Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Miracle and Mystery of the Immune System

With the flu season raging, and my wife and many friends coming down with this nasty bug, I often think about the immune system and how it works. The immune system is one of the great mysteries and miracles of the human body, as I learned when I went on a cancer journey with my wife Kathleen of blessed memory. At that time, I read a little pamphlet which explained that the immune system consists of two types of cells: memory T-cells and killer T-cells. When an infection enters the body, these cells go to the infection and the killer T-cells do what they can to destroy it. In the process many of these courageous killer T-cell sacrifice their lives to preserve the health of the body. The memory t-cells observe what the killer t-cells do, evaluate what works best, and remember the best practices. Later, when a similar infection occurs, these clever little memory t-cells communicate this information to the killer t-cells. That’s how vaccines work: they provide memory and killer t-cells an opportunity to fight a weakened form of the infection so that they can be more effective when they encounter the more virulent form.
This is obviously a simplified and “anthropomorphized” explanation of what happens at a cellular level. Yet the question still remains: How can a single cell observe, evaluate, remember and communicate since it doesn’t have a nervous system or the usual means of communication? Isn’t is astonishing that a cell can accomplish these high level mental tasks using chemical processes and signals! This uncanny ability seems to me miraculous and mysterious. How do single cells do this without consciousness or a brain? How is it that cells come together and cooperate in this complex way?
I once asked these questions to a young man who does research in immunology and he replied confidently, “It’s all mechanical.”
The answer didn’t make sense to me, so I said. “When you say it’s mechanical, you imply that the cell is some kind of machine, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, a little less confidently. “That’s right.”
“So who built and programmed the machine?” I asked.
He didn’t have an answer. That’s obviously not a question that is asked in science departments.
I am not suggesting that cells or any living organisms are machines. Quite the opposite. I agree with the Quaker theologian and physicist Howard Brinton that machines and living organisms are fundamentally different. Machines are built and programmed by an outside entity. Living organisms are self-organizing and have something mysterious we call intention or will that direct them towards the future.
Using theological terms, we might call this mysterious organizing force within each living organism the Logos.
The Gospel of John says that “in the beginning was the Logos” and the Logos created everything and nothing that was created was created without the Logos. That’s a bold statement with far-reaching implications.
It means that the Logos is present not only in human beings, but also (though in a lesser degree) in all matter, both animate and inanimate.
Howard Brinton explained how this is possible through a concept known as “holism,” which was developed in the 1920s by Jan Smuts. The theory of holism postulates that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that life emerges and develops through a holistic process. As cells come together and cooperate, they are able to function more effectively until finally they evolve into bodies and then into communities. These communities also function holistically, with the collective accomplishing far more than any individual could do. Thinkers ranging from Alfred North Whitehead to Teilhard de Chardin were influenced by the concept of holism.
Think of your body as a community of cells that are living together holistically. Most of them are non-human, yet they contribute to the good of the body (unless something happens to disrupt the balance, in which case one group of organisms may overpopulate and cause damage to the organism as a whole). Scientists have demonstrated how non-human cells in our body contribute to our health. (See  This may seem surprising until you consider how much non-citizens contribute to the economic and social health of our country!
Not all cells are beneficial, of course. Some, like viruses and cancer cells, are destructive. What makes them destructive is that they do not cooperate for the good of the body, but rather focus only on their own survival. These selfish and ultimately self-destructive cells behave like the “rugged individualists” that Ayn Rand and others extol.
In a poetic passage from his Swarthmore Lecture “Creative Worship” (1933), Howard Brinton evokes a cosmology that links modern science with the gospel of John through what he calls “the Spirit of Cooperation”:
In the beginning there was a swarm of electric particles, the most primitive forms of matter, pushing and pulling on each other from without. The Power which unites uttered the creative Fiat and these participles cooperated with one another to form organisms called atoms. The atoms jostled and fought each other until again the Spirit of Cooperation entered and they combined to create molecules. The molecules were mechanically and externally related and Creative Harmonizing Love fused them into fellowships as living cells which exhibited an unprecedented kind of behaviour. In a similar way cells, by forming new kinds of relation with one another, gradually achieved great societies such as animal bodies and eventually the infinitely elaborate structure of a human brain.[1]

