Has Something Good Come Out of The War In Iraq? I Missed What That Was

Some of my friends are arguing about War Mongers, draft-avoiders, and the start of the Iraq war on Facebook. Most seem to be pulling away from my position on war in general and they certainly have the right to do that. I still want to interject those thoughts back into the conversation.

Here’s my premise:

1) Killing people is wrong.That’s it. After that….

2) Killing people on a massive scale (aka war) is wrong on a larger scale.

3) Telling or coercing people to kill on a massive scale is wrong, but if you have the willingness to do it yourself, you’re at least consistent in your belief. If you won’t go, or won’t send your child, then you have no right to a) send somebody else or their child to war or b) punish them for not doing something you won’t do,

4) Killing people not only takes their lives (your intent) but a part of your psyche. Witnessing death or taking part in it is traumatizing. There is no argument about this. It is not open to interpretation.  It is simply a fact of human life. In “The Good War,” people didn’t talk much about taking other people’s life. They talked about risking their own lives for someone else. There’s a reason for this. The first is shameful and traumatizing. The second is heroic and perhaps necessary at times. Jesus did the second. He never did the first.

5) Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that my argument is wrong, but the first part of #4 is true, if you want to send someone to war, you’d better have a damn good reason to do it.

All of that is about war in general — all war, all gang wars, turf wars, religious wars, “holy” wars — all of them.

Now, about Iraq:

5) Lying is wrong.

6) Lying to get people to do something that traumatizes them is, frankly, evil.

7) I believe (but could be wrong) that the Bush White House lied about the Iraq war. They implied that Saddam Hussein was behind Al-Queda and the 9/11 plots. The told us, in no uncertain terms, that Saddam possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. They sent Colin Powell to the UN to explain things they knew to be wrong to make the case for the war. Powell intimated later that he couldn’t work with people like that.

8) Hussein was neither behind Al-Queda or the 9/11 attacks. A ruthless dictator, yes. A brutal man to the Kurds, yes. Behind 9/11? No.

9) With that argument out of the way, they had to lie about the reason to have a war. One of the UN inspectors published a piece in the New York Times that stated that they couldn’t find any. In response, the Bush White House (in the person of Scooter Libby) leaked that the inspector’s wife was a CIA operative, This put her life in danger, but Libby was later pardoned.

10) By my reckoning, if you need a damn good reason to go to war, and you don’t have one, you don’t go. The Congress didn’t have one, either. The best they had was the possibility of a good reason. They voted for going anyway, as is their right and/or job, but I will never believe that the reasons for that war were good enough to put people on both sides of the conflict into danger.

11) We’re already well over my standards for war, but to make matters worse, we sent troops into harm’s way to inflict harm on people, and we did it while 1) Calling our people “patriots” and 2) Not giving them the proper equipment to be patriots, making it more likely they would die. When this was raised by the soldiers, Donald Rumsfeld, of the Bush White House, told them “You go to war with what you’ve got” and implying they weren’t patriots for complaining.

SInce we went there, we have put those soldiers in contact with some illness called “Gulf War Syndrome”, destroyed the oil wells and put huge amounts of pollution into the air in Iraq (and said “global warming/climate change is a lie”), gave them sub-par medical treatment via the VA, and destroyed our economy paying for the war.

The Iraqi people are sort of free, but I’m not seeing how that makes up for all the losses involved. The Iraqis still fight among themselves. Their psyches are scarred by it all as well. They had to deal with the pollution we created. We looted their treasures while we were there, after destroying many of their resources. The kind of terrorism that Osama Bin Laden wanted and we (supposedly) went to fight against is stronger than it was before the war.

We’ve made the world less safe, destroyed our economy by raising the debt paying for this war, while cutting social programs. Are we any safer because of our actions? No. Do we trust our politicians? No. Did anyone profit by this but the weapons manufacturers? No. Is there a growing income inequality in this country? You bet. So, unless you are one of the 1%, nothing good came out of this war — a war we shouldn’t have been in in the first place, and we did it all for no good reason.

I could be wrong, but that’s my view.

