from Dona Gladys, a union organizer who has tried to help factory workers pull together.

She spent some time rapturously talking about the “good old days” of the 1980's. Even though there was the war going on, the Sandinista government held out much promise for the people of Nicaragua. There was work for everyone, she told us, and healthcare and food. The literacy rate skyrocketed. “It was like a dream,” she told us.

Then her eyes turned dark. She stared at us and asked in a heartbroken voice, “I would really like to know who gave this man, Reagan, the power to destroy our lives?”

And as I sat, listening to Gladys, Miriam, Jose and the others tell us about how they're struggling to survive, it occurred to me that Jose wasn't the only one forgiven.

It was, after all, my country's support that kept the Contras going for ten long years – devastating Nicaragua's economy.

It is my country's policies that have led to the reduction of agricultural aid, education and health care today.

That night, after our day's conversations, the people of El Regadio threw us a party. They played music for us, embraced us and danced with us. And I knew that I, too, had been forgiven. The people we spoke with said that they loved all Americans and that they believed the citizens of the U.S. would work to change policy, if only they knew.

I hope they're right. This forgiveness is no small thing.

Nativity in Nicaragua (notice Guevera, Sandino and Romero) Posted by Hello

Coffee House of Kingdom Come

It's dark and crowded. At one table, there is a group of homeless men. At the next table, there are some hip-looking college kids. At still another table there are people with mental illnesses. At some tables, a mixture of all the above.

Emmanuel, God with us.

Bouncing between the tables is an adorable four year old girl. As she walks past the unshaven gentleman with the battered captain's hat on his head he smiles and says, "Hey there, sweetie."

God's word made flesh. God's kingdom come.

The bustling, dissheveled room holds a collection of children and adults, black and white, poor and not-so-poor, gay and straight, some who smell of cigarette smoke and some of too much perfume.

I visited the Urban Goatwalker Coffee House in December and was inspired at all of God's Kingdom that was busting through. The Urban Goatwalker is an open mic coffee house sponsored on a monthly basis by Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty, in Louisville, KY, in which all are welcome.

A nervous-looking gentleman with one arm took the stage tonight briefly and introduced his set by saying something like,

"I've always wanted to be a dancer.

I...then I lost my arm and, well, I...I can't dance.

I can't sing real well, but I'm going to try to sing two songs for you"

He then proceeded to stumble out a song inviting, "all you beautiful people, all you beautiful animals, all you beautiful nature, won't you come with me?" and heaven fell down upon us.

This gentleman was followed by Old Joe, the Bluesman, who belched out in his deep, toothless voice some raucous blues numbers about pretty women; finding one and keeping one.

After three songs in this vein, Joe sang a song about the Risen Jesus and how, "He's gonna carry me." And you knew it was true.

As usual, the beautiful little children of our church and neighborhood mingled politely about, dancing, clapping and providing deeply treasured smiles for all who wanted them.

Marvelous. Transfiguring.

I cried for the joy of those moments.

My life seems to be incrementally changed by each Goatwalker I attend, even if it's only for a few songs. I can't usually put my finger on how I've changed, but I know I have.

Perhaps it's that I'm less afraid of the city, less intimidated by those different from me.

Perhaps I become more a believer in the mystical properties inherent in a genuine song sung by an honest voice.

Or, maybe, it's like I've had an impoverished and sickly piece of my soul surgically removed and been made more whole.

Whatever it is, if it could be sold, someone would get rich.

Fortunately, it's not a thing that can be commercialized. It's just there or not. Get it when and where you can.

It's magic, this Goatwalker Stuff they give away each month.

Drum Girl Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Unforgivable Sin

In a little known news release, Biblical scholars (actually me and a couple of Amish friends) announced today that the "unforgivable sin" talked of in the Bible is the cell phone.

Who knew?

I had always figured the unforgivable sin to be littering (damnable scoundrels) or, even more likely, advertising. I know that, as a parent, I'll never be able to forgive the guy who decided to make Saturday morning cartoons an orgy of commercials.

