A little historical perspective never hurt…

Interviewer Jonathan Karl: In hindsight, do you think that any of the tactics used against Khalid Sheikh Muhammed went too far?

Cheney: I don’t

Karl: And on KSM, of course, one of those tactics reported was waterboarding, and that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that, you think, was appropriate?

Cheney: I do.

Historical Context:

I was listening to a mini-debate on On Point with Tom Ashbrook the other day and a caller made an interesting point that sent me a-searching on the Internet afterwards.  The caller simply said this.  

“Let’s seek a little historical context here.  In 1945, when we found out Japanese officials had used a similar waterboarding treatment, we hanged them from the neck until dead.  Just thought I’d offer that.”

Well, after hearing that I was pretty shaken up.  Wouldn’t you be?  I already had deep ethical disgust for this treatment along with America’s secret CIA prisons where they do pretty much whatever they want to suspects to force “confessions” from them, but now I had something I could sink my teeth into.  As I searched on the Internet to find legitimate sources, I found the situation wasn’t as cut-and-dried as the caller made it on the radio, but waterboarding was clearly a war-crime.  That much is inarguable.  And some were hanged for combining waterboarding with other immoral information extraction techniques.  Here’s some words from those sources.

From Robin Rowland over at The Garret Tree,

The bottom line is that when “water treatment” was practiced against our side, it was called a war crime. That was the ruling against the Japanese after the Second World War by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and by the military courts that tried what were called in the Far East, the “B” and ”C” level war criminals.
When the leaders of Japan were found guilty of multiple and horrific war crimes, one of them was the “water treatment.” Those who actually did the “water treatment” –the officers who directed torture (B level) and those who carried it out (C level) were guilty of war crimes. Some were executed.”

The man who authorized those techniques at the Singapore YMCA, Lt. Col. Sumida, was sentenced to hang. Sumida, in his statement during the trial said, “I felt the state of peace and order and this serious incident were related and that a thorough measure should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such serious incidents.

From an article on washingtonpost.com,

In 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.

“Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues during the debate on military commissions legislation. “We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II,” he said.

And just to provide a bit of levity here, so the criminality of waterboarding argument isn’t accused of being a partisan ploy (which is baseless anyways in light of the larger historical context), here’s John McCain during the Republican presidential primary,

There should be little doubt from American history that we consider that as torture otherwise we wouldn’t have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans,” McCain said during a news conference…”I would also hope that he would not want to be associated with a technique which was invented in the Spanish Inquisition, was used by Pol Pot in one of the great eras of genocide in history and is being used on Burmese monks as we speak,” the Arizona senator said. “America is a better nation than that.

And if you’re asking me, it doesn’t take waterboarding being widely considered torture to solve the issue. Beyond the legality of the practice, there’s how employing the practice and openly admitting to it affects how the world views the United States. How much does it destroy our integrity in the eyes of the world; our moral standing? And isn’t that the more important issue here? In what has been termed a “war on terror,” wouldn’t we want to go out of our way to avoid terrorizing people we suspect might be terrorists. Again, not people we know are terrorists, but people wesuspect are terrorists? Does anyone feel the same as me, or am I out on an island here?


Americans, hold your government accountable…

In light of Tony Benn’s insight in the previous post, I was pleased to find an update from Congressman Dennis Kucinich on my Facebook profile this afternoon that showed both his courage and a call to the thinking, involved American public to hold our government accountable.

One of the most important needs for a democratic society to exist and thrive is transparency in the governmental process. Those who have been given the responsibility of leading must lead with integrity, wisdom, and accountability. When the lives of persons are at stake with possible military action, then leaders must especially be truthful.

I am sad to say that George W. Bush is not this type of leader. And I am even further saddened to suggest that in the buildup to the Iraq War, he used propaganda techniques, misdirection, and perception-spin to convince the American people that they should get behind a military invasion of the country. This has resulted in over 4,000 deaths of American personnel, tens of thousands of American personnel injured (physically and mentally), tens of thousands (if not more) Iraqi deaths (most civilians, including women and children), Iraqi society in deeper turmoil; and worst, a growth in numbers of al-Qaeda as hatreds have been inflamed by deaths in families.

