23 January 2020

A disciple looks at impeachment

"But does he really need to be removed?" Source.
Almost exactly a year ago I commented favorably on Yoni Appelbaum's article advocating impeachment of Donald Trump. I agreed with Appelbaum's hope that impeachment might funnel some of the chaotic, bombastic accusations flying back and forth between Trump's critics and supporters into a more dispassionate, dignified, orderly process.

I'm writing this as the House managers, the seven congresspeople in charge of presenting the impeachment to the Senate for trial, have completed their second full day of presenting their case. They have indeed presented the limited and focused series of charges that were formed by the House House's impeachment hearings and debates rather than the long list of scandals and grievances that have accumulated since Trump's inauguration. Of course this has not eliminated all the chaos from public arenas, but at least there is another show in town that offers us a way to distill the central issues that have put our republic in danger, and to measure the performance of our legislators in confronting the crisis.

As I write this, the president's defense team has not yet begun its presentations and rebuttals, which may begin on Saturday. However, comments from individual Republican senators and from Trump spokespeople provide two chief talking points that are likely to be part of the defense:

The House provided insufficient evidence to back up the alleged abuses. (To which Democrats will either ask for the evidence being withheld by the Trump administration, which would presumably strengthen the House case but could also give alternate explanations more favorable to the president.)

The Hunter Biden/Burisma case is evidence of actual corruption in Ukraine, and therefore Trump's perfect phone call had a legitimate purpose in asking for investigations. (To which Democrats have already responded: There's no sign that Trump cares about Ukrainian corruption more generally, or cared even about the Biden case until Joe Biden became a candidate with favorable polling vs. Trump. Also: how does Trump explain the abusive treatment of Masha Yovanovitch, the highly irregular role of Rudolph Giuliani, and the illegal withholding of military aid under cover of secrecy, and without policy consultation or justification? Finally, isn't it a dangerous precedent to ask for another country to investigate a U.S. citizen, never mind one who is a political rival?)

A legally irrelevant Republican talking point, heard both yesterday and today, is that the House presentations have been highly repetitive. Attorney Jay Sekolow was quoted in the Washington Post as saying "We're hearing the same things over and over." That criticism is inconsequential when compared to the question, "Are these 'same things' TRUE?"

However trivial in the larger context, the criticism itself is definitely true: almost every detail of the case against Trump has been presented at least three times -- in the service of arguing for documents and witnesses, then in a lengthy and very detailed chronology, and finally (?) in thematic form, reflecting the division of charges into two broad articles. I would not be surprised if, tomorrow, it were all repeated again!

The strategies of both sides reflect the reality that the Senate itself is not the only audience of their presentations and rebuttals. It might not even be the major audience. The nation as a whole is the ultimate audience, and each side seeks to mobilize its electoral base. The House impeachment managers, for their part, want their messages to communicate at times of convenience to all members of their national audience, wherever and whenever they happen to have a chance to listen to the news. The repetition may be irritating to senators, but most members of the wider audience can't spend the whole day watching the trial -- they will probably rely on mass media summaries that will comb out the repetition in favor of the most recent or most dramatic iteration.

They also want to assure that audience that no Republican senator can now claim ignorance of the serious charges they are leveling, and the evidence already collected to support those charges. If those senators vote for acquittal, the Democrats will point to the blatant absurdity of a whole party caucus turning their back on "high crimes and misdemeanors" without seriously engaging with questions of truth.

Likewise, the president's defenders will not be primarily speaking to the Democratic senators. In fact, they may realize that their assertions in defense of Trump will sound to Democrats and many observers as completely disconnected from reality. Their primary audience (in addition to Trump himself) is Trump's electoral base, who will, if past experience serves as guidance, accept their talking points at face value. These defenders know that the care with which the House managers assembled their indictment, including their hundreds of quotes, clips, texts, and legal citations, are not likely to weigh nearly as much with that base as the mocking commentary of Fox News and other Trump allies.

If it's not already obvious, my own point of view is that the House case as presented was effective and persuasive. However, I wasn't pleased with all of it. For rhetorical reasons (just to give an example), to make Trump's cat and mouse game with Zelenskii even more dastardly than it certainly already was, the managers probably exaggerated the "desperation" of Ukraine to obtain an Oval Office meeting with Trump for their new president.

For us contemporary descendants of the "Publishers of Truth" (a nickname for the first generation of Quaker evangelists), the issue of truth continues to be a central priority. Adam Schiff's summary tonight focused exactly on that concern:
If "right" doesn't matter, [then] it doesn't matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn't matter how brilliant the framers were. It doesn't matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn't matter how well-written the oath of impartiality is. If "right" doesn't matter, we're lost.

Three more defenses of Trump have been floating around in social media, and all of them concern me. They're not likely to be repeated by Trump's Senate defense, because they're either harmful or irrelevant to the defense, but they help to explain why "right" and truth require our constant attention.

One goes more or less as follows: Sure, Trump may have done those things, but what's the big deal? So does everyone else. This line of reasoning feeds on the cynicism people have about politicians and amplifies it. It's a variation of "whataboutism" that doesn't encourage an actual inquiry into whether or not previous presidents observed norms, courtesies, and ethical boundaries that Trump has long since trashed. It would be equally lazy to assert that all previous presidents were angels who never lied or trafficked in secret intrigues. Actual truth requires a willingness to go deeper.

Another popular "so what?" defense of Trump is basically, But look what he's done for the economy / the anti-abortion fight / guns / conservative judges / freedom of religion! Once again, it's important to look beyond labels and slogans to see what he's accurately claimed and actually done (abortion; religious liberty), and at what cost, rather than assuming that those who advance these slogans are shining apostles for fair and trustworthy rhetoric.
Context matters! Two very different unemployment graphs, both drawing on valid stats. The one you choose to post on Facebook probably reflects whether or not you're a Trump fan.  
Sources: Fox Nation; Business Insider.
Finally, the frequent Republican charge that the whole impeachment proves that Democrats want to reverse Trump's 2016 election victory: This charge is truthful, in a way. Many of us predicted that the election of Trump was an unprecedented disaster, permitting an impulsive narcissist to gain access to the world's most powerful office.

However, no Democratic "coup" was necessary or attempted. Trump himself provided the grounds for "reversing" the election by way of impeachment. His own illegal and unethical acts, fulfilling our predictions, are the immediate cause of this process.

A related charge is that Democrats will do anything to "destroy" Trump. This is typical political exaggeration and maybe should be ignored ... except that it is constantly repeated within the isolation chamber of the Trump personality cult. For those of us who pray daily for the president and want nothing more than plain justice, this charge constitutes false witness.

