Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The meaning of leadership, in Iraq and elsewhere

We don't yet know for sure what happened, but it does not look good for the marines accused of shooting two dozen Iraqi civilians, including women, children, and an elderly man in a wheelchair.

Surely there can be no one by now who does not understand how close to the surface our worst instincts can be under certain conditions. The most obvious and best known factor in wartime is the violent death of one's buddies. Soldiers become enraged when this happens and are likely to turn on the enemy with great ferocity and vengefulness. It is under these circumstances that atrocities take place.

All of this is present in the explanations offered by various spokesmen in the last 24 hours since the killings in Haditha became widely known. The following excerpts are from The New York Times.

Mr. Harper [a retired marine] expressed doubt that the marines knowingly committed crimes in Haditha, saying that they undoubtedly acted on instinct, as trained, in the heat of battle. "When a bullet comes at you and you turn around and half your buddy's head is blown off, it changes the way you think forever," he said.

Jerry Alexander, the owner of G.I. Joe's and a Navy man who served with the Marines for a dozen years, had much the same perspective, saying, "If I saw my buddy lying there dead, there is no such thing as too much retaliation."

While Mr. Alexander said "unacceptable kills" should not be covered up, he worried about the unfairness of judging those who were in Haditha. "In the heat of combat, you cannot hesitate; he who hesitates is lost," he said. "I would not prosecute these young men because they were just doing their jobs."

On this Memorial Day, in this military community, people will concede that any marine who committed illegal acts must be punished and that the Pentagon must take responsibility. But conversation quickly returns to emotional and earnest explanations of the need for understanding for what one former marine described as "these 19-year-old kids who get paid 900 bucks a month to put their lives on the line."

A preliminary inquiry indicated that the civilians were killed during a four- to five-hour sweep, led by a handful of marines angry over the death of Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, who was killed as his patrol drove through the area.

Col. Ben Mittman of the Air Force, interviewed as he got his regular military buzz cut at the Beachcomber Barber Shop in Oceanside, worried that the young servicemen were being made scapegoats. "If this thing really happened, they had to radio communication and get the go-ahead," he said. "The frontline grunts these days do not do anything without the commanders knowing, especially something like that."

What all this adds up to is the universal need for leaders who are wise, strong, firm and able to keep their own emotional balance. That is the calling of a leader, in the church or in business as well as on the battlefield. Where were the commanders of those troops during the four or five hours in question?

True leaders understand that, precisely because of the violent and vengeful human instincts that surface under stress, it is crucial that under such conditions purposeful guidance be given to rein in our worst nature. They understand that when young soldiers kill innocent bystanders in the heat of emotion that is not "doing their job." These young men, if they did a thing, will have to live for the rest of their lives with the consequences of lack of guidance from their commanding officers.

The tragic nature of this lack is highlighted by the testimony of a young woman from CNN who was "embedded" with these troops and can hardly believe they are the same ones accused. See this link:

Friday, May 12, 2006

The gods of "diversity" and "rights"

An article by Michael Tomasky (American Prospect, link below) is the talk of the nation right now. It is closely related to problems not only in the Democratic Party but in the Church. The "liberal" seminaries and the mainline-church decision-making bodies have the same problem as the Democratic Party: "rights" and "diversity" have become gods while the "common good" is neglected.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The power of forgiveness to evoke repentance

For a sermon about the power of forgiveness and its close connection to remorse and redemption, see these two links from USA Today:

The first one, which will appear in the paper tomorrow, is about rage and vengefulness.

The second link, from today's paper, is about forgiveness and repentance. Here is the first sentence. Notice that this was the first time of breaking down:

After listening to two days of grief-stricken testimony, the band manager who started a Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed 100 people broke down for the first time Tuesday as the father of the youngest victim spoke of forgiveness.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Today's Sunday School kindergarten lesson on Foreign Policy

Here's what President Bush said last week in California--

"I base a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true. One, I believe there's an Almighty. And, secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free."

The knowledgeable writer George Packer (who originally supported the war) comments, "It seems that unless God himself gains entry to the West Wing and informs the President that the Iraqis' desire to be free is not the issue, a grandiose theology will continue to doom America and Iraq to a bloody stalemate."

--The New Yorker, May 8

Monday, May 08, 2006

Peter Steinfels on Gospel of Judas, Madeleine Albright's faith

Peter Steinfels should be much better known. For many years he has been delivering superb, informed, progressively orthodox commentary on theological issues. His column appears every other week in the Saturday NYTimes where few people read it. I have been clipping his work for years. He is Roman Catholicism at its best.

One recent column addresses the controversy about the Gospel of Judas, and another discusses the Christian faith of Madeleine Albright. Here are the links (you'll have to cut and paste into your browser):

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fashion feet: something new in self-love

The New York Times Style section reports that top-flight pedicures cost $80, but many customers like the in-home pedicure which lasts two hours and costs $125. The article concludes with these inspiring words (is this a parody? I'm afraid not):

Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, said that with flip-flops and other shoe styles that expose the toes for all to see, flawless feet have become a status symbol.

"Having perfectly groomed feet indicates that you have the money and the time to make the effort and that you have the social polish to know you should be up to peak standards," said Ms. Steele, the author of "Shoes: A Lexicon of Style."

Public scrutiny isn't the only reason women are opting for more elaborate pedicures, she said. "You should not underestimate the genuine aesthetic pleasure one gets," she said, "from looking down 20 times a day at your own little jewel-like toes."