Saturday, December 24, 2005

Is your Christmas a warning?

The Christmas season can be the most challenging and telling time of the year. It is an accurate and unavoidable gauge of a person's satisfaction. Whether one wants to know does not matter. Christmas, like dying, is a mandatory self-evaluation of your satisfaction with your life. While dying is the final exam with no retake, Christmas is a practice test - a warning if one is not doing well.

Everybody is familiar with Dickens' story "A Christmas Carol". When it is taken seriously, as Dickens intended, the story is sobering and terrifying. Dickens' Scrooge learns his lesson, takes a good share of the satisfaction that was waiting for him and the story has a happy ending for all. Real life is harsher than this Dickens' tale. Satisfaction for Scrooge was always there for the taking. Scrooge only had to accept it.

In real life, satisfaction is not low hanging fruit. Sometimes Tiny Tim does not recover. Satisfaction is not a goose in a butcher's shop and we are not islands of self-contained satisfaction. Our satisfaction is the product of our relationships with friends and family. It is not who or what we are. It is what we have made with others and of others.

On the day of our final exam, it is another’s hand that we must find in our own – warm and comforting, holding tight with love. On Christmas morning count the people around your tree not the gifts under it. Is your Christmas a warning?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

John Murtha can be wrong without being bad

Last month Congressman John Murtha told the House why he disagreed with Bush's strategy in Iraq. Murtha didn't suggest that the US should walk away from Iraq. He recommended a change in strategy since he believes that our current strategy is not and will not succeed. I’m not qualified to say how the war should be fought in Iraq but I think we were right to go in to remove Saddam. I think the US should continue do whatever is necessary to maintain a democratically elected government in Iraq. I hope they do it in the best way. Murtha believes there is a better way to do it and he might be wrong. However, to disagree with the war and/or our prosecution of it does not make Murtha bad.

Congresswoman Jean Schmidt thinks otherwise. Schmidt considers Murtha unpatriotic and cowardly and said so in congress. Although I support the war in Iraq I don't consider those that disagree with me to be cowardly traitors. It appears that the entire House feels the same way that I do because it came down on Schmidt like a ton of bricks and she deserved it.

In her attack on Murtha, Schmidt quoted a Marine officer's reaction to Murtha's statement. The quotattion was by far the harshest content in Schmidt's statement. The Marine officer is Colonel Danny Bubp, an Ohio state representative in Jean Schmidt’s Ohio Congressional District. During his 30 years of military service Bubp was not involved in a single military engagement yet he felt both qualified and justified to call Murtha, a retired battle-decorated Marine officer and the longest ever continuous serving congressman a coward and traitor.

Jean Schmidt has apologized for her statements. Colonel Bubp has stated that Schmidt made more of his comments than she should have. Bubp also stated “We never discussed anyone by name and there was no intent to disparage the congressman or his distinguished record of service for our nation.”

I’m glad that the US and Britain kicked Saddam and the Bathists out of control in Iraq. I also think that Bush played whatever intelligence he could put his hands on to win support. I suppose that was wrong but I’m tempted to say that it is alright with me. I think the history books will hold that Bush did the right thing. Schmidt and Bubp, on the other hand, are wrong and their attack on Murtha was bad.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Capital Punishment: Remember the Real Issue!

Do you feel better since Stanley Williams was executed this week by the state of California? If so, why do you feel better? Do you feel safer? Is it a feeling of satisfaction? A life for a life?

I watched the pre-game show on CNN hosted by Larry King. Some of Larry's guest were defense attorney Mark Geragos, conservative radio talk show host and the prosecutor for Williams' trial in 1979. The prosecutor was so excited about being on national TV that he rarely quit grinning hugely.

Opponents of the death penalty debated all night and lost. The death penalty is neither a matter of the severity of the crime nor the criminal's conduct after the crime. It should not matter whether there was one victim or 200 victims. It should not matter whether the criminal is or ever will be repentent and rehabilitated.

It doesn't matter. We don't execute criminals because of what they are. We execute criminals because of what WE are. Uncivilized.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How The ACLU Didn't Steal Christmas

I was going to address this subject with an e-mail to everybody on my address list including my bible study group, the Thursday morning men's prayer group and my conservative conscience and ex-shipmate. To be fair I'll post it here rather than harassing them directly.

The ACLU is under constant attack from every group that would silence every opinion that is different from their own. I don't mean "every opinion that opposes their own" because that is not always the case. Such groups believe that the principles on which the United States of America and its Constitution are based exclude all opinions except theirs. The evangelical Christians are one of these groups and I am an active member of an evangelical Pentecostal church. I’m also a supporting member of the ACLU.

Now that the Christmas season is here many of the accusations against the ACLU are seasonal. An executive director of the ACLU in Indiana addressed this issue in the following paper appropriately titled “How The ACLU Didn't Steal Christmas”.

