Monday, 26 March 2007
Saturday, 24 March 2007
(Part 6 - final in my series) "Marching Orders" - Jim Wallis at the Peace Service in the National Cathedral (with a link to watch the whole event)
At the end of Wallis' speech is a link where you can watch this entire inspiring service (streamed on the internet via a windows media file.)
Four years ago today, my son Jack was born - two days before the war began. I always know how long this awful war has gone on.
The war in Iraq is personal for me. It's personal for you too, or you wouldn't be here tonight. It's personal for the families and loved ones of the more than 3,200 American soldiers who have lost the precious gift of life. The stories I hear every day on the radio and TV break my heart. They are so young to die, and it is so unnecessary. When I look at my son and celebrate his birthday, I think of all the children whose fathers or mothers won't be coming back from the war to celebrate theirs.
It's personal for the tens of thousands of service men and women who have lost their limbs or their mental and emotional health, and who now feel abandoned and mistreated.
It's personal for all the Iraqis who have lost their loved ones, as many as hundreds of thousands. What would it be like to wait in line at morgues to check dead bodies, desperately hoping that you don't recognize someone you love? I can only imagine. And when I look at my son, I think of all the Iraqi children who will never celebrate another birthday.
This isn't just political; it's personal for millions of us now.And for all of us here tonight, the war in Iraq is actually more than personal - it has become a matter of faith.
By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. This war, from a Christian point of view, is morally wrong - and was from the very start. It cannot be justified with either the teaching of Jesus Christ or the criteria of St. Augustine's just war. It simply doesn't pass either test, and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities - this war is also an offense against God.
And so we are here tonight, very simply and resolutely, to begin to end the war in Iraq - not by anger, though we are angry; not just by politics, though it will take political courage; but by faith, because we are people of faith.
This service and procession are not just another political protest, but an act of faith, an act of prayer, an act of non-violent witness. Politics led us into this war, and politics is unlikely to save us by itself. The American people have voted against the war in Iraq, but political proposals keep failing one after the other.
I believe it will take faith to end this war. It will take prayer to end it. It will take a mobilization of the faith community to end it - to change the political climate, to change the wind. It will take a revolution of love to end it, because this endless war in Iraq is based ultimately on fear, and Jesus says that only perfect love will cast out fear.
So tonight we say, as people of faith, as followers of Jesus, that the deep fear that has paralyzed the conscience of this nation, which has caused us to become the kind of people that we are not called to be, that has allowed us to tolerate violations of our most basic values, and that has perpetuated an endless cycle of violence and counter-violence must be exorcised as the demon it is - this fear must be cast out!
And to cast out that fear, we must act in faith, in prayer, in love, and in hope - so we might help to heal the fears that keep this war going. Tonight we march not in belligerence, or to attack individuals (even those leaders directly responsible for the war), or to use human suffering for partisan political purposes. Rather, we process to the White House tonight as an act of faith, believing that only faith can save us now.
Ironically, this war has often been cloaked in the name and symbols of our faith, confused American imperial designs with God's purposes, and tragically discredited Christian faith around the world, having so tied it to flawed American behavior and agendas. Millions of people around the world sadly believe this is a Christian war. So as people of faith, let us say tonight to our brothers and sisters around the world, and as clearly as we can - America is not the hope of the earth and the light of the world, Jesus Christ is! And it is his way that we follow, and not the flawed path of our nation's leaders who prosecute this war. As an evangelical Christian, I must say that the war in Iraq has hindered the cause of Christ and, in this season of Lent, we must repent of this war!
So let us march tonight, believing that faith is stronger than fear; Let us march tonight, believing that hope is stronger than hate; Let us march tonight, believing that perfect love can cast out both hate and fear.
And let us march tonight, believing that the peace of Christ is stronger than the ways of war; Let us march tonight, to say to a nation still captive to fear but weary of war, "May the peace of Christ be with you!"
Let's march tonight, as Dr. Martin Luther King told us in another magnificent house of worship 40 years ago this spring, to "rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter-but beautiful-struggle for a new world."
And then let us return to our homes from the 48 states represented here tonight and generate a flood of public pressure that can wash away the blind intransigence of our White House and the cautious procrastination of our divided Congress. Your letters, phone calls, lobby visits, and actions at home will put a megaphone behind the sound of your feet today.
And all of this must be wrapped in the power of prayer. Because we believe that God can still work miracles in and through our prayers - and that prayer followed by action can turn valleys of despair into mountains of hope. God has acted before in history and we believe that God will act again through us. Tonight we leave this Cathedral humbly hoping to be God's instruments of peace and the earthly agents of the kingdom of God.
It sometimes appears that the light of peace has almost gone out in America, but tonight we re-light the candle and take the light of peace to the White House!
Tonight, by faith, we begin to end the war in Iraq!
The peace of Christ be with you!
(Now go here to watch this entire service, filled with powerful music, liturgy, and speeches!)
Thus at least 4,000 of us streamed out into the cold and blustery night, yet filled with this incredible strength and hope - the light of Christ - symbolized by our own lights and candles and the occassional banners, singing and praying all the way (3 1/2 miles) to Lafayette Park, right across from the White House. After some short speeches there, we then streamed two-by-two with our light and candles circling the entire Elipse which surrounds the grounds of the White House protected at every gate by White House police in black helmets and truncheons and other riot gear - but we all just smiled and greeted them as we marched past. Quite the sight to see and experience at midnight!