This beautiful passage reminds us that God’s creation is an ongoing, cooperative process. Through the Logos God is continuing to evolve not only new forms of biological life, but also new forms of human awareness and communities. Through the power of the Logos, the living Christ, inanimate matter (dust) became cells (flesh), cells became the bodies of animals and animals joined together to form communities, and the highest form of community is the one that Christ called us to be part of. As we contemplate this amazing process of creation as Christians, it is comforting to know that Christ is at work not only in our communal life, but in every cell of our body, evolving new strategies to counteract illness, and to heal our bodies (and our souls).
This healing, redemptive process happens whether we will it or not (just as Christ’s grace permeates creation), but we can choose either to cooperate in or resist this healing work. Through our faith, and through paying attention to what our body and soul is trying to tell us, we can strengthen our immune system, heal our souls, and cultivate wholeness/wellness. This is good news!
The spirit of Christ is within us, as Jesus explains: “I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).    
When we focus on the Inward Christ, we may not always experience physical healing. Sometimes what is healed is the soul. During her cancer journey, Kathleen focused on both physical and spiritual healing--conventional and complementary medicine. Sadly, she did not survive her stem cell transplant at the City of Hope but she left behind a beautiful legacy and a model of how a Christian faces life-threatening illness with love and patience and good will towards all. She wanted us to remember her with the apostle Paul's powerful words of affirmation:

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8: 38-39 (NIV)

A Healing Contemplation

When you are feeling sick, remember that you are part of Christ, and Christ is within you. Your body is a spiritual as well as physical entity: each of your cells has been created through the loving Spirit of Cooperation, the Logos. Breathe in and breathe out slowly, as if you are breathing in the holy spirit. Feel the presence of this healing spirit from the tip of your toes to the top of your head. Remember that Christ is present in your immune system, and in every other cell and fibre of your body. As Paul reminded us, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God” (1 Corinthians 6:19) Rejoice and be glad in your body!  Its pain and suffering will not last forever. Just breathe and be fully present with what you are feeling. The more you try to resist pain, the stronger it becomes. The more you surrender to God, and open yourself to the Christ within, the stronger you and your immune system will become. Trust in the healing power that comes from God and is leading you back to your source and destination. This is the miracle and mystery that was present in the beginning, and lives within you in this  moment.



[1] Creative Worship and Other Essays. Pendle Hill Publications: Wallingford, PA, 1957, p. 34.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Academy Awards and the Culture of Violence, and the Golden Dove Awards for 2012

At tonight's Oscars, one of the contenders for best picture will be a film condoning torture--which is, I believe, a first in the annals of the film industry. My friend and colleague Rev Frank Wulf wrote a powerful op ed piece denouncing this film and the culture of violence in our country (see below). I wish that other pastors throughout the US would follow his example, and join in the Religious Campaign Against Torture (

In addition to censuring films that promote violence, I would like to lift up films and books that promote peace and justice--my "Golden Dove" award.

This year's "Golden Dove" award goes to "Argo," a thriller in which no shots were fired, no one was killed, and the CIA agent rescues people using creativity and courage rather than force.

A second "Golden Dove" goes to "Life of Pi," for being an imaginative and intriguing film about the quest for God. In this film, the hero learns to coexist with rather than kill the man-eating tiger--a step in the right direction towards becoming fully human.

The "Golden Dove" award for best non-fiction book goes to "Interfaith Just Peacemaking," edited by Susan Thisthewaite. This is a fascinating collection of essays by leading Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars/activists exploring the ten practices of "just peacemaking" from a theological and practical perspective.

Other books on peace and justice I recommend:

  • "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control" by Medea Benjamin.
  • "Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice" by Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell.
  • "Cultivating Peace: Becoming a 21st Century Peace Ambassador" by James O'Dea.
  • "Subversive Wisdom: Sociopolitical Dimensions of John's Gospel" by Bert Newton
  • "Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Housing Models" by Jill Shook
  • "On God's Side" by Jim Wallis

I am open to your suggestions about other books, films and documentaries you feel promote justice and peace.

Here is the opinion piece about "Zero Dark Thirty" and torture written by Rev Frank Wulf.

 Opinion: Fact and fiction and "Zero Dark Thirty"
By Rev. Frank Wulf

 I have not seen "Zero Dark Thirty," and I do not intend to do so.

