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Trump is all about self. His bigotry, his boasting, his lies, his pride, his scams of the vulnerable, his worship of materialism, his insults of the dead, his turning a blind eye to refugees, his bragging of adulterous behavior, his treatment of “the least” among us — all of this is antithetical to Christian philosophy.


11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used to gain power. And it works too well.
Posted Jan 22, 2017
Stephanie A. Sarkis Ph.D.

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn't realize how much they've been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind. 

In my book Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People - and Break Free  I detail how gaslighters typically use the following techniques: 

1. They tell blatant lies.

You know it's an outright lie. Yet they are telling you this lie with a straight face. Why are they so blatant? Because they're setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you're not sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-kilter is the goal. 

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. 

You know they said they would do something; you know you heard it. But they out and out deny it. It makes you start questioning your reality—maybe they never said that thing. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs. 

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition. 

They know how important your kids are to you, and they know how important your identity is to you. So those may be one of the first things they attack. If you have kids, they tell you that you should not have had those children. They will tell you'd be a worthy person if only you didn't have a long list of negative traits. They attack the foundation of your being. 

4. They wear you down over time.

This is one of the insidious things about gaslighting—it is done gradually, over time. A lie here, a lie there, a snide comment every so often...and then it starts ramping up. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting—it is that effective. It's the "frog in the frying pan" analogy: The heat is turned up slowly, so the frog never realizes what's happening to it. 

5. Their actions do not match their words.

When dealing with a person or entity that gaslights, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means nothing; it is just talk. What they are doing is the issue. 

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.

This person or entity that is cutting you down, telling you that you don't have value, is now praising you for something you did. This adds an additional sense of uneasiness. You think, "Well maybe they aren't so bad." Yes, they are. This is a calculated attempt to keep you off-kilter—and again, to question your reality. Also look at what you were praised for; it is probably something that served the gaslighter. 

7. They know confusion weakens people. 

Gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy. Their goal is to uproot this and make you constantly question everything. And humans' natural tendency is to look to the person or entity that will help you feel more stable—and that happens to be the gaslighter. 

8. They project.

They are a drug user or a cheater, yet they are constantly accusing you of that. This is done so often that you start trying to defend yourself, and are distracted from the gaslighter's own behavior. 

9. They try to align people against you.

Gaslighters are masters at manipulating and finding the people they know will stand by them no matter what—and they use these people against you. They will make comments such as, "This person knows that you're not right," or "This person knows you're useless too." Keep in mind it does not mean that these people actually said these things. A gaslighter is a constant liar. When the gaslighter uses this tactic it makes you feel like you don't know who to trust or turn to—and that leads you right back to the gaslighter. And that's exactly what they want: Isolation gives them more control. 

10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.

This is one of the most effective tools of the gaslighter, because it's dismissive. The gaslighter knows if they question your sanity, people will not believe you when you tell them the gaslighter is abusive or out-of-control. It's a master technique. 

11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.

By telling you that everyone else (your family, the media) is a liar, it again makes you question your reality. You've never known someone with the audacity to do this, so they must be telling the truth, right? No. It's a manipulation technique. It makes people turn to the gaslighter for the "correct" information—which isn't correct information at all.

The more you are aware of these techniques, the quicker you can identify them and avoid falling into the gaslighter's trap. 

Mayor Pete and the Queering of the American Soul
His rise is a sign that more L.G.B.T. people are finding spiritual homes in houses of faith.

By Steven Paulikas
Mr. Paulikas is an Episcopal priest.
April 17, 2019
Pete Buttigieg kicked off his presidential campaign in South Bend, Ind., on Sunday.CreditCreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

“I like Mayor Pete because the way he talks about being openly gay shows strength of character.”

I heard this comment not at a political rally or an informal gathering of the like-minded, but in church. At my church, to be precise, during coffee hour following the weekly service. When the congregants sitting around the table in our church basement heard this opinion about the Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, they all nodded in agreement.

Mr. Buttigieg’s ability to articulate his sexual orientation through the lens of faith has captured public attention and drawn him into a theological spat with Vice President Mike Pence. The fact that the first openly gay major presidential candidate is also a Christian is indeed remarkable, a milestone in the visibility of L.G.B.T. people of faith. Yet it is also the result of a process that has been taking place in American religion for decades.

Pete Buttigieg is not the first openly gay Christian. Rather, he is the product of a slow-moving but steady trend among faith communities to acknowledge the inherent theological value of the spiritual experience of L.G.B.T. people. In the process, American religion is becoming less straight. Mr. Buttigieg’s popularity demonstrates the appetite for a mainstream narrative of religion beyond reflexive associations with social conservatism. But it also signals the budding of a queerer soul of this society.

The L.G.B.T. community increasingly is finding a home in houses of faith. The latest Pew Research Center study found that just over half of L.G.B.T. adults claim a religious affiliation. The growing portion of organized religion that affirms same-sex marriage and queer leadership sits within this landscape alongside lively pockets of welcome within traditions with officially homophobic policies.

The United Methodist Church’s rejection this year of L.G.B.T.-affirming measures, for instance, was less an act of exclusion than the result of the inability of that church’s internal polity to keep pace with its flourishing ministry among L.G.B.T. Americans. But opinion among even Roman Catholics and evangelicals is increasingly affirming, and with support even higher among younger adherents, it is reasonable to conclude that American religion will continue to expand its embrace of queerness.

Secular and nominally religious Americans can be forgiven for their surprise at this trend. Underneath the dominant narrative that equates religion with socially conservative causes, religious institutions have quietly been in productive — if contentious and sometimes violent — dialogue with queerness for decades. From pioneering figures like the civil rights leader and openly queer Episcopal priest Pauli Murray to the New York Fire Department chaplain and Sept. 11 hero Mychal Judge to Debbie Friedman’s indelible mark on Jewish sacred music, queerness has hovered around religion since the beginning of the gay liberation movement of the 1960s.

Though often hidden, these contributions to religious life at large helped shape the world of faith from the inside even as most religious institutions inflicted untold pain and suffering on their L.G.B.T. members. As heavy a price as many queer people continue to pay within their faith communities, prolonged struggle is a familiar trope in the history of lasting and meaningful religious reform.

Enter Pete Buttigieg. I’ll admit that his candidacy feels personal to me. Like him, I’m a gay Episcopalian from the Midwest. We’re roughly the same age, both have hard-to-pronounce names, and came out relatively late in life by today’s standards. I know well this cloth from which he is cut — the precocious young man driven to overachievement in order to beat back the unwanted but equally unavoidable truth of his sexuality.

When I was growing up in 1990s, there was no model of public leadership that included openly gay men, to say nothing of other forms of queerness that benefit from far less privilege. So I understand what Mr. Buttigieg means when he admitted that years ago he “would have done anything not to be gay.” 

What is often overlooked in society’s widening affirmation of L.G.B.T. people is the immense spiritual burden this exclusion has historically placed on the young. As queer youth seek to make their place in the world, most have had no choice but to abandon homophobic structures, perhaps most significantly the religious institutions in which they were raised. The only other option was to remain closeted.

This is implicitly the choice Mr. Pence presents to Mr. Buttigieg and the rest of us who are like him — either deny who you are or be excluded from the community of faith.

So it is difficult to understate the symbolic and spiritual power of the kickoff of Mr. Buttigieg’s presidential campaign on Sunday. There was no question that this candidate was a gay man. At the conclusion of his speech, he embraced his husband, Chasten, to whom he was marriedin a service at South Bend’s Episcopal cathedral last year.

Chasten Buttigieg is significant to the gay community in much the same way Michelle Obama is to African-Americans — an affable and charismatic political spouse who affirms his husband’s commitment to his minority identity. So here, standing before a cheering crowd and the national media, were two queer people whose manner of life and intrinsic being enjoyed the blessing of their faith. Our political system is not designed to be an instrument of salvation, encouraging as it do the self-interests of the figures who inhabit it. But they do reveal the spirit of our society, which is why this moment felt particularly spiritually poignant.

When I felt the calling to be ordained as a teenager, I resolved to push my sexuality as deep down from view as I could for fear that it would hinder me from entering the vocation I dreamed of. Yet it was my church that ultimately coaxed me out into the fullness of the person God created me to be.

This was not an act of accommodation on the part of the church, but a fulfillment of its ancient mission of liberating souls from spiritual bondage. As Christians and Jews enter the holy season of Easter and Passover, the holiday will be the queerest — and most spiritually liberated — we have ever experienced. But only until next year.

Steven Paulikas (@stevenpaulikas) is the rector of All Saints’ Church in Brooklyn.



Pete Buttigieg, Gay and Christian, Challenges Religious Right on Their Own Turf

By Jeremy W. Peters
April 10, 2019

WASHINGTON — As a religious gay man who believes his party has ceded discussion of religion and spirituality to Republicans, Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic candidate for president, is talking about God and sexuality in an unconventional way: He is using the language of faith to confront the Christian right on territory they have long claimed as their own.

Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has provoked a backlash from conservatives in the last few days after questioning the moral authority of evangelicals like Vice President Mike Pence who remain silent about President Trump’s personal conduct yet disapprove of same-sex marriages and oppose gay rights.

Though many conservatives were initially reticent to engage Mr. Buttigieg because they feared it would only add to his growing stature as a 2020 contender, they jumped on his latest comments. Some suggested he was attacking the vice president to further raise his profile. Others challenged Mr. Buttigieg’s understanding of Christianity and accused him of smearing the religious convictions of the very people he wants to win over.

A devoted Episcopalian who fluidly quotes Scripture and married his husband, Chasten, in a church service last year, Mr. Buttigieg is making the argument that marriage is a “moral issue.” In a speech on Sunday to the Victory Fund, a group that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender politicians, he said his relationship had made him “more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent.”

He then directly addressed Mr. Pence, as one man of faith talking to another: “And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.”

This is not the domain where social conservatives and gay rights advocates are used to doing battle. In the decade and a half since same-sex marriage became a galvanizing issue for both sides, the national debate has largely focused on the tension between civil rights and individual freedoms.

Mr. Buttigieg has reframed it in religious terms, raising questions about God, morality, sexuality and intolerance that depart from the familiar left-right fault lines. That quickly caught the attention of Republicans and conservative media commentators, who tried to cast his remarks as an unprovoked attack on faith-abiding Christians.

Karen Pence, the vice president’s wife, insisted Tuesday that her husband has no quarrel with Mr. Buttigieg. “I don’t think the vice president does have a problem with him,” she said in an interview with Fox News radio. “I think in our country we need to understand you shouldn’t be attacked for what your religious beliefs are,” she added, noting that the speech was probably “helping Pete to get some notoriety.”

Mr. Buttigieg, who has been mayor of South Bend since 2012, had a friendly working relationship with Mr. Pence while Mr. Pence was governor of Indiana. They toured factories together and occasionally exchanged text messages.

But Mr. Buttigieg has cited Mr. Pence’s support for legislation that made it easier for religious conservatives to refuse service to gay couples as a reason he decided to come out publicly in 2015.

Mr. Pence’s office responded to Mr. Buttigieg’s comments this week by releasing an old video clip in which he praised the mayor as a “dedicated public servant and a patriot.” Mr. Buttigieg’s ramped-up attacks on Mr. Pence have miffed the vice president, who has privately told allies that if Mr. Buttigieg had questions about his religious beliefs, he could have asked him at any time during their friendship.

The issue followed the vice president to the United Nations on Wednesday, where reporters shouted questions at him about whether being gay was a choice. Mr. Pence walked away without answering.

The reaction from other conservatives was less measured. A Fox News host, Todd Starnes, accused the mayor of wanting “to shove evangelical Christians into the closet.”

Erick Erickson, an evangelical blogger, said that Mr. Buttigieg’s comments about religious conservatives who support Mr. Trump suggest that he “would be O.K. with using the government to persecute Christians.” After Mr. Buttigieg spoke about his beliefs in an interview with USA Today, Mr. Erickson wrote a blog post headlined, “Mayor Pete Buttigieg Apparently Thinks Jesus Would Be Okay With Beastiality.” (Mr. Buttigieg actually said nothing on that subject, though he did quote a favorite Bible verse: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”)

Mr. Buttigieg has provoked a mixture of concern, derision and faint admiration from conservatives. Some built him up early as an undeniable but stealth force in the race. Rush Limbaugh warned his listeners that someone as articulate, personal and seemingly reasonable as Mr. Buttigieg would be a strong opponent. Ben Shapiro, the writer and podcast host, argued that he was the candidate who could most likely beat Mr. Trump. “Really. He’s not crazy, he’s from the Rust Belt, he served in Afghanistan,” Mr. Shapiro wrote on Twitter.

But this week provided a moment of clarity on the right, and the backlash was a reminder of how galvanizing religion and homosexuality can be when evangelicals and other conservatives of faith are convinced that their values are under attack. This sentiment, which was stoked by Mr. Trump and his allies in the Christian right in 2016, was a major factor in the president’s huge margins with white evangelicals. Eighty-one percent voted for him, compared with 16 percent for Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, if Mr. Buttigieg continues to gain in the polls, it could prompt the religious right to draw attention to numerous comments he has made about evangelicals and Mr. Trump — “the hypocrisy is unbelievable,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this week — as conservatives did after Mrs. Clinton called Trump voters a “basket of deplorables.”

Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said Mr. Buttigieg’s approach struck him as odd given how so much of his message has been focused on unity and restoring the Democratic Party’s relationship with voters who are more religious and conservative. “It seems to me the solution to that is not to attack the faith of anyone else, whether it is the president, the vice president or anyone else,” Mr. Reed said. “The solution should be to talk about their own faith.”

Mr. Buttigieg’s words suggest that he will spend little effort trying to entice any of the president’s most loyal religious supporters. But by pushing the discussion of homosexuality and marriage toward morality and the Bible, he is opening a door to voters of faith who are turned off by the dominance of the Republican Party’s far right but are not yet convinced they could vote for a Democrat.

That approach would be similar to the one Barack Obama took in 2008 when he received 26 percent of the white evangelical vote. Mr. Trump’s approval rating among white evangelicals has remained high — 69 percent as of January, according to the Pew Research Center. But that has slipped 9 points since his inauguration.

Some evangelical Christians say that the fracture over Mr. Trump within their community runs so deep that the desire for an alternative — especially one like Mr. Buttigieg, who is so temperamentally different from the profane, brash and unpredictable president — will remain strong.

Pete Wehner, an evangelical who worked in the George W. Bush White House and has split with his community and his party over Mr. Trump, said the way Mr. Buttigieg speaks with ease and familiarity about Christianity is a trait many voters will find to be a welcome contrast with the president.

“It’s not a foreign language to him like it is to Donald Trump, so you’re not going to get ‘Two Corinthians’ from him,” Mr. Wehner said, referring to Mr. Trump’s flub of the Bible book properly referred to as “Second Corinthians.”

“He speaks about faith in a way that is largely nonthreatening and not filled with anger,” Mr. Wehner added. “That is a real opening.”

But the unflagging devotion that most white evangelicals have for the president suggests that many will be far more concerned with policy results like conservative Supreme Court justices than with electing someone who speaks their language. The relevant question for Mr. Buttigieg is whether there is a critical mass of those who are wavering.

“Mayor Pete could not have hoped to capture conservative Christian voters or moderate Christian voters at any point in modern American history — until now,” said Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical author and speaker who disagrees with the decision by evangelical political leaders to stand by the president.

Mr. Merritt, who believes the taint of hypocrisy has turned many young evangelicals like him away from traditional leaders, said he remembers growing up in the South when antipathy toward President Bill Clinton and his personal conduct was running hot.

The line he remembers seeing and hearing over and over, he said, was “character matters.”

Katie Rogers contributed reporting from the United Nations.

A version of this article appears in print on April 10, 2019, on Page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Gay and Christian, a 2020 Contender Challenges the Religious Right. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe



Evangelicals helped get Trump into the White House. Pete Buttigieg believes the religious left will get him out.

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey 2019 March 29    WaPo

A gay mayor from Vice President Pence’s home state who wrote a Harvard thesis on the Puritans, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg wants his party to embrace religion but not at the expense of excluding others.

In an interview Wednesday about his faith, Buttigieg said the Democratic Party has sometimes become distant from religion, but it’s “a side effect of something healthy” because of its commitment to the separation of church and state, and the belief that it speaks for people of any faith and of no faith equally.

“I think there’s an opportunity hopefully for religion to be not so much used as a cudgel but invoked as a way of calling us to higher values,” he said.

Mayor of South Bend, Ind., Buttigieg (pronounced “Buddha-judge,” his husband says) recently went from political obscurity to matching former congressman Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Amy Klobuchar with 6 percent support in an Iowa poll released this week by the progressive group Focus on Rural America.

Mayor of the home to the University of Notre Dame, one of the most prominent Catholic schools in the country and where his parents were professors, the 37-year-old Episcopalian did not grow up in a religious home. His interest in faith emerged in Catholic high school, when he was drawn to Catholic theology, and grew while he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University.

Now Buttigieg wants a “less dogmatic” religious left to counter the religious right, an unofficial coalition of religious conservatives that for decades has helped get mostly Republicans into office.

“I think it’s unfortunate [the Democratic Party] has lost touch with a religious tradition that I think can help explain and relate our values,” he said. “At least in my interpretation, it helps to root [in religion] a lot of what it is we do believe in, when it comes to protecting the sick and the stranger and the poor, as well as skepticism of the wealthy and the powerful and the established.”

He thinks President Trump has found favor among many white evangelicals and white Catholics because of his opposition to abortion, he said. But Buttigieg said he believes the president is behaving “in bad faith” and said there’s no evidence that he doesn’t favor abortion rights deep down.

“I do think it’s strange, though, knowing that no matter where you are politically, the gospel is so much about inclusion and decency and humility and care for the least among us, that a wealthy, powerful, chest-thumping, self-oriented, philandering figure like this can have any credibility at all among religious people,” he said.

The alignment of Pence, the former governor of his home state, with Trump can only be explained in one of two ways, he said.

“Either he abandoned his religious principles in order to be part of this campaign and administration,” he said. “Or he has some very strange sense of destiny, that God somehow wants this in order to get somewhere better, which I think does very little credit to God, but it’s the only other possible explanation.”

Buttigieg spoke about Pence using a story about the danger of Pharisees and hypocrites from the Bible.

“When you see someone who has such a dogmatic take on faith and bring it into public life, being willing to attach themselves to this administration for the purposes of gaining power,” he said. “It is alarmingly resonant with some New Testament themes, and not in a good way.”

The vice president’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Faith and sexuality

Buttigieg, who is married to another man, wrestled with his public identity as a gay man during a decade when his own church and state battled over same-sex marriage under the national spotlight.

Marie Griffith, a historian at Washington University in St. Louis who writes about religion and sex, said she finds it compelling that his sexuality and his politics haven’t doomed him in a conservative religious environment in Indiana.