As others stayed or regathered in the park to watch and pray over 250 persons, who had been preparing themselves spiritually and emotionally for days, crossed the street in three different groups spaced apart, time-wise, to pray at the gates of the White House -- to kneel in prayer and repentance on behalf of the nation and the President in an act of "Divine Obedience" and to call attention to a need for a change of course in Iraq. They were all arrested, as expected, after given three warnings. It took almost all night to process them, but all were released by morning.
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
(Part 5) What Does It Really Mean to "Support Our Troops?" What Does It Mean To Be "Patriotic?" Can There Be Peace Without Justice? (part of a series)
If the media mentioned what happened at all, with only a few exceptions I noticed they largely attemped to reframe its meaning and purpose into something very different, trying to minimize and reduce it to something simply "anti." For example, most news articles tried to lump it together with the anti-war protest which followed on Saturday in Washington D.C., lead by various anarchist groups and radicals, attracting lots of flash and attention from counter-demonstrators.
However, this event Friday was in a whole different category of its own. It attracted no counterdemonstrators whatsoever. It was rooted and grounded in worship which filled the National Cathedral and in "divine obedience" in the middle of the night at the gates to the White House. It was definitely FOR something - for important and constructive goals that honor people, preserve life and work towards justice. The agenda among leadership persons of an ever-increasing number of the major branches of Christian faith in this country is being motivated now by a special movement of God's Spirit. A Spirit uniting diverse but faithful followers of Jesus Christ characterized by many different theological stripes, colors and forms of piety. Yet it is powered by prayer, realism, and the sustaining hope of a much better way than perpetual war.
Admittedly, these goals are very difficult to attain, but who ever expected the non-violent resolution of conflict to be easy? Waging peace has always taken more guts than it takes to point the barrel of a machine gun and pull the trigger - or drop some bombs or fire some missles! Peace cannot ever come about without correlating strategies to effect justice. These strategies are often difficult to negotiate, and usually surrounded by an aura of criticism from the usual suspects and naysayers. But it does make sense. A lot more sense than what our administration is trying to pull off now. Why wait to utilize peace strategies as a last resort, when the deepest wounds of war have laid waste to so many resources that the antogonists have no choice but to withdraw?
So, I am re-posting here, but in edited form, what I shared yesterday with my chaplain colleagues to stimulate discussion and prod the conscience of those who simply "buy the party line" on what constitutes patriotism - thus revealing they have not yet thought through very clearly, for themselves, what it truly means to "support our troops."
Here is a link to an interesting, accurate, and excellent article about Staff Sgt. Liam Madden, the co-founder of the active duty soldiers', "Appeal for Redress." Sgt. Madden was recently honorably discharged from the Marines and Appeal for Redress is a movement of active duty, active reserve and National Guard soldiers filing a private grievance with their elected officials against the Iraq war.
I feel this article is extremely significant considering its source - the Feb. 12, 2007 issue of "The American Conservative." It flies in the face of anyone arguing that participating in events such as what recently transpired in Washington D.C. on Friday evening, March 16 is not very patriotic. To the contrary.
Further, it presents a solid case for responding to what President Bush said in his latest news conference about "the Surge" in Iraq, and provides support for those willing to stand decisively against his willful manipulation of a fickle Congress to fund it. We clearly need to redefine things now for those who harbor a narrow definition of what it means to truly "support the troops" and to love our neighbors. These are, quite often, young soldiers coming home to live among us, harmed with mental ills and deep spiritual/moral issues.
In that regard, Liam Madden will be speaking here in Michiana tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at the University of Notre Dame at 7 pm at Debartolo Hall, Room 102 on "The Ground Truth in Iraq: A Marine's View" - a lecture co-sponsored by The Progressive Student Alliance, the Center for Social Concerns, and the Kroc Institute. Another honorably discharged Marine from our locale, Wes Liggett, who bravely speaks out against the war in Iraq will also be on the panel with Liam. On Wednesday Liam will be speaking at Goshen College across the street from our hospital.
I hope you get to hear him or others from the Appeal for Redress speak in your own location; perhaps you could organize an effort to invite him/them!
View the February 25 footage of CBS 60 Minutes segment about the Appeal for Redress, a piece CBS entitled: “Dissension in the Ranks” with supportive footage and text.
Tonight in South Bend, IN there was a 7 pm Candlelight Vigil outside the Morris Civic Center; all day "Eyes Wide Open" was at IUSB which is the combat boots memorial display. That same memorial will be at Notre Dame University tomorrow - Tuesday, March 20, during this 4th anniversary of the official start of this current war in Iraq by the U.S. military and the so-called "coalition of the willing" - the later of which, I hope everyone now realizes, has virtually disintegrated.
Are any of you involved or engendering conversations like this in the public arena in your locale, in connection with this anniversary? If not, I’d like to know why not? (I’m really not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone here...I'm simply interested in how the rationales and responses of others actually stack up against the partial strategy outlined here. No, it's not the whole strategy necessary, but it's at least a very effective place to start, IMHO.)
I think that if pastors and chaplains who truly care about people are to remain faithful to their calling, an informed moral response is required on such important matters. Inaction, or some imaginary stance of "neutrality" is simply not an option -- not anymore! For those who may be tempted to quibble with that sentiment, I advise more reading among some of our greatest theological and ethical mentors who sought to apply sound biblical principles to the pressing moral and social ills of their day. We are talking here about very great minds and hearts -- such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, John Howard Yoder, among others!
