"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Nativity for ALL of us

Dear Friends,

Once again churches everywhere prepare to tell the story of the Nativity during this watchful time of Christmas.  I have yet, in any church I've been, to see the full, unabridged and unsanitized version - the story of empire, of fear, of unabated greed and political savvy.

Elements of more modern history, whether it be the story of Columbus (and just about every other story of colonization), or that of the genocide of Native Americans or Aboriginal Peoples of Canada are contained in this story told in its much sanitized version each year.

In a modern world (quite ironically) much like that of the time in which Herod ruled, one has to wonder how much (or how little) we have learned in a little over 2000 years. As many times as we hear (or see) the story of the Nativity, do we really get it? And if we do, as so many (who call themselves Christians) claim, then why do so we still turn away the stranger, the immigrant, the homeless...???

Gary Kohls has, once again, reminded me of the following (timeless) story by Kevin Annett, called "Nativity." It is much more than a modern take on the Nativity; it is also a telling, between the lines, of the treatment of aboriginal peoples and of those who take Jesus' life and teachings seriously, and often suffer tremendously as a result.

It is, in a real sense, a Nativity for the rest of us, although my hope is that it might one day reach all of us.
A former minister of the United Church of Canada, Kevin Annett has helped give voice to the long suffering First Nations Peoples of Canada. 

Here is Kevin's offering for yet another desperate Advent as we wait in the stillness of these dark days.  May we hear and feel the deeper message in this story, and may it soften our hearts. 

Please read the end notes following the story for more on Kevin and the first nations people to the North.

