Tuesday, October 10, 2006

There's More to it Than Choice

I’ve recently read that the Supreme Court is going to start taking up abortion cases soon. I doubt that, in the end, things will change much. As John Roberts, the conservative Chief Justice, said in his confirmation hearings, Roe v. Wade seems to be “settled law” in America. That is, abortion on demand is something that America wants.

In last night’s Gazette, Don Coldsmith, a local writer, expressed his views in an op-ed piece. While he said that he objected to the use of abortion as a method of birth control, he supported the right to abortion because of the difficult cases he had seen (rape, incest, fetal anomaly, etc.) as a practicing physician here in Emporia. He also said supported abortion on demand because, in his view, abortion opponents are religious extremists bent on imposing their will on America’s women. And, finally, he claimed that those trying to find a political solution, or any solution, to the problem of abortion, are un-Christian.

I sent a response to the Gazette a while ago. I’m not sure it’ll be published, but that’s not as important to me as making my feelings known.

I’m actually quite surprised that he even published the piece. What axe did Mr. Coldsmith have to grind? It came at a time when the pro-life movement in America is pretty much dormant. As the Chief Justice said, abortion on demand seems to be settled law. America wants abortion, and America will have abortion, and anyone who objects is a narrow minded religious bigot.

My response to the Gazette follows. I am posting it on my blog to express the view that my role in the debate is far less to change the world than it is to keep the world from changing me. I have a conscience and I will not allow public opinion to determine what I believe is right and wrong. Abortion on demand may indeed be legal; but I believe it is morally repugnant:

Upon reading Don Coldsmith’s op-ed (“When does life begin?”) in yesterdays’ Gazette I spent some time considering areas where our philosophies aligned. Like Mr. Coldsmith, I object to the use of abortion as a birth control method. I don’t believe that government can, or should, compel religious belief. Like him, I understand there are times when pregnancy brings on agonizing choices for women.

He cited the difficult cases - rape, incest, and fetal abnormality - to support his contention that abortion is a civil right. While I understand the difficult decisions these cases bring, they are not the heart and soul of abortion in America. In Guttmacher Institute studies conducted in Nebraska from 2001 through 2004, rape or incest was given as the reason in 60 of the 19,235 abortions performed, three-tenths of one percent of the total! During that same period there were 88 abortions in which fetal-anomaly was cited, one-half of one percent of the total. The most frequently cited reason was “socio-economic” (11,453 cases, about fifty-nine percent of the total). The next two in order of frequency were “no contraception used” (3,651 cases, nineteen percent) and “contraceptive failure” (3,250 cases, about seventeen percent). The statisticians may employ euphemisms to deaden to awful blow, but the truth is the primary reason for abortion in America is birth control. A viable human being has been conceived, then not wanted, and somewhere in the process is discarded.

There should be an eagerness to solve the problem, but that’s not what’s happening today. It’s not about the difficult cases; it’s about economics and a philosophy under-girded by the notion that many of the un-born are unwanted social burdens. We’ve come to the place where it’s becoming truer by the day. To paraphrase the words of the old Bahamian spiritual, “Life is a thing that money can buy; the rich will live and the poor will die.”

Like Mr. Coldsmith, I support the free expression of religion. That freedom has brought great change to this country. The abolitionists of the nineteenth century, for example, used explicitly religious rhetoric to demand an end to slavery. Their words thundered from America’s pulpits and public squares. Great Americans like William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglas, and Sojourner Truth spoke and acted forcefully against the evil. Their great anthem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was both a religious and moral statement. Its words are as true today as they were when they were penned.

I grew up in the days of the civil rights movement in America. Like the movement to end slavery, it was both a religious and moral force, telling America that the time for equal civil rights for all Americans had come. The air back then was filled with the stirring words of Dr. King and the anthems of our time. None of us who lived through those times will ever forget the explicitly religious tone of the words, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.” Nor will we ever forget singing “We shall overcome” or “I shall not be moved.” Christians heard and sang them, as did Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists (I was an atheist at that time). And we acted on them. Eventually the nation passed legislation to end Jim Crow and segregation. There were some who protested that the supporters of civil rights were religious extremists forcing their own narrow brand of religious belief on the public by way of politics. But the nation pressed beyond bigotry and change came.

There’s one last thing Mr. Coldsmith and I have in common, our Christian faith. It should be the strongest of all the bonds we have. While I’ve not taught church school classes for forty years, I’ve earned a graduate degree in Christian theology and have, to the best of my ability, practiced my Christian faith for close to forty years. I’ve never in all those years ever advocated or supported the notion of a national religion, coerced conversion, or religious extremism. I do, however, support the principle that I have the civil right to express my views on public policy, especially when it converges with my moral convictions. I did so in the sixties during the civil rights movement, and I have the right and duty to speak from my conscience against abortion on demand today. Unlike Mr. Coldsmith I haven’t been able to find a way to sidestep the soul searching the issue brings with it. Conscience demands more of me than that.

In a few months Christians will be celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace. I wonder what the season would look like if Mary and Joseph had lived in our time. Would the centerpiece of all humanity be considered an unwanted burden, then discarded? What would we be left with? Perhaps all we’d have would be great masterpieces like “Madonna without child.”

I’d like to believe that there the possibility of dialogue with Mr. Coldsmith and others in the pro-choice movement. Unfortunately, there seems to be, as Holy Writ declares, a great gulf fixed between us. America has made its choice; abortion on demand is the law of the land. Until we find the moral capacity to change that we’ll continue to maintain the grisly status quo.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

I'll Be Back!

Exodus 20:12 (New Living Translation)

“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God will give you.”

I just looked at my archives and saw that it’s now been over a month since I last posted. That’s the longest dry spell I’ve had in the three years I’ve maintained this blog.

There are several reasons. First and foremost, Nancy and I are in the process of moving her mother and brother down here to Emporia. There’s a lot of work involved in that, getting the house in Kansas City in shape for sale, making arrangements for storage for the stuff that will eventually be sold in the downsizing, sprucing up the house next door, which Nancy mother and brother will be moving into, and so forth. It’s become close to a full time job. That’s not said as a complaint. We’re really enjoying doing this. Nancy’s mother has earned every bit of the sweat equity we’re putting into this.

We’ve also been able to take a week’s vacation to celebrate our twentieth anniversary at Zion and Bryce national parks in Utah in the midst of all the busyness. It was an absolutely spectacular getaway! If you haven’t visited either of these parks, we recommend you put them on your must see lists.

Just before we left for vacation, I got a call from a literary agent in Nashville, TN. I’d given him some samples of my writing at a writer’s conference in Glorietta, NMEX about a year ago, along with samples to other publishers and agents. I’d gotten favorable feedback in the months that followed the conference, but the consensus seemed to be that the writing, while good, just wouldn’t work in their respective markets. So, I was surprised that I would even get a call a year after having submitted the samples. I was even more surprised to learn that the agent felt that he had a chance at landing me a book deal. He asked if I had other essays besides the few I’d submitted. “Hundreds,” I said. The next thing I knew he requested fifty within a week after returning from vacation. Needless to say, the week following vacation was full, with work on the house next door and hours spent editing essays for inclusion into a full manuscript. The work has been submitted. Now the waiting and praying begins.

Things will still be light on the blogging side of my equations for another couple of weeks. By that time Nancy’s mother should be moved in next door and settled. Then, I’ll pick up again in earnest. I haven’t come close to running out of ideas.

I want to thank the folks who expressed concern over the absence, especially Paul at Prying1. Your prayers and support mean the world to me.

So, a few more weeks, and….I’ll be back!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Armageddon Blues, Revisited

“Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through,
He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride, will I ever learn?
That there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
Until He returns.”

- Bob Dylan – “When He Returns” (1989)

For the past month or so I’ve been focusing on events in the Middle-East. As I have folks occasionally comment that I need to put things in perspective and get my feet back on the ground. Here in the Flint Hills I think that means focusing on things closer to home. I believe there’s some truth in that. There’s plenty going on here in Emporia, for sure. There are other needs I could focus on besides getting wrapped up in events taking place half a world away. I think the driving philosophy of the commentary is that my attention to events in the Middle-East is really unprofitable. After all, what can I do about these things in this world that seem to be spinning so madly out of control? Armageddon is coming, like a Burlington Northern freight train and there’s nothing I can do about it. Perhaps it’s best to just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we all will die.

