Monday, March 31, 2003

I am deeply saddened today.

It was my intention to return here for regular blogging, at least until our move. Now, I can't even remember what I wanted to write about. I was just told that one of the partners in the Law firm where I work died suddenly over the weekend. I don't know how old she was, but she must have been in her fifties. She had an anyeurism.

Though I'm not an attorney, I work fairly regularly with them. She was someone I worked with on both formal projects and informal support issues numerous times over the last five years. She was invariably kind, considerate, generous with praise, and humorous. These are not kind words I speak of someone who has recently died; these are things I have said to people about her many times over the years. There is an email in my inbox from her on a small issue we were discussing. That discussion will have to take place with other parties now. What is much more sad, though, is the loss of such a fine person to our office.

But I need to remind myself to look on her soul with hope. I don't know her religious beliefs, but I am praying this morning that the Lord will usher her into his company. As much as she brightened my place of work, I know she will shine that much more brightly at the table of our Lord.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Just checking in. I'm here, but haven't had much time for blogging. Our closing is tomorrow, and we've been frantically dealing with all the details. My wife was out of town yesterday and today (gets back tonight--Hooray!), and even though my kids have been gems, they're still tiring. I'll be happy when today is past. I'll be ecstatic when Easter is here (that's when we move).

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

I received this from someone at my church. I don't know whether outrage or disbelieving sadness is my response right now...

Easter Baskets, Jellybeans .. and Grenades

Heavily armed soldiers have quietly seized a new strategic position: your Easter basket. WalMart, Kmart, Rite Aid and Genovese stores are stocking their shelves with baskets that replace chocolate eggs with plastic machine guns, assault rifles, bomber planes and hand grenades, according to the Village Voice. The reporter called the contents of these Easter baskets ""surreal,"" although the Kmart spokeswoman said they were just ""a lighthearted and fun gift."" Lion & Lamb''s executive director noted that ""to market war as something fun ..[sends children] a very dangerous message."" Many of you took action earlier this year about the bombed-out doll house called the Army Forward Command Post. Unfortunately, the retailers were not persuaded to take that toy off their shelves, despite hundreds of phone calls that were generated by Lion & Lamb and other groups. So this time, we would like to suggest a different type of campaign. If you are outraged about the way violence is being marketed to children like candy, here are three possible Action Steps you can take to make your concerns

1. CONTACT RETAILERS: Contact Kmart''s Abigail Jacobs, who called these Easter baskets a ""fun gift,"" and tell her
why you believe that violence is not child''s play. You can call her at 415-229-9769 or e-mail at Abigail@bluelight.com. Contact Carol Hively and thank her for Walgreens'' decision to pull these Easter baskets from store shelves. Please take an extra minute to tell her why you object to such ""toys,"" and ask her to make a commitment that Walgreens will not sell products that market violence to children in the future. You can contact Carol Hively at 847-914-2923 or carol.hively@walgreens.com

2. CONTACT RELIGIOUS LEADERS: Print out a copy of the Village Voice article, and ask your minister or priest to speak about this issue at an upcoming service. The article quotes several religious leaders who were concerned about this type of Easter basket. Bishop George Packard, who oversees spiritual care for Episcopalian members of the armed services, said these baskets are ""really, really bizarre .. Easter baskets have been deteriorating for a long time, but they''ve really gone over the edge."

