Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Cry for Justice on torture

Torture breaks American and International law

The University of California at Berkeley has been the scene of many a progressive, liberal and even some far out protest marches. Which makes the hiring of John C. Yoo at their School of Law out of character for that respectable institution.

Up until that time Lawyer Yoo had spent two years in the Bush administration Justice Department. He was a strong believer, like the then vice-president, in a more powerful executive branch of government. In plain English he was for giving President George W. Bush the right to make and carry out laws at the president's whim.

Mr. Yoo, born in South Korea, was to keep the lawyers over at the White House aware of stuff going on at the Justice Department; what was shady, semi-legal or might be at variance with the U.S. Constitution.

One of this Harvard graduate's major responsibilities was to propose or write out memos on how best to respond to the terrorist threat. At the time the White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sent this memo to President Bush in January, 2002: "The war against terrorism is a new kind of war, in my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

This was followed up by George W. Bush's memo of January 9, 2002: "I note that, because Geneva does not apply to our conflict with al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war."

This is where Lawyer Yoo became famous to some but infamous to thinking people. He was a very influential advocate of giving the president more authority. He saw fighting terrorist with torture as perfectly legal and moral. Where did he get such anti-American ideas? Or was he influenced by those not acquainted with either the Constitution or the many International treaties the American government had signed that described and forbid torture?

He used this mind-set to compose a number of legal opinions that said the Geneva Conventions did not apply; that highly coercive interrogation techniques would not only be proper, but useful.

Lawyer Yoo also agreed with the White House on eavesdropping on international communications of Americans and others around America without federal warrants.

Reading Yoo's book, "War by Other Means," it is apparent he believed his memos. He definetly felt the president was above the law in much the way Nixon expressed it: "If the president does it, it is legal."

In 2003 Yoo returned to Berkeley to teach laws. But his memos that put his blessings on torture still haunt the law schools of the world.

Last month a high-level Spanish court began proceedings toward opening a criminal investigation against six former Bush administration officials. The Spanish court is looking into whether the six men violated international law with their legal framework justifying torture of their enemies at Guantanamo Bay.

Lawyer John Yoo is one of the six being investigated. Others are former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; William Haynes II, former general counsel for the Defense Department; Jay Bybee, Yoo's former boss at the Justice Department; Douglas Feith, former under-secretary for defense policy; and David Addington, then chief of staff and legal advisor to then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

If the case in Spain should continue and lead to arrest warrants, these six men will not be taking any foreign trips. They could be arrested anywhere outside the United States. But further proceedings are months away. The former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was picked up in London when he did not take the court seriously. The 1984 Convention Against Torture was signed and is binding on 145 countries. Spain is one, the United States is another.

Spain became involved because five of their citizens were prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The Spanish Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained under torture was not admissible. Their cases were dismissed.

The Obama White House and the Congress now has an opportunity to begin proceedings to right a wrong. They need to support this court action in Spain. Our leaders need to tell the world that Americans can handle America's sins. Set up a special counsel to investigate these men and bring them and others to trials for crossing the line on torture. It is an evil crime that demands justice for those who suffered, even those told to do it. This ugly blot on American morals, Christian and democratic standards need a thorough and transparent cleansing.

Who would condone the Roman guards for the humiliation and torture they put Jesus through?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A New Chinese Bible?

The news release that Lifeways Publishing, arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, is going to publish a Chinese language Bible had plenty of errors. I hope their translation is better than the announcement.

First, Lifeways Publishers said it was the first translation into Chinese direct from Greek and Hebrew. This is wrong as numerous translations have been done by Greek and Hebrew scholars, Chinese and missionaries long before 1880. They went on to say the Union Version now used around the world was translated into Chinese from English in the 1920s. Wrong again. The Union Version was begun in the 1890s. I have copies going back to the 1920s. It was already popular in Chinese communities everywhere. Not perfect, but neither is any other Bible translation in any language.

The Greek copies of copies of the New Testament were only recognized a full 1,000 years after Christ walked the earth. By that time there was no way to find the originals. Comparing copies only led to more problems. No one has a perfect Bible. Those who believe every word of the Bible is God-inspired and sacred are making the Bible their idol. The message of God is there, but not to be taken literally. That too, bothers me about these Fundamentalists translating into Chinese copies of copies of copies of Bibles, which will probably include a present take on things.

The Union Version, used for over 100 years, is so called because it was a cooperative effort of the denominations then working in China. It has no more mistakes than our hallowed King James Version in English. It is stilted but so are older versions in English. Also the "Good News For Modern Man" translation of the New Testament that the American Bible Society published years ago is a "modern" translation.

