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The "Good News" According to Jesus

by John K. Stoner (November 20, 2017)

In today’s blog I will state some of the most basic of my understandings and commitments.  For you, and maybe as much for myself, I’ll try to write down what makes me tick.  Here is why I see what I see and say what I say when I look at our times and world.  

I said on Friday that I will generally start with fundamental principles based on history and/or Bible texts.  And I interpret the Bible through the lens of Jesus.  That substantially shapes my worldview.  I do not think my reading of the Bible and human experience is narrowly confined to my biases though I readily own the fact that I, like you, have my biases.  Here goes.

The good news announced by Jesus is that what you have a number of times in your life suspected to be true is in fact true: the greatest power in the universe is love.

This stands in contrast and opposition to the view of empire that superior violence is the greatest force in the world.  

Love is a greater power than violence, fear or death.  

The practice of love as compassion, forgiveness and invitations to try again is where you should put your faith.  Take risks for love, for love will win in the end.  This is God’s will, this is the way God made the universe, and God’s way of running the universe.

God is love, and whoever lives in love lives in God.  There I have dropped a brief definition of God, a word probably more misunderstood, abused and misleading than any other word in our language. 

Back to Jesus.  I said that his good news is something that you have a number of times in your life suspected to be true.  I want to enlarge  on that.  

Jesus called himself the “son of man,” or “the human one.”  He claimed to be something of the model human—I hope that does not disappoint readers who want me to say first and foremost that Jesus claimed to be the son of God.  I hold that we (or Christianity, or the Jesus crowd) would be further ahead if we started by taking seriously the idea that Jesus showed us first of all who we are, or who we can be.  Of course, by my, or classic Christian, understandings, he could not do that without showing us something centrally true about God, for we hold that we bear the image of God.  So what helps us see ourselves better also helps us to see God better.  That’s not the whole story, but if I have anything to do with it, I will not let you forget that Jesus taught that when we see ourselves better we also see God better.

Jesus is still important today because he said profoundly true things about human nature.  He taught that people are capable of loving both their neighbors and enemies, and should do it—to maintain human society and  make the world a livable habitat.  

He introduced the idea of “the kingdom of God,” which was the concept and claim of a new way of running the world, which did not assume it necessary use homicidal violence to “control” human nature. 

He taught serial forgiveness—his term was seventy times seven.   His followers were to be recidivist forgivers, because people often, usually, don’t get it right the first time.

He told stories of surprising forgiveness—a father who welcomed home a seriously wayward son—and generous empathy—a Samaritan (man of another religion, like a Muslim) who helped a victim of bandits after his own religious leaders passed him by.

Jesus did not present these moral behaviors of enemy love, repeated forgiveness and generous empathy as nice ideas for a few religious folk, but rather as a social strategy for developing a new society—a historically sustainable and psychologically attractive model of human relationships.   He called it all the “kingdom, kingship, or pervasive ideology” of the grain of the universe itself, or of God.

It is not hard to see even today that this was a new way of conceiving human, social and political relationships.  It stood in stark contrast to the dreams of emperors and kings with their armies, prisons, weapons and wars.   To believe that it would “work” took some faith then, and still does now.  But how much faith, compared to the faith that armies, prisons, weapons and wars are creating the world we want and the planet needs to survive another century?  




Musings on My Blog Plan

by John K. Stoner (November 17, 2017)

Thinking about my approach to writing this blog since Berry’s hard decision to retire from writing and deal with his impending death, I have found myself asking the most basic questions.  I decided it makes sense to share some of this process with you readers.  And as always, to invite your feedback, your thoughts.

Why will I chose one topic over another?

That question led me to think that you can reduce, or arrange, most of life as a process of selection or choice.  I might choose a primary focus on either current events or on Biblical themes—those options arise for me because my life of 75+ years has revolved around those two foci.  And then I quickly think, Why biblical themes and texts?  Because I see the Christian tradition’s focus, or obsession if you will, on the Bible as the church’s choice of this slice of recorded history, recording the voice of Jesus, as crucial for interpreting and guiding it’s way of life in the world.   

I will likely give, or seem to give, priority to history (I will use that word as parallel, almost synonymous, with Bible) over current events because what I try to learn from history explains my interpretation of current events.  Put another way, the light I try to shine on current events comes from human experience in the past.  So in the briefest compass, that is my decision for now: to give priority to Biblical texts and interpretation.  And this (coincidentally, subliminally or purposely) gives me room to draw generously on the book, IF NOT EMPIRE, WHAT? which is the cause of this blog in the first place.  

The reader’s questions and potential objections to this are surely many and obvious, to which my first response is that the way I’ve shaped my options may itself be artificial and misleading.  Put differently, the dichotomy between history and current events may be false—in our minds and experience they are so intertwined that they’re impossibe to separate as neatly as I suggest.  So I do it being fully aware of this.  Yesterday on the radio I heard someone say that journalism is the first draft of history.  I like that.  

And if readers now fear “too much Bible coming here,” my response is that the Christian tradition suffers a lot, terribly, awfully, not so much from too much Bible but rather from not enough good Bible—bad readings of history instead of good ones.  