3. CONTACT THE MEDIA IF YOU HAVE A WALMART, KMART, RITE AID OR GENOVESE STORE IN YOUR COMMUNITY: These Easter baskets have caught the imagination of a number of reporters already, and you can alert additional reporters in your community about this issue. Reporters are looking for new story ideas every day, and most are easily accessible by phone or e-mail. You don''t need a fancy press release -- just pick up the phone or send off an e-mail. If you don''t know which reporter to call, you could ask for the news editor, or the consumer, business or education reporter at your local TV or radio station, or newspaper. You could also consider columnists who write opinion pieces. If at all possible, visit the local WalMart, Kmart, Rite Aid or Genovese before calling the reporter, so you can give them a first-hand report. Your conversation could then go something like this:
"I just went to WalMart, and was shocked to see Easter baskets with plastic machine guns, hand grenades, pistols and rounds of ammunition. These Easter baskets make violence look like child''s play -- and the baskets included candy as well as toy grenades. What kind of
message does this type of Easter basket send to young children?"
The recommended age on the action figure boxes, by the way, is three and up! And in back of the box with the plastic machine guns is a pink-and-yellow "Fun Easter Activities" sheet including an ""Egg Crossword Puzzle"" and a maze. If you''ve got the time, offer to meet the reporter at the store so they can get your reaction to the Easter baskets on-site. And while you are at the store (or while you have the reporter on the phone), try to suggest a larger theme for their story: Violence is NOT child''s play! The message we would like to get out to the public goes beyond individual products such as Easter baskets or the Forward Army Command Post. The message is that retailers must take responsibility and stop marketing violence to children in any form -- whether it''s Easter baskets, wrestling toys, violent video games or lollipops with toy guns on them. If you are not sure whom to call, Lion & Lamb has an extensive list of media contacts nationwide. Feel free to call or e-mail us, tell us where you are located, and we will help you find a reporter who might be interested in this story. Please keep us posted on your efforts, and send us copies or links to stories which you succeed in placing. If the retailers who market violence to children begin to see a lot of negative press in communities around the country, they will think twice before placing more violent children''s products on their shelves.

Please forward this e-mail to your friends, relatives, co-workers and any listservs you might have. And thanks for your help in working to stop the marketing of violence to

Patricia Burkhardt Admin. Assistant, Church Women United
Legis Office 100 Maryland Ave NE RM 100
Wash.DC 20002, 202 544 8747, fax 202 544
9133, cwu-dc@churchwomen.org

Thursday, March 20, 2003

I sometimes feel I'm a more effective prayer when I can personalize my prayers. In other words, though I often pray for groups, I feel more connected to the Holy Spirit when I can mention people by names. That is why I am glad my pastor pointed out this opportunity to adopt a member of our troops for prayer. The website is maintained by PresidentialPrayerTeam.org, and you can also register a member of the armed forces so that others can pray for him or her. If you are like me and feel closer to God when praying for individuals, I encourage you to sign up for this. My "adoptee" is in the Navy. His name is Dave P. He is married and has 3 children.
Lord, please keep Dave P. under your loving protection. Be with his wife and children in this time of fear and uncertainty. Lord, help Dave to perform his duties with honor, compassion, and diligence. Let him feel your loving embrace and through it the love his family and friends feel for him. Lord, I pray that you speed Dave home safely. I ask these prayers in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

I haven't wanted to bore my handful of readers with details of the home selling process. So suffice it to say that 1 month from today, we'll be moved into our new home. Yes, we'll be spending Easter in our new home...we'll be in boxes, but we'll be home.
I've asked the good folks at blogs4God if they would consider using their bandwidth to call for a day of prayer tomorrow. Whether you support the President's move towards war or are completely opposed to all violence, I think prayer is the proper response for Christians everywhere. In that vein, I offer this prayer.
That people everywhere may live without fear of attack or terror,
Lord, hear our prayers;
That leaders may lead with wisdom, soldiers follow orders with compassion, civilians be spared the horrors of war, terrorist attack, and their aftermaths, and that the world may be restored to peace,
Lord, hear our prayers;
That the shadow of weapons of mass destruction may be destroyed by the piercing light of Christ's love for the world,
Lord, hear our prayers;
That we may see the faults in ourselves as readily as we see the faults in others, and that we may thus reform ourselves as a way to reform our world,
Lord, hear our prayers;
That all people may live in a community of safety, support, personal liberty and ultimately union with the living Christ,
Lord, hear our prayers.

