Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, July 31, 2006

“Why, we wonder, did they choose Qana yet again?” --Fouad Siniora

Allright, here is what Bush and Rice are supporting with their dithering:

Israel said the Qana raid was aimed at Hezbollah fighters firing rockets into Israel from the area, but the strike collapsed a residential apartment building, crushing Lebanese civilians who were taking shelter for the night in the basement.

There were different accounts of the death toll. Residents said as many as 60 people had been inside. News agencies reported that 56 had been killed, and that 34 of them were children. The Lebanese Red Cross, which conducted the rescue, counted 27 bodies, as many of 17 of them children. The youngest of the dead was 10 months old, and the oldest was 95. One was in a wheelchair.

One Israeli military official raised the possibility that the building collapsed hours after the strike and that munitions had been stored in it. American and Israeli officials said Israel would use the pause in air attacks to investigate.
Here is the precise statement, a bit later in the article:

The Israeli Army said that it was puzzled that the strike occurred between midnight and 1 a.m., and hit next to the building, but that the building collapsed around 7 a.m. Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel said it was at least possible that the explosion was caused by munitions stored inside the building.

“It is possible that various things were stored inside the house, things that ultimately caused an explosion,” General Eshel said.
The article points out that most of the dead were children, and the age range ran from 10 months to 95; one person was in a wheelchair.

NPR is reporting that there is no sign of Hezbollah militants among the dead, and that people there still have memories of civilians killed by Israeli bombs in 1996, per the NYT article: "a United Nations post in Qana where refugees were taking shelter, killing 100 people and wounding another 100. The attack prompted the United States to embark on eight days of shuttle diplomacy that brought about a cease-fire." The NPR report also mentions the seething anger of the people in Qana, anger that is making them want to support, not condemn, Hezbollah.

I have a memory that studies of heavy bombing in World War II found similar results; far from convincing people to surrender, or turn against their governments, the bombs angered them and steeled their resolve. Funny how we always think "we" are brave and courageous (we praise the British for their courage in the Battle of Britain, which was nothing more than a bombing campaign) but expect our enemies to be mewling cowards who will bend to our will if we simply show them enough violence. We continue to think that if we are simply the meanest SOB in the valley, we will walk unscathed through the valley of the shadow of death.

Robert Fiske puts a very human face on the valley of the shadow of death:

When I arrived there, there were a number of, maybe 20, 30 children, the corpses of children, lined up outside the government hospital, hair matted, still in their night clothes. The bomb that killed them was dropped at 1:00 in the morning. And they ran out of plastic bags. They were trying to put the children in plastic bags, their corpses, and they would put on it, you know, “Abbas Mehdi, aged seven,” and so and so, aged one, and use a kind of sticking tape on it. But then they ran out of plastic bags, so they had to put the children's corpses in a kind of cheap carpet that you can buy in the supermarkets, and they roll them up in that and then put their names on again. I was having to go around very carefully and write down, from the Arabic, their names and their ages. It would just say “Abbas Mehdi, aged seven, Qana.”

And, of course, every time I saw the “Qana,” I remember that I was actually in Qana ten years ago when the massacre occurred there then. This is the second massacre in the town whose inhabitants believe that this is the place where Jesus turned water into wine in the Bible, most of whom, 95% of whom, are Christians -- I’m sorry, are Muslims. I think all who died were Muslims. The 5% is Christians who have been there for hundreds of years, their families, because they do believe it is the Biblical Qana. There is a claimant to the rival of Qana in Galilee in northern Israel actually.

The Lebanese soldiers were trying take down the names of all who had died, but I found a man with a clipboard who had taken down 40 names, and he said that they weren't accurate, because some of the children were blown into bits and they couldn't fit them together accurately and there might be -- they couldn't put the right head on the right body, and therefore they might not be able to have an accurate list of the dead. But he was doing his best in the circumstances of war to maintain the bureaucracy of government.

One by one the children's bodies were taken away from the courtyard of the government hospital on the shoulders of soldiers and hospital workers and were put in a big refrigerated truck, very dirty, dusty truck, which had been parked just outside the hospital. The grownups, the adult dead, including twelve women, were taken out later. The children were put in the truck first. Pretty grim. As I said, the children's hair, when you could see the bodies, were matted with dust and mud. And most of them appear to have been bleeding from the nose. I assume that’s because their lungs were crushed by the bomb, and therefore they naturally hemorrhaged as they died.
"Woman," Jesus asks his mother, "what is it with you and me? It's not my time yet." John calls those miracles, beginning with the first one, semeia, signs. Christians take the sign in Cana as a sign of life and celebration and the blessing of marriage. What sign is this, then?

Meanwhile our government continues to ignore human beings and to uphold abstractions:

In Washington, the third-ranking official of the State Department, R. Nicholas Burns, said, “We are close to a political agreement between Israel and Lebanon to end this fighting.”

But he added, “We want to avoid a situation where we essentially put a Band-Aid on something.”
Israel, on the other hand, continues to insist it needs 10 to 14 more days of uninterrupted violence. And that 48 hour abatement of air strikes? Well, first, they say what they are doing now is supporting ground troops, so it isn't covered by the ban (that NPR report notes there has been no cessation in flights of IDF military aircraft); second, they've never announced the ban. The US State Department did.

A Band-Aid would stop the bleeding, and clearly our government can't have that. Without a sense of justice, they have no sense of peace.

The Bush Foreign Policy

via Thomas Merton:

We are living under a tyranny of untruth which confirms itself in power and establishes a more and more total control over men in proportion as they convince themselves they are resisting error.

Our submission to plausible and useful lies involves us in greater and more obvious contradictions, and to hide these from ourselves we need greater and ever less plausible lies. The basic falsehood is the He that we are totally dedicated to truth, and that we can remain dedicated to truth in a manner that is at the same time honest and exclusive: that we have the monopoly of all truth, just as our adversary of the moment has the monopoly of all error.

We then convince ourselves that we cannot preserve our purity of vision and our inner sincerity if we enter into dialogue with the enemy, for he will corrupt us with his error. We believe, finally, that truth cannot be preserved except by the destruction of the enemy-for, since we have identified him with error, to destroy him is to destroy error. The adversary, of course, has exactly the same thoughts about us and exactly the same basic policy by which he defends the
"truth." He has identified us with dishonesty, insincerity, and untruth. He believes that, if we are destroyed, nothing will be left but truth.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, "Truth and Violence: An Interesting Era," (New York: Doubleday 1989), p. 68.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pardon a cynical observation

cloaked in a scripture reference. First, the reference, from Luke:

Some who were there at the time told him about the Galileans, about how Pilate had mixed their blood with their sacrifices. He answered them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were the worst sinners in Galilee, because they suffered this? Hardly. However, let me tell you, if you don't have a change of heart, you'll all meet your doom in the same way. Or how about those eighteen in Siloam, who were killed when the tower fell on thm--do you suppose that they were any guiltier than the whole population of Jerusalem? Hardly. However, let me tell you, if you don't have a change of heart, all of you will meet your doom in a similar fashion.--Luke 13: 1-5, SV
Now, read the reactions to the bombing of a building in Qana, and see if you notice anything:

A Red Cross official said the Qana airstrikes hit a residential building that housed refugees, which Israel said was near Hezbollah rocket launching sites.

"I saw several bodies of children, women and old men," reported CNN's Ben Wedeman. "Residents were digging with their bare hands, taking more and more bodies out. Parts of the town were completely bombarded, as if hit by a giant mallet in many places. I was told by one Lebanese army officer that they counted more than 80 individual strikes on the town."

During an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan again called for an end to the fighting.

"We must condemn this action in the strongest possible terms," said Annan. "I am deeply dismayed that my earlier calls for immediate cessation of hostilities were not heeded, with the result that innocent life continues to be taken and innocent civilians continue to suffer. I repeat that call once again." (Full story)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking during a visit to California on Sunday, said the attack added urgency to the situation.

"What has happened at Qana shows that this is a situation that simply cannot continue," Blair told reporters after speaking with other world leaders, including Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. "I think there is a basis for an agreement that would allow us to get a U.N. resolution, but we have to get this now."

Blair said negotiations should result in "a general cessation of hostilities in a way that allows us to put an end to them for good," promising "more details" after a second discussion with Siniora.

President Bush said Sunday's events highlight the need for a lasting peace.

