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Signs of the Times • 10 August 2017 • No. 131

Above: Garden of Morning Calm, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea

Don't the hours grow shorter as the days go by
We never get to stop and open our eyes
One minute you're waiting for the sky to fall
The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all
—Bruce Cockburn, "Lovers in Dangerous Times

Potpourri edition
(Commentary in small bytes)

Lovers in dangerous times

Korean conflict and the meaning of might

These are surely dangerous times, the smell of fear swirling, with prickly gun-slinging leaders playing with matches in pools of jet fuel and trading tinny, boisterous threats, the fate of the long-colonized Korean Peninsula hanging in the balance. Even without nuclear weapons, the estimated toll from a war begins with hundreds of thousands casualties, on up into multiple millions.

        In the same week, a government funded scientific study was leaked to the press for fear that the Trump Administration would quash its findings. The report, concluding that “evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” assigns human activity as the cause of most of the damage.

        Trump's menacing "fire and fury" rant on North Korea came amid a meeting with health officials and cabinet to discuss the opiod crisis—the average daily death toll is now 142—President Trump refused to endorse his own Commission on Addition and the Opiod Crisis’ recommendation for designating a national emergency, saying the border wall with Mexico and drug treatment programs would do for now. In actual fact, Congressional Republicans and Trump’s own proposed budget call for reducing existing drug treatment options.

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In the meantime, President Trump has refused to comment on the terrorist bombing of a mosque in a Minneapolis suburb. And now, this coming Saturday, what may prove to be the largest ever alt-right rally (“Unite the Right”), is scheduled for Charlottesville, Va. In fact, Airbnb has canceled bookings linked to the rally.

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Lurking, largely unmentioned, in the background of all these headlines is the fact that an estimated 20 million people are facing starvation in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria. In a recent interview with Vox, Michael Bowers, vice president of humanitarian leadership and response for the aid group Mercy Corps, said the current famine was “entirely avoidable.”

        “It’s entirely a man-made construct, and that means we have it within our power to stop that,” he said. “Wars are hard to stop; famines are not.” Jane Jerguson, Vox

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“We just annihilated them.” —US Korean War veteran. In July 1950, early in the Korean War, somewhere between 250-300 South Korean refugees fleeing the fighting were massacred near the village of Nogeun-ri, southeast of Seoul, by the US 7th Cavalry Regiment. It wasn’t until 1999 that a thorough investigation of the incident was issued by the Associated Press (whose authors won a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for the story).

        After decades of denying responsibility, in 2001 the Army finally acknowledged that “an unknown number” of refugees had been killed, but denied that orders to kill refugees had been issued. The report did not disclose that the 7th Cavalry log for July 1950, which would have held such orders, was missing from the National Archives.

        In a response to reporters, President Bill Clinton commented that “things happened which were wrong.”

        In 2005, South Korea’s National Assembly created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the Republic of Korea to investigate these allegations, as well as other human rights violations in southern Korea during the 20th century. In its 2008 report, the Commission named more than 200 cases of what it described as "civilian massacre committed by U.S. soldiers.” —for more, see “No Gun Ri massacre,” Wikipedia

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In the late 19th century, Japan joined the Western European move to establish “protectorates” in Asia, the former establishing control of the Korean Peninsula. After World War II, the Soviet Union and the US split control of the country along the 38th parallel. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, launching the Korean War.” —David W. Brown, “10 Facts About the Korean War,” Mental Floss

        The US “Special Forces” and the National Security Agency trace their origins to the Korean War.

        Plans to the use of the atomic bomb on China and the Soviet Union were drafted, but not implemented, in the event of one or the other’s intervention in the Korean War.

Right: Roughly 5,000 Korean and U.S. soldiers and American Christian broadcasting personnel gathered in August 2016 at the Yeonmudae Military Church in South Chungcheong Province on Saturday to take part in the country’s largest-ever baptism ceremony. Along with the thousands of local soldiers, 40 local ministers, 22 American ministers and U.S. military chaplains participated. The event was also a way of thanking the U.S. military personnel for their past sacrifices in the once war-torn country. The Korea Herald

        “On July 27, 1953, American Lieutenant General William Harrison, Jr. and North Korean General Nam Il signed the Korean Armistice Agreement, ending “all acts of armed force” in Korea, until both sides were able to find a “final peaceful settlement.” The agreement was notably not a peace treaty, but rather, a ceasefire. [In other words, the Korean War is not over.] Over 60 years later, it seems we are no closer to a peaceful ending of the conflict.” —David W. Brown, “10 Facts About the Korean War,” Mental Floss

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Among the reasons North Korea is considered a “rogue” nation is based in international law concerning the country’s nuclear weapons program. We forget that this same international legal framework requires the US (and other nuclear powers) to take concrete steps toward eliminating nuclear weapons.