Lord, we know that in your wisdom you can and will resolve this conflict in a way that will be for the ultimate good. Forgive us our hand in erroneous choices, and send your Holy Spirit to leaders around the world that they may make choices that further the goals of your kingdom. We ask these prayers in Jesus' name.

Monday, March 17, 2003

I'm a Coca Cola shareholder. I got my proxies for the next shareholders' meeting this weekend. Coke is a huge company with millions of shareholders, and there are always some interesting proxy submissions from shareholders. Two items stuck out at me in particular this year.

One was a resolution to reverse Coke's decision of a year ago to offer benefits to same-sex partners. This is a hot-button issue and it's not surprising that there would be opposition. But the submitter uses terms like "pederasty" and "deviant sexual behavior" and hauls in the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church as support for the resolution.

The second one involved funding for NPR. The resolution aimed to stop Coca Cola from funding NPR because (the submitter alleges) they do not meet the standards of their professional organization (of journalists), particularly in their coverage of the Middle-East. The submitter accuses NPR of ant-Israel coverage. What is odd about this proxy item is that Coca Cola does not give NPR money directly. There could be some money given to NPR through the company's gift matching program, but that is based on employee decisions.

I've found myself wondering if the people who submit these resolutions do so as a way to make their political ideas heard to a larger audience. There is no chance that either of these resolutions will pass, but the statements that these shareholders submitted are being sent to millions of people around the world. I have no idea what percentage of shareholders actually read the proxies, but even a miniscule percentage would be more public notice than the average person could hope to garner otherwise.

Anyway, I voted my small handfull of shares against both of these proposals (which was in line with the Board of Directors' recommendations). I doubt my few shares will be the swing votes :-)

Thursday, March 13, 2003

And looking down I felt a lostness. Why were they here? Why had they found us? Because they knew Clifton? Or for the occasion his death gave them to express their protestations, a time and place to come together, to stand touching and sweating and breathing and looking in a common direction? Was either explanation adequate in itself? Did it signify love or politicalized hate? And could politics ever be an expression of love?
--Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Could politics ever be an expression of love? I find myself wondering about that more and more. As conservatives often argue, the government cannot take the place of the family and the community. It's just as clear, though, that political laissez-faire towards issues faced by suffering people is not an example of love either. Love and politics, it seems, don't mix. Small wonder that early Christians called their movement "The Way."

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Today is another fast day. In lieu of lunch, I took some time meditating on scripture. In particular, I focussed on Jesus' healing of the man with the withered hand as it is told in Matthew. Matthew's version differs in significant ways from Luke's and Mark's. In Matthew's version, the synagogue he enters is specifically "theirs" (i.e., the Pharisees), and so I suspect the man with the withered hand was well known to them. Only in Matthew is Jesus questioned about the legality of healing on the Sabbath. In the other synoptic gospels, Jesus is teaching by asking a rhetorical question. In Matthew's version, the Pharisees question Jesus and try to "catch" him in making heretical statements. Jesus responds that just as they would save one of their livestock on a Sabbath, "so it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (12:12b).

That phrase stuck with me, and I meditated on how it is always "lawful" to do good. I thought about how in my zeal I often overlook chances to perform a work of compassion or service; how in my hurry I ignore the call to be of help. I prayed to God to help me see opportunities as Jesus saw them and not to treat people in need as philosophical arguments as the Pharisees did.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Apparently the U.S. has a new bomb in it's arsenal that may be ready for use against Iraq. It's the largest conventional bomb we've ever made, and it's called MOAB. That's right: we've named the bomb for a group of people who (according to the Old Testament) once lived in the Middle East were often in conflict with Israel. It's also one of those place names that is constantly tossed around by people who fantasize/theorize about an immanent Armageddon.

And we wonder why some Islamic people don't like us.

