Friday, October 30, 2009

More Schools less Guns

(I took this picture while visiting the Imperial War Museum in London. I was struck by the art work of school children which was displayed in the Museum.)

Nicholas Kistof had a great article recently in The New York Times about his suggestions for Afghanistan. He entitled the piece, "Need more schools, not troops in Afghanistan." He suggests instead of sending more troops into battle that we build more schools. He reports that the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year could build 20 schools. He punctuates his case by talking about the schools that have already been built in that region and the changes they have brought. You might want to read the article for yourself. Makes sense to me.

The Balcony People

"We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..."
--Hebrews 12. 1a
Frederick Buechner in one of his autobiographical books told the story of some of the wonderful people in his life. He said that one of the reasons he did this was the hope that the reader would open up his or her own albums and remember faces and names and places.

All Saints Day has been a great day for the church because like a rosary we fondle the names of so many of those that have enriched our lives. Carlyle Marney, the great Baptist preacher of another era called these: the balcony people. He said we all have someone or ones that have stood in our balconies and cheered us on. Our lives would be forever different without those whose help along the way was—and is-- immeasurable.

So I take down my own album on the eve of All Saints Day and peer up into my own balcony and remember. Perhaps you will too.

I remember Nancy the black woman who worked for our family when my brother and I were little. My parents both worked and so, for a pittance, Nancy worked for us and loved us. One day when I was so down I sat at the kitchen table with my head in my hands. And she said, “It’s gonna be all right. God gonna take care of you.” And she was right.

I remember Byrdie. She took a shine to my friend and me. She encouraged us and believed in us. And when I started off to college and had little money Byrdie came through. She could hardly see. As a baby she had fallen into the fireplace and was terribly burned. His face and body were scarred. She never had a chance to go to college but moved to another town and worked in a mill. She had little of the world’s resources—yet knowing how strapped I was going off to school she gave me an envelope, more than once, with seventy-five or a hundred dollars. That money fluttering down from the balcony kept me going.

In my first church I remember Mr. John. Little fat man who had buried three wives. As a young preacher I would sit on his front porch as he smoked pencil-thin cigars. I would pour out my young, green frustrations about the church. And after listening he would say: “Preacher I’ve been around here a long time. You’re doing good.” He never prayed in public, but when Mr. John stood up to speak in business meetings everyone listened. Without Mr. John I wonder where I would have been.

Years later I was in a very conflicted church. Nothing that I tried was working. I was really the wrong pastor in the wrong place. The more I worked, the more resistance I found. So I was ready to throw in the towel. And one of the business men in the church came by one night. He sat in our living room and told me he knew I was having a hard time. He asked: “What do you want to do? If you want to stay—you don’t have to leave—I can help make that possible. And if you want to leave I will help you do that, too. What do you want to do?” My wife spoke for me and said: “ I want him to leave, if he stays here he will die. I can’t stand to see what is happening to him.” And I nodded my head and said that she was right. So my friend took a pencil and paper and begun to scratch down some figures. “If you are going to resign without a place to go you going to need a year’s severance. It must be hard to get another church when you don’t have one.” (I was 55 years old.) He added up all the things I would need and said he would take these figures to the church. And then he said something that I will never forget: “If the church won’t pay for this, I will pay for this out of my own pocket. I believe in you that much.” When times have been hard I have remembered those graceful words: “I believe in you…” And they kept me going.

I could go on and on. At every juncture of my life there has been some saint or saints that have stood in my balcony and cheered me on. And on All Saints Day I remember and I am glad.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

We Remember the Fallen

"We came upon him sitting in the sun,
Blinded by war, and left. And past the fence
There came young soldiers from the Hand and Flower,
Asking advice of his experience.

And he said this, and that, and told them tales,
And all the nightmares of each empty head
Blow into air; then, hearing us beside,
'Poor chaps, how'd they know what it's like?' he said.

