Amish Grace, the book

Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcends Tragedy by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher is a wonderful book, well written, informative, and inspiring.

Amish Grace describes the events following the tragedy at Nickel Mines, PA on October 2, 2006, when Charles Carl Roberts IV went into an Amish school and took 10 little girls hostage and eventually killing 5 and wounding another 5 and then killing himself.

The Amish, true to their beliefs, forgave Roberts and his family and invited Roberts widow and family to the funerals of their children and many of the Amish also attended the funeral of Roberts.

These acts of forgiveness, while true to the teachings of Jesus, are rarely seen in our society hell bent on vengeance and retribution. Many questions arose in resistance and denial of the forgiveness of the Amish accusing them of perpetrating a PR stunt, or of being psychologically imbalanced. Yet, Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher trace the history of the Amish culture and demonstrate that their acts of forgiveness are genuine, sincere, and "natural" given their belief system and culture.

Diana Butler Bass, a religion columnist, is quoted in the book as saying, "What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror?"

While Bush and his religious right base claim to be Christian, they certainly don't follow the teachings of Jesus, but the Amish actually do and it shocks the world.

This is a lovely, well written, and inspiring book. I highly recommend it to all Americans and to people around the world, especially Christians who profess to follow Jesus. If people who profess to follow Jesus are sincere, they should pay close attention to the example set by our Amish brothers and sisters.

Having lost two children myself to a 3 time drunk driver, I know personally what it is like to loose children suddenly in a horrific tragedy. Other parents have suffered the same loss of children either suddenly or though terminal illnesses. It would be very helpful if we had the love, sympathy, and support of a community like the Amish have created for themselves.

As a Nickel Mines Amish man said on interview, "We were all Amish this week." I wish that we all  become Amish from here on out. Our world would be a much better place. If we all cannot become Amish, at least we would do well to practice their belief in the redemptive power of forgiveness.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee the one lone voice of sanity in the whole United States Congress

How quick we forget the heroic among us. Does anyone remember that there was one lone vote against the Iraq war? The courageous congresswoman who made that vote was Barbara Lee, a Democratic congresswoman from Oakland California. I remember her being ridiculed on Fox News and the hate radio shows, but it turns out almost five years later that she is the only one of all our congresspeople who called it right. She should be given a national award of the highest order.

There is a brief interview with Barbara Lee in the Winter, 2008 issue of YES magazine. Here is what Congresswoman Lee said in part of that interview:

When I cast the lone vote after September 11 against giving George Bush an unlimited war-making authority—an authority, I might add, that his administration has invoked in invading Iraq, setting up military commissions, even warrantless wiretapping—I was alone. Today, there are millions of Americans who are calling for an end not just to the occupation of Iraq, but to the entire Bush foreign policy of unilateralism and pre-emption. Our goal is to help translate that support into more progressive votes in Congress.

It is hard to believe that out of all our congressional representatives there is only one with the integrity and wisdom to make a good judgment.

Link: Vote Hope 2008 :: Barbara Lee interview :: Challenge Status Quo.

Elizabeth Eckford, a civil rights pioneer

Eckford200 Another one of my favorite podcasts is NPR's Driveway Moments. On September 4, 2007, NPR broadcast a story about Elizabeth Eckford, one of the 9 brave students who became known as the Little Rock 9 were pioneers integrating Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.

Elizabeth was 15 at the time and is now 65 and still has trouble talking about her experience to this day. At the age of 15 she was vilified, castigated, spat upon, jeered, and harassed. We like to think of ourselves as a wonderful nation, land of the free and home of the brave, etc. but this self concept is more an idealization than a reality. We, Americans, have a long way to go to actualize our ideals.

It is important to remember, and pay tribute to the brave citizens who have helped us become a better people. Below is a short blurb from the NPR Driveway moment web site. You can listen to the audio clip by going to the web site by clicking on the link below. The clip is about 9 minutes and is well worth listening to.

A half-century ago, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus ordered troops from the Arkansas National Guard to Central High School because the Little Rock School Board had decided to allow nine black students to attend the previously all-white school. One of those students, Elizabeth Eckford, recalls that time.

Link: NPR : One of the 'Little Rock Nine' Looks Back.

Conscientious objectors persecuted, prosecuted, executed

On September 16, 1939, August Dickmann was the first Conscientious Objector to be executed by the Germans in World War II. Following the execution of the 29 year old Dickmann, the Nazis executed another 270 Conscientious Objector Jehovah Witnesses.