In Bill Clinton’s presidency, he was impeached by the House of Representatives because he lied about sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. They called this “high crimes and misdemeanors.” George W. Bush and his administration lied about Iraq, al-Qaeda, and their motives for invading, resulting in untold human devastation. If lying about a sexual relationship is a “high crime” (highly debatable), and the costs of Bush’s action have made Clinton’s look like a geriatric bridge club, then certainly Bush is guilty, and must be held accountable.

Not only am I disgusted at Bush’s leadership, but even further disgusted at my fellow Christians who give this man a blank check because he’s “born-again.” By my estimation, he’s one of the most corrupt, big-business-bought-off, immoral presidents in recent memory.

Thankfully, there’s at least one Representative that has had the guts to be a leader in this area; Dennis Kucinich. And he’s gaining a wider hearing with his colleagues on Capital Hill. The following is a message I got from Kucinich a bit ago. I signed the petition. I would suggest you join me as well. Make our government accountable.

Last week, Congressman Dennis Kucinich delivered a petition bearing more than 100,000 names to the Speaker of the House urging that impeachment proceedings begin into the conduct of President Bush. 

With new disclosures that the Administration tried to “cook the books at the CIA” by creating a phony, forged link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, “We cannot step back and let this President escape accountability.”

If you have already signed the impeachment petition at http://kucinich.us, thank you. If you haven’t, please do. And, in the next few weeks, please ask just one more person to sign so we can let the members of Congress hear our collective demand that they meet their obligation to uphold the Constitution.”

Leadership and effecting change…

I think about leadership a lot, because I’m trying to figure it out.  And I think leadership thoughts are relevant for most anybody in society, whether you’re a factory worker, a cook, or a legislator, because nobody can stand in the way of a person with integrity and character ultimately.  Even if we’re in the lowliest of jobs and really never see any lifting of the darkness of loneliness and powerlessness, we can still lead and seek healthy, consistent change in our world.  Plus, I’m a terribly inconsistent leader who’s terribly dissatisfied with my terrible inconsistency, and I want more from myself so my character can impact the relationships I’m a part of.  So bear with me a bit as I think out loud.

Just a few days back on the tail end of our honeymoon, Bethany and I worshiped with Cedar Ridge Community Church up in Spencerville, MD.  Some of you may be familiar with this church as it is the people Brian McLaren formerly pastored.  He’s now made the transition to “regular” church member (which would be an interesting topic to look at in itself, as the transition was made over two years), but that’s a sidenote here.  I’ve had a couple thoughts that sprung up in my head (good worship should cause that to happen over the course of the week), and I wanted to dump some of those thoughts out to clarify them a bit for myself as well.

I wouldn’t say the worship gathering at Cedar Ridge was mindblowing, because it wasn’t, and anyways, which real worship gathering is on a regular basis?  We had a chance to step into Cedar Ridge’s story, which caused us to be unfamiliar with how things go for them, what their practices are, etc, but they were very gracious along the way and helped us to worship with them.  

During the gathering, the current pastor, Matthew Dyer, stood up and shared about a hard topic; fundraising.  It seems the historic barn on Cedar Ridge’s property isn’t considered up to code, and they want to keep using it for youth meetings and the like, so they need to somehow raise $150,000 to get it back into shape.  Matthew didn’t say a whole lot that really gathered my attention, but the way he carried himself and the language he used while speaking really struck me.  Matthew seems to be very aware of how language the leader uses shapes the people they lead, and he really was masterful at how he used language to serve his purposes.

