Friday, December 30, 2005

Craig Murray offers more on US Torture -- Mirrored to B.Chr. by Request

December 29, 2005

Damning documentary evidence unveiled. Dissident bloggers in coordinated exposé of UK government lies over torture.

Help us beat the British government's gagging order by mirroring this information on your own site or blog!

Constituent: "This question is for Mr Straw; Have you ever read any
documents where the intelligence has been procured through torturous means?"

Jack Straw: "Not to the best of my knowledge... let me make this clear... the British government does not support torture in any circumstances. Full stop. We do not support the obtaining of intelligence by torture, or its use." - Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, election hustings, Blackburn, April 2005

I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture... On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror. Linda Duffield said that she had been asked to assure me that my qualms of conscience were respected and understood. - Ambassador Craig Murray, memo to the Foreign Office, July 2004

With Tony Blair and Jack Straw cornered on extraordinary rendition, the UK government is particularly anxious to suppress all evidence of our complicity in obtaining intelligence extracted by foreign torturers.

The British Foreign Office is now seeking to block publication of Craig Murray's forthcoming book, which documents his time as Ambassador to Uzbekistan. The Foreign Office has demanded that Craig Murray remove all references to two especially damning British government documents, indicating that our government was knowingly receiving information extracted by the Uzbeks through torture, and return every copy that he has in his possession.

Craig Murray is refusing to do this. Instead, the documents are today being published simultaneously on blogs all around the world.

The first document contains the text of several telegrams that Craig Murray sent back to London from 2002 to 2004, warning that the information being passed on by the Uzbek security services was torture-tainted, and challenging MI6 claims that the information was nonetheless "useful".

The second document is the text of a legal opinion from the Foreign Office's Michael Wood, arguing that the use by intelligence services of information extracted through torture does not constitute a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture.

Craig Murray says:

In March 2003 I was summoned back to London from Tashkent specifically for a meeting at which I was told to stop protesting. I was told specifically that it was perfectly legal for us to obtain and to use intelligence from the Uzbek torture chambers.

After this meeting Sir Michael Wood, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's legal adviser, wrote to confirm this position. This minute from Michael Wood is perhaps the most important document that has become public about extraordinary rendition. It is irrefutable evidence of the government's use of torture material, and that I was attempting to stop it. It is no wonder that the government is trying to suppress this.

First document: Confidential letters from Uzbekistan

Letter #1
FM Tashkent
TO FCO, Cabinet Office, DFID, MODUK, OSCE Posts, Security Council Posts

16 September 02

SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism

US plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy: increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism. Support to Karimov regime a bankrupt and cynical policy.


The Economist of 7 September states: "Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families and friends to extremism." The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record". I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.
Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid to Uzbekistan this year. Human Rights Watch immediately published a commendably sober and balanced rebuttal of the State Department claim.

Again we are back in the area of the US accepting sham reform [a reference to my previous telegram on the economy]. In August media censorship was abolished, and theoretically there are independent media outlets, but in practice there is absolutely no criticism of President Karimov or the central government in any Uzbek media. State Department call this self-censorship: I am not sure that is a fair way to describe an unwillingness to experience the brutal methods of the security services.

Similarly, following US pressure when Karimov visited Washington, a human rights NGO has been permitted to register. This is an advance, but they have little impact given that no media are prepared to cover any of their activities or carry any of their statements.
The final improvement State quote is that in one case of murder of a prisoner the police involved have been prosecuted. That is an improvement, but again related to the Karimov visit and does not appear to presage a general change of policy. On the latest cases of torture deaths the Uzbeks have given the OSCE an incredible explanation, given the nature of the injuries, that the victims died in a fight between prisoners.

But allowing a single NGO, a token prosecution of police officers and a fake press freedom cannot possibly outweigh the huge scale of detentions, the torture and the secret executions. President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Karimov is a dictator who is committed to neither political nor economic reform. The purpose of his regime is not the development of his country but the diversion of economic rent to his oligarchic supporters through government controls. As a senior Uzbek academic told me privately, there is more repression here now than in Brezhnev's time. The US are trying to prop up Karimov economically and to justify this support they need to claim that a process of economic and political reform is underway. That they do so claim is either cynicism or self-delusion.

This policy is doomed to failure. Karimov is driving this resource-rich country towards economic ruin like an Abacha. And the policy of increasing repression aimed indiscriminately at pious Muslims, combined with a deepening poverty, is the most certain way to ensure continuing support for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They have certainly been decimated and disorganised in Afghanistan, and Karimov's repression may keep the lid on for years – but pressure is building and could ultimately explode.

I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the World into two camps in the "War against Terrorism" and that Karimov is on "our" side.

If Karimov is on "our" side, then this war cannot be simply between the forces of good and evil. It must be about more complex things, like securing the long-term US military presence in Uzbekistan. I silently wept at the 11 September commemoration here. The right words on New York have all been said. But last week was also another anniversary – the US-led overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The subsequent dictatorship killed, dare I say it, rather more people than died on September 11. Should we not remember then also, and learn from that too? I fear that we are heading down the same path of US-sponsored dictatorship here. It is ironic that the beneficiary is perhaps the most unreformed of the World's old communist leaders.
We need to think much more deeply about Central Asia. It is easy to place Uzbekistan in the "too difficult" tray and let the US run with it, but I think they are running in the wrong direction. We should tell them of the dangers we see. Our policy is theoretically one of engagement, but in practice this has not meant much. Engagement makes sense, but it must mean grappling with the problems, not mute collaboration. We need to start actively to state a distinctive position on democracy and human rights, and press for a realistic view to be taken in the IMF. We should continue to resist pressures to start a bilateral DFID programme, unless channelled non-governmentally, and not restore ECGD cover despite the constant lobbying. We should not invite Karimov to the UK. We should step up our public diplomacy effort, stressing democratic values, including more resources from the British Council. We should increase support to human rights activists, and strive for contact with non-official Islamic groups.

Above all we need to care about the 22 million Uzbek people, suffering from poverty and lack of freedom. They are not just pawns in the new Great Game.


Letter #2
Fm Tashkent

18 March 2003


1. As seen from Tashkent, US policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the US pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth.


2. Last year the US gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.

3. Uzbekistan's geo-strategic position is crucial. It has half the population of the whole of Central Asia. It alone borders all the other states in a region which is important to future Western oil and gas supplies. It is the regional military power. That is why the US is here, and here to stay. Contractors at the US military bases are extending the design life of the buildings from ten to twenty five years.

4. Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov's vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

5. I was stunned to hear that the US had pressured the EU to withdraw a motion on Human Rights in Uzbekistan which the EU was tabling at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. I was most unhappy to find that we are helping the US in what I can only call this cover-up. I am saddened when the US constantly quote fake improvements in human rights in Uzbekistan, such as the abolition of censorship and Internet freedom, which quite simply have not happened (I see these are quoted in the draft EBRD strategy for Uzbekistan, again I understand at American urging).

6. From Tashkent it is difficult to agree that we and the US are activated by shared values. Here we have a brutal US sponsored dictatorship reminiscent of Central and South American policy under previous US Republican administrations. I watched George Bush talk today of Iraq and "dismantling the apparatus of terror… removing the torture chambers and the rape rooms". Yet when it comes to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated as peccadilloes, not to affect the relationship and to be downplayed in international fora. Double standards? Yes.

7. I hope that once the present crisis is over we will make plain to the US, at senior level, our serious concern over their policy in Uzbekistan.

Letter #3


OF 220939 JULY 04




1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results.

3. We should cease all co-operation with the Uzbek Security Services they are beyond the pale. We indeed need to establish an SIS presence here, but not as in a friendly state.


4. In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

5. I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture.

6. On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror. Linda Duffield said that she had been asked to assure me that my qualms of conscience were respected and understood.

7. Sir Michael Jay's circular of 26 May stated that there was a reporting obligation on us to report torture by allies (and I have been instructed to refer to Uzbekistan as such in the context of the war on terror). You, Sir, have made a number of striking, and I believe heartfelt, condemnations of torture in the last few weeks. I had in the light of this decided to return to this question and to highlight an apparent contradiction in our policy. I had intimated as much to the Head of Eastern Department.

8. I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear that without informing me of the meeting, or since informing me of the result of the meeting, a meeting was convened in the FCO at the level of Heads of Department and above, precisely to consider the question of the receipt of Uzbek intelligence material obtained under torture. As the office knew, I was in London at the time and perfectly able to attend the meeting. I still have only gleaned that it happened.

9. I understand that the meeting decided to continue to obtain the Uzbek torture material. I understand that the principal argument deployed was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true – the material is marked with a euphemism such as "From detainee debriefing." The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.

10. I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact

11. The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;
"The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights." While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

12. On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer:

"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

13. Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

14. I was taken aback when Matthew Kydd said this stuff was valuable. Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat. That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them. Furthermore MI6 have no operative within a thousand miles of me and certainly no expertise that can come close to my own in making this assessment.

15. At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.

16. I have been considering Michael Wood's legal view, which he kindly gave in writing. I cannot understand why Michael concentrated only on Article 15 of the Convention. This certainly bans the use of material obtained under torture as evidence in proceedings, but it does not state that this is the sole exclusion of the use of such material.

17. The relevant article seems to me Article 4, which talks of complicity in torture. Knowingly to receive its results appears to be at least arguable as complicity. It does not appear that being in a different country to the actual torture would preclude complicity. I talked this over in a hypothetical sense with my old friend Prof Francois Hampson, I believe an acknowledged World authority on the Convention, who said that the complicity argument and the spirit of the Convention would be likely to be winning points. I should be grateful to hear Michael's views on this.