Monday, March 10, 2003

In much of the reading I do concerning the potential war with Iraq, I see both sides (mis-)using rhetoric when referring to the group of people who disagree with them. For those who oppose the war, the other side is often referred to as "pro-war." In nearly all cases, this is a false label. People may believe that in this case a war with Iraq is an appropriate action for the U.S., Great Britain and other countries to take, but that does not make those people "pro-war." The label--like the label "pro-abortion"--is meant to stigmatize and demonize those who hold the position.

For people who think that war with Iraq is appropriate, I often see writers conflating pacifists and those who might be termed "anti-war with Iraq." The latter group may see war as sometimes necessary, but do not believe that this particular war is appropriate at this time. In other words, while all pacifists are "anti-war with Iraq," not all "anti-war with Iraq" supporters are pacifists. To give but one example, a person who is "anti-war with Iraq" might believe that violent protest agains the war is acceptable; a pacifist would never believe that argument.

When these two are lumped together, the logic for why each group holds their views are muddled. Thus those who support attacking Iraq often ignore genuine policy differences by saying that the people holding them are just "anti-war" and thus can't be reasoned with. This stance is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of pacifism. There are at least 3 myths about pacifism that I routinely see in articles that support war with Iraq:
1) Pacifists are hopelessly idealistic;
2) Pacifists are cowards;
3) Pacifists fail to realize that peace cannot exist without justice.
I am a pacifist of a specific sort--a Christian pacifist--so my responses to these myths are characterized by that point of view.

Pacifists are hopelessly idealistic: I have no quarrel with calling pacifists idealistic. Christianity is idealistic, and so I consider it a compliment of sorts. Of course, I reject "hopelessness" (hopeless Christianity is contradictory). But this idea doesn't really have much to do with idealism. What people seem to mean when they make this point is that pacifism doesn't work in the real world. Those advocating war agains Iraq thus see themselves as the "Realists" who have to take over when the going gets tough. The trouble with this argument is that it isn't born out by history. The two best-known examples of widespread pacifism--that led by Gandhi in India and by MLK in the U.S.--both achieved their goals successfully. Beyond the active protests of such pacifism, there are examples of studied neutrality and avoidance of war that have worked well over the last half-century. There are many countries which have not been involved in a war since 1945--the list of countries which have not been the aggressors in a war is much longer.

Pacifists are cowards--This is basically the summary of all those who imply that people who oppose the war with Iraq only do so because they are scared. I don't deny that some people might oppose this war--or even most wars--because they are frightened, but these people aren't really pacifists. Presumably if fear were removed, such people might support war or violence, but a pacifist rejects violence in all circumstances. Indeed, pacifists are among the bravest of the brave. Pacifists are often found in violent confrontations in positions of aid, service or indeed as victims without actively fighting back. Conscientious objectors of the draft were not all cowards: many of them served as medics and worked on the battlefield without arms. The followers of MLK were routinely beaten, threatened, imprisoned and even killed. Willingly putting oneself in such situations is not cowardice.

Pacifists fail to realize that peace cannot exist without justice--I heard this bromide on NPR this morning, but it's a regular argument. Clearly it ignores the success of the movements I've discussed above--not to mention the success of Christianity itself in the first centuries after Christ's death. It is nothing more that a statement that sounds wise but is logically incoherent.

I would like to see everyone who writes and thinks about the potential war with Iraq to use their words and labels more carefully. In particular, I'd like people on both sides to realize that pacifism is a rigorous philosophy that often calls for action---though not violent action--in opposition to violence.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

One of the side effects of using the "Daily Office" in the Book of Common Prayer for devotional reading is that I spend quite a bit of time praying the Psalms. The Daily Office goes through the entire Psalter every 7 weeks, so I read each psalm 7 times a year, at a minimum. Through this repetition, I find myself responding to and empathizing with different psalms in different ways and at different times. What is becoming clear to me, though, is that Psalm 130 is emerging as one of my favorite Psalms, if not one of my favorite passages of scripture:
Psalm 130
My Soul Waits for the LORD
A Song of Ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!

