Sunday, 23 July 2017

Engagement With North Korea Works

by Kerri Kennedy                    Common Dreams                     July 19, 2017

With a little will, both sides can take small steps to ratchet down the pressure — and avoid a war. 'We know proven methods for engagement can and do lead to further opportunities for diplomacy,' writes Kennedy, 'and that diplomacy leads to a decrease in military tensions.

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea are at an all-time high — and continue to escalate following North Korea’s test of a missile that can supposedly reach Alaska. It’s still possible to turn down the heat with small steps that could lead to more robust diplomacy later on. But this requires the political will to engage instead of trading threats. "Americans want to see diplomatic engagement with North Korea, not an escalation of tensions and the threat of nuclear war."

While the Trump administration once signaled an interest in diplomatic engagement, since then their saber rattling has pushed us even closer to the brink of war. There’s another, better way forward. Observers have noted that when the U.S. has opened lines of engagement, North Korean missile tests have been scaled back or stopped all together. Simply put, engagement works. open lines of dialogue. Addressing humanitarian concerns, for example, could lead to political progress, as it has between the U.S. and other countries.

I’ve seen firsthand the power of engagement to open important doors. I work for the American Friends Service Committee, a nonprofit organization that’s had a presence on the Korean peninsula since 1953, when we responded to calls for refugee assistance. In particular, AFSC is one of the few U.S.-based organizations that’s kept a presence in the North since the 1980s, and we’ve done it through exchanges of delegations hoping to reduce tensions.

When famine struck we sprung into action. Because we’d opened lines of communication and identified the crisis early on, we were ideally positioned to help. Since the end of the famine, we’ve been working with farmers in the region on sustainable agriculture practices. Ours has been the most continuous example of a successful relationship between U.S and North Korean-based organizations. And we’ve seen that engagement lead directly to opportunities to address a humanitarian crisis and save lives. Peer-to-peer exchanges like those we participate in have the potential to open diplomatic lines of communication. But this requires a willingness to do the work of engagement from those in political power.

What other options might be on the table? Retrieving U.S. veterans’ remains from North Korea and reunifying Korean families divided by the war are both important and viable. Hhumanitarian issues that need to be addressed before time runs out, as survivors of the Korean War are aging. Working together on those goals could prime the pump for further diplomacy. Americans want to see diplomatic engagement with North Korea, not an escalation of tensions and the threat of nuclear war. We know proven methods for engagement can and do lead to further opportunities for diplomacy, and that diplomacy leads to a decrease in military tensions.

We know what we need to do to begin to address this conflict in a productive, non-violent manner. What we need now instead of military threats is the political will for real engagement. [Abridged]

A collection of quotes

To hide behind the mantra “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is an act of fallacious sophistry. Toasters don’t make toast, people make toast. True. But toasters exist to make toast: guns exist to kill people. [Gary Younge, Guardian 6/2/2017]

Thomas Merton: You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God. [Quoted by Revd Brenda Rockell] 

Desmond Tutu: “My humanity is bound up in yours and we can only be human together.”

Wilfred Owen:
“Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son,
When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe one by one.”

Cultural Divides:
“Whether that’s an ethnic or a religious divide, or to do with gender or politics, there are power-mongers at every level of society, who succeed best when they demonise the ‘other’."  Brenda Rockell

“If Thou humblest Thyself Thou humblest Me.
Thou also dwell’st in Eternity.
Thou art a Man: God is no more:
Thy own Humanity learn to adore,
For that is My spirit of life.”

Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks:
Four months after Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island he came to Detroit as part of a U.S. trip to promote sanctions against the South African government… Mandela came off the plane amidst the cheering crowd of dignitaries and well-wishers, and froze when he saw Mrs Parks. Slowly he began walking towards her chanting “RO-SA PARKS! RO-SA PARKS! The two seasoned freedom fighters embraced.” [From “The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks, P. 231 Highly recommended.]

Monday, 17 July 2017

Jesus or Christ?

By Ian Harris                 Otago Daily Times               July 14, 2017 

It’s not either/or, says Ian Harris – both are central to Christianity. 

At a Progressive Spirituality conference in Napier last year the keynote speaker, Dr Robin Meyers of Oklahoma City, ended his final address by asking: “Are you followers of Jesus, or worshippers of Christ?”

The question was well received. Many Christians today think following Jesus is quite sufficient, thank you, so are not drawn to worship Christ. This has led to a significant movement in some churches away from any serious contemplation of the Christ. In those churches the emphasis is on living the Jesus way, which its adherents find both appealing and relevant. Jesus they can relate to, a good man, a superlative teacher, a sage – such a pity their religion is identified as “Christianity”, a name derived from the Christ.

Game, set and match? Not quite. I asked Meyers afterwards what lay behind his question. “Well,” he said, “on the one hand you have the man Jesus and his teaching about bringing in the kingdom of God here on Earth, on the other a divine Christ who was born of a virgin, performed one miracle after another, rose from the dead, and ascended bodily into heaven.”

I said I wasn’t enamoured of that either – but what if the Christ was rather Christianity’s archetype of love, grace and transformation, and therefore the inner dynamic for living the Jesus way? Meyers said he had no problem with that at all. Which left me wondering why he set up the alternatives in the way he had. After all, the gospels attribute all those stories about a virgin birth, miracles of healing and supernatural power, bodily resurrection and ascension, to Jesus, not Christ. So how come Meyers and others insist on dislodging them from Jesus and heaping them on to the Christ? 

