Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Straight Apology

Friday, January 28, 2011

My poor Bible!

My Bible is falling apart! I've worn it out! Anyone know where I can find a nice NRSV with wide margins for notes?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What have we lost?

(Pictured: C.S. Lewis and Paddy Moore in WWI)

I was watching a documentary about the life of C.S. Lewis recently and was really struck by an event in his life. In 1917, at 19 years of age, Lewis was sent to the Somme Valley in France to fight in the trenches of World War One. Lewis and a close friend, Paddy Moore, made a pact with each other: If one of them died, the other would take care of his family. Paddy Moore was killed in the fighting and C.S. Lewis provided for Paddy's mother and sister for the rest of their lives. Lewis himself was injured in the war.

What if it had been the other way around? What if C.S. Lewis had been the one who died in the war? The world would have never known of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce and the rest of Lewis' prodigious literary output.

16 million people died in WWI (9.7 million military personnel and 6.8 million civilians). How many C.S. Lewis's were among them? What treasures of the human mind and spirit will the world never know as a result of that war?

It is estimated that 160 million people have been killed in wars in the 20th century. How many Mozarts, Beethovens, Einsteins, Salks, Mother Teresas and C.S. Lewis's have we lost?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sign of the day...

Sunday, January 23, 2011


"The greatest evil is not done in those sordid dens of evil that Dickens loved to paint but is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices."
- C. S. Lewis

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fined $10,000 by the U.S. for a humanitarian trip to Iraq

From Real Change News
by Rosette Royale

An American citizen confronts America’s sins

On a recent plane flight, Bert Sacks found an opportunity to practice nonviolent compassion, a skill he’ll use to defend himself this September against federal charges of engaging with an enemy.

Sacks had just visited his ailing mother in early January when he sat down on the plane next to a married couple from Ohio. He struck up a conversation. Within a few minutes he had informed them that over the course of 12 years, numerous activities of the United States had led to the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children. The husband didn’t want to hear it. The wife, telling Sacks that “all countries are bad,” wouldn’t shift her belief that the U.S. was solely to blame.

In the past, Sacks might have been more forceful in trying to sway opinions. But by his own admission, he has changed. So, Sacks, 68, listened without badgering the couple, carefully parceling out his evidence.

Yet it proved hard, because alerting people to the violence in Iraq — the wars, the bombings, the sanctions, the deaths — has been his driving passion. “How to see people in my country [who] want to deny, turn away from this thing that’s been so central to 15 years of my life,” said Sacks, after the flight, “that’s what I’m working on.”

In September, this central passion will come to the fore when Sacks stands as the sole defendant in United States of America vs. Bertram Sacks. The case results from a humanitarian visit Sacks took to Iraq in November 1997 to carry medicine and supplies to sick and dying children.

On the stand later this fall, he’ll have to do more than convince an Ohio couple about U.S. involvement in Iraq. He must prove why he shouldn’t be required to pay the $10,000 fine imposed by the federal government. His argument? “I will contend that I can’t pay the fine, because that would be giving money to an organization that has committed an act of terrorism,” said Sacks. Namely, his own country.

”The Mother of All Battles”

To those watching the TV or reading the newspaper 20 years ago, it might have seemed that the Gulf War passed quickly.

After Iraq invaded its tiny neighbor, Kuwait, in August 1990, the U.S. leveled UN-approved economic sanctions against Iraq. An international coalition of countries, led by the United States and the United Kingdom, began an aerial assault on Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991, initiating what Iraqi President Saddam Hussein called the “mother of all battles.” After a short ground assault, the coalition claimed victory on Feb. 28, 1991. U.S. involvement in the war, after 43 days, had ended, but Sacks’ involvement in the foreign country had yet to begin.

In late March of that year, Sacks read a front-page article in the New York Times that cited a UN report claiming the war had caused “near apocalyptic” destruction and “about 72,000 people have been left homeless.” It argued that “sanctions in respect of food supplies should be immediately removed, as should those relating to the import [of] agricultural equipment and supplies.”

If the report’s findings hadn’t caught his attention, another sentence in the article did: “[T]he United States has argued against any premature relaxation [of sanctions] in the belief that by making life uncomfortable for the Iraqi people it will eventually encourage them to remove President Saddam Hussein from power.”

“I was stunned,” said Sacks. But unsure what to do, he squirreled the paper away in his home.

Years passed, but his obsession with that report did not. In November 1994, Sacks tracked down a copy of a study printed by “The New England Journal of Medicine.” Penned by a team of 10 doctors and public health professionals, the study’s finding didn’t mince words: “The Gulf war and trade sanctions caused a threefold increase in mortality among Iraqi children under five years of age. We estimate that an excess of more than 46,900 children died between January and August 1991.” The findings lodged in his mind. So did images of the children. Sacks couldn’t stop thinking of them.

“I think it’s our job here to do what we can to stop suffering,” he said. “And by doing that, we free ourselves from the things that keep us, if you like, from the kingdom of heaven.” But how to stop the suffering? He couldn’t quite figure that out.