I believe in a sense they’re right, but I believe I’m right too. I know that things close to home are important, but I also know that the history unfolding in the Middle-East is important. And, it’s important not because it’s dead letter, facts layered on facts, but because my life and the lives of millions of others are mysteriously bound together with the events and people living so far from me.

You see, there’s more to the Middle-East than geopolitics, oil, and tribal hatred. There, in that small corner of the world where three of the world’s great religions were born, war is being waged on a battlefield seen only through the eyes of the heart. Beyond the dead letter there is, as the German theologians say, high history being played out. The world is, and has been, witness to the great struggle of the ages, testing whether, when it’s rolled up into its final scroll, history itself will have a good or an evil outcome.

I’m convinced that when the last trumpet sounds good will prevail over evil. But while I believe that to be true I also believe that there will be tremendous birth pains that precede the triumph. There will be upheaval, war, calamity, enmity, and all the forces of hate fighting a desperate battle to stave off the inevitable victory of good.

Earlier this evening Nancy and I were talking about the conditions we see all around us. While there’s no doubt that there’s a lot of good in the world and many things to be thankful for, we also recognize that there’s a lot of pain as well. In fact, it’s just about pandemic. It seems that here in America that as wealth and prosperity explode, pain explodes exponentially along with them. As Bob Dylan said back in ’89, there’s:

“Broken hands on broken ploughs,
Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,
People bending broken rules.”

Given that, it seems to me that this is not the time to be self centered. Christians, of all people, should be focusing on more than just themselves, as if God’s sole purpose is to bring them to some mystical state of self-actualization.

I’m sometimes amazed at how aware some people are of their own pain, yet so oblivious to the pain of others or the birth pangs of the age Jesus promised us would one day come. They feel nothing but their own need, and as long as those needs are met nothing else really matters. God’s agenda must be them above all else.

I’m also amazed at the amount of pain some people seem to be willing to inflict on others to further their evil aims. Just last week I read the following words, words that are being taught to a new generation of young Muslims. They’re being handed down to children not much younger than my grandchildren and they in turn have picked up the mantle of hate:

“I am decisively announcing to the whole world that if the world-devourers (i.e., the infidel powers) wish to stand against our religion, we will stand against their whole world and will not cease until the annihilation of all them. Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater freedom which is martyrdom. Either we shake one another's hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours.”

- Ayatollah Khomeini – From an 11th grade Iranian textbook – As cited by Bernard Lewis on August 8, 2006

And so it is. The seeds of evil sown to one generation have exploded like the double portion of grace willed from one prophet to another.

My critics are right about one thing. I’ve become increasingly aware of the pain in the world, and it’s causing me to cry out for the coming of the One who will fix things once and for all. I see the world around me, both close and far off, and I feel a hot, searing pain being blown through my soul by some sort of cosmic bellows. The weight of it is causing me to cry out to the Great Blacksmith of the Ages to hammer out justice and righteousness on the rails of history. I know He’s done it before, as He did seven score and five years ago when He trampled out the vintage where the grapes of wrath were stored. I long for Him to do it again.

Some of my critics say I’m being melodramatic. They maintain I’ve lost my focus. All I can say is that I am seeing very clearly. Everything is broken, in desperate need of repair. Things here in idyllic Middle-America are broken. Our marriages are broken. Our families are broken. Our institutions are broken. Things in our halls of power are broken. And, things in the Middle-East are broken. Knowing that, I pray that the days of travail will be shortened.


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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ritalin Diplomacy

Luke 14:31-32 (New Living Translation)

“What king would ever dream of going to war without first sitting down with his counselors and discussing whether his army of ten thousand is strong enough to defeat the twenty thousand soldiers who are marching against him? If he is not able, then while the enemy is still far away, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace.”

The war in Lebanon is over….for now.

The Bush administration seems satisfied with the arrangement. In a recent interview with USA Today’s Susan Page, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even willing to express the bizarre notion that the Lebanese government had been strengthened over the past six weeks of conflict:

“I have no doubt it's been strengthened, I think, for a couple of reasons. First of all the Foreign - the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Siniora led his government and his people through this extraordinarily trying time with dignity, with strength. I was in Rome when he spoke to the assembled there. It was passionate, but it was also concrete and here are the things that we need to do.”

“And I hear a lot about how Nasrallah has emerged from this, but Nasrallah is going to have to face what has become of those populations in the south and the great devastation that Hezbollah brought on. Prime Minister Siniora is someone who, with great dignity and great aplomb, has led his people out of that terrible situation, not of his own making, to, I think, an international standing that is quite remarkable.”

In answer to the question of whether or not Hezbollah was now going to be disarmed, Secretary Rice offered this astounding response:

“Susan, I don't think there is an expectation that this force is going to physically disarm Hezbollah. I think it's a little bit of a misreading of how you disarm a militia. You have to have a plan, first of all, for the disarmament of a militia, and then the hope is that some people lay down their arms voluntarily. You have *kentulminaries* where heavy arms are, but the disarmament of militias is essentially a political agreement and the Lebanese Government has said that it intends to live up to its obligations under Resolution 1559 and something called the Taif Accord, which was signed in 1989 in Saudi Arabia — it shows you how long we've been at this — that they will not have any groups in Lebanon carrying arms that are not a part of the central security forces of Lebanon.”

George Orwell must be turning over in his grave. Defeat equals victory; armed and dangerous terrorists equals disarmed and peaceful Lebanese villagers.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had a decidedly different take on events. In a statement to Hezbollah’s leadership he declared unequivocally:

“Your unprecedented holy war and steadfastness are beyond the limits of my description. It's a divine victory. It is a victory of Islam,” Khamenei said in the message read by an announcer on Hezbollah's Al-Manar television.”

The Arab street has also expressed a strong sense of agreement with the Ayatollah:

“Babies have been named “Hezbollah” and “Nasrallah.” Even some die-hard secularists are praising the Shiite fundamentalist militia in the wake of its cease-fire with Israel - saying its fighters restored their feelings of honor and dignity.”

The sad truth of the matter is that Hezbollah won, and no amount of State Department glad-handing or diplomatic pronouncements will change that. Israel is in a much more precarious position than it was before the war started. With its victory, whether moral, tactical, or strategic, Hezbollah has been able to paint Jews as America's lackeys, blood-thirsty Zionists, and themselves as champions of freedom and human rights.

It may take months for the full impact of the victory to be sorted out, but some things are already certain – Israel is still in the cross-hairs, Hezbollah is still very much in business, and the diplomatic turn away from Israel and toward Hezbollah, Hamas, and other supporters of terror has begun in earnest. In time I think Israel is going to be regarded as an international pariah and then international pressure is going to mount to find a peaceful way to dismantle the Jewish state, a sanitized new millennium version of the final solution.

When are we going to wake up and face the truth? The aim of Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic fascism, Islamic extremism, or whatever else you care to call it is the destruction or subjugation of Islam’s enemies so that it can establish dominance in the world.

In a recent interview with C-Span’s Brian Lamb, Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch, made the following observation:

“Islam is the only religion in the world that has a developed doctrine theology and legal system that mandates violence against unbelievers and mandates that Muslims must wage war in order to establish the homogeneity of the Islamic social order over the world. Now, these things are objectively verifiable facts. Anyone can look at the Koran. Anyone can look at the Muslim sources, the Muslim history, Muslim legal texts and so on and find that to be true.”