It belongs to a genre of entertainment that glorifies torture as an effective means to bring perpetrators to justice. It does this in an untruthful way that neglects the complex moral, legal and pragmatic issues that motivated our government to implement torture to achieve its military and diplomatic goals. This film deceives the audience by alleging that inhumane torture methods coerced critical information that ultimately led to Osama bin Laden's capture. As a country that cherishes and strives to uphold individual freedoms and inherent human dignity and worth, how can we justify torture as a defense of democracy?

 We must puncture these myths and dispel the false and deceptive narrative "Zero Dark Thirty" has disseminated. Though the film is pulse-quickening and leaves us feeling victorious and proud to represent the nation that defeated the world's most hated terrorist, we cannot let that cloud our judgment on the use of torture. The fiction that the film conveys inevitably sacrifices the complications of truth for the "higher" goal of entertainment. Real work has been done to explore the effects of torture, but it is currently shrouded by the government's failure to share the information with the public.

Last December, the Senate Intelligence Committee adopted a report of more than 6,000 pages detailing the CIA's use of post-9/11 torture. This report is the result of an extensive, three-year investigation examining more than a million pages of documents detailing interrogations of detainees in CIA custody. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been an outspoken opponent of the film, which she asserts is "grossly inaccurate and misleading." Other officials have reiterated her claims, including Sen. John McCain - himself a survivor of torture - Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former CIA Director Michael Hayden and acting CIA Director Mike Morrell.

It is time for the Senate Intelligence Committee to release its report to the public, which will shed light on the misconceptions about torture that fester in an atmosphere of secrecy. The half-truths and outright lies advanced by works of fiction such as "Zero Dark Thirty" only gain traction because the truth is kept hidden, and those with little knowledge of intelligence operations will take the film at face value. People have the right to know if their government is or has tortured people on their behalf.

Intelligence experts have repeatedly stated that torture is counterproductive. It doesn't produce reliable or unique information and only serves to enrage people who are already looking for reasons to attack us. Interrogators have themselves admitted that non-coercive, traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches provide the best possibility for obtaining accurate and complete intelligence. Torture is also illegal under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which the United States signed in 1994. And finally, torture is immoral. It runs contrary to the teachings of every major religion, and violates our deepest sense about the dignity of every person.

As a Christian pastor, I cannot condone torture under any circumstance. Jesus, who was himself tortured, serves as my guide. With the Academy Awards approaching, we must ensure that the deception of "Zero Dark Thirty" is demystified. We must work for transparency on this issue, and so I join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in calling on our government to share with us its findings of our nation's dark legacy of torture activities. As the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Feinstein has a critical role to play in pushing for the public release of her committee's report.

 Though the truth may be painful, we must illuminate it. A film cannot be the final arbiter of the truth, and we must hold our government accountable for its actions.

 The Rev. Frank Wulf is a United Methodist minister in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. He currently serves as the pastor of United University Church in Los Angeles, a union congregation of the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church (USA).
This op apppeared in the following sources:


LA Daily News










Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Courtship of Howard and Anna Brinton: "Love Amid the Ruins"

Last night Jill and I invited s few friends to our home to celebrate the completion of my new book on Howard and Anna Brinton. Two of our guests were Muslims--a young woman of Yemeni background named Jamila and a retired professor from Algeria named Bouallem. The two others were Quakers--a young woman named Sarah who used to be part of my Quaker youth group 19 years ago (now married to a Quaker film maker), and an old Friend named Pat from Orange Grove Meeting who raises chickens and horses and makes fantastic teapots. It was a fun group. We ate cake, drank coffee, and sat by the fire and talked and talked and talked.  I imagine that Howard and Anna enjoyed many such delightful evenings with their friends and students.

I told my friends I wrote this biography in part because Howard and Anna were both strong leaders and dynamic personalities and theirs was a marriage of equals. This, to me, was fascinating and significant. Neither one overshadowed the other, as sometimes happens in marriages. (Who knew, for example, that the wife of Paul Robeson was such a gifted and remarkable woman?) Anna was a Classics scholar who earned her doctorate from Stanford at age thirty. Howard earned degrees in mathematics and physics, served as a college president, and wrote numerous books. When Howard and Anna married, they became a team, each complementing the other's personality and ministry.

