Last year I got a new domain for my personal pages as part of upgrading my hosting package.Â Now I've finally gotten around to installing blogging software there so I can run my blog along with everything else at my hosting company.Â So new blog entries will now appear at Bill Samuel's Reflections, and I hope you will check it out.
We have been treated to great controversy about the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He has been bitterly denounced in The New York Times, by countless commentators, and by his parishioner Sen. Barack Obama.
We have been treated to sound bites designed to make Wright look like a kook. With a few exceptions, the mass media has failed to cover the real substance of the pastor's sermons. One of the sermons that has drawn controversy is one given shortly after 9-11; in fact, a thoughtful and reflectful sermon designed to get people looking at how the way we tend to respond when we feel attacked differs from the way God is calling us to respond.
Trinity UCC has posted this excerpt from that sermon:
Would that people would really listen to what the Lord led pastor Wright to say. Would that we would really reflect on the cycle of violence, and our role in it. Would we then realize, in the words of Bill Jolliff in the clip below, "You've got to choose."
Normally the news is dominated by stories of man's inhumanity to man, politicians squabbling with one another while avoiding penetrating discussion of real issues, and the misadventures of celebrities. It's usually pretty depressing.
This past week, however, was different. In the United States, a major story was the papal visit. In the Washington area, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI almost totally dominated the news for the three days he was here.
The news featured a major world figure who talks seriously in his gentle voice about things of eternal significance, and about social issues from a Christian perspective. Not fitting either a liberal or conservative stereotype, he dealt with such root causes as "an increasingly secular and materialistic culture." He showed special concern for the poor and the outcast, and took time to listen to those who had been abused by priests while expressing deep apologies for how the Church failed them. He spoke about issues of social justice and peace without any partisan rancor, but rather from a perspective of one seeking to be faithful to the Gospel message.
Another aspect of the story is the crowds joyfully celebrating the pastoral visit of the world's pre-eminent religious leader. It was good to see masses being joyful about matters of faith, knowing that for many of them it also represented an opportunity to examine and deepen their faith. And the visit had a positive impact on many who are not Catholic never even saw the Pope in person. Several people I know who have been wary of the Roman Catholic faith and doubtful of this particular pontiff were given hope when they heard and/or read of his words and how he conducted himself.
I am not a Catholic, and I don't agree with Pope Benedict on everything. But I thank him for the tremendous positive impact he made while in my country, and wish him the best as he continues to seek to be faithful to the tremendous responsibility he has accepted.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Â Those of us who are old enough probably remember that day.Â At the time, I was a student at Wilmington College, a college that was integrated since its founding in 1870 and, at the time I was a student, one of the most integrated campuses in the country.
That evening, on hearing the sad news, students spontaneously flocked to Thomas R. Kelly Religious Center on campus.Â It was locked, but we were able to find someone to unlock it so that we could share a time of quiet prayer and reflection together.
Towards the end of his life, Dr. King was repeatedly identifying racism, materialism and militarism as the major evils of the time. He was criticized for having a broader outlook than many thought appropriate for a civil rights leader, but he refused to be intimidated and insisted that these issues are interrelated.Â As a propheticÂ minister of the Gospel, he felt the call to identify our corporate sins and call us to repentance - to turn from our evil ways towards the shalom of God. He continued to speak out on all these issuesÂ until the assassin's bullet stilled his voice.
Four decades later, what do we see when we ponder where we've comes as a society on these critical issues?
Racism. This is an area where there are some visible signs of progress. It has become common to see African-Americans and other minorities in key positions of political power, and it looks likely that an African-American will be nominated by a major party for President this year. Young people are much more likely to have friends with different ethnic backgrounds than was true of their parents' and grandparents' generations. Many of the more obvious and glaring signs of racism are no longer much in evidence.
Seeing these signs, many white Americans mistakenly assume that racism is no longer a problem, at least not a serious one, and seek to dismantle affirmative action programs. But if you look deeper, you can see many indications that racism is still a virulent cancer affecting our society. Social and economic indicators show African-Americans and Hispanics with strikingly poorer prospects than whites. Racial profiling remains a big problem.Â Truly ethnically diverse public schools are less common today than decades ago. We have much to do to address the legacy of centuries of slavery and acute racism.