There simply can be no peace without justice (or "righteousness/right-relatedness" as the biblical texts refer to it.) The real questions are...what is it going to take...and who is it going to take? Will you heed the clarion call for prophetic moral leadership to join the company of the committed and help inspire hope in the struggle against injustice when we need it most? The most important value is not necessarily success, but faithfulness to the call of Christ in our lives and fulfillment of his mission to "bring sight to the blind" and "freedom to the captives"...
"Embraced by Grace with Open Arms" (Part 4 in a series of reflections on "Things That Really Matter”)
I can say the prayers of many were certainly answered Sunday afternoon, because that service was blessed by some very powerful moments of laughter and grace. I decided to basically function as the facilitator - intentionally staying out of the limelight, but instead moderating some fantastic spontaneous extended family sharing in the midst of it all. That part in itself stretched for almost 40 minutes involving at least a dozen people. This included C___'s mother who read a stunner of a poem she had composed, with me standing beside her so she could get through it; then his girlfriend who had wrotten and framed a special poem read it from the podium, as well. Also his former fiancé, who broke up with him when he came back from Iraq "because he just wasn't the same person anymore" shared for a few minutes, from where she stood in the midst of the congregation; and her remarks were actually well-received.
After all that, since we had a very good picture of what a fun-loving, thrill-seeking, animal lover, people-caring guy that he really was, instead of offering a traditional "message" I led into an extended 7 to 8-minute pastoral prayer, which apparently "worked" for almost everyone and brought in the fresh breeze of the all-embracing grace of God. I prayed for C____, presenting this prodigal son to the grace of God, asking that God’s hands and loving embrace surround him and receive his spirit into God’s eternal care. I thanked God that now he could be completely healed from the results of poor choices and that which had trapped him so unmercifully. (Although I didn’t’ read it, or directly allude to it in my prayer, I worked with some of the images in the story in Luke 15 - one of the lectionary texts for yesterday which was preached across the world. More on that later.)
I also prayed for each of ourselves, as well, that we be mindful and not ignore the dependencies and addictions we are often too timid to confess; to confront the storm that arises from time to time within each of us; to acknowledge the brokenness we allow to go unmended, and know the unfinished business we carry around within ourselves – and to avail ourselves of the tremendous resources we have in Christ and the community of faith. “Because we say that in Jesus Christ every barrier is broken, every sin overcome, every fear removed, and death itself is overcome” I ended by asking God to give us the faith “to believe these things with everything that is within us.”
People responded to that sort of confessional tone, all held within the context of prayer. Apparently it was what was needed to bring some resolution and healing because positive responses emanated afterward from over a dozen people processing their thoughts with me afterward one-on-one. His mother and father said back at the family home during the post-funeral interaction "we really did it." This family was not spaced-out as I’ve sometimes observed at the many funerals I have conducted - with eyes glazed over. No, they were all fully "engaged."
There were a few additional serendipitous moments that have since unfolded - and are quite worthy of note:
The first one happened when I had already left the interaction after the funeral in time to finally connect with my wife, Carole Anne, for a bit and then attended the worship service at Faith together. (We meet at 5 pm on Sundays.) It was certainly not a traditional service, but that is not unusual for us. When it came time for the sermon, the other lights were dimmed and lo and behold, the one remaining light was focused on a famous painting: You guessed it – “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt. We all were treated to a dialogical sermon on the theme “God Reaches Out With Open Arms” involving both our pastors, Kay and Deron, reflecting on the various characters in the painting and inviting us to think about which one we identified with the most – to place ourselves somewhere in that picture.
Some of Pastor Kay’s reflections really “struck home” for me. First, I was drawn strongly to thoughts about myself and my parents, then to thoughts about C___ and his parents. But most of all, I was drawn back into thoughts from the afternoon - about God’s incredible love for each of us, and his incredible embrace with open arms. Pure grace, because, as Kay was saying, none of us have fathers or mothers who can even come close to loving as God loves. None of us can find an example of God’s deep love in any human relationship or experience, although we may spend our entire life searching and longing for it. Then came some of Kay’s reflections that really pulled it together for me, because they drew me to thoughts about both C___ and myself -- and I realized in the process that in spite of huge differences in age, circumstances and choices, we were not all that much different when it comes right down to it – and certainly not different when it comes to God’s response!
Here now are Pastor Kay’s exact words, for I acquired them from her: “The father did not prevent the son from leaving home. He did not force his desires on the son. It was the father’s love that let his son leave. In this lies the mystery of God’s love. We are loved so much that we are left free to leave home. We are the prodigal son every time we run off looking for love in faraway places, looking for love where it can’t be found. We look for it in things that end up controlling us, and that is what we call addictions. We may look for this love from our husbands, wives, friends, church, or pastors. Again and again we are let down. We over eat, we get lost in the world of books and ideas, we spend money unwisely, we hoard our money, we over work or expect others to take care of us, thinking this will satisfy our deepest longing for love. When we have nothing left, when we are hungry, have failed utterly, we remember God’s love for us and know this is our only hope or we will die.
“I believe within us all is rooted a deep knowledge that true love is found only in God. I believe this because God created us. Since we are created in the image of God, how could not a bit of God’s love be planted deep within our spirit? This is the love that the prodigal son remembers and longs to return to.
“This is a story of one journey home, but I believe in our lives we make the journey toward God’s love and away from it many times. We may start on our journey home and than change our mind and return to the distant land. We all have within us the desire to be loved fully and unconditionally. This desire accompanies us from the moment we leave the safe protection of our mother’s womb.”
