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It's Hard to Believe that War and Lies Will Prevail

by John K. Stoner  (December 29, 2017)

On the cusp of year 2018 it is hard to believe that peace will prevail.

And yet, think about it—it’s even harder to believe that war and lies will prevail.

Put yourself in their shoes.  First of all, they have to start by agreeing with us that peace is better than war.  That’s big.  They have to agree with us on the ultimate goal—the goal is peace.  That’s at least half of the whole discussion, isn’t it?  Is it better to have peace or to have war?  Why, of course, it’s better to have peace.  Ask the world’s millions of refugees and displaced persons—which is better, peace or war?  Ask the world’s millions of injured, maimed and starving—which is better, peace or war?   Ask  the world’s millions of veterans—which is better, peace or war?  I’d tell you to ask the world’s tens of millions of dead from war, if we could get them to speak: which would you have, peace or war?  

So at least in talk, in public posture, in theory at least, they agree with us that peace is where we all want to be.  They have to position and posture every plan and preparation and program of war as if it were serving our cause and our goal, which is peace.  Or maybe, attributing less deceit to them,  they believe that superior violence is more likely than risk-taking love and compassion to, not achieve peace, but mitigate evil and violence.  

We on the other hand, do not start by granting them half of the ground which is in dispute.  We do not have to say, well, yes, peace is good, but we’ll give that up for now, we’ll accept war as good enough until we get to peace, where we really want to be. 

Humanity, at this point in its brief history, is poised on a platform in a big dug well, or silo, with a ladder extending up to air and life, and a ladder extending down to water and drowning.  Some people are saying we have to go up to get up, and others are saying we have to go down to get up. 

It is our choice, and the time we have to make it is not forever.

How hard is it to believe that the way to overcome evil and violence is with superior evil and violence?

Right after 9/11 George Bush the Lesser announced a war on evil in the world.  And a war on violent terror.   Look around at the nations destroyed since then—if you have any empathy beyond your own skin, you can see that it has not gone well.

There’s a familiar Bible story about this, the Great Flood and Noah (Genesis 6-8). It is usually badly interpreted, but here is its central message.  The writer turns loose his imagination and depicts God looking down on the world, and God is deeply disappointed in humanity.  God sees much evil and violence, “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.”

So, comes the flood, everyone and everything destroyed except a handful of survivors on the ark.  Afterward,  “the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”

So, we are told, as a result of the flood God had a change of mind about what to do about evil and violence in the world.  God tried there to overcome evil and violence by killing all the bad ones, and apparently, by the writer’s interpretation, decided that it had not worked and another way of dealing with evil and violence would have to be found.

You can read the whole Bible as a report on the search for an alternative to   superior violence as a method of dealing with evil.

Bottom line: if you put yourself on the side of superior violence to deal with evil you disagree with that writer and his God—you refuse that ancient, basic learning, and you are back on the Dark Side, the Other Side, of that Flood, always trying to rerun it with success instead of failure.  Not an easy project.  

A different approach is that marked by Jesus, and all of those before and since him, who choose the methods of peace to pursue the goal of peace.  More on that in future blogs. 

On Earth Peace

by John K. Stoner  (December 26, 2017)

“On earth peace” was the message of the angels to shepherds at the birth of Jesus, according to Luke.  (Lk. 2:4)

This puts peace at the center of the Christmas and Christian message.

We should notice that the angels did not say “In Bethlehem peace” or “in Israel peace.”  “On earth” includes the whole planet, to “the four corners of the earth” as the ancients sometimes put it.  

If we know anything about the will of God, it is safe to say that peace is the will of God.  If we asked the world’s millions of war refugees and displace persons, it’s a good bet they would agree that peace is the will of God, and an ever growing percentage of war veterans are saying the same thing. 

The pursuit of peace by war as a method to get there has not been marked by great success.  It has been said that no goal that is reached is ever better than the methods used to attain it.  There is much empirical evidence for that.  Put differently, those who claim that “the end justifies the means” have not proven, or persuaded all of us,  that weapons of gradual and mass destruction, nuclear bombs, drones and weaponized space hold for us a great and comforting promise of peace. 

Nevertheless, there is not a lie that is promoted with more energy, subtlety, nor sophistication than the lie that war will bring peace—or defeat evil.  Americans live in the country that lives by that lie.  Not the only country, but probably the one most exceptionally deluded, and determined to make this futility work.  

But then there is Jesus.  The most attractive and misrepresented figure in all of history.  The one who said “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

The one whose kingship, or kingdom, or way of running the world, was altogether in this world, but as he said, “not of it.”  HIs way of running the world did not start with the world’s delusional methods of homicidal violence and “pre-emptive war,”  retribution, retaliation and vengeance. 

