Thursday, August 30, 2007

Selling the War in Iraq

A chilling article in yesterday’s Washington Post states that President Bush plans to ask congress for another $50 billion to fund the Iraq war after Gen. Petraeus reports in mid-September on the effects of the surge.

The Post article quotes a speech Bush gave earlier to the American Legion convention in Reno, Nev. where our optimistic leader said: "There are unmistakable signs that our strategy is achieving the objectives we set out. The momentum is now on our side."

Assisting in Bush’s campaign, Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary and Freedom’s Watch, his new pro-Iraq war group, is running an ad blitz to pump up wavering Republican congressional support.

Salon’s Joe Conason explains how the Freedom’s Watch ads repeat the false message that America invaded Iraq to fight the terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers on 9/11, while also selling the bizarre notion that the only way to honor those who have already sacrificed their lives (3734 at this writing) is to continue sending American soldiers to their deaths.

We’ve heard it all before. The Bush Administration has repeatedly urged staying the course in Iraq, arguing that withdrawing before victory has been declared would nullify the sacrifice of Americans who have already given their lives.

And we’ve all heard anguished family members pleading for completing the mission to ensure their loved ones will not have died in vain.

Despite these heart-wrenching appeals to our emotions, most Americans are now skeptical of the official reasons for invading Iraq, and a majority wants out.

All pretext aside, we also know that no one can guarantee the outcome of the war in Iraq or how that strife-torn nation will eventually be governed.

What we do know with certainty is that grieving families will continue the search for meaning in the deaths of their loved ones.

Until they dropped the feature some time ago, the CBS Evening News offered profiles of “Fallen Heroes” (archived online). Cory R. Depew was fairly typical:

“In his last days before heading to war, Cory Depew helped build a church peace garden.

“‘It had trees and bushes and benches where people can sit,’ said his mother, Ann May. ‘He worked so hard on that garden, and it is such a nice place to relax now.’

“Depew, 21, of Beech Grove, Ind., was killed Jan. 4, 2005, when his vehicle was struck by a grenade in Mosul.

“Depew knew he wanted to be a soldier since eighth grade, his mother said. He enlisted in 2003 and was stationed at Fort Lewis.

“He is survived by an 18-month-old son.

“While last at home, Depew talked about his Army training to a class at his younger brothers' grade school and spent time with his son.

“‘He was one of those different people that were friends with everybody,’ said high school classmate Sarah Smith. ‘It doesn't matter what type of music you listened to, how you looked, what you dressed like, where you came from — he was friends with you.’”

The longer I studied CBS’s profiles of the fallen, the more convinced I became that how they died mattered far less than how they lived.

It might be said these brave men and women died in vain, but no one will ever be able to say they lived in vain. The memories of those who hold them in their hearts prove otherwise.

Let’s keep that thought in mind this September, six years post-9/11, and instead of supporting the Bush Administration’s appeals to fund more carnage – both military and civilian in Iraq – let’s rededicate ourselves to the cause of peace and let our congressional leaders know it’s time to rein in our so-called war president and bring the troops home.

NOTE: I’m a veteran of the United States Air Force and all told, my family and I have given about a hundred years to the military.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mother Teresa’s Loss of Faith

Thanks to her church, the sorrow of Mother Teresa’s loss of faith has been plastered all over the media in the past few days, provoking commentary from atheists and orthodox with seldom a word from those of us who have found spiritual peace somewhere in between those two extremes.

An article in Time Magazine by David Van Biema set the stage: “A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever--or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, ‘neither in her heart or in the eucharist.’”

I don’t buy the clerical justification for violating Teresa’s trust by publishing her letters. As I read the pain-filled excerpts included in Van Biema’s article, I felt only compassion and regret for the emotional devastation she endured while laboring for decades in the slums of Calcutta.

I suspect Mother Teresa, like many of us, lost faith in an image of the divine described in a column by James Carroll in the Boston Globe as “the all-powerful, all-knowing, unmoved Mover; the God of damnation, supernatural intervention, salvation-through-appeasement, patriarchy, Puritanism, war, etc.”

I’m guessing, however, that none of Teresa’s confessors ever suggested to her an alternative understanding of God that emerges, for example, in process theology.

In their book, Process Theology, an Introductory Exposition, authors John Cobb and David Griffin state at the outset that process theology rejects several traditional attributes of God:

As “divine lawgiver and judge, who has proclaimed an arbitrary set of moral rules…and who will punish offenders;”

As “unchangeable, passionless, and absolute.”

As “controlling power.” God isn’t the almighty boss who determines every detail of the world ― a cruel notion that makes God responsible for all the horrific tragedies down through the ages, leaving the bereft to ask questions such as why several miners died in last year’s Sago mine disaster and only one survived;

As “sanctioner of the status quo.” Obedience to God does not require preserving the status quo.

The assignment of power is obviously a major difference between traditional notions of God and the process model. Process theology resists conventional hierarchies, beginning with divinity, by claiming, “God can’t control life but acts to nurture and sustain it.”

The God of process theology does not seek power over human beings, but seeks instead to empower us by calling us to faithful partnership as co-creators of the world in which we live.