Kay then challenged us to take a close look at the father’s large left hand in the picture. On this hand are broad, strong fingers spread across the son’s right shoulder. But the fingers and shape of his other hand are much more feminine – in contrast, like a mother’s hand, gentle, caressing - the mothering hand of God embracing the son. The wide spread-open red cloak, like a mother hen hovering over her chicks, protecting, surrounding. The prodigal son, a grown man, has the head shape and position, however, more like that of a newborn nestling against his mother’s womb – an image of rebirth.
At that very moment I experienced myself in the arms of God, with unconditional acceptance, resting against God’s womb, the place of birth, a place of secure protection and nourishment. This was also where I began to image C___ being now, finally home, safe from destructive forces he could not control. I had prayed at the funeral just prior for this very thing, commending his spirit into the safe arms of God, the place of the greatest and deepest love. Now, through this guided reflection by my own pastors, I was able to envision this, to “know” that he was feeling the embrace of a Love that looks beyond all of his sins and addictions, and respond to outstretched arms, to the Voice that says, “You are my beloved child!”
I also knew at that moment that I was being prompted to give C___’s parents a copy of that painting and to share some of these interpretations with them, as well. For starts, I plan to provide a copy of these reflections.
A second great “moment” came in the evening after being at worship with my own congregation, when I went back over to C___’s family home where I’d been invited to spend some more time. Various extended family members were still hanging out at this family’s home, and I met a number of very interesting people, but one conversation with a particular couple really stood out. I met C___’s first cousin and his new wife who traveled here from Washington D.C. and who, as it turned out, attend the National Cathedral as Episcopalians. In fact, they had been committed to helping usher at the event I attended at their church Friday evening, but they had to leave for Indiana! (They, too, were significantly delayed due to the storm and had to wait to fly out until Saturday morning.)
They had no idea I had just come from this experience, until we talked. What a remarkable, animated conversation that was...because the wife of this couple is a sharp young doctoral student in Political Science, who studied and worked in Great Britain in recent years and has associations within the State Department, as well. The husband, C___'s first cousin, works as a business consultant with international NGO’s, the World Bank, and certain projects affiliated with the IMF. To make a complicated story concise, he is working at enhancing international development work where it really matters to people, especially those struggling to get a leg up on their life.
They are both obviously committed young adult Christians, representing the cream of the crop of their generation, and personally supportive of everything I just described above. While tending to fall off on the liberal/progressive side of things, politically, this very astute young woman admitted to some anger and disillusionment with the state of current leadership on these matters and issues regarding the war in Iraq, including those within the Democratic Party - a point with which I could strongly identify.
Our conversation, which was only made possible through a death – a major family storm, so to speak - was in the midst of it all so very life-giving, and gave me much hope for the future in spite of the incredible challenges this generation of new leaders will surely face. I even began to reflect a bit more with them about my own sense of call and some possibilities Carol Anne and I were exploring for international work in the future. There was a sort of instant affinity there, hard to put into words, but we agreed it will be very good for us to keep in touch with each other!
A third serendipitous moment came today (Monday) when I responded to an intuitive urge which hits me once in a while – and which I have learned not to ignore. I phoned up my new friend, Mike Wilker, at his LVC office in Washington DC, and invited him to reflect on his own experience on Friday night during the civil disobedience. He described being in the second wave that crossed into the "forbidden zone" at about 1:30 AM, engulfed in the stench of exhaust fumes that wafted over from the nearby waiting police buses as he knelt to pray. The marchers in the larger crowd across the way were singing a chant at the time "Peace, Salaam, Shalom."
As Mike was reflecting at that moment on this incredible juxtaposition of themes amidst the stench of the oil-based fumes, on the oppression within our nation and many parts of the world from the current policies we are foisting, the Lenten themes of oppression and crucifixion, and on the counterpoint of deep healing peace – the “Shalom” rooted in the message of Jesus – two other women knelt down beside him and began singing a beautiful harmonized duet of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" – overarching everything else. This was, as Mike described it, a stunning paradigm for the entire evening, a rich, empowering, and absolutely memorable Lenten experience.
I can’t think of a better way to sum everything up than to break into one of my own favorite songs:
My life flows on, in endless song, above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn - it hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging,
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
Peace, Salaam, Shalom...
Chaplain Clair Hochstetler
(Part 3) "Into The Storm & Finding the Calm" - a Powerful Lenten Experience in Wash. DC (in a series of reflections on "Things That Really Matter”)
This was all after our patience had been severely tried by some asinine state highway snowplow drivers on the PA turnpike - driving 5 abreast for about 40 miles or so - at 25 mph - sanding the roads but with hardly any snow or ice on the turnpike itself! We couldn’t figure out what the sam hill they were doing unless it was "preventive" in case it would freeze later. But, no, in spite of the obvious 5 or 6 mile long traffic jam they created, they went on and on an on....refusing to pause to let anyone pass -- which delayed and angered pretty much everybody.
After an interesting combination Metro/bus ride though DC that took twice as long as we had hoped to get to the Cathedral, we finally arrived to the service an hour and a half late (after having originally given ourselves plenty of time) just as the procession was exiting the church in the midst of an in-your-face sleeting windy gusting 30 to 40 mph "chilling-to-the bone" stormy blast for at least 15 or 20 minutes. (All we basically got to see was the inside of the Cathedral as the joyous participants were streaming out into the storm. It had been pretty well attended, virtually full, with an over-flow crowd of about a thousand at another church nearby.)