But no, the unforgivable sin is the cell phone.

The three of us discovered this startling bit of theology in a revelation while up late one night drinking root beer and playing horseshoes. God appeared to us just as I had thrown the most amazing ringer any of us had ever witnessed. In hindsight, we all recognized this as surely a miraculous precursor to the Lord's arrival.

We fell to the ground and called out, "Lord!"

It seemed the right thing to do under the circumstances.

God then, in no uncertain terms, relayed to us how the unforgivable sin was the cell phone and that He (or She... it's hard to tell when you've thrown yourself to the ground) wanted us to get the word out that God was verily buggered by this whole electronic gizmo craze that has swept across our land. And, just so you know, we're talking plague-league anger here.

Not being a big fan of these ubiquitous phones myself, I surprised myself by asking, "But Lord, the cell phone? What about advertising, or littering? I mean, after all, aren't people just trying to keep in touch with their loved ones when they carry one? That doesn't seem so bad.

"And isn't it only responsible to carry a cell phone if you have to go downtown? It isn't as safe in the city as it used to be, you know. I've heard of a friend of my cousin's husband whose car broke down in a bad area of town in the middle of the night and we think the cell phone was all that saved her from near-certain scaredness."

The Lord grimaced, and then spoke:

"Why? Why do you wish to be Always Accessible? Do you think that you're just that indispensible, is that it? Are you so important that people need to be able to reach you all the time? My children, I wish for you to be at rest at times, for you to have some peace."

God was crying.

"You long ago gave up the idea of having a day of rest, now with these gadgets, you don't even have a minute to be alone and at ease. You are trying to be omnipresent and you're just not equipped, you know?"

"Gee, God," I said. "That's really touching that you care for us so."

"Well, I am God, after all."

"Oh, yeah." Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Then, as I stood there berating myself, God walked away. A bit sadly, in my estimation. I called out:

"What should we tell the people, God? What is your message?"

Then God turned and with a wave of the hand, was immediately accompanied by an angel band. God then proceeded to growl out a pretty cool cover of the Eagles' song, "Take it Easy."

Take it easy, Take it easy,

Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy...

And as God and the Angels melted away into the eastern sky, the echoes of the refrain were soon covered up, ironically enough, by the annoying and wholly unmusical ring of a stranger's cell phone as they passed by.

Who knew?

In your shade, by Sarah and Dan Posted by Hello

I tore down the interstate

The city once rejoiced

being born'd from wild, muddy waters

and living a wild, muddy life

'til the serpent came...

I tried to ignore the threatening groans behind me,

I wanted to enjoy this hot summer riverwind

within this, my urban village.

But eventually I had to turn and face the monster behind.

For the river in my city had been cut off from humanity -

And humanity from the river -

by means of a colossal road

Towering overhead, rumbling incoherently,

It hollered down at me.

It moaned, roared, dusty-raftered menace it

breathed hot and loud upon me.

And I, in tar-hot anger, hollered back.

"Enough!" I yelled. "To hell with you and

your rampage through our village!"

And I tore down the interstate.

Hammer and sweat-blackened arms,

I destroyed this giant altar to the false gods of our society.

I knocked over the pillars and cast its stones

upon the empty concrete below.

The highway, caught off guard by my bold confrontation,

screeched in its demise and

for a long time its horrible scream was heard.

But eventually the dust cleared and

the riverfront rested, and the Ohio rolled by.

Where the stones landed, I built houses.

Simple riverfront shanties of the finest used concrete.

I dug up the pavement and, to the delight of the sun above,

planted willows and sycamore and river birch,

returning them home.

Although no one was physically hurt,

many thought they were dying.

They had tied their destiny to the highway and,

with its death, they felt dead as well.

But the city, she rejoiced.

She was born again, baptized in wild, muddy waters

which had been lost, but were no longer.

Monday, January 17, 2005

a white tree along a cool stream Posted by Hello

Thoughts on a criminal inauguration

We are stunned. The worst has happened: Bush will soon be placed back in office. What now?

