Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance and the Iraqi war

Opinion by Gordan Marino

Sometimes you need a psychologist to understand a politician. And sometimes we need a psychologist to help understand the spin that our politicians give to the events that are the consequences of their policies.

We continue to lose more troops almost daily. Iraq is simmering in civil war. Though many predicted that the war in Iraq would empower Iran and galvanize Islamic radicals the authors of our Iraqi policy have been on the stump nominating even more bombing targets.
The government officials and policy experts who led us into the morass should be hiding their heads. Instead, they are taking to the airwaves and editorial pages to offer more of the advice that helped prompt our current and seemingly chronic state of debacle.

At a recent republican fundraiser, Dick Cheney more than less asserted that everything in smoldering Iraq is going just as planned. According to the VP, all we have to do is, you could almost hear a cheerleader prompting the crowd -- one, two, three -- STAY THE COURSE! Other architects of our Mideast policy like Richard Perle are offering the same counsel. Why aren’t they wearing disguises and hiding from the public?

In the late fifties, Leon Festinger formulated cognitive dissonance theory, which helps to predict changes in a person’s belief system. Roughly stated, Festinger held that whenever an individual holds two inconsistent beliefs they will be in a state of anxiety which acts as a constant source of motivation to alter one the beliefs and dissolve the inconsistency. The stronger the investment you have in an idea the stronger the impulse to explain away the belief or evidence that threatens it.

Suppose, for example, I am deeply invested in the belief that I am a generous individual and then I find myself refusing to help a mendicant begging for a meal. On the face of it, it would seem that I had evidence that I was not the altruistic individual that I took myself to be, and so I would be in an inner state of conflict. Festinger’s theory, however, would predict that the strong attachment to my self-image as a generous guy would motivate me to begin sanding away the experience that testified otherwise. And so I commence convincing myself that the beggar who approached me was a charlatan and that he would only use the money for drink and blah blah blah, so that in the end, I will think that it was actually noble of me to refuse to offer assistance. How does this example apply to the architects of our Iraq policy?

As Maureen Dowd recently wrote, Bush and his epigones bet the farm on Iraq. Our masters of war have an enormous investment in believing that the conflict that they pulled the trigger on was in our best interests. Indeed, with all the lives lost and the Mid-east on the brink of a regional war, it is hard to imagine how the neo-cons could sleep if they had to accept the fact that they were wrong.

Festinger’s theory suggests that our hawks would be much inclined to find some way to dismiss evidence that conflicted with the belief that war in Iraq would ultimately be a prompt for peace. You could here the self-hoodwinking strategy at work in between the lines of Bush’s blundering conversation with Wladimir Putin before the G8 Conference. President Bush referred to the democratization of Iraq. Putin remarked, “I don’t think we want a democracy like Iraq.” Bush quipped, “Just wait.” In other words, President Bush is telling the country and more importantly himself that the mass burials only look like evidence against the war. In the long run everything will be all right.

Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, those fluent in the “stay the course” slogans ought at least to be able to specify some set of conditions under which they would acknowledge that they were wrong. More importantly, however, Festinger would instruct us that we the people who are led by these men and women ought to think thrice about accepting their assessments of the war in Iraq.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bill Moyers for President?

Molly Ivins: Run Bill Moyers for President, Seriously
Posted on Jul 24, 2006

By Molly Ivins

AUSTIN, Texas—Dear desperate Democrats:

Here's what we do. We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It's simple, cheap and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there.

The poor man who is currently our president has reached such a point of befuddlement that he thinks stem cell research is the same as taking human lives, but that 40,000 dead Iraqi civilians are progress toward democracy.

Bill Moyers has been grappling with how to fit moral issues to political issues ever since he left Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and went to work for Lyndon Johnson in the teeth of the Vietnam War. Moyers worked for years in television, seriously addressing the most difficult issues of our day. He has studied all different kinds of religions and different approaches to spirituality. He's no Holy Joe, but he is a serious man. He opens minds—he doesn't scare people. He includes people in, not out. And he sees through the dark search for a temporary political advantage to the clear ground of the Founders. He listens and he respects others.

Do I think Bill Moyers can win the presidency? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. The nomination? No, that seems like a very long shot to me.

Then why run him? Think, imagine, if seven or eight other Democratic candidates, all beautifully coiffed and triangulated and carefully coached to say nothing that will offend anyone, stand on stage with Bill Moyers in front of cameras for a national debate … what would happen? Bill Moyers would win, would walk away with it, just because he doesn’t triangulate or calculate or trim or try to straddle the issues. Bill Moyers doesn’t have to endorse a constitutional amendment against flag burning or whatever wedge issue du jour Republicans have come up with. He is not afraid of being called "unpatriotic." And besides, he is a wise and a kind man who knows how to talk on TV.