That means we have to grow up and take responsibility for ourselves — we can no longer get away with blaming God for everything that goes wrong – our action or inaction contributes to the outcomes in everyday reality. For instance, investigations later revealed that human negligence played a role in the Sago Mine tragedy.

The source of all creativity and novelty in the universe, the God of process theology never resorts to force, but affirms our free will by unceasingly inviting us toward the best possible response to each newly arising set of circumstances, the response offering the greatest possible good for all concerned.

However, those sacred impulses, received primarily at the level of our unconscious, must compete with previous conditioning, advice from others, television commercials, attack ads in political campaigns, nagging relatives, and other influences.

It follows that process theology encourages an occasional time-out from our daily lives to tune into to the sacred in meditation or contemplative prayer.

The good news is that no matter what befalls us, God is there with us, an ever-present spiritual companion in both our suffering and our joy.

From her letters, it would seem that Mother Teresa’s expectations of God went beyond the spiritual to the satisfaction of her emotional needs, more likely to be found in relationships with other human beings. Accordingly, process theology encourages our participation in mutual community, which tragically may not have been available to Teresa.

Finally, process theology ― in another break with tradition ― teaches us that God’s love is not reserved only for the group with whom we affiliate. As Ian Barbour, among others, has suggested, process theology offers a bridge between religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism; and also between science and religion; and sometimes even between liberals and conservatives.

Forrest Church, pastor of All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church, New York City, puts it this way: “In what I call the Cathedral of the World, there are millions of windows…each illuminating life's meaning. In this respect, we are many. But we are also one, for the one Light shines through every window. No individual, however spiritually gifted, can see this Light—Truth or God, call it what you will—directly. We cannot look God in the eye any more than we can stare at the sun without going blind. This should counsel humility and mutual respect for those whose reflections on ultimate meaning differ from our own.”

On that note, some ten years after her death, may Mother Teresa be allowed to rest in peace.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Least of These

Harold Meyerson’s piece in today’s Washington Post titled “A Dickens of a President” makes one wish the Bush Administration would defend the lives of children in this country at least as zealously as it defends stem cells and the lives of the unborn.

The 2003 census reported that in my midwestern state alone over 100,000 children under the age of 17 live below the federal poverty level of $20,650 annual income for a family of four. It’s been my experience that it’s tough enough for a single adult with no dependents to survive on that amount in the present economy.

Meyerson argues that without health insurance provided by a parent’s employer, a family with an annual income of $50,000 would still be hard pressed to provide adequate coverage for their children.

For that reason, Meyerson explains, several larger states have moved to provide health coverage to families whose income exceeds the federally mandated poverty level.

Here’s Meyerson’s Dickensian connection: “On Friday, the administration cracked down on this mischief, announcing that federal funds would not be available for such misguided efforts to protect the health of children.”

I wonder why they chose to make that announcement on a Friday?

Again, if the Bush Administration put as much time and effort into concern for the nation’s children as it does toward overcoming Roe v. Wade ― that’s called a consistent ethic of life ― thousands of children might not be dying each year from disease and poverty.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Charm vs. substance

So who cares about Karl Rove’s opinions anyway? I ask myself, as he heads on down the road where President Bush has promised soon to follow. I’m hooked, though, and Rove’s stuff about Hillary’s “negatives” prompts a quick search of archived NewsHour transcripts at PBS from the 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

Those were the days, you’ll remember, when pollsters and pundits pointed to Bush’s moral character and the indisputable fact that Americans liked him: “He’s the kind of guy you could enjoy sitting down with in a bar and swilling a beer or two,” his supporters were given to boast.

Replying to a question from Margaret Warner in 2000, pollster John Zogby opined: “Well, I think basically if you go back to 1988, that's the classic example. Dukakis never really built up his likeability, therefore it was easy to knock him down. But America likes George W. Bush. They seem to like what they see. And at the same time, they don't like Al Gore very much.”

In the transcript of a David Brooks and Mark Shields analysis from the 2004 campaign, Shields detects change in the air: “I’d add one more thing: George Bush’s likeability edge, which I think everybody acknowledges over John Kerry, and his congeniality and just his naturalness were bigger assets in 2000 than they are in 2004.”

Shields continued: “I think Andy Kohut {pollster} was absolutely right. This is not a popularity contest. He {Kerry} cannot be unlikable, but he’s not going to out charm George Bush.”

Whatever. In 2004 the American electorate allowed charm to trump substance once again by electing Bush to a second term.

August 2007: Charm has worn out its welcome in the White House. An article from CNN online the other day discusses poll results revealing American skepticism of the upcoming Petraeus report on the war in Iraq. The article quotes Polling Director Keating Holland: "It does seem to indicate that anyone associated with the Bush administration may be a less than credible messenger for the message that there is progress being made in Iraq.”

In the end, choosing charm over substance in electing a president appears not to have served our nation well. Hopefully, the majority in our electorate will take the time in the 2008 campaign to evaluate the candidates on the basis of more serious qualities, such as knowledge, wisdom, experience, and genuine compassion ― think Katrina.

Which brings me back to Hillary Clinton. I doubt that anyone will ever describe her as enthusiastically as they did George W. Bush as someone they’d enjoy having a beer with. But, hey, let’s give Hillary a break: Dubya has a lot more experience as a barfly than she does.