I fully understand the sentiment and I am in mourning along with a good portion of the world. But the question should be asked: Has the worst happened?

I appreciate the Get-Bush-out-of-the-White-House-at-all-costs sentiment. Bush's policies have been monstrous and I am not speaking hyperbolically when I say that it may well lead to our world's destruction.

From his illogical and immoral tenet of “preemptive invasion” and his subsequent war in Iraq, to his assault on civil liberties, to his war on the environment, to his doomsday energy policy, to his corporate whoring of the White House, Bush's presidency has been a disaster on multiple levels. There are already those who are talking about Bush's presidency being the worst ever in US history – no mean feat – and I tend to agree with them.

However, I am not sure that I am prepared to accept Bush as an aberration and that we might have solved our problems by getting a new president. Could it possibly be that Bush is simply the grotesque ultimate manifestation of what our country has become?

Bush did not invade Iraq solely because Saddam was a bad guy. Dick Cheney did not let the oil industry write the US energy policy as a matter of convenience. They did so because the citizens of the US asked them to do so.

Every time we bought another gallon of gasoline, every time we complained about the “high cost” of fuel, we cast a vote for the Bush Iraq invasion/energy policy.

As to Bush's unfettered support of corporate welfare, his lust for NAFTA-like free trade agreements, his union-busting ways and support for the secretive and undemocratic World Trade Organization; are these not natural outgrowths of the Walmartization of the world? And why has our country led the way in this demand for cheap products that can only come from unfair labor practices, damaging environmental practices and destructive local economy practices? Because we ask for it.

And Bush's environmental policy which has been universally lamented and lambasted by all the major environmental organizations; does it not serve to further promote our way of life? Our love affair with cars? Our desire for jobs? Is he not doing it all for us?

If this is the case – and I believe it is – would Kerry's election have stopped our train from crashing; or, rather, would he simply have slowed down the train's ultimate disaster?

Sure, when you're heading straight towards a cliff, slowing down is certainly a good step, but ultimately, you need to turn that train around. We need a change of heart – to repent, and turn from our unsustainable and unjust ways.

While today seems a black day, there is an advantage to having Bush in office: His policies are so overtly destructive that it's clear to many that change is imminently necessary. And this is an advantage, because while Bush may be president, he is not dictator. He cannot control us!

We can learn to stop being self-destructive. We can learn to respect the asthmatic's right to breathe clean air, Iraqi children's rights to true peace, my right to clean water, your right to a fair job, his right to marry who he wishes, her right to un-poisoned food. We can change!

Further, we can begin to be the change that we desire now. It doesn't matter that Bush is in office. We have the power. We can stop or severely cut back our buying of gasoline and start living in smaller circles. We can start growing our own food. We can refuse to fight in anyone's war. We can refuse to pay for their immoral wars. We can refuse to hate our enemies and work for a more peaceable world today. This moment.

Will it be easy? Nothing worthwhile is. Can it be done? Perhaps not all at once. Perhaps not alone. But none of us are alone. There's a whole ocean of people opposed to the politics of destruction.

Don't forget, in the last two years, millions of people took to the streets worldwide to oppose Bush's invasion. That is unprecedented in the history of our world! There is every reason to believe that today is the day the revival will sweep us away.

So, when they call your draft number, when they ask for your money to pay for the war, when they ask that you shop to save the economy, when they ask you to name names, anytime they ask you to buy into the System, don't. Just don't.

Let the Revolution begin.

Friday, January 14, 2005

An early morning barge on the Ohio Posted by Hello

The Problem with War

Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

-The Apostle Paul

It has occurred to me again - as we learn yet again there were no WMDs in Iraq - that this war we are embroiled in is a perfect example of all that is wrong with war. As war is an integral part of US foreign policy and has dire implications for our world, it is worth our time to consider its morality.

War is an evil. It has evil results. “Collateral damage” and “friendly fire” are not exceptions, but an inescapable part of war.

