Pray for Guam

Standard

Of all the reasons to find Donald Trump despicable this week, his dismissal of Guam as a possible target for North Korea is the highest on my list.

Every time he opened his bellicose mouth, he implied that Guam and its 160,000 people are expendable.

As if there aren’t young children who may be being taught to duck and cover right now.

As if there aren’t teen-agers dreaming about their futures now.

As if there aren’t adults with a long bucket list.

As if there aren’t elders hoping for security and comfort in their old age.

But Guam has always been expendable to imperial powers, including the Church of Rome, Spain, Japan, and the US.

Despite the fact that the Chamorros settled there at least 4,000 years ago, Tana l’ManChamorro (Land of the Chamorros) has never been self-governing in the modern era. It has been used and abused for what it can offer foreign military strategists and economic strategists.

We can thank good old Teddy Roosevelt, the founder of American Imperialism, for the US takeover of Guam in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, about which he was so “bully”-ish. Fast forward to Pearl Harbor and the taking of Guam by Japan and Tana l’ManChamorro became a very hot zone until the US reclaimed it in 1944.

Despite Governor Eddie Baza Calvo’s public remarks that the colony is not worried about nuclear threats, there are real people on the island who are and who wonder why no one is considering what could happen to them.

The Washington Post wrote about some of them the other day: “ ‘If anything happens, we all got to be ready, be prepared, and pray to God that it doesn’t happen,’ Daisy Mendiola, 56, said after finishing lunch with her family at a restaurant near Hagatna. ‘Everyone’s afraid, because we’re dealing with powers that’s beyond us.’

“Other residents are worried about the political atmosphere and the government’s ability to find a peaceful solution.

“Todd Thompson, a lawyer who lives on Guam, said he laughed off past threats because he ‘figured cooler heads in Washington would prevail, and it was just an idle threat.’ “

But now we know there are not cooler heads in Washington or in New Jersey.

I am a child of the Cold War. I heard a lot of talk about building bomb shelters, though my family did not have one. I laid awake nights putting myself into utter terror thinking of what might happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I wouldn’t let myself go to sleep for fear that I wouldn’t wake up.

No child should ever feel that way. No parent should have to comfort a sleepless child when the parent herself doesn’t know what might happen.

More important, no US president should ever be spouting off threats of nuclear destruction when he has zero knowledge of the true state of the world.

Guam is a little Garden of Eden, by all descriptions. Sandy beaches, temperate weather, friendly people. To misquote Joni Mitchell, please don’t bomb paradise and put up a radioactive parking lot.

 

 

 

Refugees – 0; White Supremacy – 14

Standard

It started this way:

I follow Amarnath Amarasingam on Twitter. He is a senior research fellow at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. On July 19, he posted part of an article that he and Jacob Davey wrote for The Mantle, a newsletter of mantlethought.org about Generation Identitaire.

Among other things this group does is hire ships to go to sea and interfere with humanitarian efforts to rescue refugees.

“They are vehemently nativist, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-liberal and anti-left wing. Individual members of the group express support for white supremacism, and their anti-globalist rhetoric is often dog-whistle anti-Semitism,” wrote Mr. Amarasingam and Mr. Davey in their article.

I responded to Mr. Amarasingam’s tweet: “Heard about them about a month ago. Scariest thing is how young they are. What makes people so evil?”

I got many likes and retweets and one comment agreeing with me. Two people took exception. Here’s the first one:

“And let’s be clear, they are human beings that fit your narrative. If Donald Trump and his family was in a boat you’d be happy to see it sunk.”

Not sure how this person knows that I would do that. In fact, I would try to save them if I were in a position to, but I’m sure the Trumps would take over my boat and toss me off.