Peace,

John

11)

Fifty Shades of Red

This is an opinion piece, rather than a Very Important Topic and I have a piece on caring for the homeless that I want to give air to in my “opinion”/current events blog, so here this is. Still, I’m not sure that this topic isn’t an eternal question — and that’s part of the problem.

Today, Valentine’s Day 2015, the sexually “kinky” movie “50 shades of Grey” comes out. Last night, my wife informed me that the kids in Middle School and High School are talking about the movie, that “fetish” is a “regular” word now but that kids mean something different than the clinical definition and more…

I wanted to put my fingers in my ears and say “la la la” loudly so that I didn’t have to think about it because we’re talking about my girls and sexual topics. I get that there’s a personal emotional side to this, as a Dad. I would expect myself to be queasy as my girls grow up and start talking about sexuality because I don’t think my brain should go there. I don’t want to be able to form mental pictures of my kids nude with somebody of their choosing doing sexual things, for the same reason I don’t read their journals. I believe in privacy. Their bodies, their lives, their decisions. Cross-generational sexual thoughts give me the heeby-jeebys and I think they should.

That said, I was mostly sad by the news that it’s a topic. Is there any place left in America where kids can just be kids anymore? Why do they need to know about BDSM? I remember the Clinton years and having to explain oral sex because it was in the news. I consider that to be a relatively normal topic in the adult world between partners or people at the age where sex is everything. Bondage/Domination/Sado-Masochism is, I think, at least a full standard deviation from the mean in terms of sexual expression. Why does any parent have to discuss it with kids who should thinking about the playground swing and finding the other genre “yucky”!if they think about them at all!?

Isn’t there kids world and adult world anymore? Why do kids need to know everything? Aren’t there things their little minds shouldn’t know about because they have no meaning to them? Does bondage really need to be on the Today show? Or the radio? Or the previews at the movies? In the Super Bowl commercials?

Isn’t sexuality a private, adult thing anymore? Is anything? Shouldn’t there be something? Maybe I’m just old and prudish. I’m certain that’s part of it and I know I don’t have any adult reason to dislike the topic. I just think it’s weird.

I get that sex is “natural”. I get that communication between parents and kids is important. I get that people do whatever they do and have the right to in private. If I wouldn’t let my kids in my bedroom in real life because it’s private, why would I let them into the virtual bedroom? More to the point, why would I move my sex life into their life at all?

I know how we got here, but really, did we need to go there?

Peace,

John

Reminders from “Selma”

It has been a long time since I was at seminary and a long time since I had a congregation to lead, which required spiritual time and Bible study, so sometimes these things fade into the distant haze of my brain and heart, and every once in awhile something reminds me of the things I believe — a movie, a song, a friend, a hug, a picture — and I feel more like the person I want to be.  The family and I saw “Selma” tonight and it brought back some basics for me — as well as some new lessons.

The new, first: 1) People put their lives on the line when they want their rights non-violently. They must be scared out of their mind doing it.

The fact that they do it anyway ,means they are a) brave, b) honorable and c) full of dignity. They should be recognized as such. I have been to protests, but have never faced clubs. I have seen friends hit with a club by police, but — ironically — not at a protest, but at bar in L.A. Because I have seen Andrew Young, Dick Gregory, Jesse Jackson, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, I have seen people I am in awe of as an adult, Yes, I have seen Dr. King on TV as a child, and have been in awe. That awe was always from the outside, seeing them do their thing or talk about it. The movie “Selma” shows it from their perspective and so the fear they must have experienced became evident.

2) The Voting Rights Act’s recent gutting needs to be fixed. I knew vaguely about poll taxes and increased requirements for registering. The ripple effects they talked about in the movie were new to me. Then again, I don’t spend my days thinking up ways to oppress people.

Now, the old:

1) It is important that human beings are brave and stand up for themselves and others. — it brings out the best in them. It is the job of parents and clergy and helping professionals to teach children to believe in themselves and be brave living everyday life. The quote by Thoreau, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” is both true and horrible.