Now a kind of interjection, or sidebar, to make another point.  I think that you and I are personally and seriously responsible to choose our interpretations of history/biblical texts.  This personal responsibility means that in the end no fundamentalist  or liberal or dominionist or inerrantist Bible interpretative tradition can replace your duty to decide what you accept as true.  You are today engaged in the very same process that writers of history/Bible were engaged—you’re trying to make sense of life, explain what it means, and just live it.  You are not doing that perfectly, and here’s the kicker—neither were they!

So then, my focus on Bible history is my engagement with all those characters who got (happened to get) their writings preserved in a collection that many hundreds of years later was decided to be “the Bible.”  But, you are asking (should be asking), why give so much attention to those old men?  Again, because there is reason to believe that they did a little better than a lot of others in understanding their times and recording what it meant. 

But, and here’s our response to the kicker, we’ve got to sort out what they got more right and what they got more wrong, because, again, they were not perfect.  This is our endless project of understanding and interpreting history—we can’t escape it without falling into some mindless ignorance of history, some cesspool of stupidity that thinks the human experience and task began with our generation.  

The big question which confronts (always has confronted) our species is:  what is the greatest power in the struggle between  good and evil?  Or maybe a little more subtly, what are good and evil?  I’m quick to grant that we don’t know everything about good and evil, but just as quick to deny that we know nothing about good and evil.  And so I aver that there are real and crucial choices between good and evil in our world, but also am sure that these choices can be greatly misunderstood, and massivly manipulated to engage people in false and deadly crusades against other people.  

So now the country I live in is “led” by a man whose morality and sanity are both in doubt, and he has the power of nuclear weapons at his fingertips.  The morning paper says that there is no mechanism to stop him if he decides to pull the trigger.  Is the power at his fingertips, the power of war, to be the final arbiter of human destiny?

Or is there possibly another power greater than the system which created and elected this man? 

My reading of the Bible/history says that there is. Jesus said there is.  Not all readings of the Bible say this—so that defines something of our project.  Which reading is right?  A lot hangs on our answer.  In this blog I will struggle with who and what is right.  


 


"Reliable Sources" on World Affairs

by Berry Friesen  (November 13, 2017)

      Turns out it is John Stoner opening this blog, but I'm turning it over to Berry. He had a good letter published in the LNP, Lancaster Newspaper yesterday (Sunday, Nov. 12). It deserves wider circulation--to encourage you to think about the questionable (Berry says failed) coverage we get from the most respected mainstream media, and to ask what your local paper is doing. On Friday I expect to say more about my plans for this blog.

To the Editor:

     "Reliable sources," the Nov. 5 Sunday LNP editorial, displayed the arrogance of a media outlet confident it has found a splinter in the eyes of its readership: we just don't trust mainstream outlets enough.

     You framed the ever-present problem of media distortion and misinformation ("Remember the Maine" or Gulf of Tonkin anyone?) by a case of media distortion and misinformation in which you have participated: unending hype about how the Russians interfered in our election. One version of this canard after another is run up the flagpole. Each gets shot down by the alternative press, but the mainstream media deeps manufacturing new ones without ever identifying why the prior versions failed.

     Please, do you take us for idiots?  Don't you think we can see the elephant in the room, even though you never mention it?  The "reliable sources" you are selling us did not tell us the truth about any of the crisis points in our world:  Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Yemen, North Korea.  Alternative media sources--the kind you look down on--did tell us the truth.

     The editorial proclaims LNP's readiness to "help (us) navigate the incessant bombardment" by unreliable sources.  Problem is, on global matters you are an integral part of the bombardment.

Berry Friesen
Manheim Township

Courage: To Be A Conscientious Objector

by John K. Stoner  (November 10, 2017)

It doesn’t take a lot of courage to be a conscientious objector…to something that everyone is objecting to.  It is easier to object to racism today than it was to object to slavery in 1850. It is easier to object to slavery today than it is to object to war. 

Camilo Mejia says, “I was a coward, not for leaving the war, but for having been a part of it in the first place.  I failed to fulfill my moral duty as a human being, and instead I chose to fulfill my duty as a soldier.  What good is freedom if we are not able to live with our own actions?  I am confined to prison, but I feel, today more than ever connected to all humanity.  Behind these bars I sit a free man because I listened to a higher power, the voice of my conscience.” (see his book

     John F. Kennedy said, "War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."

Military conscription has not ended.

It has taken a new form.

Camilo Mejia volunteered for the military.  Later he had an awakening of conscience and an awareness of the moral injury which war was inflicting on him.  He became a conscientious objector to war.  

In the United States conscription has ended and we as persons are not conscripted for war.  But war goes on unobstructed, because our money is conscripted.  We could be conscientious objectors to war by being conscientious objectors to taxation for war. 

So, why aren’t we conscientious objectors to taxation for war?