O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.

And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

I can't begin to explain how that repetition in verse 6 ("more than watchmen for the morning") affects me. It seems to me a perfect melding of poetic and spiritual truth.

My Ash Wednesday fast went fairly well. I broke my fast at about 8:00 p.m. last night. That was earlier than I had hoped, but the medicine I'm taking upsets my stomach without food, so I ate a bit. I took my normal "lunch hour" and attended an Ash Wednesday service at the church where I often take communion during the week. It was a beautiful service and a wonderful way to spend fasting time in prayer.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

I've been reading bits and pieces of Swinburne's poetry over the last few weeks. While I've admired his facility with language, I haven't really connected with any of his poems. Yesterday, I read one that I think combines his prosodic abilities with an emotional depth:
A Leave-Taking
Let us go hence, my songs; she will not hear.
Let us go hence together without fear;
Keep silence now, for singing-time is over,
And over all old things and all things dear.
She loves not you nor me as all we love her.
Yea, though we sang as angels in her ear,
She would not hear.

Let us rise up and part; she will not know.
Let us go seaward as the great winds go,
Full of blown sand and foam; what help is here?
There is no help, for all these things are so,
And all the world is bitter as a tear.
And how these things are, though ye strove to show,
She would not know.

Let us go home and hence; she will not weep.
We gave love many dreams and days to keep,
Flowers without scent, and fruits that would not grow,
Saying 'If thou wilt, thrust in thy sickle and reap.'
All is reaped now; no grass is left to mow;
And we that sowed, though all we fell on sleep,
She would not weep.

Let us go hence and rest; she will not love.
She shall not hear us if we sing hereof,
Nor see love's ways, how sore they are and steep.
Come hence, let be, lie still; it is enough.
Love is a barren sea, bitter and deep;
And though she saw all heaven in flower above,
She would not love.

Let us give up, go down; she will not care.
Though all the stars made gold of all the air,
And the sea moving saw before it move
One moon-flower making all the foam-flowers fair;
Though all those waves went over us, and drove
Deep down the stifling lips and drowning hair,
She would not care.

Let us go hence, go hence; she will not see.
Sing all once more together; surely she,
She too, remembering days and words that were,
Will turn a little toward us, sighing; but we,
We are hence, we are gone, as though we had not been there.
Nay, and though all men seeing had pity on me,
She would not see.

There has been speculation that the opening of this poem inspired Eliot's first line in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Certainly there is a similarity not only in the line but in the concerns of both poems. I'm happy to have connected with one of Swinburne's works, and I hope there will be many more such moments in the future.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

I have decided for Lent that I am going to fast on Wednesdays, beginning tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. I have fasted once before--on last September 11--but this will be my first recurrent, scheduled fasting period. While I won't be able to spend every moment of meal time in prayer--I'll still need to feed my children--I am hoping to use the time and the discipline of fasting as a way to open myself to the Spirit's promptings. I'll try to report back here over the next few weeks as a way to hold myself accountable for this decision.

My first concern, though, is the medicine I'm taking. I'm going back to the doctor today to see if I can get something that is easier on my stomach and to see if it is even advisable to try to fast while on anti-biotics. I may have to modify my plan--perhaps fasting for a single meal each Wednesday--until my medication is complete.

Monday, March 03, 2003

I'm fighting off a bit of an infection. I won't bore you with the nauseating details (or nauseate you with the boring details), but my Doctor has given me two weeks of Doxycycline. I may have to go back for something different though, because it's playing havoc with my stomach. It isn't a case of the cure being worse than the illness, but it's close. Anyway, if I'm not posting much over the next few days, it's because I'm being distracted by my body.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

If you enjoyed my discussions last week on devotional reading and Lectio Divina, then you should look at this discussion of Lectio Divina on Mystic Cowboy.

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