18. It seems to me that there are degrees of complicity and guilt, but being at one or two removes does not make us blameless. There are other factors. Plainly it was a breach of Article 3 of the Convention for the coalition to deport detainees back here from Baghram, but it has been done. That seems plainly complicit.

19. This is a difficult and dangerous part of the World. Dire and increasing poverty and harsh repression are undoubtedly turning young people here towards radical Islam. The Uzbek government are thus creating this threat, and perceived US support for Karimov strengthens anti-Western feeling. SIS ought to establish a presence here, but not as partners of the Uzbek Security Services, whose sheer brutality puts them beyond the pale.


Second Document - summary of legal opinion from Michael Wood arguing that it is legal to use information extracted under torture:

From: Michael Wood, Legal Advisor

Date: 13 March 2003

CC: PS/PUS; Matthew Kidd, WLD

Linda Duffield


1. Your record of our meeting with HMA Tashkent recorded that Craig had said that his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.

2. I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The nearest thing is article 15 which provides:

"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."

3. This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as evidence.


M C Wood
Legal Adviser

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Smell that Limbaughger Cheese? Rush on Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq

Ya know, when I want intelligent commentary from the Right, I go to Rush Limbaugh. Certainly, a man with this fella's sterling record of truth-telling should be trusted.

To prove the above, I merely point out what he recently said regarding the Christian Peacemaker Team members kidnapped in Iraq. (I should point out that today is the day they may be murdered by their captors, who promised to do so if "Iraqi prisoners" were not set free.)

Rush said "part of me likes this." Huh? "Well, here's why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality. [...] [A]ny time a bunch of people that walk around with the[ir] head in the sand practicing a bunch of irresponsible, idiotic theory confront reality, I'm kind of happy about it, because I'm eager for people to see reality, change their minds if necessary, and have things sized up."

Uh, yep. I did love the rather confused image of someone walking around while their head was in the sand. I also loved the unique and never before used phrase "leftist feel-good hand-wringers." As far as being shown reality, there's little danger Limbaugh will ever encounter such a thing, thanks to his listeners' support that keeps him in money and on the air.

CPT is an incredible ministry, and I can only hope and pray the folks that are holding the four CPT hostages let them go. And if any evangelical Christian dares suggest that Rush Limbaugh's version of reality has anything to do with Scripture, Jesus, or loving one's neighbor, just don't dare say it around me unless you want both your ears pinned back and on fire.

As far as Rush goes, any press is good press, I guess. Open mouth, say outrageous and vacuuous things, and garner dollars. Hey, it is the American way. Praiz gawd!!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Social Glue vs. Is It True? Neo-cons Prostitute Christianity

Indulge me for a moment as I tell a little story about my testosterone-charged -- and God-charged -- teen years. It really does tie into the title of this bit.

In the summer of 1974, I went to Montana Boys State as a delegate from Fort Benton High School. Only one year earlier, I had become a Jesus follower after an existential and externally unverifiable set of events not worth hashing over at this time.

At Boys State, we were treated to Montana's Lieutenant Governor -- at least, that is who I recall it being -- speaking to us on the issue of morality in the public sector. Things were going along fine until he made the following statement, or something awfully close to it:

"As Americans, we need a moral glue to hold our social fabric together. Christianity serves as that moral agent." And he went on to explain why religion was important precisely because it was a sort of moral restraint and shaper of society.

After a bit of this, I'd had enough. Remember, I was only a teenager, and hormonally imbalanced. I lept to my feet and yelled, "BUT IS IT TRUE?!" at the top of my lungs.

You see, in my simplistic and young mind, I actually thought it mattered whether or not Christianity was based on history, particularly that history regarding Jesus Christ's existence, birth, life, death, and resurrection. To the speaker, whatever his personal thoughts, it didn't seem important enough to even mention.

At that moment, I now believe, I began the journey away from not only conservativism, but nationalism. I realized -- since I actually think I had a good handle on essentials back then -- that it was Christianity that governed all other questions of human meaning rather than societal considerations, or individual considerations for that matter, being the answer. As Jesus went, so I went. If he was a crock, then so was I, and I wasn't going to sit around playing house with dead moral codes written by deluded people thousands of years ago.

Neither would I pledge allegiance to the flag of twentieth-century religions whether fascist or marxist; they, too, were only worth confronting if in fact the God question had an affirmative answer. If the God question had no answer, or more appropriately, if the Jesus question had no affirmative answer, then there were no more questions really worth asking. Instead, I'd be a good little hedonist, breeding wildly or ingesting illicit substances until I was tired of either, and then perhaps blowing my brains out.

Oh, we'd ask them anyway, being the sad, lonesome creatures we would be without a Maker, Father, or Savior. We couldn't help but keep asking them. But they would never be answered. And some few of us might even have the guts to stop asking them. If I didn't believe I'd had a real encounter with God -- you know, that encounter I'm not going to offer as evidence since it wouldn't hold up as verifiable to the non-participant -- then I would have to believe, and act upon the belief, that no meaning at all exists in the universe.

Good grief, Trott, get to your point.

Okay then. Now it is 2005. James Wolcott's comments regarding conservative commentator Irving Kristol's apparently quite elitist viewpoint on God -- one which bears remarkable resemblance to that Boys' State speaker in 1974 -- bring up a nearly identical reaction in me. Now being fair, those comments (originally appearing on John Derbyshire's blog), stirred up a mini-controversy, and perhaps mis-represented Kristol as not believing in God when in fact he really might just think that whether or not he believes in God, religion is a social glue and worthwhile for that reason.

Either way (Kristol believing or non-believing), the idea of religion as social glue is one for those too timid to face the abyss. And he favors such social glue, since (like his mentor Leo Strauss), he fears what the results would be should religion's mitigating influence be removed from society:

"If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the majority of men cannot live without...let men believe in the lies of religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among themselves. Men are then divided into the wise and the foolish, the philosophers and the common men, and atheism becomes a guarded, esoteric doctrine--for if the illusions of religion were to be discredited, there is no telling with what madness men would be seized, with what uncontrollable anguish."

The above quote from Kristol is cited by Reason magazine's Ronald Bailey, in discussing Kristol's views on Darwinian evolution. That topic, like my salvation story, is not easily verified, and I'll leave it alone here. But Bailey, along with Derbyshire and Wolcott, seems baffled by that line of reasoning. As am I.

Either Jesus really did rise from the dead -- and the evidence of lives radically changed by him is one reality hard to argue with -- or he did not. Don't offer me your crapulous social glue theory of Christianity. Such arguments are an abuse of my faith in order to prop up your nationalist agendas, your political and financial power base. They may fool people, but they will not do so indefinitely. And in the end, this whole hypocritical, snot-nosed edifice is going to come down on the heads of evangelicals and other Christians who supported and abetted it.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

One final note on the idea of being afraid to debunk religion because it might undermine social order... I don't think most people can or will let go of the idea which transparently suggests itself to any conscious being capable of rudimentary thought. "What a wonderful, perplexing place! Someone must have made it!" Whether you believe or not, I don't think you have to fear that the mass of people on this planet will cease believing in God, at least as an Object.

Whether they believe in Jesus, and enough to follow his teachings and example, well...

That is another topic.

Christmas and Consumption

Living in an intentional community, Chicago's Jesus People USA, and living in the inner city does help this soul to see American materialism as the blight it is. But that doesn't mean I'm not a participant in that blight. To what degree? is the real question. I fear I'm far more enmeshed than I will ever know.

By American standards, I live well below the poverty line. Last time I checked, that meant an income somewhere around $6,000 a year or so. I don't own a car, or my own house. I don't have a "nest egg" set aside for my old age. So praise me praise me? Mother Teresa, save a seat...?

Not quite. In fact, not even close.

I own four computers. Yes, two of 'em are really old. One I purchased for just 2 bucks at a yard sale and then took home, upgraded a little bit with cannibalized parts from other ancient boxes, and turned into an open-source SuSE Linux machine I use as a server/backup at work. Pretty thrifty, eh? And at home, I have another equally ancient Linux box I use as a second backup and just so I can play around with SuSE when I feel like it.

My laptop is very nice, though a little dated. And my main work machine is loaded. Those machines are worth far more than 2 bucks, probably around $2000 together. But why four? I guess just because I could, and because I enjoy putting old junk together and making it work.

I am surrounded by books. For a one room apartment, we have an incredible number of book shelves. And that's not all. Books are stacked on the floor both at home and at work, many of them books I meant to read, or mean to read, or half-read but never can quite finish. And then there's clothes... I have way, way too many T-shirts; I think they multiply whenever I open and close the drawers.

Now truth be told, I get many of my books and my clothes second-hand. It is a sort of Jesus People gospel, materially-speaking, that there is glory in getting a great deal at a local second-hand store called "Unique Thrift." And my wife and I haunt yard sales in the summertime; my entire stereo system cost me around 30 bucks, and includes a turntable, cassette deck, CD-player, modest home threatre amp/tuner, Stereo VCR ($5 from a friend; I fixed it up). Four speakers, two givent to me and two others costing me $10...

Oh, the DVD player was a gift from my wife last Christmas and cost $75.

