That’s my boy!

jimmy carter

I don’t know if you had caught this developing story today or not, but Jimmy Carter (a man I look up to very very much) is working hard for progress in the Palestinian/Israeli peace process.  Today, he met with senior Hamas officials in Cairo in the hopes that some common bond could be built.  What made me say, “Attaboy Jimmy!” was the first couple lines from the article,

Former President Carter met with senior Hamas officials in the Egyptian capital today, rankling the Israeli and US governments, which say it runs counter to their policies of not negotiating with terrorists.

Later in the article, the same thing stuck out to me.

During his stop in Israel, most officials- including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert- refused to meet with Carter, angry over his insistence that Israel should talk to Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.

I hope you don’t misinterpret my “Attaboy!” for a blank check endorsement of Hamas as a legitimate governing authority, because that’s not my intent at all. In fact, Hamas has done a tremendous amount of violence and evil on its part over the years that have burned bridges with Israeli people and deeply set back the Israel/Palestine peace process.

My attaboy really has two main dimensions;
1) Jimmy Carter’s got some serious stones to do what he’s doing now

Bigger ones than Ehud Olmert, Khalid Meshaal, or George Bush, at least. Either these “leaders” are so completely blinded to the complex issues that surround seeking peace in this area or are continuing to willfully play off others’ fears, because there’s been plenty of black/white simplistic answers coming from these parties.Jimmy’s in pursuit of solutions and healing, and he’s willing to ask hard questions and meet with the unmeetable because he knows peoples’ lives (both Palestinian and Israeli) hang in the balance. And peoples’ lives are always, ALWAYS more important than the wounded pride and ego of choosing to embrace those you have hated so long you almost don’t remember why.

2) Jimmy Carter’s smart enough to know “terrorist” is just a label that all kinds of organizations throw around, usually to demonize the opposing party in the hopes that your folks will come off smelling like roses, all righteous and stuff. Terrorism is in the eyes of the beholder.

I wrote a few posts awhile back highlighting this fact.

1) One post focused on the reports early in March of a Tomahawk cruise missile attack on an al-Qaeda operative in Somalia.

The Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. military struck a target against a known al-Qaeda terrorist, and I’m sure this was the point at which your average story-reader (especially American) stopped reading. But buried at the bottom of the article, we’re told that the strike destroyed two houses, killed three women, three children, and wounded another twenty people. Now in the bigger scheme of things (beyond the Pentagon thinking they rode in on their white horse, accomplished justice, and rode back out again), how much do you think that missile strike affected that town of Dhoobley? The families of the killed? The injured? The memories that will remain for generations in that small town? The (justified) hatred that Tomahawk will inspire in them? Who comes off as a terrorist organization for the people in Dhoobley? I’ll let you handle that one yourself.

2) Another post focused on a story that emerged April 1 also related to the American government. The story, reporting on a Justice Department memo to Bush, stated

The president’s wartime power as commander in chief would not be limited by the U.N. treaties against torture. Legal counsel John Yoo wrote, “Our previous opinions make clear that customary international law is not federal law and that the president is free to override it at his discretion.”

What would be the definition of a terrorist organization? Maybe one that openly flaunts international law and does what it decides is right, with the good of all over-ridden by their own interests? The U.S. fits the description in this case.

3) And the third post had to do with the very Israeli/Palestinian relationship Carter is addressing right now.

It seems Hamas got a sweet whiff of what might bring lasting positive change in the shattered relationship by choosing not to suicide bomb a marketplace, but instead mobilize the people of Palestine in non-violent protest against the unjust security wall Israel has been building. Israel caught a whiff of this plan, and here was their response;

The army intends to prevent the marchers from advancing on the fence when they are still inside the Strip, using various means for crowd dispersal according to a ring system: The closer the marchers get to the fence, the harsher the response.The army plans to fire at open areas near the demonstrators with artillery that the Artillery Corps has been moving to the area over the past couple of days. If the marchers continue and cross into the next ring, they will face tear gas. If they persist, snipers could be ordered to aim for the marchers’ legs as they approach the fence.

It’s not an un-related point that Israel has been building the security walls inside the borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while acquiring land for settlements by driving Palestinian farmers off the land, refusing to let them back on, and squatting on the land until they declare it “unoccupied” and thus free for illegal settlers to move on.