“He clearly articulated a progressive Christian faith better than just about any other white man I can think of,” she said. She later said that she meant to describe “white male candidates.”

Buttigieg was married last year in a denomination that only in the past decade began performing same-sex marriages. The marriage debate was hovering over the Episcopal church and over his diocese, he said, around 2008, when he moved back to South Bend.

“Thankfully, it had been settled as far as our diocese was concerned by the time I got married, because I wanted to be married in the church, and I’m glad we were able to do that,” he said.

Growing up, he said, Buttigieg found tensions between faith and sexuality. “I found it difficult to reconcile with organized religion,” he said.

Now, he said, he understands why people believe the Christian faith leads them to oppose same-sex marriage, but hopes they encounter scripture interpreted a different way.

“I hope that teachings about inclusion and love win out over what I personally consider to be a handful of scriptures that reflect the moral expectations of the era in which they were recorded,” he said.

Buttigieg decided to come out to his city in a newspaper column after a controversy in Indiana over the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015, which raised questions about the right to freedom of religion and LGBT rights.

“Our right to practice our faith freely is respected up to the point where doing so involves harming others,” he said. “One of the problems with RFRA was it authorized harming others so long as you remembered to use your religion as an excuse.”

Buttigieg stands out in the Democratic field because, in most ways, he doesn’t actually stand out, said Kristin Du Mez, a historian at Calvin College who studies religion and politics.

“He’s white, he’s Christian, he’s clean-cut, he’s a Midwesterner, a mayor of a Rust Belt city. But then he’s also gay,” she said. “He’s just talking in a matter-of-fact way about his husband, his family, his values. So it seems less radical in some ways, and more ‘normal.’ Which is probably exactly what the Democratic Party needs right now.”

The path to church

Buttigieg didn’t have a “Road to Damascus” moment, he said, referring to the Apostle Paul’s sudden conversion in the Bible. Growing up, Buttigieg’s parents were always interested in Christianity but not regular churchgoers.

His father was in seminary to become a Jesuit in the 1960s, but he eventually emerged as a secular intellectual, and his mother was “attached to the Episcopal faith” but didn’t go to many services.

At Harvard, Buttigieg studied under Sacvan Bercovitch, a prominent scholar who traced American “exceptionalism” to the Puritans of New England. Under his professor’s influence, Buttigieg wrote a thesis about a Puritan sermon by Samuel Danforth, who excoriated the faithful for forgetting why they had come to America (to make other lands more like the image of heaven and earth).

“You can’t understand America without understanding the Puritans,” he said. “In many ways, we’re still living out their legacy in ways that are good and bad.

When he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, he “became more drawn to the church,” eventually deciding to join the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend. The beauty of religious observance, he said, made him more aware of the limits of human knowledge, power and reason.

Now he calls himself “liturgically more conservative,” preferring to be in a group setting with a set liturgy. He tries to attend services weekly and spends time reading scripture when he can. He said he looks for religious inspiration from people who have put faith into action, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and “modern-day heirs to that tradition,” including the Rev. William Barber, a North Carolina minister.

“As we talk of the need for a religious left, we should remember that the black church has been [putting faith into action] for quite some time,” he said.

Darren Dochuk, a historian at Notre Dame who writes about religion and politics, said Buttigieg clearly endorses a progressive faith rooted in Christian social gospel teachings, a movement that tied faith to action, which many young people in both Protestant and Catholic churches will find appealing.

“I have doubts that his talk about God and social Christianity and his desire to shift the religious politics of our day to the left will gain much traction among a majority of white evangelicals and conservative Catholics,” he said, citing opposition to Buttigieg’s abortion rights stance and the anti-LGBTQ sentiments in those communities. “Whatever the case, I think he rightly senses the need for Democrats to quit avoiding or dodging or minimizing the God factor in American politics.”

An increasingly loud religious left

Buttigieg’s hope for a revived religious left is not new. Religious liberals have been voicing similar sentiments for years. But in 2019 with Trump in office, many see an opportunity to give Democratic policies moral language.

Buttigieg points to Catholic thinkers as influential in forming his idea of the role of faith in politics. In a government class at his Catholic high school, he was shown the 1989 film “Romero,” about Salvadoran bishop Óscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 after challenging the ruling elites, a story that helped form his understanding of human rights.

He also said he has been influenced by Catholic liberation theology, which was practiced and preached in Latin America beginning in the 1960s as a call to action against unjust societies that oppressed the poor and has found the spotlight again under Pope Francis.

He especially respects the work of early Christian theologian St. Augustine, Catholic historian Garry Wills and Jesuits like popular priest James Martin. On Saturday, Buttigieg and Martin will get awards from a gay and lesbian alumni organization from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College.

Martin noted that several of the other Democratic candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring have been quick to highlight their faith, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.

“Frankly, it’s a refreshing change and should remind us that no one political party, and neither the right nor the left, has a lock on the Christian faith,” Martin said.

Many of the problems with religious politics, Buttigieg said, have to do with an “inevitable putting down of the values of others.”

“To me what’s more interesting is the way in which religious or nonreligious ethical motivations can overlap,” he said. “Those are the areas I’m going to point to any time I mention a religious commitment of my own in the context of this campaign process.”

This piece has been updated to include a different poll from Iowa.

This year and next, The Post plans to interview 2020 presidential candidates about their views on faith.

Pete Buttigieg's countercultural approach to Christianity is what America needs now
Kirsten Powers, Opinion columnist Published 3:15 a.m. ET April 3, 2019 | Updated 10:33 a.m. ET April 4, 2019

He’s the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. 

In a pugilistic take-no-prisoners era, Mayor Pete preaches grace towards political foes while doubting Trump's Christianity.

Does the country need an awakening of the Christian left? Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg thinks so. 

Mayor Pete, as he is affectionately called, is having a moment with a first quarter fundraising haul of $7 million and a third place showing in an Iowa poll at 11%. In January, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, held last place at 0%. In the intervening months, Buttigieg has wowed Democrats with his mastery of policy issues and Midwestern charm. He’s a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, a Rhodes scholar and speaks seven languages.

He has also stood out as a devoted Christian who is speaking against the dominance of the religious right in the public square. As Buttigieg told me in an interview Friday, “The left is rightly committed to a separation of church and state … but we need to not be afraid to invoke arguments that are convincing on why Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction.”

Buttigieg criticized right-wing Christians for “saying so much about what Christ said so little about, and so little about what he said so much about.”

Let’s parse this insightful formulation: “Saying so much about what Christ said so little about” applies to the religious right’s treatment of abortion as a litmus test for Christian faith, when in fact Jesus never mentioned the issue. That omission has not stopped many right-wing Christians from using Trump’s anti-abortion rights judicial appointments as the president’s “get out of jail free card,” and license for them to support a leader who consistently behaves in a way that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.

Christians are called to defend the poor

As to the religious right saying “so little about what (Jesus) said so much about,” Buttigieg made this observation: “When I think about where most of Scripture points me, it is toward defending the poor, and the immigrant, and the stranger, and the prisoner, and the outcast, and those who are left behind by the way society works. And what we have now is this exaltation of wealth and power, almost for its own sake, that in my reading of Scripture couldn't be more contrary to the message of Christianity. So I think it's really important to carry a message (to the public), knitting together a lot of groups that have already been on this path for some time, but giving them more visibility in the public sphere.”

He’s alluding to a burgeoning Christian left led by pastors and writers like Jim Wallis, the Rev. William J. Barber II, Rachel Held Evans, the Rev. James Martin, Lisa Sharon Harper, Diana Butler Bass and many others. But nonconservative Christians generally do not receive the same level of news media attention as the religious right, despite their deep understanding of Scripture and thriving faith traditions. Because most journalists are secular, they can be gullible in looking to the religious right as arbiters of biblical interpretation, especially as it relates to hot-button cultural and political issues. Because of this, many Americans aren’t even aware of the rich tradition of progressive Christianity.

When I asked Mayor Pete his favorite Bible verses, he cited a perennial favorite from the Book of Matthew: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these … you did for me.” Less frequently cited is his other choice of Matthew 6:5, in which Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”

He's reluctant to call Trump a Christian

Buttigieg didn’t explicitly apply this passage to the religious right. Nonetheless, it’s hard to overlook the evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders who make a spectacle of praying publicly — in particular over President Donald Trump — as evidence of their holiness. Jesus himself warned against this kind of showy spirituality and said, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father.”

There are so many other examples of how members of the religious right, who claim allegiance to a literal interpretation of the Bible, ignore the literal words that Jesus spoke. Hypocrisy, something Jesus railed against, has become perhaps the most prominent feature of the religious right in the Trump era.

Does Buttigieg think Trump is a Christian? “I'm reluctant to comment on another person's faith, but I would say it is hard to look at this president's actions and believe that they're the actions of somebody who believes in God,” he said. “I just don't understand how you can be as worshipful of your own self as he is and be prepared to humble yourself before God. I've never seen him humble himself before anyone. And the exaltation of yourself, especially a self that's about wealth and power, could not be more at odds with at least my understanding of the teachings of the Christian faith.”

While Buttigieg is a gay man, married in the Episcopal Church he attends, he urges those who support LBGTQ rights to “beckon people onto the right side of history (rather) than … drag people there. If someone feels harassed and put upon by us, at the very moment we're demanding tolerance and acceptance, one consequence is that we can leave them with nowhere to go but the religious right.”

Preaching grace is critically countercultural

I pressed him on how he could advocate showing so much grace to those who continue to perpetrate a biblical interpretation that has caused so much harm to gay people like him.

“Well, obviously, I want them to change,” he noted. “But I also want to recognize the struggle they might be having and get them there. And in getting there, I want some kind of healing to go on, so that they can recognize ... that our marriages are just as good as theirs. Because people who are on what I would call the wrong side of this issue and of history probably don't think of themselves as hateful. So we've got to make sure that they feel good about themselves in the process of coming to a more accepting view.”

What advice does Mayor Pete have for those struggling to be graceful toward those with whom we disagree politically? “Well, I think it starts with a certain amount of humility and recognizing that how you voted doesn't make you a good person or a bad person, and we shouldn't think of ourselves as better human beings because of how we voted,” he said.

In our pugilistic take-no-prisoners era, preaching grace toward those on the other side of the political fence is decidedly countercultural. Whether Mayor Pete becomes our nation’s first millennial president or not, he has already started a crucial conversation for the country.

Kirsten Powers, a CNN news analyst, writes regularly for USA TODAY and is co-host of The Faith Angle podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @KirstenPowers

I add this article to document the variance between Christian and Trumpian values.--Vern

"Trump is on a mission from God"
By Dana Milbank

The Many Scandals of Donald Trump
The long Atlantic article about pre-Presidential Trump

Trump Corruption
It's hard to keep up with them all. This is as of 2018 Oct 28.

I add this article to assist in gaining moral clarity about the distiction between lying and "bull-shitting." --Vern

Donald Trump Just Cannot Help It
The Reichstag fire was at least a fire. 
Here, there is smoke and mirrors.
By Roger Cohen
Jan. 11, 2019

President Trump, according to this columnist, just can't help himself.CreditDoug Mills/photo/The New York Times

Watching the Trump show from the distance afforded by my brief leave of absence has been like watching a frenzy of ants. It’s hypnotic, in part because it appears devoid of meaning. Keep your eye on the bouncing ball, goes the adage. But what if the ball is a blur?

When Trump was in business, his shtick was stiffing contractors. If confronted, he would try some bombast and storm out of meetings, as he did the other day with congressional leaders, ending talks on the partial government shutdown caused by a crisis he has manufactured. His shtick now is stiffing all Americans. The technique is the same: Keep reality at a distance through hyperactive fakery.

I have been fascinated by Trump’s compulsion. Like birds feasting on mangled flesh in the middle of the road, he cannot help it. Like travelers beset with reflex gluttony in airline lounges, he cannot help it. Like the sulking child denied a video, he cannot help it.

Like the dog that returns to its vomit, he cannot help it. Like a puppet on a string, he cannot help it. Like the scorpion that stings the frog ferrying it across the torrent, he cannot help it. It’s his nature, you see.

A manufactured crisis, I said. It’s worth recalling the 5,200 troops ordered to the southern border before the midterm elections to confront the “caravan of migrants.” This was an exercise in manipulative illusion.

Monthly crossings over the southern border have declined in recent years. The number of migrants apprehended has also fallen over the past decade, with a recent tick upward. There is no humanitarian crisis, just as not a single mile of additional wall has been built since Trump took office. But absent this noise, what does reality offer the president? Robert Mueller, Nancy Pelosi and Michael Cohen, the specters of his insomnia.

One of the books I read while away included Harry G. Frankfurt’s seminal essay, “On Bullshit.” Here I must excuse myself with readers who may find the bull word offensive. Please look away from the rest of this column. There really is no alternative to it, for Donald Trump is the Michelangelo of bullshit artists.

The essential distinction that Frankfurt, a professor of philosophy emeritus at Princeton University, makes is between lies and bull. As he writes, “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”

It is a habit “unconstrained by a concern with truth” whose essence is “not of falsity but of fakery.” The addict of bull “does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.” He is “trying to get away with something.” His “focus is panoramic rather than particular,” and he shuns “the more austere and rigorous demands of lying.”

Frankfurt’s conclusion may be read as an ominous verdict on this president. The bull merchant “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

It has been said that Trump’s extraordinary election victory owed much to his intuitions about the anger in the heartland. There is some truth in this. But his essential intuition was into the readiness of Americans, suspended between the real and the virtual, for a post-truth presidency.

Quinta Jurecic, in an important essay for the Lawfare Blog, set out the dangers inherent in this shift before Trump took office. In the essay, “On Bullshit and the Oath of Office: The ‘LOL Nothing Matters’ Presidency,” she cited Frankfurt and argued that Trump’s “foundational disrespect for meaning and consequence” — that is to say, for reality and the very concept of law — would make it “impossible for Donald Trump to faithfully execute the laws of this nation and the duties of the oath of office and to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”

The president’s apparent readiness to “do national emergency,” as he put it, over a manufactured border crisis amounts to a perfect illustration of this danger. The Reichstag fire was at least a fire. Here there is only smoke and mirrors.

I would add one element to the reflections of Frankfurt and Jurecic on bull. There may be something amusing, or at least innocuous, about the bullshit artists encountered in a lifetime. They may be waved away. But in Trump the element of sadistic cruelty in his personality (mocking the disabled, for example), and the sheer gall of his fakery, make of him a malignant, rather than a benign, bullshit artist. He happens to occupy the world’s most powerful office.

Trump cannot help himself, I said. He can’t and won’t. But as citizens, “we have a duty to insist that words have meaning,” as Jurecic writes. If they don’t, neither does the Republic. That’s what the ants told me as I gazed at them, troubled and fixated.

Murder at the Tree of Life Synagogue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Mix religious prejudice with easy access to weapons and once again, the result is horror.

CRES endorses the following statements from

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council

and the statement from Reb Moti which follows 

In the face of hateful acts, we call for peace, justice and love
Sadly we find ourselves, once again, having to respond to an act of violence and hate in a house of worship. First and foremost, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those killed and injured by the shooting in the #TreeOfLife Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

The man believed to be the killer is a known anti-Semite; a man with hatred in his heart. We stand in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers in speaking out against anti-Semitism. A place of worship, such as a synagogue, is a sacred place, a place of comfort, joy, community and refuge, and we want to remember that, celebrate it and offer our voice of support and our prayers.

We know that when confronted with heinous and vicious acts of violence against a faith, we can get overwhelmed by confusion, grief and anger. While this kind of hatred may feel all-too-common in our world - and harmony and compassion may seem distant or fragile - we urge you to talk about these events from the perspective of what your faith teaches about peace.

For billions around the world, in many faith traditions, this is the time of year for celebration, forgiveness and gratitude. 

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council wants to remind everyone that the rich diversity of culture and religions present in our world enhances our lives. Join with us in holding a vision of a peaceful and loving world – a world where we can speak with one voice for respect for all life, a world with a narrative of inclusivity and compassion.

We celebrate the gifts of pluralism in our city, and the interconnectedness of all life. Whatever our individual faith traditions, religions, and life philosophies, we simply can’t imagine being separate… we can’t imagine our lives without each other. 

We invite our community, and everyone around the world, in every house of worship, or wherever you may be, to use the enclosed Prayer for Community Peace. Join with others and use all or part of this prayer to create a world that works for all.

May you be blessed

Rev. Kelly Isola, Chair

 We also copy this note from Kansas Rabbi Moti Rieber at https://www.kansasinterfaithaction.org/a_note_about_pittsburgh

A Note About Pittsburgh
Moti Rieber
posted by Moti Rieber 
October 29, 2018

First of all I want to thank those of you who have reached out to me by email or message in recent days. I very much appreciate people thinking of me.

While I didn't know anyone at the Tree of Life synagogue, many of my friends and colleagues have spent time in Pittsburgh; all of them knew the synagogue and a couple of them knew people who died on Saturday. The Jewish community is very small, especially at a time like this.

On the one hand, this event is another in a long list of antisemitic incidents throughout history. There is just is something unique and seemingly permanent about Jew-hatred, and we really do need to see antisemitism as an ongoing hatred that sometimes lies dormant but remains just below the surface. The number of antisemitic incidents has increased dramatically in just the past couple of years, and the situation is frightening, given the historical record.

On the other hand, there were several white supremacist acts of violence just in the past week: the pipebombs sent to media and Democratic Party figures, and the shooting deaths of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones in Louisville, KY. The murderer in Pittsburgh specifically referenced the support of the Jewish community for refugee support and resettlement as a motivating factor for his act, showing the connections between this act and other forms of racist hatred and violence.

In other words, contemporary antisemitism in America - while unique, and uniquely disturbing - is part of a larger upsurge of white supremacy which targets (literally) Latinx folks, African Americans, Muslims, Jews, liberals and progressives, journalists, LGBT folks, and more. We can only resist this by building connections between all people who are affected by it and those members of the white, Christian population who are willing to stand against it with us. That last piece is really vital: the difference between racist violence that the majority population doesn't care about or act on and that which the majority population actively resists is profound, and can literally mean the difference between life and death. And that resistance, those connections, must be built not just when Jews are targeted, but when (as was the case last week) African Americans are targeted as well – or immigrants, or Muslims. We are all in this together.

KIFA's role is to build those connections, that solidarity, among people who might not ordinarily interact, based on our sacred teachings that everyone is equal in God's eyes, deserving of protection and care. Solidarity is literally the most important defense we have, and it requires nurturing, especially in times like these. Let our determination to build those connections, and to stand together against all manifestations of racist violence and hatred, be our watchword going forward.


Reb Moti.