I noticed two main commitments in his talking, the first being community and the second sustainability. Over the course of his talk on money, Matthew continually grounded folks listening in the fact that Cedar Ridge is simply not just a building; time after time he called us back to the fact that the church is centrally acommunity, and that folks should feel empowered to know that they have a voice and that the church grounds are theirs rather than the sole possession of a steering board.  I don’t hear that emphasis much in independent churches where the pastor and/or elder board often function as deities that folks are expected to passively obey or leave.  

When it came to talking about how they would raise money together as a community, Matthew very straightforwardly told folks not to do a frenzy of fundraising things by themselves; where one person was selling mugs and another T-shirts and each trying to convince the other to buy their product for the good of the church.  Matthew emphasized strongly that this kind of activity was not sustainable, both in terms of that kind of effort being individualistic and that in a society obsessed with consuming, Cedar Ridge needs to be an alternative to that frenzy of consumption. I really think those were two vitally important things he emphasized, and as he spoke, I scanned the room to see much nodding and affirmation.  On the whole, I walked away from his talk greatly encouraged that church communities do exist that handle this well.  And this sort of shaping plays an important role in molding a people to be different than those around them.

I mulled over the worship gathering as Bethany and I drove to the Orioles game afterwards, and I thought to myself about how strong, wise leaders maintain this sort of consistent influence in shaping the communities they lead.  I say this because the response in my local church family to the thoughts I offered at our worship the day before Memorial Day was painful; persons were wounded that I would say such a thing and I was stung by their responses.  I tried to be even-handed and deeply rooted Scripturally as I wrestled with what to say, and I’m convinced that Biblically, what I said was nearly beyond question.  Yet folks pushed back hard.  On one level, I’m glad that I’m kept accountable, yet on another level, I was frustrated that the consistent Biblical message of God’s global kingdom that bleeds through nearly everything that comes out of my mouth seemed to have not broken through into the place where our folks really were wrestling with it. “Have they not been listening, or am I not communicating well?” I thought to myself. Some of my response was rooted in the culturally-shaped mentality that all change needs to happen quickly, or it’s not worth working for.

Since Bethany and I worshipped with Cedar Ridge in the aftermath of our situation, it caused me to think a bit about Matthew’s as a leader.  He carries this deeply Biblical commitment of community and sustainability and has served Cedar Ridge for two years; yet I wonder how often he runs into folks who still see Cedar Ridge as fundamentally an institution and Christian discipleship as tshirts and mugs and what God can do for them; a consumptive institution of disconnected religious piety.   If that is true (and I would assume it is, though that’s a little dangerous), it would strike me that the mark of a wise leader (since it’s good that folks aren’t blindly obeying us), is a consistent commitment to weaving their central convictions into nearly everything they are; and to do that in multiple different ways so folks don’t hear the same thing a hundred times and tune them out.  And as long as that commitment is faithful (we should always step back and take account of that), then good, solid change will come over the long-term as the leader speaks of and models the life of faithfulness in a way that leaves a mark on the people they are with.  This applies just as much to a nursery worker or janitor in the church family as it does the pastor I think.  Because we all will leave a mark, but those who are intentional leave a more lasting one, I think.

Subverting Capitalism: Pentecost Project

picture 1

I’ve been thinking a whole lot more in the past year about how to move from discontent with how things are around Christmas and Easter (the mountaintop peaks of the Christian calendar), how commodified the events are, and how we feed them by participating in them even as talk about the “real meaning.” In many ways, the “church” is more complicit in commodifying the holidays than different and non-conformist in our message. Even if we do get a little angry that the greeters at Target don’t say “Merry Christmas” and therefore don’t shop there for Christmas, how many Christians have the guts to do that year-round?

I tend toward cynicism, but as I contemplated how to be the change that I want to see in the world, I happened upon the fine folks at the Advent Conspiracy before Christmastime who have done some great thinking about how we can put into practice ways to act faithfully and give faithfully in preparation for our remembrance of the birth of Christ.

Today I found some folks doing some more of that great subversive thought and action.  They go by the name Pentecost Project, and I’ll let them speak for themselves.

