Torture is Never Justified

Abu Ghraib interrogation

Abu Ghraib

I lived in a place close to “the pile” and saw hundreds of pictures posted all over of missing people. I was angry and wanted to bomb the entire Middle East. But that was raw emotion.

There comes a time when law is necessary even in war. How we handled alleged terrorists in this situation follows the legacy of Truman’s internment camps which are a stain on our country that we just don’t talk about enough. So the law:

The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) 6 Article 17, paragraph 4 provides the general rule for interrogation of prisoners of war:

No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.

These were not isolated incidents as we once thought, just covertly handled. It was mismanaged and the information extracted is highly suspect as to its utility.

Unless it’s acceptable for our troops to short-chained to the floor in awkward positions, forced to mimic sexual acts, have food shoved up their asses, stuffed into hot boxes, and water-boarded, then we just can’t justify the same treatment of our prisoners.

Justice, Courtesy, and Love

This is a brilliant quote to help us treat one another more decently. It is from John Watson who was a minister in the Presbyterian Church of England who later became an author who toured North America with a short tour of fame. He died in 1907 and this quote comes towards the end of his pastoral ministry in 1904.

We must not therefore assume that our kind of religion, and our traditional views, and our favorite notions, and our particular set make the whole round world. This man beside us also has a had fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which are smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self. We must feel as a brother towards the man beside us, and say to him the things that we should like to have said to us, and treat him as we desire to be treated when our hands as hanging down and our hearts are heavy. This is the very essence of courtesy. – John Watson D.D. (1903), “The Homely Virtues” Hodder & Stoughton: London. pp. 168-169.

Winning is Not the Only Thing

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” – Vince Lombardi

America is addicted to winning.

Competition is king in the United States and fear is a tool used to gain advantage over another. It is symptomatic from news broadcasts to advertising to politics to healthcare. It’s keeping up with the Joneses or a getting a better deal on a product than someone else. Sports are only the obvious venue for the relentless drive to “be the best.” If you are not the best you are a loser or a second class citizen. You are entitled or desperate for handouts. You are merely siphoning the wealth of winners rather than pulling yourself up and “getting a job” as if that is the one solution to all of society’s ills. Just shut up and compete.

The pressure to be perfect and the shame of being left on the bench or on the losing team is intense and exhausting.

One McLean elementary school recently asked for a presentation on whether its students should take the SAT or ACT, college admissions tests at least seven years away. Bowers’s husband, Bruce, almost stopped coaching girls’ soccer because of the win-at-all-costs attitude. Some other parent-coaches, he says, would spend weekends going to games to identify the top players so they could try to recruit them. “It really meant something to them to have the cream of the crop and win,” he says. “And this wasn’t travel soccer. This was when the girls were 7 or 8.”

There are always losers and the left behind because we live in a society that values the zero sum game. We don’t value the tie game or the appreciation of a good match. If there is no winner then the game isn’t worth much. But even that’s not enough.

As much as we love winners, we also like to watch others lose. If we can’t root for someone we can always root against someone. We create celebrities only to tear them down; we absorb an endless stream of negative political ads and have a sick pleasure in watching those with plenty lose it all.

There is a serious disconnect. Schools and companies require people to work in teams and to have the social skills to be effective with others. We know that cooperation guarantees a better outcome for all parties involved. A little bit of sacrifice for the good of the community and the state goes a long way towards balancing the scales of justice. But it means either not being at the top of the pecking order or at the very least delaying it.

Having less means more happiness and more time to be with each other rather than fearing someone stealing our stuff or our freedom. Cooperation requires discipline, patience, prudence, and all of the basic virtues of working hard for our own happiness and the happiness of others. Wouldn’t it be great to live not in fear but with a little more faith in humanity?

Maybe Howard Beale was right. Maybe all of us have to get mad as hell, together, and not sit by, idly accepting the toll of human life and dignity that the unfettered drive to win exacts on our society.

Do the Rich Get to Heaven? Dave Ramsey Says Yes.