Someone else was much more exercised and sent several tweets between July 19 and July 24. This is the order in which they came. I am omitting quotation marks now and have not edited the tweets for spelling or grammar:

  1. A majority of the people in Italy are pleading to stop these NGO’s are 62% of the Italians Evil?
  2. Are the Dutch, Austrians and Poles assholes because they do not want to subjugate their country to Africans?
  3. Africa a continent 5 times the size of Europe, full of minerals and resources abundant agricultural opportunities? Why Europe??

(I responded that perhaps the answer is karma because Europe had raped Africa and plundered its resources.)

  1. The white Europeans are the destiny for millions Africans, while Africa is 5 times Europ, full of resources and agricultural posibilities.

(I responded that this is the original racist argument and doesn’t fly.)

  1. In 1900 a large part of Africa did not have a written history, they literally lived in the pre-history
  2. Colonization lasted 60 years, compare that with Polish plight, It was invade in 1939 and freed in 1990. Befor 1914 itwas 200 year occupied
  3. Africans had cordial contact with Europeans since 1450, but somehowe they did not learn anything from the Europeans
  4. It was in 1900 that Europeans started to abolish slavery in Africa.
  5. Europeans did not need much resources during the period of Colonization
  6. The population explosion in Africa is thanks to Europeans, Nigeria can only feed its population thanks to oil export!
  7. By blaming the Europeans for the plight of the Africans you are inciting hate and conducting hate speech.
  8. 11 mln black slaves were transported in 200 years all sold by black Africans, 11 mln white males were slaughtered in 4 years Worl War I
  9. (This is paraphrased) You don’t know your African history.
  10. Strong line of reasoning: “they are white supremacist”. brilliant!

Well, I guess they told me! In all this tweeting, however, I can’t help but think of the boatloads of Jews who were turned away from safe shores in the late 1930s.

 

Pentecost in the Age of Trump

Standard

A sermon preached on 6/4/17 at Christ Trinity Church in Sheffield, MA

O Holy Spirit of God, abide with us.
Inspire all our thoughts.
Pervade our imaginations.
Suggest all our decisions.
Order all our doings.
Be with us in our silence and in our speech,
In our haste and in our leisure,
In company and in solitude,
In the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening,
And give us grace at all times
Humbly to receive thy mysterious companionships.

If the apostles thought they were in danger before Jesus came and breathed on them, thus imparting to them His Holy Spirit, they were in even more danger afterward.

To let God use your mind, your heart, and your hands is indeed a perilous venture, my friends. For when you do, you open yourselves to ridicule, to mocking, to having to place yourself at both physical and spiritual risk.

I have always thought of the mysterious companionships mentioned in the prayer as creatures of the natural world. Indeed, I believe that God used such creatures to draw me closer and closer to Her. I can’t tell you the number of times that, in moments of deep discouragement, a swallowtail butterfly has swirled around me, or a wolf, though attached to a chain, has come up to me and licked my hand, or a dragonfly has landed on my arm, and immediately all bad thoughts have evaporated and I have felt comforted and loved.

Kissed on Both Eyelids

I have felt as the actor Walter Slezak felt when he wrote in his autobiography that upon meeting his future wife, he felt as if God had kissed him on both eyelids. Isn’t that warm and cozy and comforting?

As I get older, however, and look at the patterns of my life, and if we look at the patterns of the apostles’ lives after Pentecost, we can see that there is much more to the working of the Holy Spirit in ourselves, in the church, and in the world.

There comes saying the unpopular thing that needs to be heard. There comes daring to love the unlovable. There comes befriending one’s enemies. There comes, at all times and in all places, an involuntary urge to do the right thing, no matter the cost.

 There comes action, according to the gifts the Spirit gives each one of us.

The original Pentecost was a Jewish holiday called Shavuot. Fifty days after Passover, Jews still celebrate the day on which God gave the Israelites the Torah and they became His people. This year it was celebrated on June 1.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for spirit is “ruah,” meaning wind, power, strength. In the New Testament, the Greek word “pneuma” is used for the Holy Spirit, meaning breath. We see them both used in the readings from Acts and in John’s Gospel. Notice the differences in them, though. In Acts, Jerusalem is filled with people who have come to celebrate Shavuot, which has now morphed into a harvest festival. Suddenly a violent wind comes into the house where the apostles are staying and tongues of fire rest on them. Suddenly they are able to speak in other languages, and every person in the city hears them speak in their own language.