Gun, NRA history, prospects by Nicholas Kristof, 
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist.:

A Christian Response to today's Politics


VERN'S COMMENT -- I would like to see a less timid approach, such as a listing of the "Ten Commandments" and other biblical passes such as "the love of money is the root of  all evil," and corresponding violations by Trump and Congress, documented. The long and lofty Reclaiming Jesus statement is long and boring and a waste of time if you are looking for something to be effective. 

Same-Sex Love in India

Most cultures in the history of the world have either praised same-sex behavior or at least accepted it. Most cultures did not view sexuality in terms of orientation. For example, tales of Zeus included many encounters with women, but also his love for Ganymede. Here is a correct, short account of what happened with the British raj perverted native Indian sensibility:

NYTimes 2018 Sept 6

India has a complicated record on gay issues. Its dominant religion, Hinduism, is actually quite permissive of same-sex love. Centuries-old Hindu temples depict erotic encounters between members of the same gender, and in some Hindu myths, men become pregnant. In others, transgender people are given special status and praised for being loyal.

But that culture of tolerance changed drastically under British rule. India was intensely colonized during the height of the Victorian era, when the British Empire was at its peak and social mores in England were prim and often painfully proper. 

This was when the British introduced Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, imposing up to a life sentence on “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” The law was usually enforced in cases of sex between men, but it officially extended to anybody caught having anal or oral sex.

Hobby Lobby annual misleading religious ad
The Kansas City Star  July 7, 2018     10A

Religion’s role

In regards to Hobby Lobby’s ad in Sunday’s paper that quoted historical figures such as Patrick Henry and Benjamin Franklin: The Founding Fathers, with their Christian roots and perhaps even church membership, were largely deists in heart and practice — the result of their Enlightenment education. They were a far cry from today’s “Jesus is the only way” Christians.

Franklin was instrumental in establishing the “preaching-house” in Philadelphia, which was, in his words, “expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia . . . so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service."

By the way, I am a Christian pastor, but not of the "Jesus is the only way" variety.

Don Fisher
Kansas City

Sensus fidelium

Pope Paul's 1968 Humanae Vitae is now widely discredited, as it was from the moment it was issued against the advice of the theologians who studied the issue. In the past, the Church has benefited from the sensus fidelium in changing its 16th Century teaching on on taking interest on a loan, its 19th Century condemnation of religious freedom (consider Leo XIII), and the millennia of ignoring the role of pleasure and love in marital sexual relations.

Free Speech Questioned

 “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.” --Herbert Marcuse

10 Modest Steps to Cut Gun Violence

Kris Kobach

The high priest of this faith-based movement [proclaiming there is massive illegal voting] is Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate who has been preaching his gospel of deception to Republican lawmakers for years. He has won plenty of converts, even though he has failed to identify more than a tiny handful of possible cases of fraud. In his eight years as secretary of state, he has secured a total of nine convictions, only one of which was for illegal voting by a noncitizen; most were for double-voting by older Republican men.

Substitute Christianity

Professor Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University
who visits Kansas City 2018 September 15-16
an excerpt from his blog
"Christianity" has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed "spiritual" substitute. For example, rather than being a decent human being the following is a list of some commonly acceptable substitutes:
  • Going to church
  • Worship
  • Praying
  • Spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)
  • Bible study
  • Voting Republican
  • Going on spiritual retreats
  • Reading religious books
  • Arguing with evolutionists
  • Sending your child to a Christian school or providing education at home
  • Using religious language
  • Avoiding R-rated movies
  • Not reading Harry Potter.
....Take, for example, how Christians tip and behave in restaurants. If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth. 

What can be done about
Gun Violence?
Facts, figures, graphs, proposals

Steven Pinker

Is Trump a Postmodernist or Just a Liar?
NYTImes link  --  PDF

Scholars of contemporary philosophy argue that postmodernism does not dispute the existence of truth, per se, but rather seeks to interrogate the sources and interests of those making assertions of truth.

beware your Facebook addiction
Facebook and Democracy

Facebook’s Shameful Data Sharing

NYTimes: Facebook: Delay, Deny and Deflect

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have business models that thrive on the outrageous, the incendiary and the eye-catching, because such content generates “engagement” and captures our attention, which the platforms then sell to advertisers, paired with extensive data on users that allow advertisers (and propagandists) to “microtarget” us at an individual level.




several articles
beware your Facebook addiction
Facebook and Democracy

How Trump Consultants Exploited 
the Facebook Data of Millions
MARCH 17, 2018

LONDON — As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem.

The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.

So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.

An examination by The New York Times and The Observer of London reveals how Cambridge Analytica’s drive to bring to market a potentially powerful new weapon put the firm — and wealthy conservative investors seeking to reshape politics — under scrutiny from investigators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge and worked there until late 2014, said of its leaders: “Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair.”

“They want to fight a culture war in America,” he added. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”

Details of Cambridge’s acquisition and use of Facebook data have surfaced in several accounts since the business began working on the 2016 campaign, setting off a furious debate about the merits of the firm’s so-called psychographic modeling techniques.

But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed — and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.

Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action.

“This was a scam — and a fraud,” Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at the social network, said in a statement to The Times earlier on Friday. He added that the company was suspending Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties,” Mr. Grewal said.

Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and other officials had repeatedly denied obtaining or using Facebook data, most recently during a parliamentary hearing last month. But in a statement to The Times, the company acknowledged that it had acquired the data, though it blamed Mr. Kogan for violating Facebook’s rules and said it had deleted the information as soon as it learned of the problem two years ago.

In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators into allegations that it performed illegal work on the “Brexit” campaign. The country has strict privacy laws, and its information commissioner announced on Saturday that she was looking into whether the Facebook data was “illegally acquired and used.”

In the United States, Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns, according to company documents and former employees.

Congressional investigators have questioned Mr. Nix about the company’s role in the Trump campaign. And the Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has demanded the emails of Cambridge Analytica employees who worked for the Trump team as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the election.

While the substance of Mr. Mueller’s interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by The Times indicate that the firm’s British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine. And the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, disclosed in October that Mr. Nix had reached out to him during the campaign in hopes of obtaining private emails belonging to Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The documents also raise new questions about Facebook, which is already grappling with intense criticism over the spread of Russian propaganda and fake news. The data Cambridge collected from profiles, a portion of which was viewed by The Times, included details on users’ identities, friend networks and “likes.” Only a tiny fraction of the users had agreed to release their information to a third party.

“Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do,” Mr. Grewal said. “No systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

Still, he added, “it’s a serious abuse of our rules.”

Reading Voters’ Minds

The Bordeaux flowed freely as Mr. Nix and several colleagues sat down for dinner at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan in late 2013, Mr. Wylie recalled in an interview. They had much to celebrate.

Mr. Nix, a brash salesman, led the small elections division at SCL Group, a political and defense contractor. He had spent much of the year trying to break into the lucrative new world of political data, recruiting Mr. Wylie, then a 24-year-old political operative with ties to veterans of President Obama’s campaigns. Mr. Wylie was interested in using inherent psychological traits to affect voters’ behavior and had assembled a team of psychologists and data scientists, some of them affiliated with Cambridge University.

The group experimented abroad, including in the Caribbean and Africa, where privacy rules were lax or nonexistent and politicians employing SCL were happy to provide government-held data, former employees said.

Then a chance meeting bought Mr. Nix into contact with Mr. Bannon, the Breitbart News firebrand who would later become a Trump campaign and White House adviser, and with Mr. Mercer, one of the richest men on earth.

Mr. Nix and his colleagues courted Mr. Mercer, who believed a sophisticated data company could make him a kingmaker in Republican politics, and his daughter Rebekah, who shared his conservative views. Mr. Bannon was intrigued by the possibility of using personality profiling to shift America’s culture and rewire its politics, recalled Mr. Wylie and other former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements. Mr. Bannon and Mr. Mercer declined to comment.

Mr. Mercer agreed to help finance a $1.5 million pilot project to poll voters and test psychographic messaging in Virginia’s gubernatorial race in November 2013, where the Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, ran against Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic fund-raiser. Though Mr. Cuccinelli lost, Mr. Mercer committed to moving forward.

The Mercers wanted results quickly, and more business beckoned. In early 2014, the investor Toby Neugebauer and other wealthy conservatives were preparing to put tens of millions of dollars behind a presidential campaign for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, work that Mr. Nix was eager to win.

When Mr. Wylie’s colleagues failed to produce a memo explaining their work to Mr. Neugebauer, Mr. Nix castigated them over email.

“ITS 2 PAGES!! 4 hours work max (or an hour each). What have you all been doing??” he wrote.

Mr. Wylie’s team had a bigger problem. Building psychographic profiles on a national scale required data the company could not gather without huge expense. Traditional analytics firms used voting records and consumer purchase histories to try to predict political beliefs and voting behavior.

But those kinds of records were useless for figuring out whether a particular voter was, say, a neurotic introvert, a religious extrovert, a fair-minded liberal or a fan of the occult. Those were among the psychological traits the firm claimed would provide a uniquely powerful means of designing political messages.

Mr. Wylie found a solution at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre. Researchers there had developed a technique to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook. The researchers paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which would scrape some private information from their profiles and those of their friends, activity that Facebook permitted at the time. The approach, the scientists said, could reveal more about a person than their parents or romantic partners knew — a claim that has been disputed.

When the Psychometrics Centre declined to work with the firm, Mr. Wylie found someone who would: Dr. Kogan, who was then a psychology professor at the university and knew of the techniques. Dr. Kogan built his own app and in June 2014 began harvesting data for Cambridge Analytica. The business covered the costs — more than $800,000 — and allowed him to keep a copy for his own research, according to company emails and financial records.

All he divulged to Facebook, and to users in fine print, was that he was collecting information for academic purposes, the social network said. It did not verify his claim. Dr. Kogan declined to provide details of what happened, citing nondisclosure agreements with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, though he maintained that his program was “a very standard vanilla Facebook app.”

He ultimately provided over 50 million raw profiles to the firm, Mr. Wylie said, a number confirmed by a company email and a former colleague. Of those, roughly 30 million contained enough information, including places of residence, that the company could match users to other records and build psychographic profiles. Only about 270,000 users — those who participated in the survey — had consented to having their data harvested.

INSERT IMAGE == An email from Dr. Kogan to Mr. Wylie describing traits that could be predicted.

Mr. Wylie said the Facebook data was “the saving grace” that let his team deliver the models it had promised the Mercers.

“We wanted as much as we could get,” he acknowledged. “Where it came from, who said we could have it — we weren’t really asking.”

Mr. Nix tells a different story. Appearing before a parliamentary committee last month, he described Dr. Kogan’s contributions as “fruitless.”

An International Effort

Just as Dr. Kogan’s efforts were getting underway, Mr. Mercer agreed to invest $15 million in a joint venture with SCL’s elections division. The partners devised a convoluted corporate structure, forming a new American company, owned almost entirely by Mr. Mercer, with a license to the psychographics platform developed by Mr. Wylie’s team, according to company documents. Mr. Bannon, who became a board member and investor, chose the name: Cambridge Analytica.

The firm was effectively a shell. According to the documents and former employees, any contracts won by Cambridge, originally incorporated in Delaware, would be serviced by London-based SCL and overseen by Mr. Nix, a British citizen who held dual appointments at Cambridge Analytica and SCL. Most SCL employees and contractors were Canadian, like Mr. Wylie, or European.

But in July 2014, an American election lawyer advising the company, Laurence Levy, warned that the arrangement could violate laws limiting the involvement of foreign nationals in American elections.

In a memo to Mr. Bannon, Ms. Mercer and Mr. Nix, the lawyer, then at the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, warned that Mr. Nix would have to recuse himself “from substantive management” of any clients involved in United States elections. The data firm would also have to find American citizens or green card holders, Mr. Levy wrote, “to manage the work and decision making functions, relative to campaign messaging and expenditures.”

In summer and fall 2014, Cambridge Analytica dived into the American midterm elections, mobilizing SCL contractors and employees around the country. Few Americans were involved in the work, which included polling, focus groups and message development for the John Bolton Super PAC, conservative groups in Colorado and the campaign of Senator Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican.

Cambridge Analytica, in its statement to The Times, said that all “personnel in strategic roles were U.S. nationals or green card holders.” Mr. Nix “never had any strategic or operational role” in an American election campaign, the company said.

Whether the company’s American ventures violated election laws would depend on foreign employees’ roles in each campaign, and on whether their work counted as strategic advice under Federal Election Commission rules.

Cambridge Analytica appears to have exhibited a similar pattern in the 2016 election cycle, when the company worked for the campaigns of Mr. Cruz and then Mr. Trump. While Cambridge hired more Americans to work on the races that year, most of its data scientists were citizens of the United Kingdom or other European countries, according to two former employees.

Under the guidance of Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital director in 2016 and now the campaign manager for his 2020 re-election effort, Cambridge performed a variety of services, former campaign officials said. That included designing target audiences for digital ads and fund-raising appeals, modeling voter turnout, buying $5 million in television ads and determining where Mr. Trump should travel to best drum up support.

Cambridge executives have offered conflicting accounts about the use of psychographic data on the campaign. Mr. Nix has said that the firm’s profiles helped shape Mr. Trump’s strategy — statements disputed by other campaign officials — but also that Cambridge did not have enough time to comprehensively model Trump voters.

In a BBC interview last December, Mr. Nix said that the Trump efforts drew on “legacy psychographics” built for the Cruz campaign.

After the Leak

By early 2015, Mr. Wylie and more than half his original team of about a dozen people had left the company. Most were liberal-leaning, and had grown disenchanted with working on behalf of the hard-right candidates the Mercer family favored.

Cambridge Analytica, in its statement, said that Mr. Wylie had left to start a rival firm, and that it later took legal action against him to enforce intellectual property claims. It characterized Mr. Wylie and other former “contractors” as engaging in “what is clearly a malicious attempt to hurt the company.”

Near the end of that year, a report in The Guardian revealed that Cambridge Analytica was using private Facebook data on the Cruz campaign, sending Facebook scrambling. In a statement at the time, Facebook promised that it was “carefully investigating this situation” and would require any company misusing its data to destroy it.

Facebook verified the leak and — without publicly acknowledging it — sought to secure the information, efforts that continued as recently as August 2016. That month, lawyers for the social network reached out to Cambridge Analytica contractors. “This data was obtained and used without permission,” said a letter that was obtained by the Times. “It cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately.”

Mr. Grewal, the Facebook deputy general counsel, said in a statement that both Dr. Kogan and “SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.”

But copies of the data still remain beyond Facebook’s control. The Times viewed a set of raw data from the profiles Cambridge Analytica obtained.

While Mr. Nix has told lawmakers that the company does not have Facebook data, a former employee said that he had recently seen hundreds of gigabytes on Cambridge servers, and that the files were not encrypted.

Today, as Cambridge Analytica seeks to expand its business in the United States and overseas, Mr. Nix has mentioned some questionable practices. This January, in undercover footage filmed by Channel 4 News in Britain and viewed by The Times, he boasted of employing front companies and former spies on behalf of political clients around the world, and even suggested ways to entrap politicians in compromising situations.

All the scrutiny appears to have damaged Cambridge Analytica’s political business. No American campaigns or “super PACs” have yet reported paying the company for work in the 2018 midterms, and it is unclear whether Cambridge will be asked to join Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.

In the meantime, Mr. Nix is seeking to take psychographics to the commercial advertising market. He has repositioned himself as a guru for the digital ad age — a “Math Man,” he puts it. In the United States last year, a former employee said, Cambridge pitched Mercedes-Benz, MetLife and the brewer AB InBev, but has not signed them on.

Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Confessore and Carole Cadwalladr reported from London. Gabriel J.X. Dance contributed reporting from London, and Danny Hakim from New York.

Facebook and Democracy - 2


Cambridge Analytica 
and the Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz
NOV. 19, 2016

Do you panic easily? Do you often feel blue? Do you have a sharp tongue? Do you get chores done right away? Do you believe in the importance of art?

If ever you’ve answered questions like these on one of the free personality quizzes floating around Facebook, you’ll have learned what’s known as your Ocean score: How you rate according to the big five psychological traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. You may also be responsible the next time America is shocked by an election upset.

For several years, a data firm eventually hired by the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, has been using Facebook as a tool to build psychological profiles that represent some 230 million adult Americans. A spinoff of a British consulting company and sometime-defense contractor known for its counterterrorism “psy ops” work in Afghanistan, the firm does so by seeding the social network with personality quizzes. Respondents — by now hundreds of thousands of us, mostly female and mostly young but enough male and older for the firm to make inferences about others with similar behaviors and demographics — get a free look at their Ocean scores. Cambridge Analytica also gets a look at their scores and, thanks to Facebook, gains access to their profiles and real names.

Cambridge Analytica worked on the “Leave” side of the Brexit campaign. In the United States it takes only Republicans as clients: Senator Ted Cruz in the primaries, Mr. Trump in the general election. Cambridge is reportedly backed by Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire and a major Republican donor; a key board member is Stephen K. Bannon, the head of Breitbart News who became Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman and is set to be his chief strategist in the White House.

In the age of Facebook, it has become far easier for campaigners or marketers to combine our online personas with our offline selves, a process that was once controversial but is now so commonplace that there’s a term for it, “onboarding.” Cambridge Analytica says it has as many as 3,000 to 5,000 data points on each of us, be it voting histories or full-spectrum demographics — age, income, debt, hobbies, criminal histories, purchase histories, religious leanings, health concerns, gun ownership, car ownership, homeownership — from consumer-data giants.

No data point is very informative on its own, but profiling voters, says Cambridge Analytica, is like baking a cake. “It’s the sum of the ingredients,” its chief executive officer, Alexander Nix, told NBC News. Because the United States lacks European-style restrictions on second- or thirdhand use of our data, and because our freedom-of-information laws give data brokers broad access to the intimate records kept by local and state governments, our lives are open books even without social media or personality quizzes.

Ever since the advertising executive Lester Wunderman coined the term “direct marketing” in 1961, the ability to target specific consumers with ads — rather than blanketing the airwaves with mass appeals and hoping the right people will hear them — has been the marketer’s holy grail. What’s new is the efficiency with which individually tailored digital ads can be tested and matched to our personalities. Facebook is the microtargeter’s ultimate weapon.

The explosive growth of Facebook’s ad business has been overshadowed by its increasing role in how we get our news, real or fake. In July, the social network posted record earnings: quarterly sales were up 59 percent from the previous year, and profits almost tripled to $2.06 billion. While active users of Facebook — now 1.71 billion monthly active users — were up 15 percent, the real story was how much each individual user was worth. The company makes $3.82 a year from each global user, up from $2.76 a year ago, and an average of $14.34 per user in the United States, up from $9.30 a year ago. Much of this growth comes from the fact that advertisers not only have an enormous audience in Facebook but an audience they can slice into the tranches they hope to reach.

One recent advertising product on Facebook is the so-called “dark post”: A newsfeed message seen by no one aside from the users being targeted. With the help of Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Trump’s digital team used dark posts to serve different ads to different potential voters, aiming to push the exact right buttons for the exact right people at the exact right times.