And we stood there, and watched him as he sat,
Turning his sockets where they went away,
Until it came to one of us to ask
'And you're--how old?'
'Nineteen, the third of May.'"
--The Veteran, Margaret P. Cole

MSNBC reported tonight that October has been the bloodiest month in this eight-year war. 54 of our brave men and women are with us no more. The list of Americans who gave their lives is long and sad this time. But they, and their families deserve a few moments that we might ponder their names and pray for their families. Let us remember the fallen.

Maj. David L. Audo / Age 35 / St. Joseph, Ill. / Died of injuries sustained from a noncombat related incident in Baghdad, Iraq / October 27, 2009.

Cpl. Gregory M.W. Fleury/ Age 23 / Anchorage, Alaska / One of four Marines killed in a midair helicopter collusion in Helmand province, Afghanistan./ October 26, 2009.

Capt. Eric A. Jones / Age 29 / Westchester, NY / Also killed in that helicopter collusion in Afghanistan, October 26, 2009.

Capt. David S. Mitchell /Age 30 / Loveland, Ohio/ Also killed in that same helicopter collusion in Afghanistan/ October 26, 2009.

Capt. Kyle R. Van De Giesen / Age 29 /North Attleboro, Mass. / Also killed in that same helicopter collusion in Afghanistan/ October 26, 2009.

Sgt. Eduviges G. Wolf / Age 24 / Hawthorne, Cal. / Did in wounds suffered when insurgents attacked her vehicle with a rocket propelled grenade in Kunar province, Afghanistan/ October 25, 2009.

Pfc. Devin J. Michel / Age 19 / Stockkton, Ill. / Died of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit in Zhari province, Afghanistan/ October 24, 2009.

Pfc. Kimble A. Han / Age 30 / Lehi, Utah / One of two soldiers killed when enemy forces attacked their vehicle with a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan/ October 23, 2009.

Spc. Eric N. Lembke / Age 25 / Tampa, Florida / Killed along with Pfc. Han with a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, October 23, 2009.

Sgt. Kyle A. Coumas / Age 22 / Lockeford, Cal. / Killed when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with a roadside bomg in Kandahar province, Afghanistan / October 21, 2009.

Lance Cpl. David R. Baker / Age 22 / Painesville, Oh / Died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghnistan / October 20, 2009.

Staff Sgt. Bradley Espinoza / Age 26 / Mission, TX / Died of wounds suffered when enemy forces atrtacked his vehicle with a roadside bomb in Qwsst, Iraq / October 19,2009.

Pfc. Daniel Rivera / Age 22 / Rochester, NY / Died of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle in Mosul, Iraq / October 18, 2009.

Spc. Michael A. Dahl Jr. / Age 23 / Moreno Valley, Cal./ Died of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle in Argahndab, Afghanistan/ October 17, 2009.

Sgt. Anthony G. Green / Age 28 / Matthews, NC / One of tw soldiers killed when enemy forces attacked their vehicle with a roadside bomb in Wardak province, Afghanistan / October 16, 2009.

Sgt. Christopher M. Rudzinski / Age 28 / Rantoul, Ill. / Killed when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with a roadside bomb near Kandahar, Afghanistan/ October 16, 2009.

Staff Sgt. Chris N. Staats / Age 32 / Fredericksburg, TX. / One of two soldiers killed when enemy forces attacked their vehicle in Wardak province, Afghanistan/ October 16, 2009.

Sgt. Jesus O. Flores Jr / Age 28 / La Miranda, Cal. / One of four killed when enemy forces attacked their vehicle with a roadsidebomb in Kandahar province, Afghanistan / October 15, 2009.

Spc. Daniel C. Lawson / Age 33 / Deerfield Beach, Fl. / One of the four soldiers killed when their vehicle was attacked in Kandahar province, Afghanistan/ October 15, 2009.

Staff Sgt. Glen H. Stivison Jr. / Age 34 / Blairsville, Pa. / One of the four killed in vehicle attack in Kandahar province, Afghanistan / October 15, 2009.

Pfc. Brandon M. Styer / Age 19 / Lancaster, PA. / The last of those four soldiers killed in vehicle attack in Kandahar province, Afghansitan / October 15, 2009.

Spc. George W. Cauley / Age 24 / Walker, Mn. / Died October 10th in Bagram, Afghanistan of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his vehicle in Helmand province, Afghanistan / October 7, 2009.

