News, views, notes and quotes • 26 February 2015 • No. 11

Lenten invocation. “I am the vessel. The draught is God’s. And God is the thirsty one.” — former United Nations General Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld in Markings, his personal journal, posthumously published, now considered a classic of spiritual devotion

Oscar good news. Citizenfour, the film chronicling the decision made by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to expose wrongdoing to the world by leaking details of the agency's top-secret global surveillance operation to journalists, was awarded the Best Documentary Film award at Sunday night's Academy Award. "The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don't only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself," said Laura Poitras, the film’s director.

In case this question ever crossed your mind, the US government has 17 different intelligence agencies. Here’s the annotated listing.

More Oscar good news. Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1  won the Oscar for short documentaries. “The suicide rate among veterans is staggering and beyond heartbreaking. About 22 veterans kill themselves every day, and this has been going on for years. It used to be that the suicide rate for civilian men the same age was higher than the rate for veterans, but that’s changed.” —film director Ellen Goosenberg Kent

Yet more Oscar good news. Despite the gazi$$ion in box-office receipts (six times the amount of other nominees combined), American Sniper did not receive the “best picture” Oscar, a sign that “money can’t (always) buy me love.”

In other cinematic news. Last week’s “Signs of the Times” focused on “faces.” My one foray into cinematic art, “Journey to Iraq,” a seven-minute video featuring the faces of ordinary Iraq people, with a Darrell Adams background rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” is again relevant.  (Here’s the link for postings from that trip, “Journey to Iraq” and “Caitlin Letters.”

Lenten confession. “We are a little lost here in America. Too many of us have tuned out, and too many of us are deeply tuned in to the wrong things. . . . Our renegade national soul has given itself up to petty outlawry. . . . Imagination always has been the way out—a faith in that which seems impossible, a trust that not every mystery is a murder mystery, and that not every mysterious creature is a monster. Imagination is the way out—a belief that safety is not necessarily the primary (or even the secondary) goal of democratic citizenship, and that a self-governing political commonwealth does not always come with a lifetime guarantee. Yes, we are a little lost here in America, but we can find our way, and the best way that we can find is the one that seems like the least secure, the darkest trail, the one with the long, sweeping bend in the road that leads god knows where.” —Charles P. Pierce, “Goodbye to All That,” Esquire magazine

Still waiting for this wisdom to inform policy. Last week US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf (on Chris Matthews MSNBC “Hard Ball” talk show) ignited a firestorm when she remarked, “We’re killing a lot of [ISIS fighters], and we’re going to keep killing more of them. . . . But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need, in the longer term . . . to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups.” We need to ask, she continued, “what makes these 17-year-olds pick up an AK-47 instead of trying to start a business?” Reporting the story, Steve Benen said “The right [wing press] went from zero to apoplexy in record time.”
        Interestingly enough, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen made the same point in 2008, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee: "No amount of troops in no amount of time can ever achieve all the objectives we seek," he said, adding later: "We can't kill our way to victory."

¶ “The Islamic State group is composed of the detritus of wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Chechnya, Yemen. It was fuelled by the destruction of Iraq. Can deliverance be really found in the violence that forged it?” — Vijay Prashad, “Barbarians Are Made, Not Born,” al-Araby al-Jadeed English

I’m not generally a fan of columnist Kathleen Parker. But she began her column last Sunday by writing, “There’s a 2001 feel to President Obama’s request for authorization to use military force and the nauseating sense that we’ll be at war indefinitely. . . . Obama himself has said that this war will extend well beyond his tenure, thus signaling that hell awaits his successor.”

¶ "The American people and the governing class have accepted that war has become a permanent condition. Protracted war has become a widely accepted part of our politics." — retired Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich, quoted in “Death toll in Afghan war nears 1,000,” by Craig Whitlock, Greg Jaffe and Julie Tate, Washington Post. Bacevich’s several books are among the best writing on this topic.

Prayer of intersession. “The only way I know to pluck from the hearts of enemies their desire to destroy us is to remove from their lives the sense that, for their own physical and spiritual survival, they must.” —novelist David James Duncan, "When  Compassion Becomes Dissent: On the post-9/11 struggle to teach creative writing while awaiting the further annihilation of Iraq," Orion Magazine

In his 2010 book Obama Wars, journalist Bob Woodward quoted former Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying, in a State Department dinner for then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai, “We’re not leaving Afghanistan prematurely. In fact, we’re not ever leaving at all.”
        And this from former commander of US troops in Afghanistan General David Petraeus: “I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. You have to stay after it.  This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

Obama Administration officials no longer use the phrase “War on Terror.” The President prefers “Overseas Contingency Operation.” Another phrase is simply “the long war,” which since 2001 has its own designated service medal (at right), given to military members who serve a tour of duty (30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days) in a designated anti-terrorism operation. The duration requirement is waived for those wounded or killed in such duty.