It won't take much money—file for him in a couple of early primaries and just get him into the debates. Think about the potential Democratic candidates. Every single one of them needs spine, needs political courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it. I’m damned if I want to go through another presidential primary with everyone trying to figure out who has the best chance to win instead of who’s right. I want to vote for somebody who's good and brave and who should win.

One time in the Johnson years, LBJ called on Moyers to say the blessing at a dinner. "Speak up, Bill," Lyndon roared. "I can’t hear you." Moyers replied, "I wasn’t speaking to you, sir." That would be the point of a run by Moyers: He doesn’t change to whom he is speaking just because some president is yelling at him.

To let Moyers know what you think of this idea, write him at P.O. Box 309, Bernardsville, NJ 07924.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and see works by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website,

Friday, July 21, 2006

These times: difficult, challenging, maybe impossibly "out of kilter"?

These times? Difficult, challenging, maybe "impossible"?

Have "these times" most always been so?

What were the followers of Jesus to think and do after his sudden death by crucifixion?

What were early Christian Jews to do when their compatriots said they were no longer welcome in the synagogues where their home faith communities had always been?

What were the followers of Jesus to think and do after Emperor Constantine secured the Nicene Creed declaring what was the orthodox faith and ordered all Christians to believe only those truths, truths which omitted the actual teaching of Jesus, namely that he "was born, suffered, died and rose again..."?

Name any period of history and examine whether people of faith have not been challenged mightily to live a costly faith?

We were created for times like these. Do not lose heart. A costly faith has always required courage. Bonhoeffer coined a phrase “cheap grace” to distinguish between those whose belief did not cost them anything personally and those whose faith was costly, the cost of discipleship.

When Christian faith has had the dominant role in a given society, it too easily became the convenient and comfortable sign of privilege and justification for ostracism of others.

If our faith does not cost us anything personal other than church attendance, how do we judge its worth or value?

We were created for times that stretch us, that summon us to live with faith, in hope and growing love. We grow spiritually only by vulnerability and risk. The surest and perhaps only sign of salvation is whether we love one another in a love that is growing. Jesus indicates that is to be the least among us who were to be loved by caring in their circumstances. So, who are the least among us? Are we not called to welcome the Stranger?

Our patriarch Abraham kept his tent open on all four sides so that he could see strangers approaching from any direction and have food prepared for them by the time they arrived.

We were created for times like these. Do not lose heart.

Journal entry. Paschal Baute, July 21, 2006

Monday, July 17, 2006

Believe it or not, Rapture Christians are thrilled by what is now happening in the Middle East, and these are the people Bush has surrounding him.

Cheerleading the Apocalypse
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 17 July 2006

Who knows but the world may end tonight?

- Robert Browning

The fighting between Israel and Lebanon over the course of the last few days presents perhaps the most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The leadership of Israel and Hezbollah spend the blood of innocents to prove how very tough they are, and the lords of unreason hold sway over all. Syria trembles on the edge of significant involvement, with Iran waiting in the wings.

Annia Ciezadlo, writing for The Nation, offered a poignant snapshot of the mood on the Lebanese street. "The day after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers," wrote Ciezadlo, "all of Beirut prepared for war in time-honored Lebanese fashion: shopping. We bought siege food, anything that doesn't need refrigeration - powdered milk, canned hummus, beans, cracked wheat."

"Less rationally, however," continued Ciezadlo, "we bought comfort food, compiling a collective shopping list of fear and craving: I bought a chocolate cake mix for no reason. Yogurt, which will spoil once the electricity dies, disappeared from the shelves. And everyone lined up to buy bread. It's going to mold in a day or two, but who doesn't feel better after smelling freshly-baked bread, and who knew when we'd smell that again?"

Noted Mideast expert Juan Cole put the ramifications from what is taking place on every American doorstep. "Americans have to understand that when Israel goes wild and bombs a civilian airport and civilian neighborhoods in Beirut," wrote Cole, "a lot of the world's Catholics (Lebanon is partially a Catholic country) and its 1.4 billion Muslims blame the United States for it. Israel is given billions every year by the United States, including sophisticated weaponry that is now being trained on the slums of south Beirut."

"It should also be remembered," continued Cole, "that Bin Laden said, at least, that he started thinking about hitting New York when he saw that 1982 Israeli destruction of the skyscrapers or "towers" of Lebanon. How many future Bin Ladens are watching with horror and rage and feelings of revenge as Israel drops bombs on civilian tenement buildings? When will this blow back on Americans?"