The TV cost $225 around five or eight years ago, and is quite outdated these days. But speaking of TV, we're thinking of (ominous drum roll) getting DirectTV. Oh, great... now corporate America can beam into our home on a gazillion different channels instead of just Chicago's normal handful of broadcast channels. Is that a good idea?

Well, I hope so. Pretty tepid, but there it is. I think more in TV's case, despite the many witticisms that come to mind, really may be better. There is such a thing as quality television, as PBS is often able to prove (or sometimes disprove, but usually not as flamboyantly as its commercial competition). My wife and I in the evening often are quite tired, and like watching something vacuuous.

Yet isn't city life itself already making war on the contemplative? Do I really need more TV? Do I need more books? More stereo equipment? More computers? More clothes?

I guess I'm still sorting it all out. The real trouble is, of course, that I already am embedded into American materialistic culture like one of those reporters was embedded in Iraq when we invaded. My story is no more trustworthy than theirs, is it? The spin is pre-determined by the cultural blinders I am wearing.

All I can say is this: I'm trying, however feebly, to live a life that at least in some ways is not about consumption but rather is about Christ, the antithesis to consumption. That is the great irony of Christmas, that a holiday all about the Universe's Greatest Gift -- and Giver -- has become a generic "holiday" mostly about getting. Yet let me not be totally reductionist here. Even the buying is, on a vulnerable human level, also about wanting to bless with a gift, a shadow of the great Gift in that manger.

I consume, yes. But at least can I try to stay awake? Can I try not to be swept under by the relentless adverts blasting away from the soon-to-be more multichanneled than ever TV in my room? Can I keep yelling back?

I do in my tiny way want to keep living the life I am; living simply compared to many Americans, if more richly than 90% of the rest of the underdeveloped world. By sharing many of the material things of American life -- the building I live in, the cars I drive, the money I live on, the food I eat -- with others in intentional community, I do I hope and pray make a little difference.

These things are no hardship to me. I don't want a car, a house, a mortgage. By living as I do, I have been freed from some of that. And by enjoying "trailing edge technology" stereos and computers (i-pods are cool, esp. because I run a lot, but I don't think I'll get one until a newer "thing" comes along and makes them cheap), I'm able to avoid massive spending.

But there is the heart. And inside my heart, I cannot claim purity regarding lust for material objects. When I see my neighbor's new furniture, or brand new flat screen TV, I feel the tug of greed and covetousness. I bite on the lure, and the line of this materialistic culture begins to reel me in. Maybe has reeled me in!

All I can do is repent, try to live moderately, try not to be focused on material things but rather on relationships (both horizontal and vertical). After all, there is a simple rule I learned long ago about the inanimate world vs. the animate world. The more stuff I own, the less relationships I'll have. The stuff requires my attention. It breaks. It malfunctions. It needs updating. But so do my relationships. The stuff will burn one day, to put it into fundie terms. But the relationships, good or bad, have eternal consequences and eternal value.

Christmas. Where does it play into all this? Look, God is into material stuff himself. He came to earth, after all, in a body. That is an affirmation of "stuff" as being really cool, really wonderful. But more it is an affirmation of all humanity being wonderful.

If stuff is getting in the way of God, I'd better watch it. And if stuff is getting in the way of me loving my neighbor, I'd really better watch it. If stuff is instead helping bond me to my neighbor and to my Lord, then I will handle it with pleasure and even reverence as a gift. Yet it is a shadow-gift. Just as I choose not to drink alcohol for the sake of the many addicts I know, I choose to draw a line in my consumption. It may be a pathetic, half-baked line, one that many others who've drawn a harder line would laugh at.

It is Christmas. And this is a time to celebrate, give gifts, recieve gifts, and most of all receive one another.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Jesus Ain't No Ghost

Sometimes, I confuse people. And sometimes, they're confused because I'm not making sense. But other times, particularly when it comes to what I believe about Jesus vs. what I believe about politics, for me it feels like they're the ones that are confused.

Take as an example an article from, pointed out helpfully by Christianity Today's Weblog (Ted Olson's page that nearly everyone who tracks religious stories checks out regularly). "How the Christian Left Can Get It Right" purports to reclaim Jesus, and starts off doing a pretty good job. But then the author begins to drift into that vague, airy land of vacuum-packed spirituality where no one is sure about who Jesus is, much less why he's admirable. Todd Huffman, the article's author, puts Jesus into black and white:

Americans who consider themselves Christian can be generalized as thinking about Jesus in one of two distinct ways. For many, Jesus was a divine spirit who died for their personal sins. To accept him as your savior is to be saved, and the pursuit of one’s personal salvation is paramount to all other concerns. One’s personal and exclusive relationship with Jesus matters far more than his admonitions to care for the poor, the weak, and the oppressed.

For a smaller number of Americans, Jesus is believed as a peasant revolutionary who lived by example, and died for grace and compassion. To model your behavior after his is to bring heaven closer to earth. To turn away from your fellow human beings is to turn away from his teachings, and from God. This is the Jesus I believe in.
Uh, are there any other options? I mean, really! And when the author reveals he has stepped out of Christian tradition to embrace the Unitarian Church.... well, forgive my right knee, which doesn't get much exercise, from jerking just a little bit.

I am a political liberal more often than not precisely and only because I believe in a historical, real, flesh and blood Jesus who was both God and man and who did indeed come to earth to bring humankind -- one at a time -- into his kingdom family. Yes, this version of Christianity has been bastardized by an invasive, pernicious American nationalism that goes right to core of evangelical self-identity. But the way to cure the disease is not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ is either who the Bible says He was and is, or He is nada. And if he is nada, why bother with caring for one another? Build your theories, but without the singular form of Divine Love that the biblical Jesus is and gives, I for one find religious verbiage both a bore and an idiocy. Kill God and you've killed morals. That's what Neitszsche said. And I for one agree.

Or as an old song I heard once said, "Jesus ain't no ghost."

To the IRS, Some Churches May be More Equal than Others

Remember how all those gawd-haitin' organizations are out to make sure Christians can't be involved in politics by using the IRS to muzzle them? Well, if they have tried, it sure didn't work. And frankly, despite my objections to many evangelicals' political goals, I am glad it didn't work. But how about the current adminstration using the IRS to put the heat on Christians who don't toe the right -- and I do mean right -- line politically?

According to Canton, Ohio's The Repository, that's just what happened:

According to all accounts, the Rev. George Regas did not tell the congregation at All Saints Episcopal Church to vote for one candidate or the other. Instead, his sermon focused on an imaginary debate with Jesus and then-candidates John Kerry and President W. Bush. He focused on Christ’s message of pacifism and the need to care for the poor.
That was the day before the 2004 presidential election. In June 2005, All Saints found out their tax-exempt status was endangered, supposedly because they'd gone over an invisible line prohibiting non-profits from becoming involved in political campaigns.

As The Repository noted, Ohio in particular was a place where plenty of politicking from religious groups took place in 2004. But almost all of it came from the religious right, including Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition.

Yet in Ohio, it is one rather ambiguous but somewhat liberal sermon that seems to be the target of the IRS, and by extension, the current administration.

About par for the course, unfortunately.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Evangelicals Against Torture? Nope!

Well, here's something worthy of note. From comes a Cary McMullen editorial entitled "Where are Evangelicals Against Torture?" A great question, and yet another indication of just how intermeshed the worldly interests of nationalism have become with the worldly (in the worst sense) interests of christendom. Here's a snip:

For an unequivocal condemnation of torture, it's hard to beat the late John Paul II, who said in his encyclical "Veritatis Splendor" that it can never be justified, no matter what the reason. The pope placed it on the moral level of abortion and euthanasia. U.S. bishops have followed that lead. Who does that leave? Evangelical Christians. I've done a couple of Google searches, plus a search of the excellent Christianity Today Web log, and I can't find one statement by any evangelical leader or organization condemning the use of harsh techniques by American forces. Where are the voices -- so otherwise outspoken on policy matters -- from the National Association of Evangelicals, from the Family Research Council, from the Southern Baptist Convention?

It gets worse. One thing that did turn up in Christianity Today was a portion of an article last year by Tony Carnes that found evangelical complicity among both administration and military personnel justifying the kind of treatment uncovered at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Of course, Mr. McMullen must not read BlueChristian, or realize our vast influence over evangelicalism worldwide! (Ha!) At any rate, make sure and read the whole thing. Then get to writing your evangelical leaders, denominations, and media voices.

Where ya been?

Sorry about that. In between weddings (my son's) and marathons (see TeamCCO's website), followed by an illness and a reaction to antibiotics that was even worse than the illness was, I've been struggling to get anything written.

On the up side, we did launch the Cornerstone Festival forums, which has one large section I moderate ("Seminars"). We also completed another Cornerstone Community Outreach newsletter, which gets the news out on our shelters for homeless women and children as well as encouraging volunteers and donations.

So all that is good...

But I've missed a lot here I should have posted on. Oh, well... I'll try to do better.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

FORUM on Cornerstone Festival site for political discussion

Cornerstone Festival (with which I am affiliated) now has a live forum section. Select the Seminars forum for a listing of various sections, all of which deal somewhat with political and global justice discussions on a number of levels.

You will need to join the forum community in order to post. Since this just lifted off November 1 2005, we don't have a lot of members yet. Be one of the first.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

More on "The Life of a Military Wife"

As anyone following the thread on Kyra's letter can see, that post generated by far the most activity on bluechristian we've had to date. I'd never have guessed it would be that letter, rather than some of the (to me) far more inflammatory stuff posted here, to cause such a ruckus.