We have seen this evil in Iraq in the pictures of then-12-year-old Ali Ishmail Abbas whose arms were blown off and whose family was killed as a result of our bombs. This was not, by anyone's estimation, a moral good.

We have seen this evil in the sadistic torture of prisoners. We have heard this evil in the words of our own soldiers when they make outrageous, inhumane statements (“All right! We finally get to kick in doors and shoot people!”).

It is vital to understand this point. War is, indeed, Hell. It has diabolical, devastating results. Most war supporters generally acknowledge this point. That is why, war supporters say, war should be a last resort.

The pro-war argument says: “War should only be engaged when the evil results of not going to war outweigh the evil results of going to war.” This argument has the appearance of logic about it.

However, the argument makes assumptions that should not be made.

First, it assumes we can know how much evil will result from beginning a war. When Bush began the invasion of Iraq, he apparently thought that once we moved in, the Iraqi people would be dancing in the street and any fighting would be swiftly over. We can tell Bush made this assumption because of his premature declaration of “Mission Accomplished.”

How many innocent Iraqis have died as a result of our invasion? Twenty thousand? One hundred thousand? At what point will we have killed more Iraqis than Saddam? Is the war a just one as long as we kill fewer than Saddam did?

Secondly, the argument assumes we must prepare for war. This act of preparing for and engaging in war requires a morally repugnant amount of money. The US spent, in the last century, TRILLIONS of dollars on the military and war. What sort of world would we have today if we had spent that money instead on education, sustainable farming programs, healthcare and the creation of good jobs? What if we had spent that money on causes that work for understanding and peace?

We must ask ourselves, has all that money made our world more or less safe?

Another problem with the argument is that it assumes that by engaging in the evil of war, we can maintain the justness of our cause. I have a bumper sticker that says, “When we kill the innocent, we become the enemy,” and in that short phrase is expressed more logic than within the whole of our presidential cabinet.

One of Bush's stated reasons for invading Iraq was to stop terrorism, but where there was no significant terrorist activity in Iraq before, now Iraq is swimming with what we call terrorists. We are less creating terrorists faster than we can kill them.

Think about it: What if another country were convinced our president was a threat to the world and invaded us? And, in the process of war, some of our families and friends were killed. Some of our children had their arms blown off. Would we gladly receive the invaders because they believed in the justness of their cause? NO! We (those of us who believed in the Myth of Redemptive Violence) would pick up our rifles and weapons and start shooting at the “Liberating Forces.”

Violence always begets violence. War cannot bring peace and justice cannot be won through evil means.

That is precisely why the terrorists who crashed the planes in our country were wrong, even though they believed in their cause.

And that is precisely why our War President is wrong.

Those who support the notion of war will suggest that pacifists are naïve and that peace doesn't work as a national policy. To those, I'd recall Joan Baez's response: That Peace is, indeed a failure and the only thing that has failed worse is War.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Grand Kids Posted by Hello

And Now, Down to Business...

A letter to the Christian Right

While not willingly accepting the label, I would be considered by most to be a liberal.

I am a pacifist, have communist leanings, disdain the Bush/Reagan empires, have gay and lesbian friends and am against the death penalty. I read Mother Earth News, for heaven's sake!

So, if many would consider me to be on the left, I can forgive them their conclusion.

However, I would like my friends on the Religious Right to know that I come by my belief system honestly. I've read the Bible. This essay is my attempt to broach a misunderstanding that many have of the Religious Left.

Many times, the stereotype is drawn that has religious conservatives as being clean-cut, crisply dressed Bible-believing literalists, and religious liberals as being long-haired, tie-dye-wearing former hippies who sometimes respect Jesus but don't really believe the Bible.

This is, as with all stereotypes, sometimes but not always correct. As a case in point, may I share my story?