Is it because we have not been able to imagine this—that we have not been creative enough in our objection to war to see the implications of funding war?  My own development of thought and conscience (obviously with critical help from others) has led me to believe that some form of war tax resistance is our moral, conscientious duty.  Our peace action support group here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1040forpeace.org, has decided to promote symbolic war tax resistance.  We urge people to withhold $10.40 from their income tax payment and write letters to friends, family and public officials explaining why we do this as an act of conscience. (http://1040forpeace.org/10-40-for-peace/ )

        Someone has put it simply and unforgettably:  “If you pray for peace, don’t pay for war.” 

We believe that symbolic war tax resistance is both simple and profound, an act of courage which some consider large, and others small.  What is your view of it?  Write a comment, share your thoughts on the usual practice of praying for peace while paying for war.

Much more information is available from the National War Tax Coordiating Committee (see NWTRCC).  Bolster your courage by doing some research.  You will find ways to make conscientious objection to war taxes practical, if not easy. 

     To see the first in this series of 4 on conscientious objection click here .




Creativity: Expression of Conscientious Objection

by John K. Stoner  (November 6, 2017)

The earth itself cries out for conscientious objectors to war to save itself as a habitable place for human survival, I said in my previous blog. .

Conscientious objection to US wars was usually expressed by refusing military service until January, 1973 when the Selective Service ended the draft.  Then President Richard Nixon saw ending the draft as a strategy to blunt the impact of the anti-war movement.  

Since then, for almost fifty years now, people opposed to war have had neither the challenge nor the opportunity to refuse personal participation in war—that is, military service, as it is popularly called. 

But the use of war as an instrument of national policy has become ever more common, and today the United States is engaged in wars without end.  In this situation it has become ever more urgent to witness and work for peace, but most people are at a loss for how to do that in a concrete way.

It is clear that we need creativity in the search for a meaningful and effective form of conscientious objection to war.

I will suggest two forms of this necessary creativity.  The first must address the form and fact of our basic human loyalties, because patriotic or national loyalty is the bedrock argument for support of every war.  So we will have to be reflective enough, or creative enough, to ask  “To whom, or what unit of community or culture, do we feel a compelling and unyielding loyalty?”  

Most people feel relatively strong loyalty to family.  For some, loyalty to a school, business enterprise or sports team may be strong.  For many people a very strong, or strongest, loyalty may be to their religious community.

But in the modern world, probably the social unit which ususally receives the most passionate loyalty of people is the nation state.  Virtually all wars are fought in the name of  fatherland, homeland, flag and country.  And to what place have virtually all wars brought us in our year 2017?  Indescribable suffering, a fearfully unprecedented global refugee crisis, and the edge of extinction.  No wonder General Ray Odierno, Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, five years as a combat commander in Iraq said, “If you’ve ever been to war, seen what it’s really like, you never want to go to war again.”  (WHAT HAVE WE DONE: THE MORAL INJURY OF OUR LONGEST WARS, by DAvid Wood).   No wonder old men send young men to war—because old men would not go to war, and, not to be forgotten, old men make a profit.  Follow the money.  

And no wonder a sixth grade girl refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school.  When her mother, informed of this by the child’s teacher, asked the girl why, the child replied, “ Mom, I’m not going to stand there and lie.  And it’s not exactly liberty if they force you to say it, is it?”  (BRAIDING SWEETGRASS by Robin Wall Kimmerer).  (There years before football player Kaepernick, right?)

Loyalty is the question.  The daughter’s loyalty was to humanity and her (first? second?) mother, Earth.  

That is what we will all have to be creative enough to think about.  Is loyalty to our geographically boundaried nation state (and others to theirs) large enough for the simple survival demands of our species?  If the answer to that is not a clear and unequivocal “yes,” we cannot avoid a re-examination of our deepest loyalties.  

The second form of needed creativity for this hour is the search for clear and compelling ways to express our conscientious objection to war.  As I’ve said, our culture is largely committed to finding ways to express our conscientious objection to racism, white privilege and rape.  But war has been given a pass—for the sake of our moral wellbeing and the life of the planet, this must change.  The purpose of war is to kill people and break things.  I have read arguments that killing and breaking are tools, or means, not purposes, and that war has a “higher” purpose—usually something like “U.S. interests.”  This ignores the fact that acclaimed lofty purposes cannot justify or purify degraded and degrading means.  

     How do we give public expression to the private conviction of our inborn moral wisdom that human life is sacred—that all killing is both deicide and fratricide, for God lives in all of us, and we are all siblings.


In my next blog I will outline a form of conscientious objection to war which is advocated by the small community of conscience to which I belong here in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.  To some it will seem too big, to others too small.  I conclude today with this from Desmond Tutu:  “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together than overwhelm the world.”  

Conscientious Objection: Humanity's Default Position

by John K. Stoner  (November 3, 2017)

Berry told us Monday that the plain sad fact of his mortality is taking his voice out of this blog.  And how we will miss his voice.  We have come to depend on his findings of facts hidden, and truths ignored and suppressed.  The courageous pacifist Dorothy Day titled her autobiography THE LONG LONELINESS.  Let’s honor her by thinking of Berry as now beginning to say his long goodbye.  