This is the kind of marriage I had with Kathleen, my wife of blessed memory, who was a Methodist pastor I met at Pendle Hill, the Quaker center for study and contemplation where Anna and Howard served as co-directors for many years. And this is the kind of marriage I am having with Jill, a passionate housing justice advocate and "catalyst." Jill and I work together a team on various projects, ranging from her book to the recent gun buyback campaign.  I love the idea of marriage as joint ministry.

I decided to share with my friends the touching and romantic story of how Howard and Anna met and courted after WWI. Both had become involved with the American Friends Service Committee, which was founded during WW I  by Howard's teacher Rufus Jones so that conscientious objectors could do alternative service. After the War, the AFSC organized relief work in war-stricken areas of Germany, Czechoslovakia, and other parts of Europe. Anna and Howard both took part in these efforts, and it transformed their lives. They met, fell in love, and married... and remained active in the AFSC and Quake peacemaking efforts for the rest of their lives. They lived not only happily, but usefully, ever after!

Howard and Anna: Love Amid the Ruins (1919-21)
Anna was drawn to work for the American Friends Service Committee through her sister Catharine.  While Anna was attending the Friends World Conference in London in 1920,  Catharine sent Anna a message urging her to join in AFSC’s relief work in Germany. Heeding this call, Anna immediately crossed the channel and went to Berlin where she began working for the AFSC by writing articles about the feeding of German children and students for Atlantic Monthly and other periodicals. [1] She also visited Berlin University and arranged for feeding students that needed help. While engaged in this work, she was told by Herman Newman “in his slow drawl”:
“Anna, if thee goes to Dresden, there is a young man there who will take thee for a walk.”[2]
Anna had met Howard at the Friends Conference, and evidently liked him, but was reluctant to act so boldly. She sought the advice of Violet Tillard, an English Friend whom she especially admired. Violet said firmly, ‘If respectable people can’t do what they want, who can?’”[3]
Anna went to Breslau to become acquainted with this promising young Quaker academic whom her friends kept urging her to meet. Howard vividly recalled their “historic” first date:
Anna came to Breslau sometimes to look after the student feeding at the universities. One time I joined her and [we] went to dinner together at the restaurant in the basement of the Rathaus. This was an historic occasion for us because it marked the beginning of our more intimate acquaintance. Accordingly, I keep a picture of the Rathaus in my study. Soon after I began to yearn for further acquaintance so I asked her to come and take a walk with me among the mountains on the border between Germany and what used to be Austria.
According to Howard, Anna’s mentor Violet died of typhus in Poland soon after giving Anna the friendly advice that brought them together. The priest refused to allow Violet (a Quaker) to be buried in the Catholic cemetery “so the peasants buried her at the edge of the cemetery and during the night took the wall of the cemetery down and extended it to include her grave in the cemetery.”[4]
One of Howard’s dates with Anna included a visit to the grave site of Jacob Boehme in Gorlitz. “Jacob was a shoemaker,” recalled Howard, “And the group of shoemakers erected a very fine monument on his grave.” As darkness settled on this expansive graveyard, Howard and Anna wandered about for a long time before they could find an exit. Howard goes on to describe in charming detail how their courtship progressed:
The next day we went to the mountains and followed a hilly path along the border. By evening we came to a hotel near the highest mountain of the range called Schneekoppe. At the hotel Anna refused to take a room next to mine.
Early next morning we climbed to the top of the mountain just in time to see the sunrise. It was a beautiful sight. I had brought some sausage for breakfast so we cooked them over an open fire. Anna remarked that I was a very good provider, which was encouraging.
We returned along the path…[and] our conversation consisted principally of quoting poetry.
After this trip, we exchanged a good many letters….[Anna] sent me ….a copper plate containing an image of Kant and some of his sayings. She also sent me a beautiful little book made entirely by herself and containing a number of short poems…