        President Trump has vowed to carry through on the Obama Administration’s planned upgrade of US nuclear weapons, estimated to cost $1,000,000,000,000 over the next three decades.

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Siegfried Hecker, the last known American official to inspect North Korea's nuclear facilities, said prior to Trump's statement that treating Kim Jong-un as though he is on the verge of attacking the U.S. is both inaccurate and dangerous. ‘Some like to depict Kim as being crazy—a madman—and that makes the public believe that the guy is undeterrable,’ said Hecker. ‘He's not crazy and he's not suicidal. And he's not even unpredictable. The real threat is we’re going to stumble into a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.’" Julia Conley, CommonDreams

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These fragile bodies of touch and taste
This fragrant skin, this hair like lace
Spirits open to the thrust of grace
Never a breath you can afford to waste
—Bruce Cockburn, “Lovers in Dangerous Times

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Just as surely, you may ask, must we rehearse in a single setting all the disheartening stories above? (The list is certainly much longer.) Can the result be more than a dissing of the heart?

        Only if what passes for hope is little more than lullaby.

        The kind of hope in which people of faith are to be formed is one that refuses a censoring of history’s trauma. At the same time, though, this formation orients the ear to hearing other stories—stories that counter the soap-selling sensationalism that masquerades as news.

        Here’s one from this week.

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In February Cédric Herrou, a French farmer, was convicted and given a suspended €3,000 fine. His crime? Assisting refugees crossing the border from Italy into France in the Breil-sur-Roya region where Herrou cultivates his olive trees.

Right: French farmer Cédric Herrou, convicted of helping refugees crossing the border from Italy into France, in the makeshift migrant camp on his property.  Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters

        This week the French court gave him a four-month suspended prison sentence.

        Herrou’s legal argument was that he has simply been upholding France’s “good Samaritan” law which legally requires a person to come to the aid of those in danger. Several European and Latin American countries have such laws, as do ten states in the US.

        "It is the role of a citizen in a democracy to take action when the state fails to,” said Herrou following the verdict. —for more, read or listen (4:40 audio) to this story by PRI’s Marco Werman

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“When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.“ —Exodus 23:5

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Courage is not the absence of fear; Aristotle believed it was the virtue which trains us to fear in the right way, in the right amount, and about the right things.” —Kyle Childress

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 “They will be met with fire and fury—and, frankly, power—like the world has never seen.” —President Donald Trump

        In his second iteration of his “fire and fury” threat against North Korea, Trump added “and, frankly, power.”

        In response to such claims, people of faith respond with baptism.

        Every issue is an issue of baptism, according to William Stringfellow, because baptism is a question of power; and every question of power is a question about God.

        “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6).

        The claims of competing prowess are present in every baptism: In a treacherous world, whose promises are sturdier? In Babel’s wake, whose words are trustworthy? In a world brimming with belligerents, where significant commitments presume an outcome which cannot be verified ahead of time, whose covenant will endure?

        We are all, every one of us, believers of some sort when it comes to wielding power and might. Jesus repeatedly warned that his Way would be considered politically inept—even reckless—by the “the world.”

        Tribulation is the natural home of the church (e.g., John 16:33)—which is why, in large measure, the church in the West has contracted a form of spiritual emphysema. To regain our breath will require release—a kind of disablement, threatening as it seems—in order to be rightly abled to hear and see and sense the Spirit’s movement in the shadows, away from centers of privilege, at the edges of entitlement.

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        As my long-time friend Paul Hayes recently noted, water-boarding has become the secular counterpart to baptism. Terrorism—whether sponsored by state or non-state actors—is anti-baptism.

        Baptism’s claim is staked on the Resurrection. This is the source of power with which the world does not reckon. With confidence in God’s power over the realm of death, believers can risk much. This is the secret of our freedom and our joy.

        But also the source of our risk, since nothing frightens imperial agents more than free, fearless people.

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 “In the face of death, live humanly. In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst babel, speak the truth. Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word, teach the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word. And more than that, in the Word of God, expose death and all death's works and wiles, rebuke lies, cast out demons, exorcise, cleanse the possessed, raise those who are dead in mind and conscience.” —William Stringfellow

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This past weekend my wife and I preached and taught about baptism at Noank Baptist Church in Noank, Connecticut. At the end of the Sunday morning service, the congregation processed downhill for a baptism at the mouth of the Mystic River. At left, Rev. Paul Hayes, pastor of Noank Baptist Church, leading four baptismal candidates—three young people and one senior adult—into the water.

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When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
—Bruce Cockburn, “Lovers in Dangerous Times

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