Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria: No Good Solutions

There are lots of reasons for and against the intervention in Syria that will most certainly happen sometime this week. Can the world stand by while one government kills its own people? Do we, the United States of America, have a responsibility to use any means necessary to stop what we consider to be a “moral obscenity” in Syria? If we take action in Syria then why aren’t we intervening in dozens of other violent conflagrations around the world?

More than one friend of mine sent out an email urging people to contact President Obama and our other elected officials to ask them not to bomb Syria. Thomas Boudreau shared this message which he sent to the White House: “Remember the U.S.S. Maine, which was probably sunk by Cuban nationals trying to get us to go to war with Spain; remember the Gulf of Tonkin incident in which the supposed second torpedo boat attack never happened, yet triggered the Vietnam war (Stanley Karnow, Vietnam, 1983); remember the invasion of Iraq based on the pretext that it was developing weapons of mass destruction, which was simply false.  So, don’t be played, Mr. President.  The US can’t be the world’s policeman. Please don’t attack Syria…”

I have in the past I have personally sent impassioned communications to elected representatives and our President hoping to be counted for or against some government action. After the school shooting in Connecticut I emailed the White House through their website. It took seven months before they responded with a generic copy of their policy statement on gun control. Even if they are tallying the “pros and cons”, I suspect anything I send will fall on deaf ears. But here goes:

Dear Mr. President,

If you must attack Syria, please only do so if you can be sure that our weapons will only be used on military or munitions sites and that no loss of civilian lives will happen. Each life is precious whether it is civilian or military, and during civil conflicts those lines are usually blurred. Can you assure the world there will be no collateral damage: innocent casualties?

I wish I could ask you not to bomb anyone at all, but I fear that ship has already sailed and you and your administration have already made a decision. Despite the clarion cry for armed intervention over the last year, we know that we got here with the best of intentions. No one wanted to see this, or any other situation, escalate to such bloody ends. But the United States is not solely responsible for this. The international institutions we have in place now only fool us into thinking we are doing the best we can.

The idea that the United Nations can investigate whether a chemical attack has occurred but not who perpetrated it is tragically farcical. The UN Security Council has proven itself to be useless because of the Gordian knot created by its voting rules. When will we and the sovereign governments of the world finally come together to form an effective international police agency and world court that can investigate crimes against humanity objectively; and with a simple majority of the legally elected leaders of the world voting in favor, authorize the capture and trial of criminal despots?

That would mean that every country including our own needs to be accountable. Drone strikes are acts of war. When they are done with impunity without any transparency or accountability they are crimes against humanity. Each hit inflicts a trauma which sets off a chain of suffering. The missiles we launch against Syria will undoubtedly inspire the terrorist acts of the next generation. So goes the insidious and perpetually contagious infection of war.

You might say that the time to figure out how to prevent the acts of murderous tyrants is not in the middle of their acts of genocide. You would be right. We may never be able to prevent the madness that results in genocide. But we can try to stop the carnage once we recognize it. There are violent conflicts going on in many places around the world. So in the mean time, we can’t wait for peace in order to work on peace. There really is no time like the present.

You can still decide on a different course of action in Syria. But whatever you decide to do about Syria, please redouble your efforts to bring the world’s leaders together to build more effective international institutions to address violent conflicts on our planet.

In faith and service,
Dana Kester-McCabe
Sent via 8/28/2013

It would be interesting to know if White House staffers will count this letter as for or against intervention in the Syrian conflict. I am against bombing Syria but I am also against allowing Assad and his ilk to murder or brutalize anyone who opposes their rule. There probably isn’t one panacea to address such matters, but surely an impartial effective investigative agency on genocide and fuller recognition of the proceedings of the world court would be a start. The prospect of all this violence is sad enough. To have it happen as we are honoring the ideals of Martin Luther King and his seminal “I have dream” speech is such a shame.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Spiritual But Not Religious

graphic of flowers
I have been a disciplined church goer all of my life, except during college and for the first few years of married life when I did not live near a congregation of my own faith. During that time I was like a lot of people – unchurched – spiritual but not religious. That is a popular expression these days. It is sometimes an excuse given by people who are actually apathetic about religion altogether but feel somehow that they will otherwise be perceived to be shallow or lazy. Like many other people, though I did not attend weekly services, I still had a yearning for something mystical in my life, so I read sacred texts from a variety of religions and “new age” literature.

I meditated. I studied. I wrote down my visions and dreams, and tried to interpret their meaning. It was a spiritually and intellectually fertile period. But I missed the faith traditions that I grew up in. I also had a concern for my children. My personal development was flourishing but I felt that the kids’ were being neglected. I wanted for them the same benefits I got from being raised in a church community: the friendship and wisdom of older friends, and a basic religious education that would serve as the foundation for their spiritual journeys. Though I tried to teach them, I knew that I wanted to expose them to a wider body of knowledge.

We tried the church of my in-laws for a while but when one of my own faith was formed a few towns away I started dragging the kids there every Sunday. So began my return to the weekly discipline of church and a deep and sometimes obsessive dedication to my church. At one point I even worked part time for its regional religious organization. I rose within its leadership structure and recently I even traveled to Africa for a conference of mycoreligionists from around the world.

My children have not remained members of my church. One is atheist and the other a self described pantheist likewise has no interest in joining any church. There wasn’t any thing traumatic in their religious upbringing, but world events and history have taught them to be skeptical even cynical about organized religion. This may also be in part due to a natural resentment of being forced to go every week and having to share their Mom’s time with the church. Their father has never expressed any interest in these things and rarely attended with us. Their religious education was nonetheless not a waste of time because it provided us with many conversations and life lessons about integrity, human rights, and compassion. Ultimately even though they will likely remain “unchurched” they are (in my very biased opinion) principled kind people who are a joy to be with.

There have been highs and lows and many lessons learned for me as well. I have, for better or worse, over indulged for years in the dramas and responsibilities of church life. My local congregation remains an extension of my family. I love them deeply and cherish what we give one to another: unconditional care and support.

Now it is time for a break of sorts. I am about to begin a period in my life when I am letting go of most of my church responsibilities and committee work. I like the discipline of weekly worship so it is unlikely I will give that up. But, I’d like to take some time to be more spiritual than religious again. I am looking forward to more reading, more meditation, more writing. I am excited not just about looking forward, but looking back, and then looking holistically at the things I have learned in the context of a vast and mysterious universe. I will try to think great thoughts and humbly seek the gift of wisdom that I might pass it on to others who might amplify it with their own experiences.