Anna’s memories of this time include going with Howard to the opera, to historic Krakow,  and to Munich’s Museum of Modern Art—“the first modern art museum either of them had ever seen. Both agreed it was modern; neither was sure it was art.”[5]
Another memorable episode occurred when Anna was visiting various German universities to arrange feeding programs for students. The Rector of Koenigsburg refused to speak English, so he and Anna discussed matters in Latin!
Anna and Howard had some minor disagreements during their courtship. Trained as a physicist and mathematician, Howard was more scientifically minded than Anna so she teased him by quoting James Bryce, a famous liberal British politician whose work Anna read while a student at Westtown: “No man ever nerved himself to action or comforted himself under a stroke of fate by reflecting that the sides of an isosceles triangle are equal.”[6]
Howard  paused to reflect, and after a long interval replied: “I’m not sure that’s true.”
Humorously learned banter like this was an important part of their courtship and their relationship, but there were also deeper feelings that Howard found difficult to put into words.  “I have never felt a desire to express my most intimate inward feelings,” Howard confesses in his Autobiography. “This reluctance to wear my heart on my sleeve was shared also by Anna.”  He felt comfortable sharing only the “outline of events” and omits “the strong inward feelings which can be felt but not expressed. I hope these feelings can be understood and taken for granted even if not expressed.”[7]
Strong feelings must have arisen in both of them when Anna received news that her mother was seriously ill and needed her help. As Anna made plans to leave for California, Howard struggled with the question of whether or not to propose marriage. He wanted to marry Anna, but having no job nor job prospects, he hesitated. Finally, he became clear (or as Anna might say, “nerved himself for action”) and wrote his marriage proposal in a letter which he sent to her boat in Amsterdam.
Anna’s voyage home proved extremely trying. The head of the AFSC unit in Germany asked her to escort two “war orphans” to their parents in the States. Seven-year-old Elfrieda and Rosa looked cherubic, but they caused endless mischief, cutting up pillows and scattering the feathers in a hotel room, and shouting obscenities in German at their fellow passengers on the ship. Even their evening devotions were obnoxious. In order to avoid going to bed at the designated time, they droned their prayers on and on and on, till Anna was driven to distraction.
“My great comfort was a parting letter I had received from Howard Brinton,” recalled Anna, “which I at first thought of keeping under my pillow. But I was afraid the girls would get hold of it, so I carried it in my bosom.”[8]
Anna managed to escort the girls safely to their parents, and received four dozen long-stem roses for her troubles. But then an agonizing period of waiting began. Anna had sent Howard a letter accepting his marriage proposal, but she didn’t hear back from him for several months. The President of Mills College, Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt, was convinced that the bridegroom would not appear at the wedding. Days and then weeks of waiting passed. Finally, thirty letters arrived from Howard—delayed by postwar disorganization in Europe.[9]
Howard himself arrived in San Jose on the day of their wedding, July 23, 1921. They were married in the San Jose meetinghouse, but Anna did not ask for clearness to marry from San Jose Meeting, but rather from Twelfth Street Meeting in Philadelphia, where she was a member. Permission to marry arrived from this meeting by wire and was delivered just in time by a telegraph boy on bike en route to the meetinghouse.[10]
Their new life as a couple began with an excursion to nearby Gilroy, where a rodeo was taking place. They then took a stage coach across the coast range into the mountains. They walked along a remote mountain trail for two days, never encountering another person, until they came to Big Sur, the haunt of artists and writers. They continued walking and stayed in small inns along the way until they finally ended up in Carmel, where a honeymoon cottage awaited them. For reading matter, they brought with them Jowett’s translation of Plato, which they read aloud to each other. [11]
(To be continued....)