"Today's actions in the Middle East remind us that the United States and friends and allies must work for a sustainable peace, particularly for the sake of children," Bush said.
The Prime Minister of Lebanon, and the Secretary General of the UN, speak of loss of human life. The Prime Minister of Britain and the President of the United States, speak of geopolitical objectives. Bush and Blair do not seek peace, because they do not seek justice. They imagine themselves better than those who have died; they may even imagine some of the deaths (though obviously not those at Qana) are more heinous than others. They are wrong. They are wrong because they are not considering the people involved, and so they are not considering the needs of justice. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:

There is no peace because there is no justice. There can be no real peace and security until there be first justice enjoyed by all the inhabitants of that beautiful land. The Bible knows nothing about peace without justice, for that would be crying "peace, peace, where there is no peace". God's Shalom, peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision-making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation.
Justice is enjoyed by people. Righteousness, wholeness, fullness of life, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation: all enjoyed only by people, not by policies. There is no policy that can give those things. They come from people, and are present where justice is present; just as peace is present when justice is present. "Give the king your justice, O Lord!" cries Psalm 72. That is why. Justice allows room for God's shalom to be present. Justice, allows for people.

Which is why the people want the king to have God's justice. But when the king wants only to further his policy objectives....there is no peace. And when only a change of heart will bring justice, how can we expect justice when people are not even considered an important part of the situation crying out for peace?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Preaching to the Unchurched

This is probably no more than a patch of ice, which doth not a winter make, but even so, it is still fascinating:

Before the last presidential election, [The Rev. Gregory A. Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota] preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.
Why is this fascinating? Well, in part because it means the "Dominionists" aren't as dominant as we might be inclined to think they are. Fascinating because the decline of political influence was inevitable; fascinating because it is coming without any reference to the Jeffersonian separation of church and state, to the "wall" that should be between them. In fact, this is rooted in good old fashioned Protestantism.

Protestants carry a memory of the power of the state that is almost genetic. It's nearly like they remember the persecution of Luther; but it isn't that at all. Calvin, after all, ran Geneva as a theocracy. It's a memory more rooted in the experiences in Europe, where Catholicism as the state religion simply gave way to Calvinism or Lutheranism or Anglicanism as the state religion; and Mennonites and Baptists and others, were not welcome. So they came to America, among other things, and they accepted Jefferson's separation of church and state long before he formulated the idea (Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were both founded as places of refuge from religious persecution). As the Rev. Boyd says, "When the church conquers the world, it becomes the world." That is, in large measure, still the picture of the Roman Catholic church still carried by most Protestants: a church as corrupt as the long-gone monarchies of Europe, a church still stained by the indulgences which outraged Luther, and one as well left behind as the "Old World" itself. It's not a correct view, by any means; but it's still the position beneath the surface for most non-RC Christian Americans.

So the "Dominionist" policies of church running the world, while it may have a fine Calvinist heritage, grows in stony soil for most Americans. Not all, of course; 1000 members left Rev. Boyd's church, some probably thinking like this man:

“When we joined years ago, Greg was a conservative speaker,” said William Berggren, a lawyer who joined the church with his wife six years ago. “But we totally disagreed with him on this. You can’t be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the abortion issue. If the church were awake when abortion was passed in the 70’s, it wouldn’t have happened. But the church was asleep.”
That sentiment, of course, could as easily have come from a "progressive" Christian, concerned about the silence of the mainstream churches which, they would argue, has led us to where we are today. To which Rev. Boyd might reply:

He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into “idolatry.”
But this part I particularly appreciate:

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd’s church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a “freedom celebration.” Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending “your hard-earned money” on good causes.
I may have mentioned before that I don't like flags in churches, but most Protestant churches have them. It seems to be a post World War II phenomenon, since I've seen pictures of churches from before that war, and no national flags were on prominent display. I hosted a German pastor, a woman about my age, on a tour of UCC churches in Houston one day, and the flag in our sanctuary disturbed her, largely because of her memories of Nazism and the conflation of church and state Hitler wrought, and the Barmen Declaration opposed. I agreed with her, but her chaperone, a man of my father's generation, stridently defended the flag as a reminder of soldiers who had died for our religious liberty.

I didn't mention that no one had thought that connection a necessary one for worship in America until, apparently, the mid-20th century. Such is memory in what Gore Vidal calls the United State of Amnesia. Nor did I point out how lightly he skated over the concerns of our guest. Clearly "we" are never like "them."

But how can we allow the cross to get mixed up with fighter jets? It has happened, of course, and it will go on happening. Still, it's a good idea, once in a while, to at least stop and ask: what are we doing here? And why are we doing it? Just because an idea is promoted with particular vehemence by some, doesn't mean it is accepted with equal enthusiasm by all. 1000 members left Rev. Boyd's church; but 4000 stayed. And while I might disagree with Rev. Boyd on some points of theology, I agree completely with him on these:

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

“Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”
It might not be the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging that I would envision or try to lead; but it's a very good step in that direction. And what is most encouraging is, it seems to be working.

In the end, those who left tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, church staff members said. In their place, the church has added more members who live in the surrounding community — African-Americans, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos.

This suits Mr. Boyd. His vision for his church is an ethnically and economically diverse congregation that exemplifies Jesus’ teachings by its members’ actions. He, his wife and three other families from the church moved from the suburbs three years ago to a predominantly black neighborhood in St. Paul.
At least in this case; but that's enough for me. I don't want to change the world. I just want to find some sign that God's spirit is still working in it. The story of Rev. Boyd tells me only two things, but those two things are important. One is that the "dominionist" position will always be with us, but it won't often find much welcome. The second is that not all megachurches are built by people with marketing degrees and business goals; but many people still think they should be:

Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church’s Sunday school.

“They said, ‘You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,’ ” she said. “It was some of my best volunteers.”
We had a name for people like that, in seminary: the unchurched churched.

The Rev. Paul Eddy, a theology professor at Bethel College and the teaching pastor at Woodland Hills, said: “Greg is an anomaly in the megachurch world. He didn’t give a whit about church leadership, never read a book about church growth. His biggest fear is that people will think that all church is is a weekend carnival, with people liking the worship, the music, his speaking, and that’s it.”
Rev. Boyd and I would definitely find a lot of commonality on the issues of ecclesiology. Finally, in a line that many in left blogistan would like:

One woman asked: “So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?”

Mr. Boyd responded: “I don’t think there’s a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don’t slap the label ‘Christian’ on it.”
Amen.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Luke 19:42

Via the Mad Priest, a letter to the Anglican Communion from the Bishop in Jerusalem.

Write every elected official you know. Write to your news media. Speak to your congregation, friends, and colleagues about injustice and the threat of global war. If Syria, Iran, the United States, Great Britain,China and others enter into this war - the consequence is incalculable. Participate in rallies and forums. Find ways that you and your churches can participate in humanitarian relief efforts for the region. Contact us and let us know if you stand with us. I urge you not to be like a disciple watching from afar.

Winning Hearts and Minds

courtesy of Rick, from the comments below, the NYT tells us:

(1)At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.

(2)Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shi'ite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.

(3)The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.

(4)An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.
The numbers are mine, for this:

(1) Funny, that's how Israel took the results of Condi's meeting in Rome.

(2) Problem with "birth pang" strategies; nobody in this Administration reads Yeats: "And what rough beast, its hour come 'round at last,/Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" Even Yeats knew birth pangs didn't mean something good was necessarily coming.

(3) The Saudi royal court is not buying the "chaos is the path to order" idea.
“If the peace option is rejected due to the Israeli arrogance,” it said, “then only the war option remains, and no one knows the repercussions befalling the region, including wars and conflict that will spare no one, including those whose military power is now tempting them to play with fire.”
(4) I blame the public poetry readings. Those are clearly shrill, undermine the growth of democracy, and are evidence the Arab countries are not yet "developed" enough to handle representative government.

I actually heard an interview on NPR this morning arguing for the Bush policy, saying the region had to be "remade" in order to be pacified. What he was arguing for, of course, though he didn't say it, was the extermination of the people in those countries (he mentioned Lebanon specifically) who keep doing daft things like electing parties like Hezbollah. It really is the only way you get people in those countries to stop doing what you don't want them to do: kill the ones you deem "unreasonable." Honestly, if these people would just think like us, we wouldn't have these problems.

This is what passes for "analysis" in Washington just now. A simpler consideration is to reconsider the path of violence. When David Koresh presented a problem to the ATF, they attacked with the full power of the federal government, finally losing patience and fearing violence by unleashing violence: chaos as the path to restoring order. That led, of course, directly to the deaths of innocent men, women, and children in Oklahoma City. Chaos, effected by the keeper of order, the government, effected more chaos.

And that's the story in Iraq. And now it is the story in Lebanon. The only thing I wonder now is: why do we keep wondering where this is coming from? Why do we keep thinking we're only trying to deliver the even-numbered blow?

Never mind; I know the answer to that. That isn't even the question. The question is: what is to be done about it? And the answer is a spiritual one; not political, or psychological; or sociological; not even ecclesiological; but spiritual.