It is all quite terrifying, but most frightening of all are the voices being raised in support of widening this crisis into total war. William Kristol, editor of the far-right periodical The Weekly Standard, has openly stated that the crisis should be used as an opportunity to attack other Middle Eastern nations. "While Syria and Iran are enemies of Israel," wrote Kristol in an article titled "It's Our War," "they are also enemies of the United States. The right response is renewed strength - in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities."

It should be noted that Kristol was one of the most vociferous cheerleaders for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been working out splendidly thus far. One hopes there are some wiser heads somewhere who will remember this, and take Mr. Kristol's advice with a large grain of salt.

Even so, it is disturbing to hear these kinds of things. The last several years have established, beyond doubt, that the Bush administration is at best inept, and at worst deliberately destructive. Watching Bush observe the carnage with a "What me worry?" look on his face has been disgusting, if not terribly surprising. The United States has abandoned its position of leadership on the world stage, and the mayhem erupting in the Middle East, combined with provocative actions from North Korea, is a direct result of that.

If further proof of this is required, look no further than the exchange between Mr. Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin on Saturday. Bush offered a critique of Russia's so-called democracy, and Putin shot back, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly." Bush tried to laugh it off, but his face purpled with rage. And so the president of the United States is publicly slapped by the leader of Russia, and we are all lessened and shamed by it, because Putin was correct.

Much of what is happening has come about, simply, because the Bush administration is run by, and heeds the advice of, stone cold crazy people. Inside the administration lurks Dick Cheney, who with his proxy Don Rumsfeld engineered the Iraq fiasco. On the outside, and enjoying far more credibility than is deserved, are voices like William Kristol's.

And then, of course, there is the Republican base, the people who stand by Mr. Bush because they believe him to be the right arm of Jesus Christ. The fundamentalist far-right branch of Christianity that has established itself as the most powerful force in electoral politics is heeded by this administration because they owe their tenure to these people.

A lot of them are thrilled by what is happening in the Middle East. An internet forum called "Rapture Ready" offers some insight into that particular breed of right-wing Christian who cannot wait for the Apocalypse. "Gosh!!!" writes one poster, "Here we are making plans to move to the east coast and we might not even have to move after all. I say, come quickly Lord!!!"

"Israel is not a land of un-walled villages so this is probably a war that will result in that," writes another poster. "Then Gog and Magog will come. But I believe we could be raptured before. I believe before Damascus is destroyed God may rescue His children out of there." Yet another poster writes, "In another thread, someone brought up the fact that the kidnapping of the first Israeli soldier that started this whole thing was on June 25th, and if you count from that day to August 3rd ... it is EXACTLY 40 days!!!!! I find that to be a HUGE coincidence."


Mr. Bush is accounted as the unofficial leader of these people, listens to them, and has surrounded himself with violent men who share violent dreams. An analysis of apocalyptic scripture could, perhaps, reveal the manner in which a combination of stupidity, extremism and a total lack of morality is the key which will unlock the end of days. In the meantime, I am reminded of those bumper stickers which can be seen on the roads from time to time. "In case of Rapture," they read, "this car will be empty." Once, I saw a witty rejoinder to this sentiment on another bumper: "In case of Rapture, can I have your car?"

If I were making bumper stickers, I might add a new wrinkle: "In case of Rapture, can I have my country back?"

Sunday, July 16, 2006

My Friends, do not lose heart. We were made for times like these.

We were made for times like these
by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now.
Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often-righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The luster and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope.
Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practising, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind. Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails. We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take “everyone on Earth” to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbour and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.
This comes with much love and a prayer that you remember who you came from and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote the best seller Women Who Run With the Wolves

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Zidane, Soccer, and some things are bigger than football.

Concluding statement in an article by John Cox at Florida Gulf Coast University.

"Widely considered the greatest football player since Maradona, Zidane's image before his public should now be richer, but not at all diminished. Israeli author Etgar Keret wrote in Paris's Liberation, "By his explosion of anger this player chose to end his magnificent career not as a legend, but as an individual, warm, sensitive and not larger than life." But let us give the last words to Malika Zidane: "Our family is deeply saddened that Zinedine's career should end with a red card but at least he has his honor. Some things are bigger than football."

John Cox is an assistant history professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. Contact him at Comment (1) | Trackback | Print
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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

LETTING GO OF GOD, by Nancy Mairs, Notre Dame Magazine, Summer, 2006

an essay by Nancy Mairs
(My birthday gift to others today
-copyright and attribution noted at the end)

I am fed up with feeling sorry for God. "Poor God," I sigh in response to one horrific headline after another, "the things they are doing in your name."