[1] Mather, p. 10-11.
[2] Autobiography, p. 33.
[3] Mather, p. 11.
[4] Autobiography, p. 33.
[5] Mather, p. 11.
[6] Mather, p. 12.
[7] Autobiography, p. 43.
[8] Mather, p. 13.
[9] Mather, p. 15.
[10]  Mather, p. 15.
[11] Manuscript of Anna Brinton from the Brinton archives at Haverford. Also Howard’s Autobiography, p. 39.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Spiritual Journey, as recounted in "Mystics, Me and Moby: A Spiritual Roadtrip" by Linda Caldwell Lee

Available thru Amazon
My friend Linda Caldwell Lee has just published a fascinating book called Mystics, Me and Moby: A Spiritual Roadtrip. In it she describes her quest to find others who had "crossed over or met God or been transformed by the Spirit, to hear their stories and to tell the great truth that God an Love are always there, always here, always everywhere." Among the many remarkable people she encounters are a Sufi, a shaman, a sun dancer, a mountain climber, an oblate priest, a Buddhist, a transgendered mystic, "the angel of  hot soup," and your truly, a Quaker editor, youth worker and peace activist.
Linda's journey began when she suffered through a painful divorce, and a severely compromised immune system, that left her emotionally and physically devastated. In this dark period she experienced an extraordinary illumination, a sense of God's love and presence that transformed her life. Filled to the brim with the Spirit, she decided to go on a roadtrip in her white van called Moby and seek out kindred souls. She writes with honesty, joy and insight about the people she met and how they affected her. Some of them, like Lynn [Waddington], are Quakers. (Lynn's spiritual memoirs are also fascinating and were posthumously published under the title "Staying True: Musings of an Odd-duck Quaker Lesbian Approaching Death.") Some of those Linda interviewed, like Arlo Guthrie, are famous. But most are "ordinary" people with amazing stories of their experiences with the Great Mystery.
Linda's encounter with me occurred a dozen or so years ago when I was living in Whittier, CA, with Kathleen, my wife of blessed memory. Some of the facts are a little off, but I think she did a good job of capturing the spiritual essence of who I was at this time.

Anthony, whom I met at one of the Quaker meetings along my wandering way, had given me directions to his home in Whittier, CA. He and his wife Kathleen, a Methodist pastor, welcomed me. They would not let me cook or do the dishes, insisting I simply be a guest. They were so in love with each other that it was a delight to be with them. Anthony said, “When I met Kathleen she was perfectly satisfied being herself. She was not looking for anyone to marry. Her relationship with God was enough. Or almost enough. Later she told me, ‘It is nice to find God with skin on.’”
Anthony was editor of Western Friends Bulletin and coordinator of a youth program sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. In his youth he had been going to a Presbyterian church when a friend he admired persuaded him to visit a Quaker meeting. “When I went, I liked everything about the experience—the 18th century Meeting House, the peacefulness, the people—except the messages. They seemed overly short, and not nearly as good as sermons at the Presbyterian Church. So I thought I’d go to both and have the best of both worlds. But as I sat in the Silence, I heard an Inward Voice say, ‘Do you want to experience Me or do you want to experience great sermons?’ Then it dawned on me: Why would I want eloquence when I could have God directly? So I learned the most important Quaker discipline, to be satisfied with what God reveals in the moment. I joined a spirituality group at the Quaker Meetinghouse where there were wonderful discussions about the parallels and connections between Taoism, Quakerism, and the Hebrew prophetic tradition. But the really important thing was that they took the twelve steps of AA and turned them into ten queries to help those addicted to ego. As we spent weeks after week reflecting on these queries, I began to learn how to live a life centered in truth. The following year, in 1986, I joined the Religious Society of Friends.”
Anthony told my favorite funny interview story: “I was coming back from a Zen retreat with my friend Ed. We were having a discussion in the car about the importance of being aware in the moment. Suddenly we heard a siren and a police officer pulled us over. We had no idea why until the policeman leaned toward the car window and asked, "Didn’t you see those three red lights strung across the highway?"
My second favorite funny story from an interview is also Anthony’s: “After a Zen retreat, I went to a computer store to find out whether my computer had been fixed. It had been causing many problems that delayed my writing about spirituality. When the woman behind the desk told me sweetly that the computer was not ready, I stormed around saying,‘This is ridiculous, why can’t you fix this thing? It’s brand new. I’ve just come back from a Zen retreat and damn it, I have to write an article about meditation.’ The woman replied calmly,‘Oh, that’s interesting, my brother just went on a Zen retreat.’ I looked at her and thought, ‘What a jerk I am. How can I write about spirituality when I can’t even practice it?’”
Practice. That’s what I kept doing too, practicing, and falling short, missing the mark, taking the wrong turn, tripping over my own feet, bumping into things in the dark, flying blind, putting my foot in my mouth and trying to embody Love at the same time. As one of the Dances of Universal Peace songs says, “Happy is the man who can laugh at himself, he shall never cease to be amused.”
I had long conversations with Anthony about Christianity but my experience was with God. I can think of my bright being as representing Jesus. The depth of connection to I can think doesn’t come from the same place as God came to me as Love, light, sound and all that exists. I connect more to Barbara’s image of tiny lights that represent Love because that resembles my own experiences. It was different for Anthony. After he’d earned a doctorate in English literature, he had toured the US and part of Canada as a hippie adventurer, looking, he said, like Sgt. Pepper. He traveled by train in Canada, stopping at various cities. Drawn to go into a church, he found, “Open on the lectern was a New Testament. I walked up to it and began reading at random. The words went right to my heart, and I cried. I knew these were not just words on a page. This was the most radical and revolutionary doctrine ever preached. I was overwhelmed with emotion. After the release of tears, I was puzzled, but I sensed there was a Presence trying to guide me. I felt that if I trusted in this Presence, everything would be fine.”
We walked a steep hill in late afternoon and Anthony said we could see fifteen miles at least over LA and Long Beach. Eventually I wrote up two interviews for Anthony’s Western Friends Bulletin and helped him with mailing two issues. He has continued to practice the presence of God over the years, working with youth and working for peace, among other things.



