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“If a man has an apartment stacked to the ceiling with newspapers we call him crazy. If a woman has a trailer house full of cats we call her nuts. But when people pathologically hoard so much cash that they impoverish the entire nation, we put them on the cover of Fortune magazine and pretend that they are role models.”
-– B. Lester

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 Spirituality: The Abomination of Fences

OpinionBy Howard Bess

In the small Midwestern farm town in which I was born and raised there were no fences. We had a back yard, a front yard and side yards, but no fences. The school yards at the elementary schools that I attended had no fences. We had neighbors and I knew most everyone who lived in the 2,300 population community. The doors of our home were never locked. Such was life in Fairbury.

The only fences of which I was aware were found on the farms that surrounded my town. Fences were for horses, cows and pigs.

I attended college and graduate school in Chicago suburbs. Again I saw no fences except for one phenomenon. Rich people lived in big houses and typically fenced themselves in. That was my first clue that fences were somehow a special part of the lives of wealthy people.

After graduate school I moved to California. I purchased a very small house in a new subdivision. My neighbors started putting up fences. To my horror, I was fenced “out” by my neighbors. I think back on my experience moving from the Midwest to Southern California and try to understand the culture shock that I experienced. I lived in Southern California for 22 years, always enclosed by a fence. Californians added another wrinkle. Homes were built with garages that could be opened by a click of an opener. Entrance to homes was from a door from the garage. To get to know my neighbors, I had to work very hard at the task. I never became a Californian.

My own special addiction is studying the Bible. It is the most anti-fence book ever assembled. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Monday, July 08 @ 20:09:28 EDT (1187 reads)
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 Spirituality: David Barton's Make-Believe Version of American History

History / Culture
Despite the fact that he has no academic training in history or related fields at all, Barton has become the go-to man for much of the religious far right.

By Mark Potok

David Barton, a self-styled Christian historian who claims to debunk left-wing myths about America, is sure of it: If you studied the Founding Fathers like he has, you would know that "as far as they were concerned, they had already had the entire debate on creationism and evolution."

And the creationists, Barton says, won.

Just one little problem: Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species, the founding text of the theory of evolution, wasn't published until 1859. That's, oh, about three-quarters of a century after the founders were active.

The very same day that Barton offered up his unique view of creationism — a term that was first applied to American fundamentalist beliefs only in 1929 — he told his interviewer that most of the founders were abolitionists, even if George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many others were slaveholders. "That's why we said we want to separate from Britain, so we can end slavery," he said.

Hmmm. That was awfully noble of them. Except for one thing: The British were way out front of the Americans on this. In 1807, Parliament outlawed the slave trade in the British Empire. In subsequent years, it pressured other European nations to end or curtail the trade. In 1833, Britain abolished slavery completely. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, August 24 @ 17:18:19 EDT (2224 reads)
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 Spirituality: Hard Measures or Hard Truths?

War NewsPress Release From: www.nrcat.org
National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Jose Rodriguez is wrong –
torture is immoral, illegal, and doesn’t save lives

Washington, D.C. – Today, the first reports came out on a forthcoming book by Jose Rodriguez, former chief of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center, in which he claims that torture led to last year’s capture of Osama bin Laden. The book, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, will be released to the public on April 30. Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, released this statement today in response to reports on the book’s content:

“Jose Rodriguez shames himself in trying to publicly justify the use of torture during interrogations of 9-11 detainees. He is wrong to have engaged in torture then and continues to be wrong in defending it. The central argument he makes is that torture is justifiable because it worked. He tries to make us believe that interrogation ‘techniques’ that were originally developed in North Korea to make U.S. prisoners sign false confessions is an efficient means to acquire reliable information. He is wrong, and the results of a four-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into past CIA interrogations are likely to prove him wrong by showing that torture produced unreliable information and helped turn people against us. If, though, he continues to claim that he is correct, I hope that he will join me in calling for the results of that investigation to be made public....

Posted by Blue1moon on Saturday, April 28 @ 21:48:30 EDT (616 reads)
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 Spirituality: Protest, Tentions, Poetry and Christmas

HolidaysBy Howard Bess

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a magnificent building. Visitors swarm to visit this 400 year old architectural wonder that is known as England’s Cathedral. Until recently people did not take note that it was located in London’s financial district. It seemed that God and mammon existed quite comfortably next door to each other.

Then came the protestors. The Occupy Wall Street movement has not simply spread all across America. It is a worldwide protest movement that covers the globe. As the movement has spread, the message has not changed. More and more people of conscience do not believe that the wealth of the world should be controlled by a relatively small group of greedy, selfish super rich. In Christian teaching, greed is one of the seven deadly sins. From a purely secular point-of-view, few believe that billions should live in poverty while the elite rich live in flagrant luxury.