2) Religion is not meant to oppress. Religion is meant to worship God. God is good. Religion that worships God does good for the world. Any religion that doesn’t make the world a better place, as is God’s intention, is not a religion worth having or practicing, and is certainly not a true religion.

3) God likes justice. Faith and love and justice are not mutually exclusive. God calls us to be our best selves — and even better. God knows what our best selves are and we don’t. We just guess at it and aim in that direction.

4) Black lives matter because all life matters. Black lives are a part of humanity — a humanity that the Spirit endows with life. They are not better or worse. They are simply lives. But “simple” in this case is also “holy”. They ought not to be taken lightly.

5) Good is good. We know it when we see it. Bad is bad. We know it when we see it, Being a faithful Christian is often like standing in the middle of the road — you get hit by cars going both ways. Still, it is the best way to be.

6) Contrary to what many of my liberal friends and my conservative enemies believe, violence never solved anything. Conservatives are not enemies because they are conservative, but people who are way off the conservative deep end  tend to believe in violence — and ignorance. Off-the-deep-end liberals tend to be educated and violent. They are still wrong, but they are smart and I like that better. Of course, I could be wrong about that.

Peace,

John

What I Learned in 2014

Overall, 2014 was the best year of my life so far. I love my work life, my home life, my friends, my religious life. Besides that, I’m bowling again.

Work — I was right. I can have a maintainable private practice, though it will be scary sometimes.
Blogging — Racism is worse than I could have imagined — specifically in California. As far back as 1989, reporter Gary Webb found that the California Highway Patrol used racial profiling as a method, and some officers went so far as to teach seminars on how to do it, but to make the paperwork seem like you weren’t. Also, Ferguson, MO will not be getting any of my tourism money. (From the book, “Kill the Messenger”, a biography of reporter Gary Webb)

I continue to like writing. As usual, I’d like to thank Cathi Chapin-Bishop and Liz Solomon Wright for helping me get started. Thanks to Larry Baker for all the books! Now that’s a good writer. Topics I’ve been considering: “Beware the Quiet Ones” — ministry and faith of three friends and “In Praise of Old Ladies” — about past-generation church women. I’d like to do an actual interview this year, just to see if I can.
Regular Life — As the father of two teenage daughters, I can assure you that there’s a LOT of lousy music out there When we listen to my oldest daughter’s favorite radio station (usually on the way to church), I am repulsed by the music and lyrical content of popular music. My daughters need to know even more about sex like they need holes in their heads. Lately, though, there’s been some really good music out there . Taylor Swift’s new album is great. I also like “Safe and Sound”, “The Best Day of My Life”, and “Pompeii” by Bastille. I have some hope that we haven’t ruined music forever.

Depression is not reality. It only seems that way.

Marriage is a good thing, once you get used to it. My marriage brings so much to my life. It’s as comfortable and normal as breathing now. I have amazing children. Thanks to the many adults who have helped them become that. Most notably, thank you to the Chancel Choir at South Church, in New Britain and their director, Richard Coffey, for helping my older daughter find her potential as a confident singer. Her self-esteem is growing because of your support. Patti, Laura, Anthony, and everyone who has said good things about her to me or my wife: it has made a difference. My younger daughter is enthralled by Camp Wightman and the people there, including Lisa . She finds great fulfillment through it. The staff of the West Hartford Library also bring out the best in her. I must have chosen wisely. All my Boston peeps: My daughters can identify Aretha Franklin’s voice on a CD. “Of course that’s Aretha”, they say. Again, I must be doing something right.
As much as Facebook makes me feel connected to my friends, I am reminded how much I miss seeing them in person, no matter where they are: California, New York State, Boston, Bridgeport. Cathi: ditto.
I was thrilled to be invited and, and to attend, Bennyta’s wedding to Mr. Thompson. It was everything she deserved in a service. I know Gerri was proud.

I’m getting to be middle aged, My former Youth Group friends have children graduating from High School. I don’t feel old, though (except in my bones). Therefore, I must be middle aged. I like being middle aged. Shout out to Julie Barr for her good thoughts. Amy and Becky: nurses are great. Derek, you’re a good father.