Monday, February 18, 2013

Honoring Torturers and Cold-Blooded Murderers

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced this week that the military will award a new medal to “drone warriors” who kill via remote controlled aircraft. The Distinguished Warfare Medal will provide “recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails," said Panetta. [1] In other words, you don’t to have courage to win this medal. You just have to be an extraordinarily efficient, cold-blooded killing machine. No mention is made of innocent civilians, including children, who have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia,[2] perhaps because they are Muslims, Afro-Asian, and regarded as “bug splat” by our brave drone warriors. According to a report in Al Jazeera, “bugsplat is the official term used by US authorities when humans are killed by drone missiles.” [3] This dehumanizing term probably refers to the fact that dead bodies on computer screens resemble dead insects on your car window.

In addition to honoring drone warriors for their risk-free killings, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has nominated for several Academy Awards a film called “Zero Dark Thirty” whose heroine is a CIA agent who tortures someone to death in her quest to kill Osama bin Laden. In this film torture is seen as a necessity when combating "evil doers."

Rev George Regas and David Clennon
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace and the Religious Campaign Against Torture has been mobilizing the religious community to oppose torture and drone strikes. Yesterday seventy of us gathered at the Hollywood Methodist Church, listened to speakers and then went to a busy intersection in Hollywood to hold up signs protesting the use of torture and the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”
One of the leaders in this effort has been the actor David Clennon. He has spoken out passionately and eloquently against awarding an Academy Award to this film. He created a stir when he publicly stated:
"The Motion Picture Academy clearly warns its members not to disclose their votes for Academy Awards. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that the film Zero Dark Thirty promotes the acceptance of the crime of torture, as a legitimate weapon in America’s so-called War on Terror. In that belief, following my conscience, I will not vote for Zero Dark Thirty in any category. I cannot vote for a film that makes heroes of Americans who commit the crime of torture."
Others, such as Ed Asner and Martin Sheen, joined in this protest. See

George Regas and Anthony Manousos
Just to be clear, no one is calling for censorship of this movie. We feel we have a right to censure the movie for its inaccuracy (it falsely claims that torture was necessary to find and kill bin Laden) and for not displaying any moral concern about the use of torture. We also feel that giving such a movie an Academy Award would send the wrong signal to the world and indicate Hollywood’s (and America's) approval of torture.

Writers in the LA Times have recently tried to justify the “culture of violence” in Hollywood, arguing that there is no correlation between violence on screen and violence in real life. Many psychologists would dispute this assertion: what we watch profoundly influences our psyche, often at an unconscious level, though different people react differently to violence in films or video games. If Hollywood believed that visual images have no influence on our behavior, why does it spend a fortune on bill boards and other advertisements to induce Americans to go to these movies?

What we watch and what we honor says a lot about our culture. The Greeks invented drama; and even though they were a warrior culture, they never depicted violence on stage. The Roman, on the other hand, did show violent acts on stage and in the gladiatorial arenas, a form of entertainment very similar to many Hollywood films. A major difference between the Greeks and Romans is that the Romans were imperialists, and empires require a cult of violence and torture.  The Romans invented crucifixion and used other forms of torture to terrorize and subdue populations. The US has used torture against slaves, Indians, Filipinos, Vietnamese and others.