Imagine the full capability of this kind of “psychographic” advertising. In future Republican campaigns, a pro-gun voter whose Ocean score ranks him high on neuroticism could see storm clouds and a threat: The Democrat wants to take his guns away. A separate pro-gun voter deemed agreeable and introverted might see an ad emphasizing tradition and community values, a father and son hunting together.

In this election, dark posts were used to try to suppress the African-American vote. According to Bloomberg, the Trump campaign sent ads reminding certain selected black voters of Hillary Clinton’s infamous “super predator” line. It targeted Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood with messages about the Clinton Foundation’s troubles in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Federal Election Commission rules are unclear when it comes to Facebook posts, but even if they do apply and the facts are skewed and the dog whistles loud, the already weakening power of social opprobrium is gone when no one else sees the ad you see — and no one else sees “I’m Donald Trump, and I approved this message.”

While Hillary Clinton spent more than $140 million on television spots, old-media experts scoffed at Trump’s lack of old-media ad buys. Instead, his campaign pumped its money into digital, especially Facebook. One day in August, it flooded the social network with 100,000 ad variations, so-called A/B testing on a biblical scale, surely more ads than could easily be vetted by human eyes for compliance with Facebook’s “community standards.”

Perhaps out of necessity, the Trump team was embracing a new-media lesson: It didn’t have to build everything from scratch. Mark Zuckerberg and others had already built the infrastructure the campaign needed to reach voters directly. When “Trump TV” went live on Facebook before and after the second debate it raked in $9 million in donations in 120 minutes.

In the immediate wake of Mr. Trump’s surprise election, so many polls and experts were so wrong that it became fashionable to declare that big data was dead. But it isn’t, not when its most obvious avatar, Facebook, was so crucial to victory.

On Monday, after a similar announcement from Google, Facebook said it would no longer allow fake-news websites to show ads, on their own sites, from Facebook’s ad network — a half-step that neither blocks what appears on your newsfeed nor affects how advertisers can microtarget users on the social network.

There are surely more changes to come. Mr. Zuckerberg is young, still skeptical that his radiant transparency machine could be anything but a force for good, rightly wary of policing what the world’s diverse citizens say and share on his network, so far mostly dismissive of Facebook’s role in the election. If Mr. Zuckerberg takes seriously his oft-stated commitments to diversity and openness, he must grapple honestly with the fact that Facebook is no longer just a social network. It’s an advertising medium that’s now dangerously easy to weaponize.

A Trump administration is unlikely to enforce transparency about who is targeted by dark posts and other hidden political ads — or to ensure that politicians take meaningful ownership of what the ads say. But Facebook can.

Facebook and Democracy - 3

Global Opinions
Why Facebook is afraid of Robert Mueller
By Anne Applebaum February 19

Who is afraid of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III? President Trump is afraid. So are those who worked on his campaign. But they are not alone.

Over the weekend, Rob Goldman made it clear that some of America’s biggest social media companies are scared of Mueller, too. Goldman is Facebook’s vice president for advertising, and according to his Twitter bio, a “student, seeker, raconteur, burner.” On Friday, he took to Twitter to proclaim his company’s innocence. He was, he wrote, “very excited to see the Mueller indictment today,” since Facebook had “shared Russian ads with Congress, Mueller and the American people.” But “still, there are key facts about the Russian actions that are still not well understood.”

He went on: “Most of the coverage of Russian meddling involves their attempt to effect the outcome of the 2016 US election. I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal.” Instead, he said, the main goal was to “divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media, against us. It has stoked fear and hatred amongst Americans. It is working incredibly well.”

In a short string of tweets, in other words, Facebook’s vice president for advertising twisted and obfuscated the issues almost beyond recognition. For one, the indictment states clearly that the Russians were not merely buying ads: It alleges that they used fake American identities, fraudulently obtained PayPal accounts and fraudulent Social Security numbers to set up Facebook pages for groups such as “Blacktivist,” “Secured Borders” and “Army of Jesus.” They did indeed use those pages to spread fear and hatred, reaching tens and possibly hundreds of millions of people.

They began this project in 2014, well before the election. And when the election began, they were under clear instructions, according to the indictment, to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary [Clinton] and the rest (except [Bernie] Sanders and Trump—we support them).” By the time the election began in earnest, the attempt to “divide America” was an attempt to elect Trump. They pushed anti-Clinton messages on websites aimed at the far-right fringe and tried to suppress voter turnout on websites aimed at minorities. I’m not sure where Goldman’s idea that “swaying the election was not the main goal” comes from, but it is diametrically opposed to the content of Mueller’s indictment. No wonder Trump tweeted this on Saturday: “The Fake News Media never fails. Hard to ignore the fact from the Vice President of Facebook Ads, Rob Goldman!”

But Goldman is right to be afraid. The social media companies, including Facebook as well as Twitter, YouTube and Reddit, really do bear a part of the responsibility for the growing polarization and bitter partisanship in American life that the Russians, and not only the Russians, sought to exploit. They have not become conduits for Russian propaganda, and not only Russian propaganda, by accident. The Facebook algorithm, by its very nature, is pushing Americans, and everybody else, into ever more partisan echo chambers — and people who read highly partisan material are much more likely to believe false stories.

At the same time, Facebook has declared itself free of responsibility: The company continues to argue that it is not legally liable for material that appears on its platform because it is not a “publisher,” even though it behaves in every other way like a publisher, including by collecting advertising revenue that used to go to publishers. The result is that anyone who seeks to spread false information on Facebook or any other social media site is, in practice, no longer bound by laws on libel or false advertising that were explicitly designed to stop them.

his is not the only problem: There is plenty of evidence now that the very nature of the platforms encourages ever more extreme, ever more offensive material. Studies of YouTube have shown how automated video production, governed by algorithms, not humans, leads inexorably to more violent and more disturbing videos. One recent survey suggests that up to 15 percent of Twitter accounts — some 48 million — may not be human at all.  Many think that is a gross underestimate.

Don’t let them off the hook: Until they take responsibility for what appears on their platforms — or until they are held legally liable — the social media companies will continue to fuel the division that Goldman piously denounces. They are not accidental victims of Russia’s information war. They are its tools.

Algorithmic Results
from the NYTimes

Legally mandated open application programming interfaces for social media platforms . . .would help the public identify what is being delivered by social media algorithms, and thus help protect our democracy.

How Evil Is Tech?


David Brooks NOV. 20, 2017

Not long ago, tech was the coolest industry. Everybody wanted to work at Google, Facebook and Apple. But over the past year the mood has shifted.

Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake.

Surely the people in tech — who generally want to make the world a better place — don’t want to go down this road. It will be interesting to see if they can take the actions necessary to prevent their companies from becoming social pariahs.

There are three main critiques of big tech.

The first is that it is destroying the young. Social media promises an end to loneliness but actually produces an increase in solitude and an intense awareness of social exclusion. Texting and other technologies give you more control over your social interactions but also lead to thinner interactions and less real engagement with the world.

As Jean Twenge has demonstrated in book and essay, since the spread of the smartphone, teens are much less likely to hang out with friends, they are less likely to date, they are less likely to work.

Eighth graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who spend less time. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent. Teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, like making a plan for how to do it. Girls, especially hard hit, have experienced a 50 percent rise in depressive symptoms.

The second critique of the tech industry is that it is causing this addiction on purpose, to make money. Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and they lace their products with “hijacking techniques” that lure us in and create “compulsion loops.”

Snapchat has Snapstreak, which rewards friends who snap each other every single day, thus encouraging addictive behavior. News feeds are structured as “bottomless bowls” so that one page view leads down to another and another and so on forever. Most social media sites create irregularly timed rewards; you have to check your device compulsively because you never know when a burst of social affirmation from a Facebook like may come.

The third critique is that Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook are near monopolies that use their market power to invade the private lives of their users and impose unfair conditions on content creators and smaller competitors. The political assault on this front is gaining steam. The left is attacking tech companies because they are mammoth corporations; the right is attacking them because they are culturally progressive. Tech will have few defenders on the national scene.

Obviously, the smart play would be for the tech industry to get out in front and clean up its own pollution. There are activists like Tristan Harris of Time Well Spent, who is trying to move the tech world in the right directions. There are even some good engineering responses. I use an app called Moment to track and control my phone usage.

The big breakthrough will come when tech executives clearly acknowledge the central truth: Their technologies are extremely useful for the tasks and pleasures that require shallower forms of consciousness, but they often crowd out and destroy the deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive.

Online is a place for human contact but not intimacy. Online is a place for information but not reflection. It gives you the first stereotypical thought about a person or a situation, but it’s hard to carve out time and space for the third, 15th and 43rd thought.

Online is a place for exploration but discourages cohesion. It grabs control of your attention and scatters it across a vast range of diverting things. But we are happiest when we have brought our lives to a point, when we have focused attention and will on one thing, wholeheartedly with all our might.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that we take a break from the distractions of the world not as a rest to give us more strength to dive back in, but as the climax of living. “The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, joy and reticence,” he said. By cutting off work and technology we enter a different state of consciousness, a different dimension of time and a different atmosphere, a “mine where the spirit’s precious metal can be found.”

Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices. Its innovations can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline and there experience the best things in life.

Imagine if tech pitched itself that way. That would be an amazing show of realism and, especially, humility, which these days is the ultimate and most disruptive technology.

Democracy assumes a well-informed citizenry that argues about solutions — not about facts.  David Ignatius, Nov 23, 2017.

A year into Trump’s presidency, 
Christians are facing a spiritual reckoning
Christians have traditionally rejected the worship of 
money, sex and power. 
Do we still?

By Jim Wallis  November 17 Washington Post
Jim Wallis president and founder of Sojourners

Many traditions in the history of Christianity have attempted to combat and correct the worship of three things: money, sex and power. Catholic orders have for centuries required “poverty, chastity, and obedience” as disciplines to counter these three idols. Other traditions, especially among Anabaptists in the Reformation, Pentecostals and revival movements down through the years have spoken the language of simplicity in living, integrity in relationships and servanthood in leadership. All of our church renewal traditions have tried to provide authentic and more life-giving alternatives to the worship of money, sex and power — which can be understood and used in healthy ways when they are not given primacy in one’s life.

President Trump is an ultimate and consummate worshiper of money, sex and power. American Christians have not really reckoned with the climate he has created in our country and the spiritual obligation we have to repair it. As a result, the soul of our nation and the integrity of the Christian faith are at risk.

As Abraham Lincoln, a politician with a deep knowledge of Christianity, stated in his first inaugural address, political action can, undertaken rightly, appeal to the “better angels of our nature.” But political action undertaken badly, and reckless inaction, can mislead and dispirit us — and appeal to our worst demons, such as greed, fear, bigotry and resentment, which are never far below the surface.

Trump’s adulation of money and his love for lavish ostentation (he covers everything in gold) are the literal worship of wealth by someone who believes that his possessions belong only to himself, instead of that everything belongs to God and we are its stewards. In 2011, before his foray into politics, Trump said, “Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” And in his 2015 speech announcing his candidacy for president, he said: “I’m really rich. .?.?. And by the way, I’m not even saying that in a braggadocio — that’s the kind of mind-set, that’s the kind of thinking you need for this country.” Later, during the campaign, Trump suggested that our country must “be wealthy in order to be great.”

Lately, faith leaders have spoken out against the proposed Republican budgets and tax plans. The Circle of Protection , a group of leaders from all the major branches of Christianity, of which I am a part, said in a letter to Congress: “We care deeply about many issues facing our country and world, but ending persistent hunger and poverty is a top priority that we all share. These are biblical and gospel issues for us, not just political or partisan concerns. In Matthew 25, Jesus identified himself with those who are immigrants, poor, sick, homeless and imprisoned, and challenged his followers to welcome and care for them as we would care for Jesus himself.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, too, has rejected the tax plan, calling it “unacceptable as written,” and “unconscionable in parts” as it would enrich the wealthy and shortchange the middle class and the poor. And yet, much Christian support for Trump and his administration continues.

Then there’s sex. Before Trump, Republicans liked to suggest that theirs was a fairly Puritanical party of family values with high standards for its candidates (despite many embarrassing exceptions). But Trump’s boastful treatment of women — including bragging in a video about grabbing their genitals — and his serial infidelity and adultery are clear evidence of his idolatrous worship of sex. And it no longer seems like his is a unique case.

Speaking of embarrassing situations, the polls showing that evangelical Christians in Alabama express the most support for Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore — even after seven women have accused him of unwanted advances when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s — may be the most damning testimony as to the politicized moral hypocrisy of white evangelicals. Or as Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore warned his fellow religionists this past week, “Christian, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism.” And yet, according to a new poll, 72 percent of evangelicals now say that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life,” though only 30 percent thought so a mere six years ago .

Other responses to Roy Moore’s alleged behavior have been even worse than silence. Take Alabama state Rep. Ed Henry, who was also Trump’s Alabama campaign co-chairman, and who tried to discredit and deny the women’s stories, saying: “You can’t sit on something like this for 30-something years with a man as in the spotlight as Roy Moore and all of a sudden, three weeks before a senatorial primary, all of a sudden these three or four women are going to talk about something in 1979? I call bull.” Some have tried to play down Moore’s behavior, like Marion County, Ala., GOP Chairman David Hall, who said: “I really don’t see the relevance of it. . . She’s not saying that anything happened other than they kissed.” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler even used a biblical story to legitimize Moore’s alleged offenses. “Take Joseph and Mary,” he said. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

Trump, unsurprisingly, has been coy on the matter. He has not called for Moore to step aside, and the White House press secretary said the president “does not believe we can allow a mere allegation . . . from many years ago to destroy a person’s life.” 

When it comes to worshiping power, Republican Christians most obviously stray from scripture in their attitudes on race. When 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump despite his blatant and constant use of racial bigotry for his own political interest, it showed that the operative word in the phrase “white Christian” is “white” and not “Christian.” When white Christians say they did not vote for Trump because of his bigotry but for other reasons, faith leaders of color answer with a damning question: His racial bigotry wasn’t a deal-breaker for you?

Week after week, Trump reveals that his leadership is always and only about himself; not the people, the country or even his party — and certainly not about godliness. During his recent whirlwind trip through Asia, for instance, he bragged constantly about his red carpet treatment, and seemed to thrive on the attention and flattery while putting precious little effort into diplomacy. (“They were all watching,” Trump gushed of people who he said called him in droves to congratulate him on the splendor of his visit to China. “Nothing you can see is so beautiful.”) The conflicts between his money, power and governing are always resolved in the same way — by his selfishness; by whatever happens to appeal to him, and only him, in that moment. Though he ran an anti-interventionist campaign, for instance, Trump reportedly decided to ramp up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan this year after an adviser showed him a picture of Afghani women wearing miniskirts in the 1970s.

All leaders struggle with these temptations, and public figures must wrestle with them the most. Christians, rightly enough, have never expected perfect leaders — just those who can keep up their end of the moral struggle. But for Trump, there is no moral struggle. He is not immoral — knowing what is right and wrong, and choosing the wrong — he rather seems amoral: lacking any kind of moral compass for his personal or professional life. That’s why the Christian compromise with Trump and his ilk has put faithful Americans at such serious risk.

Central to the health of our society is for American Christians to rescue an authentic, compassionate and justice-oriented faith from the clutches of partisan abuse, and from the idolatry of money, sex and power. The word “repentance” in Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions means much more than feeling sorry about the past; it also means “turning around” to equity and healing personally, and systemically in our institutions of policing and criminal justice, education, economics, voting rights, immigration and refugees, racial geography, housing, and more. Making repentance practical is the spiritual task ahead.

Beatles v. Mahler

“Eleanor Rigby,” I’d argue, is just as profound as Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony. But the Mahler, scored for large orchestra, chorus and two vocal soloists, is a whole lot longer, lasting more than 80 minutes. --NYTimes chief classical music critic  ANTHONY TOMMASINI JULY 30, 2017


Origin of Modern Political Lies

A key moment came in the 1970s, when Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics — the claim, refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual integrity: “I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.” In another essay, he cheerfully conceded to having had a “cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit,” because it was all about creating a Republican majority — so “political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”

Free Cheese
Russians are fond of a proverb, “besplatniy sir biyvaet tol’ko v mishelovke”: “Free cheese can be found only in a mousetrap.”
NYTimes 2017 July 28

Streetcar Expansion

Vern's personal letter (below) is cited in this news report:
Click on the link for the map with the story.

JULY 18, 2017 5:36 PM
KC streetcar expansion sparks debate over fairness of proposed taxing districts

Country Club Plaza residents at the Kirkwood and Sulgrave Regency face a hefty property tax for a Midtown streetcar system. But residents at the nearby Walnuts likely wouldn’t.

Normally tax-exempt churches also could be hit for thousands of dollars a year.

Is the tax boundary for Kansas City’s proposed expanded streetcar zone fair?

A mail-in election is underway right now to determine whether the downtown streetcar system expands or stalls. But in Kansas City’s great streetcar debate this summer, questions are swirling about how the taxing district boundaries were drawn.

Proponents say an expanded taxing district along the Main Street corridor is the best shot at extending downtown’s wildly popular streetcar system to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Critics counter that the proposed boundaries, involving both sales and property tax increases, impose an unjust lug on a small segment of Kansas City taxpayers.

“The whole thing has been gerrymandered,” says Greg Allen, whose financial business on Linwood Boulevard is in the proposed tax zone. “There is a huge problem of unfairness here. This is being levied on the backs of a relatively narrow property tax base.”

Some streetcar supporters who themselves would pay the higher assessment respond it’s well worth it.

“I think the first phase of the streetcar has been very successful,” said City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, who lives just east of the Plaza and would pay the higher tax on her condo unit. “I feel very strongly it will be very helpful. I’m willing to pay.”

Streetcar advocates point out the tax approach was approved by the Jackson County Circuit Court. They are pushing hard for support in the mail-in election, with ballots due Aug. 1. Qualified voters will decide whether to create a special transportation development district (TDD), which could eventually extend the streetcar track 3.75 miles from Union Station to UMKC.

More elections would be required to actually impose any taxes. But an expanded streetcar district sets the stage.

It would actually have two different tax districts.

The entire area, from the Missouri River to 53rd Street and from State Line Road to Campbell Street, would have a 1-cent sales tax increase for 30 years.

A smaller boundary, generally one-third mile from Main Street but bigger in some places, would also face a 25-year property assessment for residential, commercial and even tax-exempt properties like churches. The local money would raise half the estimated $227 million project cost, with hopes of the rest from the federal government.

A draft special assessment map is available from the 16th circuit court. The final assessment zone would be determined later by an elected board.

But the “model” assessment boundary curves and bumps out in certain areas. Some have even suggested that the Walnuts complex was left out of the assessment zone because influential people such as former mayor Kay Barnes live there.

