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“Nobody Knows the Identities of the 150 People Killed by U.S. in Somalia, but Most Are Certain They Deserved It”

“This particular mass killing is unlikely to get much attention in the U.S. due to (1) the election-season obsession with horse-race analysis and pressing matters such as the size of Donald Trump’s hands; (2) widespread Democratic indifference to the killing of foreigners where there’s no partisan advantage to be had against the GOP from pretending to care; (3) the invisibility of places like Somalia and the implicit devaluing of lives there; and (4) the complete normalization of the model whereby the U.S. president kills whomever he wants, wherever he wants, without regard for any semblance of law, process, accountability, or evidence.”

This is why elections matter. Ever since I have been old enough to be politically aware, the government of my country has seen fit to wage unlimited war wherever and whenever it wants, regardless of logic, efficacy, ethics, or legality, under the guise of a “War on Terror.”

A president as kind-hearted and pious as George W. Bush authorized the use of torture and domestic surveillance. He invaded and occupied two countries, one with an entirely fabricated justification, and directly caused over a decade of civil war and hundreds of thousands of deaths. He destabilized an entire region of the world and drove millions of people from their homes by his recklessness.

A president as mild mannered and educated as Obama has personally authorized hundreds of extra-judicial assassinations and executions each year. He has heavily bombed seven Islamic countries with whom the United States is not at war and where it has no legal jurisdiction. He has downplayed the civilian death toll by classifying as a “militant” any male of military age who is killed by the US government, while deliberately targeting civilian first responders and family members of victims with a “double tap” policy.

Say what you will about the policies or legacies of Bush or Obama’s presidencies; both are widely regarded as basically decent men, in and of themselves. And yet this is the role America has played in the world under their guidance. We call it the War on Terror, but it is really a War of Terror. We are the ones who destroy families and cause entire countries to live in fear. We are the ones who kill without trial, without a declaration of war, without warning, and without remorse.

So when you watch the presidential race, and you see angry, avaricious men who yearn for violence, who boast of how they will “bomb the shit” out of their enemies, how they will make America more powerful than it has ever been, and how they will use that power ruthlessly, stop. Back away. Remember how much violence the American government can commit with decent men in charge, and be very afraid of what it could do with a bad man at the helm.

 

“This student was ashamed of her Republican father, until he said this”
This rather ridiculous story has been going around for years, and it propagates a common fallacy. In our economy, there is no direct link between either work ethic and opportunity, or between work ethic and income. Plenty of people work two or three jobs at or near minimum wage and put in 60 to 90 hours a week of hard work, and still can’t feed their children or keep a roof over their head without government assistance. For comparison, the average member of a board of directors for an S&P 500 company makes $251,000 a year for 250-300 hours of work a year, or $10,000 an hour (Forbes). So, to take the metaphor of the story, you could compare our economy to a college that gives 4.0s to students who show up to class once a month, and fails the students who attend every class and study constantly.

This is, of course, a vast oversimplification, but no more so than the original post. Of course hard work will generally get a person farther ahead than laziness, and plenty of high earners also work long hours, but that doesn’t mean that most people have real economic mobility. For someone in retail, working themselves to death might make the difference between 7.25/hr and 8.50/hr, but it will never make them financially secure. They should get better jobs, you say? Remember that 25% of jobs in America pay below the federal poverty line. Unless you want to raise minimum wage, there are not enough well-paying jobs for everyone to work their way out of poverty.

I’m a strong believer in honesty and hard work, but telling workers to practice these virtues will not fix our broken system. So instead of perpetuating these classist myths – that the poor are poor because they’re lazy, and the rich are rich because they deserve it – let’s fight for real social change. We need higher wages and stronger benefits for the most vulnerable and exploited participants in our economy. We need businesses to recognize that their profit depends on the value created by workers and share the wealth accordingly, and we need a tax system that encourages this mindset rather forcibly. We need a government that prioritizes its spending to provide security, health, and education to its citizenry, instead of giving hand-outs and tax breaks to plutocrats or bombing civilians halfway around the world. We need a free market that is free and profitable not only for the wealthy or the corporations, who can buy politicians and write their own rules, but for the lowest paid workers, for the entrepreneurs, for the small business owners. We need a more just society, a more just economy, a more just government.

These are difficult and complex goals to achieve, but I would rather see this country strive for justice and fail than pursue injustice and succeed.

For those of you decrying the Oregon protesters as terrorists and traitors, perhaps you are right. Their actions certainly fall under the definition of treason (armed resistance to the government), and our government and media have broadened the meaning of terrorism enough to make this a reasonable charge. I have seen friends – reasonable, liberal-minded friends – calling for these mean to be treated as enemies of state – gunned down, or executed, or sent to Guantanamo Bay. There has been a gleeful desire to see the full weight of the police state come down on these men. And yet…

Do you – especially those of you who consider yourselves liberal – truly mean your calls for government violence against this group? Do you really want the FBI or the military to storm in, guns blazing, and mow these protesters down? Are you trying to point out the hypocrisy of some on the right, or are you yourself falling prey to (and delighting in) the same bloodlust that you denounce in your political opponents?

The U.S. government has spent the last 15 years pursuing the path of overwhelming force in its fight against ideological extremists abroad, and how is that working out for us? Have we brought peace to the regions we have invaded, occupied, or bombed? Have we safeguarded human rights? Have we increased our moral standing? Have we successfully discouraged extremist organizations from violence, or managed to reduce their recruitment?