Of actions and words

There was a discussion going on here about what kind of Christians progressives should be, or even how much religion political liberals should be showing (sort of like the old days, when a lady was advised to cautiously show "a little leg"), and it prompted an early morning response from me I figured I could share here, too.

Perhaps, I offered, we should worry less about ideas, and more about actions.

I was teaching causation the other day, and had to make the point that there are two methods involved in the use of cause and effect analysis. One reasons backward from effect to determine cause; the other use cause prospectively, to predict what the effect will be.

It is very tempting to say we must carry our fight in the realm of ideas, and that our ideas must prevail, must even be proven out in the field of battle, whether that battle is physical or simply psychical (i.e, for hearts and minds). Bush is using the former reasoning in the Lebanon conflict right now, arguing inaction is better than action because of what he thinks it will produce. But actions, as we all know, speak louder than words, and inaction on a cease-fire is speaking loudly in Lebanon because of the actions of Israel and Hezbollah.

"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," they told me in seminary, and being an "idea" kind of guy, I resented that advice. I've come to realize how true it is. So maybe if we talk less about what we would do if we only could, (or, more properly, what the other guys should be doing if only they'd listen to us), and spend more time simply doing, whether our doing is legislative, or ecclesiastical, or communal, or simply personal, we could be judged by our actions, instead of argued with about our ideas. We could, in other words, be perceived retrospectively, the effect already present, the cause examined in light of our effects, rather than prospectively, the effect as yet un-effected, the cause constantly up for debate and re-consideration.

Better, after all, to light a candle...

Requiem

Pie Jesu
Qui tolles peccata mundi
Dona eis requiem

Agnus Dei
Qui tolles peccata mundi
Dona eis requiem

Thursday, July 27, 2006

You push the first one down, and the music goes 'round and 'round...

Funny, but I was just teaching this yesterday:


Q Yes, but you just said a moment ago that it would be -- it would not be an enforceable cease-fire. How do you know until you have a cease-fire? Why not get a cease-fire, and then if Hezbollah does not follow it, the world community sees that they're to blame.

MR. SNOW: In other words, why not -- because we are -- because what you're asking for is a PR move rather than a strategic move. The question of why not --

Q Why would it be PR if people are not dying?

MR. SNOW: No, no, no, wrong. Again, Hezbollah is firing, what, 150, 200 rockets a day. Do you seriously believe they're going to stop if somebody in Rome says there's going to be a cease-fire?

Q Nobody knows until you do it, right?

MR. SNOW: No, no, no, don't play "what if." That is naive, Ed, it's naive.

Q You're playing "what if" by saying it's not enforceable. You don't know that. Nobody knows that.

MR. SNOW: Yes, we do. Yes, we do. Yes, we do.

Q Well, then, if it's not enforceable, at that point, the whole world will see Hezbollah is not playing by the same --

MR. SNOW: How many times do peace efforts have to fail? Do you really -- apparently, what you're saying is it didn't make us happy because we expected a cease-fire. What Secretary Rice went for was to get people to roll up their sleeves and take a realistic look at the region. And that's important.
I was trying to explain to a Freshman English class about causation as an essay writing strategy. You see, there are basically two ways to use causation: either retrosptectively as an analytical tool (working backward from effect to determine cause(s)), or prospectively, as a predictive tool (what effect would this causal agent likely produce?). The idea of a cease-fire between Lebanon and Israel of course came to mind. And here's Tony Snow giving a class in exactly how not to use the latter.

The reporter sees the blunder, of course: you can't make a prediction that something won't work until you have tried it. David Hume made the point about causation in general, that we only know effect and we presume cause, and from such experience we then predict (but think we are assuming) effect from a cause that has not yet occurred. It's a subtle point of empiricism, but Mr. Snow is trying to use it in the real world, and so he stumbles. Because the reporter is right: if we don't try to effect a cease-fire, we can't say it won't work. If it fails, nothing is really lost. If it succeeds, people stop dying.

But to Mr. Snow, clearly if a cease-fire succeeds, the Administration's efforts to "remake the Middle East" will fail. (What Condi Rice calls "birth pangs" others call a "humanitarian crisis." "Diplomatic Disneyland" indeed.) There is, of course, a cause and effect relationship at work here, and the Bush Administration is relying on it. But the effect they want is a "remade Middle East," something they still imagine they have the power to create. Violence is their unrelenting cause; but it is still not having the desired effect. Interestingly, that seems to be a point even US Senators can grasp:


Senator Chafee started off reading a Bolton statement that he made in the past where Bolton essentially blamed terrorism as the fundamental problem in the Middle East. Chafee said to Bolton: "You are a brilliant man. Terrorism is a device. Your statement makes no sense. Explain it."

Bolton gave a long and convoluted response but also stated: "There is no basis for peace in the Middle East now." He suggested that one of the reasons why the U.S. has resisted calls for immediate cease fire in the region is that it wants to generate a "comprehensive solution". He said "we need to use current circumstances as a fulcrum to move towards a more stable, longer term solution."

Chafee jumped back: "Can't you go any deeper? This isn't just terrorism. What about the history of terrorism in the region? What are the root causes?"

Bolton continued to duck the question. And jumped back to focus his answer on Hezbollah -- which he said has one foot in as political party, one foot in as military movement and that it would have to abandon its military part for peace to move forward.

Bolton sounded reasonable but still ducked Chafee's question.

So Chafee charged AGAIN.

Chafee said, "We have serious problems now. This is a conflagration. You are not answering my question. What are the root problems? What do we have to get to -- to get to a permanent peace? Is there anything deeper than just terrorism that you can identify as the root cause of the conflagration?

Bolton finally began to yield to Chafee's impressive pressure and focus.
I'm only sorry I didn't get to see that.

Continued violence is simply not the answer; that seems obvious to everyone except the Bush team. I was listening to a local radio program this morning that mentioned a study which gets to the psychology of this. It seems almost universal in human culture that one blow answering for another is deemed "legitimate." Even-numbered responses, in other words, provide recompense and balance, if not finality and conclusion. They should provide that, of course, but they don't. And why not? Because the "even-number" is not objectively determined. "He started it!" is the legitimating cry, but it too often overlooks the entire complex causal chain, and begins instead where one party wants it to begin. So we have, for example, Amb. Bolton's statement that some parties in the Middle East "don't recognize Israel's right to exist." Could that be, perhaps, because Israel's existence was born, not out of agreement, but out of a brute exercise of power?

Probably.

The analysis goes on, but much of it centers on what we could theologically call "original sin," which I would define as "selfishness." It seems we are all but incapable of returning a blow with a similar blow; we usually percieve the hurt we give as minor, the one we recieve as major. And so the "even-numbered blow" is again never even, because you hit me harder than I hit you; so I get one more, to make us "even." And while I am quite aware of how I feel and perceive the situation, I know what you think only from what you do (where speech, too, is simply a behavior, not absolute evidence of your perception). On and on it goes, then; and no breaking it unless we find a magic formula that makes us all think alike. Maybe "reason" would be the cure! That, at least, was the hope of the Enlightenment. And that experiment as begun, oh, how many centuries ago now?

Are we there yet?

Analysis is helpful, then; and bad analysis is revealing, too. Opposition to this nonsense must increase. Sen. Chafee may have started a ball rolling, or he may pull an Arlen Specter and retreat from what seemed like a good beginning. Time will tell. But the issue of cause and effect, while it is a central one to empirical thinking, and to human experience, is not our sole guide to behavior. We will have to think a bit harder than that, and delve a bit deeper than even th human psyche for answers. Becuase, to be honest, while I found that report and the studies it was based on to be interesting, I also found myself thinking: "Well, duh!"

And then I thought: "Are we there, yet? And if not, why not?" And I think I know the answer to that. But it brings the condemnation of secular left blogistan down on my head (if they even notice me) to say it.

"Where do you tell me to send that sinful brother whom you sentenced?

A brother sinned and the presbyter ordered him to go out of church. But Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, I, too, am a sinner.'


When Isaac of the Thebaid visited a community, he saw that one of the brothers was sinful, and passed sentence on him. But when he was returning to his cell in the desert, the angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door of his cell, and said, 'I will not let you go in.' He asked, 'Why not? The angel of the Lord replied, 'God sent me to ask you: "Where do you tell me to send that sinful brother whom you sentenced?'" At once Isaac repented, saying, 'I have sinned, forgive me.' The angel said, 'Get up, God has forgiven you. In future take care to judge no man before God has judged him.'


Joseph asked Poeman, 'Tell me how to become a monk.' He said, 'If you want to find rest in this life and the next, say at every moment, "Who am I?" and judge no one.'

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Separated at birth?

The governments of Israel and America, that is. Having seen the success with the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, Israel apparently thinks it will achieve the same goal in Lebanon.