“When you start putting limits on the power of the cross and limits on the power of grace that is extended to us from the Father through the son, based on someone’s wealth, then that’s Gnosticism – the worship of spirit versus materialism versus the worship orthodoxy,” Ramsey said. “So what that means is that someone just doesn’t understand the Bible.”

We might be very quick to pick out where Dave Ramsey is just wrong here. He doesn’t understand what gnosticism really is, neither is he clear about materialism or orthodoxy (big “O” or small “o” – your choice). But I’m not posting this to complain about how wrong he is.

I’m actually defending him a little. He is right. There is nothing in any of what Jesus says that tells us wealthy people can’t “go to heaven.” If we want to read about camels and rich men that way, we are as guilty as he of reading agendas into the bible. We do know that it is “hard” for the wealthy to find God.

Ramsey tries to do too much. He swings his “defense” with the bible too far and stumbles.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matt. 19:23-24

The point of the passage isn’t really wealth. Wealth is a symptom, not a cause.

When we are rich it is harder to give up all of our comforts for the purpose of resisting temptation and seeking holiness by following the commandments. Jesus’ point is always rather clear – wealth is dangerous because it can easily become an idol to pull us away from God. Living without idols is hard and when our idols give us comfort and satisfaction in the world we live right now, it is all that more difficult to wake up and let it all go. Living without that false comfort and hope is what the saints call “dispassion.”

As with so many other places in the bible, idolatry is the real problem. Material wealth is but one idol among many. Gratification in any material comfort is dangerous – delayed or instant. The good news is that Jesus also consistently presents clear behaviors to counteract idolatry vis-à-vis love. This is the kind of love that asks us to sell everything we have if we need to in order to follow Jesus (Matt. 19:21).

It’s a good test. Make a list of any material attachment you have and be honest: Are you willing to give that away in order to meet God? If not, you may just find a source or two for feeling spiritually “dry” or “inadequate.” These are spiritual wounds. When the rich young man sees his own wounds, rather than take the right medicine for healing, he responds with sadness. He wasn’t mourning his condition, but began to wallow in self-pity. These little wounds in spiritual growth are where we can put together plans of action to work with God to heal them. That’s called working out your salvation.

The real heresy with being rich is when love is not put in the very same breath as wealth.

For without love, wealth is nothing.

So my little question to Dave Ramsey is an old one: Dave are you willing to sell all of this and give to the poor?


Dave Ramsey’s Mansion in Tennessee

Don’t Pray for Healing

Michael Brown - Dead on the street

“It is time to heal.”

“May we begin the healing process.”

“Prayers for healing.”

The white refrain for healing has begun. I have heard many times before.

I despise racism. I also want our society to heal from its persistent violence.

Racism is painful and appalling. There is no comfort or serenity in a cycle of violence that does not seem to be going away any time soon. Racial violence is just as it was in the 60’s and well before the Civil Rights Movement just as terrorism existed well before 9/11. These things have not gone away, they have only been pushed around. Ferguson in Missouri and ISIS in Iraq are two acute events in a chronic and persistent set of problems that will repeat.

They will repeat because we will work on only the symptoms long enough for the problem to “go away.” That’s what “healing” really means in the end. We want to have the illusion that racism, injustice, torture, inequality, abuse, and so on can be healed with the wave of a magic wand (or prayer). Saying “Prayers ascending” on a Facebook post, liking someone’s passive aggressive link to an article, retweeting someone else’s thoughts on an issue, and the white conscience is once again free to do as it would without hindrance.

The prayer for healing is too often the white cry of the annoyed and bothered.

This wound is too bloody and too gaping for healing yet. This body is way too riddled with bullets to be sewn up. Let’s continue to examine the dead body of Michael Brown and to pull the bullets out before we pray for healing. We need to be disturbed by it. This is grotesque stuff that messes up all boundaries and we need to be uncomfortable. I need to be uncomfortable.