Some Muslim scholars attempt to deny this, but events in the world and the growing strength of Muslim fundamentalism is evidence that’s hard to refute. Violence, and the support of violence to achieve Muslim aims, is becoming more and more the order of the day. And, it’s all codified within Muslim Holy Writ. The most familiar of the Koran’s passages regarding this twisted philosophy can be found in Surah 9:29:

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

And, when it comes to anti-Semitism, the Koran is replete with examples, as the following from Surah 5 illustrates:

“Say: “Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? Those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of who some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped Evil; - these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more stray from the even path!” When they come to you, they say, “We believe”: but in fact they enter with a mind against Faith, and they go out with the same. But Allah knows fully all that they hide. You see many of them racing each other in sin and rancor, and their eating of things forbidden. Evil indeed are the things that they do. Why do not the Rabbis and the doctors of law forbid them from their (habit of) uttering sinful words and eating things forbidden? Evil indeed are their works. The Jews say, “Allah’s hand is tied up.” But their hands are tied up and be they accursed for the (blasphemy) they utter. Nay, both His hands are widely outstretched: He gives and spends (of His bounty) as He pleases. But the revelation that comes to you from Allah increases in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. Amongst them we have placed enmity and hatred till the Day of Judgment. Every time they kindle the fire of war, Allah extinguishes it, but they (ever) strive to do mischief on earth. And Allah does not love those who do mischief.” (Surah 5:60-64)

The world is careening toward Armageddon and the Bush administration is satisfied with the arrangements to appease terror’s most able practitioners. Some victory, Secretary Rice. Muslim fundamentalists are bent on killing every Jew on the face of the earth and you’re fine with the way things turned out in Lebanon. Muslims are now naming their children Nasrallah and Hezbollah, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is working feverishly to develop atomic weapons and you’re threatening sanctions and giving flowery speeches. How impressive! It’s as if the devil himself were attacking and the defenders were armed with money and sonnets. Well, like the devil, Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, Hezbollah, Hamas, Osama, and millions of other Islamic fanatics are laughing at you. While you may be impressed with your own words, they realize they’ve got you in state of stupor, that you're practicing Ritalin diplomacy like a child in a room full of devils. They’re just waiting till you take enough of your own medicine to go to sleep. When that happens, the real mayhem will follow.

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Condoleezza Rice




Friday, August 11, 2006

Failure Should Not Be an Option

“Like Lincoln, William T. Sherman believed in a hard war and a soft peace. “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it,” Sherman had told Atlanta’s mayor after ordering the civilian population expelled from the occupied city. But “when peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then I will share with you the last cracker.” Until then, though, “we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” Union armies must destroy the capacity of the southern people to sustain the war. Their factories, railroads – indeed their will to resist – must be devastated. “We cannot change the hearts of those people of the South, but we can make war so terrible…(and) make them so sick of war that generations would pass before they would again appeal to it.”

- Jim McPherson – Commenting on William Tecumseh Sherman’s philosophy of war employed in his 1864 “march to the sea”

I just heard on Fox News that Ehud Olmert has accepted the draft U.N. resolution for a cease fire. The report was sketchy, but if it’s true it appears that Israeli forces will begin their withdrawal from Lebanon this Sunday.

I’m not sure what number the resolution will carry, but it will be one more in a long string of United Nations resolutions designed to find a way for Israel to live in peace, securely within its own borders.

At the end of the current draft there are references to U.N. resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). The 1967 resolution that ended the Six Day War called for:

“Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

Six years later, under the umbrella of resolution 338, the United Nations decided that:

“Immediately and concurrently with the cease-fire, negotiations start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.”

Now, thirty-three years later, the United Nations is:

“Welcoming the unanimous decision by the government of Lebanon on 7 August 2006 to deploy a Lebanese armed force of 15,000 troops in South Lebanon as the Israeli army withdraws behind the Blue Line and to request the assistance of additional forces from UNIFIL as needed, to facilitate the entry of the Lebanese armed forces into the region and to restate its intention to strengthen the Lebanese armed forces with material as needed to enable it to perform its duties.”

Has any of this brought us closer to real peace in the Middle-East? No!

Who are the real winners in this conflict? Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria.

For the past six or seven weeks I’ve been following the commentary posted by Israeli peace activist Ami Isseroff. Sometime today he posted these words, which I believe bear attention:

“After nearly a month of war, it is becoming increasingly evident that we are witnessing a pointless and horrendous fiasco, a prodigious waste of lives and property comparable in senselessness, if not in absolute scale, to General Ambrose Burnside's debacle at the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg in the US Civil war, and to Churchill's fiasco in Gallipoli in World War I. The unwisdom of Gallipoli, which dragged on for months, should have been painfully evident very soon, but nobody took the required action until it was far too late and hundreds of thousands had died for no reason. The Lebanon war drags on toward disaster in the same way.”

As I noted when the war began, the Hezbollah is a menace that must be removed, and Israel has a right and duty to do so by every means possible. I also noted that it is not always wise to exercise a right. If nothing is achieved, and the Hezbollah remains unharmed at the end of the war, then all the lives and money and property were for lost for no reason.”

It now appears that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

About five hundred and fifty miles northeast of Jerusalem there’s another war going on. It’s getting less and less attention these days, but events taking place there and how they eventually end have monumental consequences for the free world.

This morning Lawrence Kaplan made the following observation about what he termed the U.S.military’s growing sense of being left holding the bag in Iraq while U.S. politicians and military brass scurry for cover:

“The military's estrangement was summarized in an opinion poll in the Military Times earlier this year. Among the armed forces, favorable opinions of the president, Congress, and even the U.S. public all declined sharply. Officers argue that the war's uncomprehending managers have dispatched them to fight with neither a strategy nor adequate means for victory. As for the public at large, not even the thousands of miles that separate them can measure the military's remove from U.S. society. Many officers fear casualties will spur an impatient public to “bring the troops home” without condition and regardless of consequence.”

Perhaps it’s premature, but the apparent end of the conflict in Lebanon and the eroding political resolve in Iraq are looking more and more like Vietnam to me. As in Indo-China, we seem more willing to cave in to political pressure than to secure victory in the Middle-East against Islamic fascism. And, we are now putting enormous pressure on Israel to; in essence, accept surrender terms offered on behalf of Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran by the United Nations.

What possible good can come from all of this? The guns will go silent, for a short season. The troops will come home. But in time it will all explode again, and when it does things will be even deadlier and dangerous than they are now.

The point of warfare is victory. When a nation commits its troops to a conflict it has a solemn obligation to give them whatever tools are necessary to bring the conflict to the swiftest, most satisfactory conclusion possible. That satisfactory conclusion is victory.

Are wars bloody? Absolutely! They are meant to be. Try as we might, we'll never be able to sanitize it. It’s not a glorious business. As William T. Sherman, who cut a devastating swath through Georgia in 1864, said years after the Union was preserved:

“There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell. You can bear this warning voice to generations yet to come. I look upon war with horror.”

There are only three things that justify a war – failed/futile diplomacy, a just cause, and a victory to justify the human cost of the endeavor. In the concurrent wars going on in the Middle-East today the first two justifications have been met. The third seems to be slowly slipping from our grasp. It isn’t happening because we can’t win; it’s happening because we won’t.

Responding to the first two conditions was necessary. Not achieving the third would be folly.

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The United Nations

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Inconvenience or Necessity?

“FISA law says it's the exclusive law to authorize wiretaps. This administration is playing fast and loose with the law in national security. The issue here is whether the president of the United States is putting himself above the law, and I believe he has done so.”

Senator Russ Feingold – Commenting on the Bush administration’s NSA warrantless wiretap program (December, 2005)

This morning Nancy and I went to Kansas City International Airport to pick up Thom Hoang, the young Vietnamese woman who’s going to be living with us while she attends Emporia State. The flight got in a couple of minutes early, about 5:00 A.M. One of the things that was apparent even at that early hour was the increased security presence in the terminal. After greeting Thom, we made our way down the concourse toward the baggage claim area. I noticed as we did that all boarding passengers were being required to have extensive searches of their carry on luggage. This was something I hadn’t seen since the days following the 9-11 attacks.