The Pentecost Project is an experiment towards a more true and loving economy. Recently, the U.S. Congress passed an economic stimulus package that the President then signed. Beginning in May, most Americans will receive a rebate check that they are being encouraged to go out and spend in order to stimulate America’s sagging economy.

What if, instead of becoming greater consumers, we encouraged people to move towards an even better economy, an economy of abundance? What if, instead of accumulating more stuff, we encouraged people to give things away? What if, instead of the possibility of making a down payment and opening new credit, we encouraged people to pay down their debt?…In this Spirit, we undertake the Pentecost Project: invest in others, share possessions, reduce debt.

Last I checked, that sounds like a good three-week foundation for a series of talks in a church, small group, or some other gathering to guide our thinking beyond the tax break FOR ME (private), to thinking about the tax break FOR US (personal, but within a series of relationships).

In addition, whether your church gives a rip or not, let this drive you to consider, along with me (I’ve already been surprised and convicted by this kind of hopeful thinking), how we can use this unexpected gift to celebrate our abundance by giving it to those truly in need…that and hop on to the chance to thumb our nose at the god of consumerism who expects us to lay down a gift at His altar. It may hurt a little not to be selfish, but it’ll sure feel better over the long term! Seems that Jesus guy had something to say about the life he expects from his disciples that may not feel too good in the short-term, but sure pan out over the long run.

Challenging the Critiques of Emergent


I would be a jerkheadface if I didn’t direct you toward the recent blog posts of my friend Josh Brown and his recent thoughts attacking the massive elephant of criticism of Emergent (Remember the old adage; “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”). Josh is biting some chunks off (and taking some serious hits for his courage); please join the conversation if you have something constructive to add…

And please, please, knowing that it’s been proven that, psychologically speaking, we tend to overlook the things we agree with and focus on the things we don’t, go out of your way in reading to be encouraging with areas that you and Josh may be flowing in the same direction and generous in listening and speaking where you’re butting heads.

Here’s the links:


A White Man’s World

A Trend/Flash in the Pan that will settle for Denomination

A Public Service Announcement on Friendship

I love/can’t stand Mark Driscoll

mark driscoll Maybe this post will be the beginning of more than a few focusing on Mark Driscoll’s Christian MPD (multiple personality disorder), because I’ve been sitting on a few thoughts from his talk at the Convergence Conference at Southeastern Baptist Seminary back a little while ago too.

Right now, my pleasure reading is split between several books I’m picking up for twenty minutes at a time; sometimes bathroom reading (I know, too much information), sometimes work avoidance, and sometimes divine coincidence (a sense that I was meant to pick the book up at that time…don’t push me theologically on that because you’ll find my Christian MPD).  The main ones are Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus, Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, and Mark Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformission Rev.  If that lineup doesn’t hold the potential to confuse me, I don’t know what will, but I digress.

I’ll just go ahead and say this;  Mark Driscoll holds the power to both deeply convict me and deeply disgust me; sometimes in the same sentence.  And I think I’ve been able to pinpoint the times he disgusts me from a wide range of exposure to him (the Convergence talk, videos on Youtube, his blogging on the Resurgence blog, and comments he’s left on other blogs).  Mark is brilliant.  Flat-out brilliant.  And his insights into discipleship and what it takes to be a church planter have changed my life and radically affected my thinking about human/God interaction.  This is why I’m excited to read his Confessions of a Reformission Rev. But Mark, in an attempt to be funny, especially in his freedom from a script (but not necessarily), says incredibly hurtful things about various groups and then in the same breath claims to have great love and appreciation for Christian leaders with theological convictions much different from his own.  I’m not the first one to say this (and I won’t be the last); Newsflash Mark, you can’t have both.