Lance Cpl. Alfonso Ochoa Jr / Age 20 / Amona, Cal. /Died while supporting combat operations in Farah province, Afghanistan / October 10, 2009.

Staff Sgt. Aaron J. Taylor / Age 27 / Bovey, Mn. / Died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanitan / October 9, 2009.

Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth W. Westbrook / Age 41 / Shiprock, NM / Died October 7th at Walter Reed Hospital in DC of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms in Ganjigal Valley, Afghanistan / September 8, 2009.

"I am sorry for your loss.
Sorry too, for my part in it,
My apathy, my inattention.
Sorry for your loneliness and deprivation.
Your lost childhood. Your pain.
Sorry for the bombs that fell and fell,
For the planes that circle still.
In my name."
--Pamela Hale

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Human Face of War

The war in Afghanistan and Iraq rages on. The President and his staff are trying to figure out where do we go from here. They and we know that we have been fighting in that part of the world longer than World War II. But to get a taste of what this war is all about you might turn to David Finkel’s, The Good Soldiers. Finkel a correspondent spent eight months in Iraq with a battalion of soldiers from Ft. Riley, Kansas.

President Bush announced on January 10, 2007 that he was sending 21,000 more troops in Iraq to deal with the violence and hopefully establish a spot of democracy in that part of the world. He called this new effort the surge.

2-16 was part of those 21,000 sent to Iraq. Their leader was a 40-year-old Lieutenant Colonel who was sure his troops could make a difference. His goals were worthy: to stamp out the violence, to win the war. He dreamed of helping to provide a safe place for the Iraqi people that they might begin to live their lives in peace and well-being.

So the writer Finkel takes us with him on this journey. If you want to know what this war feels like, tastes like, looks like read this book. After you put the volume down you may not think of that war ever the same again.

He calls his book, The Good Soldiers. And good they were. In their fifteen months in Iraq 14 of them were killed, another 75 were wounded—many of those broken for the rest of their lives. The average age of those soldiers was 19 years.

He tells as Hummer blew up and men lost limbs and lives of the slow disenchantment that seeped into most of these soldiers’ souls. Their leader said, “I think it’s difficult for them, and difficult for me, to hear about these strides we’re making, these improvements we’re making, when we know—when I know—for a fact, that this place hasn’t changed a damn bit since we set foot here in February.” His men were tired of waiting to be blown up, tired of being mortared every day, tired of being told by those in Washington they were winning when they knew they weren’t.

Finkel writes in telling terms: “Eleven dead now. Another forty-four injured. Gunshots, Burns, Shrapnel. Missing hands, arms, legs, an eye. Ruptured eardrums, a mangled groin, gouged-out muscles, severed nerves. One guy took it in the stomach as he waited to use a pay phone…and a rocket landed nearby. Rockets, mortars, RPG’s, sniper fire, EFP’s.” The Lieutenant said all this as he prepared to telephone the war’s newest widow who lived with two tiny daughters in a house in Kansas. When it was done he said, “That’s probably the saddest woman I’ve talked to yet.”

This book won the Pulitzer Prize and as you read it you will understand why.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Birthday Reverie

“Let me, if I may, be ever welcomed to my room in winter by a glowing hearth, in summer day by a vase of flowers; if I may not, let me then think how nice they would be, and bury myself in my work. I do not think that the road to contentment lies in despising what we have not got. Let us acknowledge all good, all delight that the world holds, and be content without it.”
--George Macdonald

I have been looking forward to my 74th birthday about as much as I have been looking forward to swine flu. One is inevitable—thank God the other is not. But it wasn’t really so bad, turning 74. I survived—but it was more than survival. My wife and I ate out at my favorite breakfast place downtown—eating all those wonderful carbs and cholesterol inducing delicacies. Things, of course which I cannot eat every day. Happy Birthday to me!