Jesus had a program to defeat evil, and it was to overcome evil with good.  This has not been found impossible, but difficult and therefore left untried.  

    A timely essay appeared yesterday.  Naomi Klein and Opal Tometi wrote “Forget Coates vs. West— We all Have a Duty to Confront the Full Reach of US Empire.” (click here)

In the time of Jesus there were religious people who collaborated with the Roman Empire, going along to get along.  There are a lot of people like that in our empire today, and what is most astonishing, doing it in the name of Jesus!  A more bizarre misrepresentation of Jesus could not be imagined.  Promoting violence to make peace.  

I hope you will read Klein and Tometi, and think with Jesus about how peace on earth might be possible.    


Christian Hope

by Berry Friesen (December 22, 2017)

Today I am blessed to celebrate birthday #69.  Family will surround me, we will eat seafood and carrot cake. It will be a special day.

Then comes Christmas.  I anticipate celebrating that day too.  And I’m bringing this additional post to If Not Empire, What? in honor of  and preparation for Christmas.

What is the hope of those of us who identify ourselves as Jesus-followers? What do we expect to happen when “the great day of the LORD” arrives in full?

A dozen years ago, I led a class in my local congregation on the content of "Christian hope."  It was a good experience. Here are two of the questions we explored:

"If the substance of Christian hope is the human eperience of living in the full presence of YHWH (a view I affirm), is this experience of YHWH manifest physically? Or is the experience of YHWH’s full presence only spiritual and conceptual?"

Jewish and Christian scripture strongly suggest that the physical creation as we know it (yes, only partially) is part of what YHWH saves in Messiah Jesus. Texts from John (3:17), Romans (8:19-22), Colossians (1:19-20), Ephesians (1:9-10) and the 21st chapter of Revelation bear witness to this. They assure us the salvation of YHWH reaches not only souls, but the physical world too—including our hybrid world of physicality and spirituality.

As Revelation puts it,

“See, the home of YHWH is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (21:3).

Hear these words from Romans 8:19-21:

"For the created universe waits with eager expectation for YHWH’s children to be revealed. It was made the victim of frustration . . . yet always there was hope, because the universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of YHWH.” 

Not to be forgotten are the hybrid structures of authority so corrupted by sin and so dominating in our lives. Hear how the transformed "city of YHWH” is described in Revelation 21:24-26:

“The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 
 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”

In other words, “the nations” also will be transformed. Western, Euro-Asian and Asian peoples will live together in peace; Persian, Semitic and African peoples too. Likewise the peoples of the Americas.

This too is the Christian hope.  It was why the angels sang “hosannas” in the night skies over the fields of Bethlehem; it was why the shepherds left their posts in joyful abandon to see Jesus of Nazareth lying in such humble repose.  It was because his birth and life “changed everything.”

There is so much more to say—things to remind us as followers of Jesus to expect this story of Earth and its inhabitants to end well.  As we hear from the gospel of John,

 “YHWH did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, 
but that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17).

How then should we live?  How do we endure the burdens of empire, the weight of its deceptions, the apparent inevitability of global warming, the galloping inequality sweeping through our world? Somehow, it all must be perceived through this lens of hope we have been given in Scripture.

May it be so!  And may we join the shepherds in joyful anticipation!

The Nuclear Family

by John K. Stoner (December 15, 2017)

Of all the things for which Americans give their country a pass, claiming "exceptionalism," one of the most egregious is this nation’s history of use, threatened use, and stockpiling of insane numbers of nuclear weapons.

In my last blog I recommended an Advent reflection on the Holy Family in which we think of humanity as our family, and actually The Holy Family. click here  If we thought of our fellow humans as the holy family we would not be at peace with our country’s use of nuclear weapons against them, and stockpiling thousands of weapons as a threat against them.

Last Sunday, December 10, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign Against Nuclear weapons.  Did American media report that?  The speeches of the two women recipients can be seen here.  click here 

Today let us celebrate and give thanks for people of conscience who say "no" to the unconscionable in our world, and call the bluff of our ridiculous claims of exceptionalism. 

I will let Beatrice Fihn and Setsuko Thurlow, who received the prize, speak for themselves here in excerpts from their acceptance speeches.  The link to their full speeches is above. 

Nobel Lecture given by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2017, ICAN, delivered by Beatrice Fihn and Setsuko Thurlow, Oslo, 10 December 2017.
[Beatrice Fihn:]

At dozens of locations around the world - in missile silos buried in our earth, on submarines navigating through our oceans, and aboard planes flying high in our sky - lie 15,000 objects of humankind's destruction.