A public service: Jim Kovpak's (Russia without BS) articles on disinformation.

Another public service: Optimists make everything good. (You're welcome!)

A fabulous recently-discovered treasure trove of Soviet-era photography.

What's missing from Sunday sermons? Well ... sex. (The author wants to hear from you.)

Flávio Guimarães and Álamo Leal:

16 January 2020

Are all hearts clear? (Partly a repost)

Source: Wellcome Collection.  
"Are all hearts clear?" This question is often heard near the end of Camas Friends Church's meetings for worship. They are usually almost the last words we hear in worship, just before the closing words, "Go in peace."

At Camas Friends, we members and attenders take turns hosting the meeting for worship -- that is, calling us together to begin the worship, giving announcements, and then, at the end, signaling the close of worship with those two sentences.

On one recent Sunday, the person serving as host said that she wasn't going to ask, "Are all hearts clear?" because she wasn't exactly sure what it meant. She continued: speaking for herself, her heart was hardly ever "clear." Instead, she was going to ask whether anyone still had something on the tips of their tongues to contribute to the meeting.

Many of the Friends meetings and churches I've attended or visited end the meeting for worship, or the unprogrammed portion of the worship, with those words. The query feels warm and familiar to me. It says to me that the meeting for worship doesn't simply come to a mechanical halt; there's always space for the vocal ministry that might still be making its metaphorical journey from heart to lips.

The phrase also reminds me of a remarkable comment George Fox made just two days before he died: "...I am glad I was here. Now I am clear. I am fully clear."

I thanked that morning's host for making me think about this familiar phrase. Familiar to me, that is, but perhaps not to everyone who happens to be at a Friends meeting for worship on a given occasion. My point isn't to advocate giving up the phrase altogether, but to pause long enough to consider what we're doing as a community to learn and teach clarity of heart.

Any time I encounter an artifact of Quaker peculiarity -- from pacifism to plain language -- I am tempted to question its utility in building up our discipleship as Christians. Have we remembered to connect our peculiarities to the concern for integrity which gave them birth? Or have they become vanities, reinforcing Quaker exceptionalism?

I originally used the Wellcome Collection photo above in my post of September 6, 2007, "Open Hearts." Here's the title portion of that post:

Yesterday's The World program on Public Radio International had a remarkable interview. In June of this year, Jennifer Sutton, 22, underwent a heart transplant operation at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, England. In the radio interview, she describes what it was like for her to examine her heart -- literally. Her old heart. The one on display at the Wellcome Collection, just west of Friends House on Euston Road in London.

As the Wellcome Collection's Web site explains, Sutton "had been suffering from Restrictive Cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscles stiffen, meaning the heart chambers are unable to fill with blood properly." Before the transplant, she was unable to walk more than a few meters without resting. Clearly, her heart was functionally inadequate for the life she wished to lead, and she was told she had maybe six months to live.

I wouldn't be surprised if all over the world preachers were finding ways to insert this news story into their sermons. If you look into your heart, what do you see? Rigidity? Without a healthy heart, how can you stay in circulation?

Actually, it's not a laughing matter, even as a metaphor. It just happened that, when I heard the story, I was in the weight room at Mount Scott Community Center. In fact, I was on the treadmill, doing the cardio part of my workout. Whenever I start revving it up on that machine, I touch my heart and tell it, "I love you." Thanks to The World and Jennifer Sutton, my words had extra weight this time.

One more thing. I thought about Jennifer's heart on public display, for all the world to see. Normally our hearts are tucked inside us, never exposed to the light of day. The world of realists doesn't honor hearts much, except in sentimental contexts -- our leaders are supposed to be hard-nosed, ready to make the tough decisions. We know that their lives don't always match up to this cerebral ideal; sometimes their other private parts don't stay private enough, but their hearts, conversely, too often stay too private. Sometimes I wish I could speak to some of our leaders and ask, "In your deepest heart, can you really not believe that the president of Iran was seriously reaching out when he asked about Christian consistency in our president's policies? Is there not ever any doubt in your heart about the efficacy of coercion over respectful persuasion in dealing with the world? Do you really believe that access to regular health care should be subject to the law of the capitalist jungle?"

I'm an organ donor, so I suppose it is possible that my heart will someday be inside someone else. I hope that the surgeons will judge that it will still give life and hope, as Sutton's new heart is doing now, and that the new owner will be able to touch it and say "I love you."

UPDATE: The Wellcome Collection's Web site has been thoroughly overhauled and now relies on archive.org's Wayback Machine for access to older pages, including those relating to the exhibit where Jennifer Sutton's heart was on display. Here's a BBC article with more information about that exhibit.

In 1980, Judy and I, newlyweds, moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, so that Judy could begin her MBA program at the University of Virginia. I worked at the Logos of Charlottesville bookstore, a Christian bookstore whose owner, Florence Skove, was a vocal supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. During the ratification campaign in Virginia, she and I (and the bookstore's one other employee) wore ERA pins.

Yesterday, the amendment was finally ratified by Virginia's General Assembly.

Is Russia heading toward autarky? And what might be the possible upsides of Vladimir Putin's newly-announced reform proposals? (By the way, Aleksei Navalny and his team wonder how [Rus.] the new prime minister's wife earned 800 million rubles.)

Jennifer Wilson on an experimental approach to Elena Ferrante and the sources of literary influence.

Internet Monk: There's a big difference between a biblical approach and a biblicist approach.

Here's a delightful video about Samantha Fish: Fil Henley, a British rock guitarist, analyzes a video of Fish performing "I Put a Spell on You."

To his observations I'd add another quality that isn't as obvious on this track as it is on some of her others, namely her melodic discipline. This is a great quality in a genre that often allows cliche chords and hooks.

09 January 2020

January shorts

Peace on the bridge. This evening, I joined the crowd lining the north side of the Hawthorne Bridge here in Portland, Oregon, USA, in a demonstration linked to MoveOn's "National Day of Action." No speeches or grandiose programming, just citizens telling our government that they do not have our permission for war with Iran. At a time when our nation's top officials seem to treat congressional oversight with contempt, this concern should unite Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, in a common defense of our Constitution: no president may commit the nation to war without the consent of Congress.

Note repurposed sign, "NO IRAN WAR."
I was glad to see that there were people willing to be out in the 40-degree ((F) weather for an hour, lining a busy thoroughfare during peak commuting time, waving signs at the cars and buses and encouraging each other in the process.

On the other hand, I'm still puzzled at the apparent passivity, even near-invisibility, of today's peace movement in general. And where are the evangelical Christians? The peace movement is one of the most obvious mission fields and community-building opportunities for discipleship-oriented believers. It's a wide-open chance for Christians to disprove the widespread charge that they've (we've) sold our precious legacy for the counterfeit legitimacy promised by the Trump cult.