The world is being battered senseless by bad news. God will love you on condition that you believe that Jesus will personally save you from the inconceivable horrors God has cooked up for everyone else. God will love you if you submit totally to God and use whatever means. you can to expand the territory in which everybody else does so too. God will love you unless you permit the aforementioned expansionists to encroach upon the territory where you worship God. God will love you as long as you fight to the death to protect the land God gave you 3,000 years ago, no matter who else lays claim to the same area and how many of them you have to kill in performing this sacred duty. All these messages reveal a great deal about human nature - the guilt, the fear, the territoriality, the arrogance - but virtually nothing about the Creator.

Recently, I've come to recognize that inward rue and apology are not good enough responses to the very public and often violent appropriation of God's name and God's will to justify such outrageous beliefs and behaviors. Although I have never quite overcome my embarrassment at speaking of these matters, repressed as religious utterance was first by my family and then by my thoroughly secular academic career, I now view my reticence as mere self-protection. Even though 82 percent of people in the United States pray to God daily. according to one study, religion has taken on an unsavory character for many, appearing to have fallen into the hands of dirty old men or to have been co-opted by simpleminded little boys brandishing at some "evil" opponent a holy book in one hand and a weapon in the other. Who wants to engage in practices at the risk of being taken by the world for a pervert, a terrorist, a superstitious simpleton, or an outright nutter? I don't want to be taken for one of "them" - the ones who boast of possessing God's exclusive affection and consign to perdition all whose beliefs differ fi-om theirs.

I know God. I do not mean that I have a special intimacy with God, either direct or mediated by some human or divine representative. I know God in the way that anyone is aware of the reality in which she is embedded. And what I know differs so radically from the views commonly taken as "religious" nowadays that I feel compelled to speak out. By so doing, I intend to redeem God from the ones who hold the Holy One captive in their own system of belief. Failing to perceive that Yahweh, Shekinhah, Allah, the Buddha, Krishna, Olorun, Awonawilona and countless other focuses of worship manifest Holiness, no one of them more than any other since Holiness cannot exceed itself, God's captors each believe they've laid hands on the "true" God, as though God could be anything but True. They snap and snarl and tear at one another's flesh like curs while God watches, weeps and (I'll have to return to this point again and again) embraces them all.

The compulsion I feel is not imposed by God. God does not want me to speak out in defense of the Holy, any more than God wants one political candidate or another to be president of the United States or the United States to dominate the world, whether economically, politically or religiously. God does not want. Period. That's not who or how God is. The need to reduce God to a person having mental states with which we are familiar - desire, anger, retribution (but seldom, alas, a sense of humor) - does God little service and ourselves even less. We would do better to stand before God in silence, allowing the Holy to open to us without our definition or direction. Only God can say what God is, We can only allow ourselves to be taught.

Sometimes the lessons can be a little rough. A few years ago, not for the first time, I fell flat on my face. Literally. In my life, multiple sclerosis serves to translate metaphor back into materiality, as I bear ample scars to attest. This time, purple stained my swollen left eye and jaw; the crowns on my two front teeth, put in place after an earlier fall, chipped; my lips puffed out in a parody of a sexual pout; and inside the lower lip, four sutures held together the raggedly bitten flesh. As the swelling pressed both inward and outward, I floundered in a fog of painkillers, hating them but grateful for the periods of respite they afforded. Just then I also fell flat on my face figuratively, yet another grant application turned down, and no anodyne could dull the stab of despair this sort of rejection always brings. Body and soul united in one long moan.

I can't count the number of times I've been told, often by strangers as they observe my crippled form, "God never sends us more than we can hane dle." I know that they mean to comfort me for what they assume, quite wrongly, to be a wretched fate, and so I grit my teeth and smile - but weakly. I despise pious cliches, not merely because they falsifY experience (most of us face, from time to time, more than we can handle) but because they distance and distort the Holy. "God" doesn't "send" the . events of our lives, for good or ill. What happens, happens.

On rainy days, which come seldom enough in the desert, my elderly white cat used to stare out the back door, then turn his green gaze on me and open his pink maw. "Mwrk!" he would say in a voice ridiculously ill-suited to his bulle.
"Don't look at me," I told him every time. "I didn't do it. It's not my fault." He never believed me. Why should he? I caused the kitty kibble to materialize in his bowl. Mine was the warmth against which he pressed, rumbling sonorously, on winter nights. With me around, doors opened and closed at his petition and dreadful shouts issued forth whenever he chased the black cat, equally elderly and a quarter his size. And every so often, despised water descended from the sky, flooding the hollows under the privet where he preferred toJie before an owl swooped from nowhere one night and carried him away.