The protesters arrived in London. Their banners announced Occupy London Stock Exchange. The way London Police handled the protesters around London Stock Exchange was one matter. When the protesters took over the spacious court yards of England’s Cathedral, it was another dynamic. After all, Jesus was a protester in the court yard of the great Temple in Jerusalem. The confrontation between God and mammon was real. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Thursday, December 22 @ 17:59:22 EST (983 reads)
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 Spirituality: Yup, Still Here

The Newsby: William Rivers Pitt, Truthout

But of that day and hour no one knoweth, no, not the Angels of Heaven, but the Father alone. - Jesus of Nazareth

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a drive to visit friends and family in her small hometown out in western Pennsylvania. It was what you'd expect from a region that has been dealing with economic recession since the steel and rail industries dried up and blew away forty years ago - sweet and beautiful in places, blighted and depressing in others, but with the first faint bloom of spring on the trees whispering of better days to come - except for one strange, glaring thing.

It was one of those digital billboards, looming and gaudy amid the neglected sprawl of Altoona, and displayed on it was something I'd only heard about in passing. According to that blinking monstrosity, Jesus was going to ride back to Earth on the wave of a planet-annihilating earthquake that would summon The Faithful to Heaven and consign the remaining mass of sinful humanity to the yawning doom of the damned. This was to happen on May 21st, roundabout six in the evening (Eastern Standard Time), and the last dregs of the un-chosen would be completely scourged from the Earth by October.

By the time we left for home, I had spotted three more billboards of varying sizes and technologies espousing the same apocalyptic message, and upon our return, I did some digging. As it turned out, these things had been popping up all over the country; even here in liberal Boston, I discovered the existence of one of these billboards not three miles from where I now sit. Something called Family Radio Worldwide, in the guise of a fellow named Harold Camping, laid out the scratch to buy all that billboard space across the continent, because ol' Harold had consulted his trusty Bible, done some wildly questionable math, and pulled the exact moment of the End Times out of his cash-filled hat. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Saturday, May 21 @ 18:06:18 EDT (537 reads)
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 Spirituality: U.S. Sets Up Special Prisons For Muslim/Arab Inmates

PoliticsBy Sherwood Ross

If you think the U.S. Bureau of Prisons(BOP) couldn't possibly make its prisons more inhumane no matter how hard it tried, you are wrong. It has created CMUs, or Communications Management Units, where the “management” part consists of denying inmates virtually all communication with their families and the outside world. In its Terre Haute, Ind., facility, the BOP is concentrating Arab/Muslim inmates and limiting them to mailing one six-page letter per week, making one 15-minute phone call per month, and receiving only one 60-minute visit per month.

Word of the restrictive new facilities came to light when Rafil Dhafir, an American doctor born in Iraq (and convicted of sending money to a charity he founded there and other non-violent crimes,) claimed he was imprisoned in Terre Haute as part of “a nationwide operation to put Muslims/Arabs in one place so that we can be closely monitored regarding our communications.” Subsequent inquiries showed that Dhafir had a case. While Muslims make up just six percent of the federal prison population, 18 of 33 prisoners at Terre Haute, or 55%, are Muslim, and 23 of 36, or 64%, at Marion, Ill., are Muslim.

BOP's actions have been challenged legally by the Center for Constitutional Rights(CCR) which, The Nation magazine reports in its March 28th issue, contends inmates are being shifted to these facilities “based on their religion and/or perceived political beliefs.” ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Saturday, March 26 @ 10:31:09 EDT (635 reads)
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 Spirituality: Was Jesus a Socialist?

HolidaysBy Robert Bows

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
--William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming, 1920

One of the techniques of successful propaganda is to repeat a statement over and over again until people believe it to be true, as any encounter with the media and the pulpit amply demonstrates. So, to transform the world into a sustainable and progressive place, we must deconstruct the underlying lies promulgated by the mouthpieces of plutocratic propaganda, by which they justify the current state of affairs.

Given the increasing gap between rich and poor, the sharp spike in religious fundamentalism, and the impunity with which corporate-controlled states seize resources to which they have no legitimate claim, one of our first priorities must be to disable the use of religious dogma to justify greed and war.

Since surveys indicate that three-quarters of Americans consider themselves to be Christians, let’s begin there.[1]

It has become a tenet of faith for many Christians that they can simultaneously practice their religion and conduct economic affairs in their own self interest. Indeed, ever since the Protestant Reformation arose from the pressures of the Industrial Revolution, the pulpits of Christianity have been used to turn wealth (economic success) into an indication of favor from God.