The Train Trip — The Grand Canyon is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Glacier National Park is about out of glaciers. This is not good, for so many reasons. The Northwest of our country is incredible — not just on the coast. Colorado, the Dakotas, Washington State and Oregon are also majestic.

My friends see the best in my daughters and my daughters see the best in my friends. Craig and Frances Hames, Ron Bottitta, Liz Solomon Wright, (people they have never met before) and my father, David Bibeau have all had my children in hysterics or awe or both this year — and they did so immediately.

Ministry —
I am not multi-faith, at least in practice. I can stretch a lot, but there’s a lot I don’t know.

I actually did a LOT of ministry this year. Thanks to Tamara Moreland and CT UCC staff.
Todd, Martha, and Karen: Your hugs feel good. Thanks. Peter: It was one of the thrills of my life to have lunch as adults and equals.

To the entire staff of CYC: it was an incredible blessing to be there. It reminded me just how active God is in my life. I still haven’t figured out the “start a new camp thing” yet. Maybe someday.
Though a copy is never as good as the original, I like being the “Gordon” person for others. Deering friends continue to bless me. Bob, Derek, Rob and Val — Thanks for coming to the Ordination party!
Char, Carol, and Emily — I continue to be proud. George — nice book group! Michelle continues to do impressive ministry in Haddam Neck.

Happy Returns —

People I didn’t expect to have in my (at least Facebook) life have returned — Joyce Morin and Jeff Brown from seminary, Margo Walker from L.A., and a whole truckload of family from all over the place — Paul, Jessica, Anna, various Rheaumes, and Bibeaus. Thanks to all of them.
Face-to-face, all of my friends in L.A. In Texas, Liz. Especially excellent: Alan Bercovici and St. Cecilia’s bowling league.

What does 2015 hold? As usual, I don’t have a clue. I somehow missed the “omniscience” classes at seminary. At this point, I look forward to it, and give thanks for 2014.

Peace,

John

Sin Is The Problem — That’s the Cure? (for Julie)

My friend Julie LaBarr asked me to write something Christmas-y and I had been hoping to write an upbeat piece for awhile, without leaving the world of troubling race issues permanently, but as I explained to her, “stuff keeps happening”. It’s been a difficult second half of 2014, with all of the death and mayhem in the streets this summer, followed by the quiet “death and mayhem” of the courts, and the resulting “death and mayhem” which followed. All of these things keep happening, and they are big things.
It’s easy to lose perspective, but the little things keep happening, too. The sun comes up, the sun goes down — every day. Kids go to football games and later proms, and graduate. People move and meet new friends. People adopt dogs or cats. People fall in love and get married. In nature, the food supply still supplies. In New England, we have Autumn and the colors of the seasons. All of these give us hope, or comfort in the midst of a mad world — both mad as in “angry” and mad as in “insane”. For the brief minutes or hours that we do these things, we lose perspective on the big things and regain our perspective on the small things — the things which really matter…
And then, there’s babies. Babies seem to rebuke the death and mayhem of the Big World simply by their existence. A child is born into the world and the world of its parents stops. Facebook now lights up with pictures of Billy or Sue while the mother is pregnant, just after birth, when the child says their first word or walks or even potty trains. Nuclear war? Yeah, but my kid just said “Da-Da” or “Ma-Ma”!
In the old days, though, it was the same way. We took pictures or passed out cigars or had baby showers or had the relatives fly out all, all because a child was born. My children witnessed the birth of a calf this year and were in awe. There is something about the promise of new life — any new life — that makes us feel good. When it is our own children, it is incredible. Even my female clients, with their drug-addled lives and trauma histories are changed by the birth of a child. Maybe for an hour or maybe for a day, they are hopeful and strong for the baby. Sometimes, that hope and protectiveness — love in two of its forms — lasts forever and they get their lives together, for the sake of that child. Marriages often stay together “for the sake of the children” and — while this isn’t always a good thing — people also work on their troubled marriages and things get better for the sake of their children. Besides, it’s really hard to see your child and not believe that you were at least once in love with your partner.