This twisted way of relating with others was shown perfectly in his Convergence talk where Mark in one breath gave a stunning repentance of the juvenile, un-Christlike ways he has interacted with others in the past, and about fifteen minutes later said “Brian McLaren has a new organization called ‘Deep Shift,’ and I think somebody inadvertently put an ‘F’ in there.”  Really Mark, really?  You’re really repenting?

I go out of my way (seriously, I do), to pay attention to Mark’s good thoughts, because he has so much that is wise and passionate and mentors me as a young man.  But I can easily see how others, either because they’re lazy or they’ve been so deeply wounded by inconsistent relationships in the past, shut Mark Driscoll out, never to give him a listen again.  And that’s unfortunate, both for them and Mark; and, I should say, for the gospel.

These thoughts have been spurred by a little section in Confessions where he says (my asides will be in italics),

“Since the movement (emerging church), if it can be called that, is young and is still defining its theological center, I do not want to portray the movement as ideologically unified because I myself swim in the theologically conservative stream of the emerging church. (sounds ok so far)  I am particularly concerned, however, with some growing trends among some people; the rejection of Jesus’ death on the cross as a penal substitute for our sins (historically speaking, Mark, this as the only understanding of the atonement is only one thousand years old; half the life of the church), resistance to openly denouncing homosexual acts as sinful (with you); the questioning of a literal eternal torment in hell, which is a denial that holds up only until, in an ironic bummer, you die and find yourself in hell (funny, but oversimplifies a complex Biblical issue); the rejection of God’s sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, as if God were a junior-college professor who knows only bits and pieces of trivia (sovereignty and knowledge are two completely different issues, and again, this is a complex Biblical issue); the rejection of biblically defined gender roles, thereby contributing to the “mantropy” epidemic among young guys now fretting over the best kind of loffah for their skin type and the number of women in the military dying to save their Bed, Bath, and Beyond from terrorist attacks (shut up Mark); and the rejection of Biblical names for God, such as Father, which is essentially apologizing before the unbelieving world for the prayer life of the flamboyantly heterosexual Jesus who uttered the horrendously politically incorrect “Our Father” without ever having the decency to apologize for being a misogynist patriarchal meanie (I get your point and agree with it, but the majority of the sentence is so juvenile that it completely obscures your point).  This is ultimately all the result of a diminished respect for the perfection, authority, and clarity of Scripture, all of which was written by patriarchal men (again, Mark, the Bible never claims perfection, it’s not all on the same level of authority, and you, as a teacher, should know that the Bible is the opposite of clear on the surface, and in some cases on a deeper level is intended to remain a mystery).

Then, four sentences later, Mark says, “I assure you that I speak as one within the Emerging Church Movement who has great love and appreciation for Christian leaders with theological convictions much different from my own.”  Oh.  My.  Word. How could he even write that after all that had come before, writing it off as “poking fun”? And is Mark willing at all to step back from what he has inherited as “true” to ask some serious questions about whether it’s something clearly expressed in the Bible or whether it’s a way of thinking relatively recent in history? This is a wisdom question. If he admits that he is changing continually (which we all are), shouldn’t that lead to stifling knee-jerk reactions he has for those who would challenge what he thinks is “true”?

The willingness to question what we’ve inherited is an important (and I’d say necessary) element of the best that the emerging church has to offer; because much of the questioning is helping us all to read the Bible in a deeper and more wise way. Do people go too far? Yes. But is my opinion on whether they go to far inherently truthful and wise? Of course not. So I suggest we all get off our theological high horses and take a strong dose of a humility pill before we throw folks under the bus (wherever on the spectrum of belief we are). I’ll go ahead and say this; there are plenty of ways to stand for what we believe is true in a passionate way that respects the perspective of others. Slapping the label of “heretic” on folks who disagree with you (which Mark does three times in the Convergent talk) benefits no one.

That wraps up my extended thought on Mark.  A horribly inconsistent, repenting yet wounding, wise yet juvenile, relational yet relationally-destructive follower of Jesus.  Sounds a lot like me, but I do try to be careful about how I word my skewering of others’ sacred cows.