John’s Pentecost is taking place on the same day as the Resurrection. The frightened Apostles are barricaded behind locked doors. Jesus comes to them and breathes on them, recalling Genesis and God’s breath into the first human being. Jesus said to the apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Real Kiss of Life

What ties the two Scriptures together is not obvious. One depicts the Apostles in the middle of a micro-storm and includes hundreds of other people. The second shows a very quiet moment in which Jesus is not only breathing on them, but into them. This is no artificial respiration, but it is the real kiss of life, the sealing of them as His own and marking them forever as people who are commissioned to go out into the world and be Jesus in the world. And as he did it to the apostles, he did it to us.

When the Spirit comes, Jesus tells the Apostles in Chapter 16 of John, “. . .he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Matt Skinner of the Lutheran Theological Seminary puts it this way: “That is, in the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers receive nothing less than the fullness of the glorified Son. Their lives (ours, too) can therefore accomplish ends similar to his life’s, insofar as they reveal God.”

The world that the Spirit comes to prove wrong, through the Apostles and through us, “usually indicates a hostile and ignorant response to the truth that Jesus embodies,” Mr. Skinner says. And by the most intimate divine act possible, that of breathing into us, Jesus assures us that His peace is not that of the world, not just the cozy and comforting view I’ve had, but peace that gives confidence that no matter how bad it gets, Jesus is with us through it all.

But what do we make of the final verse of today’s gospel reading? Quoting Mr. Skinner again, “The Johannine Pentecost” goes like this:

Jesus bestows peace upon his worried followers. Great!

Jesus fills them with the Holy Spirit. Great!

Jesus tells them they can forgive or retain other people’s sins. Huh?”

We have to look back at the verse from Chapter 16 and throughout the rest of John to understand that, no, we are not given the responsibility of coming up with a balance sheet of other people’s rights and wrongs.

Sin As Estrangement

Over and over again in John, Jesus talks about Himself and his relationship to the Father, and that if one can’t believe what he says, one remains separated from God, and so the word “sin” here in today’s reading refers to that estrangement, that separation. To forgive people’s sins here doesn’t mean that we are to give absolution for others’ moral failings, but that we, as commissioned by Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit, can help set people free from their unbelief by bearing witness to Jesus in our lives. If we don’t, the estrangement from God is “retained” in the world.

In a way, Jesus is really pointing out cause and effect: If you, my apostles, my followers, my church, bear witness to me, you will help to free people from their unbelief. If you don’t, that unbelief will continue.

To relate this back to Acts, I have to address the elephant in the room. Yesterday, seven people were killed by terrorists in London. At least 28 others were wounded, some life-threateningly so. This is the second terrorist attack in England in two weeks.

At least 90 people, mostly women and children, died in Kabul, Afghanistan this week in a terrorist attack, and several killed at a funeral Friday for a young man who was protesting the lack of security in Kabul and was shot by police.

In the US, there have been two fatal incidents of domestic terrorism in the past two weeks. A white supremacist fatally stabbed Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were fatally stabbed and Micah Fletcher wounded in Portland when they intervened with a white supremacist who was harassing two young women whom he believed were Muslim.

African-American college student Richard Collins III was fatally stabbed by a white supremacist student on his college campus two weeks ago.

Our President condemns attacks on white Westerners and uses them to push his travel ban. We hear very little from him about the domestic terroristic attacks, which I believe were empowered by this government, or when Muslims are killed by others who call themselves Muslims but pervert the faith of Islam.

Luke writes at least twice about God’s unifying vision of all people, about anti-discrimination if you will. Today’s scripture, which is always read on Pentecost, shows people from dozens of nations able to understand each other, able to hear each other, after the Holy Spirit comes in wind and fire.