We were informed that a DVD of the music and speeches during the worship service will be developed and available soon. I imagine that will be very worth ordering to enable those who couldn't attend to gain a bit of the feel of the movement -- from lament, to the cross, to the power and hope that imbued that Lenten worship experience. (Our caravan members are interested in obtaining one as soon as possible, so that we can watch it together and reflect on the experience, our responses, and our involvement in follow-up interactions within our own locale in Michiana.)
Significantly, as the throng assembled and we marched about a dozen people abreast down one half of the street, we began to sing, waving our battery operated candles: "We are marching in the light of God..." Quite soon "the storm was stilled" for the rest of the experience - not just metaphorically, but literally. That four-mile march was spirited and invigorating; some of us estimated at least 3500 people participated. But was I ever glad I had the foresight to bring along my insulated boots - which helped keep my feet warm as well as my heart!
Someone said Saturday morning that we would likely have had at least 6000 people at the worship service; about 850 were registered for civil disobedience down at the White House culmination of the March, but only 275 did it - so that gives you some idea. They prayed beside the White House fence on the sidewalk where they did not have a permit to congregate, in groups, walking across the street to do so starting about 11:30 pm or so. It took the police practically all night to "process" them as it was - and they said later the police were courteous for the most part.
The major news media has pretty much ignored this action, except for a small article in the New York Times, and a great 4-minute piece on Saturday's "Weekend Edition" on NPR. Most of the media was focused on the demonstration by the storming radicals marching to the Pentagon on Saturday and the counter demonstration beside it - stuff a lot more flashy and attractive to the journalists, apparently. But I think what we had there is highly significant - perhaps the genesis of a time when many leaders are now willing to become personally very uncomfortable - and united - in order to send a powerful message to the rest of this nation and the world. This alternative leadership apart from the political process, emanating from the heart of faith, can only grow. Jim Wallis made it clear in his speech at the end of the worship service: "America is not the light of the word. Jesus Christ is."
The Spirit ran strong and our emotions were high. The rest of us ringed the entire ellipse surrounding the area, before going to our various places to stay, about 12:30 am. The very bad storm kept many from being able to get there, especially almost everyone in Virginia. However, I met a lot of very interesting people along the way, e.g. my fellow marchers included the national executive director of the Lutheran Volunteer Corp, Rev. Michael Wilker, who was looking forward to doing civil disobedience later that evening, a van-load of students from Bluffton University in Ohio who had just lost some friends from the baseball team in that terrible accident in Atlanta, some Catholic peace workers, a couple of Presbyterian families with elementary school children, a Methodist man from Baltimore who had marched in the 60’s - a communications specialist. He had trouble keeping his candle lit in its cup, but our conversation was bright. Many DC residents were waving at us from their apartment windows and even some diplomatic embassy headquarters, at that hour of the night - 10 or 11 pm, cheering us on. I could go on and on...
Mike relayed an incredible story shared during the service: A car-load of folks driving all the way from Spokane, Washington state hit a semi-truck during the storm (going under it somehow) just a couple states away from Washington DC. Miraculously - though the vehicle they were in was totaled - they somehow emerged relatively unscathed, so they hitch-hiked the rest of the way, and actually made it in time to that worship service Friday evening!
Mike also told me that the words of the first of the four speakers during the worship service - the Gold-Star mother who lamented what happened to her soldier son - were so moving and poignant that he thinks they should be read (or replayed electronically) from every pulpit in America during Lent.
We talked about what we might now very well be witnessing here in our land - the contemporary rebirth of something similar to the Confessing Church, inspired and nurtured by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany during the rise to power of the Third Reich. We now have an ever-expanding corps of Christians from all corners of the faith spanning this entire nation - praying for the end of the war in Iraq, practicing nonviolence, studying the Bible's implications for our foreign policy, fasting regularly until the war ends, gathering strength from each other in prayer, study, and action - and in some places creating weekly peace witness events in their own local communities - all rooted in a common faith in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. I wonder, could the new Christian Churches Together movement can take this on, as well?
Our group of 30 split into three for overnight lodging, and we all had a very short night of it on cots and sleeping bags in various places. I stayed with a dozen others at Eastern Mennonite University’s Washington Study Service Year House and had to put up with quite a bit of coughing and snoring – so you can imagine how that went - but at least I'd brought my Aerobed to make the most of the five hours of sleep I supposedly got!
I suspect we had at least three or four times that number at “the march” but about one hundred of us Mennonites actually made it Saturday morning to our own fairly informative and inspiring denominational gathering (utilizing the fellowship hall of the Capital Hill United Methodist Church.) This included some sharing - with only an hour's worth of sleep behind her- from Susan Mark Landis, who had a major hand in the overall planning of the whole event, and who had participated in the civil disobedience ("Divine Obedience!") the night before. We also heard insights from others on the Peace and Justice Support Network, hearing about some new ideas for peace advocacy, education, and resources for the Mennonite Church USA, including some new endeavors for and by the youth in our own denomination.
Some profitable time was spent listening to and interacting with Dr. Peter Dula, who recently joined the faculty of Eastern Mennonite University as an assistant professor of Religion and Culture, but spent quite a bit of time just prior to this as the Mennonite Central Committee's Iraq Program Coordinator. He shook things up a little by postulating that the two most practical actions we can take, if we are going to have any hope in actually challenging current policies, besides just talking about them with people in power, are to 1) get off the oil grid - by growing good gardens and ride bicycles as much as possible and 2) engage in war tax resistance! Well – now that generated some discussion! We then took time to process our experience of the weekend, thus far, in smaller regionally-based groupings before heading out.