A brief artice on the Peace History web site says:

August Dickmann, a German and a Jehovah's Witness, became the first conscientious objector (CO) to be executed by the Nazis during World War II. The execution by firing squad took place in Sachsenhausen concentration camp before all prisoners, including 400 Jehovah's Witness inmates. Threatened by Commandant Hermann Baranowsky with the same fate, none of the remaining 400 Witnesses renounced their CO position. Later, the Nazis commonly executed Witnesses by guillotine or hanging, not wanting to spend bullets on COs. German military courts sentenced and executed 270 Jehovah's Witnesses, the largest number of COs executed from any victim group during World War II.

Conscientious Objectors continue to be prosecuted and persecuted in most countries at war even the United States. During the Iraq war there have been soldiers who have refused to fight and kill such as Ehren Watada who is scheduled for court martial on October 9, 2007.

How is it that we live in a society and a time in history where people who refuse to attack, injure, and kill others are themselves killed for that refusal? What are we teaching our children?

What passes for history in most schools is a history of generals and war, conquerors and the conquered, winners and loosers, dominators and the dominated. It is time to teach a new history of peace and justice. Conscientious objectors are the saints among us who have lived based on values that our current sinful world rejects. Where the world sees domination and vengeance, conscientious objectors see partnership, peace, and love.

Link: This Week In Peace History.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee the one congressperson of wisdom, judgment, conscience, and courage will be remembered for her vote 6 years ago today on 9/15/01

Barbara_lee The only congressperson to vote against the resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iraq was congresswoman Barbara Lee who voted against the resolution 6 years ago today on September 15, 2001. The measure passed the Senate 98-0 and in the House of Representatives 420-1.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee seems to be our only representative with the wisdom, good judgment, and conscience to see through the farce being perpetrated against the American people and the world. She is a saint among us and should be admired as a person of virtue, integrity, and courage.

"It was a vote of conscience," says California Democratic Representative Barbara Lee.

On September 15, the US Congress approved a resolution authorizing President Bush to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against anyone associated with the terrorist attacks of September 11. The measure passed 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the House. The lone dissenting vote was a colonel's daughter and longtime maverick from California -- Democrat Barbara Lee.

"I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States," Lee said on the House floor on Sept. 15. "There must be some of us who say, 'Let's step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today -- let us more fully understand the consequences.'"

Link: Alone on the Hill.

What the Amish are Teaching America

Forgiveness Sally Kohn has a wonderful article posted on October 6, 2006 on the Common Dreams web site entitled "What the Amish are Teaching America". It is well worth a read.

According to reports by counselors who attended the grief session, the Amish family members grappled with a number of questions: Do we send our kids to school tomorrow? What if they want to sleep in our beds tonight, is that okay? But one question they asked might surprise us outsiders. What, they wondered, can we do to help the family of the shooter? Plans were already underway for a horse-and-buggy caravan to visit Charles Carl Roberts’ family with offers of food and condolences. The Amish, it seems, don’t automatically translate their grieving into revenge. Rather, they believe in redemption.

Meanwhile, the United States culture from which the Amish are isolated is moving in the other direction — increasingly exacting revenge for crimes and punishing violence with more violence. In 26 states and at the federal level, there are “three strikes” laws in place. Conviction for three felonies in a row now warrants a life sentence, even for the most minor crimes. For instance, Leandro Andrade is serving a life sentence, his final crime involving the theft of nine children’s videos — including “Cinderella” and “Free Willy” — from a Kmart. Similarly, in many states and at the federal level, possession of even small amounts of drugs trigger mandatory minimum sentences of extreme duration. In New York, Elaine Bartlett was just released from prison, serving a 20-year sentence for possessing only four ounces of cocaine. This is in addition to the 60 people who were executed in the United States in 2005, among the more than a thousand killed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. And the President of the United States is still actively seeking authority to torture and abuse alleged terrorists, whom he consistently dehumanizes as rats to be “smoked from their holes”, even without evidence of their guilt.

Our patterns of punishment and revenge are fundamentally at odds with the deeper values of common humanity that the tragic experience of the Amish are helping to reveal. Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done in life.