Hebron in Abraham's time
Going public. I was grateful to Ministerios Restauración (the Hispanic Mennonite church that meets in what used to be the First Friends meetinghouse here in Portland) for their invitation to me to speak last Sunday about my three months with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, Palestine. It was my first opportunity to speak publicly about those experiences.

I decided to begin by putting Hebron's location in the context of the biblical patriarchs. At least four times in Genesis, God promises Abraham and his family that the nations of the world will be blessed through them because of Abraham's obedience: Genesis 12:3, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4.

Even after the centuries of conquest and reconquest, and the current realities of an illegal occupation, I chose to believe (I told the congregation) that the promises to Abraham remain in force.

Please contact me (johan@canyoubelieve.me) if you'd like me to visit your church or meeting to talk about the promises and realities of Hebron.

My return to the USA after the months with CPT in Hebron was not exactly smooth and seamless. Gratitude for being home alternated with missing our team immensely, and even with guilt for the ease with which I could leave.

Obviously, as any pastor or counselor who deals with retired missionaries could tell you, there are no simple formulas for easing re-entry. But Judy found a method that, for me, has worked wonders. She invested in good speakers, the first real high-fidelity speakers, at least by our standards, that we've ever bought in our decades of marriage: Edifier R2000DB bookshelf speakers. She chose them based on reviews, and I'm now happy to confirm the positive press they've gained.

To provide input, I can plug the speakers into my Amazon Fire or my phone, or I can use Bluetooth to play files from my laptop's hard drive. On a hunch, I dove into the stuff we still have in storage from our pre-Russia lives, and dug out our old DVD player, which we no longer use in this era of streaming video. To my delight, it still worked. Turns out it has an optical audio output that I'd never even noticed. The speakers came with the necessary cable and optical input, so now I can play all our old classical CDs without disconnecting the other inputs.

However, most of the time, I just play streaming audio from several reliable Web stations, to which service I've dedicated an old Chromebook that I hardly ever use anymore. Out of hundreds of choices, I've bookmarked four classical stations:

NRK Klassisk, Oslo.
Radio Orfei, Moscow.
RTE Radio Clásica, Madrid.
All Classical Portland.

When I'm listening to the Oslo station, it reminds me of happy childhood hours in my Norwegian grandparents' living room, with the music interrupted at regular intervals by the melodious voices of Norwegian announcers.

The old DVD player takes care of my blues and gospel requirements, thanks to years of collecting and making my own home-burned compilations, but what I can't find there is almost certainly on Spotify.

$250 for speakers isn't an amount we can part with very often, but on the other hand, given our health care finance system, that amount might pay for just two hours of counseling. I know that's not actually a fair comparison, but I can vouch for the mental health benefits of having good music in the air.

What we need to be faithful in a time of panic and extremism: Mike Farley testifies to the central importance of the Real Presence.

Russell P. Johnson writes for Martin E. Marty's Sightings: How war bypasses morality. Example:
Leaders in a military conflict may approve of a military action because, while it may not be morally perfect, it is better than doing nothing. These comparisons serve to make a morally objectionable action seem like the only viable option.
Let's suppose that domestic and international law are a form of applied morality. How might we assess the killing of Soleimani in light of legal norms and precedents? (A Lawfare podcast.)

Iran and the American conscience: Was Iran responsible for hundreds of American deaths? Why do some evangelicals advocate war with Iran?

A newly-identified trio of galaxies dates 95% of the way back to the origins of the universe. What are they telling us about how the galaxy was reconfiguring in that era?

Flávio Guimarães e Álamo Leal

02 January 2020

"The unity of the city of Hebron"

Checkpoint turnstile. Hebron, Palestine. (My photo.)
Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. (Article 13, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

Many years ago my father told me stories of what it was like to grow up in an occupied city -- Oslo, under German occupation. Those stories came back to me during my three months' stay with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron's Old City -- in the district known as H2, where the Israeli military exercises direct control.

Source. Credit.
In 1997, when these zones were created, the majority of Hebron was designated as H1. In this zone, Israeli control is nearly as absolute as in H2, but usually exercised indirectly. Most of the signs of occupation that I saw daily were within H2 or at the boundaries between the two zones. At the fixed checkpoints controlling those boundaries, soldiers or border police forces assess each person entering the zone. The worst that happened to me at a checkpoint was being asked to submit my passport for inspection, or being told that my camera and I were located too close to the checkpoint.

My magic didn't extend to Palestinians I might be walking with. Sometimes they got no more attention than I did. But sometimes, especially if they were young men, they were required to empty their pockets, submit their ID, take off any headgear, hand over their bags, raise up their shirts, and lift up their pantlegs.

Those fixed checkpoints were just the beginning of the story. Flying checkpoints and unannounced patrols, home searches, and car searches by Israeli forces -- inside and outside H2 -- also reminded me of my father's stories. On one occasion, I photographed a young man being body-searched. A few minutes later, my CPT partner and I encountered another goup of soldiers near the old municipal square just outside the Old City. I had not even raised my camera before an officer told me to turn around and get lost. "I could arrest you," he warned. My companion asked, "Even if he doesn't use the camera?" "Yes!" confirmed the officer. In our files we had a legal document specifying the two occasions on which Israeli forces were entitled to prohibit photography: in the presence of military secrets, or if photographers would hinder a military operation. We decided not to press the point.

Both the fixed checkpoints and the spontaneous blockages seemed to me to violate the Israeli/PLO agreement that had had set up the two zones -- the 1997 Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron. According to Article 9 of that document,
Both sides reiterate their commitment to the unity of the City of Hebron, and their understanding that the division of security responsibility will not divide the city… [B]oth sides share the mutual goal that movement of people, goods and vehicles within and in and out of the city will be smooth and normal, without obstacles or barriers.
What follows is part of the commentary I drafted for a "restriction of movement report" that was edited and published by Christian Peacemaker Teams. "Restriction of movement" is just one category of human rights documentation by CPT and similar groups -- others include arrests, use of violence against civilians, home demolitions, the effect of occupation on education, and harassment of human rights observers. I was interested in this specific topic, the restriction of civilian movement in their own city, because it was the most routine, constant, everyday aspect of living under occupation that I personally witnessed and experienced, while remembering what my father told me about life under the Germans.

Report: Palestinians today do not experience “the unity of the City of Hebron.”

