Of Bombs and Massacres

Political rhetoric often gets in the way of facts, not to mention reason and logical thought.

Ted Cruz
Texas Senator Ted Cruz bbc.com

Texas Senator Ted Cruz–wanting to establish his bona fides  as the toughest of the tough against ISIL–proposed “carpetbombing” the terrorist group into oblivion, suggesting that with enough bombs the desert might glow.

However, Cruz misuses the term “carpetbombing,” when he suggests not that we level the ISIL capital but rather bomb where the troops are. This is not carpetbombing–it is targeted bombing, which the United States and its allies are already doing. Carpet bombing is what the United States and Britain did to Dresden, Germany in World War II, flattening the city and its people.

Dresden one year after the bombing
People boarding a tram in Dresden one year AFTER the bombing that left the city mostly destroyed. news.bbc.co.uk

Another word for carpetbombing could be “massacre.” As I read about Cruz’s proposal I thought back to two episodes of “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman” Jonathan and I watched recently. Entitled “Washita,” it involves a re-telling of the complete destruction of an encampment of Cheyenne by troops led by then Lieutenant Colonel George Custer in 1868.

Washita massacre
hubpages.com

At the time, this battle was seen as a great victory over the Cheyenne, many of whom were resisting being moved onto reservations–and it restored Custer’s reputation as a military hero, ten months after he had been stripped of his rank and command for desertion and mistreatment of his troops.

There is one problem, however. The encampment was entirely populated by peaceful Cheyenne, including Chief Black Kettle who promoted peaceful relations with the government and settlers. The entire camp was on reservation land where the people had settled after being promised safety by the local Army commander. There was a white flag flying from one of the dwellings, indicating a desire to avoid conflict.

Within a few hours of the early morning raid, begun while the village was still sleeping, 103 Cheyenne braves were killed, including Black Kettle and his wife, and many other women and children. Some braves escaped and fought back, but in the end nothing was left.

custer.over-blog.com
custer.over-blog.com

This is how carpetbombing looks up close and personal. Of course, it is demoralizing, one could say terrorizing, to many of those who remain–which is what Custer and his boss, General Philip Sheridan, wanted, in order for more native Americans to move onto reservations.

But it also creates deep resentment and anger in others, which is, I suspect, what such action would produce in the Middle East. The loss of innocent life would be a great recruitment gain for ISIL and other extemist groups.

However, I imagine it would make Senator Cruz, and presumably others, feel good about his leadership skills, believing that toughness is the main ingredient . . . if we are just tough enough, violent enough, mean enough, these ugly people will either cave in or be destroyed.

This is what fear induces, unless it is coupled with reason and intelligence. Public policy rooted in fear, flavored in shrillness and hyperbole, is invariably bad policy, producing reactions and counter-reactions that leave the world in a worse place than before.

Senator Cruz, like Mr. Trump, is well educated–Cruz after all his talk and actions about being a political outsider, is a Harvard Law School grad and served as a clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist–but in his drive to win the presidential nomination seems willing to sacrifice accuracy in speaking, not to mention thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of innocent lives.

Caveat emptor.

When Lovers Fight

Two-angry-men
lawofselfdefense.com

When lovers fight it can become very intense. Harsh things are said, even threats sometimes. Voices are raised, one or the other storms from the room (in the best of moments, someone may ask for a “time out” but often that nicety is lost).

Is that what is happening in our national life, too?

It seems as if we are two people–one very afraid and sure all is coming to an end, and the other also afraid that all they value is being lost. Perhaps it is better to say each feels afraid that all they value is being lost, taken from them by the actions and attitudes of the other one.

pessimism-or-optimism-small
fortheloveofthistruth.com

I know which one I am, and if you read this blog at all you will know that, too. To put it somewhat crudely, I am more frightened by those who want to bar all Muslims from entering the United States than I am by the terrorists who  slip through whatever security arrangements our government erects.

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen says he believes there are two kinds of people, optimists and pessimists. He says it all breaks down to this basic division.

In that schema, I am an optimist.

As I write that, I want to add some qualifiers–“reasonable” or “realistic” or “sensible”–but that is because I am sensitive to what others will think, and because I can hear the voices of others who matter to me asserting that things are in a pretty bad state and that a good outcome is not assured. I hear them, but believe it is important to stand where my soul calls me. So no qualifiers.

gandhi-prayer
indiafacts.org

At the same time, I yearn to be  rooted in my soul place without saying harsh things, without raging in ways that make dialogue impossible, without storming from the room when those whose souls root them in pessimism utter their truths. We are in this together–even though sometimes it feels to me that the “this” is at least two very different things.