Deny it all you want, this is — for a period of time — our reality. It’s a lot to put on a kid, but it is where we find hope, and innocence, and warmth– at first, within the placenta, then amidst the poop and pee and snot. A woman in my wife’s parish gave birth recently and my girls (who hadn’t even seen the baby yet) were screaming with joy, alternating with “awwwwww” and “what’s it’s name and how big is it?!”. The kid hasn’t even done anything yet, and they have changed our lives.
Christians take this reality seriously — really seriously — at Christmas. This child, in a stable, surrounded by animals and the stinky shepherds who watched them is an archetype of all that is good and possible in the world. In our mind, the baby doesn’t cry or poop, it just radiates goodness. It is, in a word, innocent. And if we say this about our own kids whom we know, then we really say it about Jesus whom we dream about, put our hopes on, and worship on Christmas.
When we are at our own children’s birth, if there’s sin (and that’s a big “if”) in the child, nobody sees it. There is only joy, and love, and excitement. Multiply that exponentially and you have Jesus’ innocence. People also respond with joy, and love, and excitement, because they remember, in the core of their being, innocence and they respond. The archetype of “innocence” is hard-wired into our brain and we know its reality deep in our souls. But, we as adults know all too well the reality of our world. Who in the world would want to bring a child into this?
With all the options out there to prevent pregnancy, why would anyone choose to raise a child in this going-to-heck-in-a-handbasket world? And yet we do.
The general consensus around here is that the world is getting worse in its depravity, indifference, and cruelty to each other. Childbirth and the possible re-birth of innocence in our lives is the greatest rebellion against the world that is imaginable. Hope, love, and innocence are genuine defiance to our depression, our fear, our violence.
The baby Jesus was born in the politically oppressed community of Israel, occupied by the Romans, and yet he didn’t hate any of the people around him. Our own children may grow up in poverty, surrounded by hatred, racism, and all sorts of political oppression. But at the moment of birth, they don’t hate anyone either. In Jesus’ case, he didn’t learn hate either and he didn’t teach hate either. The rest of us human beings somehow do.
Still, at the moment of birth, no one I know imagines that they’re raising another soldier for hate. The future is not written yet, and the promise that this child — despite all odds — will be the one to fix the world, will at least make it a better place — opens up all sorts of possibilities in the child, but also in us. The child’s innocence draws out the innocence, the hope, the possibilities in us.
We are reminded that that innocence, that hope, that possibility lives in us in the present tense. We could be cynical, but at that moment, we forget all of that. We remember that there are other choices of how to live, because we experience other choices. In that moment, we embody the hope of the world as much as the baby does. Our perspective changes for the better. That is what Christmas is about.
Amidst the family dysfunction, the political dysfunction, the chaos and so on of the holidays — including loss of loved ones for some of us — we become more than functional inside ourselves and it shows outside of us. That’s why the day of Christmas is generally so peaceful.
We Christians like to speak of Jesus’ saving us on the cross of Good Friday and Easter, but here on Christmas we are changed in a real, palpable way. Besides that, any day a child is born to anyone, they are changed in a palpable way. This is why non-Christians, on-again-off-again Christians, even people with no faith at all, can celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday.
May we each find, remember, treasure and nurture the innocence, hope, possibilities remembered at the birth of this particular baby, and may we practice it all with the birth of our children.

Peace,

John

An Open Letter of Apology to My African-American Friends

My God, this is horrible. After recent events, and as a follower of Jesus, I feel like a disciple at the cross today, watching a friend die, or living with the possibility that they might. The last time I felt like this was when I thought of my daughters on the day of the Newtown shooting. They weren’t shot that day, but what if they were? My life would never be the same and I would be upset until the day I died.

My White brothers and sisters don’t hear of your plight because they don’t know you and our media never tells your stories in any sort of way that seems moral or spiritual or decent people.