Is this then the true work of the Holy Spirit? To empower us to set others’ free from the deadly sins of extremism and racism? To radically learn to UNDERSTAND each other and HEAR each other, no matter who we are and where we’re from. To radically DEFEND those who are attacked and to intervene when we witness the discrimination, the hate of those who have rejected the Kingdom of God?

I would have preferred to dwell on the cozy and comforting aspects of the mysterious companionships today, my friends. I would rather not have to ask you, or myself, if you had been on that train in Portland, would you have intervened? I would rather have played Pollyanna’s “glad game” and left you with rosy and optimistic thoughts.

But our world, and our country, becomes more dangerous every day as the sins of racism on all sides do their evil work, inside our country and out of it. So today, I say, the mysterious companionships are courage, strength, and fortitude to resist the evil work at every pass. This is what Jesus is breathing into us today. Will we accept the grace to do that?

Everyone Belongs in the Kingdom

Standard

My little garden in a little town in a little state is my refuge, my haven, my glimpse of the Kingdom.

It is in shade, yet there are flowering plants and lots of green foliage. I did a little work and nature did the rest. In the near distance are trees dappled in sunlight in the late afternoon and a glimpse of the churchyard next door.

Robins and catbirds and sparrows and swifts sit on the fence and call to the universe or fly and dart about. Honeybees cover the cimicifuga and they are more than welcome. Fat bumblebees fly up into the heart of the hosta blossoms. I sit with my coffee and my book and my mature, overweight cat lazes nearby.

A chipmunk runs across the paving stones from one clump of vegetation to another. A poodle pup named Rory charges up the path from next door, tail wagging, to greet me. Onyx flips her tail and eyes him warily. I give him a good patting and send him back to his owner.

Yes, the Kingdom, the harmony, the peace despite a busy major route just yards away. For 45 minutes a day most days I can come to my retreat and, ideally, shed the tensions of the work day.

It is more difficult to shed the tensions of the world. Even more difficult is that I am ever mindful of the fact that there is no haven, no blessed retreat, no Kingdom for so many people on this Earth, our island home spinning through a universe of wonders and horrors.

Is it neurosis or social conscience that never lets me forget how privileged my life has been? I have known loss and grief. My mother died when she was the age I’ll be in September, a short, violent battle with liver cancer that took her before we could even get our minds around what was happening to her. My beloved brother died when he was the age I am now, a long, drawn-out battle with pancreatic cancer that left him a bag of bones loosely covered in flesh, and it was almost impossible to recognize the athletic, handsome, dignified youth and man he had been.

People, pets, jobs, relationships, the losses that are the normal stuff of most lives.

But no one I love has ever been executed because of the color of his skin. No one I love has so far been in the path of a terrorist. No child of mine has ever lived in a war zone or had to risk drowning to reach a shore of safety.

In the late 1980s, the African National Congress toured the world with a documentary called “Every Child is My Child.” Along with all the political and economic and humanitarian efforts to end the evil called apartheid, it galvanized people to look at the struggle in a new way.

For me, it reinforced the feeling that I have known as long as I can remember, that every person is my child, my sister, my brother, my mother, my father, and the Kingdom is not mine alone to enjoy. It won’t be the Kingdom until everyone can live without fear, in safety and peace, in the sure knowledge that when they wake up to a new day, they are not risking their lives by stepping outside their doors.

 

Brexit + Trump = Bad News

Standard

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, we are hearing a lot of apologias for the vote to leave the European Union and are told that we must try to understand why people voted this way.

Many similarities have been seen between those Brexit voters in England and the followers of Donald Trump, so therefore we must also try to understand the Trump followers and find out what they want. Presumably we are also supposed to try to give them what they want without actually making Donald Trump the President.

This is a populist movement, we’re told, by the working class who want a better life, better jobs, better everything, and don’t believe they will get it from the elite ruling establishment. It is not about racism, it is not about immigration and open borders, we’re told. It is simply about wanting a better life and self-determination.