China's only NGO (non-government organization), The Amity Foundation has published 70 million Bibles and New Testaments since opening a printing press in Nanjing in 1985. This too was a joint project with the United Bible Societies of the world. Our own American Bible Society was a part of that and still is.

Stranger still Lifeways is printing their Bible in Shenyang, China, and shipping it back to Tennessee for distribution in Canada, U.S., and Brazil until they can get permission to sell it in China.

The whole thing just another example of the extreme limits the Southern Baptist leadership will go to express their belief: IF WE DON'T DO IT, IT DOESN'T COUNT. (Man O man, will they get a shock if they get to heaven and see who's there!) What others have done and are doing for Christ means nothing to this group of hardened Fundamentalists. I love my Baptist history and heritage but since the SBC left that all behind a generation ago, I enjoy worshiping and fellowshiping with my new Presbyterian friends, who don't get their drawers in a knot if they don't set a new record in Sunday school attendance. Many mainline groups work openly with the churches of China since the churches there began to re-open in 1979. I tried to get SBC to work openly with the China Christian Council and not care who got the credit, but no, secret "cloak and dagger" missions was the road they took. They still see Amity and the CCC as government controlled or horror of horrors: communists.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Persian New Year

The videotaped Norouz (New Year) message by President Barack Obama to the Iranian people today is another evidence of the wisdom of talking with "suspected" enemies when possible. (It can be seen with Farsi subtitles on the Web site of Radio Farda.)

The first day of Spring is the traditional first day of the Persian New Year. Quoting Saadi (13th century Persian poet) with the ideas of connectedness. We are all the children of Adam.

This celebration was an event for all ancient Mesopotamia. As far back as man knows, the Sumerians (3000 BC) and Babylonians (2000 BC) observed it's deeply rooted Zoroastrian belief system. A world of good and evil. Forces that could go either way: peace, joy, health, beauty; or to those things that threaten these positive approaches: "hostile spirits" or evil. That is far too simple an explanation. It would be helpful to Christians to become more informed of these ancient beliefs and practices.

Israel's President, Shimon Peres, also broadcast a message to the Iranian people, urging them to "return to the enlightened world." Israel has a Farsi language radio channel that reaches the entire Middle East. We cannot have a peaceful world without a lot of effort by a lot of people of all languages and cultures.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Former President to write a book

It is not a joke that George W. Bush has plans to write a book. It has been reported by reputable news sources and the Dallas Morning News. I read about it last month that former U.S. President George W. Bush, #43, would be writing a book on important decisions of his years in the White House.

New rumors have the book tentatively titled "Decision Points." His focus will be explaining the many decisions he had to make in both his personal and political life while leading our nation. Bush will get seven million U.S. dollars for his ghost-written view in hardback.

The president who famously called himself "The Decider," is looking to a 2010 publication date. He said in an interview, "I want people to understand the environment in which I was making decisions. I want people to get a sense of how decisions were made and I want people to understand the options that were placed before me."

So immediately we know it is a book for the people. It will be informative to know about some of his personal and presidential choices, such as his giving up drinking, deciding on having old family friend Dick Cheney as his running mate.

What many would like to know is the truth about his decision to invade Iraq rather than stay on trail of Osama bin Laden. Why his administration was the most secret in history? The real story of his National Guard experience would make a good chapter. The most amazing thing in Bush's life has been how he ever convinced such a beautiful, witty, intelligent woman like Laura to marry him. He married up as some say.

"A Charge To Keep", a 1762 Charles Wesley hymn, was the title of Bush's other ghost-written book. Before the book was written Mickey Herskowitz, Texas journalist, was interviewing Bush. Bush told him the book should focus on his policy objectives. According to Russ Baker, Mickey inquired what these might be. Bush replied, Ask Karl.

Not having read any book by any Bush I admit to being ignorant of his stories and policy objectives. I only know what the papers have written and what the majority of historians and journalists have shared. (#41 George W.H. Bush's book, "All the Best, George Bush: My Life and Other Writings," looks better as time goes on!)

Wanting to do my own research, I asked around for man-on-the-street comments on this coming literary project of Dr. Bush (remember he has several honorary degrees). No one locally wanted to be quoted. Some used language that cannot be printed in this family newspaper.

Not being discouraged, I kept at it and got a few comments: "Will it be a picture book?" And: "Will crayons cost extra?"

