politics, violence

Thoughts on the last week

In the wake of the 74th school shooting since Sandy Hook less than two years ago I am hearing two narratives making the rounds. These narratives are the same ones that surface each time a tragedy happens like one in Troutdale, or Seattle, or Las Vegas, or Isla Vista, or Indianapolis, or Chicago. The dual narratives are whether or not we need more or less gun control and the need for better mental health care in this country. Both of these are valid narratives and important conversations to have: why is it easier to get a gun, which is designed to kill, than it is to get a license to drive? why has the paranoid schizophrenic father of a friend of mine been told he his being dropped by the practice that provides the prescriptions for the medicines that keep him balanced? These are huge topics and major discussions to have, but so often they end up becoming nothing more than TV talking head shouting matches and no one listens to the others and nothing changes.

This is where I would like to propose a third narrative. This is the narrative of scarcity vs. abundance. If we wish to get to the root causes of violence, and particularly gun violence, we need to address this narrative. By doing so, I believe we can begin to heal the disease instead of just treat the symptoms. However, discussing this narrative is far more dangerous than having a shouting match over whether guns are good or bad, or whether there is adequate mental heath care. It is dangerous because it causes us to become players in the story. When we begin to really have a conversation about the nature of scarcity and abundance we must include ourselves, we are not allowed to create an “other” or a “them.”

If we really begin to dig into the stories of the persons committing the most acts of gun violence, be they on the streets of Indianapolis and Chicago or in the fluorescent lit hallways of a school, we hear the stories of people who have given up hope. Given up hope at finding a job. Given up hope at finding love. Given up hope at finding stability. There is an abject sense of hopelessness. This hopelessness is rooted in the belief that there is not enough. Scarcity.

This belief is rooted in experience. If you were to ask a gang member why they have decided to join the gang, in my experience, it is because by doing so there was a place for them. There was a family. There was money. There was a way for them to supplement the poverty they had previously known. Poverty breeds desperation and hopelessness. It puts one into survival mode because scarcity is the dominant story.

It doesn’t help matters when politicians are more concerned with the welfare of a corporation than with the people in their charge. Or when the benefits that help lift people from poverty are laid on the chopping block of racialized greed. It is a travesty when one group is ostracized for being leeches on the system and they happen to be of a certain color, while those of another color somehow are not the faces on the posters proposing cuts to the programs. The body politic is fostering the narrative of scarcity by repeating the chorus that there is not enough; that there is not enough to provide food assistance or debt reduction because, well we have … well, you don’t line my pockets.

The story of scarcity skulks the streets and alleyways of this nation, and it is not just here in the inner city. It is in suburbia as well. Persons of means are constantly told they don’t have enough and that they need more and more. And when they can’t live up to an over sensationalized sense of self-worth, they, too, seek to find meaning elsewhere.

The story of scarcity breeds violence. It forces people to live in a survival mode. To do what needs to be done in order to survive. It fosters the myth of redemptive violence. The idea that if you act out against me it is my duty to retaliate – survive; if I hit you with enough force you will stop and I will win. Of course this only breeds more retaliation. Survival mode is what causes it make sense that the first thing to do is grab a gun when you feel put down. It is what causes one’s defenses to be drawn up so high that dehumanization is the only rational response to an affront.

The story of scarcity also eats away at community. It causes people to withdraw into themselves and protect what they have by whatever means. As people withdraw into themselves they begin to see people not as neighbors but as potential threats. The story of scarcity is a beast destroying lives. The story of scarcity is the sickness that is destroying us.

But as I said, this narrative has a second part and that is of abundance. Those of us with a voice should – while honestly debating the merits of gun control and mental health – we should be working to shift the narrative from scarcity to abundance. It is possible, but it is dangerous and hard because we need to confront our own narratives of scarcity. This isn’t a narrative that can be change by some great hope coming from the outside, but rather is a lived narrative that can bring healing one step at a time.

This narrative is suited for those of us in faith communities, particularly the Christian tradition. After all, our tradition is rooted in a community that lived in community together. A tradition that is rooted in the Jewish tradition of hospitality and care for the least among us. One of the things that made the early church so dangerous was its radical care for and solidarity with those on the margins of society – the widow and orphan. Its danger came in its radical egalitarianism that said at the Table of the Lord there is no slave or free, just sisters and brothers. The church is rooted in the narrative of abundance: at the Lord’s Table all eat.

