January, 2009

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Fate of One Family Illustrates Gaza War’s Ferocity : NPR

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Listening to this horrific and heartbreaking story on “Morning Edition” this morning, I was reminded of comments by New York Times Correspondent Chris Hedges, quoted in Bob Abernethy and William Bole’s The Life of Meaning:

War is one of the most heady and intoxicating, addictive enterprises every created by humankind. It has an allure, a fascination, a draw that sweeps across national lines, ethnicity, race, religion. It has perverted, corrupted, and ultimately destroyed societies and nations across the globe…. War is like imbibing a drug. Once that drug is kicked, once that war is over, many decisions that are made in warfare – not only what we do to others, but also what we do to ourselves&emdash;are exposed for being not only wrong, but stupid (pp. 20-21).

War as intoxication, war as a state of inebriation in which euphoria transforms the unthinkable into the matter-of-fact. How else could the inhumane and atrocious acts described in the story be possible? And what hope can there be for redemption from this scourge? Hedges continues:

Love is the only force that finally can counter the force of death, the death instinct… You can’t go through an experience like [the shelling of Sarajevo] and not understand the palpable power of love, the power of that one act of forgiveness—the Muslim farmer who gives milk to the Serb baby for two hundred plus days…. What appear to be small acts of love—in those acts are seeds of hope (p. 23).

Fate of One Family Illustrates Gaza War’s Ferocity : NPR.

Re: Snowy Days and Hot Soup (Dorie Greenspan)

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

I enjoy reading Dorie Greenspan’s blog for two reasons: She’s a great cook, and she often writes in a quite down-to-earth way about her Paris neighborhood (in the 6th arrondissement). During our pilgrimage to France in September 2009, we stayed just on the easternmost edge of the 6th (on the Boulevard Saint Michel) in two different hotels. So the neighborhood and the places she describes feel very familiar to us.

This entry is about snow in Paris, a walk to the Marché Saint-Germain market and back home around the Luxembourg Gardens, and a favorite vegetable soup. Both the market and the gardens were on our itinerary during our days in Paris, and her blog entry helps keep the memories alive.

Recent Discussions of Religion and Politics

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

On Weekend Edition this morning (January 18, 2009), NPR carried a story by Sylvia Poggioli describing the Vatican’s concerns around “life issues” and the positions of the Obama administration. It raises afresh the vexing issues for people of faith as to how to relate their faith commitments to the local, regional, national, and international political orders in which we all participate.

Martin Marty, in the e-newsletter Sightings for January 5, contrasts Obama’s stance on faith commitments and the political order with Rick Warren’s. Marty quotes Obama’s Call to Renewal speech (May 28, 2006) as follows:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.  Democracy requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason.  I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will.  I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all…

(Those of us who had the privilege of hearing Obama address the UCC General Synod in Hartford, Conn., a year later heard him reiterate this point.)

Warren, on the other hand, like the Vatican, asserts non-negotiable values. Again, Marty quotes:

[F]or those of us who accept the Bible as God’s Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life, I believe there are five issues that are non-negotiable.  To me, they’re not even debatable because God’s Word is clear on these issues.

Not surprisingly, these issues are abortion, stem-cell harvesting, homosexual “marriage,” human cloning, and euthanasia, ones where Warren and the Vatican stand rather close together.

In The Christian Century of January 13, Gary A. Anderson, professor of Old Testament at the University of Notre Dame defends Israel’s right to its land by appealing to the promises of God in the Hebrew scriptures:

Christians must also insist that the promises of scripture are indeed inviolable and that Israel’s attachment to this land is underwritten by God’s providential decree. The miraculous appearance of the Israeli state just after the darkest moment in Jewish history is hard to interpret outside of a theological framework.

As with the Vatican and Rick Warren, the assertion is that promises or positions derived from the scriptures deemed holy by a particular religious tradition are to be taken as having extraordinary value (and may even be, in Warren’s words, “non-negotiable”).

Responding to Anderson’s position, Walter Brueggemann offers the following critique:

It strikes me as enormously hazardous to cite a supernatural right in the midst of realpolitik, especially when the right is entwined with military ferociousness and political exclusivism. While such a right may serve self-identity, it makes sense only inside the narrative. Outside the narrative it is no more than ideology, and so offers no basis for the hard work of peace and justice.

Brueggemann’s distinction between “inside the narrative” and “outside the narrative” captures the point Obama makes about the responsibilities of people of faith in a pluralistic society to leave their religious absolutes at the door when they participate in civic discourse. In Christianity, this rejection of religious absolutes has a theological foundation. It is the prohibition against idolatry and the recognition that attributing ultimate value to any human product, even the words of scripture, is elevating something limited, finite, and fallible, to a place of honor that is due to God alone.

Social Movements 2.0: Harnessing the Power of the Web for Change

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

In a recent article on AlternetBrendan SmithTim Costello, and Jeremy Brecher share their perspective as labor organizers on the current state and future potential of Web 2.0 as a foundation for movements of social change. They rightly understand, in my view, that the Web does not simply offer new tools for the same old tasks, but rather dramatically changes the way in which social movements can be developed and sustained:

[T]he online universe is not simply another place for people to congregate, circulate a petition, debate politics or mail out a newsletter. Nor is it simply a new technology like cable television — merely bringing more channels into the home. Instead, the web is increasingly looking like the invention of the printing press, which radically changed the lives of even those who could not read, by spurring the Protestant reformation and scientific revolution.

It’s an excellent overview, and the authors’ analytical insights are worth reading.

No-knead bread (first loaf)

Monday, January 12th, 2009
First no-knead loaf waiting to cool

First no-knead loaf waiting to cool

Fresh from the oven, here’s my first loaf of bread from Mark Buttman’s recipe. It’s crackling as it cools while I write. The kitchen smells fantastic, and I can’t wait to taste the bread.
[brief pause while the bread cools and I eat lunch]
Flavor is amazingly rich. Crumb is firm and chewy with numerous holes. Crust is thick and crackly. Amazing with butter, or without. A success — I’ll do it again!