It is Israel’s handling of this situation that led to Desmond Tutu calling the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians “apartheid.” I think Desmond Tutu would know. It also led to Jimmy Carter writing a book entitled “Peace not Apartheid.” Both men have been charged with anti-Semitism, a challenge that carries baggage since the Holocaust happened only 70 years ago. In this situation though (with both men being followers of Jesus) Jimmy and Desmond weren’t spitting hatred but speaking truth to power, and thinking of the long-term good of both Israelis and Palestinians.

A good example of what not to do, of simplistic and close-minded thinking came from Condolezza Rice (who could’ve been working on this relationship for three and a half years already), who said she found it “hard to understand what is going to be gained by having discussions with Hamas about peace when Hamas is in fact the impediment to peace.” Well, Condi, Hamas plays a role in the problem, yes. But so does Israel in their state terror on the Palestinian people. And so does the United States in giving a blank check to Israel of support. You’re the Secretary of State of the United States of America, and that’s all you can come up with?

*UPDATE TO ADD* Carter made a speech today (4/21/08 ) as a result of his talks in the region that (surprise surprise) includes concessions Hamas would be willing to make as a result of direct talks. Here’s a quote

Carter urged Israel to engage in direct negotiations with Hamas, saying failure to do so was hampering peace efforts.

“We do not believe that peace is likely and certainly that peace is not sustainable unless a way is found to bring Hamas into the discussions in some way,” he said. “The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working.”


Sermon Visuals from March 30th

This was the second Sunday worship gathering in a multi-week focus on “Practicing Resurrection” as we celebrate Easter (which is a season of the church year, not one Sunday). Last Sunday, I mentioned that the deepest meaning of the resurrection was not that Jesus rose from the dead. A deep understanding of the Bible shows that God did that to more than a few people (among them, Lazarus, and later, a guy who fell out of a window while listening to what must have been a terribly boring message from the apostle Paul). And the deepest meaning of the resurrection was not even that Jesus didn’t die, because two others in the pages of the Bible never died a natural death. Of course, this may sound shocking for me to say this, but I’m no Jesus Seminar-follower with their belief that the resurrection was merely metaphorical and their confident assertions that the disciples knew this too *cough* BS *cough* (sorry, something in my throat).

Of course Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.

But that wasn’t the deepest meaning. Take a gander at 1 Corinthians 15, and look for three red-flag themes; futility, hope, and firstfruits. The link to the sermon is here. It’s just a raw copy and paste job right now. I’ll shape it up to follow the flow of thoughts here in a bit, but I’ve got schoolwork.

My basic contention is that Jesus in his resurrection placed the rebellious power of death under his feet, scoffed at peoples’ attempt to thwart his purposes, and in so doing, freed us from the fear and finality of death by giving us the hope of resurrection. In order to carry that hope, we must invest all of who we are in his kingdom, and freedom from the fear of death enables us to live with hope now; that no situation is too dark for God’s light and life to enter, even if our lives are snuffed out in the process.

So this Sunday we talked about my friend at seminary Robert Russo, his organization Christians for the Mountains, and their battle against the disgusting practice of Mountain Top Removal (driven mainly by the corporation Massey Energy and others). These folks are followers of Jesus, and heroes in my book (maybe even “latter-day saints”? haha!)

As for the pictures, the first is of Robert, the second shows the enormity of the “dragline” that is employed in MTR, the third shows a “valley fill” (where the company dumps the mountain as they grade it, thus clogging up watersheds, altering streams, shredding the ecosystem, and creating a place where when it rains, flash floods rip through the area), the fourth, fifth, and sixth show Kayford Mountain, WV, and the desecration of the land over a three year time-span (this is being done over hundreds of thousands of acreage in WV, KT, NV, and VA), and the seventh and eighth show an area of WV on Google Earth with satellite photos taken before and after MTR operations. I’d encourage you to download the Kayford pictures and flip through them on your computer back and forth quickly. It’s a shocking difference.

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What’s the definition of a rogue nation?

I’m interested.  I really, really am.  And I guess it depends on who’s defining the term as to who’s defined as one. I’ve got an idea for a definition.

How about:  a nation that consistently and egregiously defies international law to do what it wants, caring only about its interests and neglecting the good of the whole.

We, the United States, certainly have used that against that loony Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, against North Korea, and it was one of the main substantiations for the war in Iraq.  We said things like “That Saddam Hussein is a rogue leader of a rogue nation, constantly thumbing his nose at international law.”

Try these links on for size.