Those involved in drawing the lines vehemently deny that.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with where Kay Barnes lives,” said leading streetcar advocate David Johnson. “I didn’t even know where she lived. I thought she still lived in Briarcliff.”

They maintain the assessment zone is drawn to incorporate the parts of town that would benefit most from streetcar expansion in the Main Street corridor, plus Westport and the Plaza.

Opponents say the tax burden isn’t equitably distributed and wonder why the entire city isn’t being asked to contribute to such a hugely expensive project.

Plaza area condos

If new streetcar boundaries are approved, two subsequent elections could lead to the sales and property tax increases. That has prompted considerable scrutiny of which properties would be subject to the property tax.

The special assessment would run about $266 annually on a $200,000 residential unit or home, and higher for more expensive units.

A few Plaza area residents have complained privately to The Star that the Sulgrave Regency, 121 W. 48th St., is within the model assessment zone, while the Walnuts, 5049 Wornall Road, is not.

One person who asked not to be named wrote, “The discussion buzzing in our building is The Walnuts have some power brokers who pulled some strings...leaving out The Walnuts raises another question about a fair process.”

Johnson and attorney Doug Stone, who created the model assessment zone map, explained that the model assessment zone includes properties within walking distance of the streetcar line. The boundary bumps out more than one-third mile at the Plaza and Westport because those are contiguous walkable districts.

“Special assessments are imposed on property that benefits from a specific improvement,” Stone said, adding that the natural walking distance in the Plaza and Westport is greater due to their pedestrian nature.

Stone said the Walnuts is farther west from Main Street than other Plaza buildings. Likewise, the Polsinelli law firm office on the west side of Roanoke Parkway/Madison Avenue, is not in the assessment zone, while commercial properties just east of Madison are.

Stone acknowledged it’s a subjective judgment, but the Jackson County Circuit Court deemed the streetcar proposal legal.

Allen says the setup is ludicrous.

“What is walkable about including all the commercial property in Westport and the Plaza? That has to do with grabbing the tax base,” he argued.

Lee Derrough agrees. He lives in a Kirkwood townhome on 50th Street, right on the boundary, and says he and many neighbors are upset about how the boundaries were drawn to include their buildings.

“It’s a pretty big chunk of change, and it goes for 25 years,” he said. “People that aren’t excited are the ones who will have to pay for it and never use it.”

Derrough thinks the cumbersome mail-in election and tax approach is a perversion of Missouri’s transportation development district law, which is normally used for a few properties and smaller projects.

“This is bad public policy, some of the worst I’ve ever witnessed,” he said. “To me, it’s immoral.”

Some residents who would pay the assessment say they are fine with it.

Betsy Paul, who lives at the Sophian Plaza at 46th and Warwick, said she believes the benefits are worth the extra cost on her condo.

“I would ride it from here downtown,” she said. “It would be fabulous because it would open a lot of options where I wouldn’t have to drive my car. I could go downtown to the farmer’s market, pick up some stuff and not have to worry about parking.”

Still, Paul said, many of her neighbors oppose this type of taxation.

Churches and nonprofits

Another bone of contention is that the special assessment would hit churches and other Midtown nonprofits. The district would exempt the first $300,000 of property value for nonprofits, but the special assessment would apply after that. That’s how the transportation district law works.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and School would pay an estimated $10,000 a year, which could diminish funds available for its food pantry and other ministries, said Rector Stan Runnels. “Most of my parishioners are in favor of the streetcar, but we’re all wondering how are we going to manage this, how [to] afford it?”

Father Gary Ziuraitis of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Church, 3333 Broadway, estimates the church property, which includes Cristo Rey High School, would pay about $4,000 a year for 25 years.

Church donors want their money to help people, not pay a tax bill. “They want that to go to the work of God,” Ziuraitis said.

Vern Barnet, a longtime Kansas City interfaith leader, says he is a big user and proponent of the bus system. But he believes the proposed taxes are regressive.

“Let those who will benefit, primarily the developers, pay for the project instead of low-income homeowners and nonprofits, including churches,” he wrote in a widely distributed letter.

Stone responded that special assessments, unlike regular property taxes, apply to tax-exempt properties that also derive a benefit from an improvement.

Johnson pointed out that nonprofits already pay the downtown streetcar assessment, and it’s not stopping the Church of the Resurrection from expanding in downtown.

Meanwhile, Community Christian Church, 4601 Main St., supports the project.

Associate Pastor Ryan Motter estimated the church would pay about $1,700 a year. But he said the church already gives out about $500 worth of bus passes to the homeless each year, so it would probably save that amount once the free streetcar rolls by.

He said a majority of the congregation believes the streetcar is a big benefit.

“It fits in line with our values of caring for God’s creation,” he said. “The accessibility of reliable transportation, especially for those who are poor. It’s also encouraging and building community.”

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

Vern's personal opinion about the 2017
StreetCar expansion vote, as noted by
Tony's Kansas City 2017 July 4.

Here is the text:

Folks who know I support public transportation -- but are unfamiliar with the details of the streetcar expansion proposal -- are surprised to learn how opposed I am to the project. So here are two bits of an explanation.

A decade ago I decided never to own a car again. I believe in the City, and I get around pretty well with the bus system. The streetcar does nothing significant to improve transportation. The money planned for the streetcar would much better be used to improve and expand the bus system. Since the real purpose of the streetcar is development, let those who will benefit, primarily the developers, pay for the project instead of low-income home-owners and non-profits -- including churches -- within a third of a mile of the proposed route. Under the present plan, they must pay a 25-year special assessment on their property. Additionally, there will be a 1% sales tax increase that will be imposed for 30 years on almost every product sold in the district. These taxes are regressive and will force some to move from their communities, destroying social capital in the name of a city planning scheme of questionable value.

For twenty-five years I have been a faithful and regular voter in my district; but like a number of others, my name was omitted from the official voting list on the website designated to begin the ballot application for this special election. Fortunately, I was able (on the bus!) to go to the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners at Union Station to get my credentials, and then took them (on the bus) to the Courthouse. How many of my neighbors were unable to put forth the time and effort to secure their proper rights as a voter? This botched procedure seems designed to suppress voter turn-out. I think of 30,000 potential voters in this gerrymandered special district, less than 6,000 will be able to vote. How can this cumbersome way of avoiding a city-wide election not appear to be rigging the outcome? Let those who have the means pay for this expansion, and let them get voter approval through an established and well-settled democratic process. A shiny new streetcar is alluring, but forced impoverishment is ugly and immoral.

Vern Barnet has lived in Westport since 1993. He has received numerous civic and religious awards. He wrote a weekly column for The Kansas City Star for 18 years, founded the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, and has taught at area universities and seminaries. One of his recent books, published internationally, is for health care providers.

Paid for by SMART KC, Sherry Delanes, Treasurer [logo] 2824

2017 August 9

Following a citizen initiative passed yesterday by the voters, the City cannot assist with plans for a streetcar without Citywide approval. So I wrote the head of the KC Regional Transit Alliance:

Dear Chairman--

Many of us do want a streetcar, even though it does little to improve transit. The problem is the financing.

It is wrong to destroy social capital among poor folks who cannot afford the special assessments and regressive sales tax increases. How about matching those under the poverty line with those who can afford to subsidize the poor? Those who can pay will be the main beneficiaries, anyhow. I'd happily register for a matching arrangement for 25 and 30 years. Since about twice as many people voted for the streetcar expansion district as those who voted No, two Yes voters could share their subsidizing of one poor person, a minimal outlay by those who have the means. Let those who have the means finance the streetcar since it is more about development than about transportation.

I don't know that any system of financing like this has ever been done, and it would require some administrative overlay. Or maybe matching arrangements could be offered simply by volunteers who promise poor people to pay their assessments and sales tax increase with appropriate documentation and receipts. Another way of financing would be to eliminate the sales tax except on luxury items and make graded assessments on property, such as no assessment on homes under $100,000, a fractional assessment on homes at $100,000 and a graduated, exponential rise to the most expensive property. Those who can, let them pay. Do not push poor people out of their homes and communities by asking to finance what will benefit the chiefly the wealthy.

My proposal may be laughable. But at least think about the poor who may be excellent citizens and worthy human beings..

And in the meantime, please consider the city-wide concern expressed in yesterday's vote on Question 1.


Vern Barnet 

Trump on violence

Muslims for America Since July 4, 1776 [excerpt]
By Dr. Mike Ghouse

At the declaration of our Independence on July 4, 1776, two of the first three heads of states who recognized the sovereignty of the United States were Muslims. Morocco’s Moroccan sultan Muhammad III was first, Johannes de Graaf of Nederland’s was the second and Tipu Sultan of Mysore (India) was the third.

June 10 Saturday 10-Noon
Nichols Fountain

Facebook information

Cultural Crossroads Statement

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST
Donald Trump Poisons the World
David Brooks JUNE 2, 2017 

This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.

That sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath.

The essay explains why the Trump people are suspicious of any cooperative global arrangement, like NATO and the various trade agreements. It helps explain why Trump pulled out of the Paris global-warming accord. This essay explains why Trump gravitates toward leaders like Vladimir Putin, the Saudi princes and various global strongmen: They share his core worldview that life is nakedly a selfish struggle for money and dominance.

It explains why people in the Trump White House are so savage to one another. Far from being a band of brothers, their world is a vicious arena where staffers compete for advantage.

In the essay, McMaster and Cohn make explicit the great act of moral decoupling woven through this presidency. In this worldview, morality has nothing to do with anything. Altruism, trust, cooperation and virtue are unaffordable luxuries in the struggle of all against all. Everything is about self-interest.

We’ve seen this philosophy before, of course. Powerful, selfish people have always adopted this dirty-minded realism to justify their own selfishness. The problem is that this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to self-destructive behavior in all cases.

The error is that it misunderstands what drives human action. Of course people are driven by selfish motivations — for individual status, wealth and power. But they are also motivated by another set of drives — for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment — that are equally and sometimes more powerful.

People are wired to cooperate. Far from being a flimsy thing, the desire for cooperation is the primary human evolutionary advantage we have over the other animals.

People have a moral sense. They have a set of universal intuitions that help establish harmony between peoples. From their first moments, children are wired to feel each other’s pain. You don’t have to teach a child about what fairness is; they already know. There’s no society on earth where people are admired for running away in battle or for lying to their friends.

People have moral emotions. They feel rage at injustice, disgust toward greed, reverence for excellence, awe before the sacred and elevation in the face of goodness.

People yearn for righteousness. They want to feel meaning and purpose in their lives, that their lives are oriented toward the good.

People are attracted by goodness and repelled by selfishness. N.Y.U. social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has studied the surges of elevation we feel when we see somebody performing a selfless action. Haidt describes the time a guy spontaneously leapt out of a car to help an old lady shovel snow from her driveway.

One of his friends, who witnessed this small act, later wrote: “I felt like jumping out of the car and hugging this guy. I felt like singing and running, or skipping and laughing. Just being active. I felt like saying nice things about people. Writing a beautiful poem or love song. Playing in the snow like a child. Telling everybody about his deed.”

Good leaders like Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt and Reagan understand the selfish elements that drive human behavior, but they have another foot in the realm of the moral motivations. They seek to inspire faithfulness by showing good character. They try to motivate action by pointing toward great ideals.

Realist leaders like Trump, McMaster and Cohn seek to dismiss this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.

By treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump, McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough.

By looking at nothing but immediate material interest, Trump, McMaster and Cohn turn America into a nation that affronts everybody else’s moral emotions. They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world.

George Marshall was no idealistic patsy. He understood that America extends its power when it offers a cooperative hand and volunteers for common service toward a great ideal. Realists reverse that formula. They assume strife and so arouse a volley of strife against themselves.

I wish H. R. McMaster was a better student of Thucydides. He’d know that the Athenians adopted the same amoral tone he embraces: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Athenians ended up making endless enemies and destroying their own empire.


Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans
On the Removal of Confederate Monuments
MAY 19, 2017

Thank you for coming.

The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way — for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans — the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando De Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Colorix, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.

You see — New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling caldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions, why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame... all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.

For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth. As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other. So, let’s start with the facts.

The historic record is clear, the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous ‘cornerstone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears... I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us. And make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago — we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and a more perfect union.

Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it. President Obama said, “Consider what this artifact tells us about history... on a stone where day after day for years, men and women... bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.”

A piece of stone — one stone. Both stories were history. One story told. One story forgotten or maybe even purposefully ignored. As clear as it is for me today... for a long time, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights... I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought. So I am not judging anybody, I am not judging people. We all take our own journey on race.

I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our exclusionary attitudes. Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too? We all know the answer to these very simple questions. When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth.

And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once.

This is however about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division and yes with violence.

To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future. History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.

And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd. Centuries old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place. Here is the essential truth. We are better together than we are apart.

Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to the world? We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz, the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures. Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think.

All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity. We are proof that out of many we are one — and better for it! Out of many we are one — and we really do love it! And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again, remember President Bush’s words, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say ‘wait’/not so fast, but like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “wait has almost always meant never.” We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now.

No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain. While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts; not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.

Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch, his wife Robin and their two beautiful daughters at their side. Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.

He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride... it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.” Yes, Terence, it is and it is long overdue. Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.

A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond; let us not miss this opportunity New Orleans and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the City we always should have been, had we gotten it right in the first place.

We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves — at this point in our history — after Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil catastrophe and after the tornado — if presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces... would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?

We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations. And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people. In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals. We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That is what really makes America great and today it is more important than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America. Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all... not some. We all are part of one nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New Orleanians are in... all of the way. It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes. Instead of revering a 4-year brief historical aberration that was called the Confederacy we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named New Orleans and set the tone for the next 300 years.

After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation and of frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community led commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6-1 vote by the duly elected New Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and the monuments in accordance with the law have been removed. So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.

Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned and now universally loved Nelson Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid. “If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.” So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.

The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered. As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history.

Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause. Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest President Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds...to do all which may achieve and cherish — a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Thank you.

Perspective on Terrorism

In the four decades between 1975 and 2015, terrorists born in the seven nations in Trump’s travel ban killed zero people in America, according to the Cato Institute. Zero.

In that same period, guns claimed 1.34 million lives in America, including murders, suicides and accidents. That’s about as many people as live in Boston and Seattle combined.

It’s also roughly as many Americans as died in all the wars in American history since the American Revolution, depending on the estimate used for Civil War dead.

It’s true that Muslim Americans — both born in the United States and immigrants from countries other than those subject to Trump’s restrictions — have carried out deadly terrorism in America. There have been 123 such murders since the 9/11 attacks — and 230,000 other murders.

Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by Muslim terrorists than for being Muslim, according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina. The former is a risk of approximately one in six million; the latter, one in one million.

The bottom line is that most years in the U.S., ladders kill far more Americans than Muslim terrorists do. Same with bathtubs. Ditto for stairs. And lightning.

Above all, fear spouses: Husbands are incomparably more deadly in America than jihadist terrorists.

And husbands are so deadly in part because in America they have ready access to firearms, even when they have a history of violence. In other countries, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; in America, they put them in graves. . . . 

--Nicholas Kristof 

Concerning Actions of Official Prejudice
2017 January 27
Statement from 
The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
Statement from
The Crescent Peace Society
and Other Groups

Statement from
Cultural Crossroads

Statement of Conscience 
Honoring the Sacred in Everyone

Kansas City, MO (January 27, 2017) We, the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, begin all our meetings with words that include the following: “We gather to accomplish this work of service, honor the sacred in each of us, and deepen our relations...”  As an organization committed to this with our thoughts, words and deeds, we find ourselves disheartened by news reports that point to the idea of creating a registry of Muslims in the United States. 

Profiling people on the basis of religion will not keep us safe, nor does it demonstrate what we value most: respecting and honoring the sacred in everyone. It will set a dangerous precedent, placing the nation on a path toward eroding civil rights and universal human rights. Such a registry would seem more like a reaction to fear than a solution to the threats that created the fear. As a Council, we cannot come up with a single reason for how a nationwide registry of Muslims advances our organizational vision to create the most welcoming community for all people. 

We will not support actions that discriminate against whole groups of people based on faith, life philosophy, race, national origin or ethnicity. American history is peppered with these types of victimizing events, always resulting in unjust and tragic consequences: internment of Japanese Americans in World War II, suppression of German-speaking Americans in World War I, persecution of Irish, Italian and Hispanic Catholic immigrants, and executions of so called witches in Salem, Massachusetts, to name a few. In Nazi Europe, identifying Jews with yellow Stars of David resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews and the defeat and repudiation of Hitlerism following the Holocaust. In Kansas City, and in America, we believe we can and must do better.

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council mission statement reads, “We are growing a sustainable, pervasive culture of knowledge, respect, appreciation, and trust amongst people of all faiths and religious traditions in the Greater Kansas City community.” Therefore, we must always stand for civil liberties guaranteed by our constitution, and universal human rights for all.

At this extraordinary time in our nation’s history, we are called to affirm our profound commitment to developing deeper understanding of each other’s faiths and traditions, and to foster appropriate bilateral and multilateral interfaith dialogue and interaction.

In the face of threats to immigrants, religious minorities, people of color, the LGBTQIA community, and so many others, as well as the rise of hate speech and hate crimes, we affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We hold fast to our unwavering resolve to model our spiritual and religious values of mutual respect and cooperation.

When we see any attempts to discriminate against whole groups of people based on faith, life philosophy, race, national origin or ethnicity, we remain steadfast in expanding awareness of the spiritual values of ANY faith tradition because it is these values that can help us resolve issues and challenges occurring in the environmental, social and personal realms of our lives.

We joyously celebrate the gifts of religious pluralism in our city because it is a celebration of the interconnectedness of all life. Whatever our individual faith traditions, we simply can’t imagine being separate. We can’t imagine our lives without each other. As people of conscience, we declare our commitment to translate our values into action as we stand on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us. We welcome and invite all to join in this commitment for justice. The time is now.

We ask leaders of all faiths and people of humane and compassionate conscience to sign this statement as a show of support, and stand with us for the sake of all. 

Rev. Kelly Isola
Chair, Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council (GKCIC) is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, which has a Board of Directors that strives for inclusiveness. The Council is comprised of Faith Directors, as well as At-Large Directors, who belong to 22 distinct faith philosophies represented in the greater Kansas City area. Working through Directors, Alternates, Advisors and Friends, the Council strives to provide engaging and educational programs about the many diverse faiths and traditions represented in Greater Kansas City by joining religion, spirit and community. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council takes no position on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for office.

CPS Stands in Opposition to 'Muslim Ban' Executive Orders Joined by Local Interfaith Groups

Crescent Peace Society Stands In Opposition to 'Muslim Ban' Executive Orders Joined by Kansas Interfaith Action, Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, The Center for Religious Experience and Study, KC For Refugees, and Hatebusters, Inc.