Do you remember those times? I do. I remember one morning when I was flying from Kansas City to Chicago on business. By that time the drill had become familiar. “Take off your shoes.” “Open the laptop and the cell phone.” As my suitcase went through the scanner the TSA agent saw my Swiss army knife sitting cozily in the bottom of my shaving kit. I can’t remember how I’d left it there to begin with, but once the suitcase made its way through the scanning tunnel the agent opened it and confiscated the knife. “Prohibited item,” he called it. He casually dropped it into a bucket of small knives, fingernail clippers, and other bric a brac that had made the list of prohibited items and that was that. Once I got to the departure gate, a young man who had gone through security at the same time I did started up a conversation. “Damned security. Why do they have to invade our privacy like that? We’ve got rights you know!” The funny thing was, I felt more stupid than invaded. I should have known better. I knew what the rules were and didn’t feel I was above them. “Relax, pal,” I responded. “It’s only a Swiss army knife. I’ll just have my wife put another one on my Christmas list and that’ll be that.” He didn’t seem satisfied. “They just don’t have a right to invade our privacy,” he said, raising his voice.
I chuckled a bit. “I appreciate your wanting to take up my case for me, but it’s a small price to pay. I’ll bet that thing cost less than fifty bucks.”
“Do they think terrorists are actually stupid enough to use things like pocket knives?”
“They used box cutters in 2001, didn’t they?”
“Yeah, but they’ll never do something like that again.”

That was over two years ago. A lot of bloody water has gone under bridge since I gave up my Swiss Army knife to the war on terror. Terrorists using bombs hidden in back packs killed hundreds of innocent civilians in Madrid and London last year. And, just a couple of months ago Islamic terrorists killed 174 commuters in Mumbai, India.

Apparently, terrorists are willing to the most extraordinary lengths to kill anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their twisted views. They’ve used little things like cell phones, pocket knives, box cutters, or backpacks before to ply their deadly trade. And, yes, they’ll try to use them again.

By the time we got back to Emporia this morning I’d learned that al Qaeda has added some new weapons to their arsenal. They’re working with little things like shampoo, shower gel, soap, mouthwash, shaving cream, cologne, perfume, and toothpaste and were going to use them as part of a suicide bombing plot to destroy up to ten international flights from London bound for the United States. If they’d been successful they’d have murdered thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

I wonder what that young man who took up my grievance at the departure gate is thinking right now. Terrorists, it seems, are even stupid enough to use things like soap and shaving cream.

I’m delighted and thankful that the Brits were able to dismantle this plot. I’m sure it took a lot of hard work, patience, and skillful use of intelligence to unravel it all. We’ll probably never know all the tools used, but I’d be willing to wager that wiretaps, like those the President uses in the controversial NSA program, were among them.

As I watched the news this morning some interesting things began to unfold along with the revelations about the plot. Just about every official in the free world has had to apologize for the inconvenience the situation is causing travelers. It’s an interesting sign of the times. The more I see it, the more I marvel. Islamic fascists are at war with us and our officials feel obliged to apologize for the inconvenience uncovering the deadly schemes is causing. What in the hell is wrong with this picture?

I believe there are two things that are contributing to this insanity. First, far too many Americans cannot seem to accept the idea that the war on terrorism necessitates any sacrifice whatsoever. And, second, some public officials have dangerously pitted our need for security against their political agendas.

In my introduction I used an AP photo taken by Gene Blythe. The woman in the photo is identified as “Brenda Lee, a commercial real estate appraiser from Snellville, Ga.” As you can see, the shock and anger on her face are palpable. The AP caption delicately described Ms. Lee as waiting:

“In line at the security checkpoint Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The wait was long as special security was added after the threat warning was raised to its highest level in response to a terror plot uncovered in London. Lee said she was annoyed (my emphasis added) with the lines and having to remove items from her luggage.”

After looking at it a few times I think it would be more appropriate to label it, “Me give up my Head and Shoulders? No way! I’m an American citizen and I have my rights. And look at this damned line. Don’t you know I’ve got an important appraisal to make somewhere? If I don’t make my appointment, I’m going to get a lawyer and sue you all.”

Some of you reading this probably think I’m an insensitive brute, trifling with the rights of a loyal, tax-paying American. The only way I can respond is to ask whether Ms. Lee, or others now being inconvenienced would accept mangled bodies and obituaries as an alternative to giving up their Head and Shoulders.

Perhaps the biggest contributors to this sad state of affairs are journalists and politicians grandstanding to their constituent bases, which are primarily on the far left or right of the political spectrum. Last December the press and the U.S. Senate were in an uproar over the NSA wiretapping program. On would have thought, based on the uproar, that the sound of hobnailed boots could already be heard on Pennsylvania Avenue. What was the NSA doing that was so shocking? Why, they were listening in to our enemies.
I wonder what the chatter must have sounded like:

“Ooh, Osama, you just mix a bit of this stuff with some toothpaste or shaving cream and…..BOOM, the airplane is gone.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that!”
“Can you do ten planes in one day?”
“Not a problem, great master.”
“Do it and die a martyr for the cause, then. I assure you that you will have a double portion of virgins in paradise if you succeed.”

But, no matter. Political agenda nowadays trumps national security. Men like Russ Feingold of Wisconsin are far less worried about Islamic fascists than they are about the legality of a program instituted to protect us from terrorism:

It’s no wonder the people tasked with protecting us feel so obliged to make apologies for doing their jobs. It’s no wonder they feel like they’re walking through minefields designed by so called friends. A sizeable portion of the public has come to believe that their “right” to not be inconvenienced supersedes everyone else’s right to live. And, it’s all being fueled by politicians and journalists with a nasty agenda. Like Ms. Brenda Lee in Atlanta, they don’t seem to care whether or not innocent people die at the hands of terrorists. Their political gun sights are fixed on the destruction of one man, and it isn’t Osama bin Laden. That’s all that seems to matter.

This all brings me back to the question I asked earlier. Just what in the hell is wrong with this picture?

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Woe Be Unto the World Because of Offenses

“For better it is to contend with vices than without conflict be subdued by them. Better, I say, is war with the hope of peace everlasting than captivity without any regard of deliverance. We long, indeed, for the cessation of this war, and kindled by the flame of divine love, we burn for entrance on that well-ordered peace in which whatever is inferior is for ever subordinated to what is above it. But if (which God forbid) there had been no hope of so blessed a consummation, we should still have preferred to endure the hardness of this conflict, rather than, by our non-resistance, to yield ourselves to the dominion of vice.”

- Augustine of Hippo – 426 A.D.

After I posted yesterday’s piece I got an interesting comment from someone named “Jay.” Speaking for liberals and Democrats, he apologized for:

“Inflicting the ongoing wars, the broken economy, high gas prices, global warming, massive government corruption, and all the other misfortunes of a completely Republican controlled government.”

Then, in a fit of rhetorical fury, he took me to task in fine far-left fashion:

“Hope that makes you feel better. Lord knows you wouldn’t want to actually place blame on the masters you really worship.”

My first thought was to correct Jay’s assumption that I am a Republican. I have almost as many issues with the Republican Party as I do with the Democratic Party of my youth. Upon further reading and thought, though, I saw his comment as an opportunity to make myself clear on some of the issues he mentioned. I’ll begin today with what I believe is the moral case for the amalgamated wars we are now involved in (the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan). While each has its distinct elements, taken together they are parts of a whole. Thus, from this point on I will discuss them under the umbrella of the war on terror.

I have supported our effort in this war from the beginning. Beginning on September, 11, 2001, continuing into the October, 2001 war to liberate Afghanistan and the March, 2003 liberation of Iraq, right up to the present day, I believe that we were morally justified and morally right to do what we did.

I realize that I may now hold a minority point of view, but I’m not troubled by that. There have been significant minorities throughout history –Joshua and Caleb, the abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill, to name a few. I believe that positions of great import should be decided on their merits, not whether they are popularly held.

Most Americans seem to be aligned on the worthiness of two focal points in this war. They believe we’re morally right to pursue a world-wide war against Al Qaeda and that our invasion of Afghanistan was equally moral. It’s obvious that Iraq is the one point that has deeply divided us as a people.

There are several objections that have been raised against our involvement in Iraq. Some believe that diplomacy wasn’t allowed to take its course. Some object because one of the reasons stated for our involvement, weapons of mass destruction, have thus far not been found. Some object because of the loss of American life. And, some object because they believe Iraq as it was under Saddam was better off than Iraq, with its current civil strife and terrorism, is today. I suspect there are even some who object simply because they hate George Bush.

I’ll answer all but the last of the objections. That one is too trivial and silly to demand a response.