I started out as a Biblical literalist. I was an often overly earnest teenager and young adult who read the Word diligently and wanted the Bible to validate the conservative belief system within which I had been raised. However, the more I read the Bible and took it literally, the more I came to believe that what the Bible was teaching me was that it was a book of Big Truths. Of God's Truths.

For instance, in the story of Jonah and the whale, the Big Truth taught is that God loves everyone - Ninevites and whale-belly-laden xenophobes alike. That is THE point of the story. Whether Jonah was in the belly of a whale, or a great fish, or just had one helluva hangover in a bar far away from Ninevah is not the point and, from a literalist's point of view, is missing the important Truth of God's Love.

So, as a literalist, I discovered that the Big Truths are the vital lessons to be gained from the Bible. This is not to say that Jonah wasn't swallowed by a great fish, just that the literal veracity of the story in no way takes away from its Big Truth.

Furthermore, as I read, I did not find support within the Bible for most of what passes for conservative orthodoxy. Growing up, the "Big Truths" that I learned were Don't Drink Alcohol, Don' t Smoke, Don't Curse, Don't Dance (and All That Implies) and Give Your Life To Jesus, none of which (except perhaps the dancing) are within themselves bad bits of advice.

However, the first four, I discovered, are mostly extrabiblical and the last one ill-defined. Give your life to Jesus? What's that mean?

In reading the Bible, the Big Truths that I've discovered are simple, at least in concept:

1. God loves us all and wants the best for us

2. We ought to love God

3. We ought to love God's creation (including God's people)

Eventually I found that, as a literalist, I had to set aside being a literalist, because a literal and logical interpretation of the Bible does not support literalism, it supports these Big Truths. Other facts and lesser truths within the Bible can be interesting to debate and discuss, but they are so far removed in importance from the Big Truths as to be trivial in comparison.

I believe that every fact and every other Truth found in the Bible ought to be viewed and filtered through these first Big Truths.

Now, I will be the first to admit that making practical applications in everyday life of these Big Truths can be quite difficult. How do I best love the homeless fella who's asked me for a quarter? How do I love both sides in a warring country? How can I possibly love Osama bin Laden?

I would suggest that, however difficult it may be, it would be in our own spiritual best interest if we begin by putting aside our preconceived notions of what the Bible says, read it honestly and then, begin the very real, sometimes difficult work of loving God and loving God's creation. I believe this is a notion that we should all be able to agree upon.

Perhaps the Truths you find may lead you to accept gays and lesbians in your church as brothers and sisters, to the realization that war is outside the realm of God, and that Jesus may well have been a long-haired hippie communist!

Or perhaps not.

Regardless, because of the stereotypes of those on the left as being anti-Bible, the message that I want to share with those on the right, as well as those put off by the right, is that conservatives are not necessarily the only "People of the Bible." In fact, in most cases I do not think they are a people of the Bible at all.

Christian fundamentalists are, in my mind, a people of the Traditions. They are a people of all the traditions that have grown up around the church and defined in the popular mind what it means to be Christian. Some of these traditions I continue to find great value in, others less so. My point is that many, if not most, of these traditions go beyond what the Bible has to say.

I hope that no one reads this as being intended to show disrespect to those more conservative than myself. I owe them a lot. They taught me to take the Bible seriously.

It is something of a litmus test among conservative Christian churches to ask if you take the Bible literally. I'm of the mind these days that I'm less concerned whether you take the Bible literally and more concerned that you take it seriously.

For, in truth, there are those of us on the left who believe what we believe not in spite of what the Bible says, but exactly because of what the Bible says. The Big Truths of the Bible. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your freakin' enemies! Oh, that we would rally around these Truths.

A new beginning...

I'm quite new to this idea but was encouraged to give it a try and so, here I am.

Not always being good at new beginnings, let me borrow from something old, a poem I wrote for my daughter when she was a babe.


there is music and poetry in her


a grace, a gift

saying simply that "you're acting silly,


and her easy joy is given kindly

to me.


I hope that this might be as silly as an overgrown kid and as simple and beautiful as a newborn child. But then, that is hoping for way too much.