jeudi, septembre 14, 2006

True Patriots?

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of corresponding with a retired Army officer. I have few acquaintances who have served in the Army (as contrasted with the Guard) so when I stumble across one and can strike up a conversation, I ask a lot of questions. What did he think of President Bush? How about President Clinton? What should we do in Iraq? My penpal, now a landscape painter living in Virginia and staying in touch with his uniformed friends, had the terse mien of a military man, even through email. But his answers echoed those of many military men and women interviewed in the newspapers on these subjects-they were careful, nuanced, and a heck of a lot more objective than the knee-jerk platitudes of fire-breathing dragonettes on the conservative or liberal fringes. Bush treated the military with a lot more respect than Bill Clinton and his wife (now New York Senator) Hillary Clinton or daughter Chelsea ever had, said my VA friend. We weren't doing well in Iraq-in fact we had possibly created more problems, including a strengthened insurgency. But just pulling out as fast as we could wasn't a solution, either. For a point of view that many civilians may not have considered, see the commentary by Seth Moulton, a former Marine infantry officer, in Friday's Times ( ) My pal Jay brought a dispassionate, or perhaps a less biased perspective to political and military issues that was, frankly refreshing in a country where partisans so often seem hoist on the petard of their moralistic fury at those who dare to challenge them. How telling it is then, for our President to be confronted with military officers, including Colin Powell, who have challenged his desire to reintepret the Article 3 of the Geneva Convention on the ground that it might endanger the lives of American servicemen and women. What is more, General Powell (who, of course, may have some subjective reasons, as the former head of the State Department, for taking on the White House ) walked boldly into an arena n which the President had tried to hold sway-that of moral authority. Here's a quote from a piece in today's New York Times: "Mr. Bush said after conferring with Republican House members that he had "reminded them that the most important job of government is to protect the homeland." As part of his plan, the president wants Congress to enact legislation that would authorize tougher interrogations of suspected terrorists. And that is what Congress must not do, said Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state. 'The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,' Mr. Powell said in a letter to Senator John McCain of Arizona, one of the Republicans who differ with Mr. Bush's policies." In this superheated atmosphere, just after the fifth anniversary of 9/11, to question the President's moral authority makes Powell seem almost a profile in courage. The cynic in me questions whether it is a mark of the President's own diminished status as a moral agent that Powell and Senators with military backgrounds, like Arizona's John McCain and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, so openly stand up to him. In this case, I choose not to be cynical-there's enough of that going around. I would guess that these men had probably just had enough of the bully pulpit and bullying kind of patriotism so beloved by this Administration. That being said, it is still both welcome and significant that the officers who have defended our country in times of war and in peacetime are now speaking up. As remarkable a sight as this is, given the military's historical deference to civilian elected leadership, it is also a milestone that tells us how far we have strayed-and gives us a hint of the way back. Sometimes the most moral stance is the pragmatic one: to tune in to those who have the most to lose. If we are indeed at war, isn't it time that we listened to the voices of the warriors?

mardi, septembre 12, 2006

The Face in the mirror

True confessions-I am an exhibitionist. At her age? I can imagine you are thinking. My goodness, with all of the good therapists, not to mention talk shows she could go on, as well as the online counseling available, hasn't she gotten help for this problem yet? I guess I haven't gotten help for my bare all tendencies because, so far, I don't see a problem! I'm not the type of exhibitionist who wears blouses cut down to there or gets smashed at cocktail parties and disses her ex-husband (a really nice guy, by the way). Instead, as I told a new friend a couple of days ago, most of my insights (some would debate the use of that word) somehow end up getting broadcast to a not-so-waiting world. The advent of the blogosphere has been a great gift to folks like me, who can't believe that someone won't profit from the gems we toss into cyberspace. But it turns out that middle-aged bloggistas like me were antiquated from the start. The popularity of sites like Facebook and MySpace has allowed anyone who has the most minimal computer capabilities (which means practically every US citizen under 40) to post the most intimate details of their private life...and have their bent for self-exposure become part of a new social movement. But there are limits to what some young men and women want revealed..or, it might be more accurate to say, there are limits to how acccessible they want that information to be to friends, family, friends of family and the family of friends. Apparently Facebook's creator, a 22 year old graduate of Harvard, didn't realize how outraged some of his clients would be when they found that their split ups, hookups and other details were scrolled to everyone on their "friends list" within nanoseconds of the time their fingers had left the keyboard. When it became obvious to him that some of the Facebook posters wanted their friends to have to work harder for the gossipy details, and actually visit their web pages, Facebook quickly came up with an, excuse me, Face-saving way for some posters to escape the unwanted illumination too much publicity may provide. After all, it's not like they don't want their buddies to know who they slept with last night....they just want them to want to know it badly enough to check it out for themselves.

lundi, septembre 11, 2006

Five years later

I got a lovely note from a friend today commending my pastoral care for his family on Sept 11, 2001. I had forgotten that his dad had suffered a stroke that day, and was fighting for his life. Sadly, his father died the next day. So, for Mac, the date the Twin Towers fell will always be intertwined in memory with a family tragedy. That solidarity in grief unites him with the thousands of Americans and foreigners who will be re-living the shock of that horrible morning. In one sense, that day seems like another lifetime-I was a parish priest reaching out to someone who was not only a member of our congregation, but a dear personal friend. Although I am still an ordained minister, I no longer am active in parish ministry. Though I did not know it at the time, my own personal crisis of faith was about to unfold, with times of pain, grief and self-doubt. Yet my conundrums pale when contrasted to the national crisis of faith which began to shake our country the day the planes went down in New York, outside D.C., and in a Pennsylvania field. We covered up our introspection with righteous and understandable anger. We hid our grief under car magnets: "I love America" and "Support our troops". We went from a war based on a real possibility of victory to one that seems to proceed without end. It seems, upon reflection, that perhaps we never really had the opportunity to grieve. So let us take that time today. Let us pray for the souls who now adorn the Kingdom of heaven, the young and the middle-aged and the old whom God has taken into His loving arms forever. Let us take the hands of the family members whose tears still fall, and comfort them with the knowledge that we, too, have not forgotten. And let us ask for God's mercy on our nation, so full of hope and ambition, and so prone to substitute political ideology for rational international diplomacy. Today, a day of mourning and remembrance is, as our President says, about patriotism-only not the kind that finds consummation in flipping on headlights or thinking that we've been victorious in keeping terorrists from our own shores when hundreds of Iraqi men, women and children still die in a war they did not choose. On this fifth anniversary of our American tagedy, perhaps we can find another definition of patriotism, one that is less angry and more tolerant of differences among men and women of good will. Maybe we can consider the idea that the country we love can always dream bigger, reach higher, do more for those who have less. As citizens of the United States, we are all bound today in the community of suffering, of remembrance, of justice and of shared humanity that makes this nation, at its best, a symbol of progress and hope for a world so often torn by just the kind of grief we are experiencing anew today.