Was diplomacy given enough time? That, it seems to me, begs the question. It assumes that diplomacy would have eventually achieved the world’s objectives without military intervention. If I were to ask “How much time?” the answer would always come back, “Until it works.” Saddam saw this and manipulated the world skillfully, pulling the diplomatic strings in any direction he felt served his aims. He did so for over ten years, making the international diplomats arrayed against him look like absolute buffoons.

Could diplomacy have worked? I don’t know. It’s clearly impossible to know now whether or not it would have worked with Saddam Hussein’s regime. History has taken a different course.

The most persistent claim against our invasion of Iraq is that weapons of mass destruction have not been found. Since we haven’t found them, the argument goes; our involvement was unnecessary and morally wrong. It further assumes that the argument the Bush administration made to get us into Iraq was invalid for that reason. No weapons of mass destruction equals no valid argument for going to war. The problem with the argument is that it wasn’t the only reason, nor, in my mind, was it the principle reason. I’ve spoken with lots of people about the moral case for war and about every time those against our involvement in Iraq argue that there was no moral case for war because George Bush never made a moral case. Every time I hear this argument I’m reminded of the Soviet cosmonaut who asked the following questions as he orbited the earth – “Where is God? I don’t see him out here in space. Where is He anyway?” That’s about what this thread of the anti-war argument amounts to. Its proponents, like the cosmonaut, haven’t seen the moral case expressed; therefore they claim it doesn’t exist. What they refuse to see is that the President actually did make a moral case for invading Iraq. Where were they when he talked about Saddam’s brutality and torture chambers? Where were they when he spoke of gassing of the Kurds in northern Iraq and the systematic attempts to totally eliminate the Marsh Arabs of the south? There was, and is, a moral case for the invasion of Iraq!

Some argue that the cost in American lives is too high. They often cite the number of American combat deaths, which is now over twenty-five hundred. While it’s clear that any life lost is a tragedy, it doesn’t answer the moral question. You see, Iraq isn’t about mathematics; it’s about moral principle, about what free men must all too often do to confront evil in the world. I can only imagine what those who make this argument would have said to the Lincoln administration about the staggering loss of life during the Civil War or to the Roosevelt administration as the astronomical losses incurred liberating Europe and the Pacific mounted. The truth is, as tragic as the loss of life in any morally justified conflict is, it’s principle, not mathematics that truly matters.

The argument against invading Iraq that most offends my moral sensibilities is that the people of Iraq would be better off if we had left them in Saddam’s clutches. It’s hard for me to imagine someone would actually make this case, but some have. Like the previous argument, it’s rooted in the notion that the cost of liberation is too high, and that the previous state of enslavement would be preferable to the current state of life in Iraq. If these folks had lived during our Civil War or its aftermath I’m afraid they might be making the same argument. Four years of bloody inter-Nicene war had taken its toll on the nation. Hundreds of thousands had died. The war, which had begun as a test of states’ rights, had found its moral purpose and center in the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln rightly saw that the war’s purpose was to liberate a portion of America’s human community. That’s what the Civil War was all about; that’s what breathes so much meaning into it today as we see it through the prism of close to a hundred and fifty years of history. Would today’s anti-war advocates really try to argue that Jim Crow and the carpetbaggers, the Klu Klux Klan, segregation, job discrimination, and all the other roadblocks to full freedom and inclusion that followed the war invalidated the sacrifices made to liberate America’s African-American community? That seems to be the application of their argument – that African-Americans would be better off as slaves now because the post-war trials were too high a price to pay for their freedom. That’s about as offensive as an argument gets.

In the spring of 1865, a little more than a month before his death at the hands of an assassin, Abraham Lincoln put the case for the war that had just ended in its proper moral context. His words were both poetic and prophetic, reaching through the ages to shed light on the meaning of freedom and sacrifice:

“It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered -- that of neither, has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove; and that He gives to both north and south this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

I believe we must continue on the course we embarked on five years ago. Freedom is under assault and we have a moral duty to respond. I realize that there have been dark days behind us and that there will be dark days to come. I cannot say, nor can anyone else, how long it will take to see the task through. But, I can say with certainty that the cause we are engaged in is just.

I don’t believe that my position establishes me as a Republican lackey, no more than Joe Lieberman’s position on Iraq establishes him as a lackey of the Bush administration. In the days ahead I’ll be responding to the other questions raised. Perhaps then Jay and his fellows on the left may be able to see that I’m not what they make me out to be.

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Abraham Lincoln



The war on terror

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Confessions of a Liberated Lawn Jockey, or Why I Left the Democratic Party of My Youth

A while ago I read a Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Lanny Davis. It appears that Mr. Davis has seen the light after campaigning for Senator Joe Lieberman:

“Now, in the closing days of the Lieberman primary campaign, I have reluctantly concluded that I was wrong. The far right does not have a monopoly on bigotry and hatred and sanctimony.”

I’m tempted to be less than gracious to Mr. Davis his naivety, but I’ll take him at his word. If he says he’s shocked about the hate coming from the left wing of his party, I believe him.

What’s brought about the sudden conversion? Mr. Davis just experienced the same things many of us have experienced at the hands of the Democratic Party’s far left. A casual reading of the following excerpted comment from a left-wing blogger will illustrate:

“Good men, Daniel Webster and Faust would attest, sell their souls to the Devil. Is selling your soul to a god any worse? Leiberman cannot escape the religious bond he represents. Hell, his wife's name is Haggadah or Muffeletta or Diaspora or something you eat at Passover” (by ‘gerrylong,” posted on the Huffington Post, July 8, 2006).”

If only Mr. Davis had gotten in touch with me before he began campaigning for Senator Lieberman. I could have walked him down Damascus Road and saved him the trauma he’s now experiencing.

Also, in the past few days I’ve also been getting queries from bloggers who are curious about me. In one, a fellow blogger asked this question, “Who is Dilly?”

Dilly, of course, is me. That’s one of the nicknames both my brother and I got tagged with when we were kids.

So, in order to shed some additional light on the nastiness of the left wing of the Democratic Party and add some insight into why I’ve moved from the left to the right, from atheism to Christianity, from the east coast to Middle America, I’ve decided to go back to my very first post, done a little more than two years ago.