We spent the day sloshing through rain shopping and just enjoying being together. In fact we stayed out so long we went long past lunch and got home about 3:30 in the afternoon.And the phone began to ring. And the cards were stuffed in my mailbox. And here and there was a package. My son left word on the answering machine and I called him back late because the phone did not stop ringing. My daughter called wishing me a happy, happy day. And there were calls from my two granddaughters reminding me how lucky I was to have them as granddaughters. They were not too far off the mark. My baby brother (age 70) called to rag me about being the oldest. There were calls from friends that have meant so much through the years.

And then I opened the presents that people I loved had selected with care. The cards came from all over. A beautiful card from a couple in South Carolina that always remember my birthday. A funny card from a great friend we discovered in Memphis. She never forgets. One friend sent two cards--two weeks apart. She forgot but she doubled my fun with her kind words. There were those new funny noise-making cards that crack you up and great uproarious words on other cards carefully selected.

I finally quit talking to friend after friend about eleven PM. And the emotion of the whole day just crept up on me. I was moved, terribly by all those that remembered. Their notes and their calls stirred the memories of other times and occasions. And I sat there whispering a thanks for so many and so much.

My life, like everyone else’s has been an up and down, in and out—twisting journey. There have been moments of enormous disappointment and great grief. But these have been few and far between—for my life has been blessed at every point. From those parents, who out of their poverty gave me a great richness that stays with me until this very day. And that other great cloud of witnesses. Carlyle Marney called them “our balcony people.” The people who have stood in our balconies and cheered us on every step of the race.

My architect-poet friend, Andrew said it so well:

“Thank you Lord
for friends who honor us
with small gifts of tenderness

Gifts so freely given
that they cost the giver
Almost nothing
But which are
Infinite value
to those who receive them."

Looking back over the terrain the only thing I can say is thanks be to God!

Dear Cal Thomas

I don't email many columnists--but yesterday's column by Cal Thomas infuriated me.Read it for yourself. I am sending out a copy of the email I sent to Mr. Thomas. It is a little ragged but it comes from the heart.

Dear Mr. Thomas:

I read your "There's No Peace..." in yesterday's Birmingham News. I was appalled by much of what you said. To say that the Nobel prize is useless...and then to sneeringly say Homer Simpson--a black cartoon character--deserves the prize as much as our President. Have you no decency? This column puts you into a camp I don't think you want to be in--racists and isolationists...What is this male wimps remark that you then link to, Michael J. Fox, a man who has Parkinson's and is fighting for dear life to hang on. Have you no decency? When the history of this time is written those who have fanned the flames of hated and racism and scorn for the rest of the world--will be part of a minor footnote to a very great story. Mr. Obama's election sent a message around the world that this country is open and free . He was has elected by a large majority and is probably one of the most qualified persons ever to sit in the White House.

He has inherited monstrous problems that he is trying desperately to tackle. As a Christian you no better than to bear false witness...and to use the quote from the book of James to further your bias and disdain of our President is really a misreading of the book. I really don't think that James had in mind someone who is trying to deal with human rights, torture and trying to end this war. He needs all our support and all our prayers. I do think there is something in the book about that. I would also remind you that the same book you quote also says: "God so loved the world...not just the United States. God bless us all. Roger Lovette

P.S. Want to read a great article about why Obama should have received the Nobel? Check out Joe Conason's great column: "A Nobel for Defeating Cheneyism." It's worth reading.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Remembering the Fallen

"They say on TV that the soldiers want to be here?" says one soldier. "I can't speak for every soldier but I think if people went around and made a list of who...wants to be here, ain't nobody that wants to be here."
-- Quoted in David Finkle's, The Good Soldier

CNN reports that to date there have been 4,669 coalition deaths and 4,352 have been Americans. 31,527 troops have been wounded. October has brought a great many of our soldiers dead and wounded and the month is far from over. Take time to read slowly through this long, sad list and remember our comrades and their grief-stricken families.

Spec. George W. Cauley / Hometown: Walker, Mn./ Age 24/ Died in Bargram, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his vehicle with a roadside bomb / October 7, 2009.

Maj. Tad T. Hervas / Hometown: Coon Rapids, Mn. / Age 48/ Died of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident at Base Basra, Iraq/ October 6, 2009.

