Dispatch from the frontlines…

Below are the words of a veteran working on the frontlines of the battle for what Christians call the “Pax Christi” (peace of Christ) as opposed to the “Pax Romana” (peace of Rome, now a broad stand-in term for peace enforced with the blade of a sword or barrel of a gun).  Christians care less about short-term peace enforced by intimidation and violence, and care much more about long-term peace marked by self-giving love, humility, and deep listening to our enemies.

I celebrate the life of veteran Peggy Gish on this day alongside classic Christian hero St. Martin of Tours. The excerpt below is from Peggy’s incredible book Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation.

“Before working in Iraq I had talked about, and thought I really knew, what trusting God meant.  But facing the very real possibility of death or torture myself stripped away simplistic beliefs.  I had to rediscover what gives me hope and strength in life and death situations. In the midst of dangerous situations I felt my weakness and lack of control, and didn’t know what else to do but cry out for help. Somehow I’ve been given strength beyond my own and the ability to walk forward in spite of my fear.”
Security was an issue that wove through our thoughts and decisions, but we knew that problems of security were even greater for Iraqis.  We had the choice to leave and get respite from it in more stable places.  There were guns everywhere, and usually high-powered, automatic ones.  At the door of any office or business, there was usually an armed guard.  Our neighbor offered us the use of his Kalashnikov.  We refused it and explained that we would not use violence to protect ourselves.  “I hate this gun,” he said. “But how else can I protect my family?”  Guns had become a normal part of life here, but they didn’t seem to make people safer.

When we met American soldiers at their bases or while walking around the city, we often stopped and talked.  “What are you doing here, walking around the streets of Baghdad?” many asked, amazed.  “You don’t have a gun, or armed guards!  Don’t you know how dangerous it is?  “We’re safer than you are, carrying your guns,” I answered. “And without weapons, we can go places you can’t go, and meet people you can’t, because we’re not seen as threatening to them.”

To others concerned about our safety, I said more. “If we carry guns out of suspicion that someone might hurt us, we instead become more suspicious to them and are more likely to be a target of violence.”  We knew that without guns we would be forced to use other strengths we have, such as our creative thinking, our ability to talk to someone threatening us, transform a tense confrontation, or prevent others or ourselves from being hurt or killed.  And in most threatening situations, having weapons would not make us less vulnerable.

Most internationals living in Iraq surrounded themselves with blast walls, checkpoints, and razor wire.  By doing this, however, they put themselves in a kind of prison and cut themselves off from ordinary Iraqis. “How can you live in the Red Zone?” some asked members of our team with a sense of dread. We, however, felt it was a gift to live among and get to know the Iraqi people more personally and understand what they were thinking.

There was never any question that it was dangerous, but CPT differed from other organizations concerning the amount of risk we were willing to accept to do our work.  We joined the team, willing to take the same risks as soldiers, to work for peace.  We knew it was possible for any of us to be a victim of violence, but, for us, the importance of working alongside Iraqis for justice and peace outweighed the dangers…

We wanted to act out of a “non-mushy” love that compelled us to work in situations where people were under threat.  Most people wouldn’t think twice about giving their lives for a family member or risking their lives to pull a child out of a burning house or a river.  Could we see all persons as part of our family and their lives as equally precious?  Our organization has used the slogan “getting in the way” to refer to Jesus’s way of nonviolent suffering love, as well as standing in the way of those who would cause harm.  When we were willing to put our lives on the line to witness for truth, justice, and peace, God could empower us, work through us, and transform threatening situations.


Sensationalism vs. Wise Perspective

I commented in my prior post a couple days ago the thought that we need to make

A commitment to finding sources of information that inform rather than entertain, educate rather than play with our emotions, and give us complexity rather than black-and-white generalizations. In other words, turn Fox News and MSNBC and Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Air America and Huffington Post off and choose to direct our attention to reputable sources like National Public Radio and Public Television and (gasp) BBC.

I happen to respect Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio more than nearly any governmental leader.  In fact, I’m a Facebook fan of his, which I guess cements my status in a really cool, hip way or really dorky way, whichever way you look at it. Anyways, if you’re a “fan” of a group on Facebook, from time to time you get sent updates from whoever they are.  On Tuesday, I received an update from Dennis of an interview of him by MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell that underscores how ridiculous our news shows have gotten and how relentlessly they seek ratings. 