One fellow wanted to know if the title might be changed to "The Weapons of Mass Destruction Coloring Book." Another added that the crayons should be shaped like bullets and carbines.

It did not take long for me to realize that the results of my research might not be accepted by everybody. Some thought it disrespectful to make jokes on such an important book of revisionist history. Others changed the conversation as being "too unpleasant" or "unproductive."

One young man who said "duh..." a lot during our conversation said everybody should quit whining about George W. Bush. Duh thought Bush was a great president. He came into office with the country in debt and left office with a great surplus. (This young man quoted Karl Rove and Dick Cheney as sources of this information.)

Before Duh escaped I eye-balled him and said: "saying Bush was a great president doesn't make him a great one." Then he brought out the big guns quoting verbatim from right-wing radio personalities Shame Hannitie and Rust Limberger how the President Obama, #44, was going to destroy the country. (I refuse to spell these two spin specialists names correctly. Just do not want to give them any more publicity.)

So, if by 2010 books are still being published, get in line early at the library for the revealing Bush book. I'll wait for the paperback edition.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What's a Prophet to Do?

Jeremiah, in the Sixth century B.C.E., prophesied an unavoidable disaster coming upon the Hebrews. He began his mission from his home village, which immediately rejected him. He complained to God: "I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me." (Welcome to the real world, Jere!)

Jeremiah has been called "the weeping prophet," for none would listen to his rather bitter remarks about their idolatry. We have all seen cartoons of men in shrouds carrying signs "Repent! The end is near!" This was Jeremiah. If they were not throwing rocks, they were laughing at him.

He was informed of God there was a terrible punishment coming to Jerusalem. Their sin was bringing their destruction. This is a common theme throughout the Old Testament: suffering comes because of sin. I can't go along with that completely. Lots of folks suffer when sin has nothing to do with. Tsunamis, earthquakes, typhoons do not plague our world because of sin. (They do if you are a follower of the late Jerry Falwell or the aging Pat Robertson.)

Jeremiah was so outspoken about the doom that was coming, the king in Jerusalem (Zedekiah) considered him an outlaw and had him locked away in prison. (This actually probably saved his life there in the dungeon as Nebuchadnezzar's army destroyed and sacked the city.)

Jeremiah leaned that his message of doom was not the best way to be a prophet. He more and more began to emphasize the brighter side. The destruction that turned the people into refugees in a foreign land was temporary. Those left in the misery of war were not impressed. As he tired to assure them there was a "balm in Gilead," they merely clutched their rags and turned away. I would not condemn these hungry, hurting, homeless people for not listening to Jeremiah. They may have thought he brought the whole thing on them. He didn't, but the God of Israel did. Now God wants them to feel better.

Gilead was a fertile, mountainous region east of the Jordan River between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. (The area is now the western part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.)

Gilead was known for its spices, myrrh and healing balm. Jeremiah is saying there is help, there is medicine for their wayward spiritual disease of ignoring God.

The prophet asked a simple question: "Is there no balm in Gilead?" Don't give up. It is not the end of the world (but it was for thousands, as well as their Temple). Wake up and look around you (not a good turn of phrase, as all was rubble, and Gilead was far away)!

Most in the destroyed city knew the stories how the Northern Kingdom of Israel had vanished 200 years before. Totally gone from the face of the earth – to be known forever as "The Lost Tribes of Israel." Now, they too, were on the road to annihilation. A balm in Gilead was not in their list of needs. Hence they refused to listen to their coot of a prophet. What's a prophet to do?

Jeremiah could tell them over and over he was speaking for God, but they didn't like the message and thought less of the messenger.

From there, things began to go down hill for Jeremiah. He had every reason to be known as the "weeping prophet." He tired to do what God wanted him to do, but nothing ever turned out good.

If the Babylonians had not invaded Israel, the Egyptians would have. Israel (the Promised Land) just happened to be on the route to the two great civilizations of the time. Israel's bragging of having the only true God, just made neighboring countries and tribes that more angry.

God gave Abraham a promise, to make him a blessing and that his descendents would bless all peoples. After hundreds of years of famine, slavery and wars, the sons of Abraham sort of forgot their part of the deal. They turned the God of creation in their own national God and looked down on all other peoples and their gods year after year. There has never been any tolerance in Israel.

Centuries later, Jesus the Christ told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples and make it a better world. But they did not rush out to the ends of the earth until the Roman persecution made them refugees. Just as old Israel did not take God very seriously, neither have the followers of Jesus.