In the spirit of Love, Nonviolence, Peace and Justice,



By Rev. Kevin D. Annett
     The last Christmas we were all together hangs over memory like the fog did that year in the Alberni valley. It was a time of gathering, two years and more of labor summoning so many together where once there were but a few. And it was a time of ending.
     The church stewards had warned me to expect an overflow crowd at the Christmas eve service, and like overgrown elves they had busied themselves around the building, stringing wires and sound systems in the cold auditorium kept that way to save money. The snows had come early, and our food bank was already depleted.
     With my eldest daughter who was but five, I had walked to the church one morning in the week before yule, pondering the cold and the sermon, when I met the one who would pierce the fog that year for us. She stood patiently at the locked door, her brown eyes relaxing as we approached. Her bare hand gestured at me.
     “You’re that minister, ain’t you?” she mumbled to me, as daughter Clare fell back and grabbed my hand.
     Before I could answer, the stranger smiled and nodded, and uttered with noticeable pleasure at her double entendre,
“They say you give it out seven days a week!”.
     I smiled too, gripping Clare’s hand reassuringly and replying,
     “If you mean food, we’re a bit short, but you’re welcome to whatever’s left.”
     She nodded again, and waited while I unlocked the door and picked up Clare, who was clinging to me by then.
     The basement was even more frigid than the outside, but the woman doffed her torn overcoat and sighed loudly as we approached the food bank locker.
     “For all the good it’ll do …” she said, as I unlocked the pantry and surveyed the few cans and bags lying there.
     I turned and really looked at her for the first time. She was younger than she had sounded, but a dark, cancerous growth marred her upper lip, and a deep scar ran down her face and neck. Her eyes were kindness, and in that way, very aboriginal.
     “I’m sorry there’s not more …” I began, since back then I still saw things in terms of giving. But she shook her head, and instead of saying anything, she looked at Clare, and the two of them exchanged a smile for the first time.
     I stared, confused, at the cupboard so bare, and heard her finally utter,
     “Them people in church, you know what they need?”
     I set Clare down and shook my head.
     “They need Him. They sing about Him, and pretend they know Him, but hell, they wouldn’t spot Him even if He came and bit ‘em on their ass.”
     I smiled at that one, and even dared a mild chuckle.
     “You doin’ a Christmas play for the kids?” she continued.
     “I bet it’s the usual bullshit with angels and shepherds, right?”
     I nodded.
     “That don’t mean nuthin’ to those people. Why don’t you do a story about … well, like, if He came to Port Alberni to be born, right now.”
     I finally laughed, feeling very happy. She smiled too, walked over to the cupboard and picked up a small bag of rice. Donning her coat, she nodded her thanks, and said,
     “My bet is Him and Mary and Joseph, they’d end up in the Petrocan garage, down River road. The owner there lets us sleep in the back sometimes.”
     And then she was gone.
     I didn’t try explaining the stranger to anyone, ever, or what her words had done to me. All I did was lock the food cupboard and lead Clare up to my office, where I cranked up the heat and set her to drawing. And then I sat at my desk and I wrote for the rest of the day.
     The kids in church were no problem at all. They got it, immediately. The Indians who dared to mingle in the pews that night with all the ponderous white people also took to the amateur performance like they had composed it themselves, and laughed with familiarity as the holy family was turned away first by the local cops, and then hotel owners, and finally by church after church after church.
     It was mostly the official Christians who were shocked into open-mouthed incredulity at the coming to life of something they thought they knew all about. As the children spoke their lines, I swear I saw parishioners jump and writhe like there were tacks scattered on the pews.
     “Joe, I’m getting ready to have this kid. You’d better find us a place real friggin' quick.”
“I’m trying, Mary, but Jehovah! Nobody will answer their door! I guess it’s ‘cause we’re low lifes.”
“Look! There’s a church up ahead. I bet they’ll help us!”
     If you believe the Bible, whoever He was loved to poke fun at his listeners and shock them out of their fog, and our play would have made him proud. As the eight-year old girl who played Mary pleaded fruitlessly for help from a kid adorned in oversized clerical garb, and was covered in scorn by the young “priest”, I heard a sad moan rise from the congregation.
     But things took a turn when Mary and Joe came upon an Indian, played by one of the aboriginal kids
     “Sir, will you help us? My wife’s going to have a baby …”
“Sure!” replied the native kid with gusto. “I got a spot in a shed behind the gas station down the road. The owner lets us all sleep in there!”
     And in a contrived scene of boxes and cans scattered where our communion table normally stood, Mary had her baby, as erstwhile homeless men with fake beards and a stray rez dog looked on, and one of the witnesses urged Mary to keep her newborn quiet lest the Mounties hear his cries and bust everyone for vagrancy.
     Voices were subdued that night in the church hall over coffee, cookies and Christmas punch, and the normally dull gazes and banalities about the time of year were oddly absent. The Indians kept nodding and smiling at me, saying little, and not having to; and the kids were happy too, still in costume and playing with the local stray who had posed as the rez dog in the performance that would always be talked about. It was the white congregants who seemed most pregnant that night, but they couldn’t speak of it.
     It was one of my last services with them, and somehow they all knew it, since we had all entered the story by then. For a churchly Herod had already heard a rumor, and dispatched assassins to stop a birth, and me, even though it was already too late.
     My daughter Clare was not running and rolling with the other kids, but in her manner joined me quietly with her younger sister Elinor in tow.
     Our trio stood there, amidst the thoughtful looks and unspoken love, and person after person came to us and grasped our hands, or embraced us with glistening eyes. An aging Dutch woman named Omma van Beek struggled towards me in her walker and pressed her trembling lips on my cheek, and said something to me in her native tongue as the tears fell unashamedly from both of us.
     Later, when we were scattered and lost, I would remember that moment like no other, as if something in Omma’s tears washed away all the filth and loss that were to follow. And perhaps that looming nightfall touched my heart just then, for I gave a shudder as I looked at my children, almost glimpsing the coming divorce, and I held my daughters close as if that would keep them safe and near to me forever.
     The snow was falling again as we left the darkened building, kissing us gently like it had done years before when as a baby, Clare had struggled with me on a toboggan through the deep drifts of my first charge in Pierson, Manitoba, on another Christmas eve. The quiet flakes blessed us with memory, and settled in love on the whole of creation, even on the unmarked graves of children up at the old Indian residential school.
     The old Byzantine icon depicts Jesus as a baby, hugging his worried mother while she stares ahead into his bloody future: her eyes turned in grief to the viewer, yet his loving eyes seeking her, past the moment, past even his own death.
     The image may still hang in the basement of my church, where I left it.
Kevin Annett
260 Kennedy St.
Nanaimo, BC Canada V9R 2H8
Ed Note [from Gary Kohls]: Reverend Kevin Annett was fired, without cause, from his successfully rejuvenated United Church of Canada (UCC) parish in Port Alberni, British Columbia (the United Church of Canada has no connection to the United Church of Christ [UCC] in the United States) when he refused to stop his probing into his church’s role in the abusive Residential Schools for Aboriginal children in Canada, where as many as 50,000 children died. (The Residential School system in Canada was essentially the same as the racist church-operated Mission School system for American Indian children in the US).

Rev Annett’s persistence in this investigative work has resulted in two books and an award-winning documentary (entitled “Unrepentant”) about the sobering history of the Canadian government’s and the Canadian Christian church’s genocidal activities against First nation’s children. 

Further information at:

Hidden No Longer: http://hiddennolonger.com/

"I gave Kevin Annett his Indian name, Eagle Strong Voice, in 2004 when I adopted him into our Anishinabe Nation. He carries that name proudly because he is doing the job he was sent to do, to tell his people of their wrongs. He speaks strongly and with truth. He speaks for our stolen and murdered children. I ask everyone to listen to him and welcome him."Chief Louis Daniels - Whispers Wind
Elder, Turtle Clan, Anishinabe Nation, Winnipeg, Manitoba


Friday, December 21, 2012

Must we shop till we drop??? Bah...