Perhaps it is the enormity of this fact, perhaps it is the unimaginable scale of the consequences, that leads many to simply accept this grim reality. To go about our daily lives with no thought to the instruments of insanity all around us.

For it is insanity to allow ourselves to be ruled by these weapons. Many critics of this movement suggest that we are the irrational ones,  the idealists with no grounding in reality. That nuclear-armed states will never give up their weapons.

But we represent the only rational choice. We represent those who refuse to accept nuclear weapons as a fixture in our world, those who refuse to have their fates bound up in a few lines of launch code.
Ours is the only reality that is possible. The alternative is unthinkable.
The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be.
Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?
One of these things will happen. ...
[Setsuko Thurlow :]
Your Majesties,
Distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee,
My fellow campaigners, here and throughout the world,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great privilege to accept this award, together with Beatrice, on behalf of all the remarkable human beings who form the ICAN movement. You each give me such tremendous hope that we can - and will - bring the era of nuclear weapons to an end.
I speak as a member of the family of hibakusha - those of us who, by some miraculous chance, survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For more than seven decades, we have worked for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
We have stood in solidarity with those harmed by the production and testing of these horrific weapons around the world. People from places with long-forgotten names, like Moruroa, Ekker, Semipalatinsk, Maralinga, Bikini. People whose lands and seas were irradiated, whose bodies were experimented upon, whose cultures were forever disrupted.
We were not content to be victims. We refused to wait for an immediate fiery end or the slow poisoning of our world. We refused to sit idly in terror as the so-called great powers took us past nuclear dusk and brought us recklessly close to nuclear midnight. We rose up. We shared our stories of survival. We said: humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.
Today, I want you to feel in this hall the presence of all those who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I want you to feel, above and around us, a great cloud of a quarter million souls. Each person had a name. Each person was loved by someone. Let us ensure that their deaths were not in vain.
I was just 13 years old when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb, on my city Hiroshima. I still vividly remember that morning. At 8:15, I saw a blinding bluish-white flash from the window. I remember having the sensation of floating in the air. ...
There is much here to think about.  I invite you to think about it.  

The Holy Family

by John K. Stoner (December 7, 2017)

During Advent you will see pictures or creche depictions of The Holy Family—the Child Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph.

Today I ask, “Might the human family be thought of as a, or the, holy family?”

A family may be called a small community.  It is the first community which most of us know, and the social unit bigger than ourselves in which most of us grow up. The family sustains our life with food, clothing and shelter, and teaches us something of how to live in the world.  That makes it a very important piece of community. 

In the family, if we are reasonably fortunate, we learn to cooperate enough to survive, and if we are more fortunate, even to thrive.  But there are, sadly, many  broken and dysfunctional families, and children raised in these situations may struggle throughout life to recover what they never had as infants or youth.  

The message of Christmas is that in Jesus God came into the world in a special way to live in and among humans.  I understand 
the teaching of Jesus to be that God dwells in all of us in a fashion similar to how he, or we, claim that God dwelled in Jesus.  Repeatedly he challenged his peers to see God in their neighbors, and even enemies.  That is a radical concept!

It implies, or clearly teaches, that God is to be found in human beings, not to be sought in a far off heaven.  And it means that what we do to one another, we do to God.

This is the most clear and profound reason for treating all human life as sacred, and refusing ever to commit homicide—to kill a human.  As created children of God we are all siblings, which makes all homicide fratricide.  As the place where God dwells, all people are small expressions of God, which makes all homicide deicide—the killing of deity.  Jesus, looking at a child, said, “Whoever welcomes this child welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes my Father who sent me” (Luke 9:48).  So the reality is, whoever thought they were killing their enemy were killing their brother, sister, and God.  People who kill people experience not just PTSD, but moral injury, because they have violated a truth of the universe which is written indelibly into their moral DNA. 

In today’s blog I am drawing out implications of the first blog in this series, Communities of Nonviolence.  There I discussed the possibility of choosing to belong to a community which nurtures you in the understanding and practice of your better rather than your worse impulses and possibilities.  This is no small thing, because we become what we choose one day after another.  

So at this advent, let’s think in the big picture.  What if we made the human family our holy family, and sought to value the larger circle of our relationships in a manner similar to our value of the close ones?  

But Of Course, Jesus Was Wrong

by John K. Stoner  (December 1, 2017)

At the beginning of Advent, a reflection (a bit sobering) on what our culture, and maybe much of the church, really thinks about Jesus.  This year let’s use advent time to let Jesus teach what he taught and be who he was. 