That is not to say others don’t share in that narrative, but the church has a unique lens through which to read this story.

For all of us, regardless of faith tradition or not, the narrative of abundance requires that we engage our neighbors; that we hear their stories and share ours; that we begin the re-humanization process that the story of scarcity seeks to destroy. Unlike the story of scarcity that only requires we think about ourselves, the story of abundance asks that we think outside ourselves. It asks that we see the world as others see it and try to build bridges that embrace commonality and unity rather than difference and discord.

When we being to shape a narrative that seeks to connect us rather than divide us we can begin to hold each other accountable. We have an authority that comes when a community is formed that we do not have as solitary individuals. As we shape a narrative of abundance we are are able to say to someone that their actions are destroying community rather than building it. There is a power in a collective story.

If we really are tired of all the blood on our streets, it is time to change the story. It is time to realize that talk of gun control and mental health, while important, are only bandages on a gaping wound. The real healing will come when we begin to change the story. There is hope in the narrative of abundance.

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Economy, politics

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore

Howard Beale said that in the 1976 film Network.

What he says in that film has an odd familiarity:

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s no one anywhere that seems to know what to do with us. Now into it. We know the air is unfit to breathe, our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy.

Things are rough all around and a few things that have been in the news recently have me opening my window and shouting the above.

Earlier this week the House passed an economic stimulus package without a single Republican vote.  This makes me mad as hell.  These are the Republican who passed the first half of this under a Republican president.  The changes between that time and this time are not that much no matter what the bobbleheads on the idiot box say.  Notice how the networks are bringing on only Republicans.  The new president did something that no sitting president has done in recent memory in coming to them to discuss the pacakge.  To listen to them and try to compromise.  It is just that these folks for the last 8 years have a mentality that the word compromise means you do it our way or not at all.  Well folks, that time is done.  If you don’t want to he a part of the solution, then the hell with you.  I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.  If you want to explain to your constituiants why you would rather cut taxes for your high dollar donors instead of invest in shovel ready infrastructre improvements that would put folks back to work; then go ahead and vote no.  If you want to insure that this depressions, and folks when 70,000 people loose their jobs in one day it is a depression (Monday was dubbed bloody Monday), keeps going want want to play chicken with peoples lives; then vote no.  This president and his administration have a 70% approval rating and 85% of people agree with his plan to stimulate the economy.  Vote no.  That way your constituants have reason to boot your ass out of office.  I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.

The Republicans in the house are not the only ones making my pissy.

The idiots on Wall Street are just as culpable as the Republicans.  They expect us to sit back and let them pass out $18 BILLION in bonuses to the fools who caused this depression?  If I may say so kindly…Piss off.

Claire McCaskil of Missouri today had enough:  “‘They don’t get it,’ McCaskill said on the floor. ‘These people are idiots. You can’t use taxpayer money to pay out $18-billion in bonuses… What planet are these people on?‘”

Today she announced a bill that would restrict these folks pay to that of what the President of the United States makes.  If they think they are bussier than him, then they should take a vacation.

Folks, too many people are hurting right now for us not to do anything.  Hold those who need held.  Feed those who need fed.  Befriend those who need a friend.  But do not get complacent.  You need to get as mad as hell.  Let your leaders know you will not take this anymore.  Stand up, not only for yourself, but for others.

Lift open your window and shout:

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Iran, iraq, Mark Twain, politics, Religion, war

The War Prayer

The War Prayer

by Mark Twain

Part 1

Part 2

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came – next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams – visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! – then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation – “God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!”

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory.

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there, waiting.

With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal,” Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside – which the startled minister did – and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said

“I come from the Throne – bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of – except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two – one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this – keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer – the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it – that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause)

“Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Note: Twain wrote The War Prayer during the US war on the Philippines. It was submitted for publication, but on March 22, 1905, Harper’s Bazaar rejected it as “not quite suited to a woman’s magazine.” Eight days later, Twain wrote to his friend Dan Beard, to whom he had read the story, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.” Because he had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, Mark Twain could not publish “The War Prayer” elsewhere and it remained unpublished until 1923.