Winchester was entitled to his magical sense of my powers. His brain was the size of an immature..Brussels sprout at best. In infancy, human creatures, though differently endowed, make similar conjectures. All of us go through a stage of belief in the Almighty Parent before whom we are powerless, who dispenses and withholds at will, who knows our every thought and action even when out of view and judges them, often severely. But we can go through it into a spiritual adulthood in which we recognize that God, though infinitely mysterious, is no magician, is not indeed an entity at all but r ther an eternal unfolding in which all creation even Winchester, even I - have our parts and bear our ,responsibilities.

No Force hurled me from my wheelchair face down on a tiled floor. Heedlessly, I left my wheelchair turned on and struck the joystick with my forearm, whipping around with such momentum that I pitched out. In future, I would be wise to attend to the little red button more closely. Nor did any Intelligence poison the minds of a panel of judges against my work. I have perhaps mistaken my own merits, or the judges have, but God surely has not.

What happens, happens. The Anglo-Saxons had a word for this observation, wyrd, which they used in ways that resemble our use of "fate" or "divine will." Perhaps because my lineage can be traced to the speakers of that flinty tongue, I am drawn to the tone of resignation in the word, the sense - born perhaps of a severe climate with a shorr growing season when there were few remedies against exposure, starvation and illness that events simply occurred, unwilled, uncontrolled. This did not lead to defeatism, since I am here to affirm that the race survived, but to a kind of immersion in and acquiescence to whatever life brought next.

If there's anything the modern mind cannot bear, it's the suspicion that no one is in charge. Individuals want to control their own destinies, and they expect assistance in the venture from a variety of social institutions. If a smooth course gets disrupt" ed, someone can always be found to blame: the negligent parent, the inept schoolteacher, the corrupt cop, the sleazy manufacturer, the greedy lawyer, the power-hungry politician. Most would not lump God in with this unsavory assembly, but in attributing life's accidents to Him, unconsciously they make of God a similarly remote and even inimical other (to whom they invariably refer with the masculine pronoun) just for the reassurance that Somebody is in control.

Better, I think, to embrace chaos, which has, physicists have discovered, its own weird elegance, and to admit tlnt no Supreme Being stands outside creation takng charge, in the comforting way the vestigial infant in each of us would like to think, of the events that befall us. God is the whole: the fall, the pain, the healing, the new fall. . . . Weare never left alone to face the tests an Almighty Examiner chooses to set for us. We, like the rest of creation, are in God, of God, and God is unfailingly present as Whatever Happens Next.

For many of us, the idea of God as a verb - a process, specifically an unfoldment, without origin, without end, without site or stint or cease - seems too vast and cold to provide the sense of spiritual relationship we crave. We simply don't relate to processes. We may observe them, we may participate in them, but we don't talk to them person to person. We need a listening entity. We need God to sit still. I think of God in terms of rudimentary quantum mechanics: as a wave until collapsed into a particle by my focus. In this state, God can be imagined as a static Being who can be addressed. When I look away, God reverts to waviness and flows on. The particulate form provides me the means to speak both to and about the Holy.

Although I believe that perfect prayer should consist of praise for the All and meditation on the Mystery at its heart, my own prayer tends to lapse into petitions to a sort of Parent: "please, please, please." I tend to pray hastily, often in a panic, or by rote. I'm most apt to ask for trivialities, like money, or impossibilities, like being cured of my multiple sclerosis. I don't believe in divine intervention. I believe in miracles, but only as random inexplicable events. I know that God doesn't hand out treats in return for my good behavior, just as I feed biscuits to my Labrador retriever when he sits on command; nor does God chastise me for my sins. I am not the object of the Almighty's operant conditioning. Nevertheless, a low mutter - even a whine - of petition accompanies me throughout my days.

I am shamed by the baseness of my spiritual life, but I also recognize petitionary prayer as a habit developed out of that magical childhood thinking I mentioned earlier. I want my own way. I want God to give it to me. Right now. The fact that we “outgrow” childhood doesn't me an that we shed it altogether; every phase of our selves dwells in us and informs subsequent development. Not surprising, then, that old elements emerge and re-emerge, often without any apparent reason, like the dark heads of seals erupting through the ocean surface. The challenge is to identify and acknowledge them without permitting them to cramp mature experience.

Some people get stuck. Some people make a religion out of their stuckness. In it lies the basis of fundamentalism, I think. The deity is represented psychically as a forbidding Father who looms out of the primal scene to pronounce a long list of commandments and an even longer one of prohibitions on pain not merely of death but of infinite torment, an orientation corresponding to the most elementary stage of moral development. He has revealed these principles once and for all in sacred writings or oral tradition to a chosen and enlightened segment of humanity, often requiring that His followers proselytize nonbelievers and, in some practices, exterminate whoever refuses to convert. Both speculation and diversity are anathema.

