Monday, May 25, 2009

Nuclear Hypocrisy

North Korea recently conducted an underground test of a nuclear explosive device. According to an Associated Press news article, nations throughout the world are condemning the test. Here are some quotes from the article, along with the number of nuclear weapons each condemning nation possesses:

The U.N. Security Council was meeting later Monday in New York to discuss what President Barack Obama called Pyongyang's "blatant defiance" of resolutions banning the regime from developing weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. possesses ten thousand nuclear weapons.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the test as a "danger to the world."

The UK possesses 200 nuclear weapons.

Russia's Foreign Ministry called it "a serious blow to international efforts" to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Russia possesses 8600 nuclear weapons.

French officials said they would push for new sanctions.

France possesses 350 nuclear weapons.

China said it was "resolutely opposed" to the test.

China possesses 400 nuclear weapons.

Nations possessing hundreds, even thousands, of nuclear weapons can hardly claim to hold the moral high ground. If these nations want to have any credibility at all in condemning North Korea's nuclear weapons program, they must first dismantle their own stockpiles of nuclear weapons. To do otherwise is the height of hypocrisy.

Pot, meet kettle.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Two Questions

While I am a Christian and believe that God created the universe and everything in it, I don't believe the Genesis six-day account of how he did it. I believe that God created it all, but I think that we have to turn to science to tell us how he did it. I have two questions for those who believe that God created the Earth in six days.

God is all powerful. What is impossible for man is not just possible for God, it's easy for him. He can do it immediately, doesn't even break a sweat. A mere thought, a blink of an eye, and it's done. Yet according to the Genesis creation story, he took six days to create the Earth. So, my first question is: What took him so long?

God is infinite, God is everlasting. He has always been, he will always be. Time has no meaning to God: a thousand years is no more than the blink of an eye. He had forever to create the Earth, yet he finished the job in just six days. Which leads to the second question: Why the big rush?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

That's what I saw

A dozen or so years ago, I wrote a song called “That's What I Saw.” The song is a series of short vignettes of incidents that I had witnessed, incidents that stuck in my mind and returned to my thoughts with some regularity. Here's the chorus of the song:

That's what I saw today;
I'm not saying it's wrong or it's right.
But that's what I saw today;
It's still on my mind tonight.

Three recent incidents stick in my mind; all three took place at the church I attend. As in the song, I'm not going to say whether what I saw is wrong or right; I'll leave that up to you. But here's what I saw; here's what's still on my mind:

About a year ago, I was talking to a man at church about Holden Village, a religious retreat village near here. He was planning on going to Holden soon, and knowing I had been there several times, wanted to know what it was like. Among other things, I told him that the people there were very open and accepting of others, and that he'd likely see openly gay people during his stay at the Village. A few months later, he came up to me after church one Sunday and told me that he'd been to the Village, and that he didn't see any gay people there - “They've really cleaned it up,” he said.

One Sunday shortly before the anniversary of the use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan (August 6 and 9, 1945), I took to church with me a couple dozen copies of a paper I'd written on the U.S. possession and use of nuclear weapons, intending to leave them on the literature table. (I had received permission from the pastor to do so.) A woman told me that I couldn't put my papers on the table; that some people might be offended by them.

A local trailer park was closed down recently, leaving its mostly low income residents to scramble for affordable housing. Churches and other groups agreed to each “adopt” a family from the trailer park, helping them to find affordable housing and otherwise helping however they could. My church adopted a family from the trailer park, and one recent Sunday a woman from the church asked me how the family was doing. I shared what little information I had on the family's current situation, and she told me she wished 'those people' would do more to help themselves out.

There you have it: that's what I saw, that's what's still on my mind.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Butter Battle Book and Nuclear Weapons

I have just finished reading “The Butter Battle Book” by Dr. Seuss. You may think that the book, being written by Dr. Seuss, is a children's book. It is, and it isn't.

The story is about the Yooks and the Zooks, who live on opposite sides of a great wall. But what really separates them is that the Yooks eat their bread with the butter side up, and the Zooks – horror of horrors - eat their bread with the butter side down.

In order to prevent anyone from the other side from coming over the wall, both sides post a guard along the wall. The Yook guard is armed with a Snick-Berry Switch. The Zook guard breaks the Snick-Berry Switch with a shot from his slingshot, and both sides launch into a race to produce a more powerful weapon than the other side has, producing Triple-Sling Jiggers, Jigger-Rock Snatchems, Utterly Sputters, and finally, the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, a weapon so powerful it can completely destroy the other side. The guard from each side goes to the wall, intending to destroy the other side once and for all with his Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, only to find that the other side has one, too. The book doesn't really have an ending, it just leaves both guards standing on the wall with a Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo in his hand, waiting to see who will drop his first. And when one side drops his Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, the other side will drop his too, resulting in the destruction of both the Yooks and the Zooks.

