Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Nonviolent resistance in Zimbabwe

People often ask me how to figure out what God is doing in the world. The answer is: Read, read, read -- through the lens of Scripture. On Sunday, the NYTimes reported on a new non-violent resistance movement in Zimbabwe, called Zvakwana. Perhaps it is too early to tell, but this sounds as if it might grow to be like some of the great movements of the 20th century. The resisters, who seek to overthrow the government of the authoritatian Robert Mugabe, have studied videos of the American Civil Rights movement as well as those of Solidarity in Poland and Gandhi in India. Some of their tactics are certainly unconventional, but they are going about their project with great zest, humor and hope. Here's a link:

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Columnist Nicholas Kristof on the evangelical trail

Are all you Christians out there in cyberspace aware of Nicholas Kristof? More than any other secular journalist, he is covering the Christian scene in the Global South. Here is a particularly arresting column about Christianity in Africa and China (his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, is Chinese).

Click here for full article

Oppressor and Oppressed: Thoughts from Red Lake

The Rev'd Peter Hoytema writes from New Jersey:

An article in The New York Times this morning (March 23) explored how Jefferey Weise, the young man who is believed to have killed 9 people this past Monday in Red Lake High School before he took his own life, bore striking similarities to the two students in Littleton, CO who killed 15 people in a similar tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999. According to the article, Weise also had neo-Nazi sympathies and had expressed his admiration for Adolf Hitler. He was also somewhat of an outcast who did not enjoy the acceptance of his peers. As the article put it, he was typically one of the "disaffected youth who struggle to fit in at homogenous schools in rural and suburban areas, then erupt in violence to seek attention, exact revenge and gain power over people who have taunted them."

The line in the article that really caught my attention was a quote from Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center who offered the following bit of commentary on this tragedy: "Kids like this feel extremely powerless, and they want to associate with the oppressor, not the oppressed."

What a striking contrast to the supreme act of love and non-violence we see in the crucifixion of our Lord. Jesus Christ, one who was ridiculed and rejected like no other human has ever experiencd, did not respond to his oppressors in kind. "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats" (I Peter 2:23). The oppressed refused to become yet another oppressor, and in so doing he secured God's acceptance of all people--all who are numbered among the oppressed of the world, and all of us who at one time or another play the role of the oppressor. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (I Peter 2:24).

That is the light of the gospel that backlights the cross and all our somber Holy Week reflections. In the wake of this terrible act of violence, I find myself wondering whether this tragedy could have been avoided if only Jefferey Weise had experienced the love of Jesus, who still today identifies with all who are oppressed, and by whose oppression all are embraced by the acceptance of God.

Friedman on George Washington's military ethics

Here is a link to Thomas Friedman's article (March 24) about Gen. Washington's American values, contrasted with what's going on now.

Click here for full article

Monday, March 21, 2005

George Kennan (1904-2005) on the one thing most to be feared
Posted March 21, 2005

Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. The greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem [he was referring to Soviet communism—today, substitute terrorism] is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.

From Kennan’s famous “Long Telegram” to the State Department, 1946 (emphasis added).

Major humanitarian crisis continues in Congo
Posted March 21, 2005

The International Rescue Committee estimates that the fighting in Congo since 1998 has taken 3.8 million lives since 1998. This is the highest toll in a conflict since World War II. “Life is a nightmare for these people,” says the chief of mission in Congo for Doctors Without Borders. “Militias prey on the girls. Militias take the people’s food. On top of that, they demand weekly taxes. Even if there is a clinic, people have to pay, but have nothing to pay with.”

Just one Congolese family illustrates what is happening. Izeldeen, 75, was prosperous; he had 105 sheep and goats, 25 camels, and three donkeys. Every one is dead, stolen or bartered for medical care. Three of his seven children are dead and about half his grandchildren. All are now living miserable lives in one of the dreadful refugee camps.
(Marc Lacey in The New York Times “News of the Week in Review” 3/20/05).

According to this article and many others, the greatest need is to stop the fighting. Just as in the Rwandan genocide, the UN peacekeeping troops are chronically underfunded and undersupplied because the major Security Council powers (including us) are indifferent. 9 UN peacekeeping troops were killed and mutilated last month in Congo.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Marilynne Robinson on Sermons

Sermons are, at their best, excursions into difficulty that are addressed to people who come there in order to hear that. The attention of the congregation is a major part of the attention that the pastor gives to his or her utterance. It's very exceptional. I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy a good sermon. People who are completely nonreligious know a good sermon when they hear one.

Interview with Marilynne Robinson, PBS Religion & Ethics, March 18, 2005

Friday, March 18, 2005

Tips for Holy Week

The Cross as explosive historical event

An art critic writing in The New Yorker, of all places, hints at the difference between the Christian story and religion in general. This was an article about an exhibition of Rembrandt drawings in Boston. Most New Yorker writers would not be caught dead near Christian belief, but this particular writer understood something. He wrote about “Rembrandt’s wonderful sense of Christianity: the sacrifice of Jesus dropped like a bomb into history, blowing everything askew.”
(Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, 11/10/03).