Sometimes I feel discouraged,/ And think my work's in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit/ Revives my soul again.

There is a balm in Gilead/ To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead/ To heal the sin sick soul.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From Burma to Brazil

My neighbor, Jesse Kidd, 85, originally of Arkansas, tramped through Burma with General Vinegar Stillwell's army during World War II, and missionary to Brazil, is one interesting old-timer to talk to. According to a Baptist Standard article, he is now an accomplished artist. He is a Quachita Baptist Univ. grad and his wife Wilma is Howard Payne Univ. graduate. Wilma was a secretary when I was a teenager at the FBC of Brownwood.

When Pvt. Kidd and the troops finally made it through the Burma jungles and to Kunming, China (a major base for American and Chinese military fighting the Japanese), they were flown to Shanghai. He remembers Christmas there and the Muen Methodist Church in the heart of town. In fact, the church faced the Royal British Race Track then. Now it is a park and site of a very modern museum. The church is still going strong. It was where Chiang Kai-shek wanted to marry Soong Meiling in the early 1930s, but the Bishop said no way, "Gen. Chiang, you have a wife already in the country."

I'm guessing Jesse Kidd loved the jungle so much, he and Wilma took off for Brazil. There was more to it than that. They served and began a lot of out-of-the-way places during their missionary years. (The photo is by George Henson of the Baptist Standard, used without complete approval of the photographer or Editor Marv Knox.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Elusive Truth

Today the airways are filled with ultra-conservative media, from right-wing "talk" shows to Christian programming of "seed" planting hype. Little chance to learn much truth from them. Their agenda is set, and truth has little to do with it. Like comedian Rust Limburger who along with Shame Hannity continue to blast our new president with lies and spin that would shatter a good old wooden top.

These "great Americans" as Hannity's worshipers call him and he calls them back, are hijacking the truth with their constant lying and distortions.

As a writer from Portland, Oregon, put it: "How can a democracy flourish when we can't even agree on what's true?"

Behold, our Lord is the shade on our right hand; the Lord will protect us from all evil; He will keep our soul.
Such reminders from the Psalms helps us to be careful in criticism and daring in discernment as we take each day in stride.

Enjoy the bluebonnets, they are as rare as truth this year.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Hope comes in many forms

Today President Barack Obama did what he promised on the campaign trail: To allow full research into Stem Cell Research. Dividing science from politics. Lifting Geo. W. Bush's band on federal funding on Stem Cell research. Making it possible for informed scientists and medical personnel to get on with finding a way to begin conquering many dreaded diseases.

This kind of decision concludes eight years of Middle Ages darkness and returns light and truth to research. The world deserves nothing less.

No one knows all that may come from this decision. It is not a medical miracle, but allows research to find the truth. To find what will help humanity. But to ignore progress and trust a false science based on miss-guided moral presumption is a bad direction to even consider.

Ideology trumped science for centuries. Doctors laughed at the doctor who suggested washing their hands between patients. That physician was laughed out of the hospital. But he was right.

Hope comes in many forms. May we not further hinder the hopes of many out in the future. As President Obama said today, "there is no finish line in science."

Nothing is more difficult than starting something new. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote something like that in the 15th century. This research no longer hampers science and medical from seeking the truth. "The Truth Will Set You Free" is quoted all the time for all sorts of things, but it is sure true in this case.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Two-year old Patricia Towery studies the handiwork of the tree-cutting experts, and wonders how they plan to get off the roof of the old storage house. {Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Photo by Joe Camp, 1964}

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Writer Who Spent His Life Listening

Texas' greatest storyteller, Horton Foote, died March 4. He was a literary genius no Texas writer ever achieved. [And there have been many: Katherine Ann Porter, Larry McMurtry, Elmer Kelton or William Sidney Porter (O. Henry)]. The footlights of Broadway were dimmed in his honor.

Twentieth century history is incomplete without his plays and films of small-town Texas. Many writers have tried to depict ordinary people and their ordinary lives. Only Foote could touch the heart with his stories about the hardships, change, especially the change death brings. He rendered tremendous resilience with and for characters as they face the realities of life.

Actor Robert Duvall, who made his screen debut in the Horton Foote screenplay, "To Kill a Mockingbird," said that “Horton was the great American voice. His work was native to his own region, but it was also universal.”

Frank Rich, political columnist for the New York Times and former outstanding theater critic once called Foote “one of America’s living literary wonders. A major American dramatist whose epic body of work recalls Chekhov in its quotidian comedy and heartbreak, and Faulkner in its ability to make his own corner of America stand for the whole.”