The payoff for adopting the posture of a child who is sure to perform all manner of bad behavior unless obedient to God's strict tutelag? Absolute assurance of God's protection of and preference for the self (and, by extension, those who share the self's beliefs and practices) and, for obeying the rules; the reward of a lifetime: heaven. When Terry Gross, host of NPR's FreshAir, asked Tim LaHaye, co-author of the wildly successful Left Behind series of novels, whether he believed.that he would go to heaven, he replied without a nanosecond's hesitation that he was confident of it, but that she, a Jew, would not. Many of us would have to scrutinize our consciences, and in the unlikely event that we found nothing blameworthy there, we might still conclude that God will have to decree our ultimate destination when the time comes. But once a fundamentalist subscribes to a set of divine precepts, the way to eternal bliss is clear and unquestionable.

I do not doubt that such a belief system consoles its adherents. I would happily leave them to their comfort in this harsh world where one may fall on one's face at any moment, who could begrudge it? - if only they would leave me to mine. But because a fundamentalist system is rooted in teachings believed to be absolute and inerrant, the spiritual flexibility I enjoy can only be condemned as heterodoxy and sacrilege. I remember a minister admonishing me that I must, in my nursing-home work, endeavor to bring people to Jesus even on their deathbeds so that they would not be damned to eternal punishment. A system so rigid and fearful walls God up with His believers in a hermetically sealed box, a big one, often crowned with a dome or a steeple, or a little one in which God himself has scribbled his instructions. Probably I cannot persuade its adherents to open their souls and embrace the Whole in which they live. No word can breach that barrier. All I can do is to reveal what I know.

I often cast my meditations in terms of Jesus's teachings because my entire life has been steeped in them, not because I consider them singularly apt. They echo and are echoed in utterances about sacred matters throughout history. I do not believe that "Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" [John 3:18]. You do not have to believe in Jesus Christ in order to lead a holy life. I do not know why anybody would tell you that you did, unless to scare you into being good by threatening you with untold horrors in the afterlife, where wickedness must be punished since it is so seldom on this side of the grave. I'm not persuaded that there is an afterlife, not in the sense most people conceive it, but if there is, I doubt that it will be given over to your chastisement. No, I'm afraid you'll have to be good on your own, without threats or bribes, although the Jesus of the Gospels provides some helpful instructions.

You don't even have to believe in God in order to be good. That is, God will enter the world through you whether or not you think that God exists. Lately, I've begun to wonder whether the world and all its denizens might be more likely to survive if fewer people believed in what they call "God" (or "Allah" or what have you), since the deity they construct and worship is so often dangerously cruel, exclusive and demanding. This one (and many faiths insist that "He" is one, even though they obviously have no idea what oneness is), inviting division and intolerance, can hardly be called "holy."

In short, millions of self-identified religious people just don't "get" God. In this regard, Eastern teachers better communicate the quiet receptivity true holiness requires. According to the eighth-century Chinese monk Pai-chang, "Since there has been enlightenment in the past, there must also be enlightenment in the present. If you can attain now and
forever the single moment of present awareness, and this one moment of awareness is not governed by anything at all, whether existent or nonexistent, then from the past and the present the Buddha is just human, and humans are just Buddhas."

Moreover, the contemporary Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh makes clear, we are essential to the presence of the Holy among us: I'When we say, 'I take refuge in the Buddha,' we should also understand that 'The Buddha takes refuge in me,' because without the second part the first part is not complete. The Buddha needs us for awakening, understanding, and love to be real things and not just concepts. They must be real things that have real effects on life. Whenever I say, 'I take refuge in the Buddha,' I hear 'the Buddha takes refuge in me.'" Thought about in terms of such reciprocity, God cannot be a possessible entity, the property of some, the enemy of others. God comes to us all, bidden or unbidden, and we all serve as God's safe haven.

Even though I don't fret whether anyone else believes in God, I am happy that I do. Awareness that I am immersed in the Holy encourages me to attend to and appreciate every element I encounter. I do so more readily with some creatures, objects and events than others, I confess; and I do so more happily with those I can admire than with those I must endure, admonish or correct. With certain politicians I have so far failed altogether. Seriously, in God I know that all creation is interconnected and sacred and that I must live in it responsively and responsibly.