Then, in November 1996, he went to hear a talk by author and activist Jim Douglass, sponsored by a local peace organization. Sacks had enjoyed one of Douglass’ books, “The Nonviolent Coming of God,” and he listened as Douglass spoke of a recent visit to Iraq. He informed attendees if they were truly concerned, they could go to the Persian Gulf country themselves with the local peace group.

For a week or two, Sacks thought about it. Then he contacted the group and said, “I’d like to go.” They didn’t have a long waiting list. And within days, Sacks began the journey to Iraq.

A trip and a vow

Sacks flew from Seattle to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Amman. In Jordan’s capital, he spent the night in a two-star hotel. Before sunrise, he and the other members of a four-person humanitarian delegation watched as a hired driver strapped U.S. mailbags filled with medicine and supplies to the top of a Chevy Suburban. Everyone piled inside and, in the pre-dawn darkness, the van headed east-northeast. By the time they reached Baghdad, 500 miles later, the sun had set.

Raised as a nice Jewish boy, Sacks had never spent time in an Arabic country. His delegation would be in Iraq for 10 days. What if he did or said something wrong? But his fears dissipated when, stepping into the lobby of his Baghdad hotel that evening, he saw a kid, maybe 10 years old, selling newspapers. “I looked at him and he looked like a kid from anywhere,” Sacks recalled. Things, he told himself, would be okay.

But the next morning the delegation hopped in a taxi to visit a hospital in Saddam City, a poor section of the capital. Along the way he saw bombed out buildings and sewage pouring into waterways. They arrived at the hospital, searching for someone in charge. “We just walked in and said, ‘Can we speak to someone? We’re this delegation and we’re here to try to find out what’s happening in Iraq.’”

Hospital officials showed them the pharmacy. It consisted of a drawer in a desk with maybe a dozen vials of pills. That was it. The whole pharmacy.

In another room, a boy lay dying on a bed. The bombing had broken the only EKG in the hospital and it was of no use to the boy. Besides, the hospital had no electricity.

“We [the U.S.] did that by bombing all the electrical plants,” Sacks recalled.

Over and over, Sacks witnessed the destruction and chaos of a country ravaged by air raids, land assaults and economic sanctions. He vowed to return. A year later, in November 1997, he did.

“Customs was ready”
For this second visit, Sacks would lead the humanitarian delegation himself. But before flying to Baghdad, he stopped in Poland, to visit Auschwitz, the network of German concentration camps where an estimated 1.1 million people had been killed or died during World War II. There, he participated in a program led by a Zen peacemaker, where, among other activities, participants read the names of some of the dead. That activity planted a seed.

When he arrived in Baghdad, Sacks, along with a reverend in the delegation, visited a facility called Al-Almirya. In the early days of the war, the U.S. military had bombed the facility, claiming it was an Iraqi military command center. In truth, families had used it as a bomb shelter. A smart-bomb air assault on the shelter incinerated more than 400 people inside, mostly women and children.

With this knowledge guiding their steps, Sacks and the reverend walked inside the circular structure of the still standing Al-Amirya, lighting candles, remembering the dead. The media chronicled the ceremony, said Sacks, video footage playing on the CBS Evening News, a photo landing in the New York Times. The delegation continued on with its humanitarian mission.

On the way home, the plane touched down in Detroit.

“Customs was ready,” Sacks said.

Customs officials pulled Sacks and his travel companion aside. They marked their immigration cards and went through their belongings. Then they let them go.

Members of the group heard nothing more until December 1998, when every member of the delegation received a letter from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the federal entity responsible for enforcing economic and trade sanctions. In a “pre-penalty notice,” OFAC informed Sacks that, without federal authorization, he had engaged in travel-related monetary transactions “not limited to, the purchase of food, lodging, ground transportation, and incidentals.” The government warned him he faced a $10,000 fine. Everyone in the delegation replied that the trip had been to bring medicine to the sick and dying.

It took almost four years, the summer of 2002, until the OFAC informed Sacks that his reply had been received. The correspondence informed him the government wanted the money.

Defending himself
Soon afterward, Sacks staged a press conference in Washington, D.C., hand- delivering 100 pages of supporting evidence to OFAC on why he wouldn’t pay. Media coverage of the event prompted the Seattle office of the national law firm Garvey, Schubert Barer to offer him pro bono assistance.

Sacks sued the OFAC; a federal judge ruled against him. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that ruling. In the spring of 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Sacks’ petition to hear his case.

All the while, Sacks continued taking part in humanitarian missions to Iraq, including a 2002 mission that included Rep. Jim McDermott. The congressman remembered that journey, which included visiting sick children in hospitals.

“That was a very, very traumatic part of the trip,” recalled Rep. McDermott, noting that Sacks was “a good guy.”

Then, in the spring of 2010, the federal government filed suit to collect the $10,000 fine from Sacks, with interest and penalties.