Certainly Israel has it's own "insurgency" in its "last throes":

A week ago, Israeli officials said their military had knocked out up to half of Hezbollah’s rocket launchers and suggested that another week or two would finish the job of incapacitating the Lebanese militia. That talk has largely stopped.

Hezbollah is still launching 100 rockets a day at Israel, nearly as many as it did at the start of the war. Soldiers return from forays into Lebanon saying the network of bunkers and tunnels is more sophisticated than expected. And Iranian-made long-range missiles apparently capable of hitting Tel Aviv remain in the Hezbollah arsenal.

“Two weeks after Israel set out to defeat Hezbollah, its military achievements are pretty limited,” lamented Yoel Marcus, a columnist and supporter of the war, in the daily Haaretz on Tuesday.

Israeli military commanders say they are not surprised. The struggle is so difficult, they say, because Hezbollah is an organized, well-trained and well-equipped force and is fighting hard.
I'm sure they'll have no trouble getting that "international force" into southern Lebanon. After all, the US has had so much success getting international troops into Iraq.

Dare we call it "lebensraum"?*

Hate to say "I told you so," but, with minor variations, I told you so:

Almost two weeks into its military assault on Hezbollah, Israel said Tuesday that it would occupy a strip inside southern Lebanon with ground troops until an international force could take its place.

The announcement raised the prospect of a more protracted Israeli involvement in Lebanon than the political and military leadership previously signaled or publicly sought.
And how long with the "international force" have to be there? Until Lebanon wises up and refuses to democratically elect Hezbollah to its Parliament? (No, that wasn't the provoking cause of this, but let's be realistic: this "solution" won't make Hezbollah go away).

How many other countries on Israel's borders will they want the same solution for? And does this mean the "two-state solution" for Palestine is deader than the dodo?

Magic 8 Ball tells me "Signs point to yes".

By the way, it's not an occupation, because:

They said the zone would be much smaller than the strip of southern Lebanon roughly 15 miles deep that Israel occupied for nearly two decades before withdrawing in 2000.
Anybody remember who forced Israel to leave even that much of Lebanon in 2000? Why should an "international force" have more luck staying there? Or more reason to?


*I realize that title is grossly unfair, but this entire situation has reached such a level of absurdity, I wonder if the entire world hasn't gone mad.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tough Minded Optimism

Came across this via The Mad Priest in a roundabout way (well, through the link here, actually), and I just like it.

A worthy descendent of Beowulf and The Dream of the Rood and even Caedmon's Hymn.

Ah, to be a pilgrim.

LIGHT AND GUIDANCE

O thou eternal Light, towards whose quickening dawn have moved the peoples that walked in darkness, rise with thy radiance upon the souls which here await thee.

By the visions of ancient seers who beheld thy power moving within the veil of earthly things,
TEACH US TO LIVE AS SEEING THE INVISIBLE.

By the voices of holy prophets who discerned the signs of their times and foretold the doom that follows wrong,
AROUSE US TO SEE AND OVERCOME THE EVILS OF TODAY.

By the mind that was in Christ Jesus, compassionate, free in thought, steadfast in purpose, stayed on thee,
AWAKEN IN US ALSO A GENEROUS MIND AND A BOLD VISION.

By the self-sacrifice of saints and apostles, martyrs and missionaries, who counted not the cost to themselves, if only they might testify to thy grace,
INSPIRE US TO FIND IN COMMON LIFE THE PATHS OF HIGH DEVOTION.

By the joy and praise of the Church universal, by every prayer for light in shrines of whatsoever faith, in east or west or north or south,
KINDLE IN OUR HEARTS THE FAITH THAT SHALL BE A LIGHT UPON OUR WAY AND A SONG UPON OUR LIPS.

By the labors of all who show forth thy wonderful works, searching out thy law in nature, fashioning forms of beauty, skillful in industry, wise in statecraft, gentle in parenthood, gifted with insight,
ENLARGE ALL OUR BEING WITH THE FULLNESS OF THY DIVINE LIFE, THAT IN THY LIGHT WE MAY SEE LIGHT AND BECOME MINISTERS OF THY LOVE BROUGHT NEAR.

O God, Fountain of light and truth, give to thy Church a new vision and a new charity, new wisdom and understanding, that the eternal message of thy Son, no longer confused by the traditions of men, may be hailed as the good news of this age; through him who maketh all things new, Jesus Christ our Lord.
AMEN.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends

I'm starting to realize what the goal is for Israel. I would rather be wrong, but I don't think I am.

Israel was driven out of Lebanon by Hezbollah in 2000. By all accounts, the occupation of Lebanon was a disaster, and Israel is not anxious to do it again. But Israel cannot defeat Hezbollah unless it occupies Lebanon. That is the upshot of this proposal that only "neutral force" of combat troops patrolling the region of southern Lebanon can stop the violence.

Hezbollah clearly prepared for this war. And while Israel is inflicting massive damage, it's mostly on Lebanese civilians. The position of the Bush Administration, in the face of even it's closest allies, is that there is no place for "terrorists groups" like Hezbollah to attack Israel from Lebanon. Israel is still fighting along the border, and yet the IDF doesn't seem to have made a dent in Hezbollah's ability to respond.

Israel has already made 750,000 Lebanese into refugees. They dare not try to occupy Lebanon again. They won't leave Hezbollah in Lebanon. They can't eliminate Hezbollah. Their only alternative is to turn southern Lebanon into a permanent battlefield, one which they can shell with impunity whenever the urge strikes them. And I seriously think that is what they plan to do. Which is why they keep talking about the strikes going on for a "long time."

What other ending could Israel and the Bush Administration be envisioning?

Not that I'm a fan of Tony Blair

But can we get Bush to be his lapdog just now?

"We deeply regret the loss of innocent life in the Lebanon and Israel," [Prime Minister Blair] said, standing alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki after talks in Downing Street.

"At some point in the next few days I hope we can say very clearly what our plan is to bring about the immediate end of hostilities."

Mr Blair said: "I want to make one thing very clear - we are working very hard to put in place a plan that will allow the immediate cessation of hostilities. Of course we are all concerned to see this on both sides.

"It's important that it happens because what's occurring at the present time in the Lebanon is a catastrophe. It's damaging that country and its fragile democracy but it's important we deal with the reasons why this conflict has come about."

But he stressed: "If it is to stop it has to stop on both sides."

Mr Blair continued: "What is needed first of all is a short-term plan to bring the hostilities to an end. Long term there is only one solution in this and that is to sort out the underlying reasons why this has come about."

He said that would involve a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian question but "equally to make sure those in the region who want to de-stabilise stop de-stabilising whether it's in Iraq, Lebanon or Palestine or anywhere else in the region".

Mr Blair insisted: "I want the killing to stop. I want the killing to stop on both sides, but it's not going to happen on both sides unless we have a plan to make it."
I have not heard that kind of language, about "killing," "regrets," or even a "solution," from Bush, Rice, or Bolton. Rice and Bolton have specifically rejected any "short-term plan to bring the hostilities to an end." Even Tony Snow can only talk in terms of abstractions and blame.

Holden is right. Bush is a warmonger. He loves the killing field. The only thing I don't understand, is why.

STRENGTH AND COMFORT

O Lord, who knowest our frame and rememberest that we are dust, pity those who are bearing pain and sorrow. Cheer those who are worn by constant care. Strengthen the faith of the dying and comfort the bereaved with thy compassion. Deliver the souls of those who are bound in the chain of their own misdeeds, and send thy peace and joy to all who are oppressed by the burden of the world's sin. Bringing all our sins and sorrows, we lay them before thee, in the Name of our Redeemer.
HEAVENLY FATHER, HEAR US.

Most holy and most merciful God, the strength of the weak, the rest of the weary, the comfort of the sorrowful, the Saviour of the sinful, and the refuge of thy children in every time of need, hear us while we pray for thy help.
HEAVENLY FATHER, HEAR US.

When our faith is growing weak, and our love is growing cold, and we are losing the vision of thy face, and the spiritual world is not real to us,
HEAVENLY FATHER, HELP US.

When we are tempted to mean and wicked ways, and sin grows less sinful in our sight; when duty is difficult and work is hard, and our burdens are heavy,
HEAVENLY FATHER, HELP US.

When the unknown future troubles us, and in our fears and anxieties we forget the eternal love and mercy; and when the last darkness shan close around us, and heart and flesh fail, and vain is the help of man,
HEAVENLY FATHER, HELP us.

O God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright, grant to us such strength and protection as may sustain us in all dangers and carry us through all trials.
HEAVENLY FATHER, HELP us.