Our caravan needed to leave DC by mid-day to return on what turned out to be a 13-hour drive home, including some very scary head-winds and more ominous weather on the alternate route we chose to take home using Interstate 68 (paralleling the "Old National Highway") up through Cumberland and over toward Morgantown, West Virginia. That stretch up in Garrett County, Maryland really does have a weather system of its own! It was literally the Grace of God our caravan got home in one piece (especially with me, sometimes known as a "lead-foot" doing a lot of the driving!) I crawled into bed at 3 am Sunday morning, tired to the bone, but recovered nicely by mid-forenoon.
Being In the Right Place at the Right Time (Part 2 in a series of reflections on "Things That Really Matter”)
Nevertheless, here are my reflections about some important recent experiences. I decided if I don’t take the time now to reflect on the meaning of all this, and try to integrate what’s been happening in spite of the fact that the JC has arrived, then I probably never will. (That has happened far too often before.) It’s vital for me to take the time out of a pressing schedule – as my own form of prayerful meditation and thanksgiving for God's clear leading in my life - in order to be better prepared, mentally and spiritually, for the next few days ahead. In the big scheme of things - especially for someone in my line of work - that is what really matters: to be very present, listening to what God wants to address in my own life, so that I can truly be present to the needs of others, and in the right place at the right time.
To recap just a bit, I conducted the funeral yesterday (Sunday) afternoon for the 22-year-old former National Guardsman who joined to go to college but got sent to Iraq, then spiraled down into a serious addiction as a bright young college student after coming back and having great difficulty assuage his guilt and shame and the ensuing PTSD. He had OD’d once before, at college, spent a month in an ICU near there, then some time in prison and then on probation for what he’d done, and got "clean" - or at least his parents thought so. Just as his probation was finishing up he apparently slid back down the slippery slope, and last Monday accidentally OD'd from a shot of heroin, dying in the bathroom of the home of an acquaintance he met at work.
His mother is an ICU nurse here, and a very good friend -- and I was at her side at home about 15 minutes after her husband called me from New Hampshire where he was traveling on business - in the right place at just the right time.
This young man really was not a druggie living in the streets and it was not who this bright young man really was -- that became very clear during the funeral. It was quite clear that he had no intention of taking his own life. It needs to be clearly understood that though he was not attempting to commit suicide - since he loved life and thrived on excitement - he was so bored at the job he had recently. His mistake was thinking he could handle heroin by himself and get away with it, but was severely addicted, obviously, to the incredible "high" heroin provides. And what a storm this created within his family!
First of all, his involvement in the war in Iraq (his signing up with the National Guard, though motivated for the education opportunities it would provide for him, was done over the objection of his parents) had created a storm within that could not be stilled. He made some very poor choices at points along the way, thinking he was smart enough to handle heroin himself without submitting to therapy or sticking with an inpatient 12-step program.
This young man has a wonderful highly-educated and very involved extended family that gathered from all parts of the country this past weekend. I had already spent a couple batches of time last week, including quite a stretch last Thursday evening one-on-one with his mother and father and various members of his immediate family (he was the oldest of five children all fairly close in age to each other) followed by some group time reflecting on the tone and content of the funeral service on Sunday, sketching out some plans and possibilities for the flow of the service together.
I would be getting up very early - at 5:00 am the next morning (Friday) actually - to help drive a mini-bus loaded with Goshen College students headed to Washington D.C. to attend a special worship service that evening at the National Cathedral and a subsequent march to the White House as part of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq.
This particular Christian public witness was timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Planned by some thirty-five Protestant and Catholic peace organizations and denominational leaders, which have been working in partnership since last fall, these groups have all been coming together around five basic affirmations, which are, in brief: (1) End the U.S. Occupation (a prophetic word), (2) Support Our Troops (a pastoral word), (3) Fund an international effort to rebuild Iraq (a word of moral obligation), (4) Say NO to Torture, and (5) Say YES to Justice (especially concerning poverty issues in the U.S.)
I had interpreted this event's meaning and purpose to this young man's mother when with her one-to-one earlier in the week, so they could understand why I would not be available to conduct the funeral on Friday or Saturday, but I didn't know how the whole family would take it at the time I shared that. Now, as I was with the family as a whole, and several of them indicated their support of such a thing, I felt heartened by this unusual juxtaposition of events and the timing of it all. Though my plans were already set, beyond my own personal interest, I felt now I could also go as a representative of this Guardsman's grieving family with a heightened sense of personal mission in the endeavor. Once again, I was definitely going to be in the right place at the right time - and there simply is no better "place" for a chaplain to be!
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
I've arrived home several hours ago from a day away from the hospital, but involved with family and friends at my deceased parents' final estate sale and what it represents - the end of an era. My mother Edna died last April 25, and then my father Dean died October 30. I and my siblings and our family members had plenty of opportunity to obtain the special items we wanted to keep beforehand. That was handled quite fairly and equitably among us all in recent times, but it was hard to see the rest of the stuff just flitter away today into the rest of the community and other parts unknown - most of it at ridiculously low prices, of course! It was a multi-estate sale with stuff from three other families - all being sold in two simultaneous rings at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds.