Let’s go back to the source of Christianity and see if such thinking holds up. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, December 24 @ 01:15:20 EST (791 reads)
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 Spirituality: Troops Punished After Refusing to Attend Evangelical Concert

War Newsby: Mike Ludwig, t r u t h o u t | Report

Update: An Army spokesman now says the Pentagon will investigate soldiers' claims that they were punished for refusing to attend the Christian-themed concert.

Pvt. Anthony Smith is the type of guy who stands up for what he believes in. That's why he decided to hold his commanding officers accountable for punishing him and fellow soldiers after they refused to attend an evangelical Christian rock concert at the Fort Eustis military post in Virginia.

After a day of training at Fort Eustis, Smith and other trainees were normally released to have personal time, but on May 13, Smith and dozens of others were "required" to march in formation to a concert headlined by an evangelical Christian rock band. Smith spent six months training at Fort Eustis before moving to Arizona to serve on active duty with the National Guard.

"No option was presented to us off the bat," Smith told Truthout about the required concert. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, August 20 @ 20:53:49 EDT (637 reads)
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 Spirituality: Christian Commitment to Disobedience

History / CultureBy Howard Bess

Among early followers of Jesus from Nazareth, their first and most profound confession was “Christ is Lord!” They all understood the significance of that confession.

When they faced the challenge of bowing down to Caesar and obeying the Roman government or living by the teachings of Jesus, their minds were quite clear. They followed the teachings of Jesus. They became a persecuted people and many lost their lives because of their commitment to their Christ.

This defiance of rulers and governments has been repeated in every generation. Here in the U.S. the latest challenge to Christian morality is taking place in Arizona. The State of Arizona has passed a very harsh law that they hope will bring under control the flood of illegal Mexican immigrants that continue to cross over the Mexico-Arizona border. The Arizona law can be criticized for fostering racial profiling and illegal searches. Those concerns are real, but they are not the issue that prompts this column.

Churches in Arizona of every kind, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, liberal and conservative, offer services to people in need. Churches seldom ask about immigration status. Typically they provide services with a full knowledge that some recipients are in the U.S. illegally. On this subject, I suspect I represent not a few Christians. We help people who have needs. We are not and can never be an arm of the law. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Saturday, July 17 @ 14:21:02 EDT (614 reads)
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 Spirituality: No Dominion:

War NewsThe Lonely, Dangerous Fight Against Christian Supremacists Inside the Armed Services

by: Matthew Harwood, t r u t h o u t | Report

In his fight against British imperialism, Mahatma Gandhi described the life cycle of successful civil disobedience: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mikey Weinstein, the 55-year-old founder of the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), likes to quote it, knowing full well he's crossed the line into a bloody-knuckle brawl. Over the past year, Weinstein and his organization have recorded a tremendous string of victories in the fight against Christian supremacists inside the armed forces.

In January, the MRFF broke the story on the Pentagon's Jesus Rifles, where rifle scopes used in Afghanistan and Iraq were embossed with New Testament verses. In April, he got the military to rescind its invitation to the Reverend Franklin Graham to speak at May's National Prayer Day because of Islamophobic remarks. Most shockingly, MRFF received its second nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in late October. These high-profile victories have earned him the enmity of the hardcore Christian Right and the mentally unstable. And the crazies are getting crazier. Weinstein and his family are bombarded with hate mail, from the grammatically incorrect and easy to dismiss - "I hope all your kids turn out gay as hell, take it in the ass, and get aids and die!!!!" - to the kind of threats that immediately make you leap out of your chair and double-check that the doors and windows are locked. (MRFF has referred multiple death threats on Mikey, his family, and MRFF employees to the FBI.) ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Monday, July 12 @ 20:59:30 EDT (696 reads)
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 Spirituality: Would That You Knew The Ways of Peace

Peace By Howard Bess

According to the Luke gospel, Jesus and his disciples were approaching Jerusalem about a week from his execution as a trouble maker. In his religious tradition, Jerusalem was a holy city, but Jesus did not see anything holy about the place. According to the account, Jesus began crying and said, “…would that you knew the ways of peace.”

Can a place be called holy and be totally committed to war and violence?

A thousand years earlier, the Children of Israel by force of armed might took the city away from people we now call Palestinians. King David established Jerusalem as the home of God by killing anyone and everyone who stood in his way. Three thousand years later, there is no shortage of people who want the holy city, and they are willing to kill to get it.