O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then of thy tender mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
AMEN.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Suffer the little children

In this NPR report, a 14 year old boy and an 8 month old baby are hospitalized with severe burns. They are in Tyre, Lebanon trying to comply with Israel's threats to leave or be killed.

As the reporter says, leaving is a very dangerous proposition, as Israeli jets are clearly targeting vehicles. (There is more here, from the Guardian.)

Wonder where on the spectrum of "civilianality" Professor Dershowitz would put an 8 month old and a 14 year old. I'm assuming the teenager is probably more culpable than the infant, in his moral universe. Which is a place I hope never to so much as visit.

Working out salvation

Having grown up in Southern Baptist dominated East Texas, which left me with the strong impression that whatever those Christians did this Christian wanted nothing to do with (which, yes, is actually very childish), I must confess a need to still do mental gymnastics to get around to some acceptance level with the concept of "sin" (I don't, for example, accept it as the universal condition of humankind, which makes me very unorthodox theologically, but far closer, I think, to what Paul understood; this, of course, is a matter of debate itself, and yet you can see where the mental gymnastics start). So when I read this:

THE Bishop of London has declared it sinful for people to contribute to climate change by flying on holiday, driving a “gas-guzzling” car or failing to use energy-saving measures in the home, writes Jonathan Leake.
I flinched. But then I realized two things: (1)the newspaper called it a "sin," not the Bishop; and (2) it's a moral question, and as such one not far removed from the existential morality of Jean-Paul Sartre, who argued that when we choose, we choose not just for ourselves, but for all mankind, a burden Sartre thought both unbearable, and unavoidable.

You can understand why Sartre was so concerned with freedom.

Because this is the reasoning behind the call, one I can't but agree with:

Richard Chartres will encourage vicars to preach more green sermons and warn congregations that it is now a moral obligation for Christians to lead eco-friendly lifestyles.

Chartres, who chairs the bishops’ panel on the environment, said: “There is now an overriding imperative to walk more lightly upon the earth and we need to make our lifestyle decisions in that light.

“Making selfish choices such as flying on holiday or buying a large car are a symptom of sin. Sin is not just a restricted list of moral mistakes. It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions.”
When we choose, we choose for everyone. It does make the command "Go, and sin no more" quite a bit trickier, but only because it turns us away from "sin=breaking God's arbitrary and complex laws" to "sin=selfishness." Which certainly returns us to working out our own salvation with fear and trembling; and that, I am sure, is a good thing. If only because it means I spend less time worrying about what you are up to.

COMPASSION

Almighty Father, who in the afflictions of thy people art thyself afflicted, and art full of compassion and tender mercy, hear us as we pray for those who suffer, for those who bear the pains of childbirth or sickness, for the aged and the dying.
WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, GOOD LORD.

For all who are hindered in the race of life through no fault of their own; for the defective and the delicate; and for those who have been maimed and disabled,
HEAR OUR PRAYER, GOOD LORD.

For those whose livelihood is insecure; for the hungry, the homeless, and the destitute; for those who are downtrodden and in despair,
HEAR OUR PRAYER, GOOD LORD.

For thy little children, whose surroundings hide from them thy love and thy beauty; for all the fatherless and motherless; and for the unwanted,
HEAR OUR PRAYER, GOOD LORD.

For those who have to bear their burdens alone; for those who are in doubt and anguish of soul; for those who suffer through their own wrongdoing,
HEAR OUR PRAYER, GOOD LORD.

For all who do not pray for themselves; for all who have not the con-solation of the prayers of others; and for all whose anguish is unrelieved by the knowledge of thy love,
HEAR OUR PRAYER, GOOD LORD.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ went about doing good and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people, continue, we beseech thee, this his gracious work among us, especially in the hospitals and infirmaries here and in foreign lands; cheer, heal, and sanctify the sick; grant to the physicians, surgeons, and nurses wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience; and assist with thy blessing all who are seeking to prevent suffering and to further thy purposes of love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
AMEN

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Not all the monsters are in the movies

The truly revolting thing about this argument is not that it conflates legal culpability with moral responsibility:

No rational person would suggest that any of these people were entirely free of moral guilt, although reasonable people might disagree about the legal guilt of those in the last two categories. Their accountability for rape is surely a matter of degree, as is the accountability for terrorism of those who work with the terrorists.

It will, of course, be difficult for international law — and for the media — to draw the lines of subtle distinction routinely drawn by domestic criminal law. This is because domestic law operates on a retail basis — one person and one case at a time. International law and media reporting about terrorism tend to operate on more of a wholesale basis — with body counts, civilian neighborhoods and claims of collective punishment.
A blind man can see where this is going: Israel is never wrong! Israel must be able to defend itself, however it chooses to do so! And how do we get to this clear recognition of Israel's purity of heart?

...the recognition that "civilianality" is often a matter of degree, rather than a bright line, should still inform the assessment of casualty figures in wars involving terrorists, paramilitary groups and others who fight without uniforms — or help those who fight without uniforms.
"Informs"? Does he mean makes it easier to take when a loved one is blown up by a guided missile, or a Hezbollah rocket? The latter, of course, are victims of terrorism, in Dershowitz' moral universe; the former may carry moral responsibility for their own deaths, depending entirely on how they spin it:

Hezbollah and Hamas militants, on the other hand, are difficult to distinguish from those "civilians" who recruit, finance, harbor and facilitate their terrorism. Nor can women and children always be counted as civilians, as some organizations do. Terrorists increasingly use women and teenagers to play important roles in their attacks.

The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims.

If the media were to adopt this "continuum," it would be informative to learn how many of the "civilian casualties" fall closer to the line of complicity and how many fall closer to the line of innocence.
Culpability is assigned after the fact. Those who stay behind, like the rooftop victims of Katrina in New Orleans, are responsible for their own problems; it's no longer the government's responsibility to save them. Likewise, Israel has discharged its moral charge by warning people to leave the neighborhood. Those who don't, have shifted the moral burden of their deaths to their own shoulders. If we can just get the media to report it that way, we can comfort ourselves that Israel has not killed nearly 10 times as many Lebanese as Hezbollah has killed Israelis: after all, those Lebanese were not "innocent victims." Their deaths don't matter. Not to us, anyway; and our concerns are the only ones that matter, aren't they? The friends, family, neighbors of those killed? Well, who cares what they think.

Once we eliminate "innocence" from our vocabulary through such cynical sophistry, we can rest comfortably on our bed of bones.

Well, who'da thunk it?

I have friends who attended Baylor University, in Texas. So I knew, years ago (decades? probably) about the struggle between Baylor and the Southern Baptist Convention, when the SBC decided it should control who taught at Baylor, and what was taught. But Baylor was chartered before there was a Southern Baptist Convention, and it said "No thank you" and severed its ties with the Convention.

Now that seems to have turned into a pandemic:

Georgetown [College, a small Baptist liberal arts institution in Kentucky] is among a half-dozen colleges and universities whose ties with state Baptist conventions have been severed in the last four years, part of a broad realignment in which more than a dozen Southern Baptist universities, including Wake Forest and Furman, have ended affiliations over the last two decades. Georgetown’s parting was ultimately amicable. But many have been tense, even bitter.
Why? Very simple:

“The convention itself in its national and state organizations has moved so far to the right that previous diversity on the faculty and among the trustees is no longer possible,’’ said Bill Leonard, dean of the Divinity School at Wake Forest. “More theological control of the curriculum and the faculty has been the result.’’

David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory, put it more starkly. “The real underlying issue is that fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form is incompatible with higher education,’’ Professor Key said. “In fundamentalism, you have all the truths. In education, you’re searching for truths.’’
This is directly related to the so-called "crisis" in mainline denominations, the one where "liberal" churches are supposedly losing members because they are "out of touch" with what people want.

The last straw at Georgetown College was a suggestion that the Religion Dept. consider hiring someone who interpreted the Bible literally. How literally?

"You ought to have some professor on your faculty who believes Adam and Eve were the first humans, that they actually existed," Dr. York [then President of the Kentucky Baptist Convention] said.
As the President of the college said: "I sat for 25 years and watched my denomination become much more narrow and, in terms of education, much more interested in indoctrination."

This is sadly ironic, because I remember Baptist evangelical ministers speaking with pride about their preacher sons who planned to get Ph.D.'s from Harvard. They wanted their children to have good educations. They were clearly quite proud of what it said about their children, and didn't seem to fear any diminution of their faith. Sadly, that no longer seems to be the dominant sentiment.