But of course, Jesus was wrong.  His teachings were over the top. Everybody knows that.

People are not really, like children, dependent on others—dependent on receiving unconditional love, many chances to get it wrong and try again, in order to survive.  It makes no sense to say that we should become like children.

People are not really, as adults, capable of generous forgiveness and compassion toward others.  Such behavior would be mocked and abused.  

People are not really able to love their neighbors, let alone their enemies.  Jesus posed as the  model human, but we know better.  He was deluded and we are smart.  We know that people are cruel, treacherous and not to be trusted.  We steel ourselves for the worst.

Christmas is coming.  A good time to do a retake of our estimate of Jesus, this baby born in a manger to nobody parents and shepherds who didn’t understand real power and ruling empire.  

Let’s think about Jesus.  Of course he was wrong, everybody knows that.

We’ve got schools, teachers and parents teaching children to be kind, forgiving, and certainly not bullying.  But when they grow up, we know how to turn them around and teach them to kill people and break things.  We call it basic training.  Real basic, you bet—it goes against all natural instinct and childhood training, but it makes killers of compassionate human beings.  No small re-education process there.  

Jesus had this story about the prodigal son, or forgiving father.  But we know that that father was deluded, and that son was pampered.  We take our stand firmly with the elder brother, who knew that this was all a crock, and said so.

And his stories about good Samaritans.  Makes as much sense as good Muslims.  Really, what should we do about Muslims? 

So yes, this Christmas lets get down to brass tacks and look straight at what our culture really thinks about Jesus.  Do we think that, well, nice story, but sure, he was wrong?  Are we saying that we have a better way than his, and we can show you, with a world brought in just a couple hundred years to the brink of nuclear destruction or climate ecocide?    

So of course, Jesus was wrong.  Everybody knows that.

People are not really, like children, dependent on others—dependent on receiving unconditional love, many chances to get it wrong and try again, in order to survive.

People are not really, as adults, capable of generous forgiveness and compassion toward others.  Such behavior would be mocked and abused.  

People are not really able to love their neighbors, let alone their enemies.  Jesus posed as the  model human, but we know better.  He was deluded and we are smart.  We know that people are cruel, treacherous and not to be trusted.  We steel ourselves for the worst.

Christmas is coming.  A good time to do a retake of our estimate of Jesus, this baby born in a manger to nobody parents and shepherds who didn’t understand real power and ruling empire.   Declaring an empire of God built on human capacities far different from worldly empires. 

Let’s think about Jesus.  Of course he was wrong, everybody knows that.
Rev. Jan. 3, 2018

Jesus On the Wisdom of Children

by John K. Stoner (November 24, 2017)

A child knows at a very deep level that he or she is dependent for their very survival on their parents.  And the parents know that their generous love for their child is the key to their child’s survival and flourishing.

Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”  (Matt. 18). 

Why did Jesus bring the child’s relationship of loving dependence into his definition of the kingdom of God?  What does this have to do with the adult world of kings, presidents and premiers?

I wrote on Monday that “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. The "Good News" According to Jesus

What if his reference to children, and by implication to parents who love them into life and maturity, is Jesus pointing to a way of human relating which is effective and essential for operating a “kingdom”—that is, for running the world, because kingdoms were in his day the way the world was organized?

I believe that Jesus meant, “Unless you acknowledge that your life, your very survival, depends on the generous love of other people, you will not be an informed participant in God’s way of running the world which I am announcing and demonstrating to you with my life.”  Short of this wisdom of children, you will not enter into the kingdom  of God.  

Children and parents know, at some level, that little people need many chances to fail in learning to eat with a spoon, talk, and ride a bicycle.  If their parents condemn and punish them for failures instead of forgiving and encouraging them to try again, all kind of disaster and child abuse will follow.  Jesus was teaching his people that, in the long sweep of history, we remain children through our lives.  Our wisdom and experience are so limited that we never outgrow our need for deep trust on our part and repeated forgvieness on the part of others.  Precious few of us think that we will abuse forgiveness and second chances—why do most of us assume that others will?

So in a sense, today’s blog is a simple invitation (and maybe life’s greatest challenge) to remembering:  remembering both your experience of dependence (vulnerability)  as a child and the generous forgiveness you practiced as a parent.

Some people, indeed, have experienced very little of generous forgiveness.  These are wounded people, and we are becoming  more aware all the time of the grim personal and societal consequences of such sad deprivation. But that is a topic for another blog.  Today, the possibility of doing to others what we would like done to us, and, with courage and hope, doing a little more of good to others than was done to us.

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,, 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. ( )

        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 .