Of the 200,000 residents of al-Khalil (Hebron), over 99.5% are Palestinian, including the 33,000 Palestinian residents of the H2 district that remains under direct Israeli control. Despite the commitments of the 1997 Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron, the movements of Palestinian people, goods, and vehicles within H2, and between H2 and the rest of the city, are not “smooth and normal.”

Body search, Old City. (My photo.)
To secure the several hundred Israelis living in settlements within H2, and to provide for their convenience in entering and leaving H2 and touring Palestinian streets and markets at will, Israelis have constructed a system of barriers, heavily-armed checkpoints, supplemented by temporary choke-points during armed operations. These arrangements present Palestinians with constant and unpredictable challenges ranging from minor delays to a complete inability to reach home or work. Each Palestinian contact with an Israeli checkpoint or barrier or tour or police action also represents a risk of search, detention, arrest, or violent incident. Cumulatively the Israeli controls take an enormous economic toll as Palestinian residents, merchants, customers, and their guests, are discouraged from building, trading, or raising children in H2.

Ideally, CPT and partners would be able to monitor all of those potential points of contact, to verify freedom of Palestinian movement and document its denial or delay. The examples of interference presented below must be regarded as a sample -- occurrences CPT has documented -- but Palestinian community members vouch for the constant interference, indignity, and the psychological burden of living under armed occupation, to which these samples bear witness.

* * *

Restriction of movement can take many forms. CPT documents them as follows:
  • ID checks
  • Body searches
  • Vehicle stops / searches
  • Delays at checkpoints
  • Checkpoint closures
  • Religious restrictions
Any given incident, of course, can combine several of these infractions of freedom of movement. Here are extracts from the statistics CPT gathered during the first half of 2019, followed by examples of the incidents that generated these numbers.

These statistics do not include the incidents that we observed during school hours, involving the movement of schoolchildren, teachers, and others through specific checkpoints. [CPT publishes separate reports on incidents occuring on the way to and from schools, or during school hours.]

ID checks, January-June, by location
  • Abed store checkpoint (at the entrance to the sidestreet leading to the Ibrahimi Mosque): 36 men, 6 women - 42
  • Ibrahimi Mosque checkpoint: 228 men, 4 women, 2 boys - 234
  • Court checkpoint: 1 man - 1
  • Old City: 6 men - 6
  • Shuhada Street / Checkpoint 56: 4 men - 4
  • Bab al-Baladiyeh (old municipal square): 154 men, 1 boy - 155
  • Checkpoint near the kindergarten (Mosque complex): 2 boys - 2
  • Checkpoint 55: 8 women, 6 men - 14
  • Mafia checkpoint: 2 men, 2 women - 4
  • Salaymeh checkpoint 209: 5 men, 5 women - 10
Body Searches, January-June, by location
  • Ibrahimi Mosque checkpoint: 446 men, 9 boys - 455
  • Abed checkpoint: 17 men - 17
  • Shuhada Street / Checkpoint 56: 2 men - 2
  • Checkpoint near the kindergarten: 2 boys - 2
  • Bab al-Baladiyeh: 40 men, 1 woman, 5 boys - 46
  • Mafia checkpoint: 4 men, 1 girl - 5
Incidents that illustrate these statistics:

Freedom of Religious Movement

22 March, en route to Ibrahimi Mosque:

Waiting to exit the Old City at the mosque checkpoint.
(My photo.)
Owing to the Purim holiday, Israeli settlers were moving freely about the streets leading to the Mosque checkpoint. All Palestinian adults going to the mosque for Friday prayers were subjected to ID checks. Israeli forces conducted many bag searches and body searches. Palestinian men spoke of up to a two-hour delay getting from their homes in H1 to the Ibrahimi Mosque and up to three checks at three separate checkpoints before entering the mosque for worship.

Vehicle Stops / Searches

8 January, Old City

Five Israeli soldiers stopped and searched Palestinian cars in the area up the hill from the Al Natsheh Olive Press. Soldiers stopped every car that drove along the street in both directions, opening the drivers’ doors, looking inside the cars and making the drivers open the trunks of their cars so the soldiers could search inside. Soldiers also frisked and searched Palestinian men who tried to pass the soldiers to reach their destinations.

11 March, Old City

Soldiers conducting a shop-to-shop ID check blocked stairwells and held back Palestinian pedestrians. Palestinian vehicles were stopped until each man could be checked one by one and released. Questioned by a CPTer, a soldier explained, “This is a routine check, normal day.”

Bab-al-Baladiyeh blocked. (My photo.)
22 April, Bab al-Baladiyeh (old municipal square), north entrance to Old City

All Palestinian movement -- pedestrians and cars -- was called to a halt by ten soldiers from the base at Bab al-Baladiyeh. After five minutes, pedestrian traffic was permitted to resume, but vehicles continued to be blocked for another hour and a half.

Checkpoint Closures

22 April, Bab az-Zawiyeh, Checkpoint 56 (controlling a large intersection between Shuhada Street and Hebron's commercial center)

Eighty Israeli soldiers and border police, and four armored cars, blocked all Palestinian traffic for six hours to give settlers exclusive acess to the area. During Passover Festival activities. Palestinians living in the area, and in the Tal Rumeida community, were not allowed to access their neighborhoods. On three separate occasions Palestinian men were violently grabbed and detained by Israeli soldiers by the road barrier.

Checkpoint Delays

18 March, Mosque Checkpoint

Around 40 tourists and shoppers from the old market were stopped at the mosque checkpoint without explanation. Two rumors were circulating: “One man was arrested for having a knife in his backpack which resulted in his arrest and subsequent full checks for each person one by one” and “There was a school group of boys on a field trip to the mosque which needed to checked one by one so the CP was closed until they were all cleared.” More than 20 minutes.

These statistics dated from the first half of 2019, so I drafted these examples from data collected by others. However, I saw examples of each of these blockages myself. Whoever writes the reports for the last half of 2019 will use some of my documentation.

Not every Israeli military operation at the zone boundaries resulted in total restrictions of movement. For example, during the Day of Rage clashes at the major Bab-az-Zawiye intersection, with stones flying through the air at soldiers, those soldiers firing tear gas and percussion grenades at the kids throwing stones, the smoke of burning tires dramatically reducing visibility, I was amazed to see vehicle traffic flowing more or less normally on the H1 side. Taxis sped their way around obstacles, stone-throwers, journalists, and gawkers, somehow managing to avoid hitting anyone. (However, pedestrian traffic through checkpoint 56 was blocked in both directions.)

(More about the Day of Rage, November 26, on CPT Palestine's Web site.)

The Israeli justification for the checkpoint and other enforcement measures is simple: to protect the Jewish population from terrorism. It's a fact that both sides in the long-standing conflicts over control of the Holy Land have used terrorism. However, as a present-day justification for the restrictions of civilian movement, I have problems with this reasoning.