But is it the dominant sentiment in America? Does the majority of people want colleges that simply idocrinate? Or colleges that educate? I know a lot of people who attend Baptist churches; I don't know any of them who are opposed to a good education. This is not strictly an issue for many people beyond college faculties; but it indicates that the simple dichotomy of good "conservative" churches v. bad "liberal" churches really doesn't hold up to scrutiny. The hard-core "conservatives" have less support than they imagine they do. What they've gotten good at is controlling certain institutions, largely through political manipulation. But that reach has its limits. When the Church of Meaning and Belonging begins to ask for sacrifices of its own, it finds out what those limits are. We quickly come back to that issue of the "consent of the governed."

PEACE AND FELLOWSHIP AMONG THE NATIONS

(from The Hymnal of the E&R Church)

Our heavenly Father, who hast declared that all the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of thy Son, bless all the races of mankind, banishing from among them all hatred and enmity, purging them of all pride and vainglory, delivering them from all lust for power and greed for gain.. Incline the hearts of all peoples to open their gates to the Lord of lords, and King of kings, that he may enter into their cities, their churches, and their homes, to dwell there and to govern all things by his Word and Spirit. So may justice, mercy, and peace prevail throughout the world, and thy Name be glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
AMEN.

O God, the Lord of might and love, control the nations of mankind by thy gracious power, and make them to long for the reign of good will in the earth.
HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER.

Guide the hearts and minds of all who govern, that they may seek first thy kingdom, and bring forth justice for all nations, whether small or great.
HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER.

May the children of our own and every land grow up in hatred of war and in love of peace; and, renouncing all self-seeking, may they devote their lives to the service of Christ in the upbuilding of a righteous and peaceful world.
HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER.

Save us from the spirit which leads to strife, from the temper which refuses to forgive, from the ill will that has no wish to forget, and from lack of faith in thy power to change the hearts of men.
HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER.

Grant thy Holy Spirit to those who bear on their hearts the burden of the world's sin and pain; prosper their work for the welfare of human life, and inspire them with wise judgment, that they may build a brotherhood of nations in the fatherhood of God.
HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER, AND GRANT US PEACE. AMEN.

I only want to say

if there is a way...

War is death. It's bereavement. It's mothers lamenting their children. It's devastation. It's destruction. It's an ugly human phenomenon. War encompasses feelings of hate, revenge, nationalism. It brings out the worst in mankind. War is the opposite of the desire to live, to love, to raise children, to create.

Since Israel was founded we've lived this. It is already difficult to count all the wars, military interventions, and military operations of different sorts. For almost sixty years already we have been living by the sword. Even so, the Israeli public believes that our nation seeks peace, that our hand is always outstretched for peace, and that only our bloodthirsty enemies force wars on us. Theoretically, it's true: there is not a single Israeli who won't swear that he seeks peace. In practice, our self examination reveals blood.
So perhaps there is. If Bush doesn't speak for all of America, and Olmert doesn't speak for all of Israel....

From Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, via the Salty Vicar (who has the whole thing, and whom I found via the Mad Priest).

Oh....

I was going to say "Who is he talking to?"

This morning on the Today Show, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow argued that “nobody has been more diplomatically active than we have” in the Middle East, citing all the phone calls White House officials have made in recent days
Then I read the transcript.

MATT LAUER: Alright, let’s talk about the Secretary of State. She’s going to travel to the region next week. Critics say it’s too little too late, what’s your response?

TONY SNOW: The critics got it wrong. The United States has been very actively engaged on the diplomatic front ever since the beginning of this. Secretary Rice has spoken repeatedly with leaders throughout the region. The President has been picking leaders and speaking with leaders who are not only in the neighborhood, but in the position to provide leverage and influence over the governments who are chiefly responsible for supporting Hezbollah, that would be Iran and Syria. He’s spoken with the King of Saudi Arabia, he’s spoken with the King of Jordan, he’s spoken with the President of Egypt, he’s spoken with the prime minister of Turkey. Every day the departments of state and defense are on the phone with colleagues throughout the region, every day the national security advisor.

So what I’m saying here is that people are talking about too little too late in diplomacy, they may not be keeping the scorecard. But the fact is, nobody has been more diplomatically active than we have.
"Diplomacy" means, of course, we've been talking to Israel and urging them on.

And the GOP thinks Bolton is doing such a good job, they want to hold a new hearing on his nomination. I know the Israeli lobby is the only one more zealous than the anti-Castro lobby; but are we reall this insane?

Nothing I'm hearing on NPR, CNN, or reading in the New York Times indicates the whole country is crazy about what Israel is doing. For example, the NYTimes reports tonight that Bush has expedited the delivery of precision guided bombs to Israel, presumably the better to target Lebanese neighborhoods. And, the article notes, no real attempt at diplomacy is even being made:

The decision to stay away from Arab countries for now is a markedly different strategy from the shuttle diplomacy that previous administrations used to mediate in the Middle East. “I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante,” Ms. Rice said Friday. “I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling around, and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do.”
I don't think anyone is fooled by this. It's clear Bush just wants more war, and even though we aren't involved in it militarily, and while Bolton may well be confirmed (who in the electorate really cares who the UN Ambassador is?), I don't think this is a big winner for Bush or the GOP.

And still it gets worse and worse....

Implicit in the eventual diplomatic package is a cease-fire. But a senior American official said it remained unclear whether, under such a plan, Hezbollah would be asked to retreat from southern Lebanon and commit to a cease-fire, or whether American diplomats might depend on Israel’s continued bombardment to make Hezbollah’s acquiescence irrelevant.
Quelle surprise.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Winning Hearts and Minds

Meanwhile, in the "other" war:

Four U.S. soldiers accused of murdering suspected insurgents during a raid in
Iraq said they were under orders to "kill all military age males," according to sworn statements obtained by The Associated Press.

The soldiers first took some of the men into custody because they were using two women and a toddler as human shields. They shot three of the men after the women and child were safe and say the men attacked them.

"The ROE (rule of engagement) was to kill all military age males on Objective Murray," Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard told investigators, referring to the target by its code name.

That target, an island on a canal in the northern Salahuddin province, was believed to be an al-Qaida training camp. The soldiers said officers in their chain of command gave them the order and explained that special forces had tried before to target the island and had come under fire from insurgents.
It isn't a question of guilt or innocence. The story, if true, would seem to justify the force used.

But an order to "kill all military age males" is a bit chilling. If that's the level of force deemed necessary, we've already lost that battle. And probably the war for hearts and minds, too.

Remind me again why we are still there.

"I can connect/Nothing with nothing"

Everything I've ever had to say about power is summed up in this analysis:

"The president believes that unless you address the root causes of the violence that has afflicted the Middle East, you cannot forge a lasting peace," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. "He mourns the loss of every life. Yet out of this tragic development, he believes a moment of clarity has arrived."
In other words, you must meet violence with violence. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, because I know I'm the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley!" if we just kill enough of them, the killing will stop. It's the same chop-logic that continues to promote the death penalty in Texas, with few or no chances for pardons: if we just kill enough murderers, the rest of them will get the idea, and stop murdering. When we do it, it's an execution. When they do it, it's murder.

Israel has killed almost 1o times as many Lebanese civilians as Hezbollah has killed Israelis, per the latest reports. There is no question this is precisely what Bush wants.

I just wish that were unusual for an American president. But it isn't. And, perversely, the more the world complains, the more certain Bush is of his position:

One former senior administration official said Bush is only emboldened by the pressure from U.N. officials and European leaders to lead a call for a cease-fire. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan demanded yesterday that the fighting in Lebanon stop.

"He thinks he is playing in a longer-term game than the tacticians," said the former official, who spoke anonymously so he could discuss his views candidly. "The tacticians would say: 'Get an immediate cease-fire. Deal first with the humanitarian factors.' The president would say: 'You have an opportunity to really grind down Hezbollah. Let's take it, even if there are other serious consequences that will have to be managed.' "
Don't you love the idea that making half a million refugees is just a consequence that has to be "managed." Does no one in the Administration remember that Hezbollah came into existence as one of the "serious consequences" of Israel's first invasion of Lebanon? Where does this idea of "management through violence" find its foothold in reality?

And now we see the situation on the American Gulf Coast is no accident, no failure of imagination, not a sign of incompetence; it's intentional. A President who thinks "serious consequences" like 500,000 refugees can just be managed, is a President who is unimpressed by the destruction of an entire American city. Clearly, what is most important is that private enterprise be vindicated and political enemies, like the largely Democratic blacks in New Orleans, be punished. Serious consequences will be managed later.

"There needs to be a signal that the Bush administration is prepared to do something," said Larry Garber, the executive director the New Israel Fund, which pushes for civil rights and justice in Israel. "Taking a complete hands-off, casual-observer position undermines our credibility. . . . There is a danger that we will be seen as simply doing Israel's bidding."
I think we've already passed that point of no-return:*

Asked on NBC's "Today" show whether Washington was trying to discourage Israel from notions about a ground invasion, Snow replied: "We have not been doing military collaboration or planning with the Israelis. But what we have been doing instead is urging the Israelis to use restraint."