On Sept. 21, 2011, Sacks will stand in a federal district court in Seattle to argue his case, which his fellow delegation members will monitor. Before the federal district judge, Sacks said, he will contend that the U.S. committed acts of terrorism in Iraq.

“I want the judge to have to rule this isn’t terrorism,” said Sacks. “Or why the fact that the U.S. has committed terrorism is not relevant to the issue.”

Just as he did with the Ohio husband and wife he met on the plane earlier this month, Sacks plans to approach the federal government with compassion, even though, in his eyes, the government bears responsibility for the suffering some Iraqis endured. If he needs help finding a recent example of compassion, he can call on his experience of some other passengers on that flight with the married couple.

“I would walk down the aisle and see all these people and it would be the little children — you know, the two-year olds, the five-year olds — who would look up and still had some contact with that kingdom of heaven,” said Sacks. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all behave that way?”

For more information, go to

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


In the wake of the senseless shootings in Tucson last Saturday, it is understandable to ask, "How could God let this happen?" The question of why bad things happen to good (or innocent) people has occupied men and women for countless millenia. It is, in fact, such a ubiquitous question that theologians and philosophers have given a name to the various attempts at an answer: Theodicy (which comes from the Greek theos,meaning God and dike, meaning "justice"). When bad things happen to innocent people, we wonder how a just God could stand by and allow it.

I am not a great thinker or a sophisticated theologian/philosopher, so for me the answer to the question of why God allows bad things to happen is relatively simple, though perhaps counterintuitive: Love.

This is my Theodicy: God loves each one of us and desires that we love Him (and one another) in return. But love cannot be forced--it must be given. And love can only be meaningfully given if it could have also been withheld. Love is a gift. God could have, I suppose, made mankind without the capacity to choose evil, but that limitation would have made us mere puppets. It would have made God be like the character J.F. Sebastian in the film Blade Runner, a genetic designer who lives alone in an abandoned building and surrounds himself with automatons of his own creation. There is no love there, only programmed behavior.

Many years ago when I asked my wife to marry me, if I had drugged her so that she had no willpower to refuse, it would have been a sham. Likewise, if she had chosen to spend life with me because she feared me and what I might do if she refused, it would have been a monstrosity. Thus, I am grateful that Carla accepted the gift of my love and reciprocated with the gift of her love. And when our child was born, he was the recipient of that shared love.

The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God. We have the God-given capacity to love unselfishly and extravagently; to give of ourselves sacrificially; to overcome hatred with love. We can choose to give our love to God--and to those He loves--or to withhold it. We can choose to do evil. Love requires that the choice be there.

We see all around us the effects of choosing evil and death instead of love and life. Some choose to build machines designed to hurt and kill people. Some chose to sell and buy and own such machines. And some choose--as a man did last Saturday--to point one of these machines at the objects of God's love, and pull the trigger--firing, I suspect--into the very heart of God as well as the bodies of innocent people. Some choose war over peace, greed over equity, selfishness over generosity, using people over honoring people, retribution over restoration, revenge over forgiveness, taking over giving. The reality is, we are all continuously confronted with such choices. In the aggregate of human existence, the effects of these choices become structures and systems and legacies which reflect and perpetuate and amplify the choices we have collectively made.

As Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians:
"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law."

When we grasp how much God loves us (all of us!), it frees and empowers us to love in return.

To love God.

To love one another.

Even to love whose who choose evil.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Of course!

Speaking of self-proclaimed prophets... Here's an "interesting" explanation of the true cause behind the recent rash of fish dying and birds falling from the sky (not to mention leopards turning purple): The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

My Friend Dick

My friend Dick is 101 years old. He is a pillar of the Quaker meeting I attend and a consistent presence in the Bible study I lead on Sunday mornings. Dick smiles and nods approvingly as I teach and is an active participant in discussions, sharing his wisdom in a soft-spoken, homespun manner. I am humbled and honored that he puts up with a young whippersnapper like myself offering him instruction on Biblical matters.

Dick once told me his secret to long life: "I try not to get too stressed out about things.", he said. Many years ago, Dick's first wife passed away and he fell into a deep depression. It was the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" that pulled him through. Horatio Spafford wrote "It Is Well" in the 1870's after the death of his four year old son, followed by financial ruin in the Great Chicago Fire, followed by the loss of all four of his daughters when the transatlantic steamship they were traveling on sank. In Dick's darkest time, God kept bringing "It Is Well" to his attention. He emerged from the valley of the shadow of death and eventually remarried.

About a week ago, Dick's wife--a wonderful woman who is beloved by all--experienced a sudden and drastic downturn in her health and wound up in the intensive care unit. The prognosis so far is not promising. Dick and the rest of the family are bewildered and saddened.

Yet, this morning, there was Dick at Bible study--as engaged and engaging as ever. Later, when we gathered for our Quaker meeting, Dick stood among us as together we sang,

"I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
for his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me."

Dick sang heartily, with tears in his eyes.

It was then I realized that he is the one who has been teaching me.