First of all, there's the very fact of occupation. Whatever its legal status, the situation is clear: there are two sides with conflicting claims to a territory, but one side exercises coercive control over the whole territory, even though the residents of that territory nearly all identify with the other side. This reality can only be maintained through constant threat and application of violence. All possibility of negotiations (for example, to resolve the status of disputed claims to specific properties once belonging to Israeli Jews) are adjudicated by that superior force. Naturally, representaves of that force (such as those provocative checkpoints) end up serving as natural targets for anyone in the occupied population whose rage boils over, thus constantly "proving" that the force is needed, even when that boiling rage consists of nothing more than children throwing stones.

If Hebron and the rest of occupied Palestine were under some kind of normal administration (whether within Israel or in its own country), violent crime and terrorism would still be a threat, as it is elsewhere in the world. However, its control would be a police matter. Police forces in any democracy are accountable for their methods and proportionality. They arrest actual suspects; they don't shoot tear gas at children; they don't punish families and whole neighborhoods for the actions of a few; their every action is subject to independent court review. The exact same laws apply regardless of religion or birthplace. Except in catastrophes, riots, insurrections, and invasions, military forces have no role in policing the population.

Not so in Palestine ... and for a clear reason: This highly irregular situation works to the evident advantage of the occupying power. The violent face of occupation makes life difficult for a population that a significant part of Israel's leadership actually wants to remove from its ethnically cleansed vision of Judea and Samaria. Many Israeli Jews have a different vision -- some kind of mutually respectful coexistence with Palestinians, whether Muslim or Christian -- but those voters are far from gaining power in today's Israel. In the meantime, as long as the occupation grinds on, those in power in Israel can nibble away at Hebron and other places with no incentive, either internal or external (at least in the current state of USA politics) to conclude a just peace.

One of the iconic images of the occupation in Hebron that lingers in my mind is Shuhada Street, once part of the commercial core of the city, now off limits to most Palestinians. This article is a typical description of the situation from an Israeli viewpoint -- Shuhada Street is (1) not as closed as Palestinian sympathizers say; (2) restricted as a result of Arab violence and Palestinian terrorism; (3) really no big deal -- Palestinians' new commercial center is just a short distance away anyway; (4) ... and, anyway, the real apartheid is against Jews.

1. In practical terms, most Palestinians, whether or not they live in H2, are turned away by soldiers at both ends of the street. A few who live in a neighborhood for which Shuhada Street is the only access road are allowed through, but their guests often cannot enter. Those Palestinians who actually live on the street must use back or roof entrances to get into their homes.

2. Accounts of who attacked whom are usually biased in favor of the speaker. In Steve Frank's article, the complicated history of the first contemporary Jewish settlement in Hebron is completely passed over as if there had never been a raging dispute.

3. The closure of Palestinian shops on Shuhada Street is a big thing for those hundreds of shopkeepers and for the whole area that benefited from visits by shoppers and tourists. Kathleen Kern's history of CPT, In Harm's Way, documents the efforts Hebron's citizens and their allies made to keep Shuhada Street alive and viable. While I was in Hebron, we were part of an international team that helped restore Hebron's historic Turkish bath, which had been closed since its entrance on Shuhada Street was sealed off.

All of this is separate from the more general harm to the Palestinian economy caused by the occupation.

4. It is Israeli law that bans Israeli citizens from Palestinian towns. In Hebron, there are no controls -- at least no Palestinian controls -- preventing Jews from leaving Shuhada Street and passing into Hebron's commercial area. Israeli activists routinely show up in Hebron, Ramallah, and other places where Israeli citizens are supposedly prohibited by law.

Given the decades of tension, it's sad and true that Israelis who are not traveling with Palestinians may run into hostility in Hebron's H1 zone or in other parts of Palestine. Each side has built up enemy images of the other, which is part of the tragedy of enforced separation. But I never saw any evidence of Palestinian authorities blocking Jewish visitors.

The opposite, of course, is not true: Israeli authorities do block Palestinians from entering any place under direct Israeli administration without approval. For example, Palestinians from Hebron cannot visit Jerusalem, 20 miles away, without getting permits first.

More on Hebron and its Shuhada Street:

The Story of Shuhada Street (from EAPPI, another organization that monitors human rights in Hebron; The Shame of Shuhada Street (in The Atlantic); Hebron Is Still Hurting (in Times of Israel).

An interactive map of Hebron's occupation infrastructure.

And a couple of sources on occupation in international law: Medecines sans Frontieres; International Committee of the Red Cross.

In confronting Trump's supporters, what do you do when there's absolutely no shame?

New Year's resolutions for pastors from Brian McLaren. (Hmm, number 3 is "get political.") Thanks to Bob Henry for the link.

At the very time the Russian government threatens to withdraw accreditation from seminaries, it's interesting to see what's going on in another university.

Ron Sider is still evangelizing the evangelicals.

Hans Theesinck and the Valentinos in Austria ...

26 December 2019

Digesting 2019

But first, the kitties!

Before getting to my annual digest of some of the past year's posts, I'm delighted to share some of the wonderful photos I received earlier this week of our Hebron kittens in their new home ... with the teammate and family who adopted them after I left Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron. My room in the Old City had been their nursery and I their happy foster parent.

January 2019: Truth and impeachment.

In making his case that the U.S. House of Representatives should impeach the president, Atlantic Ideas editor Yoni Appelbaum carefully argues that impeachment is a calm and rational response to Trump's off-the-rails presidency. It's not an extreme, apocalyptic, risky step for Congress to take. Instead, it would channel the wild, divisive argumentation we see everywhere now, fueled by slashing social-media campaigns, and potentially reduces this bitter torrent to the disciplines required by the very process of impeachment: an actual application of the Constitutional filter of "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Quaker cartoonist Signe Wilkinson,  Jan. 2013.
Appelbaum challenges Representatives not to base their impeach/don't impeach decision on Senate vote calculations, on scattershot investigations by Democrat-dominated House committees, or on the hopes that Robert Mueller or other judicial processes will either force their hands somehow or do the job for them. (It's also possible that many of us, acting from a misplaced sense of prudence or just disbelief, are waiting for Trump to commit, at long last, another outrage so scandalous that the country is galvanized into decisive action -- but somehow not so outrageous as to do us permanent damage!)

(Full post.)

February 2019: Is Jesus optional?