He urged patience with the administration's methodical approach, saying "the people who are talking about too little, too late, they may not be keeping the diplomatic scorecard."

"Everybody who wants this kind of egg-timer diplomacy, who thinks, OK these things ought to happen quickly, you don't understand human nature," Snow said.
When the Bush Administration is lecturing the world on "human nature," it is a matter of the gravest concern. If I may steal a line from DAS:

Bush's claims to moral authority would be laughable if so many deaths were not resulting -- because he has no moral claim to any kind of authority.
DAS


*As I was saying update (link courtesy of Holden):

Q Mr. President, what do you hope Secretary Rice accomplishes on her trip to the Middle East, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm going to talk to her tomorrow when I -- Sunday, when I get back to the White House. We're going to have a good visit.

Q What do you hope she accomplishes, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I said I would talk to her tomorrow.

END 11:38 A.M. MDT
And if there is any doubt remaining, no, there won't be a ceasefire coming from Condi's trip:

The United States — which has resisted calls to press its ally to halt the fighting — was sending Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice to the Mideast on Sunday. She ruled out a quick cease-fire as a "false promise" and said "Hezbollah is the source of the problem."
"Leave the dead to bury the dead" springs to mind, but only sarcastically. But then I consider that Bush may well imagine he is proclaiming the kingdom of God; and even sarcasm pales in that light.

Signs and Wonders

I had my own problems with the "Dominionists" growing up Presbyterian in Southern Baptist East Texas. Of course, it was due to them that I turned to Kierkegaard at such a young age, seeking a grounding for my own theological that was not an "evangelical" one. So I don't complain about them as much anymore, and try not to identify myself in opposition to them. But that was a revelation that was a long time in coming; in fact, I didn't fully make it until seminary.

While I was there, "Just-Us Texas" declared its independence from Texas and the U.S., a minor incident that perplexed my fellow students and the seminary faculty ("What kind of people are these Texans?" they wondered). So it was a minor embarassment to me, but it made me slowly realize: "Just-us Texas" had a world-view that almost no one else shared, and one that they, ultimately, couldn't share with us. Trying to reason with them required a common ground which, on this issue of political philosophy, on the legitimacy of government, we simply didn't share. One might as well discuss metaphysics with a cat, I realized (let me say, by the way, that I think cats have a far better grasp of metaphysics than we do, but that's another story).

I turned this insight to the "fundamentalists" and "conservative" Christians I had known, mostly some stripe of American "evanglical" (I keep putting that word in quotes because I come out of the Evangelical & Reformed branch of the UCC, and the E&R was anything but "evangelical" in the way we usually understand that word. Back in the day, it referred to the messenger of the good news, not the obnoxious Christian demanding to know if you have been properly "saved"). Some of my seminary professors were openly dismissive of the people I had grown up with; but even as I felt free to reject them, I also felt they were "my people," and it was a special privilege to speak of them disparagingly. I recognized the hyposcrisy of that stance, of course, but was a long time letting go of it. I finally did when I realized that, like "Just-Us Texas," the "evangelicals" had a completely different world view than I did, and arguing with them was not only pointless, it was disrespectful. And while I didn't have to agree with them, if I expected them to respect me, I certainly had to respect them.

Which, in part, is what Mahanoy means by his series on what he calls the "Dominionsts." But when he presents it as an issue of knowing your enemy so that you can fight effectively, I respectfully dissent.

The fundamental problem, of course, is that when you define yourself by your "enemies," you inevitably become your enemies. Review US history since the end of WWII, and see if this isn't self-evidently true. What was the "Red Scare" and the Hollywood blacklist if not a much milder form of the Stalinist purges (I emphasize "much milder," but it was still a grossly un-American activity; which is ironic in itself, because while I was too young to even be around for Tail Gunner Joe's wild accusations, the House Committe on Unamerican Activities continued to function into my life-time). That problem, of identity, is a subtle one, and when I think about it, I keep remembering an episode of the X-files episode about snake handlers.

The episode, Google helpfully reminds me, was titled "Signs and Wonders." The basic criminal plot is a man killed by a car mysteriously full of snakes ("Snakes in a Car!" No, it's not the same thing, is it?). The prime suspect is the pastor of a snake-handling cult: a fiercely conservative Christian, in other words, who is obviously off the deep end with his profoundly Calvinistic theology and rigid assurance that he is doing God's work and that evil is real and he opposes it. Of course, Mulder (and slightly less so, the Catholic Scully) are suspicious of this snake-handling fundamentalist. After all, he represents everything our enlightened, rationalist, even religiously tolerant age, no longer tolerates. We don't mind if he and his cult practice their "weird" form of worship, but when it crosses the line to murder, well; something must be done.

But the murder is not the central thread of the episode; it's merely the McGuffin. The central thread is the pastor's daughter, whom we (along with Mulder and Scully) are quite sure is being oppressed and at least psychologically abused by the snake-handling father. With the father, then, as a clear antagonist, we need a protagonist: and that turns out to be, not the FBI agents, but another pastor: a middle class man of soothing demeanor whose theology is much more "progressive" and welcoming. By "progressive" I don't mean in the political sense. This pastor is modern, a man of the modern world, a believer whose theology is easily reconciled with modern therapeutic counseling theories, Freudian psychology, and all the other ideas of modern Western culture which the snake-handling pastor seems to be in opposition to. Our sympathies are immediately with this pastor, especially as he seems to share the suspicions of Scully and Mulder that the daughter's pregnancy was caused by her father (which makes him a villain indeed). When she delivers a brood of snakes in her father's tiny church, we are convinced he is indeed the evil one.

The snake-handling pastor, needless to say, is a dark, brooding, contrary, and secretive man, suspicious of strangers as any isolated group of people tends to be, and given to a demon-plagued view of the world we can only shake our heads at, while we admire the young, modern pastor who reflects so much of what we truly want to see in a minister. Well, let me give you a couple of examples; some of this, I find, hits quite close to home:

SCULLY: Rattlesnakes and medieval visions of damnation. Well, I for one, feel a whole lot closer to God.

MULDER: I don't know, Scully. When you... when you get right down to it is snake handling any harder to buy into than communion wafers or transubstantiation...?

SCULLY: Or believing in flying saucers, for that matter.

MULDER: I'm just saying that - that your faith and O'Connor's seem to be based on the same book.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

REVEREND O'CONNOR: Our God is a fearsome God.

MAN: Amen!

REVEREND O'CONNOR: He demands our very lives! Revelations Three, the 16th verse. "'Tis better to be hot or cold than lukewarm." God says, if you're lukewarm He will vomit you out of His mouth.

CONGREGATION: Praise God!

REVEREND O'CONNOR: Yes! Did you hear what I said?!

CONGREGATION: Praise God! Yes!

REVEREND O'CONNOR: God hates the lukewarm!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

SCULLY: Though I don't understand it, O'Connor's church exerts a strong pull on these people.

MULDER: It's not so hard to understand. It's a culture with a very well-defined set of rules.

SCULLY: It's an intolerant culture, Mulder.

MULDER: I don't know, Scully. Sometimes a little intolerance can be a welcome thing. Clear-cut right and wrong, black and white, no shades of gray. You know, in a society where hard and fast rules are harder and harder to come by, I think some people would appreciate that.

SCULLY: You're saying that you, Fox Mulder, would welcome someone telling you what to believe?

MULDER: I'm just saying that somebody offering you all the answers... could be a very powerful thing.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

REVEREND MACKEY: Gracie, I'd like to ask you to reconsider.

GRACIE: No. This is what he'd want.

REVEREND MACKEY: He may die without medical treatment.

GRACIE: I've seen him bit a dozen times. He always said that it was up to God whether he lives or dies. Said it was a worse sin not to trust God.

REVEREND MACKEY: There are many ways to trust God, Gracie. One of them is to trust in the miracles of doctors and medicine.
The twist, of course, is that it is Rev. Mackey who is the source of the snakes in the car, and the father of the brood of snakes the unfortunate daughter has given birth to. When Rev. O'Connor goes to the "modern" pastor's church to confront him, Mulder bursts in and shoots the father, thinking he's stopped a fanatic from committing another murder. When Mulder realizes his mistake and confronts Mackey, Mulder is attacked by snakes (in a church!) and the pastor escapes to start another church where he is welcomed as "a reverend with such an open way of looking at God."