The conversations were good though, and there were some memorable moments as well, watching who bought what to keep as symbols of their relationship with my mother or my father. For example, I had a great time getting to know a couple living in California who bought a number of things, including Dad's 1769 huge leather-bound Swiss German Bible still in pretty good condition and the old book on the sinking of the Titanic, and a great big box full of old Farm and Home Journals dating back to the 1910's and 1920's -- items which we'd left in the auction to help attract people there. I got to share some of the history behind the various items he and his wife had picked up. He got the Bible for $175 -- for his 87 year old mother who spent her life as a translator (knows a dozen languages and taught herself Hebrew and Greek) and still spends a chunk of each day reading the Bible in German.
Well, its just another significant milestone along the way in my ongoing grieving process.
The first thing I read when I got home earlier this evening was an email from Richard Yoder, one of our supportive and concerned volunteer on-call chaplains at Goshen General. He was asking if I still need someone to take call while I go to D.C. this Friday and Saturday. (Background: I'll be helping to drive a min-bus filled with Goshen College students and some other community members in a caravan to the National Cathedral in Washington to attend a special worship service and vigil marking the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. (By the way, if any readers here are involved locally in conjunction with that major ecumenical event this Friday evening, are you aware of this resource?)
Anyway, here's the essence of my reply to Richard (which I copied the rest of the chaplain team)
Yes I do, Richard. Friday night is covered but I still need help during the day Friday, or Saturday if that would suit you better. But also on Sunday - since I'll be doing a major funeral that day - due to the accidental drug overdose of the son of a much loved and respected ICU nurse; he lived at home with his family here in Goshen.
This young man's father called me from New Hampshire while on a business trip, just a few minutes after his wife (the ICU nurse, at home) was informed by the police about their son's death. He was found at the home of a couple of acquaintances from work. Though a very bright young man, he had, by all accounts, a very boring job at an automotive parts factory, but it's what he chose to do right now. These co-workers whom he barely knew invited him there after completed their third shift together, and he had apparently used their bathroom to "shoot up" - apparently thinking this was a "safe" place away from home where his actions wouldn't be discovered. Something went terribly wrong and he was discovered about 2 pm yesterday, out cold forever.
His parents are committed believers in the Christian faith, but have been in transition and "shopping around" for a church, thus do not have a good local connection yet to a pastor or a local community of faith. I spent quite a bit of time with that devastated mother and and this young man's traumatized girlfriend yesterday afternoon and evening, waiting for dad to catch a plane home from New England. They had no clue he had decided to use again, but had been through quite the ordeal with him in recent years. Later, in the evening, I helped the rest of the ICU staff on duty process this extremely difficult news from a beloved hurting colleague. They hurt for her deeply, as well, for they knew how much she had invested in her son and his recovery efforts - she had been very open with them about all this. This young man, now 22, had enlisted in the National Guard, over and above the objections of his parents, as an 18 year old, and sure enough - was sent to Iraq. The military offered virtually no follow-up debriefing nor counseling to him and his colleagues who returned home from that experience. He came back, having survived the war there, but with memories and issues he could barely speak about - likely afflicted by PTSD, but never diagnosed, then sunk into drug addiction to bury his pain while becoming a student at Purdue University. An earlier overdose there put him in the ICU at Lafayette for quite a while, then he came home, got involved with Narcotics Anonymous (his parents with Al Anon) as he finally "came clean" over many months - and then this.
Absolutely devastating. Such a huge waste of talent. He didn't get killed in the war there, but the one here got him.
His mother and father are not trying to find ways to put responsibility on others for what their son chose to do - they really do understand addictions and did an amazing job with the "tough love" and all that - but at the same time they are very, very angry at what has happened to him and his friends by being caught up in this war -- being ground up and spit out like they were - much more than an 18 year old should have to handle.
Ironic, that yesterday at about the same time he was discovered dead, this report was released and is a "top story" in the news today.
But I think the actual numbers they quote there are way too low because this is a study of the mental health issues of soldiers returning from Iraq was only among those actually being cared for specifically by the VA, and this young man was denied any help by the military. His mother told me she knows there are tons more just like her son.
After examining my calendar for the rest of the week, I took some time to reflect for a couple of hours on what I've been experiencing lately, and to prepare myself for what will likely unfold as a very challenging/interesting/memorable week:
If you read this far, you already know that besides supporting this particular family as much as my schedule will allow, and preparing for the funeral on Sunday (it will likely be a big one and somewhat difficult to prepare for) I am already committed to that quick but important journey to Washington DC Friday, returning back to Indiana by 1 am early Sunday morning. By the way, I shared with that grieving mother, my dear ICU nurse friend, just why I am going to Washington DC and a bit about the nature of that event, because it was potentially going to effect on the timing of the funeral. But her response was heartening to me -- she said she is VERY glad I'm going and would not want me to miss it for anything. Now I'm going to be there on that young dead soldier's behalf, as well, representing his whole family.
At 7 am on Thursday, however, I'll be sitting down with our hospital's Ethics Committee when we will, among other things, be reviewing a proposed first draft of our policy for dealing with the ethical issues likely involved in a Flu Pandemic -- which are going to be overwhelming and inevitable if THAT ever comes around!