The real-life version of the book is, of course, the “Cold War Arms Race” between the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia). Each side constructed more and bigger nuclear weapons in an effort to outdo the other side.

Like the Yooks and the Zooks in the Butter Battle Book, the real life story has, as of yet, no ending. The United States still has approximately ten thousand nuclear weapons in its arsenal, with half of those ready to launch at a moment's notice, while the Russians have approximately sixteen thousand nuclear weapons, with about five thousand of those ready for immediate launch.

I think the moral of the story is that nobody can win an arms race, whether in real life or in a Dr. Seuss book. The only possible outcome seems to be a standoff, with both sides ready and able to destroy the other, even though it will certainly mean their own destruction as well. As they discovered in the 1983 movie, War Games, “the only winning move is not to play.”

Unfortunately, we've already started playing the game, and we've been playing it for sixty years. But there's still hope: both sides could agree to stop playing the game, to dismantle their Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroos, or their nuclear weapons, as the case may be, and look for other ways to resolve their differences. That is the only way we might still win the game.

Work for nuclear disarmament. Contact your political leaders and tell them you want the United States to work with other nations to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world. Tell all your friends about the madness and futility of the possession of nuclear weapons, and ask them to work for nuclear disarmament.

And be sure to eat your bread with the butter side down.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Living the Sermon

I am currently reading "Gandhi the man: the story of his transformation" by Eknath Easwaran. In the appendix, Gandhi is quoted as saying "There is no royal road, except through living the creed in your life, which must be a living sermon." To live one's life as a "living sermon" is a high standard to be held to. While Gandhi wasn't by any means perfect, he did in many ways live the sermon he preached. He not only talked the talk, he walked the talk, he practiced what he preached, and I think that is a major reason why people are still talking about him and looking up to him to this day.

Jesus also lived the sermon he preached. He talked of loving and serving one's fellow man, of being a neighbor to all, and he lived it. He healed and fed many people, he washed the feet of his disciples. He preached nonviolence, and when one of his disciples drew his sword and cut off the ear of a man who had come to arrest him, Jesus not only told Peter to put the sword away, but healed the man's ear. As with Gandhi, I think his living the sermon he preached is a major reason people are still talking about and looking up to Jesus, two thousand years later.

I have been known to "preach a sermon" now and then, here on this blog, and elsewhere. I have been known to tell people what they are doing wrong, what they should be doing instead, how they should live their lives.

I am no Gandhi, and I am certainly no Jesus. My life is not a "living sermon." I talk the talk, but I don't always walk the talk; I don't always practice what I preach. I don't expect I will ever live the sermon I preach in the way that Gandhi and Jesus did. And I certainly don't expect that people will still be talking about me or looking up to me two thousand years, or even a hundred years, after my death. But still, I hope and believe that I have something worthwhile to say, and I hope that people will listen to what I say, and will be able to overlook the fact that I don't always live my own sermons, at least enough to consider that there might be some truths in the sermons I preach.

The same applies to all of us, I believe. You also have something to say, we all have something to say. We all see ways that the world could be a better place, we see in those around us behaviors we feel are inappropriate and would like to see changed, sometimes missing the fact that we are guilty of the same behaviors. While I think that we should all strive to live the sermons we preach, I don't think that we should let our own imperfections keep us from preaching those sermons. We will probably have our hypocrisy pointed out to us now and then, people will point out our own failures. But as long as we can preach our sermons, not with condemnation, but with love, we should preach them anyway. We should listen to other people's sermons, looking for the truths they contain. And we should listen to our own sermons, for surely we need to hear them as much as anyone does.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

God's will for me (and you)

I've had a very frightening experience lately. I've found myself praying that God would show me what his will for me is, and that he'll give me the courage to do his will.

That's a scary thing. There are a lot of things that God could ask me to do that I really don't want to do; that I just don't think I have the strength to do.

Father Roy Bourgeois has spent years of his life trying to close the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, where the U.S. trains in torture and terror tactics. His work has landed him in prison more than once. Could I do that? I don't know.

Gary Smith spent 25 years living among and ministering to the poor, the homeless, the drunks and drug addicts, the mentally ill. I've read his book, “Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor” and while I greatly admire Gary Smith for his work, I just don't know if I could do what he did.

I could give a lot more examples of people who live their lives ministering to the poor, working for peace, curing the sick - names you know and people you've never heard of. I suspect many of them also wondered if they were able to do what God called them to do. Mother Teresa spent years in Calcutta working with the sick, the dying, and the poorest of the poor, yet we are told there were times she had doubts about her ability to do her work.

My pastor wrote a song that includes these lyrics:

“Please don't send me to Africa,
I don't want to go. ...
Please don't make me do what I fear.”

Even Jesus, facing death on the cross, prayed: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me.” We're in good company when we fear what doing God's will may mean for us.