Here, then, is my first post, titled “Confessions of a Liberated Lawn Jockey:”
I just read, with great interest, a column by Eric Alterman posted on the Center for American Progress website. In the column, Mr. Aterman cites an essay by Thomas Frank, a transplanted Kansan who has gone on to bigger and better things. I'm a transplanted Bostonian, living in Emporia, Kansas. I've lived here for a bit over five years now and have a pretty good sense of what life and politics are like around here. Mr.Frank has gotten quite a bit of press here in Emporia since he published his essay titled Lie Down for America in the April edition of Harper's. His early life in Mission Hills and a two hour visit to Emporia were apparently enough in his mind to look at Kansas as a whole and say things like “Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction, to the right, to the right, further to the right. Strip today's Kansans of their job security and they head out and become registered Republicans. Push them off the land and the next thing you know they're protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings and there's a good chance they'll join the John Birch Society.”
Mr. Alterman applauds Mr. Frank’s work, noting that the Republican Party is employing a two-fold strategy – get the “rubes” up in arms about values and then pick their pockets while they’re needlessly paying attention to those values.
After reading Mr. Alterman’s piece and excerpts from Mr. Frank's I've detected three common themes. First, Kansas, like Caesar who had too much Gaul, has too many conservative Republicans. Second, Kansas is a community of kulaks and serfs who have been manipulated, contrary to their interests, by the rich and powerful. And, third, Alterman, Frank, and the Democratic Party are here to save us from the Republicans and ourselves.
For more than a few of us “rubes” it’s a bit confusing. We knew we needed saving, but we were under the impression we already had a Savior. If Alterman and Frank are right our soteriology is flawed at best and heretical at worst.
How could one possibly argue against such noble theses, especially when they’re stated so eloquently? All we Kansans need to do is put our collective fates in their hands of compassion and they'll take care of us. They’ll defend us! Why would we reject such a generous offer?
My five years here in Kansas and my first twenty growing up in the shadow of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have given me a few reasons. The most compelling of those is experience.
My brother, sister, and I spent our first few years growing up in Boston's south end, which in our time was Boston's version of Hell's Kitchen. We had all the classic disadvantages many on the political left love to exploit, an alcoholic father who did menial work (he was an ice-man), an un-educated mother (she actually did go as far as the third grade), and an overcrowded tenement on Withington Street we called home.
Our one advantage in life was our loyal support for the Massachusetts Democratic “machine.” We learned early on that any Dillon worth his or her salt was a Democrat through and through. After all, it was the Democrats who were really concerned with our welfare. The Democrats were the “party of the people.”
I don't know how long it took for my brother and sister to come to the point of disillusionment, but the time came for me during the fifties. My brother had graduated to a trade school, my sister to live with relatives in Maynard. I graduated to Washington Elms and Newtowne Court, government housing projects sandwiched between Harvard and Kendall Squares, just a five cent ride on the MTA to either Harvard University or MIT.
My epiphany came slowly, incrementally, over time.
I recall often having my mother send me up to City Hall to pick up our ADC or Welfare check. It was a walk I came to dread as much as any condemned man must surely dread the gallows or the execution chamber. I suppose I should have been grateful. After all, the Massachusetts Democratic “machine” had my best interests at heart. But I freely confess that it grew increasingly hard for me to feel thankful for the party’s generosity. I accepted the money as much grace as I could muster, but I also learned that each time I made the walk and held my hand out a sale was being recorded. I was selling my dignity to the Democrats for fifty or sixty dollars a transaction.
Looking back at it now I see what a trap it all was. I was the poster child for the nobility and generosity of the party. I was, in the minds of the machine, the hopeless waif, the son of an alcoholic who drank himself to death and a dolt of a mother. I would never be able to succeed without the support of the welfare system.
So, for years I had to accept, against my best interests, the role of “lawn jockey” for the machine. I rarely saw my benefactors, except when I made that dreaded walk to City Hall or when election time rolled around. Then Tip O’Neill’s precinct captains would be sure to drop by and enroll me and my mother in the latest version of the “get out the vote for the Democrats” game. While I should have questioned their intentions, I didn't. After selling my dignity for a few bucks a month, selling my labor for a few empty political promises didn't seem too hard at all.
I don't know how I made it, but, against all odds, I actually completed high school, graduating in the upper half of Cambridge High and Latin's class of 1960. I was hoping for college or a good job. I found neither. The good jobs were taken by people with better pedigrees. But how could I complain? They came from loyal Democratic families just like I had. And, while I felt that I was college material, I had to accept the idea that my address and background disqualified me from attending the good universities, the Cornells, the Columbias, the Yales, the Stanfords, the Harvards, the MIT's.
Not despairing, I joined the Air Force in 1961. While college or a good job would have been nice, serving the country and the ideals of John Kennedy didn't strike me as the end of the line. I served ably and well for eight eventful, tumultuous years. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, the assassination of JFK, LBJ's “guns and butter” economy. I did tours in Texas, California, Washington D.C., Newfoundland, Vietnam, Panama, Ohio and other posts around the world.
Vietnam was the point of uncoupling for me, the point at which my epiphany became complete. It came about half way through my tour, during a Christmas lull in the fighting. Like many GI's I received an anonymous care package from the states. Mine was from some unknown sorority pledge attending Bryn Mawr College. I opened it expectantly, hoping to find some token of appreciation. What I found instead was a can of Ken-L Ration dog food with a gift card that read, “Eat hearty, you rotten animal.” A fellow American, a product of American liberal education, someone who probably later became one of Eugene McCarthy’s peace Democrats, had done what the Viet Cong had been unable to do with a gun. I was badly wounded
Life had come full circle for me. I'd graduated from Boston's South End to Cambridge's government housing projects to the Vietnam War. I'd moved down the social ladder from hopeless waif to party lawn jockey to rotten animal. And it was all because the Massachusetts Democratic machine had my best interests at heart
Wounded men, if the wound isn't mortal, will cling to anyone who will help. For me the help came in the form of Anita Bryant. I attended a USO Christmas show at Tan Son Nhut Air Base a few days before Christmas. There was Bob Hope who was wonderful. And I think Miss World might have been there. But more than anything for me there was Anita Bryant singing “Silent Night” and closing by telling us that a lot of Americans cared about us, were praying for us, and hoping we would all come home safely. All of this had come on the heels of an encounter with a fellow solider who loved Jesus, loved me, and told me that I needed God in my life.

I’m sure now that folks from the machine back in Boston would have thought all of this smacked too much of family values. I’m sure they would have tried to find a way to keep my dependent upon them. But I didn’t. I left and prayed that night for the first time since I was a child. In the years between those two prayers the thought of praying never really occurred to me. My thinking had been, “Why invoke the aid of The Almighty when the Democratic Party is looking out for your best interests?” So, I prayed and I believe the prayer was heard and answered. I embraced evangelical Christianity and the divorce with the Democratic Party was complete. My life could now move forward. I left the Air Force a few years later. I went to Judson College, a small Baptist school about thirty miles west of Chicago and got an undergraduate degree in communications, with “High Distinction.” I then attended seminary in Kansas City and got a Masters' degree in theology. I did most of it thanks to the GI Bill and academic scholarships. I suppose there are some who might argue that the GI Bill was given to me generously by the Democratic Party. I maintain that I earned every penny.
From that point to this I've lived what I believe is a modestly successful life. I had a good career with FedEx and have recently retired. I'm happily married. I'm a man of modest means. I take a daily walk through the streets of Emporia and can't say that I see what Alterman and Frank see. It's not that I don't see problems. They're here alright. There are dogs that bite occasionally. There are some folks around these parts who occasionally write bad checks. There are a few slum-lords. And, there's institutional inertia, to be sure. But when I compare it all to the government housing projects I grew up in, with their crime, hopelessness, decay, and perpetual dependency it doesn't seem so bad.
I suppose I'm like a lot of Emporians who mindlessly focuses on values and steadfastly refuses to genuflect every time I read or hear something produced by the Illuminati. But, in the last year or so I've read Mr. Alterman’s work, some of Mr. Frank's, George Soros's, Karl Marx's, Charles Darwin's, Paul Erlich's and others. I've also had the opportunity to read the work of Walter Berns, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Solzhenitsyn, Augustine, Aquinas, Richard Perle, and others during the same time. I've also re-read my way through Holy Writ. I've done that and have made the same comparisons I made between the streets of Emporia with the streets of Boston's “south end” and Cambridge's government housing projects. My conclusion remains the same. The sins they accuse the Republicans of committing are the sins they're actually guilty of themselves. While they accuse the Republicans of manipulating us, I maintain that they treat people “less fortunate than them” as if they were chattel to be displayed as signs of their superior wisdom and compassion.
Centuries ago, at a time of great travail, the Children of Israel almost went back into the “bitter bondage of Egypt.” They heard the wheels of their oppressors' chariots and the whips of their charioteers cracking in the distance and nearly grew faint of heart. As I sit here in twenty first century Kansas, reading the work of men like Alterman and Frank, I can also hear the scream of the wheels and the crack of the whips in the distance. I sit here now filled with memories of bitter bondage, memories of Washington Elms and Newtowne Court, memories of “guns and butter,” memories of a Christmas gift. The past collides with the present and interrupts the serenity of my life here in the Kansas Flint Hills. These pharaohs of the electronic age confess they don’t understand why I so steadfastly refuse the liberation they offer. They plead with me to return. “Don’t go too far.” “Make sure you leave your children with us.” “If you can’t leave the children, then leave us your cattle and goods.” (see Exodus chapters 8 through 10) But experience has taught me that returning would mean, once more, having to make “bricks without straw.” In these moments I, like the Children of Israel, sometimes grow faint of heart. In these moments of weakness I may even momentarily mistake the sound of the whips cracking for the siren’s song. But I’ve learned here in the Kansas Flint Hills that these moments of weakness will pass. And I’ve learned there’s one mistake I’ll never make again. I'll never go back to Egypt!

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

It'll Be a Gas!