My response? BALLS! It is about self-interest, pure and simple; it is about wanting only what is good for oneself; it is about ignoring the interests of one’s country as a whole; it is about retaliation; above all, in my opinion, it is about the longing of white men to be king of the hill again.

The rise of Donald Trump and the rise of the agitation to leave the EU have one really big thing in common: immigration in the US and the refugee crisis in Europe.

The leaders of the agitation are not working class, are not poor, and most assuredly do not have the interests of the “common man” in their hearts. What they do have is the ability to exploit and manipulate fears of the “other” among their followers, to an almost maniacal degree.

Who suffers most from closed borders? Black and brown people and non-Christians. It’s that simple, friends. And it’s that evil.

Whether it’s a virtual wall or a physical wall, these two phenomena want to keep out the other and keep all the goodies for themselves. But making that wall means getting rid of the other who crossed the border when it was open. What does that lead to?

Thomas Mair, who allegedly murdered British parliamentarian Jo Cox in the cause of Brexit, had well-established ties to Neo-Nazi organizations. Neo-Nazi activists flocked to Donald Trump’s rally in Sacramento. Like Isis, they want to establish their own “caliphate” and return to the “good old days” of white men ruling the world. Don’t believe me? Read what the Southern Poverty Law Center has to say about the right(white)-wing activists who flocked to Sacramento: White Nationalism

But it won’t be the working class white men who benefit from Brexit or a Trump presidency; it will be the wealthy white elite, and they won’t (read don’t) give a rat’s ass about what’s good for the underclass.

I propose that instead of rounding up the black and brown and non-Christian immigrants/refugees, we round up the Trump followers and the England First followers into detention camps. Just for fun, let’s throw in the billionaire Libertarian agitators too. There they could receive the benefit of deep therapy to learn why they’re really so angry and be helped to recover from whatever real or imaginary wounds they have.

Meanwhile, I’ll be praying for all the people for whom Brexit and a possible Trump presidency hold dire, even life-threatening consequences.

I Refuse to be Scared

Standard

I am sick to death of morally bankrupt politicians telling me what and how Americans are feeling.

“Americans are scared.” “Americans don’t want Syrian refugees coming to this country.” “Americans want to know what’s going on inside mosques.”

First of all, I am not scared of being killed by terrorists. I was not scared after 9/11 and I’m not scared now. Here’s why: I do not think that my life is worth any more than anyone else’s on this planet. I do not think that I should be exempt from catastrophe and that the millions of people who deal with natural and manmade disasters on an almost daily basis shouldn’t be exempt.

I never say “There but for the grace of God go I” because I don’t believe that God causes bad things to happen to other people but not to me.

I never say, “See you tomorrow, God willing,” because I don’t believe God might decide to “take” me overnight or to “take” the other person and not me.

Human beings cause bad things to happen to people; human beings take lives. Human beings foment disasters. Human beings create situations in which toxins invade people’s bodies and cause cancer and other diseases. God does not.

Human beings pervert religious ideals to the point of needing to erase the lives of people who don’t agree with them. God does not.

God loves. God loves with a vastness that is hard to fathom until you feel such love yourself for another human being. Even then, we can feel only a small part of it.

I reverence life, all life, on this planet. But what I’m feeling now is that I would give my life if it would save one Syrian child  and bring that child to a haven where the child could heal and grow up and live a life without terror.

And I say to Donald Trump, “You, sir, are the dangerous one who needs to be removed from our society.”

To Jeb Bush: “You, sir, are the one who needs to put yourself in harm’s way if you think that boots on the ground is such a good idea.”

To Mike Huckabee: “Saying ‘for falalfel’s sake’ makes you not only stupid but ignorant and stupidly ignorant is far more dangerous than things that challenge physical safety.”