Last Friday I wrote “Conscience, Creativity and Courage,” a call to recognize voices of conscience in this looming crisis of our own historical moment.  In the next several blogs I will go deeper into this call.

Today, conscience—the voice and voices of conscience.  First, I invite you to look nowhere beyond yourself for this timeless and urgent voice.  It’s an amazing thing about humanity—time and again the help our forebears needed was found hidden or ignored within their own selves. 

Consider this:  Most Americans are by now conscientious objectors to racism and white privilege.  They hear the voice of their own conscience in this matter.  And most men have been conscientious objectors to rape all along.  This is to point out that conscientious objection is familiar to most of us, though perhaps by other language, and has good standing with large segments of the population.  So much so that few of this majority of Americans would boast that some of their best friends make fun of conscientious objection to racism or rape.  

Given  this broad and strong inner voice of conscience, is it really surprising that conscientious objection to war and all homicide (killing humans) is the public stance of many people and the private conviction of many more?  But why would, or how could, this be so?

What if it should be nothing more, or less, than the expression of something broadly true but strangely hidden in the human soul?  Some voices are telling us that this is so. 

Maria Santelli, Director of the Center on Conscience and War in Washington, DC. says that “The default position for humanity is that of conscientious objection to war.”  March 2015 TED Talk, (see here)  That is a striking assertion, isn’t it?  But think about what we said above—most Americans are conscientious objectors to racism.  Do we think that society taught them this voice of conscience, or that they were born with an inclination to see all people first of all simply as people?  

Dr. Camillo Mac Bica,  Professor of Philosophy, School of Visual Arts (NYC), former Marine Corps Officer and Vietnam Veteran, says, "Human beings are not killers by nature. They [killers] have to be created.  Moral injuries are an inevitable consequence of a sophisticated manipulation and distortion of the recruits’ moral foundations and their moral identities and the profound moral confusion and distress they experience as the horror, the insanity, and the moral gravity of their actions in combat become apparent." (testimony at the Truth Commission on Conscience in War on March 21, 2010) (see here)

Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967,  “Beyond Vietnam:  A Time to Break Silence,” said,  “We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: 'Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word'.” (text of speech) (audio of speech)    

Most people most of the time are neither killing people nor fighting wars.  In fact, only a very small minority of people ever commit homicide.  That in itself would virtually establish beyond dispute that conscientious objection to killing is the default human position. 

It is time to affirm conscientious objection to war and all homicide as an essential prerequisite for human survival.  It is time to find and hear the voices which call us to act upon the deepest truths of our own conscience.

Far from asking people to become someone they are not or do something they cannot, we are inviting them to affirm and act upon who they already are, right now. 

The Spirituality of Psalm 90 *

by Berry Friesen (October 30, 2017)

“You turn us back to dust, and say, ’Turn back, you mortals’.”
Psalm 90:3

Psalm 90 is first of all about time—from the everlasting presence of YHWH (“a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday”) to the short span of our lives (“the days of our life are seventy years, perhaps eighty if we are strong”).

More precisely, it is about running out of time.  Human life is “like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes . . . in the evening it fades and withers.” Traditionally, the psalm is attributed to Moses, the man who climbed to the top of the mountain and looked out over the Promised Land. He saw but never entered that lovely land; he ran out of time.

I will soon run out of time, not only because days on the calendar are ticking by, but because of a terminal cancer first diagnosed in May, 2016. As I read Psalm 90, my approaching death is foremost on my mind.

Of course, the experience of running out of time is built into the human condition. It is utterly unremarkable. Yet the psalmist identifies it as a deep—almost bitter—disappointment. “You sweep (our years) away; they are like a dream.”  How can we live with the burden of this hard reality?

As a first response, the poet blames YHWH, the everlasting one.  “We are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.”  The psalmist isn’t referring here to any sort of divine retribution or punishment, but to the implacable limits that define our existence.   And yes, the psalmist also is referring to how YHWH “set(s) our iniquities” in front of us, giving us no respite from the awareness of how our sin and the sins of others define and circumscribe our lives.

Thus, our time is quickly spent, consumed—used up—by “toil and trouble.”

But then the tone of the psalm shifts. “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”  In these words, we hear not bitterness, but a yielding to YHWH.  The psalmist is making an appeal to the source of his frustration—not for the erasure or easing of life’s limits, but for wisdom in living “so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

Let’s not paint this yielding to YHWH as solely a religious event; the psalmist is simply being consistent here. Blaming YHWH for our frustrating finitude and seeking YHWH’s help to cope with it are all of a piece.

So yielding to YHWH is a prominent aspect of Psalm 90’s spirituality.  Yet there is more.

First, notice the complete absence of personal pronouns throughout the psalm.  It’s all “we,” “us” and “our.”  The psalmist is speaking out of a collective consciousness, not an individual orientation, and expressing hope only for the social “we,” not the solo “I.”  This consciousness is what prompts the psalm’s strongest assertion of faith:  “LORD, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.”

Second, notice how the psalmist ends not on a philosophical or metaphysical note, but with a plea to YHWH “to prosper for us the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands!”