(Overland Park, KS, 1/27/2017) -- The Crescent Peace Society (CPS), a Kansas City area interfaith organization, was joined today by Kansas Interfaith Action, The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, The Center for Religious Experience and Study (CRES), KC For Refugees and Hatebusters, Inc., in opposing President Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Executive Orders halting the acceptance of Syrian refugees and restricting immigration and travel from several Muslim majority nations including Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

“These Executive Orders are expected to focus on refugees, immigrants and visa holders from Muslim majority countries only.  It is clear that this is the first step in implementing the President’s promised ‘Muslim Ban,’ effectively excluding people based on their religion,” said CPS President, Ahsan Latif.  “Predicating travel, immigration and refuge from harm on the basis of religion, or a religious litmus test, is un-American.  I grew up learning the American values of pluralism and freedom of religion.  The enactment of these policies threatens to turn our long held Constitutional values into just another set of alternative facts.”

This policy harkens back to another dark time in our history, when during World War II the United States turned away Jewish refugees seeking our protection and instead sent them back to Europe where many did not survive. “Refugees entering this country are already the most vetted of all people entering our borders,” said Latif.  “They undergo several levels of screening by multiple national security agencies before they are even selected as refugees.”

These orders will adversely affect American Muslims seeking to host their family members from overseas.  They would prevent citizens from aiding parents and grandparents seeking medical treatment and tarnish our image as a country that stands for the ideals of religious freedom and tolerance.  “This ‘Muslim Ban’ does not make our country safer,” said Latif.  "Instead it will be a propaganda tool for our enemies who portray America as the perpetrators of a holy war against them."

The Executive Orders claim to focus on nations with some unspecified correlation to terrorism.  However, the countries included do not have a record of committing terrorist acts in the United States (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for example, are not included on the list).  Additionally, statistics show that over 116 times more Americans have died from gun violence compared to terrorism (CNN: American deaths in terrorism vs. gun violence in one graph). "It is important to address the issue of terrorism, but it should be based on evidence and hard data instead of faith, race or national origin,” said Latif.

The Crescent Peace Society is a Kansas City area interfaith organization seeking to enhance the understanding of Muslim cultures through educational and cultural activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences among people of diverse cultures.  Its mission is to build bridges among faith communities, encourage dialogue, and promote justice and mutual understanding.

If there are groups interested in having a Muslim speaker meet with their congregation or organization regarding Muslims in America or Islam, they email a request to: crescentpeacesociety@gmail.com.

* Crescent Peace Society: Ahsan Latif, President, 913-485-9218, latif.ahsan@gmail.com, Hibba Haider, Vice President, 816-309-8065, hibbahaider@gmail.com, and Advisory Board Member Mahnaz Shabbir, 816-213-2536 and mahnaz@shabbiradvisors.com 
* Kansas Interfaith Action, Rabbi Moti Rieber, Executive Director, (316) 680-7381, mrieber@kansasinterfaithaction.org
* Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council: Reverend Kelly Isola, Vice Chair, (816) 550-3475, kisola@me.com 
* Center for Religious Experience and Study, The Reverend Vern Barnet, vern@cres.org
KC For Refugees: Dr. Sofia Khan, Founder, (913) 523-4113, zaims5@live.com 
* Hatebusters, Inc.: Ed Chasteen, Founder, HateBuster@aol.com 

Statement in Support of Rights

Cultural Crossroads supports the full exercise of religious liberty for all and is opposed to any limitation on immigration based upon religious restrictions.

The United States was founded on the basis of freedom and religious liberty is one of the most basic of those freedoms. Any classification or treatment of citizens or immigrants based upon religion is counter to the very ideals of America and what America stands for. If America loses our unique position in the world as the bastion of religious liberty, it will not only destroy the American dream, it will destroy the preeminent position of the United States in the eyes of the world....and history. 

Cultural Crossroads is a nonprofit organization which conducts multicultural education for children and families and provides dialogue opportunities for adults and promotes mutual respect and understanding of diversity by focusing on the commonalities among peoples, rather than the differences. Our Vision is a society which honors the heritage of our diverse cultures amid a climate of mutual respect and a shared future. More information is available at www.culturalcrossroads-kc.org

Cultural Crossroads, Inc. 
Dated January 29, 2017

“Since the liar is free to fashion his ‘facts’ to fit the profit and pleasure, or even the mere expectations, of his audience, the chances are that he will be more persuasive than the truth teller.” --Hannah Arendt, 1967

10 Times Trump Spread Fake News JAN. 18, 2017
Death panels, Obama's Kwanzaa message, birther stuff, secret oil deal, autism from vaccinations, unemployment data, President Obama and the Boston Marathon Bombing, Ted Cruz’s father linked to Oswald, protester was from ISIS, voter fraud -- great examples from a mountain of lies. Thou shalt not lie.

Thomas L. Friedman JAN. 18, 2017
Retweeting Donald Trump

I Used to Be a Human Being
By Andrew Sullivan

Only I can fix it -- Donald Trump
Stronger Together -- Hillary Clinton


The Power of Altruism
David Brooks JULY 8, 2016

Western society is built on the assumption that people are fundamentally selfish. Machiavelli and Hobbes gave us influential philosophies built on human selfishness. Sigmund Freud gave us a psychology of selfishness. Children, he wrote, “are completely egoistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them.”

Classical economics adopts a model that says people are primarily driven by material self-interest. Political science assumes that people are driven to maximize their power.

But this worldview is clearly wrong. In real life, the push of selfishness is matched by the pull of empathy and altruism. This is not Hallmark card sentimentalism but scientific fact: As babies our neural connections are built by love and care. We have evolved to be really good at cooperation and empathy. We are strongly motivated to teach and help others.

As Matthieu Ricard notes in his rigorous book “Altruism,” if an 18-month-old sees a man drop a clothespin she will move to pick it up and hand it back to him within five seconds, about the same amount of time it takes an adult to offer assistance. If you reward a baby with a gift for being kind, the propensity to help will decrease, in some studies by up to 40 percent.

When we build academic disciplines and social institutions upon suppositions of selfishness we’re missing the motivations that drive people much of the time.

Worse, if you expect people to be selfish, you can actually crush their tendency to be good.

Samuel Bowles provides a slew of examples in his book “The Moral Economy.” For example, six day care centers in Haifa, Israel, imposed a fine on parents who were late in picking up their kids at the end of the day. The share of parents who arrived late doubled. Before the fine, picking up their kids on time was an act of being considerate to the teachers. But after the fine, showing up to pick up their kids became an economic transaction. They felt less compunction to be kind.

In 2001, the Boston fire commissioner ended his department’s policy of unlimited sick days and imposed a limit of 15 per year. Those who exceeded the limit had their pay docked. Suddenly what had been an ethic to serve the city was replaced by a utilitarian paid arrangement. The number of firefighters who called in sick on Christmas and New Year’s increased by tenfold over the previous year.

To simplify, there are two lenses people can use to see any situation: the economic lens or the moral lens.

When you introduce a financial incentive you prompt people to see their situation through an economic lens. Instead of following their natural bias toward reciprocity, service and cooperation, you encourage people to do a selfish cost-benefit calculation. They begin to ask, “What’s in this for me?”

By evoking an economic motivation, you often get worse outcomes. Imagine what would happen to a marriage if both people went in saying, “I want to get more out of this than I put in.” The prospects of such a marriage would not be good.
 Many of our commitments, professional or civic, are like that. To be a good citizen, to be a good worker, you often have to make an altruistic commitment to some group or ideal, which will see you through those times when your job of citizenship is hard and frustrating. Whether you are a teacher serving students or a soldier serving your country or a clerk who likes your office mates, the moral motivation is much more powerful than the financial motivations. Arrangements that arouse the financial lens alone are just messing everything up.

In 1776, Adam Smith defined capitalism as a machine that takes private self-interest and organizes it to produce general prosperity. A few years later America’s founders created a democracy structured to take private factional competition and, through checks and balances, turn it into deliberative democracy. Both rely on a low but steady view of human nature and try to turn private vice into public virtue.

But back then, there were plenty of institutions that promoted the moral lens to balance the economic lens: churches, guilds, community organizations, military service and honor codes.

Since then, the institutions that arouse the moral lens have withered while the institutions that manipulate incentives — the market and the state — have expanded. Now economic, utilitarian thinking has become the normal way we do social analysis and see the world. We’ve wound up with a society that is less cooperative, less trusting, less effective and less lovely.

By assuming that people are selfish, by prioritizing arrangements based on selfishness, we have encouraged selfish frames of mind. Maybe it’s time to upend classical economics and political science. Maybe it’s time to build institutions that harness people’s natural longing to do good.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTOpinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter. 

A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 8, 2016, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: The Power of Altruism. T

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Unity Illusion
David Brooks JUNE 10, 2016

Paul Ryan says it’s time for Republicans to unite with the presumptive nominee Donald Trump. Sure, Trump says racist things sometimes and disagrees with most of our proposals, but Republicans have to go into this campaign as a team. There has to be a Republican majority in Congress to give ballast to a Trump presidency or block the excesses of a Clinton one. If Republicans are divided from now until Election Day they will lose everything.

Unity will also be good for the conservative agenda. Congressional Republicans are currently laying out a series of policy proposals. If they hug Trump, maybe he’ll embrace some of them. Or, as a Wall Street Journal editorial put it this week: “There’s no guarantee Mr. Trump would agree to Mr. Ryan’s agenda, but there’s no chance if Mr. Ryan publicly refuses to vote for him.”

These are decent arguments. Unfortunately, they are philosophically unsound and completely unworkable.

For starters, this line of thinking is deeply anticonservative. Conservatives believe that politics is a limited activity. Culture, psychology and morality come first. What happens in the family, neighborhood, house of worship and the heart is more fundamental and important than what happens in a legislature.

Ryan’s argument inverts all this. It puts political positions first and character and morality second. Sure Trump’s a scoundrel, but he might agree with our tax proposal. Sure, he is a racist, but he might like our position on the defense budget. Policy agreement can paper over a moral chasm. Nobody calling themselves a conservative can agree to this hierarchy of values.

The classic conservative belief, by contrast, is that character is destiny. Temperament is foundational. Each candidate has to cross some basic threshold of dependability as a human being before it’s even relevant to judge his or her policy agenda. Trump doesn’t cross that threshold.

Second, it just won’t work. The Republican Party can’t unify around Donald Trump for the same reason it can’t unify around a tornado. Trump, by his very essence, undermines cooperation, reciprocity, solidarity, stability or any other component of unity. He is a lone operator, a disloyal diva, who is incapable of horizontal relationships. He has demeaned and humiliated everybody who has tried to be his friend, from Chris Christie to Paul Ryan.

Some conservatives believe they can educate, convert or civilize Trump. This belief is a sign both of intellectual arrogance and psychological na?vet?.

The man who just crushed them is in no mood to submit to them. Furthermore, Trump’s personality is pathological. It is driven by deep inner compulsions that defy friendly advice, political interest and common sense.

It’s useful to go back and read the Trump profiles in Vanity Fair and other places from the 1980s and 1990s. He has always behaved exactly as he does now: the constant flow of insults, the endless bragging, the casual cruelty, the need to destroy allies and hog the spotlight. “Donald was the child who would throw the cake at the birthday parties,” his brother Robert once said.

Psychologists are not supposed to diagnose candidates from afar, but there is a well-developed literature on narcissism that tracks with what we have seen of Trump. By one theory narcissism flows from a developmental disorder called alexithymia, the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. Sufferers have no inner voice to understand their own feelings and reflect honestly on their own actions.

Unable to know themselves, or truly love themselves, they hunger for a never-ending supply of admiration from outside. They act at all times like they are performing before a crowd and cannot rest unless they are in the spotlight.

To make decisions, these narcissists create a rigid set of external standards, often based around admiration and contempt. Their valuing criteria are based on simple division — winners and losers, victory or humiliation. They are preoccupied with luxury, appearance or anything that signals wealth, beauty, power and success. They take Christian, Jewish and Muslim values — based on humility, charity and love — and they invert them.

Incapable of understanding themselves, they are also incapable of having empathy for others. They simply don’t know what it feels like to put themselves in another’s shoes. Other people are simply to be put to use as suppliers of admiration or as victims to be crushed as part of some dominance display.

Therefore, they go out daily in search of enemies to insult and friends to degrade. Trump, for example, reportedly sets members of his campaign staff off against each other. Each person is up one day and belittled another — always kept perpetually on edge, waiting for the Sun King to decide the person’s temporary worth.

Paul Ryan and the Republicans can try to be loyal to Trump, but he won’t be loyal to them. There’s really no choice. Congressional Republicans have to run their own separate campaign. Donald Trump does not share.

Should you watch the Super Bowl?

How Politics Has Poisoned Islam

Roger Cohen: Israel's Image

Muslims condemn Paris attacks

KC Interfaith Council on presidential hopeful Dr Ben Carson's and others' anti-Muslim rheteric  2015 October 1

Economic Voodoo - Krugman

No religious test in early Constitutional debates, a glimpse

Pope Francis on Interfaith Dialogue 2015 June 6

Brian Zahnd: For the Common Good

Karen Armstrong: Religion and Violence (Fields of Blood)
And the Women, They Bury the Dead,
     by Mark Matzeder (2014 May)  (my title)

LINKS  to Muslim leaders condemning violence
    So often the media fail to report the world-wide responses of Muslims to attrocities. Here are two examples of what so many uninformed people say does not exist: 
UK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Bd0Y6qWmlA?sns=fb
US: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcTv2AW7tzU

The Brutal Bible  (my title)
    from the Jewish Forward

War of Choice
     by Roger Cohen

Bill Tammeus on Homosexuality

Roger Cohen
International affairs and diplomacy.
The New York Times

Israel's Image Issue
Roger Cohen JAN. 28, 2016 

This is an interesting moment in relations between the United States and Israel. Call it a poisonous lull. The vitriol around the Iran nuclear deal has subsided. But something is rotten in the special bond.

The American ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, was recently dismissed as a “little Jew boy” by a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for saying that “two standards” seem to apply in the way the law is applied to Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and that “too much Israeli vigilantism in the West Bank goes on unchecked.”

Shapiro was stating the obvious. Israeli settlers are citizens entitled to the full protection of civil law. The 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank are not. Their decades-old limbo places them in a permanent state of vulnerability subject to Israeli military law. Israel, in turn, exercises corrosive dominion; hence the vigilantism.

What was interesting was that Shapiro chose to speak out — a reflection of the acute frustration of the Obama administration with Israeli policies that cement what Secretary of State John Kerry has called a “one-state reality.” That reality is one in which Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state.

The situation was well-described in a Human Rights Watch report published this month: “On the one hand, Israel provides settlers, and in many cases settlement businesses, with land, water infrastructure, resources, and financial incentives to encourage the growth of settlements. On the other hand, Israel confiscates Palestinian land, forcibly displaces Palestinians, restricts their freedom of movement, precludes them from building in all but 1 percent of the area of the West Bank under Israeli administrative control, and strictly limits their access to water and electricity.”

It’s not only within the administration that frustration is running high. The American Jewish community has grown more divided. Increasingly, younger Jews are distancing themselves from Israeli policies seen as unjust, unlawful, immoral or self-defeating. On college campuses where movements like Black Lives Matter have focused minds on issues of oppression and injustice, it does not take much to draw a parallel with the Palestinian cause, however lacking in nuance that analogy may be.

A right-wing Israeli government, including illiberal ministers contemptuous of the Palestinian national movement, makes it harder to put the case for support of Israel. If Netanyahu is now an Israeli moderate, what does that say about the extent of Israeli Messianic nationalism?

Gary Rosenblatt, the editor of The Jewish Week and a strong supporter of Israel, sent me an article he published recently whose first paragraph reads:

“Even as Israel endures daily ‘lone wolf’ attacks from young Palestinians prepared to die for the cause of spilling Jewish blood, American Jewish leaders confide that generating support for the Jewish state is becoming increasingly difficult these days — even within the Jewish community, and especially among younger people.”

“To be pro-Israel is being seen as more and more of a right-wing thing,” Amna Farooqi, the president of J Street U, the campus branch of J Street, the liberal pro-Israel, pro-peace Jewish lobbying group, told me. “It’s false. You can be pro-Israel and progressive, but American Jewish leaders must be transparent on the settlements. You can’t say you support two states if you don’t take a clear position, for example, against funding activities over the Green Line.”

Farooqi, a senior at the University of Maryland, is a Pakistani-American Muslim elected to lead J Street U last summer. Raised in an immigrant family critical of Israel, but also in a neighborhood — Maryland’s Montgomery County — that was heavily Jewish, she came gradually to a Zionist’s belief in Israel’s right to exist combined with the conviction that “you cannot support Israel without grappling with the occupation. Keeping quiet will not help.”

When she started college, she initially thought of getting involved with Students for Justice in Palestine, but found there was little interest in engaging people with different views. “My talking to people who already believed what I believed was not useful,” she told me. “I wanted to go to Hillel and talk to people who did not believe there was an occupation. Two-state advocacy was easier with J Street. There’s no point sitting in an echo chamber.”

Farooqi’s message, through her own many-layered identity in a time of growing polarization, is important. The current situation is unsustainable. As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, remarked this month, “It is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”

Palestinian leaders also have a responsibility to curb that hate — to cease incitement, hold elections, overcome divisions and abandon their sterile retreat into victimhood. But nothing can excuse Israel’s relentless pursuit of the very occupation that undermines it.

Close American tax loopholes that benefit settlers. Label West-Bank products so that consumers can make informed decisions. Pressure businesses, as Human Rights Watch puts it, to “comply with their own human rights responsibilities by ceasing settlement-related activities.”

© 2016 The New York Times Company 

Muslims Around The World Condemn Paris Attacks Claimed By ISIS
BY JACK JENKINS NOV 14, 2015 11:39AM


Candles are lit as people gather in Hong Kong, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, to mourn for the victims killed in Friday's attacks in Paris. French President Francois Hollande said more than 120 people died Friday night in shootings at Paris cafes, suicide bombings near France's national stadium and a hostage-taking slaughter inside a concert hall. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Muslim leaders the world over are condemning the horrific terror attacks that struck Paris Friday night, expressing outrage and shock at an onslaught of shootings and bombings that left at least 120 dead and hundreds wounded.

The outpouring of support for the victims and and disgust for the attacks began even before ISIS, the militant terrorist group current terrorizing entire sections of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the carnage. Muslim imams, scholars, commentators, and average Muslims expressed grief and horror using social media. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, an Islamic movement founded in British India in the 19th century, released a statement rebuking the “barbaric attacks.”
In Ireland, the Imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre and Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace ? Integration Council, offered prayers for the victims and dismissed terrorist’s claims to Islam.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris and every other place on earth plagued by sick men with weapons and bombs,” Imam Umar Al-Qadri said. “Terrorists have no religion whatsoever. Their religion is intolerance, hatred for Peace.”

Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, repeated Al-Qadri’s rejection of ISIS.

“This attack is being claimed by the group calling themselves ‘Islamic State’,” he said. “There is nothing Islamic about such people and their actions are evil, and outside the boundaries set by our faith.”
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, the thousand-year-old, highly influential center for Sunni Muslim scholarship, called the attacks “odious” and called on the world to “unite to face this monster,” according to French magazine Jeunea Frique.

There is nothing Islamic about such people and their actions are evil, and outside the boundaries set by our faith.

Leaders of several Muslim-majority nations also spoke out. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani called the attacks a “crime against humanity,” Qatari foreign minister Khaled al-Attiyah described them as “heinous,” and Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister declared they were “in violation and contravention of all ethics, morals and religions.” Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body also spoke out, saying “terrorists are not sanctioned by Islam and these acts are contrary to values of mercy it brought to the world.”

Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia — the largest Muslim nation population-wise — said “Indonesia condemns the violence that took place in Paris.”

In the United States, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim social justice group, quickly issued a press release rejecting terrorism — something they do regularly in response to such incidents. Their statement also made mention of a bombing in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday that wounded 200 and killed 45. Three residents of Dearborn, Michigan lost their lives in that attack attack, which ISIS also claimed responsibility for.

“These savage and despicable attacks on civilians, whether they occur in Paris, Beirut or any other city, are outrageous and without justification,” CAIR’s statement read. “We condemn these horrific crimes in the strongest terms possible. Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of those killed and injured and with all of France. The perpetrators of these heinous attacks must be apprehended and brought to justice.”

CAIR is also part of a broad coalition of Muslim groups scheduled to hold a press conference noon Saturday to collectively condemn the attacks. The group is said to include representatives from CAIR, American Muslims for Palestine, Islamic Circle of North America, Muslim Alliance in North America, Muslim American Society, Muslim Legal Fund of America, Muslim Ummah of North America, and the Mosque Cares.

Pope Francis appeared to echo their rejection of ISIS’s religious claims in a phone interview with the Italian Bishops’ Conference television network on Friday. Explaining that he sees the violence as part of a “piecemeal Third World War,” he said “there is no religious or human justification” for the attacks.

[The pope] said ‘there is no religious or human justification’ for the attacks.

“I am close to the people of France, to the families of the victims, and I am praying for all of them,” Pope Francis said. “I am moved and I am saddened. I do not understand, these things hard to understand.”
The Vatican seconded the pope on Saturday.

“We are shocked by this new manifestation of maddening, terrorist violence and hatred which we condemn in the most radical way together with the pope and all those who love peace,” said Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman said in a statement.
The response is expressive of the global Muslim community’s longstanding condemnation of ISIS in general, which faith leaders repeatedly insist is not Islamic.

Such responses are common after terror attacks, although many Muslims and non-Muslims have expressed frustration with being expected to condemn repeatedly the actions of small militant groups who commit violence in the name of Islam, whereas Christians and members of other religious groups are rarely expected to do the same. Other Muslims expressed frustration that leaders of some Middle Eastern nations condemned the Paris attack but not the sometimes deadly tactics used to silence political opposition in their own countries.



May 20, 2019
The Mahler Third

To Patrick Neas, who writes The Classical Beat for each Sunday's Kansas City Star


As usual, your preview was inviting and deliciously written. Your pulling out the Sendak cover was a feat of magic.

But the music is a pretentious patchwork of goo and glop. Most of the audience Friday night loved it. But a few of us, including my benefactor that night, could hardly endure the slush and guck. At coffee that morning I said that I sort of enjoyed the Mahler Third. If at one point in my life I did, perhaps seduced by the spirituality of the program rather than by the onslaught and incoherence and preciousness of the music, I am now a grown man.

To those like you, my friend, who have the faculties and patience in adulthood to appreciate Mahler, you seem to be a widely dispersed sub-species from a recently emergent genetic variation, perhaps Homo sapiens Mahlerthalensis. I do not lose sight of the good you and your kind do: you keep musicians employed. For that I am grateful.


This review quoted by the San Francisco Symphony

contributed to KC ARTS BEAT
Color Everywhere:
Harriman Jewell Presents Michael Tilson Thomas 
and the San Francisco Symphony

On May 23, 1996, as soon as my son and I landed in San Francisco to celebrate his sixteenth birthday, we went to Davies Symphony Hall to get tickets for that night's performance of Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. We wanted to hear the new music director, Michael Tilson Thomas, who was completing his first season there. MTT (as he is known) has since become the longest-tenured music director at any major American orchestra, and last night he and the SF Symphony made one last stop in Kansas City before he retires next year for other projects. So it was an extraordinary treat for me to get to hear him both coming and going.

The Harriman Jewell program at Helzberg Hall, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, attracted a full house for the visiting artists.

Both works on the first half of the program, the Ravel and the Mozart, concluded, after all of us having a very good time, with a happy, almost casual hand-shake that contrasted with the cloud-bursting majesty of the final work by Sibelius.

Perhaps best known for his later Bolero tour de force, Maurice Ravel explored the styles and forms of the French baroque, epitomized by François Couperin, in a six movement suite for solo piano. The title Le Tombeau de Couperin (“The Tomb of Couperin”) was a conventional way of honoring a musical heritage, with movements memorializing WWI dead. Later Ravel orchestrated — one might say “colored” —  the four movements we heard Thursday night. (Ravel’s most famous orchestration of a work for piano is surely Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.)

MTT infused the liquid Prélude with shimmer and shine. The Forlane was a dance so jaunty you wanted to join in. Despite the title of the Minuet, it invited meditation or daydreams. The Rigaudon was a public party in a city square.

The second work of the evening was the most popular of the five Mozart violin concerti, No. 3 in G Major, performed with Christian Tetzlaff. I thought there were rough spots in the bowing of the Allegro, and I was disappointed in the unexpansive cadenza (just over one minute). In the Adagio Mozart replaces the oboes with the hues of the flutes, and with that backing Tetzlaff gave us one of the sweetest of the all composer’s melodies, tenderly offered. But again, the cadenza, this time under 50 seconds, was too short for me, and as undistinguished as the first. The last movement was a rondo marked Allegro, with Tetzlaff’s good energy and humor.

The audience assessed Tetzlaff’s performance more enthusiastically than I did and demanded an encore. He obliged with a Bach movement.

After the intermission, on his way to the podium, MTT stopped to check the music on the concertmaster’s stand as if to be sure what the third and final work on the program was. Which was wise since there was no score ready from which MTT could conduct. Which was just fine because MTT had the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 in D major memorized. Which, as the performance soon proved, MTT owns.

Although the Sibelius has been a life-long favorite of mine, its opening motif has remained a mathematical puzzle to me. In 6/4 meter, the first movement opens with strings on the fifth beat of the first measure, with five F-sharp quarter notes, then three G quarter notes, then three A quarter notes, all 11 marked tenuto, placing us at once in a mysterious realm where a new kind of logic pervades. From the woodwinds, oboes respond pointedly and then horns soften the atmosphere, with conversation continuing until clarinets agree and the flutes comment; then the bassoons signal the timpani, and then the strings return. My point is that the colors of sounds overwhelmed mere numeracy as they, by patch and tract, revealed something heroic growing organically upwards to the sun which, as the first movement ends, at last shone on the simple motif with which the movement began. 

While MTT led every soloist and section of the orchestra to bloom, I especially appreciated the luxurious sound of the seventy members of the string section which MTT fully employs as Sibelius must have wished in this exquisitely textured movement and in the entire work.

With timpani, a cloud appears as the second movement begins; and we are helpless, at times assaulted; and promises of relief are repeatedly withdrawn. Some repair might be available, and the spirit revives, only to see the full scope of the tragedy of which we are a part. In this movement MTT’s interpretation merits special praise as he lengthened pauses and deepened the sonorities of pathos and resolution and even reverence. 

The Third Movement pulls us forward energetically but then we pause for an oboe solo meditation, transformed by flutes and strings into sorrow. Without pause we are into the Fourth Movement with a taste of triumph. But we return to a struggle for the portal of heaven wherein we gaze upon, but do not enter, the sublime beauty. Ascending and descending woodwinds remind us of every step we have taken, of every rung of the ladder up and down, repeatedly, until, when joined by the brass, the sun shines and we are reconciled with all the world in a glistening glory.

This music is a sum of the human drama, austere, sensuous, failing and noble, broken and whole. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony brought us more than springtime on March 21. We were given a vision beyond seasons, beyond years: the very character of time itself.

The encore was a delightful going-home confection, an excerpt featuring woodwinds from the Tchaikovsky Orchestral Suite No. 1. Many folks stayed for a brief Q&A with MTT and Tetzlaff arranged by Harriman Jewell.

contributed to KC Arts Beat -- direct KC Arts Beat article link
March 10, 2019 190310
Alexander Melnikov plays the rarely performed 
24 Preludes and Fugues by Dmitri Shostakovich at the Folly

If you are not a pianist or unusually lucky, you may not be familiar with the “24 Preludes and Fugues”  by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975). The complete set is seldom performed. But if good luck strikes, you will fall in love with them I did Sunday afternoon as Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov played them at the Folly as part of the Friends of Chamber Music Muriel McBrien Kauffman Master Pianist Series. Two hundred years after Bach’s death, Shostakovich composed Opus 87 in 1950-51, between his 4th and 5th String Quartets and before his 10th Symphony, during the second “denunciation” by the Soviets.

It is tempting to listen to Shostakovich with such biographical and political ghosts purporting extra-musical meaning. In this case, the evident subject of this sequence — a “circle of fifths” comprising every major and minor key of the chromatic scale — may be music itself. But this is not a mere technical or academic demonstration of the composer’s skill and wit. It is also, to use the word that is the Friends’ theme this season, “transcendent.”

Cynthia Siebert, president of The Friends, said that this work may be the most important 20th Century work for the solo piano, an instrument vastly different from Bach’s keyboard. Melnikov, who performed from a color-highlighted score, at times reminded me not only of the clavier, but also a xylophone, a carillon, and a harpsichord. The extraordinary dynamic range Melnikov produced, and the subtle pacing and phrasing, invited the rapt audience into the reverence he has for the work.

The opening Prelude and Fugue in C was a lazy summer afternoon, and betokened nothing of the chase of No. 2, the Prelude in A Minor or the following fugue romp which sounded like a quotation in every other measure. The program notes identified the Symphony No 4, and I wonder if he took snatches from other places as well.

I’m not smart enough to catch many of the musical allusions Shostakovich makes to Bach and others, but I was particularly struck by the Prelude in F# Minor (#8) with its klezmer twists, followed by a dark and unrelenting fugue, and it was hard for me not to think of the then-recent Jewish suffering, beyond the formality of pure music. (And I thought ahead to his Symphony No. 13 with its use of the famous Yevtushenko poem, “Babi Yar.”)

The final Prelude in D Minor begins with a declaration of assurance but quiets at measure 31 to introduce the first of the double fugue subjects to follow. At measure 112 of the Fugue itself, the second, contrasting subject is introduced, and at measure 218, with the two subjects joined, Melnikov almost elevated me out of my chair. At measure 261 marked Maestoso, and especially by measure 283, and even more in the last three measures of the afternoon, Melnikov brought together an insistent dignity that transformed what could have been a pleading instead into a transcendent call — not only across the centuries but within the full meaning of human struggle. The fugue began as a shoot from the ground and became the axis mundi.

T.S. Eliot called for poets to preserve the art of the past, and thus to extend and improve the language of the day. Whether or not Shostakovich was thinking along parallel lines when he composed this tribute to the “Well-Tempered Clavier,”  we are not only directed back to the baroque master but also brought forward into fresh musical experience.

I am not a musician, simply a music lover, and I would not have presumed to review these performances except that I was requested to do so. Please let me know if I have misrepresented musical facts; I'll correct those. And if your opinion varies from mine, there is a chance I could learn something from you.  --Vern Barnet

About Jolie Justus 
see Star editorial board member's Melinda Henneberger's 
column below and her response to this email --

2019 March 7 Thursday 9:55 am
Dear Ms Henneberger --

The Star has been about public accountability, yet you give Jolie Justus a pass on her mendacious report about a tendency to be quiet to get things done -- or should I say doing backroom deals? -- Have you forgotten she was chair of the airport committee? with its notorious Burns & McDonnell "secret, no-bid contract" -- the Star's very own phrase. That at Council, she spoke at length, at length, and voted against Katheryn Shields's reasonable idea to have the neighborhoods and Opus negotiate on the development at Broadway and Westport, after eight neighborhood associations and historic preservation folks came out against the destruction of social capital and the historic character of Westport (no one opposing increased density). Yet she is the in-district Council member for Westport. I campaigned for Justus four years ago. During the campaign and after she took office, I wrote polite letters with a simple request to look at something I had written, not about city policy, but rather on her side as an LGBT advocate, that were never answered, even after I spoke with her about them in person. Based on my experience, and that of the neighborhood, she appears to be in the mayoral race for herself, not the City and its citizens. Where do her campaign donations come from? Your puff piece, seeming to excuse your having to do any examination of her four years in city office (instead you talk about her time in the legislature), is shameful. 

Vern Barnet

To which Melinda Henneberger responded at 9:59 am --
    If going along to get along, working in secret and never standing up in public is what you're looking for in a mayor, then yes, it was a puff piece.

To which I responded --

Dear Ms Henneberger --

Thanks. I didn't expect a reply. Getting one is nice. If you are damning with faint praise, the column was too subtle for me. I may not be the least sophisticated of your readers who read it wrong.

Vern Barnet

To which Melinda Henneberger responded -- 

No I wasn't damning her with faint praise or any other kind. These profile pieces, which I'm writing about all of the candidates, are not supposed to analyze each of their records and recommend a thumbs up or down, which we'll do later when we make endorsements as an editorial board.
     The goal of every profile is to give the reader a sense of who this is as a person. Whether this is a candidate for you depends on the reader, not on me. 
     This one says in plain English that she does not speak up in public but works deals in private, and that she wants to keep going along as we are instead of changing much.
     That will appeal to some and not others, myself included. But every one of these I've done has seemed harsh to friends and mild to critics. 'Shameful' is a new one, but your prerogative, of course.

To which I responded -- 

Dear Ms Henneberger --

Thanks for the fuller response. You remind me that these profiles "are not supposed to analyze each of their records." You remind me that the article indicates Justus "works deals in private" -- but that wording does not appear in your published profile; such an expression could have been inflammatory. The words "deal" and "private" appear in the 7th graf, when she was in the legislature. To assist your readers in having a "sense of who this is as a person,"  a Council narrative might have been more telling. 
     As a former weekly Star writer myself for 18 years at 947 columns, I assure you I understand readers' reactions, some useful, others not.  Some shamed me, and I tried to learn from them.
     The word "shameful" comes from my opinion that a fair profile, in this case, would have included, with the Justus presentation of Justus as not speaking up much in public, noting her secret work as airport committee chair and other public Council and community appearances which question the fairness of the characterization. This is a profile of a mayoral candidate now on the Council, but the profile, in effect, excises the last four years from her profile. Since I pay attention to her as my in-district Councilwoman, I do feel this profile is misleading. I'm glad "shameful" got your attention because I expected a more relevant picture from The Star.
     Yours and others' experiences may differ from mine. As I citizen and Star supporter, I felt a duty to add my experience and perspective to the mix you and other members of the editorial board will consider when you prepare an endorsement.
     Thank you for reading what I wrote, and I appreciate your taking the trouble twice to respond, especially with the demands on your diminishing numbers of Star writers.
     I've been saving all these profiles and editorials to help me when I go to the polls, so know that I value your work.

Vern Barnet


Mayoral candidate Jolie Justus: Sometimes, saying nothing is the way to get something done

BY MELINDA HENNEBERGER mhenneberger@kcstar.com

Kansas City Council member and mayoral candidate Jolie Justus, right, with wife Lucy Bardwell and their dog Diego

Being the only Democrat in her family taught Kansas City mayoral candidate Jolie Justus that some things you’re better off not mentioning: “We just make a point of never discussing politics or religion and enjoying everything else.”

Being the only girl on the (otherwise) all-boy traveling soccer team in Branson, Missouri, where Justus grew up in the ‘80s, taught her that having a player slam into you growling, “Bitch, you shouldn’t be out here,” can be motivational.

But it was not only being in the minority as a legislator in Jefferson City that taught her it can be smarter to befriend than to rebuff even someone who introduces himself as a “the redneck homophobe that banned gay marriage in the state of Missouri.”

“That just might be how I’m wired,” says Justus. The City Council member most closely aligned with Mayor Sly James, Justus is quite unlike him in temperament and approach.

“We’d yell at each other on the floor, then go out to dinner,” said the guy who made that homophobe crack, former state Sen. Kevin Engler. (“That was our joke,” he says.)

Engler gives Justus enormous credit for knowing how to accept half a loaf. On one abortion bill, “she made the best possible deal on something restrictive that could have been more restrictive. I gave her 45 minutes to yell at us,” but she did so “knowing it could have been worse” had she taken a less conciliatory tack in private.

She tends to steer clear of conflict and controversy on the council, too. “What a lot of folks don’t understand is it’s better to not say anything at all if you want to get something accomplished. I’ve had people call or tweet or text and say, ‘Why aren’t you speaking up about this?’ Because it’s getting ready to pass and if I say something, it just delays the vote.”

That’s both her strategy and her nature.

And whether you think that’s great or not great depends on whether you think Kansas City needs to change incrementally or more fundamentally. (She’s running, she said at a recent campaign event, “because Kansas City is on a roll right now. We just have to make sure we keep this momentum moving forward.”) It also depends on whether you believe it’s more effective to publicly challenge the status quo or nudge it more patiently from behind the scenes.

Justus, who is 48, was born to two UMKC students, a conservatory flautist and an aspiring lawyer.

A few years ago, she met a long-forgotten preschool teacher who vividly remembered her as “a big pain in my ass,” who at 3 had tried to block the instructor from entering the room with a snack — grapes — because she was observing the Cesar Chavez boycott.

Her dad, James Justus, who moved the family to Branson so he could run for prosecutor, says she was “opinionated about everything” and enjoyed belting “I am woman, hear me roar.” But she also got along with “the athletes, the geeks — everyone liked Jolie. Did she tell you she was the prom queen?”

In third grade, she announced that she had signed her dad up to coach the new traveling soccer team she wanted to play on. He had to study up before he could coach a sport that was new to him, too. It wasn’t as though spots on the team were highly coveted, and nobody in Branson made a fuss that Jolie was playing with the boys. “We needed her because she was a body out there,” her father says.

It was only on the road that some players got nasty and that some refs tried to keep her off the field. When the Branson team started packing up the van to go home, they reconsidered, and that, too, was a political lesson.