“Memo, Bush’s power trumps laws on torture”

In an excerpt from the article,

The president’s wartime power as commander in chief would not be limited by the U.N. treaties against torture. ‘Our previous opinions make clear that customary international law is not federal law and that the president is free to override it at his discretion,’ said the memo written by John Yoo, who was then deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

The memo also offered a defense in case any interrogator was charged with violating U.S. or international laws.  ‘Finally, even if the criminal prohibitions outline above applied, and an interrogation method might violate those prohibitions, necessity or self-defense could provide justifications for any criminal liability,’ the memo concluded.”

Here’s another fun link. “Chertoff; Laws to be waived for Border Defense”


The Department of Homeland Security will bypass environmental and land-management laws to build hundreds of miles of border fence between the United States and Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday.  “Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation,” Chertoff said. “These waivers will enable important security projects to keep moving forward.”

Chertoff cited a congressional requirement that 361 miles of fence be completed by the end of the year. He also pointed out that Congress had given him the authority to bypass laws.

And the international image of the United States slips further…what’s the definition of a rogue state again? Oh,  a nation that consistently and egregiously defies international law to do what it wants, caring only about its interests and neglecting the good of the whole. And a couple of the quotes again; “customary international law is not federal law and that the president is free to override it at his discretion,” and “Congress had given him the authority to bypass laws.” I smell hypocrisy.

Another title for this post could be “When nationalism is idolatry.”

On Paradoxes (some Monday thoughts)

A mini-letter to the church, and some honesty to challenge me.

I am needed.
I am important.
I am special.
I am not needed.
I am a grain of sand in a seashore full of them.
This world will go on without me.

Sound contradictory? Explanation provided by Barbara Brown Taylor in Leaving Church;

“I decided to take a rest from trying to be Jesus……not today. Today I will consent to be an extra in God’s drama, someone off to the side watching the scenery unfold with self-forgetfulness that is not available to me at center stage. Today I will bear the narcissistic wound of knowing that there are others who can say my lines when I am not there, including some who can say them better, and that while God may welcome my willingness to play a part, this show will go on with or without me, for as long as God has breath to bring players to life. Today I will take a break from trying to save the world and enjoy my blessed swath of it instead. I will give my thanks for what it is instead of withholding my praise until all is as it should be. If I get good enough at this, I may be able to include my sorry self in the bargain.” (141-42)

Catch the paradoxes? Barbara struggles with “narcissism” and yet sometimes views herself as “sorry,” wants to be “center stage” and yet wants to be satisfied with being “extra,” needed, yet not needed.

Psalm 113 speaks;
“Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, you his servants.
Praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised,
both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
and the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.”

Paradoxes; the Lord is exalted above the nations, far above the heavens. He doesn’t need any of us, or even the Earth for that matter. Multiple times in Scripture it seems like God is considering cleaning the slate and starting all over again with us pesky humans. And if he did, he would be justified in doing so. We’ve really made a mess of things. And yet, this exalted God stoops down into the dust and ashes for the sake of the poor and needy and walks alongside the barren mother. We matter; especially those who have been told they don’t matter by twisted human society.

The more I read about this God in Scripture (which confronts and challenges the God I thought I knew of by myself), the more I am astounded at how distinct and set-apart and glorious He is, and even more so by the mind-blowing care he gives to this flawed, twisted creation he has made. The length and breadth and depth of this God, who expects us to interact with His creation in the way He does; to tend to the earth that he has called “good,” to invest ourselves in other humans whom he has called “very good,” and to elevate the status of those our world deems unimportant to stand alongside us as brothers and sisters. This is who this God is.

And this God is sharply distinct from the God the Christian institution has often presented in the past and present.

Sometimes (shoot, a LOT of times), I get angry that we the church have allowed ourselves to be so swallowed up in our cultural environments that we neglect the poor in favor of economic security, neglect the barren mother because her problems aren’t answered by a Max Lucado devotional, neglect our enemies in favor of national security, and neglect an honesty about ourselves that we aren’t the center of the universe. God is clear about this sort of lifestyle in Scripture. He will curse us when we live in this fashion.

Do we care enough about this situation to seek to change it? And do we have the humility to know that it doesn’t all, ultimately depend on us? Will we have the guts and courage to seek to work hard at times and take time to enjoy this astounding creation around us other times? Can we have hope, the kind that’s grounded in the reality that things are not as they should be? Will we have the guts and courage to know that life is a series of conversions from our limited, twisted perspective to a more whole, more true, more life-giving, more God-centered, God-glorifying life? Do we have the guts and courage to know that this commitment touches everything from sexual purity and marital faithfulness to questioning consumerism and individualism and nationalism and patriotism, as well as a deep concern for the health of the earth we have had entrusted to us to tend?