Materialism. Dr. King recognized that the greed of materialism led to many being mired in poverty. Today our society remains gripped by consumerism and the seductive call to get enough for our greed, not just our need. The economic divide has actually been growing in recent years. The rich are getting a lot richer, while the poor remain mired in poverty. America is very wealthy, but we remain well behind most other affluent nations on key indicators of social health stemming from our failure to include everyone in the benefits of our wealth as a nation.
Militarism. This I address in my other anniversaryÂ blog entryÂ today. Suffice it to say here that our country is addicted to military might at the expense of our own well-being and that of the whole world.
It is incumbent upon us to keep the dream alive. We need to make our own lives examples of living the values of the Biblical vision of Shalom, and seek to understand where we need to make prophetic witness to the larger society.
Bill Samuel, April 4, 2008
Fifty years ago today, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament began using the peace symbol.ÂÂ This was about the time I became active in the peace movement, goading my parents to spend a couple of weeks that summer in Cheyenne, Wyoming protesting the construction of a missile base.ÂÂ I was 10.ÂÂ The first peace witness I attended without my parents was two years later.
It can be very discouraging to look at where we've come in that time.ÂÂ There have been a number of hot wars since then, some of which the United States has been very prominent in, including two hot wars currently going on which the U.S. started.ÂÂ More nations have developed nuclear weapons, and the U.S. continues to have an enormous stockpile.ÂÂ The U.S. continues to have a bloated military budget, larger than that of all other nations combined, and hundreds of major military bases in 140 countries around the world.ÂÂ All three leading Presidential candidates advocate an even larger military budget.
But we should not be discouraged.ÂÂ There is much more going on to advocate peace than there was then.ÂÂ Humans have been warring for thousands of years, and it would be naive to expect that to be fully turned around in just 50 years.ÂÂ We must continue working for peace in the hope that our efforts do make a difference.
Investigate my life, O God,
Â Â Â find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
Â Â Â get a clear picture of what I'm about;
See for yourself whether I've done anything wrong -
Â Â Â then guide me on the road to eternal life.
Psalm 139:23-24 (Message)
I've been reflecting on New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's fall from power after the revelation of a scandal with a prostitution ring. The easy thing to do would be to self-righteously condemn him for his big moral lapse.
But I've been thinking the way we could more productively use this event is to look deep within ourselves, and examine the ways in which we don't live up to our ideals. You or I might not have such a dramatic failing or anything that would get us into the headlines, but most of us have areas of our lives in which we fall short.
The psalmist asks God to search him and find what is wrong in him, and then guide him in the right paths. This is something we each need to do.
This is the text of my Friends in Christ weekly message for March 15, 2008. Anyone can subscribe to these email messages at the Friends in Christ Web site.
MoveOn.org has announced that its members voted to endorse Barack Obama in a poll supposedly requiring 2/3 support. I'm on their email list (which they interpret as being a member), and I did some calculations based on the email I received from them announcing the endorsement.
MoveOn claimed 3.2 million members, and gave the vote results as 197,444 for Obama and 83,084 for Clinton. Running the percentages, I found that 6.2% of MoveOn members voted for Obama, which I personally would not consider a landslide. 91.2% of MoveOn's members were not counted at all in considering the endorsement.
Now maybe you are thinking, "Well, they could have voted and expressed their preference, couldn't they?" When the email announcing the poll came, I went to the poll, but there was no way to express my preference. There were only two options - Obama or Clinton. MoveOn deliberately disenfranchised all its members who did not favor endorsing either establishment candidate. We didn't count. There is no way of knowing how many of the 91.2% of MoveOn's members who weren't counted went to vote but didn't because they didn't favor either option, or didn't bother because from the email itself it appeared they would not be allowed to express their view. It is quite possible that these numbers would have dwarfed the numbers who voted for Obama.
MoveOn claims to be a citizen organization which does what its membership wants. However, this kind of phony poll is typical of the organization. They appear to operate by deciding at the top what to do, and then devising some way of making it appear that this is a membership decision.
Why would an organization which claims to be anti-war only offer its members the options of supporting one of two candidates who both a) have voted for funding for the Iraq War, b) have refused to commit to removing all U.S. troops from Iraq during their Presidency if elected, c) favor increasing the size of the bloated military budget, and d) favor increasing the number of active duty soldiers? Before giving some ideas on the answer, let me note that this is not the first time MoveOn has disappointed its anti-war members. Just last year, MoveOn engaged in a major campaign for funding for the Iraq War.
What is MoveOn about? It was founded, well before the current Iraq War, by two wealthy businessman who were upset by both sides of the political spectrum - conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats. When it disappoints its progressive and peace-minded members, it is just reverting to form. Its basic purpose appears to be to protect the establishment against all threats.