In our national life, I see many of our leaders acting from what are sometimes called masculinist assumptions, what I call the “bomb first, talk later” syndrome. Yes, I know that can be viewed as incendiary language, but it is the response of many in the face of what feels to them to be real and present danger.

donald Trump 3
businessinsider.com

In my life generally, and more and more, I try to follow the Ghandian principle that peace begins with me, within me. That means, I believe, that it is my responsibility to find ways to communicate with others, perhaps especially with those with whom I disagree most clearly and fundamentally.

This is a spiritual quest for me, but it also is what I am coming to believe is my patriotic and human duty–to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts large and small. So my question right now is this: how can I engage Donald Trump and others who are such a radical remove from me and my concerns and views?

I welcome your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

More of the Same Is Not Enough

How will we ever stop the insanity?

As Paris, and Beirut, and other places too, reel from the attacks, we are facing a world, once again, where no one feels safe.

Paris man mourning ibtimes
ibtimes.com

What that means in the West is that once again, as after 9/11, we experience the world as the other two-thirds do already. And what that means also is that the veneer of safety we purchase through arms and wealth and “civilized behavior” is really just that, a veneer, masking the brutal, and beautiful, fact that we are all connected.

Most of us, thank God, do not have access to armaments with which to destroy ISIL or any other of the terrorists who seem to delight in simply blowing up things and people, mostly people. And I pray we never do. More violence by individuals acting on righteousness is not the answer.

But what we do have are our voices and our feet and our hands. We need to find ways to march together, to hold hands together, to raise our voices together.

I don’t know how this is to be done, and I doubt very much that I am the one to even get it started, but I do want to post here my prayer that somehow more creative minds than mine will find ways to call us, the ones who value every human life as sacred, together for shared action.

We cannot leave this to politicians, statesmen and stateswomen, alone. We are leaders, too. We can speak up against anti-Islam comments, we can insist our government spend more money on humanitarian assistance globally than it does on arms, we can contribute to educating girls and young women in the Middle East and elsewhere, we can support micro-financing in Two Thirds World countries. And we can help bring together imams and rabbis and Christian clergy to talk about, and act on, mutual regard and respect and universal love and citizenship.

I admit it all sounds weak compared to the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people in not much more than a heartbeat, but I believe working peacefully together in these ways, and many things of similar type that I cannot conjure up, is the only answer that will finally work.

War does not bring peace, even if defeats the other side. We may need it to stop something evil but if that is all we do we will have won the battle but lost the war.

Real Leaders Seek to Tear Down Walls

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin najaiurban.com
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin
najaiurban.com

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is a leader.

It is important to say this on this particular day, November 4, the 20th anniversary of the death, the assassination, of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli military leader and Prime Minister of peace.

A leader is one who tells people what needs to be done, and models it for them. A leader is one who sees the bigger picture, more than what sounds or feels good in the moment. A leader is one who sees to the welfare of all people not just those who support him or her, not just those of one group but all. A leader has a vision of things as they could be, and is willing to risk discomfort and unpopularity to share ideas and programs to help move toward that new way of life. Rabin was this kind of leader.

Former Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin takegreatpictures.com
Former Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin
takegreatpictures.com

Such a vision continues to be articulated by Rivlin. A year ago, as Jonathan and I were in Israel, he declared that the time had come to recognize that Israel had become “a sick society.” He did not mean that Israelis are bad people but that the unwillingness to engage Palestinians in a shared nation is corrupting the national soul.

And in May he spoke of the need for each group to recognize the value and culture of the other. He even went so far as to say that just as Arab children must learn Hebrew that all Jewish children should be taught Arabic. What a concept! It would be good for us in the United States to insist, in a similar way, that all children be taught Spanish (take that, Donald Trump!). As Rivlin says, language “leads from the ear to the heart.”

What is interesting about Rivlin is that he does not support the two-state solution, believing that Arabs and Jews can live side by side. This is why he goes deeper, dealing with questions of identity and difference, hoping to encourage dialogue between those who stand across the chasm of hatred and yell at each other, and thrown stones and even launch rockets. What he really wants is a unified nation of people of the land, all people of the land.