Wilborn Hampton's obituary for Foote in the New York Times shared the following with us:

"In a body of work for which he won the Pulitzer Prize and two Oscars, Mr. Foote was known as a writer’s writer, an author who never abandoned his vision or altered his simple, homespun style even when Broadway and Hollywood temporarily turned their backs on him. ... His work earned him a Pulitzer Prize and two Academy Awards."

Mr. Foote, in a 1986 interview in The New York Times Magazine, said: “I believe very deeply in the human spirit and I have a sense of awe about it because I don’t know how people carry on. What makes the difference in people? What is it? I’ve known people that the world has thrown everything at to discourage them, to kill them, to break their spirit. And yet something about them retains a dignity. They face life and don’t ask quarters.”

Another source wrote: "He often seemed to resemble a character from one of his own plays. Always courteous and courtly, he spoke with a slow Texas drawl. He enjoyed good food and wine but would usually opt for barbecue and iced tea or fried chicken with a Dr Pepper when he was home in Texas. He was a jovial man with a wry humor, and his white hair and robust frame gave him the appearance of a Southern senator or one’s favorite uncle, the one who always had a story."

He kept his home in Wharton, Texas, outside Houston, even after he could have villas and mansions anywhere. He was born there where his father was a haberdasher and his mother a piano teacher. He would have been 93 on Saturday, March 14.

When Horton Foote left home as a teenager, he never really left. Wilborn Hampton says it better than I could: "Although he boarded a train for Dallas at the age of 16 to pursue a career as an actor, Mr. Foote never really left home. From his first efforts as a playwright, he returned again and again to set his plays and films amid the pecan groves and Victorian houses with large front porches on the tree-lined streets of Wharton. His inspiration came from the people he knew and the stories he heard growing up there. “I’ve spent my life listening,” Mr. Foote once said.

Foote told David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor: "One thing I was given in life is a deep desire to listen. I've spent my life listening. When we were children, my brother – who preferred baseball – would ask me why I fooled with all these things! I said I didn't know, but I was just fascinated." His reliance upon dialogue to carry the meaning of the play is a result of listening.

Jody's Day Interupted

Jody had a birthday yesterday. Remember the old saying "all the plans of mice and men..." might unravel. Her's did. The day before her March 4th birthday, I stopped off to check with my doctor on minor stuff, like breathing and pain. He wheeled me to the hospital and the tests and checks on my heart took us two days – the second one was Jody's special day. A big dinner or celebration. I shared my hospital soup with her. Being the trooper she has always been, there was no anger, no self-pity, nary a complaint. Only her lovely smile and bright Irish eyes that keep me going.

Every good and perfect gift is from the Father above
, wrote James in his New Testament letter to believers. Adapting to change of our plans was good in that it got our attention regarding our health.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A far distant land

The outing ended up taking most of the day. Jody, Linda and Patricia and I drove from our apartment in Kowloon Tong to the New Territories area of Hong Kong Colony. Where we walked is now covered in high rise apartments. That was 1975 and the highlight was walking through a deserted Hakka farmhouse.

The Hakka (Ke-jia "guest people") migrated hundreds of years ago from north China to the south. We had worked with a Hakka chapel in Mei Nung, Taiwan, in the late 1950s. I did some study of their language, a mix of Cantonese, Mandarin and Wu dialects. In the old days, the Hakka men took watched the fields as the women worked. Never knew when the enemy might come from over the mountain and attack. So the men let the hard-working womenfolk handle crops and the stock and cooking.

Dr. Chou Lien-hua once told me if a Shanghai woman (they are renowned for their beauty, but otherwise useless) married a Hakka man, they would starve to death.

As you can tell, today I miss our old country and friends who meant so much to us. I am sure the Apostle Paul must have felt the same way, but he wrote: "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. (Phil. 4:11)."


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Morning & Evening

We are taught by the Lord God to love one another –-- We love because He first loved us --- Above all, keep fervent in your love one for another, because love covers a multitude of sins. --- Walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.

These words ring true. A truth that can be experienced. It is a mystery that love heals and comforts in every circumstance; that's not important. We will never fully understand. But we can recognize the source. We can thank God for it. We don't have to understand it, just thank God daily He cares so much. Now, even with love for God and people, life is viewed as through a smudged windshield. Any vision or hope we have is in our Lord Jesus, who has eternal vision.

It is good to tell of God's loving-kindness early in the morning, and of His truth in the night season (Psalm 92:2).