In my experience, it is rare to speak about our finitude and our labor in the same conversation; they are commonly assumed to be entirely different topics, far removed from each other.  Yet within the spirituality of Psalm 90, they belong together.  Shared labor can bear witness to a conviction that “our life" is important.  It will go on, notwithstanding the fleeting quality we experience as individuals.

Important, yes, even to the everlasting one:  “Let the favor of the LORD be upon us.”

Yieldedness to YHWH, a collective consciousness and shared work:  these together make up a spirituality that has helped sustain me these past 18 months.

I don’t know how much time remains for me, but life has already narrowed in many ways.  Reading and writing for this blog is becoming more difficult and so I do not expect to post regularly in the future. As you can imagine, I am pleased John can carry on.

As for the purpose of this blog—the formation of a non-imperial identity, capable of contributing to a world put at grave risk by the US-led empire**—I join the prayer of Psalm 90: “O prosper the work of our hands!”
-------------------------------------------------------------
*   For prior reflections on my illness, see "The Spirituality of Psalm 103" and "So Sweet and Such a Mess."
** For a short review of the scope of the empire's military footprint, see Sheldon Richman's "New York Times Acknowledges US Global Empire."

Conscience, Creativity and Courage

by John K. Stoner  (October 27, 2017)

About 250 people gathered in Kansas City last week to remember the courage of WWI conscientious objectors in the U.S., Canada and beyond.  Casting an eye back at history is always good if it doesn’t take our other eye off of the present and future.
The conference was organized by individuals (notably Andrew Bolton,  Community of Christ Church), the The National WWI Museum, and peace churches.  Bolton said, “We’ve been learning about the past because it has relevance for the future.”  This column is in hot pursuit of that relevance.
“Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civil Liberties in WWI” was the title of the conference. see news story  Special attention and ceremony were given to four Hutterite conscientious objectors from Freeman, South Dakona who were imprisoned.  Two of them died from effects of their treatment.  
Those men showed amazing courage.  Where do we look for courage like that today?  Should we expect it, or anything like it?
The United States is currently engaged in war  on several continents.  We may not be waiting for or fearing WW III, we may be living in it.  How do we object, dissent and resist this current war reality?  This blog is a call for conscience, creativity and courage.
Conscience is an innate capacity of individuals, and it is the creation of communities of conscience.  Both must be recognized and encouraged.  It is important at this time in American history to recognize that the two party political system does not offer a party of conscience—the endless war policy of the U.S. is fully embraced by both.  Anything even close to conscientious objection to the war system will not find a home with the D&R political party(s). 
Conscience, therefore, is the precious seed of alternative voices, and looking for those voices may be the first step toward making history relevant to the future.  We may need a conference titled “Recognizing Muted Voices:  Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civill Liberties in WW III.”  Remembering is good, recognizing may be life or death. 
Creativity will be required.  In my Mennonite “peace church” (a questionable description, to be sure), I don’t know how often I’ve heard “We lost our peace witness when the draft ended.  The all-volunteer army has silenced our conscientious objection voice.”  So…so…where is the creativity in that?   Is that the best we can do—virtually hoping that the state will do more bad so that we can do our good?
Creativity would find a way for conscience to express itself.   The state has been creative with war:  ending the draft, mechanizing and digitizing war, and conscripting taxes instead of bodies.  How have people of conscience and peace churches responded to all of this?  Do we see imagination and creativity?  Do we see resources of conscience, mind and material dedicated to forging a clear and compelling alternative to servile submission to this juggernaut of endless war?  
Creativity might ask:  If war has become the business of big profits, how do we become conscientious objectors to the war business of big profits?  If money is the voice, how do we speak with our money?  Might we become conscientious objectors to war taxes?
Courage will be necessary.
And one of the big things about courage is the timing of it.  Coming too late, it doesn’t help.  Jesus called us to courage with his frequent challenge: “Do not be afraid!”  And to timeliness with his “Watch!  Stay awake.”  The opportunity will pass if you are not alert.  Do not fall asleep on your watch.
We will not all be martyrs—we should not be.  But neither should we be naive about the necessity of taking risks, including costly ones.  Make no mistake, the state always describes those who die in its wars as martyrs—they die to make men free.  They die herocially for a cause—they are in that sense martyrs. 
And so, painful as it is, there is a calculus here, if you will.  We are actually testing the question of whether risking suffering and death in an effort to kill people and ideologies is a better choice than risking suffering and death in an effort to implement the way of love in human affairs.  It does take some courage to ask this question honestly and head on.  But I submit that asking it will take our children and our generation further toward an adequate response to our times than not asking it.  


Grooming Us to Go Along

by Berry Friesen (October 23, 2017)

We have long been groomed to go along with the conquest of Iran.  Now, with an abusive predator installed in the White House, consummation of the assault nears.

The grooming began in January 2002—just months after 9/11—when President George W. Bush denounced Iran as part of “an axis of evil” (Iraq, Iran and North Korea) threatening the world.  In May 2003—only two months after the collapse of Iraqi defenses and the US conquest there, White House officials crowed about who the US would rapaciously engage next.  “Anyone can go to Baghdad,” they said; “real men go to Tehran.”