More sins of omission this Holy Week

Eastern Congo is now suffering the world’s worst current human rights crises, with a death toll outstripping that in the Darfur region of Sudan, the top relief official of the UN, Jan Egeland, said in Geneva. “It is beyond belief that the world is not paying more attention.”...He said the toll amounted to “one tsunami every six months, year in and year out, for the last six years.”
The New York Times “World Briefing,” 3/17/05.

Bob Herbert's Lonely Campaign, and What To Do About It

The columnist Bob Herbert has been trying to get our attention for quite a while, with little success so far. He flew to Ottawa last month to interview a Canadian citizen who was abducted by American security forces and sent to Syria (a country on our Very Bad list if not part of the Axis of Evil) to be tortured and incarcerated for one year. No information was extracted from him and no Al Qaeda ties were ever established. He was sent back to Ottawa to his wife and family, a mere shadow of his former self. This procedure of shipping people off to be tortured without due process is called “extraordinary rendition” (Herbert’s column 2/28/05).


Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts has introduced a bill opposing this policy. He says, “Torture is morally repugnant whether we do it or whether we ask another country to do it for us. It is morally wrong whether it is captured on film [as at Abu Ghraib] or whether it goes on behind closed doors unannounced to the American people.”


The so-called Christian Right has mobilized itself to the nth degree to send emails and letters by the thousands to the legislative and executive branches about abortion, prayer in the schools, stem-cell research, same-sex unions. Is there some reason for the silence of the mainline American churches? What is the reason? Why can’t we all get together and bombard Congress with support for the Markey legislation?


Bob Herbert happens to be African-American. Perhaps this is not an irrelevant fact. The famous black preacher Gardner Taylor last summer thundered from the pulpit that the images from Abu Ghraib were the most atrocious he had seen in many years. The photographs of the snarling dogs and terrorized prisoners reminded him of the dogs unleashed against nonviolent black protesters in Birmingham, Alabama forty years ago.


Why are our churches so silent? Is there some reason I don’t understand? Are we so fearful of terrorism that we are willing to remain silent, and therefore complicit, as out government turns a blind eye to methods that are utterly antithetical to the American character?


Only two or three clicks are required to access and email a Senator or Representative in Congress. Google the US Senate or US House of Reps and go from there.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Email Alert

From "The Dangers of Virtual Ministry" by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck in the Diocese of New York newsletter:

"Email is the greatest conflict avoidance tool since the advent of the answering machine. It's the passive/aggressive's great gift and the introvert's best friend. But avoidance behavior is prevalent enough without needing encouragement."

US Torture Program

Direct quotations from Bob Herbert's column, The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2005

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen....while attempting to change planes at JFK airport on his way home from a family vacation in Tunisia, was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything, but his life would be ruined. Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the US to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell...From time to time he was tortured.

The Syrians who tortured him have concluded that Mr. Arar is not linked in any way to terrorism... Mr. Arar is the most visible victim of the reprehensible US policy known as "extraordinary rendition" in which individuals are abducted by American authorities and transferred, without any legal rights whatever, to a regime skilled in the art of torture.

A lawsuit on Mr. Arar's behalf has been filed against the US by the Center for Constitutional Rights in NY...a lawyer with the center noted that the government is arguing that none of Mr. Arar's claims can ever be adjudicated because they "would involve the revelation of state secrets."

Evangelicals for Social Action, posted 3/11/05

Something is happening in the world of evangelicalism. For two days running the New York Times has had significant stories about a move to expand the evangelical agenda beyond abortion and same-sex unions. Who would have thought that, just a few years ago, the newspaper of record would have carried this news?

For three days, these two pieces have been among the Times' 10 most emailed articles.

Even so, this hopeful move has already been attacked by Focus on the Family, which for all its genuine wisdom about child-raising has become more and more ferocious and mean-spirited about the larger agenda.
Here are the links:}Q3CqQ3CQ26Q260qQ26aqUUqnWig}gz_qUUQ5ELM@Q5CQ5EigzMiQ24/}Gi

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Nicholas Kristof, who writes a column in The New York Times twice a week, has been saying complimentary things about evangelical Christian NGOs (non-governmental organizations), even very conservative ones, for several years now—not a popular thing to do at the Times. He makes it clear that he does not share evangelical beliefs, but he praises the work of these organizations around the world on behalf of suffering humanity in regions that few others want to work in.

For the last few months he has been concentrating on the sex trade in Asia and the massacres/genocide in Darfur. He offers specific ways that the average person can help, and he challenges us to redirect our focus. In his column today (March 3) he notes that if the average American spent only a portion of the time devoted to following the Michael Jackson case to writing our Congressional representatives, Senator Sam Brownback could really get something done. Brownback is a conservative evangelical, devoted to humanitarian causes whom Kristof admires in spite of what he considers his retrograde views on many issues.