The awkward truth: we live in a pluralistic and secular world which often treats Jesus -- and every other aspect of divinity -- as optional, even trivial, occasionally laughable. It doesn't help when Christians themselves marginalize Jesus to bless cruelty, greed, racism, nationalism, or domination. Instead of those anti-evangelistic messages, we could be fearlessly and lovingly eager to learn what others believe -- what occupies the same space in their lives as our non-optional Jesus occupies in ours. Ilya Grits reminds us,
And here we must not forget one of the most marvelous thoughts of the Church Fathers, a thought that Metropolitan Anthony Bloom so loved to quote in the very last years of his life: “Just think – what happiness it is to live among these people. It’s not important whether they believe in God or not.

“God believes in them!”
There are many questions about Jesus I can't answer, and which my own confidence in his reality in my life does not eliminate. It's important for me not to pretend that such questions don't exist -- to avoid them is to lose the ability to evangelize with integrity.

(Full post.)

March 2019: Serves them right.

One of the most disturbing reactions after Manafort's first sentence, in Virginia (47 months) was the tendency of many commentators to reassure us that surely his second sentence in Washington, DC, would be much harsher. Wait! What is the social benefit of that punitive spirit? What the country should demand from Manafort is restoration of money stolen from the Treasury and a total ban from any future participation in selling influence, wangling mortgages, and faking credit-worthiness.

The Paul Manafort case focused our attention on bias in the court system. As a convenient target, it might feel very satisfying to seek to flog Manafort as a compensation for the wickedness of that bias. But the leverage really ought to work in exactly the opposite direction: question all harsh sentences everywhere! Ask whether harsh sentences accomplish any social good at all! Demand that every judge be a "Manafort judge" and assume a seed of decency ... and that every participant in the whole "justice" system work to learn why decency becomes subverted. Seek restoration as the goal in every sentencing decision, and reserve incarceration for the custody of dangerous felons, rather than to satisfy that righteous indignation that is the stock in trade of populist politicians.

(Full post.)

April 2019: Malice in Wonderland.

... I want to concede a generous assumption to [Tucker] Carlson and his segment of conservative media. Let's assume that all who call themselves conservative (and particularly the Christians among them!) want the USA to be a blessing to the world. One way or another, we all want God's will on earth as it is in heaven, with everyone treating neighbors as themselves. If someone in our current rhetorical battles wants a future that is nice for them but wretched for others, or disclaims any responsibility for those who suffer, let them say so publicly instead of simply trading on fear, jealousy, and resentment.

Given that assumption, can you discern a vision of a desirable future for the USA and the world in the anti-immigrant, anti-diversity party that makes up so much of Trump's base? With all that malice and venom, is there another side of the coin that would compensate? Persuade us with a conservative vision of a country and world at peace, where the better angels of our nature could come out and play. Let us hear the policy implications, and let us subject those proposals to the same questions of resources and realism as Carlson asks ... only without the mocking tone and implied eyerolls. Since it's fun to point at failures of socialism, what examples are out there of conservative success stories that have been blessings to the world?

(Full post.)

May 2019: Abortion and the cost of rhetoric.

Sources: baby bassinet; execution gurney
The actual Bible is achingly ambiguous about the "sanctity" of life. My serious summary: life is precious, except when it isn't. Babies are precious, except when they're not. My opposition to abortion is not based on any specific Bible verse, but on the whole tradition of interpretation that is summed up by the "consistent life ethic" -- which opposes abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, militarism, social and economic injustice, violence in all its devious and addictive forms. Are there other traditions of biblical interpretation? Yes, of course. Can I prove that the "consistent life" interpretation is more correct? No! Does it even command the respect of most Christians? I doubt it.

However, for me there's a persuasive consistency of this "seamless garment" approach to following the Prince of Peace. It's internally consistent: the unborn life is important, but its survival is no more guaranteed than that of the life that has emerged into the world. Just as we ask for sacrifices and communal responses in situations where conception was unanticipated, we ask for sacrificial and communal responses to injustice. We ought to be just as diligent in caring for the born as for the unborn, knowing that all our outward fortunes are uncertain, all of us require care and mercy. It's consistent with the loving kindness and mercy of the God of the Bible. And, just as Jesus and Paul demand, it rejects the hypocrisy of forms for the countercultural reality of the Good News.

(Full post.)

June 2019: Whiteness.

Patrick Chappatte, source.  
In high school classes we learned that race had powerful social significance but no biological significance. That social weight was a huge part of Evanston Township High School's daily reality in those years, with 5,300 very diverse students trying to figure out, together, which end was up. To ratchet up my own tension still further, at home I had to conceal my fascination with race relations because that was a taboo topic with my parents. They became even more extreme when my 13-year-old sister Ellen began running away from home and being caught by police in predominantly black neighborhoods.

I vividly remember scenes from my junior year of high school. One student especially fascinated me: she was black, had brains to spare and a sharp tongue, and seemed refreshingly uninterested in the good opinion of white students or teachers. Among my white classmates was the first person I ever met who self-identified as a Communist; he too seemed more interested in the world of ideas than social approval. Mostly, that was the niche where I'd be hiding.

(Full post.)

July 2019: The Poor People's Campaign, a meditation on unity.

When a Christian community is united by a deep concern about racial justice, why would there be any caution about adopting a minute reflecting that concern?

For one thing, this particular yearly meeting was born, at least in part, out of conscientious opposition to adoption of a uniform discipline, and by extension, to hierarchical decisionmaking in general. It is not the business of a yearly meeting to impose a decision or a text on constituent meetings who are perfectly capable of developing and adopting their own statements. Of course, in theory, the yearly meeting sessions are simply all the monthly meetings gathered into one place, but pious theory doesn't prevent the alienation that local Friends can feel when an assembly located in another place claims to be speaking in their name.

There are other churches and denominations where pronouncements are routinely made from a central office. This can result in alienation between the central office and the grassroots membership. (What is gained by anyone when a denomination issues a righteous proclamation over the heads of their constituency? Does it lead to an increase in righteousness, or to a burst of superficial gratification among those who prevailed in the politics of that denomination?) Friends generally avoid such practices, and the Conservative yearly meetings seem particularly resistant to them.

If I sensed correctly, there was another basis for urging careful process: would our public statements be grounded in truth? Were we implying a greater degree of righteousness in overcoming racism than we were actually demonstrating, in our lives as individual Quakers and in our meetings?

(Full post.)

August 2019: Other people's anger.

We human beings generally feel entitled to our own anger. It's other people's anger that bothers us. Of course, when people are upset about things that upset me, it's easy for me to sympathize. But I'm white and male, I'm not Muslim, my relatives and I have no history of being mistreated by the powers that be. I'm half-Norwegian and half-German; the Norwegian half glows in worldwide praise for our peaceful and generous ways. As for the German half, at the risk of stereotyping, we're maybe more accustomed to giving orders than taking them. In the American context, we Northern Europeans don't have much experience being on the receiving end of persistent and systemic cruelty. Maybe we ought to exercise some humility and very careful listening when we encounter anger and disillusionment from people whose histories are very different.