And Jesus hovers over the city and with tears in his eyes whispers “…would that you knew the ways of peace.”

This morning I led a small group of people through a funeral of tragic sorrow. Together we claimed the peace of God for a troubled lady. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, February 05 @ 16:05:17 EST (828 reads)
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 Spirituality: Edgar Allan Poe and the Role of Poetry

ArtBy Howard Bess

I am writing this column on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe comes to my attention for multiple reasons.

I serve on the Board of Directors of Palmer Arts Council. The Council attempts to bring to life artistic endeavors in our community. One of our annual events is the celebration of poetry month each April. We are deep into planning the events. We will be publishing a 50 page anthology of locally written poetry. The theme will be the 75th anniversary of the depression era move of 200 farm families from the Upper Midwest to the valley in which we live.

Poetry in abundance will be read and recited during April. In cooperation with the local school district, there will be poetry slams for local students. Local poets will be featured at evening poetry readings at a downtown Palmer coffee shop. Readers of poetry will be placed in many businesses and will read poetry for any who will listen. I hope to be placed in a local restaurant where I will go from table to table, reciting and reading poetry to willing listeners. My repertoire ranges from Invictus to Psalm 23 to Mary Had a Little Lamb. And my offerings include a rendition of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

We who live in Alaska live in the land of the raven. The majority of Americans think of the Ravens as a football team from Baltimore. Not so in Alaska. Ravens are a part of our every day life. We watch ravens in abundance and ponder their movements and social behavior. We listen to their speech and wonder about the content of their conversations with one another. A faithful listener knows they have an extensive vocabulary and fine communication skills. Ravens are central to the legends and myths of native Alaskans, whether Eskimo, Indian or Aleute. It is the ravens that bring wisdom and understanding to life. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Saturday, January 30 @ 17:56:26 EST (1225 reads)
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 Spirituality: The Big Jesus Question….Who Was He?

Holidays By Howard Bess

Jesus from Nazareth was still a young man when he was killed in Jerusalem. The best estimate is that he was in his early 30s. His public career as a teacher and prophet was short. No longer than three years. His impact on poor, rural people in northern Palestine was profound. His listeners had never heard or seen anything quite like him. He made a trip to Jerusalem and his life was snuffed out quickly. He was crucified as a rabble rousing trouble maker.

After the shock of his death, the truth that he spoke took on a life of its own. His followers were emboldened to repeat his stories and sayings. The phenomenon of oral tradition among poor people worked its magic. His band of followers grew rapidly. Inevitably the key question was asked. “Who was he?”

The first writing witness about Jesus was Paul from Tarsus, the persecutor of Jesus followers. Paul had a profound spiritual experience while traveling toward Damascus. About ten years after the death of Jesus, Paul experienced Jesus as a blinding light that threw him to the ground. Paul became convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead and was alive and powerfully at work in the world. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, December 18 @ 21:57:24 EST (734 reads)
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 Spirituality: O Little Town of Bethlehem!

HolidaysIsrael, Palestine and American Christian Hypocrites

by Francis Boyle

It was December of 1991 and I was serving as Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations in Washington DC. The Israelis were stalling,not even negotiating in bad faith, and the Americans under Baker and Ross were doing nothing to get the negotiations started.

This had been going on for 3 weeks and Christmas was fast approaching. Those of us on the Palestinian Team who were Christian were wondering if we were going to be able to get home for Christmas--many Palestinians are Christian, the original Christians, going back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles themselves. I would periodically check in with my wife and 2 sons at the time--little boys. My poor, sweet wife had to do all the Christmas preparations by herself without me. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Thursday, December 03 @ 13:48:30 EST (742 reads)
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 Spirituality: Work In The Vineyard, A Different View

HolidaysBy Howard Bess

In my love affair with the Bible, I find myself returning to very familiar passages to find new and clearer applications for our modern world. I am haunted by the peril of not modernizing Jesus. I return over and over again to the parables of Jesus for new insights. The story of the laborers in the vineyard is such a challenge.

The story is found in the 20th chapter of the Matthew Gospel. This is a parable found only in Matthew. The key characters are an owner, a foreman, and a large body of expendable street people, who were desperate for work. (If the reader is not familiar with the parable, I suggest you stop for a moment and read the story.)

Matthew wrote his version of the story two generations after it was told as a key part of Jesus’ teaching ministry. Matthew used the story to illustrate a simple statement. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. He introduced the story by saying that it was a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. Today the best of critical scholarship says that neither the introduction nor the conclusion was a part of the story as first told by Jesus. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Monday, September 07 @ 20:17:22 EDT (936 reads)
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