Spec. Kevin O. Hill / Hometown: Brooklyn, NY/ Age 23 / Died of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit using small arms and indirect fires at Contingency Outpost Dehanne, Afghanistan / October 4, 2009.

Stg. Justin T. Gallegos / Hometown: Tuscon, Ar / Age 27 / One of eight soldiers killed when enemy forces attacked their contingency outpost with small arms, rocket-propelled granade and indirect fires in Kamdesh, Afghanistan/ October 3, 2009.

Spc. Christopher T. Griffin / Hometown: Kincheloe, Michigan / One of the eight soldiers killed in Kamdesh, Afghanistan/ October 3, 2009.

Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt / Hometown: Applegate, Ca. / Age 24 / One of the eight soldiers killed in Kamdesh, Afghanistan/ October 3, 2009.

Sgt. Joshua J. Kirk / South Portland, Ma. / Age 30 / One of the eight soldiers killed in Kamdesh, Afghanistan / October 3, 2009.

Spc. Stephan L. Mace / Hometown: Lovettsville, Va. / Age 21 / One of the eight soldiers killed in Kamdesh, Afghanistan/ October 3, 2009.

Staff Sgt. Vernon W. Martin/ Hometown: Savannah, Ga/ Age 25 / One of the eight soldiers killed in Kamdesh, Afghanistan / October 3, 2009.

Staff Sgt. Thomas D. Rabjohn/ Hometown: Litchfield Park. Ar. / Age 39 / Died of wounds suffered when a roadside bomb detonated during an attempt to disarm is in Wardak province, Afghanistan / October 3, 2009.

Sgt. Michael P. Scusa / Hometown: Villas, N J /Age 22 / One of the eight soldiers killed in Kamdesh, Afghanistan / October 3, 2009.

Pfc. Kevin C. Thompson / Hometown: Reno, Nev. / Age 22 / One of the eight soldiers killed in Kamdesh, Afghanistan/ October 3, 2009.

Pfc. Alan H. Newton, Jr. / Hometown: Asheboro, NC / Age 26 / One of two soldiers killed when they were attacked by a suicide bomber in Murcheh, Afghanistan / October 2, 2009.

Sgt. Ryan C. Adams / Hometown: Rhinelander, Wis / Age 26/ Died of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle using rocket-propelled grenade fire in Logar pronvince, Afghanitan/ October 2, 2009.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Prize

When I first heard of President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize I was tremendously pleased. I went back in my head to that shining night in Chicago when that city led the whole world in a celebration of a new President and a new day. I remember the wild, exuberance of black folk and young people an that little group of Obama's relatives in Kenya. For the first time in our history America had done something it had never done before: we elected an African-American as our President. The word that flowed through so many quarters was hope. Above everything else: hope.

He offered change we could believe in. And he laid on his desk a multitude of issues that could not wait. Economy. War. Health Care. Economy. Torture. War. Gay Rights. Economy. War. No small matters. These were monumental matters that demanded leadership and challenge.

I have been surprised by the rage and hatred directed toward this man. I understand that death threats on the President's life have risen 400% from those against President Bush. I do not know where we are going--but I trust the man at the helm of this old ship.

I am hoping what we have with the economy so far will help us all. I am hoping that whatever decisions we make about Afghanistan will be the right ones. Who really knows? I hope our representatives can do something significant for all our citizenry when it come to health care--and yet I know that the forces against such an effort are rich and powerful. So much of the right-wing media fans the flames of hatred and fear day after day.

This man for whom so many of us voted has tried to deal with all of these colossal issues. He has touched problems that others have ignored or pigeon-holed. His election has brought a sea change in Washington. He may fail at many of the dreams he has. But his dreams have been big and have encompassed us all.

Is it really too early for this prize of all prizes? It is never too early for hope, for courage and for attempting to deal with powerful issues that concern the whole world. Once again those outside our borders are beginning to think well of America.

Steve Clemons in his popular political blog, Washington Note has written a wonderful piece on why he feels President Obama deserves this great honor. On the other side of this debate is Thomas Friedman, a columnist whom I read and trust. I disagree with his position to the President receiving this honor.