How The ACLU Didn't Steal Christmas (12/7/2005) By Fran Quigley
When the angry phone calls and emails started arriving at the office, I knew the holiday season was upon us. A typical message shouted that we at the American Civil Liberties Union are "horrible" and "we should be ashamed of ourselves," and then concluded with an incongruous and agitated "Merry Christmas."
We get this type of correspondence a lot, mostly in reaction to a well-organized attempt by extremist groups to demonize the ACLU, crush religious diversity, and make a few bucks in the process. Sadly, this self-interested effort is being promoted in the guise of defending Christmas.
For example, the Alliance Defense Fund celebrates the season with an "It's OK to say Merry Christmas" campaign, implying that the ACLU has challenged such holiday greetings. (As part of the effort, you can get a pamphlet and two Christmas pins for $29.) The website WorldNetDaily touts a book claiming "a thorough and virulent anti-Christmas campaign is being waged today by liberal activists and ACLU fanatics." The site's magazine has suggested there will be ACLU efforts to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency, fire military chaplains, and expunge all references to God in America's founding documents. (Learn more for just $19.95 . . . ) Of course, there is no "Merry Christmas" lawsuit, nor is there any ACLU litigation about U.S. currency, military chaplains, etc. But the facts are not important to these groups, because their real message is this: By protecting the freedom of Muslims, Jews, and other non-Christians through preventing government entanglement with religion, the ACLU is somehow infringing on the rights of those with majority religious beliefs. In truth, it is these website Christians who are taking the Christ out of the season. Nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount did Jesus Christ ask that we celebrate His birth with narrow-mindedness and intolerance, especially for those who are already marginalized and persecuted. Instead, the New Testament—like the Torah and the Koran and countless other sacred texts—commands us to love our neighbor, and to comfort the sick and the imprisoned. That's what the ACLU does. We live in a country filled with people who are sick and disabled, people who are imprisoned, and people who hunger and thirst for justice. Those people come to our Indiana offices for help, at a rate of several hundred a week, usually because they have nowhere else to turn. The least of our brothers and sisters sure aren't getting any help from the Alliance Defense Fund or WorldNet Daily. So, as often as we can, ACLU secures justice for those folks who Jesus worried for the most. As part of our justice mission, we work hard to protect the rights of free religious expression for all people, including Christians. For example, we recently defended the First Amendment rights of a Baptist minister to preach his message on public streets in southern Indiana. The ACLU intervened on behalf of a Christian valedictorian in a Michigan high school, which agreed to stop censoring religious yearbook entries, and supported the rights of Iowa students to distribute Christian literature at their school. There are many more examples, because the ACLU is committed to preserving the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom for all. We agree with the U.S. Supreme Court's firm rulings that this freedom means that children who grow up in non-Christian homes should not be made to feel like outsiders in their own community's courthouse, legislature or public schoolhouse. To our "Merry Christmas" correspondents and all other Hoosiers, we wish you happy holidays. Fran Quigley is executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, As of January 1, 2006, the organization is changing its name to ACLU of Indiana.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cruel and Unusual

Early this morning we killed a man because he killed two people. He was the one-thousandth person to be executed since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that we have a constitutional right to kill as long as the method is not cruel and unusual. The court should have ruled that we can execute a criminal only if we can prove that our justice system is 100-percent infallible. Had that been the court's primary concern we would not have killed a man this morning or any one of the 999 people before him. And, we would not be preparing to kill the next person at 6 PM today.

We have executed many innocent people and we will continue to execute innocent people because we are not infallible. I remember an execution that was almost stopped too late. The gas chamber was sealed. The pellet was dropped. The man was dying. Then the phone call. He was saved but only by risking the lives of the execution team. Did this man feel the process was neither cruel nor unusual? If he had been Gary Gilmore, we could not have recalled the bullet. Once the trap door is released we can not prevent a broken neck. Once the switch is closed we can not reverse the current’s damage.

Only three countries used capital punishment more than we did in 2004 – China, Iran and Vietnam. How have we been able to demand more Human Rights in these countries while we are executing our citizens? Is there a better example of “the kettle calling the pot black”?

We have executed children. We have executed the retarded. This is not justice. This is hate and convenience. Our own crime statistics prove that capital punishment is not a deterrent. I wouldn’t support capital punishment no matter how much the process might be “sanitized”. Killing is wrong. It is the desperate act of a society that knows neither how to prevent crime nor how to rehabilitate criminals.

At 6 PM Eastern, South Carolina will execute a man. Please pause at 6 PM to pray for this dying man. Pray that he repents his sins and accepts Jesus. If you agree with me then pray that he is the last person we will execute. If you disagree with me then imagine yourself as the executioner standing in the death chamber and at 6 PM Eastern, imagine your hand closing the switch.