ACTION: Go to MoveOn's Comment/Suggestion page and express your outrage at their phony poll and their endorsement of a pro-war establishment candidate.
I was pleased to see that part of the way Virginia Tech is planning to use Norris Hall, site of the horrible violence on April 16, 2007, was to create a new Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. According to the University's news release, the Center is "to become a world-class model combining rigorous research with hands-on engagement." The adopted proposal further states:
The Center for Violence Prevention and Peace Studies will celebrate and encourage the intellectual and emotional maturity of the students here at Virginia Tech by facilitating student-led, interdisciplinary, team-based research to enact leadership for social change at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Drawing upon skills and expertise of faculty mentors from across the university and across disciplines, the CVPPS will join the applied sciences to the humanities and intellectual pursuits to global and community service through the lenses of violence prevention and the study of peace to address such complex phenomena as historical and cultural awareness, cross-cultural communication, diversity in all its guises, socio-economic disparities, public health and safety, mental illness, economic and environmental sustainability, histories of human violence, conflict prevention, and nonviolent solutions to conflict.
Our society devotes obscene amounts of resources to developing and preparing to use means of violence. We devote far too little attention to studying how to prevent violence and how to resolve conflicts through nonviolent means. I am grateful that Virginia Tech is going to devote more attention to these critical matters as part of a constructive response to the tragedy suffered at that campus.
Why must one choose between support for the life of the unborn and support for the dignity and rights of animals? And why must one choose between support for the life of the unborn and support for peace?
Personally, I can't answer these questions. But increasingly I am seeing this kind of pro-choice rhetoric from prominent people who are pro-life on abortion. They seem to think that if you support the life of born humans or animals that you can't support life for the unborn.
First I noticed LifeNews.com running opinion pieces attacking those who favor animal rights. I wrote Steven Ertelt, who runs LifeNews, protesting the illogic of this and asking that he allow opinion pieces from pro-lifers who support animal rights. He refused to allow alternate views, and defended (incoherently) attacks on animal rights. He continues his attacks on those who support life in more instances than he does.
Today I received a fundraising letter from Gregg Cunningham, Executive Director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, in which he also attacked animal rights. In addition, he went so far as to call it "nut-case" to defend animal rights when they are under attack by the military. Being for animal rights and for peace is apparently totally beyond the pale for Cunningham.
Ironically Cunningham's letter noted that his donor base was shrinking. He didn't show any awareness that attacking animal rights and peace might have something to do with that. We "nut-cases" might not be too inclined to contribute to further his fulminations against life.
These kind of anti-life, pro-choice (in the broadest sense of believing that one must choose between support for life in some circumstances or others) positions from those prominent in anti-abortion work create a very bad image for the pro-life movement. They make it difficult to convince those who support other life issues to be active in favor of the lives of the unborn. Quite understandably, they don't want to be seen as identified with groups who attack supporters of important life issues. We who see the connections among life issues need to be forthright in speaking out, and in denying support for those like Ertelt and Cunningham who take pro-life money and use it to attack those who support life.
Another "nut-case" for life,
I've begun reading a pre-publication copy of Brian D. McLaren's new book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, which is to be released October 2, 2007. I will be writing a review of the book, but this is not it, as I have only read the first few chapters.
I was touched by the ending of the second chapter, âthe amahoro flowing between us.â Brian is explaining how his host on a visit to Burundi told him how to properly greet the host's parents:
âThen kiss my mother on one cheek and then the other, several times, and each time, whisper into her ear the word amahoro,â he explained. âThe word means peace. She'll be welcoming you into the peace of our home, and you'll be offering your peace to her. After all we've been through, amahoro is a very precious word to us.â
Â Â Â Â Â âExactly how many times should we do this . . . ?â I asked.
Â Â Â Â Â âWe basically do it again and again, until we feel the amahoro flowing between us.â
I understand that amahoro is a word in several different African languages. It appears to convey much more than the absence of conflict, but incorporates the conditions that bring real peace. Amahoro appears to be the equivalent in many African languages to the Hebrew shalom.
When I read this story, I found tears running down my cheeks. It really touched my heart. How much can we learn from this Burundian custom?
What if our first priority with another person was to have the amahoro flowing between us? It isn't just Burundi, but the whole world which desperately needs amahoro flowing between people.
Dear friend, may the amahoro flow between us.