I remember how the news was received when Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored. His hometown, Atlanta had a difficult time finding a place that would celebrate this great man's achievement and its far-reaching ramifications. Not so today--Atlanta is proud of their native son. Strange what time alone will do.

Hopefully our leader will rise to the occasion of this honor when it comes to war and health care and economic concerns and a multitude of other challenges. This is my hope and this is my prayer.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Someone's hurting Lord...

I picked up this web site, from Bill Moyers. Looks like there is a movement afoot that is spreading across the country. Many Medical folk are being sensitized to the crying needs of health care for all those that have fallen through the cracks. Nicholas Kristof has written in the New York Times that 15 of Americans have no health insurance. Another 8% he says are underinsured. The columnist makes an interesting suggestion: “I propose,” he says, “if health reform fails this year, 15 percent of members of Congress, along with their families, randomly lose all their health insurance and another 8% receive inadequate coverage”. Read the article for yourself.

One of my favorite writers (of The Soloist fame), Steve Lopez has an amazing article about interviewing people at the free week-end clinic in Inglewood, California in August. If Americans could clear away the smoke-screen foisted on us by insurance and pharmaceutical companies we would see the heartbreak just beneath the surface of the richest country in the world.

Kristof reminds us that an article in the American Journal of Public Health finds that nearly 45,000 Americans die every year as a consequences of not having insurance. That’s one needless death every twelve minutes.

Prophets are supposed to tell the truth. So are preachers. If Americans can see our problem—I do believe we might just push our representatives to do something that matters about health care for us all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Michael Moore: Unlikely Prophet

Prophets come in all shapes and sizes. In the Bible Prophet Jeremiah was laughed out of town because he told the truth. Amos was challenged by the local gendarmes because they snidely said he was only a “picker of sycamore fruit.” Emphasis on the only. But when Martin Luther King began to speak he quoted Amos often: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” While Micah would challenge his people: “to do justice and love kindness and to walk humbly with their God.” Prophets are truth tellers while false prophets tell people what they want to hear.

I think Michael Moore is a prophet. Funny looking, fat, wearing a baseball cap, shuffling from one thing to another. He has taken on the automobile industry, the food industry, the health care crisis—and now he turns his camera on capitalism. His film is called: Capitalism: A Love Story. And it it not a pretty picture.

He is obnoxious as many prophets are. He makes people absolutely furious. All his films are uneven—but for me they contain more than a kernel of truth. He would agree with Jesus when he said, “A person’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he/she possesses.” Some wags today would say that must be socialism. Adding, of course, that capitalism is as American as Apple Pie.

And yet Michael puts his finger on our pulse. Greed is killing us all, he says. He reminds us that the richest 1 percent of Americans have more than the bottom 95 percent. He also says that there is something called: “dead peasant insurance.” Many companies are taking out life insurance policies on their workers. The companies, not the families, collect the benefits when the workers die. Often the survivors never knew about the policy.

Prophet Michael also shows us the human side of the pain. Folk who have lost their houses because of foreclosure. Good, hard-working people who had been living in their homes for years. In the film we meet one family who are losing their farm after living there for four generations. Moore says that two-thirds of all the personal bankruptcies in our country are caused by the high cost of health care.

Michael does not have many solutions except challenging the people to “not take it anymore.” He calls for a ballot box revolution. He still believes in the old American dream that folk can determine the direction of their living if enough care and act. He even believes this strange notion that our representatives in Washington are supposed to represent us—not big moneyed interests.

I came away from the movie sad when I thought of all the people in this country—not to speak of the rest of the world—that are hanging on by their fingernails. Most are not deadbeats—but these are just decent folk that have been dealt a lousy hand.

You can often tell a lot about us by studying our checkbooks and our Credit card statements. How we spend our money tells us something about our priorities. Reckon that applies to business and government as well as individuals? Hmmm.

Don’t take my word for it—go see: Capitalism: A Love Story. Maybe if enough of us really do get mad as hell we really might not take it any more. Remember the old words: "of the people, by the people, for the people..." Wouldn’t that be something!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Remembering the Fallen...