Popular Iraqi resistance put that next conquest on hold.  But in 2007, the Bush Administration got serious about making its next score.  Here is journalist Gareth Porter:

"That's when the vice president (Cheney) began to make a proposal that the United States retaliate for some kind of incident in Iraq that they could blame on the Iranians which would result in American casualties. And that was the game plan that he was advancing within the national security state as a basis for getting at Iran."

Two factors prevented consummation.  William J. Fallon was the first.  Appointed Commander of the US Central Command in March, 2007, Adm. Fallon debunked the rush to start another war.

"This constant drum beat of conflict is what strikes me, which is not helpful and not useful . . . I expect that there will be no war and that is what we ought to be working for."

He also is reported to have said: "We are not going to do Iran on my watch" and that by launching a pre-emptive strike on Iran, "We'll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchilren will be battling our enemies here in America."

The second factor was the release in December, 2007 of a formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in which all 16 US intelligence agencies agreed that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003.  As former President Bush reported in his memoir, Decision Points, “the NIE tied my hands on the military side,” preventing him from ordering a preemptive war against Iran, an action favored by the uber-hawk,  Vice President Dick Cheney.

At about the same time, Bush went as far as he could go politically—a secret “Presidential Finding” that authorized covert US operations inside Iran to destabilize its government through assassinations, terror, sabotage and intelligence gathering. Congress committed $400 million to support the Finding.  Yet the Bush reign came to an end without adding Iran to the harem.

In January, 2009, President Barack Obama began to govern.  One of his objectives was a reset of US relations with the Arab world.  This did not include Iran.  Again, Gareth Porter reports:

“President Obama, once he was in office, repeated more or less the same stuff [about Iran] we were hearing during the Bush administration . . . Obama did not want a conventional war with Iran, but one of the first things he did when he got into the Oval Office was to start talking to the cyberwarfare people who were working hand-in-hand with Israel to plan a cyberattack against Natanz, the Iranian enrichment facility, which would become the first ever national cyberattack against another nation which would actually result in destruction of infrastructure, that is to say, the centrifuges which were affected by this attack. So, I mean, you know, clearly he was willing to carry out warfare against Iran, just not the conventional war.”
  
Meanwhile, here in my home state of Pennsylvania, another set of actors continued to groom the public to go along with the planned assault.

In 2010, US Senator Bob Casey joined state representatives Josh Shapiro and Bob Frankel in supporting state legislation requiring the divestment of public pension money from companies doing business in Iran’s oil and natural gas sector. Said Casey:

“Iran will only cease its illicit nuclear program and end its support for terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah when it is compelled to pay an economic price.”

Shapiro’s and Frankel’s proposal passed the Pennsylvania General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Ed Rendell in July 2010.

After leaving the governor’s office later that year, Rendell became a public advocate for the M.E.K, an officially-listed terrorist organization seeking to overthrow the government of Iran.  Though Rendell’s advocacy almost certainly constituted criminal activity, federal prosecutors took no interest in his actions.  In September, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton removed M.E.K. from the official list of terrorist organizations.

In the last two years, Iran has become intensely engaged in Syria and Iraq at the request of those governments, helping to defeat al-Qaeda and Da’eshMore than 2000 Iranian troops have been killed in battles within Syria.  Though Iranian help has been a key factor in the defeat of those terrorist organizations and logically makes Iran a de facto ally of the US, leading Democrat and Republic politicians have chosen to characterize Iran’s fight against terror as evidence of an attempt to destabilize the Mideast.  This is utter nonsense, of course, but is routinely reported by the mainstream media as credible and well-sourced commentary.

Similarly, Iran is routinely slandered as fueling the genocidal war in Yemen, even though that war began with a Saudi-led invasion and even though there is no evidence of significant Iranian material or military support for Yemen’s defense forces (see also here).

What's more, Western media continue to characterize Iran's nuclear program as a "weapons program." This is a falsehood; Iran has a nuclear energy program to power electrical generation.  It has not had a nuclear weapons program since 2003.

Which brings us to the present.  Has 15 years of grooming produced a compliant American public?  As President Trump proceeds to have his way with Iran, will you and I stand by and do nothing?

Several more observations are important if we are to understand how this conquest is unfolding.

1. The Israeli government—especially when the Likud Party is in control as it has been since March, 2009—is driving this effort. Israel sees Iran as a threat to its bullying of neighboring nations.  It particularly hates the fact that Iran supports Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia that protects Lebanon from Israeli aggression and has been very effective against Israel’s proxies, al-Qaeda and Da’esh.  So it wants Iran crushed.  The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which sets its agenda based on Likud objectives, controls US Members of Congress on Mideast matters. On this issue, we can expect no help from our federal representatives; they function as lobbyists for Israel.

2.  The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—a.k.a. the Iran nuclear energy deal—is working just as planned; Iran is fully complying. As Pepe Escobar notes, so says the International Atomic Energy Agency, the agency responsible for monitoring the JCPOA.  Also, so say the EU, Russia and China. So say even Trump’s senior advisors–Rex Tillerson, General McMaster and General Mattis.

