dave is finally back. that doesn’t make the state of the world any less worrisome, but he reminds us not to take ourselves so seriously all the time. that can’t be bad.
shopping with thad (and other tales of futility)
it snowed most of the day in clarks summit, pa. yeah, i know it’s almost april, but you’ll have to take that up with God or mother nature or the weather man or whoever you choose to blame these phenomena on. all i know is there’s snow everywhere and i had to scrape ice off my car twice today. the car doors were even frozen shut.
speaking of shopping…a friend made the following observation this week: shopping for women is like pornography for men – a lot of wasted time looking at stuff you can’t have. apparently he made that statement to his wife and earned himself a full helping of her scorn. maybe it’s not a perfect analogy, but it seems to make some sense.
speaking of shopping (ah, there’s the segue way i was looking for), i spent a good hour in my local wal-mart supercenter tonight. some assorted observations and questions from that adventure:
– i’d forgotten how you have to have perpetual contact with your significant other when you’re 16. i watched this couple walk the aisles side by side with their arms around one another while trying to push a shopping cart. it struck me as pretty odd. first, i began that sort of physical contact with girlfriends when i was about 13. incidentally, that’s also when i began talking to girlfriends…all prior had been on a strict regimen of written correspondence (maybe i had something there). anyway, in the fifteen years of assorted expressions of affection that have followed, i’ve yet to find any instance in which the side-by-side-each-with-an-arm-around-the-other positioning makes much sense. it’s awkward and uncomfortable standing still; it’s just silly when you’re in motion. throw a shopping cart into the mix and, well, you end up with an aging late-20-something gawking at you like you have an extra butt cheek.
– consumerism isn’t just bad for my soul; it’s bad for my bank account. who decided we needed all this crap?
– the cereal aisle is a prime example of the previous complaint. look, all we need are rice krispies, corn flakes, raisin bran, corn chex, apple jacks, and honeycomb. everything else is just taking up space and rotting kids’ teeth.
– where does wal-mart find these guys that work in electronics? they all look the same, no matter where you are in the country. it’s like a blue-vested race of early-20s burnouts.
– one of the most culturally devastating consequences of american idol is the revival of paula abdul’s music. i never listen to fm radio, and a trip through wal-mart is all i need to remind me why. in sixty minutes i heard enough pop sludge to fill a jumbo pack of pampers custom fit cruisers (size 3). in the middle of it was paula telling me i’m a cold hearted snake. as these things go, i continued to hear it for the next thirty minutes until i could get to the car and replace the mental reverberations with something more nutritious. hit show or not, let’s leave paula’s music where it belongs: 1989.
– no trip to wal-mart is complete until you pass the out of control mother screaming/swinging at her kids. look, i don’t care how bad s/he is, no kid deserves to be called names or cursed by an adult. cut that crap out.
– the people at hershey’s and PAZ must really love Jesus. they get their own aisle at wal-mart every year before easter. who knew that the substitutionary death and redemptive resurrection of the Son of God would mean such enormous profits for the fake grass industry, candy pushers, and plastic egg-makers? … i suspect God knew, and He sent Jesus anyway. that makes no sense, but it’s pretty cool.
– i think wal-mart practices age discrimination in their hiring. i’ve never had anyone under 70 push a cart out in front of me as i walked in the front door.
– one of my least favorite shopping chores is buying bread for amy. tonight the list says: “wheat: 8 or 10 grain w/ nuts.” for starters, this goes against everything i stand for in bread. white bread only, and no funny shapes please. beyond that, i always screw up her bread order. there are like 817 “versions” of brown bread, and i can’t ever find the right one. tonight i found 7 grain, 8 grain with oats, multigrain light, and health nut with walnuts and sunflower seeds. i went with that last one. she said i did good, but i think she’s just being nice because she feels bad that i had to shop (and because she eats pagan bread).
– why is there a travel agency in wal-mart?