"Let us honor the lost, the snatched, the
those vanquished by glory, muted by shame.
Stand up in the silence they've left and listen:
those absent ones, unknown and unnamed--
--Rita Dove

ICasualties reports that: Insurgents stormed remote Afghan outposts near the Pakistani border, killing eight U.S. troops and cutting off scores of Afghan police. Officials called this the deadliest battle in more than a year.

I wonder why more papers or TV stations don’t show the faces and names of these that have given their lives for us. Along with me, ponder their names, lift up their families and pray for us all. Let us remember the fallen…

Pfc. Brandon A. Owens / Hometown: Memphis, Tn / Age 21 / Died October 2 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, on injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked their unit using small arms fire.

Sgt. Aaron M. Smith / Hometown: Manhattan, Kan./ Age 25 / Died October 2 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked their unit using small fire arms.

Sgt. Roberto D. Sanchez / Hometown: Satellite Beach, Fla./ Age 24 / Died in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

Sgt. Ryan C. Adams / Hometown: Rhinelander, Wisc./ Age 26 / Died October 2 in Logar province, Afghanistan of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle using rocket propelled grenade fire.

Spc. Russell S. Hercules, Jr. / Hometown: Murfreesboro, Tn. / Age 22 / Died October 1 in Wardak province, Afghanistan of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire.

Staff Sgt. Jack M. Martin III / Hometown: Bethany, Oklahoma / Age 26 / Died September 29 in Jolo Island, the Philippines, from the detonation of an improvised-explosive device.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher D. Shaw
/ Hometown: Markham, Ill. / Age 37 / Died Sept. 29 in Jolo Island, the Philippines, from the detonation of an improvised-explosive device.

Staff Sgt. Alex French IV
/ Hometown: Milledgeville, Ga / Age 31/ Died September 30 in Kwhost, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit using an improvised-explosive device.

Friday, October 2, 2009

We, the people...

There is a scene in Carson McCullers’ play, Member of the Wedding that I still remember after all these years. Frankie Adams, a very bored twelve-year old was furious with her brother who was soon to be married. So Frankie cooked up a scheme. She selected a beautiful sophisticated gown for the wedding. And she intended to stand down front and literally become “a member of the wedding.” Not wedding party—but the wedding. She wanted her brother and his fiancĂ© and herself to stand at the altar and say “I do.” The brother tried to explain that just was not possible. And Frankie lonely and feeling rejected. exploded. “Everybody wants to be a ‘we’. That’s why I want to do this. I am tired of just being by myself. I want to be a we.” She thought if she could get married with them she would be miraculously transformed from an I-person to a we-person.

Frankie was partially right. Almost everybody wants to be a we. Deep down most of us in the human family want to be connected and tied to others in a special way.

Thomas Friedman in his splendid piece in this week’s New York Times takes up this subject. He asks, what has happened to the we? This is one of his best columns I have read in a long time—and Thomas Friedman has some good ones. It looks like this word, we has slipped from our vocabulary. The stridency, the rudeness and rage pits our group against another. Or closer to home--one person against another.

Joan Chittister in her book on Benedictine spirituality says that one of the primary Rules of Benedict is to be part of a community or a family. She says that one of the most difficult and most rewarding of tasks is to learn to live in community with other people. The hardest task for all of us is to get along in these little battalions we call family. And from this most human of launching pads we begin to move out into a larger world to find meaningful relationships with those we meet. Those that make connections with others are fortunate indeed.

At breakfast the other morning the man next to me ranted on and on about the President and his policies and how he despised the direction the nation is going. He knew we were poles apart in our thinking and yet he kept fretting and fuming. I finally said, “Listen, you know I don’t agree with you at all. We’ve talked about that. But you are my colleague and friend and I respect you and I don’t want our differences to drive a wedge between us. Let’s just declare a moratorium on discussing politics. There is more that binds us together than separates us.” So we put aside our disagreements and enjoyed our eggs and sausage.

This whole discussion reminds me of a poem by Karen Swenson simply called, we. She ends the poem this way:

“One pronoun keeps at bay our guilt
they they they they they they.”