Monday, December 15, 2014

Dirty Air, Tainted Fruit, Torture...

When I'm in the Four Corners area, I'm happy.  The rock formations are beautiful, the skies blue.

But an article in today's Los Angeles Times reports on changes to the air as a result of coal-burning power plants built in the area.

Particulates are affecting the skies and the health of people living in northwest New Mexico and eastern Arizona.  

With this new information, my sense of peace and well-being while visiting Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico will be diminished.  After all, the electricity generated is going to big cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix.  It's going to me. 

The load of guilt thickens.

I learned last week that the vegetables in my supermarkets are picked by children and their poor parents in Sinaloa, Mexico, who live in deplorable conditions, sometimes even captive to their employers.

Here's a link to the four-part story researched for months by Richard Marosi and Cecilia Sanchez with photos by Don Bartletti:

Then there was the release of information on US torture of detainees at Abu Graib and other once-secret detainment centers.  My government--through the CIA--tortured at least 39 captives over six years to try to get information on Al Qaeda after September 11, 2001.  The reports are gruesome reading.

Now I learn that my electricity comes at the cost of others' health in the Four Corners area and elsewhere.  

I don't feel able to tackle all these problems... 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Children in Mexico picking food for US

While eating leftovers from my Thanksgiving feast for 16 family members, I came across this series of four reports in the LA Times on cruel working conditions for agricultural workers in Mexico.

Many travel to Sinaloa state from other parts of Mexico to work for large growers while living in abysmal living conditions.  

Some of the workers are children, underfed and not in school.

I can't continue to buy produce from my local supermarket because I don't know where it was grown and who picked it and whether they were sleeping on concrete and having only one tortilla for breakfast.  

Here's the report in Spanish.  Forward it to everyone you know.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fighting over Prayer

Who can pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem?

At the moment, only Muslims.

In October for one day, no one could pray there.  Access was closed, a step that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called nearly a "declaration of war."

In the future, maybe both Muslims and Jews will pray there--at least that is the hope of some Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.  

But Muslims view Jewish prayer outside their mosque as an encroachment, a step toward total Jewish control of their holy site.  

Currently Jews can pray only at the Western Wall--and women are not welcome there, according to the Ultra-Orthodox.

Women rabbis are especially unwelcome.  They have to smuggle in a scroll of the Torah to pray.

For an explanation of this complicated struggle for power and prayer, see this article by Laura King, "An ominous Mideast shift":

Friday, November 21, 2014

Praying for those who kill you

It’s a little counter-intuitive, praying for those who murder you.

Two Palestinians entered a synagogue in a quiet West Jerusalem neighborhood early Tuesday morning, Nov. 18, armed with knives, meat cleavers, and a handgun.

When the “Shemah Israel” prayer began—“Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one.  You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might”—they began killing.  These words are the core of Judaism, recited in the morning and evening from Deuteronomy 6:4.

Within minutes four scholarly rabbis lay dead, leaving widows to raise 24 children. (On the tough lives of ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, see the memoir of Deborah Feldman.)

Dying nearby was a young Druze policeman whose wife is now alone to care for their four-month-old daughter. 

There were no calls for prayer for the attackers killed at the scene.

Animals,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called them.  He blamed the attack on Palestinian incitement, denying any reason behind the attack.  Last summer’s Israeli bombing of schools, hospitals, and UN civilian shelters in Gaza?  Unrelated.

Actually, his condemnation echoes the words of Hitler, who called Jews “rats” and “subhuman.”
“When people dehumanize others, they actually conceive of them as subhuman creatures,” reports David Livingstone Smith in his 2011 book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others.  This view can then “liberate aggression and exclude the target of aggression from the moral community.”

Jesus warned against dehumanizing others.  Don’t say “You fool,” he exhorts in Matthew 5:22. 
When he quotes the Shemah, he adds “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” from Leviticus 19:18.  But Leviticus specifies only “your own people” as those to whom you owe love.  Those in another group are fair game, especially if they don’t worship your god. 