You know the answers to these questions. You know, when you aren’t blinded by politics, outrage, or the desire to catch others in their hypocrisy, that violence only begets violence. You know that an attempt to smash this group would only escalate the situation. The protesters and their sympathizers would find their cause suddenly justified and intensified, and nothing else would follow but further radicalization.

So let’s take a minute and step back here. Those of you who have rightly protested illegal detention at Gitmo, or the lack of justice in drone assassinations abroad, or the invasions of Patriot Act surveillance, or the violence of police brutality – are you applying your principles consistently? You are able to muster your sympathy when our government mistreats enemies abroad or when it oppresses the poor and vulnerable among us – and that is praiseworthy and right. But I ask you to remember your sympathy when it is most difficult – when you must apply it to those with whom you cannot imagine any common ground.

Our language about God falls into one of two categories: negation or analogy.

The language of negation expresses what God is not. Thus we call him infinite, because he has no limits; immortal, because he does not die; sinless, because he does no wrong. The language of negation is the language of holiness and transcendence. It reminds us that God is wholly Other than we – that his ways are not our ways, his thoughts not our thoughts. The language of negation is ultimately destructive. It destroys the security of knowing what God is and drives out the idols of our mind – idols that define God by human standards and mistake the creation for the Creator. This way of speaking proclaims that who God is in himself is known only to himself, and we cannot fathom the divine nature.

Yet though we may not know God in himself, we may experience his gracious work in the world, and so the language of analogy expresses what God is like in his relation to us. We call it the language of analogy because its entire vocabulary is drawn from the creation and applied to God only by an act of poetic imagination. Thus we call him Father, because he cares for us as our fathers have cared for us; Shepherd, because he guards us a shepherd guards sheep; Savior, because he delivers us from death as one man may rescue another; Physician, because he heals our brokenness as a doctor heals disease; Judge, because he upholds righteousness as a judge upholds the law. Even the traditional philosophic attributes of the deity – omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence – are analogies to our way of being, mere superlatives of our conceptions of knowledge, presence, and power. The language of analogy is constructive, creating ways to conceptualize the divine and our relation to it, yet even so it rests upon the darkness of negation. God loves us as a father loves his children, but he is not physically a father. He guides us a shepherd guides sheep, but he is not literally a shepherd. Neither is he – in himself – a savior, physician, or judge, but all of these images are taken from human life to express how God acts toward us.

Both languages are necessary to those who seek God, for both languages provide the vocabulary of praise. We stand in awe of the unknowable God and kneel in gratitude for his grace. We humbly acknowledge his transcendence of our words and concepts, yet boldly attribute to him all the excellencies which he has created in and around us. Our hearts are still and silent before his utter Otherness, yet out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

America is rejoicing this evening, and rightly so. It is human to be a patriot. It is human to delight in the downfall of one’s enemy.

Yet I would remind my fellow Christians that we are not patriots of the United States. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and we follow a different order.

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.”
-Ezekiel 33:11

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
-Matthew 5:43-48

We may not deny that Osama bin Laden was wicked man – a cause of much suffering and grief. We mourn with the victims of 9/11, as we always mourn with those who mourn. Thus it is fitting to feel a solemn gratitude that a man who sowed death and destruction will do so no longer.

Yet to us it is not permitted to delight in the downfall of the wicked. We are called instead to love as God loves – universally, unconditionally, desiring the salvation of all. We mourn the deaths of all who die apart from the grace of God. Our delight is never in revenge, but in peace and restoration. Thus we desire the repentance of the violent as much as we desire the healing of the violated.

This is not an easy task. It is natural to hate our enemies. It is natural to wish hell upon a murderer, especially when he has murdered our neighbors. It is natural to forget Christian charity in patriotic exultation.

It is natural to be human.

It is difficult to love the wicked, but that is the way of the Cross. It is not an easy path to follow, but it is the path of Christ.

Filmed by Terje Sorgjerd, on El Teide Mountain in Spain.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago…
-1 Peter 3.18-20a

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
-1 Peter 4.6

The Harrowing of Hell

“Holy Saturday”
by Nathan Johnson

The world fell dark on a Friday
And wept in night for an hour
When Death took his sickle to slay,
And overcome God by his power.

And men grew still in their blindness
While God could not be found;
Despair claimed even the righteous
When Christ was laid in the ground –

To fall asleep to “God is dead,”
To rise to “God is gone,”
To see the blood that God has bled
In the red sky of the dawn –

The terror of that Sabbath morn
Was terror to try a heart –
To follow Christ although forlorn?
To claim of the cross a part?

What hardship for man to follow
A God who has gone to his grave!
To love when love seems hollow
To hope when it is brave,

To follow Christ, though unassured,
Of glory or reward,
To know it not that death is cured,
Yet choose to face the sword.

What God is this, who suffers the worst,
Who descends to the depths of dark?
What God is this, who falls accursed
With suffering as his mark?

He is none but Christ our Lord,
Who descended into hell,
And we must bear the cross he bore
And we must bear it well.

But the secret of that Saturday
Is near too great to tell
For those whom Christ found in the grave
Did see him conquer hell.

The God who suffered unto death
And sank to the lowest low,
Did rise up hence by his great Life
With all the saints in tow.