Soren Kierkegaard writes:

“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.”

Kierkegaard is right; if we do as the New Testament instructs us to do, as God instructs us to do, our lives will be “ruined.” How can I have my house in the suburbs with a two car garage and a white picket fence if God calls me to spend my life working with homeless people? How can I watch my favorite shows on a big screen TV if God calls me to work with people with HIV/AIDS in Africa? What will it mean to my career if I spend my life working for nuclear disarmament?

I don't know what God's will for me is; I don't know what God is calling me to do. It's easy for me to say “Please don't send me to Africa” or “let this cup pass away from me.” But I'm trying to listen for God's voice, to hear what God wants me to do, and I know there's more to it than “being a good person and going to church on Sunday.” For me, and for all of us.

Dear Lord, it is easy for us to see the “big picture” of what you want us to do on this Earth: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” But it's not always so easy to see the smaller details, to see where we as indivuals fit into the big picture. Let each one of us see clearly what we are called to do, and give each of us the strength to do your will. Amen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

If You Eat Each Day

I am a member of the local Catholic church's JustFaith program. JustFaith is a program intended to “empower people of faith to develop a passion and thirst for justice.” I'm not a Catholic, but I am willing, even eager, to get Christian teaching, and perhaps especially Christian social teaching, anyplace I can get it. And the Catholic Church is a good place to go for that!

As part of the JustFaith program, we read books, have discussions on what we read, have guest speakers, visit homeless shelters, and so on. Occasionally we listen to a song. A few weeks ago we listened to Bryan Sirchio's song, "If You Eat Each Day."

It seems Bryan was working in a clinic in Haiti, and was assigned to cut the hair of clinic patients. Well, you know how barbers are, they get to talking with their clients while they're cutting their hair, and just about any subject can come up. Bryan asked the man whose hair he was cutting, “Do you think I'm rich?” And the man responded, “How many days a week do you eat?” Seeing that Bryan was speechless, he asked, “You mean you eat every day? If you eat every day, you are rich.”

Does that affect you the way it affects me? Two-thirds of Americans are overweight. We eat at least three times each day, and many of us are eating much more than we need to. Myself, I am carrying around with me about 35 extra pounds. And here's a man who doesn't eat everyday, because he is too poor to eat every day. Ouch. That doesn't make me feel too good. But, I am inspired to do something about it.

Jesus said, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath food, let him do likewise.” Clearly, we have more food than we need – most of us are overweight. Now, there's no way that I can give the excess food that I don't need to be eating anyway to this man in Haiti, but surely I can do more to see that he is fed every day. I can give to relief agencies who feed the poor. I can work with agencies who work to eliminate the root causes of poverty. And I can encourage you to do the same.

You may think, “What can I do? There's so much to be done, and I am just one person.” Well, you don't have to take on the whole job yourself. Find some small thing that you can do, and do that. As Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” And if you can't feed even one person, then provide one person with one meal when you can.

Here are the lyrics to Bryan Sirchio'ssong, ”If You Eat Each Day”:

Bryan Sirchio
Songs For Justice Walkers
"If You Eat Each Day"

Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere
I go there now and then to get my vision clear
Sometimes it gets so hazy in this land of
I consume therefore I am

I was working in this clinic for the dying & diseased
Living skeletons with AIDS and TB
Organized and run by Mother Teresa and her sisters of Charity
I asked the nun in charge, Sister, what should I do?
She smiled and said I've got a job for you
Then she gave me a pair of scissors, and said,
See that man right there
He'd like for you to cut his hair
I said, oh, Sister are you sure?...

I mean its not like I have given
many haircuts in my day
But I was there to help, so I just smiled and said, OK
So there I was, this natural born Vidal Sassoon
just snipping that hair away

We struck up conversation as best we could
His English was broken, my Creole's not too good
But we managed to communicate enough for him to say
Something I never will forget

You see I asked him, do you think I'm rich?
And this was his response to me
He said, well how many times a week do you eat?
Well his question took my voice away
And then he said, you mean you eat every day?
And I said, yeah, and he just said this
Well if you eat each day, you're rich

Somehow that moment felt to me like Holy Ground
I finished his haircut and when I turned around
There was a whole line of customers
who kinda like the way I cut that one man's hair!

So I gave them haircuts but they gave me so much more
They gave me the perspective of the poorest of the poor
And I know I'll spend the rest of my life
trying to somehow respond

'Cause if its true as we often say that wealth is relative
It just might take the dying poor in a place like Port au Prince
To help us see this relativity from God's point of view
To cut through our first world denial with gospel Truth
And as for me, I know I need to receive this paradigm shift
That in a hungry world, if we eat each day...
We're rich

Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere
I go there now and then to get my vision clear
Sometimes it gets so hazy in this land of
I consume therefore I am.