That said, I would like to ask some of the military wives -- regardless of political frame or opinion about the Iraq war -- to discuss some issues related to military life.

1. How does life in the military help and/or hinder marital stability?

2. How does the issue of spousal abuse get handled in the military? Do you think authorities there are aggressive about addressing abuse of wives (or husbands) married to a soldier serving in the U. S. Armed Forces?

3. For any wives / husbands whose spouses are or have served in combat, has your marriage suffered minor or major trauma as a result of that spouse's experiences in war?

4. Have any of you experienced a divorce while in the military? Did the military try to intervene before, during, or after the divorce in any way? Did being part of the military help lead to divorce, and if so, why?

There are doubtless other questions that I, as a civilian, cannot even articulate. At any rate, I'd like to hear what people have to say. And please do be kind to one another, esp. as there will likely be some serious differences of opinion on some of this.

(And I hope I'm not sorry I asked! [Nervous chuckle....])

Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence with "Threads of Compassion"

This wonderful outreach to victims of rape, incest, and other forms of sexual violence recently was inaugurated by a dear friend. I'm posting her own description of it here, and hope some of bluechristian's readers will get involved.


Threads of Compassion is a loosely connected group of survivors of sexual violence who desire to offer comfort and support to recent victims. The idea is simple. Anyone whose life has been affected by sexual assault or abuse is welcome to knit or crochet a scarf which in turn will be given to a victim of sexual violence when they enter the hospital for emergency treatment.

Having been through similar experiences ourselves, our hope is to offer support at a time when a person is feeling forsaken, fearful, and extremely vulnerable, and in a simple way let them know they are not alone. So many people are lost in how to respond to friends and family members that have been victims of sexual abuse or assault, so they opt to do nothing. Their fear of adding more pain by saying or doing the wrong thing results in silence. This silence is heartbreaking to the victim...a silence that offers no validation to the pain they are going through and that adds to their feeling of isolation.

The silence produces shame.

One of the main goals behind Threads of Compassion is to break through this silence by acknowledging the pain. The gift of a scarf not only shows the knitters/crocheters concern for the victim, but also expresses their sorrow for what has happened. Each scarf is made by someone who wishes to provide a small amount of comfort against the pain being faced, and by doing so, lets the victim know they are not alone. The scarves are tangible objects that can be held, wrapped around the neck or shoulders, with the deeper meaning known only by the wearer. As each victim touches the threads of the scarves they receive, they are connecting with someone who cares about what has happened to them. A huge message given through a few threads of yarn.

The added beauty of the scarves is that the gift is actually two-fold. Through making the scarves, survivors are provided an opportunity to help other victims (in a very non-threatening way). Everyone remains anonymous. Those who knit the scarves never meet the specific people who receive their scarves. That is all handled through the local rape crisis center. Most hospitals now contact victim advocates when sexual violence victims come into the ER, and it is through this staff that the scarves will be presented to the victims. Each scarf will have a small card attached to it that explains the idea behind Threads of Compassion and information on how to contact their local crisis center if they need further help or support.

If you would like to contribute a scarf, please do. We would be honored to receive them. Anyone whose life has been affected by sexual assault or abuse is welcome to make and send a scarf. Whether scarves are done by survivors, or friends and family members of survivors, it does not matter, (scarves can also be made in honor of friends who were raped, family members who suffered sexual abuse, etc.).

The scarves do not have to be any specific length, color, or masterpiece. We do ask that you try to make the scarves out of very soft yarn that can be held close without feeling rough to the skin. There are numerous scarf patterns that are very easy to knit or crochet, and can be made by any beginner. To the left is a list of links to various web sites that offer free scarf patterns, and a one site that offer instructions in how to knit with free on-line knitting videos.

After you have made your scarf feel free to mail it to us.
Send it to Threads of Compassion / 920 W. Wilson Ave. / Chicago, IL 60640.

Another option is for you to set up your own chapter of Threads of Compassion. Simply contact your local rape crisis center and see if they would be willing to be involved in handing out your scarves. The only request we have is that you let us know if you are able to do this, (that way we can refer others in your area to your group).

If you have any questions or comments feel free to email us at:

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

U. S. Soldiers Get Porn in Exchange for Photos of Dead Iraqis

[WARNING! This post contains disturbing content.]

Pornography has always been about violence. This was underscored this week by the revelation that a small number of U. S. Soldiers have apparently been getting free access to a pornography web site in exchange for photos featuring dead and dismembered Iraqis. One photo on the site (which I'm not going to post the URL to since it is an anti-woman, anti-human website) features six U. S. soldiers grinning and standing or kneeling in front of a burned corpse. The photo is subtitled, "Cooked Iraqi." Other photos include an Iraqi sitting in a car minus his head.

Though the BBC, the New York Times, and others have reported on this, it still has not been completely verified that the photos are either real or actually posted by soldiers. The website, dedicated to homemade porn posted by users, claims that one third of its clientele is from the U. S. military. Numerically, that would be 50,000 soldiers, according the East Bay Express.

All I can say is, I wish Andrea Dworkin hadn't died this year. I'd love to hear what she'd have to say about this congruence of pornography, technology, and war, a veritable "perfect storm" of inhumanity.

The war should not have been fought. The young men fighting it are being damaged by what they see, and what they participate in. The American government's attempts at pristine war, that is, a PR campaign designed to hide these bodies (in fact, to hide the American bodies in their flag-draped coffins as well!), may or may not work. But the social consequences both short and long term are unavoidable.

Pornography is war, a war against women and thus against all of us. And war is pornography, a pornography celebrating societal rape every bit as much as pornography celebrates the violent possession of its victim.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The "Life" of an Army Wife

The "Life" of an Army Wife

This post was deleted due to cruel, I would say even vicious, treatment of its original author.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Omar & Pete: A PBS Feature Not to be Missed

Beautifully filmed, profoundly told, Point of View's Omar and Pete is one of those PBS gems not to be missed. The documentary's creators follow two men from prison to the parole process and to the streets, where addiction's pull is the most potent.

The mystery between one man's redemption and the other's continuing cycle of failure is one that is doubly haunting if one has ever worked with addicts, or lived with one. If only there was a magic word, or perfect little sermonette, or experience large and mean and scarey enough to make an addict stop using. But the message of "Omar and Pete" is simply that no guaranteed fix like that exists. What does exist is hope, and an inner switch thrown inside a human heart and mind that -- can I say it? -- appears to be as mysterious as conversion.

Don't be mistaken. This isn't a Christian -- or Islamic (despite Omar's religious leanings) -- tract. Faith is somehow private here, even in the midst of having a camera lens focused upon it, just as with all other aspects of the two men's lives.

The film's images, captured by Slawomir Grunberg, are flawless but never self-indulgent, somehow finding in a prisonscape or an inner-city winter the same tensions, fears, and hopes the two men seem to be experiencing. I can't recommend this film highly enough. Consult P.O.V.'s website or your own PBS station for times it might be airing near you. [Photo Credit: "Omar prays in prison yard" by Slawomir Grunberg]

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Pagan with the Gift of Discernment?

If Huck Finn had indeed headed off to the territory as it is suggested he did in the novel, he'd have gotten off the paddlewheeler in my hometown, Fort Benton, Montana. Back then, it was the head of navigation for the Missouri River. (LUI, or Likely Useless info: James E. Trott, my father as well as renowned western artist, did the steamboat painting in the above URL's background.)

I grew up listening to Hal Holbrook albums, on which he did wonderful interpretations of Twain. One thing I didn't hear Halbrook perform, though, was an interpretation of Twain's "War Prayer." I'll have to see if I can find one.

I know Twain is rumored to have been quite impatient with Christianity, finding it a dubious enterprise. Like others I can think of (to quote playwright Tennesee Williams), Twain caught "the powerful odor of mendacity in this room" where Christians were concerned.

In my opinion, that discerning gift of Twain's was never more deadly than in "War Prayer," of which I offer a swath from here:


An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting.

With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal,"Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said

"I come from the Throne-bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import-that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of-except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this-keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer-the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it-that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory-must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle-be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it-for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause)

"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Assassinate Spammers?

On a lighter note, I've had to institute "word verification" for comments here due to the fact that spammers have apparently discovered bluechristian in droves. Argh. Anyway, it just means you have to type in a few letters extra before being allowed to post. Sorry for the extra bother, but if I see one more cialis spam I might have to SHRIEK in CAPITAL LETTERS! Hehehehehe...

Pat Robertson: All About Accountability

So, Robertson now lies about what he said, claiming that the phrase "take him out" meant something different than assassinate Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez.

I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out.' And 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time.

No, you were not misquoted. It's on tape, Pat:

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he [Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.

Wait... so fibbing didn't work, and now Roberton says he's sorry. "I spoke out of frustration, he says. And then turns around and hints at comparisons between himself and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the WWII German Christian who participated in an unsuccssful attempt on Hitler's life. Well, Bonhoeffer had two legs and so does Robertson, so they're alike there...

Forgive me for not taking Robertson's apology at face value for the present... he's abused the rest of us for too long for me to trust him.

Ted Olson on CT's Weblog has done a nice job of covering evangelical responses to Robertson, though was kinder than I would have been. Weblog also underscored just how out of control Robertson has been over the years, both in comments the evangelical broadcaster has made and in highly suspect business deals (including one involving a gold mine with the murderous Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor). Robertson has an immense personal fortune and years back negotiated a deal where he sold his Family Channel for millions, as well as insuring his 700 Club gets aired on the Family Channel no matter what happens. ABC/Disney, who bought the channel from FOX, is stuck with Pat's rants.

