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Friday, November 09, 2007

Veteran's Day

This Sunday is Veteran's Day. I've been trying to put myself in the shoes of ministers trying to deliver Veteran's Day sermons. I think it is difficult for a few reasons. First off, the common lectionary doesn't seem to have anything helpful. Also, I think it easy to conflate veterans with wars. The stories of wars in the Bible generally look at the conflict from a global perspective. The God of Israel willing the people of Israel to take possession of land, or fend off an enemy, or (following sinfulness) be taken away into exile.

But a person serving as a warrior doesn't touch the same themes as a nation making war. Being a member of the Armed Forces requires personal sacrifice and love of country. Another thing it requires is faith in others. When on thought about that aspect I remembered Matthew's story of Jesus calling the disciples.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.
Matthew 4:18-22. When I accepted an NROTC scholarship, I honestly didn't give it much more thought than the disciples in this story. I did it for lots of reasons. It was an adventure. It paid for college. I had faith in my leaders. I thought it was a chance to make a difference. I suspect the disciples had similar feelings. And I think that is something worth celebrating.

It was also much more serious than I expected. I was never in harms way. I never had to worry about stoploss measures. But I did go without seeing my wife and child for six months in a stretch and the first time I returned from sea my 10 month old did not recognize me. Like the disciples, it is probably good that soldiers, sailors, airmen & marines don't know what they are getting themselves into.

We should salute the folks that continue to seek out adventure, to love their country, and to have faith in their leaders. It is all the more reason to hold our leaders accountable.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


From the NYT:

Mr. Robertson, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, said in endorsing Mr. Giuliani in Washington, that he believed “the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists” and praised Mr. Giuliani as a “true fiscal conservative.”
Right, but Jesus was not a fiscal conservative, and Jesus did not advocate making war against people we think may attack us. (Not to say YHWH didn't from time to time, but Robertson claims to be a Christian.) Pat Robertson is not speaking as a Conservative who is also a Christian. He is speaking publicly and bringing with him the trappings of a church leader.

Robertson's ilk have supported pro-business, pro-war Republicans because those same people are also anti-gay and anti-choice. Fine. You can certainly read the Bible and come away anti-gay. I guess you can be anti-choice, although it takes an awfully, awfully strained reading to do so. And, I even guess, you can find those things mroe important that standing for peace and against poverty (and lets not forget justice).

But Rudy does NOT support their hateful anti-choice and anti-gay agenda. (Stop: Some people do this in a way that is not hateful, but Robertson blamed 9/11 on gay people right along with Falwell. Theirs is a hateful agenda.) And he is pro-business and extremely pro-war. And, he is a "law and order" guy, which makes me very nervous about rights for the accused, a/k/a justice, that have been viciously assaulted by the Bush administration.

At times politics requires one to make a Hobson's choice. So I can understanding holding your nose and voting for the lesser of two evils (although we've recently heard from someone here who does not accept this position), but there is no way you can endorse such a person by lending your status as a religious leader to him.

And this is my concern about progressives' principled rejection of the lesser evil. It is not a level playing field. Pat Robertson has figured out the best way to forward the power of the party that works best for him, and he will say whatever it takes to keep them in power. On the one hand, I don't want to play that game. On the other hand, I'm tired of the greater evil being in power.

The N-Word

Happily, I have only heard about this story sporadically, but it appears that Dog the Bounty Hunter is in trouble for using the n-word. (CNN Story Here.)

Is use of the n-word at all a modern equivalent of swearing an oath? What I mean is, there is something about the words and phrases that is offensive. Even if the idea is the same. In the post below, Jesus says you can obviously say yes or no. You just can't say, "I swear on my mother's eyes, this is all the money I have." (There is a Soprano's netflick waiting for me.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Seventh

I want to press on with the next requirement in the sermon because it gives us the next example of biblical requirements:

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Matthew 5:33-37

That next example is requirements that seem silly. Don't swear? One of the judges did swear to offer as a burnt offering the first thing that came up to him upon his return from a battle if God would let him win. The first thing to come up was his daughter. See Judges 11. Also weird.

So, Jesus tells us 1) Do Not Hate 2) Do Not Lust 3) Do Not Get Divorced & 4)Do Not Take Oaths.

One way to handle these dictates is to consider some more serious than others. The less serious ones are easier to disregard, particularly because they are so tied to cultural context. Another way to do it is to say that there is an essence in these teachings, more fundamental truths if you will, that is what we really need to follow. In some sense, isn't that what Jesus is saying with the entire sermon?

Of course, Jesus is providing an interpretation of the essence of the Torah, and now I'm suggesting we look for the essence of Jesus' teachings. But, we have to do something, right? Or as Christians, should we not take oaths?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pipe Bomb at Palo Verde

CNN reported on Friday that a pipe bomb was found in the bed of a pickup truck belonging to a contractor who was about to enter Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Here. The story explains that the security team discovered the device and took appropriate action.

Something I did not read in the coverage of the story that I found on line (at least in my quick review of blogs & wire stories) was how prepared nuclear plants are for this kind of thing. Long before September 11, nuclear plant employees went through devices that detected explosives on the way in to work and devices that detected radiation on the way out. The plants have highly trained professionals providing security. Not just trained in how to stop bad guys, but trained in which areas of the plant are critical for a safe shutdown.

That is the other way nuclear plants are prepared for something like this. They have redundant systems that will allow the power plant to be safely shutdown and cooled down in the event of every conceivable catastrophe. There are several places that a single bomb could go off and force the plant to shutdown. It would take several very specifically placed bombs to prevent a plant from conducting a safe shutdown and cooldown.

I think the nuclear power industry is probably one of the few to have been completely prepared for our enhanced security existence.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Sixth

The next two versus of the Sermon give me a ton of heartburn. Here they are:

"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:31-32.

Re-reading this passage today, I was first struck by some of the cultural ugliness. I would have preferred, "Don't get divorced except in the case of marital unfaithfulness." Instead, the passage makes clear that men are the ones who do the divorcing, and apparently, women are the ones who commit adultery. Notice that if the man wrongfully divorces his wife, he is not guilty of adultery but the women he remarries is. Ug.

Fine, notions of marriage and divorce are so tied up in the cultural context, it would be very difficult to discuss them without incorporating the social biases of the time. The real problem for me is the meat of the passage. Many of the people I care about are divorced. I don't know if infidelity was always involved, but I can think of other reasons for divorce. Abusiveness, overpowering and unaddressed addiction for two.

What to do?