The video interview, embedded below, came about as a result of President Obama’s announcement that the military would be drawing down troops in Iraq to between 35,000 to 50,000 troops by 2010.  This is good news, but as Dennis Kucinich mentioned almost immediately, is not excellent news because tens of thousands of troops remain, risking American life and infringing on Iraqi sovereignty.  His comment upon hearing the annoucement was 

I support President Obama for taking a step in the right direction in Iraq, but I do not think that his plan goes far enough. You cannot leave combat troops in a foreign country to conduct combat operations and call it the end of the war. You can’t be in and out at the same time…America must determine at some point to end the occupation, close the bases and bring the troops home. We must bring a conclusion to this sorry chapter in American history where war was waged under false pretense against an innocent people. Taking troops out of Iraq should not mean more troops available for deployment in other operations.

Sound reasonable to you? Well, how do you think the media spun this statement? From this interview, you can see a bit of where they went with it, making it sound like Kucinich is being insubordinate and trying to start a firefight with Obama and his leadership…but Kucinich repeatedly elevates the level of discourse from playground to civilized discussion.

Norah:  “President Obama is trying to end the war.  Why are you criticizing him?”

Kucinich: “Well, I’m not criticizing him for trying to end the war. I’m saying that he has made a step in the right direction..He’s taken a step in the right direction, but I don’t think you can call this a withdrawal. It’s a phase-down, but it’s not a phase-out. You’re either in our you’re out, and right now we’re still in.”

Norah: “You’re either in our your out…it’s not a withdrawal…this plan doesn’t go far enough…these are all your words, and you’re saying that’s not criticizing the President? It sounds like you’re criticizing the man who won this election on ending the war in Iraq, and you’re saying, “not good enough.”

Kucinich: “Well, you know, again, I think we have to credit the President for taking a step in the right direction.”

Watch the video and tell me if you see what I’m seeing.  Because I see a black-and-white, snide, “gotcha,” ratings hound anchor and a reasoned, wise man who brings in historical knowledge to bear (in Afghanistan), refuses the definition of support he’s confronted with (as if he should wave an Obama flag and cheer every time the President opens his mouth), and offers a genuine different perspective.

Integrity exists, and it goes by the names Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul…

Kucinich offers some good, sound bipartisan thinking on the economic crisis.  He has really done a number on me to be one of the very few politicians that I trust doesn’t put spin on what he says.  He speaks forthrightly, strives for a government accountable to its citizens, gained Fox News’ Neil Cavuto’s grudging respect (Neil said in this interview “you have a good gut on this”…”you oftentimes blame and go after many in your own party and the other party”),

…and he said axiomatic.

Here’s another video where Kucinich offers good, sound thinking on health care and foreign policy in an entertaining conversation with Bill O’Reilly. Both refused to back down and Kucinich called out O’Reilly when mischaracterized, taking the conversation beyond buzz words and into substantive dialogue.

O’Reilly: You represent a soft approach to Iran, al-Qaeda…
Kucinich: Soft, are you kidding me?
O’Reilly: You don’t want to confront them militarily.
Kucinich: When is the truth soft?
O’Reilly: Well, I don’t know what the truth is…
Kucinich: The truth is, we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq.
O’Reilly: Iraq’s a different thing. We won that.
Kucinich: Where’s the soft approach?
O’Reilly: You don’t want to confront Putin militarily in Georgia, you don’t want to confront Iran militarily, you don’t want to do all that.
Kucinich: (laughing) Why have a war if you don’t need it?
O’Reilly: Ok, but if Iran develops nuclear weapons, you’re ok with it.
Kucinich: Oh, no…
O’Reilly: Well, what are you going to do to stop it?
Kucinich: What I’ve said is we need to get rid of all nuclear weapons.
O’Reilly: Well, that’s not going to happen.
Kucinich: Well, it must happen…we have to come to a point where we realize that these weapons threaten our existence.

Ron Paul sparring with Bill O’Reilly. Aside from not getting a chance to make a reasonable argument at length, Paul says some very honest, challenging things in this interview. I’m impressed by him. Thanks to John Daubert telling me I MUST check out Ron Paul, I have really, really been impressed by him.