– i always wonder if it annoys the check-out ladies for me to hand them my empty reese’s wrapper and my half-empty coke bottle when i check out. neither are really carrying my germs – i don’t lick the peanut butter cup wrapper, and i put the lid on the bottle before i give it to her. still, it seems a bit odd handing someone my in-process snack to ring up. anyone with any relevant employment experience out there who can shed some light on this?
after wal-mart, i went to wegman’s, a local grocery store, to get the produce and meat. i swore off buying those items at wal-mart after three consecutive gross-out encounters with wal-mart fruit and ground beef. anyway, wegman’s is this cool little market chain indigenous to the northeast – mostly new york and pennsylvania i think. this is not your average grocery store – they have all sorts of fresh breads and produce and an extensive natural/health foods section (which means nothing to me, but it’s cool anyway). they also have a remarkable variety of international food sections – o geez, i just realized i forgot to buy the rice (a japanese brand you can only find at wegman’s) – and a candy section that must be run by some elves who defected from the north pole…jelly bellies everywhere. anyway, i did not hear paula abdul while i was at wegman’s. i did, however, hear peter cetera singing about daniel larusso doing it all for the glory of love. see, this is the difference between good 80’s cheese and bad 80’s cheese. peter cetera good. paul abdul bad. incidentally, paula was the choreographer for karate kid part 3. karate kid parts 1&2 good. karate kid part 3 bad.
One should be careful what one says about something like war, even (especially?) amongst friends and kin, lest one find oneself in the midst of a Hitchcock film. Birds everywhere…hawks, doves swooping in from all directions.
Cover your faces! Cover your eyes!
Are the birds gonna eat us, Mommy?
Perhaps one should just pick a side so as to avoid the beaks of one or the other, but which side?
I would hardly think that either species would have sufficient intelligence to launch a massed attack. Their brain pans are not big enough…Birds are not aggressive creatures, Miss. They bring beauty into the world. It is mankind, rather…who insists upon making it difficult for life to exist on this planet. Now if it were not for birds…
With self-preservation the motive, you’d think one would try to appease the hawks, but one shouldn’t underestimate the tenacity or nationalism of the doves (they’re pretty passionate about their dovedom).
I think we’re in real trouble. I don’t know how this started or why, but I know it’s here and we’d be crazy to ignore it…The bird war, the bird attack, plague – call it what you like. They’re amassing out there someplace and they’ll be back. You can count on it…
It’s the end of the world!
[NOTE: This will probably be the last extensive post on the war stuff for a while. I didn’t intend so many all at once, so we’ll try to find some less exhausting conversations in the next few days. In the meantime, please continue to respond to and discuss these posts.]
The more I explore, the more of this I’m finding. I highly recommend you read both of these articles:
First, another former antiwar activist and voluntary human shield leaves Iraq, calling for the removal of Saddam after finding the Iraqi people want war if it means an end to Saddam’s regime. For the suspicious, this is not mainstream American media. Read the article here.
Also, check out this article by Ken Joseph, an Assyrian Christian who went to Baghdad as part of his crusade against the war. What he found there transformed him. He begins:
How do you admit you were wrong? What do you do when you realize those you were defending in fact did not want your defense and wanted something completely different from you and from the world? This is my story. It will probably upset everybody – those with whom I have fought for peace all my life and those for whom the decision for war comes a bit too fast. As a minister and due to my personal convictions I have always been against war for any and all reasons. It was precisely this moral conviction that led me to do all I could to stop the current war in Iraq.
He then explains some of the factors of his Assyrian heritage that contribute to his deep feelings for the people of his homeland, and describes the warm connections he felt with the Iraqi people as he entered the country and moved among them. Then a startling experience…
The first order of business was to attend Church. It was here where my morals were raked over the coals and I was first forced to examine them in the harsh light of reality. … Sitting next to me was an older man who carefully began to sound me out. Apparently feeling the freedom to talk in the midst of the mingling crowd he suddenly turned to me and said `There is something you should know.` `What` I asked surprised at the sudden comment. `We didn’t want to be here tonight`. he continued. `When the Priest asked us to gather for a Peace Service we said we didn’t want to come`. He said. `What do you mean` I inquired, confused. `We didn’t want to come because we don’t want peace` he replied. `What in the world do you mean?` I asked. `How could you not want peace?` `We don’t want peace. We want the war to come` he continued. What in the world are you talking about? I blurted back. That was the beginning of a strange odyssey that deeply shattered my convictions and moral base but at the same time gave me hope for my people and, in fact, hope for the world. Beginning that night and continuing on in the private homes of relatives with whom I stayed little by little the scales began to come off my eyes.