O'Connor, of course, knew all along what was happening, and he acted out of love for his daughter, and out of his deep knowledge of the nature of evil, a nature Mulder and Scully were blind to, because evil in this case seemed so familiar, and the unfamiliar therefore seemed so evil. His love was true, but it wasn't "love" as we commonly recognize it, so it was mistaken for evil. After all, as Scully says, "It's an intolerant culture." Well, maybe; or maybe there is more to it than we realize, and intolerance just appears that way because we don't understand the world as they do.

It's just a story, after all; but it's a revealing one. How can we be so sure we know what evil is, or who is doing evil? How can we be so sure that the ways of looking at things we are most comfortable with, are also right? In Paul's absence, he tells the church at Thessalonika, you must work out your own salvation, in fear and trembling. Not, however, because you are unsure and liable to error that will lead to damnation; but because it is God who is working through you, and while you may be comforted by the presence of an authority figure like Paul, the mysterium tremendum you feel, the deep existential secret that strikes at the very roots of your being and makes you tremble simply because it is so fundamental, so foundational, so important, is the sign that God is indeed, with you. As I have said elsewhere:

The mysterium tremendum comes from outside of us, but it is the state of our being. It is, if we are attentive, part of the condition that prevails. It is also a sure cure for pride...
And pride finds root whenever we begin to define ourselves against our definition of someone else.

But if we are to say God is working through us, who are we to say who God is not working through? Certainly God is not working through evil, but is it then our job to eradicate evil? That's the theology and foreign policy and political philosophy of George W. Bush. Perhaps it is not even our job to be concerned with the nature of those we call "evil," or to whom we sould simply stand in opposition. Perhaps we don't know enough to stand in opposition after all, and should pay more attention to the log in our eye, than the splinter in our brother's.

After all, everything looks smaller when reflected in a tiny convex mirror, and objects are certainly closer than they appear. Maybe that splinter isn't there at all, but is just a reflection of the log we ignore. Maybe that's where our consideration of who we are and what we should be about, should begin.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Thursday Evening Document Dump

Well, I'm just going to dump this because, like a failed batch of bread dough, it simply isn't rising any more, and I have neither the time, energy, nor interest to pour into it as it deserves. But neither does it deserve to be thrown out altogether. So maybe it's a batch of dough that rose too long, and became to delicate, and so has fallen in the oven. Failed bread souffle, as it were.

While the bagels are in the oven [when I started this; bagels came out fine, by the way. Delicious toasted with homemade yogurt cheese] I'm going to try to reconstruct a theological thought I had in the shower this morning.

Was listening to a local radio show hosted by the Southwestern Regional Minister for the Nation of Islam (Lewis Farrakhan's group, if that helps you), Minister Robert Muhammed. A very good man, I listen to him almost every week. He was talking about the situation in the Middle East, but he wasn't taking sides or trying to do a geo-political analysis or even, I quickly realized, cast curses on all concerned. What he said, basically, was that the problem was the people of Islam (all Muslims, that is) were at fault for their problems not because they backed the wrong political leaders, had the wrong geo-politics, chose terrorism over diplomacy, did or did not support the nation of Israel, but simply because they did not follow the teachings of Islam.

Which sounds simplistic enough, but bear with me. He went on to clarify. It wasn't the Devil that they were fighting, he said. In fact, there would be no fight at all, if the people of Islam would simply follow the teachings of the Prophet. Because then, he asserted, they would be a force for good which no countervailing force could prevail against.

Now consider that very carefully, because religious language in a public or political context is often heard as a call to access to divine power. He was making no such call at all. He was quite explicit about that. He decried nationalism and nation-states and "democratism" and every other "-ism," as he put it. This wasn't about backing the right political horse, in other words; it wasn't about collective will guided by divine revelation leading to a political solution. It was about humility; responsibility; and being in control of what you do.

Politics is about controlling what other people do.

"Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all." Religion is about personal responsibility, about accepting the principles and standards of a given community, and conforming yourself to those standards. When religion reaches beyond its community to influence or exert the will of the community over others outside the community, it is exerting power. Religion properly exercised is not about power. Religion properly understood arises from the consent of the governed. It is a matter for those who accept the standards of that community, those who want to be members. It is not about power, about what others should do, about control, except is that control applies to you. Religion, or at least Christianity, and to the extent I understand them, Islam and Judaism, are about what I should do. They are not, and should not be, about what you should do; at least no from my perspective. If I am a pastor, a priest, an imam, a rabbi, then I am responsible for what you should do, if you are a member of my community. Otherwise, what you should do is up to you. It is what I should do, alone, that matters to me.

To insist on this, and to proclaim it as a force that cannot be opposed, a good that cannot be undermined by outside "powers," is to sound like a Hebrew prophet. That is one of the consistent messages of the Prophets before, during, and just after the Exile: that so long as the faithful community is faithful, it will last. When it turns from faithfulness, it falls. It is not a matter of God's vengeance, anger, cruelty, or hatred: it is a matter of faithfulness. These are the conditions that prevail.

There is a consistent line here. When Israel was ruled by judges, it decided it would be better off if, like the other nations around, it was ruled by a king. A king, of course, rules by projecting his will upon his people, for their good. A king only rules by consent of the governed, but a king represents a concentration of will, an abdication to a central power. Governments have always sought this. The Roman Empire created the official office of diktator to lead the Republic in times of crisis. The diktator had absolute power over the government and the military until the crisis had passed. It was this absolute power which Julius wanted to retain, and which is described in Shakespeare's play. God warned Israel against demanding a king, but the consent of the governed prevailed, and they got Saul; and all the kings after him. And eventually the kings failed, and Israel went into Exile.

That's an overly simplistic history, of course; but it's a summary of the history told in the Scriptures about the Exile, and the governments of Israel. Judges were certainly good for tribes, but Israel stopped being a group of tribes at some point. Still, one lesson from the history the Hebrews told of themselves is the danger of exerting will in the world, the risk of seeking power rather than humility, authority rather than justice. Justice is doing to others what you want done to you. Power is exerting your will in the world, seeking to control someone else. We like to think it is used in the pursuit of justice. But it never turns out that way.

So what's the theological point? That it's true; faith and faithfulness is about you, not about anybody else. Power seeks its own end, and while we wield it, we imagine that end is ours; it never is. Israel today is trying to protect itself; or so it claims. Bush clearly thinks Israel is doing the US a service; and so he works to give them as much room to maneuver as possible. Israel claims they will disarm Hezbollah. This is as chimerical a goal as destroying terrorism. Hezbollah was created because Israel invaded Lebanon 20 years ago, determined to establish Israel's security. The new violence is just the fruit of that old violence, which was itself the fruit of an even older violence. The cycle of violence is the clearest symptom of the disease of power; and yet we keep perpetuating it, keep insisting it must be perpetuated, for one reason or another. We always have good reasons for imposing our will on others.

And they always have good reasons for resisting.

The story of St. Patrick's Breastplate is a perfect example of what Minister Robert was getting at. That famous prayer is also called the "Lorica," which simply means the armor we call a "breastplate." But it's also called "The Deer's Cry." The legend is that Patrick and his disciples were walking through Ireland, reciting this prayer as they went. Druid priests lay in wait for them, intending to kill them. What the priests saw, however, was a doe and her fawns. They didn't see a snarling pack of wolves. They didn't see the meanest SOB in the valley of the shadow of death. They saw the most defenseless animal in Ireland. And they let it pass. Patrick's prayer didn't impose God's will on the assassins; but it protected Patrick, because Patrick was doing good, was doing God's will. How did Patrick evangelize Ireland? With fiery speeches about the wages of sin and the threat of hell? No. By living among the people, helping them, caring for them, seeing Christ in them. When they wondered why a stranger would be so kind, so concerned for them, he explained the Gospel to them. And so the Gospel spread: not by acts of power and domination, but by acts of Christian love.

The story of Patrick, in other words, is about acess to divine authority; but the divine power is expressed as vulnerability, and provides the protection of good, not of force and superior strength. It is a paradoxical display of power, but one repeated time and time again, as an example of the power of powerlessness.

Of course, power is looking for a pay-off; and the pay-off in this case is in legend, and in faithfulness. When Paul says God counted Abraham's faith to him as righteousness, Paul is not adding anything to the story of Abraham. The promises God made to Abraham, were all promises Abraham could not possibly live to see fulfilled: descendants, a mighty nation controlling huge tracts of land (no one holds land without lots of people around to defend the claim to it); a blessing on all nations through Abraham's name. Nothing God ever promised Abraham, except children, could come true in Abraham's lifetime, or be of any possible material benefit to Abraham. And even Isaac came late in the day, and was all but taken back.

The promise is not of a reward. The promise is that the universe is good, and living faithfully in the expectation of that good, will be life lived into the ages, life lived into the goodness that is here; and against that faithfulness in the goodness of God, nothing can prevail.

It is a matter of faithfulness. These are the conditions that prevail.