I don't think that my belief confers meaning to myself or anything else. I'm pretty sure that the cosmos is meaning-less in any human sense of the word, without purpose or consequence. It is not for. It is. Yahweh, in Hebrew Scripture: I Am. What God offers is not significance for a chosen few but mystery for whoever chooses to see it, an inexhaustible source of devout astonishment.

We would do better to stand before God in silence, allowing the Holy to open to us without our definition or direction. Only God can say what God is.We can only allow ourselves to be taught

by Nancy Mairs, a poet and essayist living in Tucson. She has published eight books among them Ordinary Time and Waist-High in the World.

Published in Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2006. Pp. 44-48.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Can Sport be a Diversity Trainer?

Can Sports bring a nation and perhaps even Europe together?

Reference: "French Soccer and the Future of Europe" by Zinn and Cohen

subtitle: the challenge of diversity in Europe, another vision?

If anyone is paying attention to soccer and the World Cup final this weekend
(pardon this old soccer coach who helped introduce it to Florida schools and
colleges almost 50 years ago), something quite amazing is happening in
France and Europe this week.

As you may know, France now has 6 million Muslims and the recent youth riots
were due in part to their lack of assimilation and job opportunity in
France. Even England with 3 million Muslims is worried after the London
bombing, and discovering that 1 out of a 100 is sympathetic to Muslim
extremism, counted by Winston S. Churchill on BBC last night as possibly
300,000. He predicted France would be a Muslim country in 20 years at
present rate. Europe already knows Muslim violence if you are keeping up,
not to the extent of 911, but terroristic assassinations of those regarded
as the enemy of the Koran.

What is happening in France, despite "proud racist" dismay is celebration
and joy in a multi-cultural soccer team. Here is a few quotes:

"While hundreds of thousands of people celebrated on the Champs-Elyses
following France's stunning turn-around, not everyone was joining the fun.
Proud racist and leader of the ultra-right wing National Front, Jean-Marie
Le Pen, could not resist defiling the moment. Le Pen decried France's
multi-ethnic team as unrepresentative of French society, saying that France
"cannot recognize itself in the national side," and "maybe the coach
exaggerated the proportion of players of color and should have been a bit
more careful."

"Le Pen and others of his ilk do not recognize themselves in a team whose
leader is of Algerian descent, Zinedine Zidane, and whose most feared
striker is black, Thierry Henry. Le Pen used to torture Algerians for the
French military in the 1950s and it turns his stomach that his team reflects
France's (and Europe's) colonial past, with players from Cameroon,
Guadalupe, Senegal, Congo, Algeria, and Benin among other countries.

For entire article see:

Concluding paragraph, worth reading:

"It is paradoxical that a victory by France, a country with as grisly a
colonial past as any European power, could be a cause for celebration by
immigrants and fighters for social justice. But as last year's "suburb"
riots and mass youth demonstrations have shown, there is a battle over what
it means to be French and by extension, the future of Europe. Anti-Arab and
Muslim sentiment is by no means monopolized by Le Pen and his cronies on the
far right. Whether or not they defeat Italy for the title, the astonishing
success of France's multi-ethnic team presents another vision for the future
of the continent.


Note: Dave Zirin is the author of "What's My name Fool?": Sports and
Resistance in the United States." Email to:
John Cox is an assistant History professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

The World Cup Finals of the Beautiful Game is scheduled for Sunday p.m.
between France and Italy. Prognosis: Italy looks stronger on paper, (and the
stingiest of all on defense) but the romance is with the shocking French who
have surprised most everyone. Some of the best players in the world are
playing against each other and their skill, both individual and teamwork, is

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What I know as I approach #77

Journal, July 5, 2006
What I know finally as I approach my 77th birthday.
I am an alien, a mystery to myself, wounded beyond recognition, even after a lifetime of meditation and self-reflection. Inner Space remains the great adventure.

I have experiences, desires, even wisdom and woundedness that others cannot or will know or understand. Ever, or accept.

It is simply not true that talking is always helpful. A cure for what ails us. Some things are better not said. Talking with a person who cnnot or will not understand your frame of reference, your context, your experience can be a downer. If cn also, if one has shared deep feelings, discourage. Feminists are simpol wrong when they beeilve that talking it out is sure to make it better. When you have lived with someone for 35-40 years there are annoying habits that are better not discussed. Somethings are better not shared with a life-partner. It is an illusion maintained by rude and crude people that because one thinks it, one has an obligation to say it.

I am certain that every experience is always unique to some degree, tho there are similaries and commonalities. We have all had the experience of being left out, dissed, or not heard, by others. But just as we can never put our foot in the same river, experience is not the same.

Yet we all judge others' experiences by our own, as this is our only frame of reference. Some of us are utterly convinced that no one can or could experience the pain that we have felt. That is both true and not true.

