Monday, September 16, 2013

Autumnal Equipoise

While the calendar may have the next season beginning later in the week, yesterday and today up here on the prairie are giving us a taste of things to come.  It's been cool, even crisp.  Yesterday was damp, but today is sunny, the sky the kind of blue you see in early fall and mid-spring.  One of the hummingbird moths that frequent our flowering hostas got in our garage yesterday.  By late afternoon, it had moved from the ceiling to the back door.  I gently removed it from the door and set it on one of the plants outside.  It sat for a few minutes, then took off, feeding at our hostas again.

There is something marvelous about autumn.  Last week we had a blast of hot, humid air, reminding us that summer wasn't quite over.  Now, though, it feels like things are settling in as they should this time of year.  The languor of summer is passing, the busyness of fall has begun and now, at last, the weather is making such busyness feel a bit less like a burden.  Daylight hours shorten, the year's twilight reminding us the cool sleep of winter is coming soon.

As I write this post about the peacefulness of the onrushing seasonal change, the situation at the Washington Navy Yard is still unfolding.  Ten people shot, with reports of 2 to 4 people dead.  How many have died in Syria's intramural slaughter while the world dithers over one type of weapon, leaving tens of thousands of other deaths of seeming less importance, beneath the world's need to act?  How many children have died of curable diseases because nation-states and multinational pharmaceutical companies refuse to provide cheap preventive medications to poor populations around the world?  How many people have died from gun violence over the past 24 hours right here in the United States?

The reality of death and violence makes me uncomfortable with my own sense of peace and ease in this time of seasonal change.  I cannot ignore the immense privilege that grants me space and time to reflect on this bubble of peacefulness around me.  I cannot ignore the reality of pain and suffering around me because it harshes my mellow.  An full and honest accounting of autumnal equipoise would include the reality that I cannot rest within this space of quiet rest, but move out in to this world so beloved of God, a world so broken by sin and death there is no safe place for far too many, no peace and quiet for billions of God's children.

I understand Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, that desire to build a tent and stay forever in the presence that is so full of beauty and peace.  That, however, is not our lot.  The world is not yet that Mount.  It's our job to drag it there, kicking and screaming if need be.  Such is the real equipoise of autumn: The hope and promise that what is reality for me can be for others.  It isn't  about me giving up anything.  It's about others, indeed the whole world, having the opportunity to experience this same space and time.

That is our calling.  That's what we're to be about.  The Gospel message is meaningless if we aren't living out God's abundance with the world.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Getting It Done Right

With the United States and Russia agreeing on a protocol for Syria to follow for surrendering its chemical weapons arsenal; with the Syrian ambassador to the UN formally agreeing to adhere to the chemical weapons treaty, including allowing UN inspectors to weapon sites; with diplomacy moving forward even in the midst of a brutal civil war; all this, and the question on too many lips is: Was Obama duped, first by his Secretary of State then by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in to accepting a diplomatic solution that appears to weaken the United States?

It is both unanswerable (at least at this point) and irrelevant whether Kerry's remarks on Monday about a possible diplomatic solution were a "gaffe" that got out of control or part of a much larger strategy that included a threat to use force as a cudgel to beat Syria to the bargaining table.  Whether it was or not, the Obama Administration took it and ran with it in ways both smart and timely.  The President's much anticipated speech on Tuesday night included a plea for Congress to postpone a vote on the authorization to use military force to let the diplomats get their work done.  This comes just a few days after it was thought he was going to lay out a case for military action alone.

One feature this week was the New York Times op-ed appearing under Vladimir Putin's name that many on the right - and not a few on the left - thought was wonderful for any number of reasons.  As someone who has read a few things about international relations in my time, I found the contents neither surprising nor interesting.  They were, in fact, the kinds of things a foreign leader would say to the people of another country: trying to flatter the people at the expense of their leader in order to create mistrust and disagreement.  The fact remains that Putin said nothing that the Obama Administration wasn't already in the midst of doing.  The tongue bath Putin received from American conservatives was odd, unless one considers that he is (a) pretty hard-core in his reactionary positions; (b) playing by a rule book American conservatives understand (brute force plus ruthlessness plus a disdain for social and political and diplomatic niceties; and (c) the kind of leader too many on the right wish America had, i.e., one who is white, authoritarian, and unafraid to keep things simple and direct even if that means trampling the lives of others.  American conservatives have loved dictators since the 1920's, when they heaped praise upon Mussolini.  Since then, fascists from Franco through the Greek military junta of the 1970's, Pinochet in Chile - well, really, pretty much any Central or South American dictator in the 60's and 70's was the subject of much American praise, official and otherwise - and the Shah of Iran have all been held up by American conservatives as "statesmen".  Shoot, Lyndon Johnson said that Ngo Dihn Diem of South Vietnam was the Winston Churchill of southeast Asia!

There are many things that remain the be done.  There are many steps that need to be taken, and with Syria in the midst of a bloody civil war, those steps are made far more difficult.  There are many questions that I think are important to ask, including whether chemical weapons are different in kind from conventional weapons, which renders the hundreds dead because of them in Syria of some kind of different importance than the nearly 100,00 who have already been killed while the United States sat on its hands.  This last, in particular is an important question, and deserves some discussion.  All the same, at the moment international law sees such weapons just that way; the President reminded the American people, and the rest of the world, of that; the diplomats in Washington and New York and Geneva are doing the grunt work while the world watches, a far better way to verify than a UN inspection regime.  All this because of the deft way President Obama has spoken and acted over the past couple weeks.

As  far as I'm concerned, this justifies his Nobel Peace Prize.  Even with his initial martial bluster, or perhaps because of it, an international outlier long criticized for its refusal to conform to international law on chemical weapons has, in the midst of an ongoing, bloody, and still-inconclusive civil war, agreed to abide by the terms of the chemical weapons convention.  These are good things.

Good job, President Obama.  No.  Most excellent, Mr. President.  Thank you for reminding us that diplomacy can and does work.

Honest Interest In A Response

Over at LGM, there's a post highlighting something written by right-wing blogger Robert Stacy McCain (who defended the lynching of Emmett Till, so we know what kind of . . . "person" . . . he is).
Date rape is an apparently common campus crime that usually involves two drunk young people, one of whom has an erect penis, and the other of whom is unable to avert what the erect penis typically does.
Now my question is simple: Is this describing rape?  Is it describing bad communication between a man and a woman (she calls it rape; he says he was aroused and couldn't help himself?)?  Is McCain's claim that erect penises take over the mind and body of men a valid defense?

I ask these questions for reasons of clarification.  I really would like to know whether the two gentlemen who seem to believe there are such things as "sluts" that are identifiable by their dress and/or behavior would take the next step and insist there is more than a grain of truth in this notion that date rape is just two drunk people caught up in the moment, only one of whom seems to have regrets. 

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More