Worse, so are we.

Bottom line? Robertson is accountable to no one, no one except a voice he says is God's. Trouble is, to an observer that voice and the voice of selfish greed appear to be indistinguishable.

Does that sound harsh? Of course. Is it true? I sure think so.

Robertson's comments would be one thing if limited only to himself. But how much do they reflect some of the trends among evangelicals overall?

Robertson's comments about assassinating Venezuela's president didn't come about in a vacuum. They are rooted in the same confusion between the cross and the flag many evangelical American spokespersons seem to suffer from. Consider National Association of Evangelicals President Ted Haggard's comments regarding Christian prayers leading to the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons. (Regarding Robertson, Haggard expressed a mixture of disappointment in Robertson and disappointment in the media for making it such a big deal. Sure, buddy, blame that ol' seklar media.) Or how about one of the initial four planks used back in the 1980s founding of the allegedly Christian Moral Majority: "A Strong Military."

Uh, like the war protestor's sign said... "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" No wonder so many folks like Tim LaHaye novels... their politics just may bring Armaggedon to pass!

This nationalism has haunted evangelicals, and before them, fundamentalists, since the early twentieth century. But it had strong counter-currents within conservative theological circles as well, counter-currents which seem recently to have all but dried up.

But back to Robertson, and his comments re assassinating Venezuela's Chavez. I found the use of the word "doctrine" by Robertson particularly sinister:

This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I
think the time has come that we exercise that ability.

I can't help sensing a mix-up between doctrine as God's Revelation and doctrine as political muscle-flexing. The Monroe Doctrine in a nutshell can be seen as a strong nation letting everyone else know that it won't take kindly to anyone messing around in its back yard, whether or not that back yard actually belongs to it. The doctrine is pragmatic, not moral, especially when considered from a Christian framework.

But Robertson makes self-evident the same riff I've sensed among many Christian Right folk. What's good for America is God's will. God's will is what is good for America. And we're talking economically here. I love especially Robertson's assumption that the "oil to our south" is de facto ours, no matter that it happens to lie beneath another nation's soil. I also love the fact that a leader elected by the poor -- the very people Jesus Himself goes to considerable pains to side with over against the rich -- is the leader Robertson is freaked out by. Where was Pat during the Apartheid regime? Oh, yes. He was investing in Krugerrands. Where was Pat when my friend John Ngaa was nearly murdered himself, and saw many others murdered before his eyes by Liberian dictator Taylor's troops? Ah. Yes, his gold mine...

What would Jesus do?

I think He'd puke.

As for God being on America's side, it isn't true. Maybe we all ought to re-read Mark Twain's War Prayer again, if nothing else. (I guess it takes a pagan like Twain to slap the self-congratulating faces of us sanctified souls.) God isn't on the side of nations... he is calling humanity to be on His Side. Our response to that call certainly does not begin with oppressing, assassinating, and dehumanizing others as allegedly doing His will.

Did you really think it was?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Pat Robertson: Assassins for Jesus?

Move over, Hal Lindsey... Hal may have fanatasies about Christian mobs attacking Muslims in the U.S., but Pat Robertson is now checking in with his violent tendencies regarding assassinating heads of democratic states we don't like.

As reports, Robertson today (Aug 22) began complaining about the democratically elected Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Before Robertson was able to stop himself, he went well into an absolutely disgusting, and anti-christian, diatribe on how our government should have Chavez assassinated. MediaMatters has the video at the above link; here is the text:

ROBERTSON: There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Most Unlikely Murder Victim

In a world filled with violent, controlling leaders whose enemies are just as violent, it seemed terribly ironic that the gentle and beloved "Brother Roger" of the France-based Taize community would be a murder victim. He died at Taize, an ecumenical community of Christians, when a mentally disturbed woman snuck up during prayers and slit his throat.

Christianity Today's WEBLOG posted the moving prayer of a fellow Taize member, Brother Francois:

In the Bible, we find these words: "Costly in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his friends."

This death of Brother Roger is costly first of all for all of us, and terribly so. Death is like something being torn away, and a violent death even more so. And even when this death is caused by an unbalanced person, there is a feeling of unfairness, that can even lead to a sense of hopelessness.
In the face of violence, we can respond only by peace. Brother Roger never stopped insisting on this. Peace requires a commitment of our whole being, inwardly and outwardly. It demands our whole person. So this evening, let us communicate peace to one another, and do everything we can so that each person stays in hope.
These words from the Bible say that this death is costly not only to us. It is costly to God. God himself participates in our sorrow. He is suffering with us. This is how God feels "the death of his friends," as the text says.
And Brother Roger was certainly a friend of God. From the beginning, he used all his strength so that we should understand that God loves us with a love that has no end, a love that excludes no-one, a love that accepts us as we are, a love that has no limits.
And if it is true that this death means a sorrow that touches God himself, we would like to do everything to express to him our gratitude, our thankfulness for all that Brother Roger has been among us.
WEBLOG has more links about Taize, Brother Roger, and his death.

Friday, August 12, 2005

"Cha-CHING": Sound of the End Days?

Yes, I do believe Jesus will one day come again. But beyond that, I subscribe to very, very little of what passes for End Days Prophecy these days. End Days Profits is more like it. Tim LaHaye may be king of this lucrative realm, but Hal Lindsey continues to be its Daddy.

For instance, take a few of Hal's comments on post-democracy Russia. Yes, the experiment isn't going well there. (Is it going well here? Hmmm... well, that's a tangent.) Putin seems to have tightened the screws, and though the story is far from over, it isn't looking rosy at present. But check out Hal's twisted take on present-day Russia:

The Western victors of the Cold War are behaving the same way their grandfathers did in 1919. We didn't kill the Russian bear; we just wounded it. After the WWI victory, our flawed diplomacy produced a desperate and angry Germany that embraced Hitler and the Nazis. Today, we are producing a desperate and angry Russian that has a momentous place in Bible prophecy concerning the Last Days. Over 2,600 years ago the Prophet Ezekiel predicted this exact scenario would occur in the Last Days. He foresaw a desperate Russia join forces with nations that are now in the Muslim world and launch a war in the Middle East that will escalate into Armageddon. The current situation appears to be right on track.

Right on track? Hal's almost smacking his lips at the mayhem to come. What I love about Hal's rhetoric is how he turns a nation of a few hundred million souls into a total abstraction: "We didn't kill the Russian Bear; we just wounded it." Guess after WWII we should have used those nukes before Russia had a chance to get any, eh? And as he thrills to the Apocalyptic wonder of an alleged Russian/Muslim alliance, abusing (as usual) the old testament prophets to do so, he gets to sounding nearly orgasmic.

I can't help feeling that this sort of End Times "theology" is in fact quite similar to the God Hates Fags folks' take on homosexuality; it so poisons the waters that serious discussion of such matters becomes the victim of stupidity. In both cases, real human beings become mere cartooned symbols for the Wrath of God. Doesn't it just make you want to rub your hands together in holy glee? Yeeeeach.

Green Day's "When September Ends"

Green Day may not be the favorite CCM band of all time or anything (I don't have any favorite CCM bands, actually). But I must say their newest video, Wake Me Up When September Ends, packs a whack for this particular Christian. See what you think.

Friday, August 05, 2005

More on Judge Roberts

Christian lawyer and pundit John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute is not happy about Roberts' non-compassionate approach to law. A snip:

" So how do you get a decision like the one handed down by Roberts? By taking compassion out of the equation and meting out the judgments of the law in a vacuum, that's how. Roberts is exactly what one would expect George W. Bush to choose--deferential to authority, whether government or business, and certainly not a civil libertarian. Although he appears to be a thinking judge who sees [human] pain, he's like the father who says before spanking his child, 'This hurts me more than it hurts you.'"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Links on Feminists for LIfe, more....

I've hyped the 33-Year old Feminists for Life before. In case anyone wonders why, here's one good reason.

Speaking of Feminists for Life, it turns out Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, is a high-visibility member. The Boston Globe wrote an in-depth article on both the group and the woman, and the Washington Post wrote an even better one.

But what about John Roberts himself? Frankly, I presently know too little to do more than offer some links. looks at him as a "right wing corporate lawyer" and therefore someone to be opposed. (Sometimes MoveOn's broad-brush approach to politics reminds me of, well, the Republicans.) The New York Times offers some more weighty reasons to feel uncomfortable with his potential social policy, including his close identification with harshly conservative positions during the Reagan years.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Hal Lindsey: Threatening American Muslims?

Hal Lindsey once said of me and Selling Satan coauthor Mike Hertenstein that we were either satanists or the pawns of satanists. Frankly, I was amused. But when the guru of end-times bestsellers fires off a salvo like this at peaceful Americans who are Muslim, I don't find such fascist-tinged rhetoric at all funny:

Islamic Fundamentalists are like parasites. They feed off the body of Muslim communities living among us. It does not take a rocket scientist to see what must be done. If the ‘peaceful’ majority of Muslims do not begin to actively and vigorously expose the radicals in their communities, then we, the people of the United States and United Kingdom will have to do it for them.

Where does Lindsey get this stuff? Jingoism is always a hit with some folks, I suppose. The problem (or one problem, at least) with jingoism is that it is always just one or two steps away from violent words inciting violent acts.

But Lindsey himself answers the question I had as I read his column. What, I wondered, was he trying to tell my Muslim neighbors was going to happen to them if they didn't comply with his version of reality?