This kind of thinking is where peace is actually made. Treaties are not peace, dividing up the political spoils among various groups or nations–that is not peace. Such things may help, by reducing warfare and overt violence, but peace requires deeper change, peace is a matter of the soul and spirit of people. It is overcoming the inner, intimate instinct for violence.

ibtimes.co.uk
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ibtimes.co.uk

Rivlin seems to understand this; or maybe he just sees how hopeless it is to keep playing the political games of Netanyahu and Abbas and others (even Obama and Kerry). It is telling that recently the Prime Minister of Israel said, “I am asked if we will forever live by the sword? Yes.” (see story here)

The President of that same nation says, according to a report in The Times of Israel, that

opposing narratives were at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a “zero sum game between identities, between national stories.

“My independence is your catastrophe,” he said, alluding to the Palestinian Nakba, marked with an annual day of mourning that coincides with Israel’s celebration of its independence in 1948. “You build your identity, which negates mine, and I build my identity, which negates yours.” (read the story here)

He wants each side to cease building separate identities at the expense of the other, to recognize a shared inheritance in the land and a deep spirituality.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

The difference between the two attitudes, between Rivlin and Netanyahu, is stunning. One will help Israel survive and thrive. The other will cause more sickness and, I believe, ultimately lead to its demise.

To live by the sword is to die by it. Rabin knew this from personal experience, even before the assassin’s bullet. Rivlin seems to know it today.

On this day, we must pray in gratitude for Rabin, as we pray for the life of Rivlin (who has, like Rabin, received many death threats). Theirs is the journey of hope and liberation from hate and violence, the way to godly living in the land of such promise.

And we must pray for Netanyahu, Abbas, and all the others, that they finally come to their senses, to learn to reach across the great divide to begin the really hard work of peace.

Shalom.

Paying Attention: Learning from the Ducks

[This continues the meditations from December 9, 10, and 12, 2014, reflecting on moments during a Vision Quest in September 2014 at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park.]

What can I learn from ducks?

It is now Thursday, on this several day sojourn in the wilderness, what I now call my Soul Quest. It will become a momentous day for me, but here I am going to focus on just one piece of the gift of paying attention.

The sun rises, I pray to the four directions as Tomas, our shaman, has taught us, and I seek a spot to sit. It is not easy; the rocks are hard and still cold in the early morning. I feel a little wobbly, having had no food since Tuesday evening.

2014-09-10 17.44.31But the day is bright and my tree friends are looking grand. As does the lake. Oh, right, the lake. I am committed to going in to its frigid waters later in the day, naked as a newborn babe (and with probably as much sense, I say to myself).

But for now, I sit and look around. I seek to clear my mind and just experience the stillness that underlies the wind and the sun and the birds flying and squirrels busily moving about. After a while, I walk to the lake, not yet ready to take the plunge but wanting a preparatory look, and to dip my hand in and filter some water for drinking.

As I approach the lake, I see ducks, five of them, swimming slowly and sometimes just sitting in the water. I find a perch and watch them for what feels a long time. I am enthralled by the pattern of their group dynamics. Four of the ducks congregate, one stays apart. At first, I think that the separate one is being shunned by the group. But then I note something else; they are connected, and he is the leader. He moves a little and they move a little. I mean a little, it is subtle but clear. In my mind, I begin to call him LD (Lead Duck).

Then one of the four moves out, a little away from the group and LD.  After that ones stays put a little while, LD begins to move ahead in the same direction the other one was moving, and they all follow LD. It is an interesting dance of leader and follower, what I interpret as their being two leaders, one who is clearly part of the group–like a lieutenant or Vice-Lead Duck–and whose consent is required for Lead Duck to move out, followed by the others. This causes me to want to reflect on this in terms of being a leader.

The day is warming fast. I remove some clothing, and find a rock on which to sit and make notes in my journal.

mallard duckWhat I notice in this movement of the ducks is that they cannot be led unless they are willing to follow. It is a lesson I still need to learn. I am always moving to somewhere or something, but not always very concerned about whether anyone is actually following. I just expect people to follow. I certainly have not been very conscious of gathering people before attempting to lead them.

As I write in my journal, I note that not a lot of people are following my lead in People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. We are not building a substantial network. I wonder if perhaps it is because I don’t know how to gather them together and help us move together. I think of my ten-year pastorate, and realize that may have been true there as well.

Watching these ducks reminds me that leadership, like much of life in communities and families, is a dance. It takes partners, because it is not a solo.

I conclude that LD is a very wise duck indeed. Whether I can learn what he and the others teach is another question. But they have shown me wisdom today. As I have been told, wilderness can teach us much. I am grateful to be here.