Jesus radically expands the group to whom we owe love.  When a lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus focuses on who behaved like a neighbor (Luke 10:29-37).

He throws out the elaborate “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” system of Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, and Deuteronomy 19 in his Sermon on the Mount.    

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he commands instead.

We conveniently ignore these words.  Revenge is our intuitive response: wipe out enemies and fight wars if there are good reasons.

How surprising then when someone like Daryl Davis comes along, who in 1983 formed a friendship with three KKK members.  As an African-American, he was risking his own life, but over time that friendship dissolved the KKK in Maryland.

How disquieting that Mennonites, Quakers, and a few others have actually taken Jesus at his word, even refusing to take part in World War II. 

Gandhi agreed with Jesus, saying “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

A partial timeline of the last six months in Israel and Palestine demonstrates the futility of revenge: the June murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, followed by the death of a Palestinian teenager, the Gaza massacre, attacks on Jews in Jerusalem, the hanging of a Palestinian bus driver, and this week’s slaughter of the rabbis.  Jerusalem is on edge waiting for the next killing.

To end this pattern, Palestinians must have their own nation next to Israel, neither nation vowing to wipe out the other.  Yet most Israelis—supported by an editorial in the Wall Street Journal—vow that Palestinians “will never have a homeland as long as they cultivate a society that celebrates murdering the innocent in the name of religion.”  All are blamed for the acts of a few.

Extremists on both sides celebrate murdering the innocent.  Leaders on both sides condone revenge killing.  Hamas lauded the synagogue murders, and last summer most Israelis supported the bombing of civilians in Gaza.

It takes quite a leap to give up the thinking of Us versus Them.  We are the good guys, and the other side is evil.  We can do anything to them because they are evil.

The flaw in otherness thinking is that I am not completely good; my side is not 100% pure.  The others are not subhuman and completely evil.  We all live on a continuum.

“I am human,” wrote Publius Terence in about 160 BCE.  “There is nothing human that I consider alien from me.”  Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

As Jesus put it, “None of you can throw the first stone” (John 8:7).  

We can’t sentence a murderer to judgment because we too have been angry and hurt others (Matthew 5:21-48).  We’re a few steps away from the killer on that same continuum.  We can’t stone an adulterer because we too have tasted lust.

Jesus takes it a step further than just calling for an end to the cycles of revenge.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he says.  When he himself was the target, he added, “Forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 34).

Who heard these radical words and copied them down?  Who later collected and preserved them?

By the grace of God, we can find testimony today for this minority position against revenge in the words and acts of Jesus, Terence, Gandhi, Daryl Davis, and others.

By binding our hearts to Jesus and his words, we can counter our intuitive responses and lift up even our enemies to the Creator’s loving care. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Retirement--still possible?

Retirement-- a scary time in this economy.

Michael Hiltzik leads his column today with a sobering quote from Alicia H. Munnell's new book, Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What To Do about It.

"There are only three options," she writes in her new book, "Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What to Do About It." "The first is to simply accept that we are going to be poor in retirement. The second is to save more while working, which means spending less today. The third is to work longer, which means fewer years in retirement. Those are our only options."

She is director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Well, we blew item #2.  

We're working on #1, and my spouse and I both are hitting retirement at the faily early ages of 66 and 67, only partly by our own choice.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Duggar Escapee

Bill Cosby & Woody Allen

How many male celebrities does it take to turn on a light bulb in public consciousness?

One?  Such as Wood Allen?

Two?  Him and Bill Cosby?

Three?  JFK, FDR, Martin Luther King Jr.?

More than that, I guess.

Kings have had access to women's bodies for centuries, and patriarchs have owned the bodies of all women working for them.

The good news is that women are bringing the truth to light.

Powerful men can continue to exploit and rape women around them, but now they are having to own that behavior in public.  

No more secrets.