Lotta’ water under that bridge. “On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as president of the United States. Just as he had promised when he began his first campaign for president six years earlier, he pledged again to turn the page on history and take U.S. foreign policy in a different direction. ‘A decade of war is now ending,’ Obama declared. ‘We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.’” —Jeremy Scahill, “Perpetual War: How Does the Global War on Terror Ever End?, epilogue to Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield

Through an unusual set of circumstances, I had an invitation last week to appear on Bill O’Reilly’s popular Fox News show to talk about nonviolent alternatives to US military strikes against jihadist-flavored opponents whatever-the-name. I declined. I made a vow during my last trip to Iraq, a dozen years ago, just prior to “Shock and Awe,” to never again engage that network’s reporters. The foxifying of journalistic integrity across the board is surely one of the great threats to democratic traditions.
        Anyway, I knew I’d never get beyond questioning the assumption behind muscular military advocates’ derisive interrogation, something like, “Well, violence may have made a mess of things, but you think nonviolence can do better?” And the disdainful “see there!” when proponents of nonviolent strategies for resisting injustice can’t conjure on the spot a magic spell for pulling our collective ass from the fire.
        In case you’re interested, here’s Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” take on Fox , an unusually long, for him (10 minutes), opening monologue.

Speaking of O’Reilly, it appears he was caught in a wee fib (he’s got lots of company of late), when a Mother Jones magazine article questioned O’Reilly’s claim of covering a war zone during the 1982 Falkland Islands (“Malvinas,” to the Argentines) war between Argentina and Great Britain, when in fact he was in a hotel in Buenos Aires some 1,200 miles from the fighting. O'Reilly threatened a New York Times reporter, promising to come after the reporter "with everything I have" if he felt that any of the reporter's coverage about his Falklands war controversy was inappropriate, adding “You can take it as a threat.”

¶ Last week the United Nations’ Mission in Afghanistan’s annual report revealed that civilian casualties in the country increased 22% in 2014. The 10,548 casualty figure was higher than any year since record-keeping began in 2009. Of that number, 3,699 were killed. The number of women and children wounded or killed also reached a new record.

We should all be delighted that, during last week’s three-day White House summit on confronting violent extremism, President Obama emphatically denied that military strikes against al-Qaeda and ISIS represent a war against Islam, saying “Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They are terrorists."
        Yes, thank-you-Jesus. But what do we do with the fact that since 2001 we have launched military strikes against seven countries with Muslim majorities (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria), not to mention a majority-Muslim province in the Philippines?

Words of assurance. “Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.” —Hafez, 14th century Persian poet

Above, Divan of Hafez, Persian miniature, 1585

Black History Month profile. You may not know her name, but you have been affected by the legal battles she won and the precedents she set that helped shape civil rights, women’s rights and human rights. A brilliant lawyer and distinguished federal judge for over forty years, Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) quietly helped change the course of American history. She is one of many unsung civil rights heroines who waded into the Big Muddy of American racism, but whose name today remains relatively unknown. —Marta Daniels, “Justice is a Black Woman: The Amazing Constance Baker Motley," Common Dreams

Ancient text for the week. “Proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that the Lord has done it.” —Psalm 22:31

Modern text for the week. "For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal.” —Kayla Mueller, in a 31 May 2013 interview about her work with Syrian refugees. Kayla was kidnapped in August 2013 by ISIS, which recently claimed she was killed in an airstrike

Altar call. War zone photojournalist Lynsey Addario has made the rounds of talk shows of late, as part of a promotional tour for her book, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. I’ve not yet read the book, but it is interesting that she speak of her work as “bearing witness.”

Benediction. Our congregation’s music coordinator, Brian Graves, has introduced us to a 19th century Shaker hymn tune, “And Now My Dear Companions,” by German immigrant Augustus P. Blasé, a member of the Watervliet, New York community, performed by the beautifully harmonic Rose Ensemble  and a slower, more contemplative instrumental version by William Coulter and Barry Phillips.  Brian wrote new lyrics to the tune, renaming it “God, In Your Mercy,” and has given me permission to post those new lyrics and his commentary.


Featured on the prayer&politiks site this week:
     •An older poem, “Elegy for an Ash"  and a brand new one, “Slalom
     •”Dueling Psalms,”  a litany for worship combining verses from the
        Psalms 22 and 23
     •”God, In Your Mercy,”  new lyrics to a 19th century Shaker hymn
     •“Journey to Iraq” and “Caitlin Letters,”  columns from Iraq

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