How can we faithfully think and pray and act?

Paul in Philippians 1;

“(I) will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two; I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…for it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…”

We are needed, but we are not. Life is complex and sometimes sucks, but we cannot change the gospel so that it denies the complexity and suckiness and tells us to forget the world around us as we wait for heaven (only to find that this lack of action may lead us to another place entirely). We will get frustrated, but we cannot quit. We will hate to be in the company of people who call themselves the church but look much more like the world; people who talk of the world’s sins but ignore their own. We will find that our discomfort with hanging around them is usually a projection of our own individual failure to love others (a hidden indictment that we are as guilty as they). We will want to leave them for the blissful comfort of our individuality and denial of our complicity in the problem, but we are called to find that we are called into community in all its discomfort and joy.

The truth is uncomfortable, but that is why it’s the truth, in all of its uncomfortable suckiness.

The Dangers of Forgetting the Past

The United States is said not to deal fully with its past. To which I say good for us. Too much dwelling on history can become a prison.

– Condolezza Rice at the opening of the Davos World Economic forum 


Hmmmm….I wonder how that would work in a marriage.  “Honey, I’d rather not talk about the specifics of my adultery.  Too much dwelling on history can become a prison.”


ht:  Bob Carlton 

Petty legislators…

 capital hill

You know what I’m tired of?  Legislators trying to slide partisan political issues into larger bills just to make a point. Here’s the reason why I’m a little ticked right now.    

 There’s been a load of conversation over the hate crimes bill in our country, and rightly so, because groups want to know how “hate crimes” is defined, and homosexuals being protected under this bill has been a hot-button issue as well, what with conservatives up in arms that our free speech would be taken away.  As far as I’m concerned, if “hate crimes” is defined by physical intimidation or violence directed towards a homosexual, homosexuals should be among the first protected.  I’ve stated in other areas as clearly as I can that I believe homosexuality is immoral, but that never never never justifies violence or intimidation against them.  Persons that treat gays as Matthew Shepard was treated deserve harsh punishments.  But Republicans, given that they identify with conservatives at this point in history, are uneasy about the harsh rhetoric coming out of the Christian Right, and often state they are against this bill, while Democrats use their opposition to claim Republicans are close-minded and judgmental and inhumane.  So that’s that.  

And, as a separate issue, of course spending bills to fund the continuing conflict in Iraq are a hot-button issue too.  Many Democrats (most, if we’re honest, because it’s politically more popular to do so right now) oppose continued support of the conflict in Iraq, and believe opposing spending bills shows their commitment to withdrawing from the situation.  Many Republicans then use legislative positions against military spending to accuse Democrats of lack of patriotism (which leads the Michael Savages and Sean Hannitys and Rush Limbaughs to cast them as enemies of the state) and not “supporting the troops.”  So that’s that.

Now, knowing how divisive these two issues are, why in the name of all that is pure and holy would you put the two together on the EXACT SAME BILL!?!?!?!?!??!?!  Why?  Seriously!

Well, both sides are using it to extract political capital and talking points, that’s why.  So Republicans can keep accusing Democrats of unpatriotism and Democrats can keep accusing Republicans of close-mindedness and judgmentalism.  And you know what, the average citizen will hear the 30-second spots come out around election time with candidates harping on those two points, “Well, my opponent didn’t support the troops,” or “Well, my opponent evidently thinks beating gays is ok, but I care deeply enough about all persons to protect them,” and this citizen will get all up in arms about the issues and won’t know (or care to find out) that both issues were attached to the same bill.

This kind of stuff is putrid.  Pathetic.  And childish.  And these are supposed leaders we’ve elected to steer the course of the most powerful nation in the world.  And “we the people” stand idly by and let it happen. And even though the link is highlighting the dropping of the hate crimes piece of the bill, I think my point still stands.

I guess if I could want anything in a perfect world, it would be that;

1)  Politicians would quit this immature political maneuvering and make the legislative process more transparent and simple, and

2) Citizens who plan to vote would spend time moving beyond the 30-second sound bite politics and general impressions to really investigate what a candidate is about.

It’ll probably take an overwhelming flood of 2) for 1) to take place, but if both chose to have some guts and courage, we might see some progress and politicians might see a little more trust restored in them as leaders.  That, and if they would stop having sex with “escorts” (read: hookers) when they get to D.C., that might help too.  But you know.  Can’t ask for too much at one time.