I'm also involved in an ongoing way with our (ecumenical) Goshen Ministerial Association, which meets monthly. Sure enough, our next one is this Thursday noon, the third session of a special series focusing on the immigration issue and discussing the plight of many of our local people directly affected by the attitudes and approaches of various business and government practices. We are, as pastoral leaders, in the process of getting better acquainted and developing deeper sustaining relationships between the Anglo and the Latino/Hispanic pastors which were heretofore virtually separate groups. And we are discussing various viewpoints on necessary reforms. But this time, in particular, we plan to focus on appropriate pastoral responses, as a community of faith, to the ICE raid in our area last week - and all the attendant vibrations set off in the immigrant community and among the rest of us trying to figure out the best way to be supportive, yet also constructive while calling for systemic legislative changes that make better sense.
I guess it's all part of what it means to be a hospital chaplain in a small town dealing with things that really matter in people's lives. I was thinking again this evening about how distinctively different many aspects of my life are from the way my parents lived theirs, yet undergirding it all are a lot of the same values. When it comes right down to it, I'm just a chip off the old block - finding joy in serving others - and dealing with issues that really matter. There is a deep joy and sense of fulfillment in doing that - and I can't think of a better way to honor them.
I read this piece to Carole Anne before sending it off, to gaining her comments and perspective. She thinks I need to send this it to various family members, as well as certain other friends - and I'm indeed grateful she is so supportive of these endeavors on my part.
For those of you taking in this message, who know and care about what is happening in my life - and Carole Anne's - know that I deeply value and acknowledge the importance of relationship, your support, and especially your prayers. Please pray that I will be able to maintain a warm heart, a sharp mind, an open hand, and a receptive spirit to all that God is asking me to do - and not do, as well!
All the best,
Monday, 12 March 2007
I am writing to thank you for the solid editorial in Sunday's Goshen News regarding the Patriot Act being a ticking time bomb and how the higher-ups now express outrage over many FBI agents having overstepped authority. You closed by asking "Why do we feel like they are saying so with their fingers crossed?" Exactly. And let's scratch below the surface a bit more:
Three short statements gleaned from the USAToday's report on Friday are quite revealing:
1) One government official familiar with the report told the Associated Press that shoddy bookkeeping and records management led to the problems; the FBI agents appeared to be overwhelmed by the volume of demands for information over a two-year period.
2) Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine conducted the audit as required by Congress - but over the objections of the Bush administration!
3) National security letters have been the subject of legal battles in two federal courts because recipients were barred from telling anyone about them. Each NSL amounts to a gag on free speech, thus a federal appeals judge in New York warned in May that the government's ability to force companies to turn over information about its customers and keep quiet about it was probably unconstitutional.
Well, ya think?
Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out WHO is likely issuing the plethora of orders causing these FBI agents to feel so incredibly harried and overworked? The "outrage" of the officials is diverting from the issue about the record numbers of NSA requests, but focused solely on the accuracy of the record-keeping involved to stay compliant with the Patriot Act.
Sen. Feingold, D-Wis., a member of the judiciary panel, nailed it when he said the report "proves that 'trust us' doesn't cut it when it comes to the government's power to obtain Americans' sensitive business records without a court order and without any suspicion that they are tied to terrorism or espionage."
So let's think now about where this brings us...we're in a self-declared and permanent state of "war" in which the Constitution and our Bill of Rights are treated as quaint remnants of bygone era; we have a Justice Department led by a man who endorses torture. We have the suspension of habeas corpus, extraordinary rendition, and the ominous legal ideology of a "Unitary Executive" -- giving the US President the virtual powers of a monarch - the ultimate "Decider" he loves to think he is.
President Bush is overtly contemptuous of the very checks and balances necessary to a functioning democracy. He mislead the nation into a 4+ years of war already costing 3,200 American lives and untold billions of dollars, selectively holds himself above the law by "signing statements" intended to subvert the intent of legislation he dislikes, turns the White House staff into a propaganda machine fond of leaking classified information when it furthers his political agenda, and dismantles Constitutional protections by misusing the FBI's energies and side-stepping FISA in the pursuit of rapid domestic intelligence gathering. The proof is out there now.
So, the FBI no longer even pretends to operate on the principle of probable cause. We have an emergent surveillance society, even after a previous Congress discredited and explicitly forbade the data mining program known as Total Information Awareness. But it is not only back again, but back with a vengeance. George Orwell was right, but he was just a little off on the title of his book 1984 - it should have been titled 2007!
Does anyone else feel their nation has been truly hijacked -- and this time it's an inside job? I would like to think so, because current polls tell us 60 some % of the American people no longer respect what the President is doing in his job - at all. The President hasn't even been listening very well to his own top generals - his decision-making system can't be trusted - it's just plain broken. But he still has the audacity to act as if he is accountable to no one; loves to say and think he's the ultimate "Decider." To put it simply, we now have the most intrusive, cynically partisan and self-interested administration in our nation's history but also, simultaneously, the most secretive and corrupt.
Many innocent people in this country, and in Iraq, as well, are now being flattened by this steam roller whose operator has not proven trustworthy. The slippery slope of fascism looms large! You wonder about that? I encourage readers to take the time to review what historians say are its defining characteristics here or here - then see if you can draw your own parallels.
Senator Lugar, Senator Bayh - where is the outrage lasting more than one weekend news cycle? Where is true leadership in Congress when we really need it - to clearly tell the President that he's got to back down? What does it take for this country to wake up, acknowledge these trends, and seek the change it so desperately needs?
President Bill Clinton underwent impeachment proceedings for actions that basically amounted to marital infidelity on the taxpayer's dime; so I guess Bush/Cheney's transgressions must fall somewhere between "high crimes" and "misdemeanors."
(my address and phone number)