I cringe each holiday season when I have to drive into the big city and survive the onslaught of frantic shoppers coming from every direction attempting to honor the season (and boost corporate profits) by buying all manner of STUFF with which to stack beneath the tree (or wherever people stack such things).  Yes, I'm cheap, but that's beside the point!  I lament the seeping under the rug of whatever is left of the spirit of Christmas these days. 

Historian Lawrence Wittner has done (what I think is) an excellent job of analyzing the shopping madness (aka: consumerism) that passes for Christmas (and continues a full twelve months of the year).  This is no Scrooge, I tell you!  So in the spirit of the season I share his article here.  May it open our eyes, and may that open our hearts to the true spirit of Peace.

Peace on Earth (but we have to work for it),



America's Real Religion: Shopping

By Lawrence Wittner, December 3, 2012, published originally at George Mason University's History News Network, http://hnn.us/articles/americas-real-religion-shopping

Although fundamentalist fanatics have been working for decades to turn the United States into a “Christian nation,” they have not had much success along these lines. One reason for their failure is that religious minorities and non-believers have resisted. And another is probably that a large number of Americans want to preserve religious tolerance and avoid theocracy. But it might also reflect the fact that the United States is now firmly in the grip of a different religion: shopping.

After all, in this “holiday season” the dominant activity does not seem to be traditional religious worship or prayer. The recently-concluded Black Friday provided the occasion not only for an orgy of consumer spending, but for ferocious action by screaming mobs of shoppers who engaged in mass riots in their desperate attempts to obtain a variety of products. The frenzied participants were not starving, impoverished peasants or product-deprived refugees from communist nations but reasonably comfortable, middle-class Americans. Their desperation was not driven by hunger. They simply wanted ... more!

And now that the nation enters its Christmas shopping spree -- conveniently begun in November, to allow plenty of time for the practice -- there will undoubtedly be lots more commodity fetishism. The shopping malls are already alive with the Christmas music designed to encourage purchases, while visions of rising sales figures dance through the heads of happy store managers.

All of this, of course, leads to complaints by traditional religious believers about the commercialization of Christmas. Of course, the bloviators on Fox News seek to blame the decline of religious feeling during the Christmas season upon liberal thought. But the hard reality is that Jesus in the manger or bleeding on the cross has less appeal to many Americans that do the latest cellphones and other commercial gadgetry.

Actually, despite the emphasis on purchases during the holidays, shopping is a year-round phenomenon in the United States. Children might not be able to read, write, add, or subtract, but they know a great deal about the latest consumer products. Their parents and grandparents are thoroughly familiar with them as well. And why wouldn’t they be? A vast array of products are regularly featured on their TV and radio programs, on their roadside billboards, and in their newspapers and magazines.

In fact, commercial advertising is ubiquitous in the United States, with few Americans able to escape it. Even when people are not in their homes, commercial television programs -- those shoddy, thought-free commodities developed to keep the ads from bumping together -- run continuously in doctors’ waiting rooms, auto repair shops, elevators, train stations, hospitals, restaurants, airports, school cafeterias, bars, and taxis.

Furthermore, advertising is not designed to merely alert people to the availability of a product, but to make them want it. Commercial enterprises understand that, thanks to the influence of advertising, purchases will not be based upon need, but upon desire. Advertising will stir dissatisfaction with what people already have and create a craving for something else. And this is a very promising route to sales. Naturally, then, U.S. corporations engulf Americans in advertising. It’s an excellent investment, and produces legions of eager, even desperate shoppers.

Only a very rare American politician would be willing to stand up against the resulting steamroller of consumerism. Imagine the political future of a candidate for public office who said: “There has been enough talk of economic growth and competition as the solutions to our problems. Our real challenges as Americans are to limit our consumption to what we genuinely need, to share with others who are less fortunate than we are, and to halt the plunder of our planet’s resources and the destruction of our environment.” I suspect that she or he would not get very far.

Nor, despite the similarity of this approach to the core values of religious faiths, is it popular among the mainstream U.S. churches. Yes, they encourage small-scale charitable ventures. But they do little to challenge the consumerist ethos. Indeed, the most active and rapidly-growing among the churches -- the fundamentalist and evangelical denominations -- have rallied behind political candidates championing unbridled capitalism and the prerogatives of wealth. “Drill baby, drill” seems far more popular among them than the Golden Rule.

Ironically, then, by not opposing the corporate cultivation of untrammeled greed among Americans, the churches have left the door open to the triumph of America’s new religion -- not liberal secularism, but shopping.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Arming the World... or Caring For the World?