I can’t say conclusively, but I have reason to suspect that the church and priest he mentions are the ones referenced by the American Christian in the previous post. He then explains that, by some accident, fluke, or Divine intervention, he wasn’t assigned a government “minder” as is custom for all foreign visitors. As far as he could tell, he was the only foreigner among all those he encountered (including media, activists, “human shields,” etc.) who wasn’t accompanied by a government “minder” (who arrange all interviews, visits and contact with ordinary Iraqis) at all times.
…I was told that I could most help the Assyrian cause by going out and telling the story to the outside world. Simply put, those living in Iraq, the common, regular people are in a living nightmare. From the terror that would come across the faces of my family at a unknown visitor, telephone call, knock at the door I began to realize the horror they lived with every day. Over and over I questioned them `Why could you want war? Why could any human being desire war?` They’re answer was quiet and measured. `Look at our lives! `We are living like animals. No food, no car, no telephone, no job and most of all no hope.`
I wept with family members as I shared their pain and with great difficulty and deep soul searching began little by little to understand their desire for war to finally rid them of the nightmare they were living in. `Life is hell. We have no hope. But everything will be ok once the war is over.` The bizarre desire for a war that would rid them of the hopelessness was at best hard to understand. `Look at it this way. No matter how bad it is we will not all die. We have hoped for some other way but nothing has worked. 12 years ago it went almost all the way but failed. We cannot wait anymore. We want the war and we want it now.` Coming back to family members and telling them of progress in the talks at the United Nations on working some sort of compromise with Iraq I was welcomed not with joy but anger. `No, there is no other way! We want the war! It is the only way he will get out of our lives`
It sounds crazy, but these are desperate people with a desperate hope.
Of course nobody wanted to be bombed but the first sight of the American B29 Bombers signaled to them that the war was coming to an end. An end was in sight. There would be terrible destruction. They might very well die but finally in a tragic way there was finally hope.
Joseph’s discoveries led him to reconsider his mission, and he challenged others to do the same.
Here I had been demonstrating against the war thinking I had been doing it for the very people I was here now with and yet I had not ever bothered to ask them what they wanted. What they wanted me to do. It was clear now what I should do. I began to talk to the so called `human shields`. Have you asked the people here what they want? Have you talked to regular people, away from your `minder` and asked them what they want? I was shocked at the response. `We don’t need to do that. We know what they want.` was the usual reply before a minder stepped up to check who I was. With tears streaming down my face in my bed in a tiny house in Baghdad crowded in with 10 other of my own flesh and blood, all exhausted after another day of not living but existing without hope, exhausted in daily struggle simply to not die I had to say to myself `I was wrong`. How dare I claim to speak for those for whom I had never asked what they wanted!
Joseph then began to use his video camera to capture the new truth he was encountering.
Carefully and with great risk, not just for me but most of all for those who told their story and opened up their homes for the camera I did my best to tape their plight as honestly and simply as I could. Wanting to make sure I was not simply getting the feelings of a long oppressed minority – the Assyrians – I spoke to dozens of people. What I was not prepared for was the sheer terror they felt at speaking out. Over and over again I would be told `We would be killed for speaking like this` and finding out that they would only speak in a private home or where they were absolutely sure through the introduction of another Iraqi that I was not being attended by a minder. From a former member of the Army to a person working with the police to taxi drivers to store owners to mothers to government officials without exception when allowed to speak freely the message was the same – `Please bring on the war. We are ready. We have suffered long enough. We may lose our lives but some of us will survive and for our children’s sake please, please end our misery.’
Joseph also addresses the attitude of the Iraqi people toward the coalition nations.
But what of their feelings towards the United States and Britain? Those feelings are clearly mixed. They have no love for the British or the Americans but they trust them. `We are not afraid of the American bombing. They will bomb carefully and not purposely target the people. What we are afraid of is Saddam Hussein and what he and the Baath Party will do when the war begins. But even then we want the war. It is the only way to escape our hell. Please tell them to hurry. We have been through war so many times,but this time it will give us hope`.
The article ends with a compelling story of escaping Iraq with the video tapes he made. I strongly recommend reading the entire piece.
The American in Baghdad I mentioned yesterday included a quote from MLK in his note. To say King was a strong advocate of non-violence is an understatement, and his resulting rhetorical and historical contributions to society are immeasurable. However, it’s worth noting that King wasn’t an unqualified pacifist. It’s fair for contemporary pacifists and nonviolent activists to look to King in their thinking and defense, but it’s also fair to point out that most of them are selective in mining his words for ammunition. Case in point: King’s comparison of Gandhi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In essence, King’s message was this: When your enemy has a conscience, follow Gandhi. When your enemy has no conscience, follow Bonhoeffer.