According to Hal, if a nuclear or other major sort of attack comes from Muslim extremists, we're gonna take out entire Muslim communities.

When one of these attacks happens, a flood of rage will burst forth and nothing or anyone will be able to stop it. The law of the jungle will take over. Muslim communities who did nothing to stop the radicals among them will be the first targets.

We are tired of the ‘peaceful’ Muslims sitting by and doing nothing to expose the disciples preaching hate and jihad in their Mosques. There is almost a silent admiration of these fanatics on the part of some. Many allow their financial contributions to be used by the Jihad preachers.

We are getting weary of organizations like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) crying about civil rights violations when law enforcement organizations seek to carry on surveillance of Muslim communities. Since Muslims do not police themselves against the Islamic Fundamentalist parasites, we must.

No. This hate-mongering riff is absolutely unacceptable, even in this age of idiocy and illogic. It is also absolutely immoral from a Christian viewpoint. And lest defenders of Lindsey try the old line that he isn't suggesting this is a good idea, rather only that it will happen if we're attacked again, I say they lie. Lindsey is in fact using Muslims as the "evil other," who, like blacks, Jews, Catholics, and various other minorities in American history, have had to play scapegoat. Play? No, it isn't a game but rather deadly earnest.

Note the complete lack of any supportive evidence for anything said in his column. We're to believe that entire communities of American Muslims are covering up for terrorist cells. We're to believe that groups of Americans such as those involved in CAIR don't have the right to cry out when members of their communities are unfairly targeted. We're to believe that Christianity has become nothing more than an American fist or gun or prison cell -- "THIS is how we love our MUSLIM neighbor."

I, for one, demand an apology from Hal Lindsey, a retraction of this hate mongering. Either that, sir, or stop using the name Christian.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Are Men Really Human?

Are Men Really Human?
A Melancholy but Not Without Hope
Personal Reflection on Male Sexuality

By Jon Trott

Paper Presented at the “Gender Revolution” Tent
July 1, 2005, at Cornerstone Festival

I was born into privilege thrice over. I am white; I am male; I am American. And all that privilege provides me with the easier way, the shortened route, the front row seat, the illusion of my own sufficiency. Add the fact that even for a man, I’m on the tall side, imposing, and with a voice that more than occasionally draws complements for how masculine and deep it is. Yet, I am not imposing to myself. I am not self-sufficient. I am wounded. I need assistance, and need it terribly. How terribly? Let me tell you a little about it.

In 1957, I was born; it was also the year President Eisenhower pushed through the first civil rights act since the civil war. The New York Times called the 1957 Civil Rights Act "incomparably the most significant domestic action of any Congress this century." But 1957 was also the year that nine black high school students went through hellish abuse in their attempt to integrate a Little Rock, Arkansas, high school. Only national exposure via the new medium of television forced Eisenhower to act by sending troops to protect the children. I knew nothing of such things; my childhood was filled with an innocent light.

I lived on a Montana farm during summertime, but during the school year we had a home in the small, almost completely white town of Fort Benton. What I remember about that time was how safe everything felt, how solid and reassuring. My parents knew everything that was important, and I relied happily on them for information. Memorial Day was a somber yet almost joyful day to celebrate the deeds of brave Americans; Viet Nam's darkness was already filling the skyline, but we didn't see it. The flag, like God, was a given. God approved of us, supported us, was on our side, and had the good sense to appear only when asked for.

Women were loyal wives, or wives in training, good homemakers, moms, and supporters of their man's work outside the home. Men were strong, self-reliant, and self-contained. Growing up in Montana one got a double-dose of this male image; the rugged individualist, the cowboy who hated fences and domesticity and rode alone. Why is the latter a problem? I’ll paraphrase feminist Jessica Benjamin: “A self that defines itself mainly through being separate, and not through sharing a common life and vision with others, is often unable to recognize others at all.” When you define yourself as someone separate from everyone else, you become blind to other persons' wants, needs, or even existence.

No wonder, then, that when I was young, I identified closely with my mother. I liked her attributes. Tenderness. Nurturing. The enjoyment of being together with others, what we call now "community." As one of five boys in our family, the second to the youngest, I felt insecure and overwhelmed by some of my siblings' maleness. They were so intense in their teenage hormone-driven toughness; I felt vulnerable and afraid.

I still remember hearing the little ditty, "Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails." I hated that lyric! I didn't want to be made of snips and snails… I wanted to be made of honey and cinnamon and all things most admirable in a human being… if that was femininity, and the other masculinity, then I opted for the first.

I even tried a little gender bending. At the age of five or six, maybe a little earlier, I began trying on some of my sisters' dresses and wearing them around the house. Now, maybe a lot of little boys – and maybe little girls – try this. Looking back, I don't think it was necessarily a bad thing, especially as my parents and siblings treated it with a fairly balanced mix of teasing and permissiveness that gave me needed space to sort myself out. The phase didn't last for much more than a few months, but signaled my unrest with the masculine as classically defined.

I did draw a line not to be crossed, however. When my mother enrolled me in ballet class – imagine that if you can! – I came home after the second or third installment, threw my dance slippers on the floor, and said "I'm not doing that any more!" When she asked why, I recall having said something like, "That's for GIRLS!" Two grade school classmates had mocked me, and made me suddenly conscious of my "proper" gender role. And so ended my brief career in ballet.

The feminine and being black are tangled in my experience. The first encounter with blackness that I consciously recall was a warm April Day in 1968. I am eleven and playing in our front yard. Kitty-corner from us, I see motion and hear someone yell. "They got him!" Our neighbor, Mr. Anger, danced a weird jig that gave him the look, if I'd known it at the time, of a Pentecostal Church revivalist. "They got him!" he repeated. "They shot and killed that commie nigger Martin Luther King!"

I remember feeling not revulsion, but rather a most intense interest. Why would a man be happy about another man's death? It was a puzzle to be riddled over. I was so pathetically innocent, it nearly brings tears to my eyes to remember that feeling now. I went to my mother. "Why is Mr. Anger happy that someone shot Martin Luther King?" She tried to explain Dr. King, but her own ambivalence about his mission was evident; how could it not have been? This woman knew only what I knew, that America was good, that we were good, that we would be even better if we worked hard at it, that Dr. King for all his sincerety was a bit of a troublemaker. This was the woman who specifically taught us NOT to use the 'n' word, but replace it with "tiger," when reciting "Eenie Meenie Miney Moe."

Can you pity me, just a little? Can you see how sadly distant I was, my family was, my town, state, and nation was, from understanding the horrible state of false innocence that ate away at our collective heart?

As I entered puberty, and began “noticing” girls in that new way, I liked very much being male. I liked my body; we were friends. Thankfully, perhaps thanks to my parents' very close love for each other, I couldn’t think of sexuality except as relationship. That is, to me, sexuality was interpersonal, a form of ecstatic communication. Even my most erotic fantasies usually centered on lovemaking as part of a larger relationship rather than the impersonal sex portrayed by hard-core porn.

Where does a young male hedonist begin? Hugh Hefner. I had a friend whose pile of Playboys was stashed behind the grill of an air duct in his house. Strangely, I was more affected by the coolness of having such an air vent – which seemed right out of some movie – than I was with the magazines. Their impersonal bosoms sticking out at me, legs arranged to almost but not quite reveal everything, failed to deeply thrill. A picture with no narrative failed to touch me. Yet the seeds were sown; I objectified women, since no other options seemed available. It did not occur to me that I was, in a very real sense, raping the woman's image with my eyes and heart. “For as he thinks within himself, so he is,” the Bible says. I had, by consuming the pornography, become party to its violence. And I became male in a more standard American sense.

When one friend gave me a magazine of hardcore porn, however, I was shocked and repulsed by it. The women looked like frogs on a biology lab table, and feeling disgusted I quickly handed it back to him. That experience was so disturbing, in fact, that I actively avoided photographic pornography from that point on. So-called "erotica," however, especially in novels, did feed a view of women that demeaned them by reducing male-female relationships to being either romantic/sexual or non-existent. The photography took place in my own imagination instead of on a glossy page.

The reality of pornography as violence did not come home to me until years later, when working on an article for Cornerstone magazine. Andrea Dworkin, who died just months ago, wrote a book called Men Possessing Women. It is a confusing, terrifying, violent-in-its-own-right ride for a man of my level of ignorance to read. My doors were, as the old saying goes, blown off. Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape seemed almost tame in comparison, but helped further my realization that the male identity I thought I had was in fact very flawed and not in keeping with a human identity.

But I get ahead of myself. There was more reading I did as a teenager. During my thirteenth and fourteenth year I read Eldridge Cleaver and Dee Brown and Claude Brown and Franz Kafka and Anne Frank – ah! A woman's voice at last – and it was along with all those oppressed, human voices I experienced my sexual awakening. There was something amazingly sexy about blackness, the oppressed, and the nobility of the oppressed… and in my mind I imagined myself the rescuer and lover of many oppressed women! This patronizing liberal fantasyland of mine was not one easily left, and for many years I would not even know it as a fantasy. (And an aside here: to this day, I remind myself that all the words I write about gender equality are laced with a desire of mine to be admired by women, to be looked up to, yes, to be a patriarchal figure who “rescues” women! I am so pathetic!!)

With the teenage sexual awakening came the realization that all I'd been told was untrue; or, if any of it was true, I had no idea how to find that truth again.