The world would be much better off if the rest of us copied their example. Can you imagine what would have happened if the Americans had visited the Iraqis or the Afgans? Can you imagine what would happen if the Palestinians forgave the Israelis and the Israelis the Palestinians?

Link: What the Amish are Teaching America.

Today marks the 35 anniversary of the arrest of the Camden 28, Viet Nam war protesters

Camden28 Thirty five years ago today, on August 22, 1971, the FBI arrested 25 people, 20 in Camden, NJ, and 5 in Buffalo, NY for breaking in and damaging draft records.

Surprisingly, included among the Camden 28 were four Catholic priests and one Lutheran minister. All but one of the remaining 23 were Catholic laypeople. All were part of a nonviolent antiwar movement the government and the media referred to as the “Catholic Left.” One of the most dramatic tactics utilized by this movement was breaking into Selective Service offices across the country to remove and destroy government draft records that identified young men available for military service. The activists claimed that their civil disobedience was meant to call attention to their belief that killing – even in war – was morally indefensible. They targeted the draft for the simple fact that it was the clearest symbol of that immorality because it compelled citizens to kill. Between 1967 and 1971, members of the “Catholic Left” claimed responsibility for over 30 draft board raids and the destruction of close to a million Selective Service documents. By 1971, the “Catholic Left” had become one of the most inventive forces of the antiwar movement.

I have often wondered, "Where is the similar peace movement today?", but then I realize that there is no draft, and while in Viet Nam over 58,000 American soldiers in my generation were killed, in the current Iraq war only 2,600 American soldiers have been killed. However, it is notable that there was a Catholic social justice movement lead by clergy like the Berrigan brothers and protestant clergy like William Sloan Coffin.

For more information, click on the link below.

Link: Camden28: Antiwar Activists - The Story.

Frederick Douglass' views on the July 4th.

I live in Brockport, NY about 20 miles west of Rochester, NY the home, for many years, of Frederick Douglass. Here is a speech he gave in Rochester, NY on July 4, 1852.

In 1852, invited to give a speech in Rochester, Douglass delivered the following indictment of a a nation celebrating freedom and independence, while keeping slaves.

"The Hypocrisy of America: This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.

By Frederick Douglass: July 4, 1852

Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions. Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?..

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?

I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.

To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy‹a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival."

I expect that many people around the world may feel the same way still in 2006 that Douglass did in 1852 especially the people of Iraq who continue to fight an insugency against American occupation of their country. Let's bring the troops home now.

Medgar Evers was assasinated today 43 years ago.

It is important for Americans to remember their history so they can learn from it and not make the same mistakes as they have in the past. In recent history, in my lifetime, there was a great deal of social injustice in the United States where racial discrimination was openly practiced and enforced with lynchings and assasination by whites on our black brothers and sisters. Younger people may not remember this or have read about it in history books. It seems ironic when President Bush justifies an immoral and pre-emptive war in Iraq as a means of bring democracy and freedom to other parts of the world when we haven't had much of it in our own country for segments of our population such as African Americans as just one example. Through struggle some things have changed, but Americans must be vigilant if democracy and freedom are to be an actual experience and not just political platitudes. Medgar Evers was a nonviolent freedom fighter and he was killed by a domestic terrorist, Byron de la Beckwith just 43 years ago today when I was 16 years old.

One of the true heroes of the civil rights movement was Medgar Evers who was killed on this day, June 12, 1963, by Byron de la Beckwith. Beckwith was acquitted a couple of times by all white juries when the good ole boys lied about his whereabouts but Beckwith was finally convicted on February 5, 1994, over thirty years have the murder. Beckwith received a sentence of life in prison and he died in 2001 at the age of 80.

Medgar Evers was the Mississippi Field Secretary for the National Association for the advancement of Colored People, NAACP, and worked for voting rights and to end desegregation. For this work, and attempts to bring about social justice and positive social change, he was killed.

Medgar Evers was a saint among us and is a national hero and should be remembered for his leadership in the struggle for civil rights in the United States of America.

Link: Online NewsHour: Pursuing the Past -- The Medgar Evers Assassination.

"I've been to the mountaintop."

It was 28 years ago today, April 3, 1968, a day before he was killed, that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I've been to the mountaintop" speech in Memphis, Tennesee. Here is the last paragraph.

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. [applause] And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

To read the whole speech which is very well worth doing, click on the link below.

Link: Say It Plain - American RadioWorks.