3.  President Trump is determined to sabotage the JCPOA and use its “failure” as an excuse to bend Iran to the will of the US-led empire, which includes Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel’s animus is explained above; the animus of the House of Saud is based on Iran’s success in modeling a more open, more humane, more economically productive and less corrupt version of Islamic governance.  Before the commencement of open war, there will be a debate in Congress about sanctions. I expect such to be imposed again.  Functionally, sanctions are a joke in circumstances like these where the rest of the world will continue trading with Iran.  But as part of grooming America to acquiesce to an assault, the sanctions debate will be useful.

4. Trump's refusal to certify Irans compliance with the JCPOA and his call for Congress to reinstate sanctions is stupid and unsupportable in achieving any objective but war.

5. Iran is very well led and is strong culturally, economically and militarily. It has not attacked a neighboring nation for the past 200 years.

6.  Trump’s plan to have his way with Iran will likely include a violent, false-flag event, which will fill mainstream media 24-7 with horrible images of Iranian brutality.  But it will be staged--made to appear that Iran is responsible--thus justifying war.  Truly responsible for the violence will be covert agents of the US, Israel and/or Saudi Arabia. *

What can we do to stop the US from violently assaulting Iran?

First, share this post widely.

Second, persuade any and all groups we are part of (religious bodies, civic associations, business and professional groups) to go on the record as opposing Trump’s policy and actions on Iran. 

Third, prepare ourselves to recognize and resist the herd mentality that will threaten to overwhelm America when the false-flag incident fills our screens.  By “resist,” I mean raising our voice to say, “I do not believe it!”

This is the least we can do to stop the predation of Iran.
----------------------------------
*  Another possible scenario for justifying the long-planned attack on Iran is outlined by Ulson Gunnar in "US Mercenaries, Iraqi Highways and the Mystery of the Never-ending ISIS Hordes."

Mass Shootings: Where Are They Coming From?

by John K. Stoner (October 20, 2017)

You didn’t, and I guess you won’t, read this in the New York Times.  And that, not only because of style, but I suggest, also because of content.

What’s behind America’s mass shootings might not be as inexplicable as we think it is, or wish it were.

What if, spiritually, socially and psychologically it’s coming from about the same place as little league baseball, big number football shirts on little kids, and Black Friday?  That is, from the values of the adult and public world being imbibed and acted out by individuals—maybe many of them, maybe a few.

One more question, and then a number of observations.  

Is it really possible to have a nation as committed—in policy, spending, weapons, personnel, and practice— to overwhelming homicidal force internationally as is the United States of America, and not have individuals who become so enamored, obsessed and driven with the same notions of homicidal force that they act it out domestically?

Observations

Of course there is Little League baseball, because there is Big League baseball.  Of course there are little kids wearing big number football T shirts, because there is the NFL.  Of course there is Black Friday, because there is the relentless drumbeat of advertising and people responding—sell, sell, sell, buy, buy, buy.  All of these things can be seen just by looking. 

Spiritually, groups of people foster collective ideas.  The ideologies developed by social clubs, sports teams, religious groups, public crowds and nations shape and affect individuals profoundly and decisively.  Anyone who has studied the anatomy of crowds, riots or wars knows that individual behavior is shaped by forces much bigger than the conscious choices of individuals themselves—how much shaped and how much bigger will always be matters of further study, amazement and consternation.  But it is spiritual reality. 

Socially, every person is a part, or element, of the collectives, from small to large, in which he or she lives.   Whatever else it  may be, the self or conscious and unconscious being of the individual is the creation of all that the individual is receiving from his or her collective environment.  If that environment, especially its largest and most pervasive environment, is threatening in posture and practice, armed to the teeth with tanks and guns, bombs and nuclear weapons, drones and hundreds of forward bases, (see Oct. 16 blog)  then that murderous environment will take up residence in the soul of individuals, willy nilly.  How could it be otherwise? 

Psychologically, individuals have great, but not infinite, as far as we know, capacity to process, manage and control all of the spiritual and social influences which play upon them.  “Normal” people are able to more or less manage everything and live socially acceptable, if not altogether productive or exemplary, lives.  But everything is too much for some people, and we have a variety of ways and degrees of empathy to describe them as deviant, sick, disabled, etc.  We view them as suffering from stunted development, PTSD, moral injury, etc. Their behavior is problematic, but it is traceable to causes—causes never fully understood, but real nevertheless.  

And so, what do we do if spiritual, social and psychological considerations point toward “national policy of mass shootings internationally” as probable cause of mass shootings domestically? 

Have we found at least a possible cause to consider? 

Peace and the Empire

by Berry Friesen (October 16, 2017)

How do you describe the relationship between the US-led empire and world peace?

Robert Kagan, the neoconservative lobbyist who has advised Democrat and Republican presidents, put it this way in 2012:

“The present world order—characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers—reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it.”