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Barack Obama, George Bush, politics, war

Appeasement v. Diplomacy

President Bush, recently, did something that is extremely inappropriate in a couple of ways.  First of all, he compared a certain senator’s willingness to sit down with “enemies” as a form of appeasement comparable to Chamberlain meeting with Hitler.  Secondly, he did this while addressing a group in a foreign country.  The U.S. has a policy of not attacking political opponents from overseas.  It not only reeks of desperation, but just a lack of class.

Bush was trying to villianize Obama for his wanting to actually work through diplomatic channels instead of brute force.  The talking points of calling Obama an appeaser are starting to make their way through the news.  However, I have a feeling this meme will not last long.  In the clip below a Right Wing talkshow host is on Hardball, and start to rail against Obama calling him an appeaser.  Well, after about 5 minutes of his screaming and ranting, Chris Matthews is finally able to challenge that assertion.  (Anyone who has ever seen Hardball knows that it is near impossible to not let Matthews get a word in.)  Matthews repeatedly tries to get this guy to define what he means by calling Obama an appeaser.  This guy has no sense of history, nor any access to a dictionary.  He has no clue what is saying and pretty much admits such.

Diplomacy is talking with the enemy trying to resolve the situation through talks.  Appeasement is talking with the enemy and then as a token of giving them something.  (Chamberlain appeased Hitler by giving him half of what was the Czechoslovakia.  Only to empower Hitler.)

Bush does not realize that his administration actually did the whole diplomacy thing.  If you remember correctly North Korea is part of the axis of evil.  Well, Bush was wanting to bomb them into the stone age a few years ago, but at the request of our allies in the area we actually sat down to TALK with the North Koreans.  You know what happened?  We are not having an Asian front to the war on terror, but we are working with the North Koreans to come to an end of their nuclear program.

Mr. Bush, is your administration an administration of appeasement or diplomacy?

Here is the clip.  Matthews lays down the law at about 4 minutes.

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iraq, politics, president, war

Time To Go

According to al-Maliki, we can go home now!

date Nov. 2006:

“AMMAN, Jordan – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Thursday that his country’s forces would be able to assume security command by June 2007 — which could allow the United States to start withdrawing its troops.

‘I cannot answer on behalf of the U.S. administration but I can tell you that from our side our forces will be ready by June 2007,’ Maliki told ABC television after meeting President Bush on Thursday in Jordan.

Maliki was replying to a question about whether U.S. troops could start withdrawing at that time.”

h/t Atrios

Let’s Go!

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Christianity, folk, John Prine, music, politics, Religion, war

St. John the Prophet

John Prine that is.

John Prine wrote this song back in 1971, during Viet-Nam. Not being around then, I wonder if the being American meant you would get you to heaven mentality was as pronounced then as it seems to be now. Anyhoo, enjoy!

Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore

While digesting Reader’s Digest
In the back of a dirty book store
A plastic flag with gum on the back
Fell out on the floor.
Well,I picked it up and ran outside
And slapped it on my windowshield.
And If I could see ol’ Betsy Ross
I’d tell her how good I feel.

(Chorus:)
But, you flag decal won’t get you
Into Heaven anymore.
They’re already overcrowded
From your dirty little war
Now Jesus don’t like Killin’
No matter what the reasons for.
And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore.

Well,I went to the Bank this morning
And the cashier said to me
If you join the Christmas Club
We’ll give you ten of them flags for free.
I didn’t mess a round a bit
I took him up on what he said
And stuck them stickers all over my car
And one on my wife’s forehead.

(Chorus:)
But, you flag decal won’t get you
Into Heaven anymore.
They’re already overcrowded
From your dirty little war
Now Jesus don’t like Killin’
No matter what the reasons for.
And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore.

Well,I got my windshield so filled with flags I couldn’t see
So I ran my car upside a curb and right into a tree
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead,
And I’ll never understand
Why the man,
Standing in the Pearly Gates said…

(Chorus:)
But your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore,
We’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war
Now Jesus don’t like killin’
No matter what the reasons for.
And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore.

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