To Governor Charlie Baker: “Massachusetts is the FIRST state that should be accepting Syrian refugees since it was one of the first shores to which other refugees came so long ago.”

How dare you, Trump, Bush, Huckabee, Cruz, Baker, Fox News, Tea Partiers – how DARE you say that the United States has lost its moral compass when it is YOU who have torn that compass from its binnacle and tossed it overboard?

I say, You are terrorists also, and you do the same amount of psychic and spiritual damage that ISIS does physically. Your fear-mongering, your hate-mongering, your greed and your corruption have poisoned this country almost to the point of making it beyond recognition.

In my anger, though, I have some hope because I do believe that love will win. We saw it in the aftermath of 9/11; we saw it in the aftermath of Paris; love saves and love wins. There are a whole lot of people out there who agree with me, and we’re standing up and shouting it out.

Neither American nor Middle Eastern terrorists understand this, no matter what they profess. They don’t know what love is; they only know hate and fear.

Sorry, folks, you are going to lose. In many ways, you’ve lost already.

 

 

The Moral Universe – I Dream a World

Standard

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

Langston Hughes

From Langston Hughes to Walt Whitman to Wilfred Owens to Joan Baez to Pete Seeger and John Lennon to myriad other poets and songwriters, I have only heard and read of pleas for peace in our world.

Yes, there has been poetry and music that beats a drum, but I have never heard or read of an all-out plea for war.

Until President Obama decided to use diplomacy with Iran, that is. Now most Republicans and Benjamin Netanyahu’s party want war. With Iran. Despite the agreement of most world leaders, weapons experts, military authorities and, I’m sure, Pope Francis.

The fact that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz want to stage a protest in favor of war in our nation’s capital, which I have just come from, on my birthday makes it that much more personal.

Because I believe I was born knowing that very few wars solve anything. There have been wars that have had to be prosecuted, and were, but with great anguish and soul searching. Others have been prosecuted out of direct defense of home and hearth. Others have been entered into with great reluctance.

But for the United States, I’m having trouble coming up with one that involved pro-war protests. Correct me if I’m wrong.

So I have to ask, is it me whose thinking is scrambled, or is it them?

I recently read Erik Larson’s In the Garden of the Beast (the title is a loose translation of Tiergarten, the large park in the middle of Berlin). It is the story of the first US ambassador to Germany, who was sent there in the early 1930s particularly to try to get the new Chancellor, Adolph Hitler, to abide by the Treaty of Versailles.

Ambassador Joseph Dodd was an academic, not a diplomat. He was not part of the club that ruled the foreign service at that time. He thought he had President Franklin Roosevelt’s ear, but there were many right there in Washington who really wielded the power of foreign service.

Unsuitable as Dodd was, and as naïve about Hitler as he and his infamous daughter Martha were in their early days in Berlin, they did begin to recognize the truth about Hitler and Goering and Goebbels as friends began to go into exile or disappear. The Night of the Long Knives, during which a purge against German officials who were not loyal to Hitler took place, sealed it for the Dodds. But the ambassador’s warnings to his government went unheeded, and while we can’t say for sure whether earlier US intervention could have saved them, six million lives were lost.

So are we appeasing Iran with the treaty and will it come back to haunt us? Am I an isolationist trying to pretend that the possibility that this is the worst thing our government could do isn’t real?

No, we aren’t and I’m not.

If I compare the early 1930s in Germany to the 2000s in the US, I see much more of the insidious evil of Nazism in the very Republicans who are so eager to go to war with Iran. They have compared President Obama to Hitler, but it is they who want to keep a white supremacist ethos in this country. It is they who fear and loathe the “other” and want to keep the “other” out. It is they who have been paranoid about everything from ebola to immigrants to weapons of mass destruction. It is they who keep the death penalty going and don’t really seem to care whether the prisoner to be executed is innocent or not.

I believe I was born dreaming the world that Langston Hughes describes so beautifully. I won’t let the likes of Cruz and Trump to turn that dream into a nightmare.