The title “Christ” is used mainly in the four gospels to refer to the leader Jews longed for, commissioned by God to free them from subjection to Rome, restore their unique identity as a people, and bring in God’s rule. That’s highly political and down-to-earth, not evidence of divinity and the supernatural.

Some sleight of mind seemed to be happening here. Actually, “Jesus” and “Christ” are both intrinsic to the New Testament as a whole. The significance of each individually is indelibly linked to the other, but they lose something when treated as if they were just alternative names for the same person. They need to be uncoupled, first to appreciate Jesus in the fullness of his humanity, and then to discern why his earliest followers found it appropriate to claim him as “mashiach” or messiah, or in Greek “Christ”. That happened primarily as they tried to make sense of their experience of Jesus, especially the shock of his crucifixion – and then, somehow, their continuing experience of him. 

This was the earliest period of Christianity, when Jesus’ Jewish followers were still part of the synagogue and worship was steeped in the Jewish scriptures. That setting goes far to explain why they came to regard Jesus as their messiah. Their scriptures told them of others who had been “anointed” (that’s what “mashiach” means) to lofty tasks of leadership as kings or high priests. There was even a foreign king, Cyrus of Persia, accorded the title. Nearly 600 years before Jesus’ time, Cyrus had freed Jews long held captive in Babylon and allowed them to return home. He was their deliverer, to Jews a messiah.

The apostle Paul had a prime role in developing the vision of Jesus as messiah, and today some see this as perverting Jesus’ message about the kingdom of God. Rather than promoting the kingdom as such, he preached Jesus as its harbinger, using the Greek word for anointed, “christos” or Christ. It is a matter of historical fact that Christianity took root as a religion because Jesus and his teaching were conveyed more through the imaginative possibilities of a universalised messiah or Christ than the bare memory and wisdom of Jesus’ teaching.

Some scholars surmise that without the Christ concept, the Jesus movement would have faded away by about 500 AD, like many other groups of his day. Paul took Jesus and all he represented and projected them into the future through gatherings of people in which Jesus was felt to be dynamically present as the messiah or Christ. If psychiatrist Carl Jung’s term “archetype” had been around, Paul might well have used it, because that’s very much in tune with his thinking. Such a link carries the Christ concept forward into our own day and age – more on that next time

NRA Issues Call for White Supremacy and Armed Insurrection

By Bill Moyers, Michael Winship 30 June, 2017 Pub. Common Dreams

The gun lobby's new "recruitment ad" is really a call for white supremacy and armed insurrection, deliberately crafted to stir anger and fear. Take a look at the ad below and ask whether the National Rifle Association can go any lower. Ponder this flagrant call for violence, this insidious advocacy of hate delivered with a sneer, this threat of civil war, this despicable use of propaganda to arouse rebellion against the rule of law and the ideals of democracy.

On the surface this is a recruitment video for the National Rifle Association. But what you are really about to see is a call for white supremacy and armed insurrection, each word and image deliberately chosen to stir the feral instincts of troubled souls who lash out in anger and fear:

Disgusting. Dishonorable. Dangerous. But also deliberate. Everything deplored by the NRA in the ad is committed by “they” — a classic manipulation turning anyone who disagrees with your point of view into “The Other” — something alien, evil, foreign. “They use their media to assassinate real news,” “They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler,” “They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.” “And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance.”

This is the vitriol that has been spewed like garbage since the days of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, blasted from lynch mobs and demagogues and fascistic factions of political parties that turn racial and religious minorities into grotesque caricatures, the better to demean and diminish and dominate.

It is the nature of such malevolent human beings to hate those whom they have injured, and the NRA has enabled more injury to more marginalized and vulnerable people than can be imagined. Note how the words “guns” or “firearms” are never mentioned once in the ad and yet we know that the NRA is death on steroids. And behind it are the arms merchants who profit from selling automatic rifles to deranged people who shoot down politicians playing intramural baseball, or slaughter children in their classrooms in schools named Sandy Hook, or who massacre black folks at Bible study in a Charleston church, or murderously infiltrate a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Watching this expertly produced ad, we thought of how the Nazis produced slick propaganda like this to demonize the Jews, round up gypsies and homosexuals, foment mobs, burn books, crush critics, justify torture and incite support for state violence.

It’s the crack in the Liberty Bell, this ad: the dropped stitch in the American flag, the dregs at the bottom of the cup of freedom. It’s a Trump-sized lie invoked to bolster his base, discredit critics, end dissent. Joseph McCarthy must be smiling in hell at such a powerful incarnation on earth of his wretched, twisted soul.

With this savage ad, every Democrat, every liberal, every person of color, every immigrant or anyone who carries a protest sign or raises a voice in disagreement becomes a target in the diseased mind of some tormented viewer. Heavily armed Americans are encouraged to lock and load and be ready for the ballistic solution to any who oppose the systematic looting of Washington by an authoritarian regime led by a deeply disturbed barracuda of a man who tweets personal insults, throws tantrums and degrades everything he touches.

Look again at the ad. Ask yourself: What kind of fools are they at the NRA to turn America into a killing ground for sport? To be choked with hate is a terrible fate, and it is worst for those on whom it is visited. Take one more look, and ask: Why do they get away with it? What is happening to us? How long do we have before the fire this time?