But one other element did come into play. I discovered that though I didn't believe in the America I'd known as a child, I did struggle with God. Was He there? Did he care? Did he love me? Or was the world I could encounter with my senses the only world there was? I couldn't abide 1950s American morality; I needed either hedonism or Christianity. I needed love. And love, to be blunt, was about either God or sex. If sex, then like a D. H. Lawrence character, I would worship my phallus and ignore the poor and oppressed of the world. If God—well, if God, then he had to justify himself to me. He had to explain how such a wicked, unjust world that preyed on the weak and that had by pure chance made me one of the so-called "elect" could exist.

I met Him, that God of love that is both ultimate masculine and ultimate feminine, in whose image male and female are created. I demanded He do as I wished, and instead he hid from me. Only when I became truly aware of my absolute lack did he reveal himself. He was, in what some might think a heretical analogy, a bit like a seductress. God has more so-called feminine wiles than any woman I’ve ever heard tell of!

But my struggle with maleness wasn’t solved once and for all by loving God. I endured a marriage of eight years before being abandoned by my wife and made a single father of two children. I discovered that the passive male role I’d adopted during that time was a fake form of mutuality. I had to become active, especially near the marriage’s end when my children seemed to me endangered. Was I being macho? No. I was being parental in the most elementary sense.

After that marriage ended, I met a woman who had also been abandoned by her spouse. She had two boys, and we began the difficult and slow process of learning how to submit mutually to one another. I was very macho at the beginning, though much of it was rooted in my fear of what had happened in that first marriage. I had to unlearn, let go, realize that my voice wasn’t right just because it was louder, or more articulate, or more authoritative-sounding. I had to hear Carol’s voice, and as I learned to hear her, I found incredible healing in our mutual love and respect.

Sixteen years have passed since we married. I am in pain daily as I hear the news. Just in the past month, the best friend of someone dear to us witnessed the killing of her mother by her father. He then, just to be fair, killed himself, leaving her an orphan. My wife works with homeless women and children in our second stage housing project, the Leland House. She comes home in tears with the horrors visited upon these women by the men they love, horrors so graphic I cannot share them in a setting such as this, where a child's ears might accidentally hear.

There is our friend who long ago made the "mistake" of going camping with two other young women. These three women became the victims of a gang of rapists. The look in her haunted eyes as she haltingly tells this story – and she does not tell it very often – reminds me of an interview I did with a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. It was the same look. The verbs in the sentences of these victims are often present tense: not "he did this" or "they did that" but "then he holds me down" – "I scream and they laugh."

Many of my male friends find it astonishing that I feel a link between my own maleness, my own gender identity, and that of the men capable of rape, spousal abuse, child abuse, verbal and physical abuse, rage. How can I, who have never raised a hand against a woman, feel guilt over the actions of some insane and/or demonized man that I don't even know?

It is much like that with skin color. Ten years ago, I stood in a restaurant in Chicago while a customer began screaming racial obscenities at the people behind the counter. I was shocked, and stood still like a deer in headlights while the man went on, then stomped angrily out the door. I felt a double shame, one that I had not spoken against him, and two that he, like me, was white. The shame of his racism contaminated me. Or so it seemed. My skin, the offending skin, burned.

Conservatives often call that sense of guilt I feel "liberal guilt." They point out, perhaps properly, that there is no direct connection between my skin color and the skin color of a racist bigot who makes a fool of himself in public. Likewise, they would say there is no connection between the fact that the equipment between my legs is male and that the equipment wielded by a rapist is male.

I'd like to believe them. I really would, because it would free me from having to consider the societal implications of that skin color, or that equipment I bear.

You see, I like my skin color, not because it is white, but rather because it is specifically mine. I like my body, my hair and arms and legs and genitals. I think this is a profoundly Christian thing, by the way. I'm told by Scripture to cherish my wife as I cherish my own body, and so cherishing my body is no sin. Yet each time I hear of a man using his body as a weapon to violate – the exact right word for what happens – to violate another human being, I feel my own body shrivel. This is not maleness, this is not human. That is what I want to say.

But I don't believe it, and cannot say it. Rape is too common, not just today, but throughout history. Rape is a male thing, and violently violating another is a human thing. We're good at it. And when I consider my two daughters, my wife, and all the women I know as friends walking through a city and a world where such violence is fairly commonplace, I writhe inside with helpless fury and sorrow.

Rape, to me, is the centerpiece of any discussion on men and women in the world. Perhaps that shows the debt I owe Andrea Dworkin, despite my harsh disagreements with her – to me – extreme views on men.

A few stories. In this first little story, I am barely seventeen years old. I meet a dark-haired girl who lives in a small Montana town some seventy or eighty miles from mine. She’s cute, and apparently finds me intriguing. I ask her to my school prom. She accepts, and we have a good time; later, I take her back to my parents’ house, where she will sleep in my sister’s room. My sister is away at college, and when my prom date enters the room, I follow her in and attempt some awkward kissing. She rather passively allows it, but discourages me when I start moving toward second base. I politely disengage, say goodnight and head to my bedroom. The next day, I take her home and we part on, I think anyway, friendly terms.

A week passes, and I meet for weekly piano lessons with an older woman, a music teacher who is a mutual acquaintance of the girl and myself. The older woman bluntly reproves me for my attempt at overpowering my prom date. I’m left with the distinct feeling that the girl believed I was attempting to rape her. I’m so horrified and simultaneously humiliated and angry, I barely can speak to the teacher but manage to grate out a denial. What to me had seemed a mutual interchange between two trusting people – and one that she had forbidden to go farther than it ought to have – to the girl had seemed a frightening one-way street where a boy she hardly knew was cornering her in his sister’s bedroom to do as he pleased. She simply misread me, beginning and end.

Gradually, despite my angry initial reaction to my music teacher, I began to rethink what had happened there. That incident was one of the first times that I saw myself as someone physically powerful, someone who could frighten someone else just with my size and gender. And I hated that. I hated it like anything. I had no plans or desire to overpower her, yet how could she have known that? Only slowly did I understand the fact that my walking into that bedroom was indeed a major error of judgment on my part. More than bad manners, it was in effect a threatening move whether or not I understood it as that.

So we men learn, if we learn at all.

Another story. My wife Carol educates me on many things, and one of them recently was the issue of rape. Now note: I called rape an "issue." Already, there is a distance put between me and that subject which my wife does not feel. She tells of being so afraid of being raped when she lived alone years ago, especially after an incident when, while she innocently sat in a Minneapolis park, a man exposed himself to her. That was her point, pretty quick into our discussion. "As a young single woman, being raped was probably my single greatest fear," she said to me. As we continued talking, it turned out Carol had nearly been raped twice, once having to literally leap from a car and run away down the street from a man intent on date-raping her.

Maybe somewhere a man has had such an experience, almost being raped by his female date. I don't know any such men. What I do know, both from statistics and from hearing many people’s stories over the years, is that rape and other violent crimes involving sexual aggression are overwhelmingly perpetrated by men.

The discussion between Carol and I had been triggered by a number of rapes in our immediate neighborhood, and by a violent murder of another woman in the Chicago apartment building where our youngest daughter lives.

As we talked, my wife and I, it became apparent that I, too, carry a sort of pain regarding rape. I told her how, each time I hear the local newsperson soberly discussing a rape, my genitals shrivel. This is no exaggeration, but the plain exact truth. In a terrible way, this assault upon a woman by a man armed with rage and an erection leaves me feeling violated. "That isn't what a man's body is designed for," I rage against the unknown attacker.

My wife's attitude toward the male body, even my body, cannot help but be touched by the potentiality of rape by the male against the female. Andrea Dworkin went farther, believing that any penetrative sex by a man with a woman was in effect rape. I don’t agree, but I do find myself needing to escape categories such as male = sun while female = earth, or man = bee while woman = flower. Note the roles being defined here: "male as initiator/penetrator/actor" vs. "female as receiver/penetrated/acted upon"?

I believe radical feminists have furthered me toward becoming a mature Christian man. This may not be what some would like me to say, but I'm not going to lie. The one thing they don't often offer is grace – but since I can get that elsewhere, I found their unflinching dissection of my maleness terribly painful but not unendurable. Of course I didn't accept everything. Dworkin's horror of the male body, for instance, would have meant that I had to hate my own physical being. Why not hate instead the misuse of that body, rather than the body itself?

I love sex. I love it more as a Christian than I ever did as a non-believer, and more as a married man than I ever imagined possible when single. And as a Christian, I’m always on the lookout for other believers who also have a biblically-rooted hedonistic streak.

Eric Gill, for instance, was a Catholic artist of great renown, and companion of G. K. Chesterton (Gill designed Chesterton's headstone and worked with the latter in the "distributionist" movement). I was excited when I discovered Gill for myself, because Gill (along with his wonderful religious art) also did quite a bit of artwork with erotic themes. A few of the pieces are a bit over the top even for me, but many of them celebrate the feminine body. Or seem to. It turns out, I belatedly discovered, that Gill's art community was also a hotbed of sexual license, led by Gill himself. Worse, Gill had sex with both his daughters. I use the term "had sex" – but that is wrong. What he did was rape. Gill's etching entitled "earth receiving," in which a Christ-figure descends from heaven to penetrate a passively waiting woman / church, takes on sinister significance. A patriarchal God for a patriarchal rapist incestuous artist.