2 Corinthians 10:9-10 (New International Version)

“I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”

On Friday night I went over to Jim and Judy Kegin’s place. Jim is now living in Presbyterian Manor; the Pick’s Disease he was diagnosed with a couple of years ago is taking its progressively heavy toll. Judy is moving to a new apartment complex in town called Ashley Estates. Thus, Friday night a small group of us went over to load up the truck for her. There wasn’t a lot of stuff to move, a washer and dryer, sofas, computer and computer desk, boxes of books, a box filled with Jim’s ordination certificate, Doctor of Ministry certificate, and so forth. We were done with it all in about two and a half hours.

One of the things I carried out was a large globe of the world on a stand. As I was doing it someone mentioned that I now had the weight of the world on my shoulders. Given my writing lately it must seem so to those who occasionally read this blog.

This all comes at an unusual time for me. I feel absolutely great. Nancy and I are looking forward to a trip to Zion National Park in September to celebrate our twentieth anniversary and then in December we’re going to spend a few days with some very dear friends in North Carolina. Nancy’s mother and brother are moving to Emporia, which is really good news for us. My granddaughter is starting college in a few days. There’s a lot for me to be happy about.

But, along with the sweet comes the bitter. Seeing Jim’s condition deteriorate is heartbreaking. That was especially evident to me as I looked at all the memorabilia celebrating his thirst for knowledge and education. It just seems so unfair to me, so un-just.

And, the news from the Middle-East is getting heavier by the day. The thing that bothers me most in the tragedy being played out there is that Israel is now being cast as the villain in this morality play. And, beyond all the machinations to bring peace to the region, there is something very stilted in the air. As Sweeney Todd’s mother said, “There’s demons lurkin’ about.” Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are casting heavy shadows on everything that’s going on over there. Just a few days ago Ahmadinejad called for a cease fire. It seemed like good news. But following on the heels of that he also made it clear that Iran’s intent in this matter, whether sooner or later, is the complete destruction of Israel:

“Although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate cease-fire must be implemented,” Ahmadinejad said, according to state-run television in a report posted on its Web site.”

France’s foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said that Iran’s statement was “absolutely unacceptable” and is “ruining its chances to play a positive and stabilizing role in the Middle East.”

I guess the French must have felt the need to inject a bit of comic relief into this otherwise deadly serious crisis.

I suppose I shouldn’t take this all too seriously. After all, humor often defuses what could be a crisis. Right?

Back in the sixties, and continuing into the early seventies, Hogan’s Heroes was one of the most popular sitcoms on television. It brought comic relief to the nation at a time when we were in the midst of a very unpopular war. I never could quite bring myself to see what was so funny about life in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. But millions of others apparently did. The show ran for close to ten years, and may even still be in syndication.

It all makes me wonder if some enterprising network guru might have his script writers working on something humorous to help the public deal with the current crisis. Maybe they’re working on a sitcom about the death camps that dotted Europe’s landscape back in the thirties and forties. I can almost see the team sitting in a conference room working on it right now. “Let’s see, we can revive Schultzie and Colonel Klink.”
“Ooooh, I like that. We’ll have them bumbling around the barracks while the smoke rises.”
“The public will love it.”
“Just throw in a couple of prison-wise Zionists for good measure and we’ll have ourselves a hit.”
The Nielsen’s will absolutely explode.”
“Oh man, oh man. It’ll be a gas! It’ll be an absolute gas!”

Yes, I suppose I should lighten up. I should see the humor in all of this. But, I can’t. Some things just aren’t funny.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

"The Pitiless Crowbar of Events"

Jeremiah 4:19-21 (New Living Translation)

“My heart, my heart--I writhe in pain! My heart pounds within me! I cannot be still. For I have heard the blast of enemy trumpets and the roar of their battle cries. Waves of destruction roll over the land, until it lies in complete desolation. Suddenly, every tent is destroyed; in a moment, every shelter is crushed. How long must this go on? How long must I be surrounded by war and death?”

It appears that the United States and France have agreed on a draft resolution that would call for an end to the hostilities in the Middle-East. Just a few minutes ago I read a dispatch from Fox that:

“Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.”

On its face the proposal seems too tempting to turn down. It appears that we can have, as a statesman declared while he waved a piece of signed paper to a war weary world three generations ago, “peace in our time.”

While the details are still to be worked out, one that seems quite agreeable to Israel that it recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself against aggression.

That seems utterly astounding to me. The best we could negotiate for Israel, the nation flagrantly attacked at the beginning of this conflict, was that she has a right to defend itself. Utterly astounding!

The proposal is going to the U.N. Security Council for discussion later this afternoon, and then on to the involved parties.

Condoleezza Rice and John Bolton are probably operating under the assumption that the deal will be amenable to Ehud Olmert and the Israelis. The open question, I guess, is “How will the agreement be seen by Hezbollah’s leadership?” If the full scope of Hassan Nasrallah’s history is any indication it doesn’t look good. In a July 28th press conference broadcast to the Arab world, for example, he had these chilling words of cheer for the free world:

“Lastly, to the enemy and the rest of the world. I want to tell you that we are prepared to continue this war. We are also not afraid to continue to sacrifice ourselves because we are accustomed to that. We will never bend down in the campaign of wills and determination. We will not be defeated.”

“To President Bush, Prime Minister Olmert and every other tyrannical aggressor. I want to invite you to do what you want, practice your hostilities. By God, you will not succeed in erasing our memory, our presence or eradicating our strong belief. Your masses will soon waste away and your days are numbered. You, the oppressors, will soon witness the reversal of your fortunes. The end belongs to the fearful believers. May God's peace, blessings and mercy be upon all of you.”

I hate to say it, but in the face of the ambiguity paralyzing the west Nasrallah’s words are abundantly clear. Parsed into a single Flint Hills sentence they read, “Israel, you’re first, then George Bush and America, you’re next!”

Some time next week, accompanied by trumpets and flourishes, the diplomats will all sign on to a document that will contain the ever elusive promise of “peace in our time.” Israel, under enormous pressure from the U.S. State Department will reluctantly agree. Hassan Nasrallah will accede to his puppet masters, declare victory, and bide his time.

In short, Syria, Iran, and Nasrallah will get all they want while Israel will be left twisting in the diplomatic winds. The insanity of it is almost overwhelming. As Victor Davis Hanson said earlier today:

“Our present generation too is on the brink of moral insanity. That has never been more evident than in the last three weeks, as the West has proven utterly unable to distinguish between an attacked democracy that seeks to strike back at terrorist combatants, and terrorist aggressors who seek to kill civilians.”

I feel that the air is filled with clichés – “Peace in our time” – “Peace is at hand” – “Peace at any price.”

Right after lunch I dusted off my video of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 commencement address at Harvard University. I recall so well how he came to America as a hero for human freedom, recognized as a having been granted by experience a unique insight into the evils of socialism. When he came it was assumed he would become a champion of western ways. What the good folks at Harvard got instead was the wooly-bearded prophet unloading on their misguided ideologies. He chided the west, America in particular, for its naïve notion that the dangers to freedom could be abolished through negotiations or balances of power. He warned us that we were becoming blinded by our superiority. He warned us in broad, graphic strokes about the dangers of materialism that was stripping us of our spiritual cores. He told us that evil was on the offensive and he scoffed and asked “what is all this joy about?” He said that the pitiless crowbar of events was slowly descending on us. Reading from prepared notes, he peered into the emptiness of our collective souls and found us wanting. When he was done, we’d had enough of him; we wanted nothing more to do with him. In time we cast him off like Jeremiah being lowered into the well. “Away with him; he’s a traitor.” We haven’t heard from him since.

In listening to his words, and subsequently re-reading them, I see that the things he said had as much to do with today as they had with the world of 1978. They rang true then, and they ring true today:

“And what shall we say about the dark realm of criminality as such? Legal frames (especially in the United States) are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorists' civil rights.”

“Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature; the world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems which must be corrected.”