When actual victims and survivors of cruel and coercive objectification speak up, or their family members and descendants speak up, we see at least two popular reactions: ....

(Full post.)

September 2019: The hyphen within, part three.

One of our friends in Russia has a Russian Orthodox father and a Muslim mother. She herself was profoundly influenced by evangelical Christians who conducted public meetings in the early post-Soviet years. When she speaks on spiritual topics, she draws from both wells -- Islamic and Christian -- and also from her own long life of prayer and reflection. After years of conversations with her, I would not dare to assign just one religious label on her. And, as committed as I am to my own Christian identity, anchored in a specific relationship with Jesus, I cannot imagine being deprived of the company of this unclassifiable friend.

Even so, my Western mind protests. Doesn't religious identification involve discipleship -- a singleminded, unembarrassed, and unhedged followership of a specific teacher? Biblical phrases such as "unequally yoked" come to mind, and "you cannot serve two masters." I remember the admonition of Canadian Friend Hugh Campbell-Brown to "plow deeply in the furrow you've been given." (To give him justice, I don't think he would want this quotation to be used in the service of a narrow approach to faith.)

Of course you don't have to go to Russia to find hybrids....

(Full post.)

October 2019: Is God nice?

Dolphus Weary (r) and 1975
version of me.
Jesus confirms that God permits seemingly random tragedy -- for example, the Galileans massacred by Pilate, or "those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fellon them -- do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!" (from Luke 13:1-5).

If I rely solely on the recorded history of our understanding of God, and on the incredible diversity of ways that we've interpreted that history, my head starts spinning. So this morning, knowing that I was being led to write about whether or not we have a God who lives up to God's own standard ("compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love" -- Exodus 34:6, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8, Jonah 4:2), I decided to try asking God directly: "Are you a kind God?"

(Full post.)

November 2019: Giving thanks for small things.

I do a lot of climbing every day. Physically, I have to climb up the steep path to the kindergarten housed in the Ibrahimi Mosque complex. The prayer path is also sometimes steep. (Last night I spent most of the night at a home demolition, a topic I'll return to in another post, but you can imagine how that might lead to some spiritual questions.) But when the outward prayer and reading time is over, I need to remain in that place. I need to center down still further and spend a few minutes in God's lap.

I realized, sitting quietly in the Ramallah Friends Meeting, that this little group of Quakers has  represented a special place for me to get away and be with God in the company of others, in accordance with a regular routine. It's a safe place for me to be nothing more than a little kitten, resting in the presence of the Creator. I am not nearly as cute as our baby cats, but Friends seem to welcome me anyway. And after we greet each other in the entryway, we are ready to experience together that ancient rhythm: the prayer path, steep as that path may seem after some of what we experience in a typical week, but also the time of total rest as we remember God's promises together.

(Full post.)

December 2019: Praying without ceasing in Hebron. (Also: Send Judy to Bolivia!)

Ten days after the end of my three-month service with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Al-Khalil (Hebron), Palestine, I still struggle with conflicting urgencies in choosing what to report.

I want to report accurately about how, day after day, you can unexpectedly run into squads of soldiers with their fingers near their triggers, or clouds of tear gas, or someone being searched from head to toes, or checkpoints closed with no explanation. At the same time, you can expect daily encounters with playful children, helpful strangers, cries of "welcome to Hebron" on all sides, delicious food, parties with fireworks nearly every evening,

In other words, I want to convey a situation that is, all at once, both outrageously abnormal (the conditions of occupation) and persistently normal (the life that the people of Hebron make for themselves despite the occupation). Whatever I say, I don't want to discourage you from visiting this lively and friendly city, and seeing for yourself.

(Full post, including information on how to support Judy's participation in next April's Friends International Medical Teams clinics in Bolivia.)

Trustworthy churches: In December 2018, I posted a survey asking the question, "What makes a church trustworthy?" I learned a few things about surveys (such as "keep them shorter!") but still got some interesting and instructive answers. Those responses helped shape these posts early in 2019:

Trustworthy, part one: the cost of betrayal.
Part two: a colony of heaven.
Part three: choices.
Part four: churches' choices.

Commentary on the Christianity Today editorial by Mark Galli and its coverage continues to come in. A few samples: Slacktivist Fred Clark ... and two columns from GetReligion's Terry Mattingly: In religion-beat work, the facts matter; the one thing journalists need to learn from the Christianity Today firestorm.

Two helpful podcasts on authoritarianism: Trumpcast interviews Ruth Ben-Ghiat; Lawfare interviews Peter Pomerantsev.

Meanwhile, history is being rewritten.

Global Voices' RuNet Echo project brings us two posts on the Internet in Russia, its past and its problematic future: What lies ahead in 2020, and Andrey Loshak's documentary.

Instant nostalgia: Bob Ross and Christmas Eve snow, thanks to Open Culture.

Favorite blues clip of the year (and it wasn't easy to choose!) ... Steve Guyger, "What Have I Done?"

19 December 2019

Praying without ceasing in Hebron. (Also: Send Judy to Bolivia!)


Ten days after the end of my three-month service with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Al-Khalil (Hebron), Palestine, I still struggle with conflicting urgencies in choosing what to report.

 I want to report accurately about how, day after day, you can unexpectedly run into squads of soldiers with their fingers near their triggers, or clouds of tear gas, or someone being searched from head to toes, or checkpoints closed with no explanation. At the same time, you can expect daily encounters with playful children, helpful strangers, cries of "welcome to Hebron" on all sides, delicious food, parties with fireworks nearly every evening,

In other words, I want to convey a situation that is, all at once, both outrageously abnormal (the conditions of occupation) and persistently normal (the life that the people of Hebron make for themselves despite the occupation). Whatever I say, I don't want to discourage you from visiting this lively and friendly city, and seeing for yourself.

Furthermore, I want to report in my own voice -- that's my sole channel, and I want to draw on whatever credibility and connection with readers that I night already have. At the same time, I don't want to exaggerate my voice or my role. Every day CPT observers, and others in similar teams, are on the streets monitoring the interactions of citizens and soldiers, documenting irregularities, and sending our observations to a variety of agencies ... but it would be hard to prove that we have made a huge difference.

In any case, CPT's writers are encouraged to keep in mind a "balancing act between humility and presence." CPT and others are there in common cause with Palestinians working nonviolently for justice rather than claiming superior knowledge or attempting to be freelance heroes.