Am I hopeless, wanting to find fellow believers who believe sexuality is indeed a wonderful shadow of the spiritual, and that woman and man interpenetrate one another in a shadow of what Christ does with the Church (and with individuals within the Church)? Those who see the Song of Solomon as such a shadowing -- being both a straightforward erotic account of love and a spiritual allegory of sorts -- are my fellow travelers in this regard. But I reject this phallic God of Gill's, just as I reject the pseduo-feminism of writers such as D. H. Lawrence, who in Lady Chatterly's Lover paints a woman who requires clitoral stimulation as being aggressive and "beakish" and therefore unfeminine; when the woman finally yields totally to the man, being “perfect” in her passivity (and having a vaginal orgasm to prove it) she finally becomes whole to Lawrence. Never mind what a woman's own body tells her; she's not part of this male-only narrative, in which the man tells her, acts upon her, his will! Only a yielding response to the penetrating male seems adequate for either Gill or Lawrence. Gill, it now appears, took this to its logical conclusions: since it is a woman’s place to yield, it is man’s place to take what he wants from her. Even if she is his own daughter.

Implicit in the female as receiver only paradigm is the idea that she ultimately can't help enjoying being overcome by the heaven-sent male, the phallic gawd, if you will. What a lie. And how pervasive this lie still is! I think those who are baffled by feminism’s angry side need only ponder these images, which are still so much with us today.

As a Christian, I am not stupid enough to think a world can exist, here, where my own daughters and sons are safe from these perverse ideas of maleness and femaleness. Violence is not sex, because true sex is the outcome of mutual love. Violence is rage, and when the male sex becomes the tool of rage, not only women are raped. Men who love are victimized as well. Every time we look into our beloved's eyes and see that split-second flicker at the moment we become one—no matter how gently that moment is brought about—every time we hear another newscaster announce a series of rapes on the north side of Chicago where we live, every time a pornographer's unsolicited email invites us to view women, even children, being degraded violently... we, too, become victims.

In all of this, I fear I've not yet really hit the right combination of words and emotion to convey how sad, how unutterably sad, I feel when confronted with rape. But my wife looks at me with such tenderness, even as I'm left feeling she can't help but blame me a little. She's never said it, but I dimly sense the thought floating there. "All men are potential rapists.... even you. The penis, unlike the vagina, is capable of violence." No, she's never said it. She would deny it if asked. So I don't ask her. But when I hold her, or sense her looking at my nakedness, I wonder what she sees. Could there be the faintest tenseness in her, the tiniest tincture of fear? Of me? Of my body? Why, I want to ask her, why can’t you be rather awed by my body, as I am by yours, desiring it as I desire yours, curious about it as I am perpetually curious about yours?

But you see, she is right; the male body itself has become a symbol of hurt, of fear, of oppression. I am raging against history itself to try to change that.

Then one day, I get just a taste. Just a moment, a window that flicks open and closed. But I discover something.

I am parking a car near our Jesus People USA headquarters, talking quietly aloud to God. Our Uptown neighborhood this summer afternoon is full of people, an urban landscape of rich, poor, black, brown, and white. I am happy, carefree. I pull onto a side street and find a place, but just as I turn the ignition off, I hear a voice. An African American female voice. She is leaning into my passenger-side window, which is open due to the heat. And she is suggesting that for five dollars she will do this and that and thus and such. Except what she says is descriptive. Far, far more descriptive. Her words fall on me, and on my sex, like a truckload of filth.

There is no temptation in this for me, no momentary flicker of desire. The woman is old beyond her years, emaciated looking, quite possibly ill with AIDS or some other disease. But her words, her words themselves are like death to me. It is painfully obvious that what she wants is drugs, and her offer to me is one driven by the logic of money and of maleness. Every man is nothing more than his penis. For me, who only moments before had been thinking of what a beautiful day it was, I felt as though I had been vomited on. It was a disgusting, diminished feeling I had. “Why me? Why did you say all that to me? What is there about me that would make you think I would respond to you? Is there something wrong with me, do I put off some kind of vibe?”

And then it hit me.

This is how women feel. This is how it is to be a woman – a sex object – in a man’s world. This is how it is not just once, not just this one abnormal time, but continually. The cool male eyes running up and down your body like they own it, like they possess you by right. The casual comment, the wolf-whistle, the wink. Open yourself to this feeling. Drink it in. Then look at your sisters, both the ones in Christ and the ones who do not yet know Him. Remember this feeling when you look at your sisters, when you talk to your sisters, when you talk about your sisters with other men.

Yes Lord, I will try to remember. Truly. This is how women feel.

* * *

In concluding, I would like to shift perspectives from a personal narrative to an equally non-authoritative, perhaps misguided, attempt to speak to my sisters in Christ for most of your brothers in Christ. Many of these things will seem trite. Maybe that only goes to show you how far I have to go.

Please, my sisters, try to love us as Christ loves the church. But let that love be a tough love. Do not let us saddle you with sole responsibility in rearing children. Children need fathers who change diapers, cuddle, play ball or have a tea party. But children also need dads who include mom in on what is going on. Little eyes watch closely what we do, not what we say, and gender roles are learned more from dad and mom interacting than anything else. I was blessed to have parents that in many ways modeled this for me. Someone once said, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

Please, my sisters who are not yet married, do not let your brothers in Christ put the burden of sexual purity solely on you. This is such a huge lie, that men cannot control themselves sexually; they may not want to, but let them know they have to, are expected to. Having a penis does not mean he is incapable of controlling desire. Nor does having a vagina mean you necessarily are better at saying “No!” than he is, or that you feel desire less keenly than he does. Yes, our genitals are external, more easily stimulated. But the mind, not the penis, is the primary sexual organ. Purity must be the business of both of you. That means if he does touch you inappropriately, you move his hand. But you also remind him that you expect him to control his own desires, just as you are to control your desires. Explain to him that if you cannot work together at mutually remaining pure until your marriage, perhaps getting married is not such a good idea.

Please, sisters, remind one another as well as your brothers that single women and men do not need to be married before they’re fully human. They may be called to delay marriage for years, or never to marry. Affirm single women and men; too few of their fellow believers remember to do so.

Please, my sisters, do not allow the legalists and woman-haters to tell you that your ministry is limited because of your gender. As far as I have to go today to be a mature believer, I promise you that most of the best and deepest things I do know have come through the hands of women; women preachers, women elders, women teachers, women disciplers. The gifts of the Holy Spirit do not come to us according to gender. And I will not be a part of a fellowship or denomination that refuses to recognize gifted women alongside gifted men. Make room for the gifts!

Please, my sisters, do not give in to anger and rejection toward men. Jesus did die for us, too. We can be annoyingly thick and insensitive. But try to see us as singular people, just as you would like to be seen by us, rather than a collective gender that is beyond hope. Some of us are jerks. Some of us are liars. Some are even perverts, and if you sense something is wrong with a man who is around your children, pay attention to that feeling! It isn’t your job to be nice like some 1950s housewife; it is your job to be like Jesus, to love like He loves and to do his will, no matter what anyone tells you. Passivity is no less sinful for a woman than it is for a man, and passivity is not love.

Please, my sisters, help us to learn compassion. We evangelical males seem peculiarly hard-hearted when it comes to loving the least of these. We need to learn some of the attributes often called “feminine,” attributes like nurturing, encouraging, empathizing, helping. We need to learn the art of togetherness rather than individualism.

Please, my sisters, don’t allow yourselves to become trapped in the superficial world many church women are being forced to live in despite women moving forward elsewhere. When the men gather in the living room to talk politics and the women go to the kitchen to talk about recipes or the new next door neighbor’s pregnant daughter, that is bad, bad, bad. We’re being patriarchal, lazy, and insensitive. You’re being passive, gossipy, and bad stewards of your god-given minds. And, if I can say this, you’re being a bad witness to us by letting us get away with condescending, patriarchal behavior. Gently, lovingly, confront us on it. If we don’t respond just come on in and plop down next to the guys and toss your ideas right into our little male-only mix!

Please, my sisters, don’t allow material comfort to paper over your duty to Christ. Don’t let a house, a nest egg, and so on become your excuse for not being involved in the world outside your home. Have you watched the news lately? Have you seen the gender of the people running most of the world? And do you think they’re doing a good job? Please, get out of that comfort zone – and if your husband or brother in Christ is there, get him out of there, too! Stop playing it safe by human standards! Please.

Please, sisters… don’t let us let you take care of household chores. We’re big, we’re strong, and we can swing a broom or wield a dishcloth with the best women out there.

Please, married sisters, don’t let sex be the man’s business. Read the Song of Solomon together, and notice who does most of the erotic talking. You got it, the woman. This is one area where many if not most men will respond very positively to their wives’ move toward equality. Let us know what you want, how you want it, and initiate love more often than even feels comfortable for you at first. You might be surprised how this will change other aspects of your relationship, as he begins to see you as someone unafraid to venture past standardized roles.

Finally, please sisters, don’t forget that our gender does not define our humanity. We are all sinners. And we are all saved by grace, the unmerited favor of a wholly loving God who made us, male and female, in his image. Our relationships are not about power, but about love. And we are to outdo one another in acts of love for his sake. That is where we can truly confound the world, who always makes it about power. Christ surrendered his power, laid it down, so that his hands and heart were free to pick us up. Can you love your brothers that way, not passively, not permissively, but still charitably and with grace? Pray for us, that we someday might learn to love our sisters in that way, and to listen when the Spirit speaks, no matter the gender of the one through whom that Spirit speaks.

* * * Copyright © 2005 Jon Trott * * *
* No part of this article may be republished without express written permission *