The Nobel Peace Prize was given to the European Union (EU) earlier today in Oslo, Norway. The EU represents roughly one third of global arms exports.  President Obama, who was the previous recipient of the Peace Prize, is the president of the number one global arms exporter - the United States.

You might ask, and rightly so, just what gives here.  Yes, there is a huge disconnect.  How does arming the world, and constantly preparing for and making war have anything to do with peace???  Of course, it does not!!!  And the tragic irony is that even a small percentage of the money spent on the world's militaries could take care of most human needs around the globe.

Read David Swanson's article below to see just how much that would be.


UN Development Goals Could Be Met With a Few Percent of Military Spending

By David Swanson
Here's a useful new report from the International Peace Bureau. Globally, the report finds, spending on war preparations is higher than ever as an absolute amount and as a percentage of public spending (if not as a percentage of GDP). This spending is led and dominated by the United States, which of course pressures other nations to try to keep pace. The United States also dominates the manufacture and sale of weapons to other nations.

The figures that the IPB uses admittedly leave out many types of military spending. In fact, they capture less than 60% of U.S. military spending. So, the conclusions are all extremely "conservative" -- that is to say: dramatically wrong. Without knowing how much of other nations' war preparations spending is missing, one cannot do the calculations correctly. Nonetheless, IPB's conclusions are stunning and include these:

--the world's military spending is 12.7 times higher than its official development assistance, and

--604 times higher than UN budgets for peace, security, development, human rights, humanitarian affairs, and international law, and

--2,508 times higher than the combined expenditures of the UN's International Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Organizations.

--the war preparations spending of the world is $249 per day per person on earth.

--about 5% of that would meet the UN's Millenium Development Goals by 2015.

In other words, war spending does not just generate the well-known Military Industrial Complex's pressure for more war, which takes more lives, but the failure to use a little of that money for something useful means the failure to save and improve countless lives as well. Our budgets are at once sins of commission and omission. The millenium goals are goals for ending poverty and hunger, providing education, and protecting health, sustainability, and human rights.

There may not be a war on Christmas, but if our "leaders" have their way there will be several wars on Christmas, and we're paying for them in several senses of the word.

Peace on Earth. Pass the ammunition.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Israel & Palestine: Domination or Generosity?

Dear Friends,

It is Holiday time, and also the time of Advent, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.  While Christians await the birth of the Prince of Peace, the Palestinian people await full recognition of their human rights and dignity by the State of Israel.

A little over 2000 years ago the Holy Family made its way from Nazareth to Bethlehem in preparation of that history-changing event.  Had they taken the same route today they would have encountered a 25-foot tall concrete barrier wall, armed Israeli soldiers and massive steel gates that isolate and strangle the "little town of Bethlehem".

All this in the name of "security".

Here in Seattle, Washington, the Seattle Symphony will perform Handel's Messiah on December 15th.  Veterans for Peace, Chapter 92, will be outside the concert hall distributing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" cards to people attending the 1:00PM performance.

The cards are a way to raise awareness about US foreign policy related to Israel and the plight of the Palestinian people.  Israel has historically been the largest recipient of US foreign aid (most of which is essentially military aid), and is currently number two (just behind Afghanistan).

In this season of Peace I like to consider Rabbi Michael Lerner's views on the Israeli/Palestinian impasse.

Rabbi Lerner says that "the eyes of both Israelis and Palestinians are so glazed over with the immediacy of painful historical memories that they have not been able to envision new possibilities in their relationship that might bring both communities the peace they actually desire" (in Embracing Israel/Palestine: A strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East).

Lerner focuses not only on the psychology of the situation but also the spirituality (in terms of spiritual transformation) "that allows us to let go of the idea that security requires domination of the other and instead can embrace the idea that lasting security can be better achieved through generosity and caring for others.  This is the Strategy of Generosity."

So what will it be - the Strategy of Domination or the Strategy of Generosity???  In his book Lerner demonstrates a thorough and sensitive understanding of the history of both the Israelis and Palestinians, while presenting a provocative, radical and compelling proposal for healing the Middle East.  In understanding the history we can envision a (healing) path to the future.

For me this is a good book to be reading in the season of Advent.  It is a book I highly recommend to anyone even remotely interested in the volatile situation surrounding Israel and Palestine.  It would be a great gift for Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other holiday of this season. 

May we all share the message of Peace this season and all seasons,


Note: If you happen to be in Seattle on December 15th, you can join VFP (in the spirit of peace) at Benaroya Hall, 3rd Avenue between University and Union to show solidarity with the plight of the Palestinian people. Email fourinchorangehinge[at]gmail.com for more information.

Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East, by Rabbi Michael Lerner, is published by Tikkun Books and North Atlantic Books.