Personally, I didn't go to Palestine with any heroic illusions. All I hoped to do was to learn more about praying without ceasing. In that sense my three months were a success.

On most days, I woke up at 5 a.m. to have time for prayer, Bible reading, and a brief video chat with Judy before beginning the day's activities. Usually we started the day with an hour at each of two checkpoints through which hundreds of people pass during that one hour -- including around two hundred children. Two of us monitored each checkpoint.

The checkpoints were for me a perfect occasion for prayer. For example, I used a counter app on my mobile phone to keep track of people passing through the checkpoints in both directions. Each click of the counter prompted me to pray a blessing on that person ... although when they were coming through in larger bunches, I would fall behind and miss some blessings. I doubt this practice would measure up to the great Christian mystics, but it reminded me frequently of my commitment to pray without ceasing.

Breakfast and a team meeting followed the school arrival hour. During the team meeting, we took turns providing a devotional reflection before we reviewed plans for the rest of the day. We also made sure that people were signed up to take care of dinner and dishes. Our practice of checking in with each other about how we were doing also helped me stay oriented to prayer.

In the afternoon, I was often one member of the pairs assigned to accompany the kindergarten children whose path home was parallel to a path used by Israeli settlers. It was a very natural exercise to pray a blessing on their path home. On my last day on duty, I made a video of this walk, to remind myself of the experience and honor of accompanying those children.

There were other regular occasions of street monitoring -- some weekly, some annually. Each Friday we watched as Palestinians passed through checkpoints (at least two) to worship at the Ibrahimi mosque. On Saturdays, Israeli settlers often toured sites in the Old City. Each tour group was guarded by several squads of Israeli soldiers, and their passage through the markets and passageways of the Old City put them in immediate contact with Palestinian shopkeepers, customers, and pedestrians.

Annually, such events as Sukkot and Sarah's Day brought thousands of visiting Israelis to these same crowded streets, along with additional soldiers to provide security for the visitors and impose additional restrictions on the local Palestinian population. The tensions raised by each of these potential flashpoints was an occasion for prayer. Even if I weren't on the street during one of those occasions, we coordinated continuously via social media.

Last week I reported on another seasonal event, the olive harvest.

The most stressful monitoring assignments were the ones not on the calendar -- for example, responding to reports of arrests, temporary road blocks and checkpoints, or the use of tear gas and other munitions. Sometimes these occasions would lead to stone-throwing by Palestinian young people, aimed at the checkpoints or at the vehicles doing the blocking, with a response of varying (but always disproportionate) severity from Israeli forces.

Part of the stress for me was finding vantage points to observe as closely as possible while not getting directly in the line of fire. On the "Day of Rage," my teammate and I were temporarily right in the middle, finding percussion grenades landing nearby (one hitting the metal awning over my head with a shower of sparks, while I was trying to cope with tear gas). As smoke from burning tires made it hard to see farther than a half block, things quieted down for a while, but resumed later in the evening. Prayer was never far from my mind.

For me, the most difficult assignment was the home demolitions on November 28 in Beit Kahil town near Hebron. After being part of an interview team with the families whose homes were to be destroyed (the conversation resulted in this article), we were all waiting for the seemingly inevitable conclusion. Even so it was a shock to be awakened at about 1 a.m. on November 28 and told "the demolitions have begun." By the time we were able to organize transportation, get to the town, climb over walls and fences with our heavy cameras, meet up with journalists, and find a vantage point, it was nearly 2 a.m. and the destruction was in full swing.


One of my prayer concerns during that hellish scene was for the souls of the equipment operators. who could not have been in any doubt that they were destroying homes of innocent people, regardless of the guilt or innocence (as yet undetermined in court) of the suspects in custody.

My school of prayer for those three months included, as you might expect, pleas for safety, intercessions and blessings for others, and sheer inarticulate lament. Sometimes it boiled down to just one word: "Why?"

Send Judy to Bolivia!
Two years ago, Judy went to Bolivia as an interpreter for Friends International Medical Teams and Santa Cruz Friends Church in Bolivia. The team gave free medical, dental, vision and mental health care to an estimated thousand patients. Bolivians so appreciated their visit that a video of it made the national news!

Headed by Dr. Mari Kay Evans-Smith, the team will return to the lowlands of Bolivia next April. Judy needs $1,400 to be able to go with the team again, to interpret and carry down medicines and supplies.

In addition, she would like to raise up to $3,000 more for a special concern for eye health -- a result of her experience last time. One of her assignments was to give out sunglasses and nonprescription reading and distance glasses to people who had waited for hours to be seen in the clinic.

She was shocked at the eye damage that was common in the clients who sat on a wooden bench to wait for her.

"I can't see the blackboard at school."
"I want to see the number on the bus as it comes toward me."
"I want to be able to read my Bible again."

"Near the equator," she explained, "in the dust, wind, and sun, eye damage starts early." It seemed to begin about in the mid-twenties, as a red streaks across the whites of the eyes. Clients who were older had bright red instead of the normal whites of the eyes. It’s preventable by constant use of sunglasses outdoors, which are often not affordable.

The cumulative damage doesn't just obscure vision; it gives patients a constant sensation of having something stuck in their eyes.

Last time, the clinic ran out of glasses early. This time, Judy would like the clinics to be able to provide a full supply of sunglasses, along with glasses for reading and distance vision, artificial tears, and eye-care medicines and supplies. The team will buy as much of these supplies as possible in Bolivia itself, under the supervision of Santa Cruz Friends pastor David Tintaya. The visiting team's clinical manager, Sara Stansell, is a certified ophthalmic technician. She grew up in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

To contribute to Judy's participation in the Friends International Medical Teams, or to contribute to the eye health fund, send a tax-deductible gift to West Hills Friends Church, specifying "Bolivia - Judy Maurer" or "Bolivia - glasses." If contributing by Paypal, you can send your contribution(s) to whftreasurer@gmail.com. If by check, send to West Hills Friends Church, 7425 SW 52nd Ave., Portland, Oregon, USA 97219. For several reasons, they can't accept donated prescription glasses.

Christianity Today editorial: Trump should be removed from office. (Related observations from the Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and Emma Green in The Atlantic.)

 Josh Marshall's three essential points on impeachment.
This process has been so clotted with tantrums, goalpost-moving and dissimulation that it can be hard to keep one’s bearings. For me, those three essential points clarify the matter and drown out the yelling and stomping.
Thanks to Danny Coleman for this timely reminder: Dietrich Bonhoeffer on stupidity.

 A photo-essay on winter in Murmansk, Russia.

An update on Hebron from Curt Bell.

Steve Guyger Band: