Saturday, February 21, 2009

The "Good" War?

The war in Iraq, in my eyes, has been quite easy to judge as far as morality goes: it was and is wrong. America invaded under false pretenses, there were no WMD's to be found, and let's face it, we wanted that oil! We've stayed far long after we were wanted or needed, and through our occupation, we've spawned a terrorist movement that never before existed in Iraq. Easy - The Iraq war is wrong. All the newspapers said so, all the pundits and talking heads on TV said so, even FOX news admitted it after awhile. It is easy to speak in opposition against something when you have a lot of company.

What of the war in Afghanistan, though? What of our other war?

Well - that's the "good" war isn't it? Afghanistan is the country where bin Laden is hiding, and where the Taliban operates from. That's where women have to wear burkas and men must wear their beards a certain length. That's the country where everyone hates Americans, where they celebrate the 9/11 attacks, isn't it? We must...

We must, what?

What specifically are we fighting for in Afghanistan. What is the good end we hope to achieve? Remove the Taliban from power, you say? We accomplished that on perhaps the third day of the bombing campaign almost 8 years ago. "Get" bin Laden, perhaps? Perhaps. But what will we do with him once we get him? Kill him outright, thereby creating a martyr figure far more dangerous than a frail, disavowed Saudi hiding in a cave? Put him on the world stage for a highly publicized trial that will showcase his jihad for al Qaeda and al Qaeda wanna-bes worldwide? Is it for humanitarian reasons? No. If we measured humanitarian aid by sheer numbers who need it, we ought to have our armies in the Sudan (but that's another blog).

It's none of that, really. We wish to exact revenge for the 9/11 attacks. Period.

After that day, we as Americans were forced to admit the vulnerability of our country. We were made to be afraid. And someone would pay, by God.

How specifically do we exact this revenge by turning our mighty weapons against a people who can't bake bread? How does lobbing cruise missiles at remote Afghan villages in the dirt, hoping we hit something, honor our fallen citizens? How can we as human beings justify the killing of innocents, simply because it was done to us first? How can we accept "collateral damage" when the vast majority of the casualties are just that? How do we fight a just war against a lawless enemy, with no home base, no accountability, no real military assets, and most importantly, no fear of our superior military or the consequences of war against us?

The Cold War stayed cold because of the threat of mutually assured destruction. America continues a Cold War mentality against an enemy that does not fear destruction. I heard an analogy at the beginning of the War on Terror that is incredibly apt, although it was dismissed at the time. Fighting against this enemy is like fighting a nest of wasps with a well-made baseball bat: You'll handily destroy the nest, sure, but then what? You're enveloped by thousands of ill-tempered, freshly homeless stinging insects. You'll swing and may even swap a few...but that won't matter much when you're covered in stings and full of the accumulated poison.

My point is simple. War is outdated. War no longer works. War succeeds in ironically emboldening and perpetuating that which it hopes to end. In the words of Gandhi, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." If we really wish this war to end, what we can we do, really? Do we continue our "destroy-the-nest" tactic that will slowly deteriorate our troops with thousands of accumulated stings? Or perhaps - we give our enemies less of a reason to be our enemies.

The Gospel is a good place to start.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God"
- Matthew 5:9

Furthermore, there is a group of families - families of 9/11 victims - who have admirably found the true strength to turn the other cheek. They are n=known as The September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and they have a fairly comprehensive blueprint aimed at ending the war and keeping the peace in Afghanistan. The bullet points of their recommendations are:

1. Set a swift timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO military forces, to be substituted by U.N. forces for short-term security.

2. Immediately cease air strikes on targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

3. Support negotiations between all parties involved in the conflict, including Afghan women leaders.

4. Reform humanitarian aid and reconstruction funding efforts to prioritize Afghan organizations over foreign contractors. Ensure that funded projects address the needs and requests of Afghans and are not simply pet projects of foreign donors.

5. Invest in long-term aid that increases self-reliance such as sustainable agriculture efforts.

6. Immediately discontinue the use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which are costly, inefficient, and have militarized the aid process.

7. Standardize, increase, and publicly document compensation to Afghan families and communities affected by U.S. military actions.

8. Sign the treaty to ban cluster bombs, pay for cluster bomb and landmine cleanup in Afghanistan, and pledge never to use these weapons again.

(Thanks to John Dear's column at National Catholic Reporter)

Please visit the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows' website and see these steps detailed, with more of their ideas on peaceful activism here:

Pax et Bonum,

Daily Mass Readings
Hebrews 11:1-7
Psalms 145:2-5, 10-11
Mark 9:2-13

Monday, February 16, 2009

Christ as Sacrament

Jesus Christ...The Word Made Flesh.

I guess that's why Catholic Christianity speaks the truth to me. There have been times in the past where I have despaired, and considered leaving the Church. Funny though, I never considered another Christian denomination. As far as understanding God, I need that sacrament - something I can touch, taste and feel. Catholicism has an intensely physical faith - The Word Made Flesh is all around us in the context of Church. To quote Fr. Vin Ritchie, our former associate pastor at St. Bernard's , Jesus is the purest expression of Love in human terms - something we can experience, something we can relate to, as beings of a spiritual and physical nature.

From, the physicality of Christ healing the blind man with mud and spit, to healing the deaf man by thrusting His fingers into the man's ears, to the comfort and satiation of a meal, to the violent death on the cross, to St. Thomas thrusting his hands into the Risen Christ's wounds, our faith is intensely physical. It is brought to fruition in the context of the Greatest Sacrament of the Eucharist, where the sacrifice of the cross is made spiritually and physically present to the faithful. No other Christian faith I have seen celebrates both the physical in-the-world aspect of Christ who dwelt in our midst, as well as the mystical Christ who is and always has been One with God.

Sometimes, I get frustrated with what I see as deficiencies in the Church. I see the abuse scandals and the cover-up, a sometimes out of touch and unfeeling hierarchy, doctrines that seem out of touch with the spiritual needs of modern mankind. I get angry knowing my Godson was baptized by a priest who turned out to be an abuser. I get angry in the knowledge that the priests who touched my life most dramatically, who began my love affair with the Church in the first place, both had to leave the priesthood because they fell in love with women. I get angry at the ham-handed way the Pastoral Formation Institute (a 2 year college level course for lay leadership in the diocese) was dismantled and the faithful staff who had worked so hard to build it and get their accreditation were summarily dismissed - it seems as if the current administration in our diocese wished to officially invalidate the profound spiritual experiences I and my classmates had. I sometimes long for that Super-Church* - pure, spiritual, impeccable: a Church within which I would never have to wrestle with the angels, there would be no doubt.

However, the very things that gets me angry about the Church are the things that will not allow me to leave her. The Sacramental Church IS her sinners and saints, her rich and poor, her doubters, her traitors, and heroes. Is my Godson any less baptized because he had a scoundrel that presided over his initial baptismal Sacrament? No. Are the men who led me to life and light in the Church when I was growing up any less the priests today when they were back then? No. Are the profound spiritual experiences I and my classmates had in PFI any less valid because the bishop changed up the program? Again, no.

I am a member of Christ's mystical Body, whether I always know it or not, whether I always like it or not. God knows I am not who I would have chosen for such a thing. As a Catholic Christian who follows the way of St. Francis, I am to strive to live my life in that Gospel context. I will fail from time to time, sometimes, willfully. The comfort is that from the Pope to every lay man and woman in the pews wrestles with the angels. If we all strive to live the Gospel life as we are called to do, we can rebuild and be the Church we are meant to be.

Daily Mass Reading
Genesis 4:1-15, 25
Psalms 50:1,8, 16-17, 20-21
Mark 8:11-13