The problem arises when the others experience is too different or diverse from out own, we assume that the other is most likely insincere, pretending, or faking it in some way. My wife....e.g. after an argument. . .

Male - Female experience is quite diverse. Many marriages survive simply because of trade-offs made. Status qu stand-offs accepted. When you respect this boundary of mine, I will respect this boundary of yours. Inner Space is the Great Adventure. But our inner landscape is the scarey one because no agency teaches us the adventure or invites an exploration. No one teaches us how to begin the journey. We are taught repeatedly by culture and media that the outside is what is important. What we have and the way we look. No one in our circle teaches us about the Godhead within, the mystery of our Higher Power. Without that experience we are ready to judge another on the surface, by behavior that we do not or cannot understand.

Have we not all blocked out, paid little attention to loved ones we have hurt? That is, loved them my way, not the way they hoped to be loved? Regardless.

Are we not all self-centered and wounded? Without the inner journey we can never realize this.
We are also guided marvelously by a Higher Power, an inner Godhead, which summons loving and giving and forgiving. Generosity and Joy. Are we born for ourselves or for others? For the sake of relationship and loving, and even for loving mightily. WE are born for service, for learning how to love and how to work together to survive the mess we all find ourselves in.

There is a singular and painful loneliness that each of us carries. But still pieces of our journey can be shared and that piecemeal sharing is what can make the journey worthwhile. We have walked a few steps together and shared the scene. Sufficient.

Praise God for every blessing, every day, every moment.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Cut and Run in Iraq?

Cut and Run or Keep Shooting Ourselves in the Other Foot?

Paschal Baute, July 2, 2006

The almost 3,000 tiny waving flags on the ground at Thoroughbred Park this weekend are a stunning reminder of the human cost of the Iraqi war so far. Would Americans have supported attacking Iraq three years ago if we had know how much it would cost in lives and dollars, the strength of the violent insurgency, and how little weapons of mass destruction Saddam actually had? Recent polls show fewer would have done so.

What is to be done now? An abrupt withdrawal might embolden Al Qaeda types, says Bush, weaken resolve of other nations to stand up to Islamic fascisim, cause people to lose nerve and not stay strong. But would leaving show weakness?

This invasion has won the USA many enemies, likely multiplied them, cost hundreds of billions of dollars, distracted us from other presssing issues in North Korea, Iran, and other places, including the growing poverty, immigration issues and other problems such as health care at home.

There is now a civil war between Islamics factions, with killings daily. We do not have resources to stop a civil war. Every American helicopter is a reminder to the Islamic fascists in a tribal society of an unjust occupation. Is there more to be gained by a stubborn pursuit of unreasonable objectives there?

In 1966, George Kennan, the realistic architect of our Cold War "Containment" policy, testified before Congress on Vietnam. He argued for a peace settlement which took the Nixon administration another nine years to get around to, finally in 1975. The delay cost us another 25,000 American lives and that black scar that is the Vietnam Memorial.

"Cut and Run?" Republican Hawks criticizing the Demos last week, while the Commanding General there called for troop reductions. The answer Keenan gave in 1966 was simply this: Just because the US has shot itself in one foot did not mean that it should fire away at the other.

Our continued presence in Iraq is gaining nothing and one of the reasons for the continuing violence. Iraqis now must settle their own affairs, and if they go through a terrible civil war to find unity, then so did we.

Reference: "Mirror Image" Could Iraq be Vietnam in reverse. What George F Kennan’s 1966 Senate testimony cn tell us about Iraq in 2006. By Nicholas Thompson, July 1, Boston Globe, also published on Common Dreams website. Also Wikipedia. George F. Keenan.

Two Further statements from Keenan relevant here::

At age 98, he warned of the unforeseen consequences of waging war against Iraq. He warned that launching an attack on Iraq would amount to waging a second war that "bears no relation to the first war against terrorism" and declared efforts by the Bush administration to link al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein "pathetically unsupportive and unreliable." Kennan went on to warn:

"Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before... In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end." (reference Wikipedia)

When American policymakers suddenly confronted the Cold War, Keenan wrote, they had inherited little more than rationale and rhetoric "utopian in expectations, legalistic in concept, moralistic in [the] demand it seemed to place on others, and self-righteous in the degree of high-mindedness and rectitude... to ourselves." The source of the problem, according to Kennan, is the force of public opinion, a force that is inevitably unstable, unserious, subjective, emotional, and simplistic. As a result, Kennan has insisted that the U.S. public can only be united behind a foreign policy goal on the "primitive level of slogans and jingoistic ideological inspiration."

Keenan was the intellectual architext of the Marshal Plan.