Former President Barack Obama holds a very similar view, as quoted from his January 20, 2017 transition letter to President Donald Trump:

“American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, 
through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily
 since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend”
.
The claim that the US-led empire makes the world more stable and peaceful strikes me as utter nonsense.  Yet among the political elite, it's conventional wisdom.  Why?

Let’s quickly list some of the emotional reasons.  (1) It reflects what we all learned in school: America ends wars and ushers in peace. (2) It’s reiterated constantly by media propaganda. (3) It’s pleasing to our vanity. (4) It provides a moral justification for our consumption of a hugely disproportionate share of the world’s resources. (5) It makes all of us wealthier than we would otherwise be.  (6) It makes us feel important, giving meaning to our lives. (7) We live at the center of the empire, not at the edges where the empire is most brutal.

A sophisticated rationale has been cobbled together in support of this claim that the empire bring peace.  The first part has been articulated by a handful of scholars, including Steven Pinker in his 2011 bookThe Better Angels of our Nature:  A History of Violence and Humanity.  Pinker asserts that due to various “civilizing” factors—especially the increasing power of the nation state and its near monopoly of force—the percentage of the human population killed in violent conflicts has been dropping steadily through the centuries and years. *

The second part of the pro-empire rationalization (not necessarily Pinker’s) is implied by the quote from Kagan:  the international leadership of the US empire keeps the lid on international conflict. In other words, the US is the “big dog” that keeps the fights among the quarrelsome “little dogs” from getting out of hand.

This association of “peace” with “empire” is hugely consequential. Essayist Caitlin Johnstone explains.

“The fact of the matter is that America is conducting a nonstop campaign to destabilize, manipulate, bully and control other nations to prevent the rise of a new rival superpower, and many Americans would rather it keep doing so. I can’t tell you how many Americans I’ve encountered while sharing my anti-war message who have said ‘Yeah, I agree war is bad and we’ve done some awful shit… but if the world is going to have a top dog controlling its affairs, I’d rather it be America’.”

Johnstone's most important point follows:

“The crux of the issue is that you cannot want America to remain the world’s only powerful force and also be anti-war at the same time. These are necessarily two mutually exclusive ideals. One of the crucial ways that America remains on top is by keeping potential rivals off-balance using endless war in key strategic locations — if you stop the US war machine from doing this, you cripple America’s ability to ensure that it remains the world’s only superpower.

“No anti-war philosophy is complete unless it directly addresses this fundamental reality. If you want America to remain the world’s leader while also wanting America to stop waging endless wars based on lies, you’re not anti-war, you’re a vapid, cutesy vanity politics airhead sharing social media-friendly bumper sticker ideals with nothing behind them. You don’t want the killing to stop, you just want to look like someone who wants the killing to stop.”

And Johnstone adds this:

“So the question being asked of all peace-loving Americans, really, is this: 
are you courageous enough to relinquish your attachment to the neoconservative notion 
that America should be the world’s only superpower? Are you truly anti-war, 
or are you a neocon with a ‘Coexist’ bumper sticker?”

Is Johnstone exaggerating the empire's malignance?  Not at all.

Consider first a few of the many historical events that demonstrate how the American Empire behaves:

--Wars of aggression against Korea (1950-present), Vietnam (1955-1975) and Iraq (2003-present);
--A strong alliance with the dictatorial House of Saud, the world’s primary source of Islamic terrorism;
--Active cooperation with and support for al-Qaeda or Daesh in Kosovo, Chechnya, Libya and Syria;
--Covert collaboration with criminal networks moving narcotics from Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Latin America into Western consumer markets;
--Deployment of Special Operations Forces in 138 countries (2016); currently bombing (including drone assassinations) in seven majority-Muslim countries;
--Overthrown 35 governments since World War 2 including Iran, Congo, Indonesia, Chile, Nicaragua, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Libya and Ukraine. **

Then consider the human impact of the empire’s actions in the post-World War 2 era:

--4 million killed in Korea
--6 million killed in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
--1 million+ killed in Iraq
--10 million killed in US-led proxy wars (e.g., Afghanistan, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Guatemala, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya and Syria).***

These partial lists demolish our Pollyannaish view of the US-led empire. In 1967 the Rev. Dr. M.L. King said the US is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”  How long will we continue to deny this still remains true today?

For the last word,****  let’s return to Caitlin Johnstone.

“The reason the US power establishment works so hard to manufacture public support for its wars is that it needs that support. The public can make things very, very difficult for the war machine if it stops listening to the propaganda lullabies and decides enough is enough. But that can’t happen as long as the American people are living in fear of the rest of the world. If you want peace, at some point you’re going to have to get okay with letting the world manage its own affairs. There will be no significant peace movement in America until this happens.”
------------------------------------------------------------
*     To read vigorous critiques of Pinker’s work (including his emphasis on “battlefield deaths”), see John Arquilla’s “The Big Kill” and Michael Mann’s “Have Wars and Violence Declined?


*** See “US has Killed More than 20 Million People in 37 ‘Victim Nations’ Since WW2” by James A. Lucas.

**** For a more scholarly discussion of the relationship between peace and empire, see David C. Hendrickson's "Is America an Empire?".