In case you’re not as familiar with Bonhoeffer, he was a German theologian, minister, writer, professor, and activist during Hitler’s rise to power. Along with the likes of Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer led an opposition movement against National Socialism and became one of the strongest advocates for the protection of the Jewish people in Germany (and beyond). After helping a group of Jews escape to Switzerland, he was arrested and imprisoned in 1943. Because of his work on behalf of the Jewish people, including involvement in an effort to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer was hanged in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945. Among Bonhoeffer’s classic contributions to the library of Christendom are The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, and Ethics.
[I’m trying to capture more than one perspective, and my only request is that you read both the article I reference here and the post below.]
To further contribute to the conversation, Victor Eremita offers an excellent article about his transformation from pacifist Christian to “Bonhoeffer Christian” based on his journeys in Iraq after Desert Storm. This is not your standard conservative pro-war fare. Eremita was an ardent pacifist for many years and, in many ways, is rooted in the left. In my Persuasion Theory class at A&M, he is what we called the “hostile witness,” one of the most credible sources for an argument. Highly recommended reading.
As some of you know, this whole march to war has been a source of great reflection and turmoil for me (and I know I’m not unique in that). I’m persuaded that Saddam and his regime are bad for the Iraqi people (an understatement, obviously) and a threat to all kinds of other people. I recognize that they’ve repeatedly violated the truce that halted Desert Storm in 1991, and I’m unmoved by the stubborn and self-serving nations who have opposed the United States in the UN. From a classic western political perspective, the current war makes sense. And, personally, I love and support the folks I know in the military. My Dad’s big brother is an Army chaplain on temporary assignment in Korea (if you’re planning a vacation in that quiet corner of the world, be sure to let me know so I can hook you up with Uncle David. I’m sure he’d love to show you around the DMZ). At the same time, I find myself deeply concerned over the greater implications of this large scale violence visiting the people of Iraq and the lives and families of American soldiers. We live in a fallen world where violence and tragedy will only be permanently resolved by a coming Divine reconciliation. The great debate is how we best handle these conflicts in the meantime. I’m decidedly undecided (if you care where I stand).
So, I want to engage this enormous topic with some intelligence and compassion, but I’d rather steer clear of the standard back-n-forth shouting over who’s right and who’s wrong. I know and love people deeply entrenched on both extremes of the: Is this war just? debate. I’m not sure we can accomplish much in trying to resolve that question here, so let’s not. Instead, I’d like to present and invite some less ubiquitous perspectives on the edges of the bigger discussion.
We’ll start with one that requires you understand this: not all Iraqis are Muslims. There seems to be a common assumption that Saddam and his regime are a classic fundamentalist Muslim theocracy. The truth is he’s considered a secular ruler by most of the Arab world. He actually claims a tolerance for Christians, and his Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, professes to be a Christian. Saddam once contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Chaldean-Catholic church in Detroit, and in return received the key to the city. I’m not kidding. Most reasonable estimates place the number of professing Christians in Iraq around one million, a little less than 5% of the total population. Iraq is by no means a “free” country, but the prevailing notion that Iraqis can’t choose to believe in Christ isn’t quite accurate. Saddam seems to tolerate Christianity so long as the practice of it doesn’t interfere with his agenda. In other words, as long as the Christians are quiet, he puts up with them, but his record isn’t as clean once they start living out the more disruptive elements of their faith.
I offer that as context for the following note written by an American Christian doing humanitarian/mission work in Baghdad. He was there before the war began, and his purpose is the same as any aid worker or missionary in a land marred by poverty, oppression, and violence. He’s not a politician, and he’s clear about the fact that he’s not there to serve as a “human shield.” He does oppose the war, but not for the purpose of protecting or preserving Saddam. He’s witnessing up close the results of the first war, twelve years of sanctions, and the current bombing campaign in Baghdad. Again, my purpose is not to offer a simple answer to the complex questions of the justness of this war or the broader dilemmas in the Middle East. This is not leftist propaganda propelled by a political agenda, and it’s actually a mild selection from some of his descriptions of what he’s witnessed. It’s the real experience of a guy living what the rest of us are only guessing about. Shelve your inherent suspicion of anything slightly un-American for a few minutes, and consider that there may be more to all of this than we like to think.