Sometime next week John Bolton will be glad-handing with his fellow bureaucrats at the United Nations. When the deed is done they’ll probably retire to the Tavern on the Green for a good meal, complemented by a glass or two of fine wine and talk of “peace in our time.” Meanwhile, about eight hours to the east as the jumbo-jet flies, Hassan Nasrallah and his puppet masters will be celebrating. They won’t be eating good food or drinking fine wine. They’ll be looking to the future, hatching schemes. If all goes according to their plan, in a few years time diplomats will be waving another piece of paper at the world. Then, shortly after that, when Israel is given over to her tormentors, they’ll make the apology to the “necessary” victims given in the cause of peace:

“I have nothing to be ashamed of. Let those who have, hang their heads. We must feel profound sympathy for a small and gallant nation in the hour of their national grief and loss.”

“I say in the name of this House and of the people of this country that Czechoslovakia (Israel) has earned our admiration and respect for her restraint, for her dignity, for her magnificent discipline in face of such a trial as few nations have ever been called upon to meet.”

The pitiless crowbar of events is indeed marching on. I see it and I echo Jeremiah’s words – “How long must this go on?”

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Bristling With Hostility

“In contemporary American culture, the religions are more and more treated as just passing beliefs – almost as fads, older, stuffier, less liberal versions of so called New Age – rather than as the fundaments upon which the devout build their lives. (The noes have it!) And if religions are fundamental, well too bad – at least they’re the wrong fundaments – if they’re inconvenient, give them up!”

- Stephen Carter – “The Culture of Disbelief” (1993)

Sometimes bad news comes under the radar like the attack on Pearl Harbor. In a June 2, 2006 decision, Robert Pratt, Chief Judge of the Des Moines, Iowa circuit, ruled against Prison Fellowship Ministries in a lawsuit that had been filed against the ministry by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The net effect of the ruling was to declare Prison Fellowship’s faith based ministry unconstitutional. Judge Pratt has given Prison Fellowship sixty days to vacate its work, pending an almost certain appeal.

Judge Pratt’s primary rationale for the ruling was that:

“The program was “pervasively sectarian,” requiring participants to attend worship services, weekly revivals and religious community meetings. Participating inmates also were ordered to “engage in daily religious devotional practice.”

Barry Lynn, American’s United for Separation of Church and State’s executive director, couldn’t contain his joy over the rendered decision:

“There is no way to interpret this decision as anything but a body blow to so-called faith-based initiatives.”

The decision, if upheld, will have a major impact, there’s no doubt about it. For example, the nation’s prison recidivism rate is, according to Prison Fellowship’s president Mark Early, currently running at fifty percent. With 600,000 inmates being released from prison annually, it means that we can count on 300,000 doing something within three years to merit re-incarceration. The recidivism rate among those inmates who have worked their way through Prison Fellowship’s program is, while it’s still functioning, running at eight to eleven percent. The potential of that number is enormous. Think of it. Prison Fellowship’s number, applied to the current release rate, could mean that thousands fewer former prisoners would find their way back into the prison system. It could also mean that thousands and thousands fewer Americans might become victims of crime.

And this is the kind of decision that Barry Lynn is hailing! Apparently, higher recidivism was a much more favorable outcome in his mind than excoriating a fellow Christian. His anti-faith bias is much in keeping with the 2000 Santa Fe School Board vs. Doe decision that brought this withering dissent from Chief Justice William Rehnquist:

“The Court distorts existing precedent to conclude that the school district’s student-message program is invalid on its face under the Establishment Clause. But even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the Court’s opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life. Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the meaning of the Establishment Clause, when it is recalled that George Washington himself, at the request of the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights, proclaimed a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Presidential Proclamation, 1 Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789—1897, p. 64 (J. Richardson ed. 1897).”

While I have no doubt that Prison Fellowship will survive this battle, regardless of the outcome of the appeal, I’m troubled by this decision. I read the full transcript of the decision earlier today and I can now see clearly just how hostile our courts and culture are becoming to religion, particularly Evangelical Christianity. Having read the decision I can now see that, beyond the logistics and rationales for recent anti-faith decisions, some within our judiciary and other organizations (Americans United, for example) are using the nation’s courts as a testing ground to decide which religious beliefs are normative and which aren’t. The circuit court in Des Moines made what amounted to a theological decision, enshrining its view of normative religion and subtly declaring that Evangelical Christianity was not in the mainstream of any religion, particularly the Christian religion. Lest you think I’m a conspiracy theorist I’ll cite some examples directly from the decision. The first, written early on in the decision follows:

“Throughout this Memorandum and Order, the Court will describe Prison Fellowship and
InnerChange’s theological position, as reflected in its public statements, curriculum, and in practice at the Newton Facility, as Evangelical Christian rather than simply Christian or Non-Denominational Christian.”

About a page later the following judicial opinion was rendered:

“As will be evident from the facts set forth, the religious nature of the InnerChange program is not only distinct from non-Christian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Native American practices, and Judaism, for example) as well as atheist or agnostic practices, it is also quite distinct from other self-described Christian faiths, such as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Greek Orthodoxy. Evidence shows that the Evangelical Christian message is also distinct from the beliefs held by self-described Protestant Christian denominations such as Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian, again, to name only a few.”

What was so egregiously out of the mainstream of current Christian thought? The court cited Prison Fellowship’s statement of faith:

“We believe in one God, Creator and Lord of the Universe; the coeternal Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We believe that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary atoning death on the cross, rose bodily from the dead, and ascended to heaven where, as truly God and truly man, He is the only mediator between God and man.

We believe that the Bible is God’s authoritative and inspired Word. It is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, and its own origins, and salvation. Christians must submit to its divine authority both individually and corporately, in all matters of belief and conduct, which is demonstrated by true righteous living. We believe that all people are lost sinners and cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven except through the new birth. Justification is by grace through faith in Christ alone. We believe in one holy, universal, and apostolic Church. Its calling is to worship God and witness concerning its Head, Jesus Christ, preaching the Gospel among all nations and demonstrating its commitment by compassionate service to the needs of human beings and promoting righteousness and justice.
We believe in the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit for the individual’s new birth and growth to maturity and for the Church’s constant renewal in truth, wisdom, faith, holiness, love, power, and mission. We believe that Jesus Christ will personally and visibly return in glory to raise the dead and bring salvation and judgment to completion. God will fully manifest His Kingdom when He establishes a new heaven and new earth, in which He will be glorified forever and exclude all evil, suffering, and death.”

Once you’ve read the statement of faith I hope you’ll find it eerily reminiscent of statements the Christian Church has made throughout human history, such as the Nicene Creed, which follows:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

But, the court didn’t stop there. It ended with this flourish, which was enough to make what little hair I have on my head stand on end:

“Evangelical Christianity tends to be anti-sacramental, which means it downplays the traditional sacramental Christian events—baptism, holy communion or Eucharist, marriage, ordination, etc.—as appropriate ways to interact or meet with God. Along with initial adult conversion, contemporary Evangelical Christianity emphasizes religious experience—the actual experience of God in the believer’s life. Evangelical Christians, therefore, are receptive to overt, actual displays of this experience much like those manifested in Pentecostal Christianity. Additionally, for Evangelical Christians, everything that happens in the world is understood through and interpreted by religious language. For many Evangelical Christians, the belief in creationism and suspicion of evolutionary theory is also present. Finally, the Evangelical Christian stance toward religious institutions is one of suspicion. This is most obviously seen in the worship style. Whereas traditional, organized religious groups, such as Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, and Lutherans, employ a structured, highly liturgical style of worship, Evangelical Christian worship is free form with individual pastors given authority to determine how services are planned. For instance, Evangelical Christians have embraced contemporary music forms and multi-media presentations.”

I’m sure that Judge Pratt would insist that he made his decision in the matter based on the merits, and would be able to provide enough legal smokescreens to prove his point. I don’t for a moment believe him, nor do I believe in the good will of Barry Lynn and the folks at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. What the decision says, clearly, is that anyone else who takes their faith as seriously as Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Intelligent Design proponents, and others who actually have the temerity to believe in “actual, overt displays” of faith in the public square will have no standing in this nation’s courts. They’re heretics, living and thinking in direct opposition to the prevailing religion, whatever the courts determine it to be. Not only is the decision rendered by Judge Pratt bristling with hostility, it’s bristling with the kind of theological insanity that could effectively shut religion out of American public life and policy.

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