This is still trauma and we haven’t the right to push Michael Brown’s body in the recovery room where we think someone else will deal with it. In recovery is the only place where we can start talking about healing. Who among us believes that we are there just yet?

There’s a Hole in the Ice Bucket

There is a global crisis for clean water. Environment, political oppression, violent tribalism, and economic instability are but a few of the conditions and causes. This affects poorer people and nations where infrastructure is lacking even in large cities much less in geographically isolated communities. Lest we falsely imagine this is a problem for people outside the US, poor well water and increasingly dangerous drought conditions from shifting weather patterns are creating serious economic issues and forcing people to make uncomfortable lifestyle changes. Water is like gold is some parts of the world and more valuable than anything the digital trading of billions on Wall Street could offer. Clean water shortage is a trauma and needs traumatic intervention and care.

Deaths to water shortage versus deaths to ALS

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is also a health trauma even if it affects fewer people. People began dumping clean ice water on their heads largely to raise awareness and money for ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It went viral.

As of Tuesday, August 26, The ALS Association has received $88.5 million in donations compared to $2.6 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 26). These donations have come from existing donors and 1.9 million new donors to The Association, which is incredibly grateful for this tremendous outpouring of support (ALSA).

Some are now getting tired of the challenge and would rather not see any more people with ice buckets parading through their various social media feeds. For many, ALS is becoming associated with annoyance.

Ice bucket challenge wastes water

Many who recognize the high value of clean water for millions of  people in the world are critiquing the challenge. I am glad that the ice bucket as a symbol of charity has raised this conversation. It has also raised the discussion of what it means to be charitable. Why do we need gimmicks to raise awareness of different problems in the world? Why do many detach the gimmick from its referent charity just to feed their own popularity or to relieve their irrational fear of missing out? Indeed, the ice bucket has caused us to question morality and mortality in ways that far outstretch the impetus: raising awareness and research funding for a horrific disease.

I can understand why a water depleted community would take serious offense to so many buckets of water wasted for all to see. Try spending an entire day, outside, without drinking a single glass of water. It’s simply terrible if not life threatening. Yet pregnant mothers and babies do it every day.

Nevertheless, the bucket is not the problem. It is a symbol.

If many of the people now criticizing the symbol of the bucket of water as something offensive to those who have none would calculate the gallons of water they needlessly flushed away to transport urine to the sewer, there might be a case. The gallons used at public pools for leisure, golf courses, athletic fields, water parks, dishwashers, laundromats, and carwashes are innumerably more than the collection of all ice buckets that have been and ever will be dumped. Yet we discuss none of these conveniences or the resistance to let all of it go in order to support world clean water shortages.

ice buckets not the problem in water shortage

What we cannot do is devalue the symbol of one act of charity in order to raise the value of another. If comparing the human lives lost is the foundation of our critique, we are no longer talking about water, but competing ideologies. Sabotaging one charity for the sake of another is a deceptive set of behaviors that devalues charity itself by filling it with guilt. Rather than reinforce a good intention, we demean it because it is not the right behavior. We force the giver into making a commitment to competing interests.

The first act of charity one can give is often fraught with anxiety because it requires losing something one has. The best way to ensure another act does not happen again is to negatively reinforce it. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t as the saying goes. Charity becomes a zero sum game and the logical outcome is that neither the giver nor the receiver wins.

We need more cooperation than competition. Please, use someone else’s strategy to support a cause in order to bring awareness to your own. But work together on the world’s problems. Don’t empty powerful symbols of meaning in the process. Once drained of meaning, the ice bucket becomes just that and speaks for no cause. Symbols can serve as legacies in a saga filled with greater resources of hope when more contribute to the greater good.

  • If you are interested in helping to support initiatives for clean water, is one place to get you started. For more domestic issues see the Water Blues, Clean Solutions site and watch the film if you can.
  • To donate for ALS or offer other support, go to the ALS Association. Also, watch my challenge that I dedicate to my grandmother who died of ALS just a few years after being diagnosed.