I, however, am different. People may not know it now, but nearly 20 years ago I was the only White clergy person in the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance — the ostensibly Black Clergy group. I helped bring an African-American church into our church’s building, and met my wonderful friends, the Claytors — Benny and Gerri and their daughters. I was the chair of my local denomination Committee on Racism. I led a suburban/urban camp for the CT Conference UCC, and — in one of the proudest moments of my life, at the behest of some congregants, was acknowledged for my work with diverse communities in Bridgeport by the CT State Senate.

I should be proud of all of this, and I am. But today it is also the cause of my shame. All of this is speaks to how much I knew about your situation….Yet, here we are nearly 20 years later, and you are dying. I can’t imagine a worse fate for either of us, but mostly for you.

Ferguson is just the start. In the wake of Michael Brown’s death, we have heard more and more and more and more stories of policemen and African-American men getting killed which give testimony to the African-American condition in this country. In the wake of Trayvon Martin, I have heard about an African-American woman who was standing her ground against her violent man and the law that got George Zimmerman off didn’t apply to her. The list goes on.

This last thing, though, kills me emotionally. In Ferguson, the Grand Jury was given the WRONG burden of proof to determine Darren Wilson’ s guilt. The Grand Jury heard from the defendant, which is not supposed to happen. The officer involved went home with the evidence. His superiors talked to him for hours privately. His gun was washed off! The police militarized and attacked non-violent demonstrators — all to protect the man they feel killed Michael Brown. Darren Wilson is a problem, no doubt, but he is by no means the only one. The ADA, the clerks, the lawyers, the police, the National Guard ALL conspired to prevent justice from happening.

As the stories come of 12 year old being shot by police and a man who — after being beaten by police was charged with destruction of property because he BLED ON the uniforms of those who beat him, after those stories become more and more frequent, somehow I — who knew how bad things had been — had forgotten to watch after you. I had been led into a false sense of security while places like Ferguson, MO existed.

I was aware of concepts like systemic racism which are vague and require proof to the White community. But I was also aware of the harsh realities of my African-American friends, brothers and sisters. But, somehow, if someone had told me that whole communities like Ferguson still exist in America in 2014, I would not have believed it.

But here we are and I am shocked. You are dying because of our sins. You are dying because slowly we stripped away your rights and your growth and I didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything when the clerk in the grocery store or the bus driver gave you a dirty look. I didn’t say anything when someone told a racist joke, or portrayed President Obama as a monkey or… or … The list went on.

Now, if anything happened to my friend Greg or Margo or Gerri or Bennyta or any of the Black clergy in Bridgeport or anywhere else, it would be as if someone shot my daughter or my wife in a senseless tragedy that I should have seen coming.

But, while racism has put you on the cross because of our sin, I am aware that God will not let this stand. God and the Christian community can and should redeem the whole country, perhaps world, in the face of such tragedy. It has happened before and it can happen again. We can learn from the unnecessary death of Innocents who are confused with the guilty. We can learn from what seems like a summer of slaughter and we can say something about the stray look or the angry man with a gun or the police academy cadets who think it’s good to be aggressive. We can protest the mayor or council person who makes what they think is a cute racist remark . In short, we can repent.

A lot of us out there think that “repentance” means saying you’re sorry. It means more than that, though it’s a good start. The Hebrew word for “repent” is “shoov”, which means “turn around, go back” and it means return to the way it’s supposed to be with God and each other. THAT is what I want us to do today. But as one of my 12-step friends says, “if you walked 10 miles into the woods, you now have to walk 10 miles OUT of the woods.

It has been far too long that we as a nation have been walking into the woods. It is time to turn around, it is time to “shoov”, it is time to repent. It is time for us to travel TOWARD the dream of one of AMERICA’S greatest men ever, Martin Luther King, Jr, rather than away from it .

I, for one, pledge to try to keep my eye on the sparrow and keep walking out of this weird place we’re at in this country when we know better. I knew better. I should have paid attention. We all should have. But never again, brothers and sisters. Never again.

If any of my Black friends around the country were to die because of the way are in this country — for driving while Black or walking while Black or shopping while Black — I would grieve for the rest of my life because they were my FRIENDS. But at least I’d know I was walking in the right direction. For now, all I’ve got is “I’m sorry” . It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Peace,

John