I went to worship at St. Rafael’s Cathedral today in Baghdad. We sang familiar tunes, and the priest got up to give the homily. He had just served six months in prison for his faithfulness to the Gospel. What would his message be at such a crucial moment?
He told the true story of a woman whose son and husband were killed by a police officer. In court, as the judge considered the sentence of the police officer, the woman spoke forth boldly: “He took my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give… So I would like for him to come to the ghetto twice a month and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him… so that I can embrace him, and he can know my forgiveness is real.”
The priest urged the listeners to love their enemies. I have heard that a million times. I have traveled across the country preaching it. But now there was a twist, the enemy he spoke of was my country. The boundaries of God’s grace were being pushed once again. Somehow it didn’t seem fair to tell these beautiful people who were about to be attacked by the same enemy that killed many of their family members and decimated their city only ten years ago. We are to love those who bomb us? The priest led us to the cross, urging us to say to the Americans: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He admitted that it is not based on logic – it is a love that does not make sense, a scandalous grace. And he urged this Iraqi congregation and their international friends to love those who persecute us. I wondered if perhaps our enemies will be witnesses before our Judge. Maybe as Psalm 23 says, the Lord will prepare a table before us “in the presence of our enemies” and they will be witnesses of our love. What will they say of our love? And what would dinner look like with Saddam or George W?
The service ended with the singing of “Amazing Grace.” And I sat in tears, wishing I could be the judge of George W. Bush. I would sentence him to spend two days a month in the Al Monzer pediatric hospital in Baghdad.
“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our houses and threaten our children and we will still love you. Beat us and leave us half dead, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the progress, and our victory will be a double victory.'” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
i read some wonderful words from rich mullins today:
Sometimes when you worship, you’ve got to be a little bit quiet because sometimes God ain’t gonna talk real loud to you, and you have to shut up in order to hear him. I don’t know why He’s like that. Sometimes it makes me mad. But it don’t do it to fight with God ’cause He always wins. He bloodies your nose, and then he gives you a ride home on his bicycle.
man, i miss that guy.
i‘m usually the last one up at my house. despite being just a couple of years short of 30, my day/night patterns still resemble those of a college student in many ways. actually, i was a night owl long before college. i’ve tried to break these habits, particularly since amy is wired so differently. i think i’ve improved overall, but i don’t know that an early bedtime or crack-o-dawn rising will ever come naturally. back to my point — typically amy and aiden are already up and going when i stumble out of the bedroom to get ready for work. this week has been different, mainly because they’re both sick and adjusting their internal clocks after a week on the west coast. this morning i was getting dressed in aiden’s room (we share a closet) and he awoke as i stood watching him. he’s six and half months old now, and he’s full of life, laughs, language (most of it revolves around this phrase: DA-DA-DA-DA-DA-DA), and all kinds of new tricks. we’re constantly amazed at how much more we can love him every time we look at him. this morning was a gift in that way. i watched him gradually emerge from a long night’s sleep, first looking annoyed to be waking (guess where he got that), then confused, then utterly delighted to see his dad standing next to him. the smiles and the “words” that he shared in that moment made it nearly impossible for me to leave for work, and they have also kept me going today. though babies are terribly selfish, they’re also more capable of loving the most unlovely of people in the most innocent ways. if you’re a parent, you get this, and if you’re not, i hope you will someday. he may scream at me when he’s hungry or when i use that hideous nose-sucker thing to perform snot surgery on him, but he loves me just because i’m his dad. i hope i don’t ever give him any reason to reconsider.
tonight at 10E/9C, the discovery channel will debut a program entitled thomas l. friedman reporting: searching for the roots of 9/11. friedman, a new york times columnist, has spent much of his career covering the arab world, and this program is his exploration of how muslims around the world view the u.s. “why do they hate us?” became the post-9/11 question-of-the-year, but i’m not sure many of us found an answer that made sense. if we’re honest, a lot of us assume that “they” are all just a little nuts. that might be the easy answer, but it’s not a very good one. i doubt friedman will offer the final word in the matter, but he appears to have made an effort to get beyond the surface. and let’s be honest — if the discovery channel picked it up, that probably means the networks passed on it. that’s always a good sign. get out of your nice, white box and look at the world through someone else’s eyes for an hour. i will if you will. if you miss it tonight, you can see the schedule of its many re-airings by linking to the show above.