That’s what drone warfare and torture have in common: they are instruments of terror used to subdue populations that resist American control. Hollywood is complicit in this culture of empire when it honors those who justify torture, and when it produces films that glorify violence.
In addition to our lurid history of violence and torture, America has a bright and noble side. At the founding of our country, we passed the Eighth Amendment forbidding "cruel and usual punishment" to those found guilty of crimes. This was a moral rebuke to the British and Europeans who used torture and vicious forms of punishment, like drawing and quartering. America was going to be different. After WW II, America took the lead in crafting the UN Declaration of Human Rights. 
America once aspired to be "city on the hill," a beacon of light in a violent and wicked world. As long as drone warriors and movies about torturers are honored, the world will regard us as no different from any other empire.
Here's a letter to the LA Times written from ICUJP, followed by a statement by Medea Benjamin (founder of Code Pink) who has written a well-researched and powerful book about drone warfare.
Dear Editor,

As people of faith and conscience, we oppose drone warfare on moral, legal and pragmatic grounds. We believe The Golden Rule as reflected in several theistic and non-theistic religious traditions teach that we shall not to do unto others what we would not want others to do unto us.

    We certainly would not want a foreign government to send drones to fly over our communities to kill people it deems a threat. Evidence shows that targeted drone killings of alleged terrorists and innocent civilians incites hostility against America and is a recruiting tool for terrorists. Further we note the inherent penchant for exclusively vilifying and targeting Afro-Asiatic populations as explicitly racist (white supremacist).

    We advocate the rule of law and due process. We call for transparency and believe that the CIA should not be allowed to conduct drone warfare in secret, without judicial accountability. We firmly believe that the President does not have the moral or legal authority to kill anyone, including American citizens, anywhere in the world without due process of law.

Drone warfare destroys the moral basis of our democracy and must be ended immediately.
Signed, Steve Rohde and Grace Dyrness, co-chairs of ICUJP


A Call from the Faith-Based Community to Stop Drone Killings

As representatives of faith-based communities, we are deeply concerned about the proliferation of lethal unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. The United States is leading the way in this new form of warfare where pilots in US bases kill people, by remote control, thousands of miles away. Drones have become the preferred weapons to conduct war due to the lack of direct risk to the lives of U.S. soldiers, but these drone strikes have led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in countries where we are not at war, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Some aspects that we find particularly disturbing include:
  • The President and his aides draw up a Kill List in which they play the role of prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. People on this secret Kill List have never been charged, tried or convicted in a court of law, and are given no opportunity to surrender;
  • The labeling of all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, thus justifying their murder, is an extreme and macabre form of profiling;
  • Drone strikes kill not only their intended targets, but innocent people, including children, violating the sanctity of human life;
  • Drone strikes violate other nation’s sovereignty (Pakistan’s elected leaders, for example, have repeatedly called for an end to the strikes);
  • Drones in the hands the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command keeps the program veiled in secrecy. The lack of transparency and accountability violate the basic tenets of a democratic society;
  • Drones make killing more abstract, impersonal, antiseptic, convenient and “easy”;
  • The Administration insists that because drones do not risk American lives, Congress need not be consulted, leading to a dangerous abuse of executive power;
  • Drone strikes have replaced Guantanamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants. They fuel anti-American sentiment, radicalize local populations and perpetuate an endless cycle of violence.
  • The example being set by the United States that a nation can go anywhere it wants and kill anyone it wants on the basis of secret information is leading to a world of chaos and lawlessness.
The world’s great religions teach us to cherish human life. This impersonal, risk-free killing of people on the other side of the globe runs counter to religious belief and the teachings of our traditions.

We urge our government to put an end to this secretive, remote-controlled killing and instead promote foreign polices that are consistent with the values of a democratic and humane society. We call on the United Nations to regulate the international use of lethal drones in a fashion that promotes a just and peaceful world community, based on the rule of law, with full dignity and freedom for every human being.



[2] Here are some facts about drone warfare from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Total US strikes: 364
Obama strikes: 312
Total reported killed: 2,640-3,474
Civilians reported killed: 473-893
Children reported killed: 176
Total reported injured: 1,270-1,433
Total confirmed US operations (all): 54-64
Total confirmed US drone strikes: 42-52
Possible extra US operations: 135-157
Possible extra US drone strikes: 77-93
Total reported killed (all): 374-1,112
Total civilians killed (all): 72-178
Children killed (all): 27-37
Total US strikes: 10-23
Total US drone strikes: 3-9
Total reported killed: 58-170
Civilians reported killed: 11-57
Children reported killed: 1-3