At one junior high parent-teacher conference, James Justus and his wife were apprised that “Jolie has a talking problem” so incorrigible she had to be seated next to the teacher. That was a plus in her after-school job at the radio station, and she saw herself doing that for a living when she went off to the University of Missouri in Columbia to study journalism.

But after graduating from what’s now Missouri State University, where she’d transferred to work full-time at the local station, she realized that McDonald’s paid better. And she said yes when her dad offered her $6.50 an hour to help in his law office.

“I think she figured out you can’t make enough in radio journalism to do what she wanted to do,” he says. While working for him, she says, “I realized that this was a profession, a trade that would be good for me. He was solving problems, and I wanted to be part of that.”

After law school at UMKC, she went to work at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, where she’s director of pro bono services. In 2004, she worked unsuccessfully to defeat Missouri’s gay marriage ban.

She also came out publicly that year, two years after telling her husband. “Out of college, I married my best friend, who was a man.” And in one of the most wrenching moments of her life, sat him down and said, “There’s something I have to tell you.’ ’’

“He said, ‘You’re gay.’ And I said, ‘How did you know?’ And he said, ‘Because I love you.’ And I said, ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’ And he said, ‘Because I love you.’”

She and her wife, Lucy Bardwell, who’s in charge of safety at the Kansas City Zoo, have been together since 2011.

From her time in the state Senate, Justus is proudest of legislation that protects victims of domestic violence from having their addresses made public, and of sponsoring an overhaul of the criminal code. One provision of the latter that horrified some of those normally on her side was a broadly written exemption for all “religious workers” from being mandatory reporters of abuse.

“I wasn’t aware” that was in there, Justus says. But it was her bill, other Democrats do say they raised the issue, and it still hasn’t been fixed.

Her GOP buddy Kevin Engler not only admires her pragmatism but wound up moving far enough in her direction to co-sponsor legislation that would have made it illegal to fire Missourians for being gay. The bill didn’t pass, but they only worked together on it, Justus says, “because I didn’t rule him out.”

“For a left-wing nut,” he says in return, “she’s got great fiscal characteristics and some common sense and can get business done.” In fact, “if I lived in Kansas City, I’d vote for her.”

Whether you think that’s a warning or an achievement might decide whether you would, too.

This is one in a series of profiles of candidates for Kansas City mayor.



The Buddhists observe no soul or self (anatman); those who speak of reincarnation or rebirth have difficulty explaining what is reborn, so they use metaphors like a flame transiting from one candle to another. Zen, of course, focuses on the here and now, and says -- in effect with Wittgenstein, One lives eternally who lives in the present. For me (there is no "me" except in a conventional sense), the belief in a soul and in afterlife, is a selfish clinging to an illusion of an ontology. But for many others the belief helps them live a directed life of service and beauty. I don't like the reward-punishment system often associated with belief in afterlife; I think it is better if people do the right thing because it is the right thing, not because they'll go to heaven or hell.

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breathe; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. --Eccl 3:19 . . . 

Comment on a Flatland report on KC Spiritual Centers

Acquaintance with scholarly understandings of "religion," "belief," "spirituality," and so forth, and would have provided more clarity to this report and avoided misrepresenting such concerns in the Kansas City area. Factual errors (McCoy is not a Unitarian minister) and significant omissions to this very limited survey of the KC area (such as the omission of the Oasis group) should be corrected. Among many studies of the terms used in this report and the meanings they have, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening  by Diana Butler Bass would provide some background.

Oct 1, 2018

COMMENT TO A BLOG POST ABOUT THE DEATH OF A YOUNG PERSON FROM A BIG RIG ON THE HIWAY.-- OK, I feel a rant coming on. Sorrow, many sorrows. The heartbreak about which you write is absolutely real — and, like gun deaths, a result of greed leading to bad policy and the stifling of imagination. In the case of hiway deaths, it goes back to the failure to imagine a safer transportation and distribution system. The hiways the private car has produced are like cancers on the skin of the planet, Think as late as Eisenhower’s Defense Secretary Charles Wilson, aptly misquoted as saying, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country” and the half-trillion dollar Interstate. Taking oil from the ground where God put it has caused wars and international turmoil (one oft-forgotten example is Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran — another indelible example: the American bases in Saudi Arabia which led to 9/11). Oil is bespoiling the air we breathe and heating up the planet. Plastic wastes are menacing the ocean. We have yet to develop the vision to see how all things are interconnected, how as the Bible says, the love of money is the root of all evil. 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

The Philadelphia Orchestra in KC

The overwhelming response of the audience to the performance of the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin was ecstatic. But I was disappointed. The fare was musical comfort-food, the fast-food diet orchestra audiences, at least in Kansas City, seem to favor. Is this surface glitter related to our shallow political situation?
     I remember hearing Ormandy in Omaha, one of the most enchanted evenings of my teen-age years. And the famous Philadelphia Sound today is as good as ever. A comparison with the Kansas City Symphony was inevitable since the last item on the Philly's program was Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances which the KC Symphony had just performed two weeks earlier.
    But I found the program all flash. Russians were big on the program, so sticking with the Russians, what if they had performed Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony, Stravinsky's Firebird, Prokofiev's 5th Symphony? -- the evening would have had substance as well as color. Or imagine what they could have done with Shostakovitch's 11th Symphony!  I can imagine the quiet passages would have been so menacingly electric both the FBI and KCP&L would be investigating.
     Nonetheless, I am grateful for this opportunity to hear a truly great orchestra one more time before I pass on to my reward! -- where surely the celestial harps will be playing Bach arrangements and the angels singing Monteverdi, with the comfort-food folks listening to all those tedious but flashy violin concerti over and over and over and over again in purgatorio


The KC Mayoral Race

2018 June 27 Welcome Jason Kander! -- Jolie Justus has been a disgrace, faithless to her constituents on the Opus development (voting against eight neighborhood associations), repeatedly failing answer even friendly constituent mail, and dragging her feet on the Westport merchants' sidewalk vacation proposal. Her shaky “leadership” on the airport mess (working outside normal protocol for a project that should have been widely bid at the start) indicates ambition but little dedication to the citizens of Kansas City and more to where the big bucks are. I was proud of her work in the legislature. I campaigned for her for city council. But her dedication to the public good seems pretty flimsy compared to her dedication to herself. What a disappointment!

The Colorado Baker Case

This case never should have been brought to court. Although the Court found in favor of the baker on narrow grounds and thus does not appear to completely negate protections against LGBT folks, this is an example where a bad case makes bad law. With the composition of the Court as it is, the couple would have been wiser to suffer the slight from the baker, enjoy their wedding with another baker's cake, and save the rest of us from witnessing their wallowing in victimhood.

Renaming The Paseo

a post to a blog

First, what I don't like about renaming The Paseo:  to some it seems as Martin Luther King Jr belongs only to Black people, Do Black leaders think this? Do white folks like John Altevogt (see his comment above)? Keeping King to The Paseo seems to undermine the universality of King's message.

King belongs to all of us as your proposal would recognize. 

Still, I would favor renaming our half of State Line Road the "Martin Luther King Jr Road" -- and challenge the Kansas jurisdictions to match us. If this is a State matter, then advance State legislation. A state border recognition could be regarded as a larger measure of inclusion.

We perpetuate racism unconsciously by failing to listen to King's actual voice embracing all people, working on the behalf of all, the oppressor as well as the oppressed, for none can be free until all are free. 

The Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church
9400 Pflumm Rd
Lenexa, KS 66215-3308

Congratulations to the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church on its great good fortune in calling the Reverend Rose Schwab as your minister, and to Rose on her extraordinary opportunity to serve this exceptional congregation, and also to serve a remarkable community in the Kansas City area, and furthermore, to bring her gifts to her colleagues and to the Unitarian Universalist Association.

This happy occasion is a formal recognition of a fruitful relationship already begun. I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to join in the day’s celebration in person. I cherish the congregation I once served, I welcome Rose as a colleague, and I rejoice that the installation ceremony shows that the light of liberal religion is kindled anew.

The Reverend Vern Barnet, DMn
minister emeritus

My Political Platform

1. Honest, transparent, universal attempts at fairness and justice
2. Best efforts to get along at every level of government and society
3. The presumption of respect for every person
4. The use of science and expert study in making policy
5. A respect for tradition, custom, and courtesy with . . . 
6. An openness to ongoing advances to favor universal dignity and well-being.
7. Limited government to achieve these ends is best, and government is best at the level closest to the people governed to maximize their engagement, while recognizing some problems are so globally-interconnected that world-wide responses are required.

The Penal Substitutionary Theory of Atonement
A Post-Modernist Analysis

This is a response to a friend's presentation of a position taken by Wm. Paul Young in his book, Lies We Believe about God, namely that the penal substitutionary theory of atonement is a lie.

I responded in two parts:


It is not a lie, any more than green is a lie. Young's accusation arises out of the perverted Modernist way of thinking about religion. It is simply a very bad metaphor, but for those in authoritarian or unexamined mindsets, it's about the best they can do. Calling this a lie is like accusing the sun of bad intentions. 

Young would do better to offer his own, healthier, metaphor, and help others see that the penal substitutionary theory is a bad metaphor.

To explain away a mystery is to rationalize the incommensurable, like wanting to define pi as 3.14 and letting it go at that, ignoring the fact that pi is not a rational number but in fact, when expressed in decimal form, extends endlessly.

But if we must have a metaphor for our salvation, one need not rely on Abelard (who might be among the best known of those who avoided the substitutionary theory; see Tillich's discussion in Vol 2, page 172 of his 'Systematic') but recall Irenaeus, as he ends the preface to book five of 'Against Heresies': 'Sic enim et legitime eis contradices, et de praeparato iaccipies adversus eos contradictiones, illorum quidem sententias per coelestem fidem, velut stercora, abjiciens;--solum autem verum et firmum magistrum sequens, Verbum Dei, Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum: qui propter immensam suam dilectionem factus est quod sumus nos, uti nos perficeret esse quod et ipse.' 

The later part of which I translate as 'only emulating the true and enduring Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who through His boundless tenderness, became what we are, that He might complete us to be even what He Himself is,' suggests we are saved to life eternal by our following the example or model of Christ. I read this not as substitution but as participation.

Where does the medieval Christian world define which theory of atonement is 'correct'? The mystery had several explanations, none solving what is incommensurable. But Modernist religion easily becomes the kind of authoritarian Fundamentalism which insists on the likes of the penal substitutionary theory as if it exhausts the meaning of the mystery.

To make clear I am questioning Modernism more than those sickened by it, who have been disabled from seeing better metaphors--as I said, 'it's about the best they can do'--let me quote from an interview with Brian McLaren: 

"A young man told me he was leaving the church because we didn’t take the Bible literally enough. Then he told me, “When I was younger, I had a violent temper. I nearly killed a man once with my bare hands. If I don’t go to a church where black is black and white is white, I might do something violent again.”

"Now I might quarrel with this man’s understanding of the best way to deal with deep anger issues, and I certainly don’t see the world in his simple black and white terms. But understanding that his more fundamentalist way of thinking was related to a deep inner struggle with violence helped me to at least appreciate the “why” behind his convictions.

"I have to recall Jesus’ words about “not causing one of these little ones to stumble,” or Paul’s counsel about not judging people in disputable matters. . . . I want to be gentle with them, understanding that their current understanding may be all that’s holding them together at this point.' . . . 


I agree with you when you write "great many conservative/traditional Christians understand the idea of penal substitutionary atonement, for example, in a very literal (not metaphorical) way."

The problem is that liberals also see the question in literal ways; that's why it is called a lie. A metaphor is not true or false; it is either apt or not, more or less.

Calling the theory a lie or an untruth (not implying intent) is part of the same language game as calling it a truth. Both are traps.

The statement that ideas about God as vengeful are "not true" seems equally to miss the point. What are we to make of biblical passages such as Deut 32:35? or the destruction of life in the Flood? or the benediction to those who kill the children of one's enemies (Ps 137:9) or the revenge God extracts . . . .

Are these passages reflections, factual or not, of the way humans experience the uncertainties of human existence? To treat these statements, and the penal substitutionary atonement theory, as propositional truths, judging them either true or false perpetuates the unhealthy Enlightenment-Modernist misunderstanding of religious language (which includes the focus on "beliefs," alas, an inheritance from the Reformation). Using the metaphor of monotheism, a report of a unified, non-dualistic governor of the world, the the penal substitutionary atonement theory is a possible outcome. The problem is the fundamentalists don't see monotheism as a metaphor, and therefore have few optional frames of reference by which to make sense out of their experience and gain a sense of how the universe works. Fundamentalists need less to be told they are wrong, but rather enticed to see multiple ways of making sense out of the mystery of experience, and to be less compulsive about making sense and more able to enjoy the mystery itself. Young's work might be more fruitful if he eschewed the ground owned by the fundamentalists instead of arguing from it, and moved instead to accepting the experience and framework implied by the theory, and offered alternative visions.  Maybe he does this -- I am responding simply to what you have presented about his book. I don't like the title. It is not very sympathetic.

A chief reason why I find the the penal substitutionary atonement theory appalling is not because it is a lie but because it, as a powerful metaphor, models an often unjust justice system, extant still in America today.

I'm more interested in the origins and effects of conceptions like the penal substitutionary atonement theory than I am in whether it is a lie or the truth. Arguing about it on literal grounds is not a very effective antidote the poison it spreads in society and in the soul.

Nichols Fountain
Kansas City should rename famed J.C. Nichols fountain
BY STEVE KRASKE skraske@kcstar.com

All over the Deep South, leaders have been rethinking how they commemorate their past.
     Just last month, workers in New Orleans removed a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Not two weeks ago in Arizona, a state not often tied to the War Between the States, black leaders lobbied the state’s Republican governor to remove six Confederate monuments. The reason? Those statues glorify the country’s racist past.
     The murders of nine black people at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church two years ago set off debates in South Carolina, where the Confederate battle flag was removed from the Capitol; in Baltimore, where Robert E. Lee Park was renamed; and in Virginia, where Gov. Terry McAuliffe removed Confederate flags from specially issued state license plates.
     In Kansas City, we have work to do, too. As actions in other states demonstrate, the past matters, and how it’s enshrined can inflict pain today.
     Our case in point: Kansas City’s memorials to J.C. Nichols, designer of our fabled Country Club Plaza, which in the 1920s became the first shopping center built outside a downtown area.
     The right step: We should remove his name from the spectacular J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, which stands at the Plaza’s east entrance.
     Without a doubt, Nichols was a visionary who shaped not only Kansas City’s prized retail district, but also many of its subdivisions. In developing Armour Hills, Brookside and Crestwood, as well as Fairway, Mission Hills and Prairie Village, Nichols “planned for permanence” by developing appealing neighborhoods with curving streets and statuary, along with parks, schools and churches.
     Nichols was all about enduring legacies.
     He was about something else, too. Like others of his time, he was a racist who went to great lengths to ensure that racial and religious minorities could not live in his neighborhoods. Nichols championed restrictive deeds that dictated the types of people who could move in.
     He was far from the only developer who relied on those deeds during the 1930s and ’40s. But Nichols wielded them with particular effectiveness.
     The impact is still felt in our dramatically segregated town. Even today, few minorities live in Nichols neighborhoods, and our city remains one of the most segregated in America. Nichols played a big role in that, but he’s still memorialized today via the city’s most glorious fountain and through the J.C. Nichols Parkway, among other tributes.
     That should change. We should remove his name from the fountain that he helped buy and install because it’s the most visible Nichols commemoration.
     This call comes at a time of heightened awareness of this country’s continuing struggles with race that have been all too apparent in recent years. We aren’t getting there, folks. That’s obvious now.
     It’s time to pick up the pace, and this step in Kansas City would be a constructive one in a city situated in a one-time slave state.
     New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said it well: “We must always remember our history and learn from it,” he wrote. “But that doesn’t mean we must valorize the ugliest chapters.” Great nations, he said, must “confront the sins of the past and evolve to meet the demands of a changing world.
     “If we don’t want to be forever held back by our crushing history of institutional racism, it’s time to relegate these monuments to their proper place.”

Vern's Comment 
on Steve's Column

Thanks for your brave column about Nichols Fountain.I would have not only the name replaced but also the fountain itself replaced, perhaps taken to a museum as an historical artifact. 

When I moved to Westport in 1993, I began walking every day to the Fountain, thinking I knew what it looked like. After three years I saw it and realized why I had unconsciously resisted really looking at it. It is a celebration of human domination over nature.

A clergy colleague with whom I have discussed the fountain sees it simply as the joy of great world rivers. I see disrespect for the creatures and flow of nature. 

Now that we understand how the exploitation of natural resources is part of the oppression of human beings, I don't like public tax dollars spent on maintaining an icon of unnecessary violence. 

I write not for your agreement, but just to ask you to look at the fountain and imagine not only the remaining products (our segregated city, etc) of the past, but the poor modeling for the future by the actual images of humans (even a child) arrogantly presuming to control nature, in this age of impending environmental disaster.

Cui Bono?

A New York Times columnist counseled those upset by the frequent fact that some persist in believing politicians' lies. Better to abandon arguments based on facts which do not pursuade the partisans and instead ask, "Who benefits?" from the false claims. "Cui Bono?" is ancient and worthy advice.

Objecting to Benedictine College using of the term “yoga”

Because I have had such respect for Benedictine College, and am so disappointed by the needless and ignorant yoga controversy, and since several acquaintances have asked for a quick comment on the matter, I thought as a courtesy, I should let you know my reply. Here it is: 

    "Yoga?! The rosary beads became a part of Christian practice largely because the Muslims adopted the Buddhist beads from India. The days of the week -- the Sun's day, the Moon's day, etc come from pagan gods. How many Christians have Christmas trees? -- another incorporation of pagan practices. Not to mention the derivation of "Easter." Or how the Christians have usurped the Jewish Torah and reinterpreted large passages for their own purposes. No great religion is uninfluenced by others. They all borrow and steal and it is a wonderful enrichment with their differences. Taxes -- try doing taxes using Roman, not Arabic numerals, brought to the West from India by Muslim scholars. As for the place-holding zero, some think it developed from the Buddhist "sunya." Aquinas did not let the fact that he read Aristotle in Latin translations of Arabic translations of the Greek originals stop him from benefiting from, and incorporating, Aristotle's thoughts about God. These are a few examples from an overwhelming treasury of multifaith encounters. Let us contribute to one another freely to celebrate the mysteries of faith by practicing whatever methods bring us to charity with one another and healing within ourselves."

Comment on a colleague's post following the resignation of the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association 2017 April 1.

Ever since the 1968 Cleveland General Assembly, the UUA has pushed a demographic agenda and often neglected a religious mission. So much wasted energy! So little to show for it! People of color will be attracted when UU churches offer a comprehensive spiritual experience instead of the diversion or fad of the moment, era, or in-group. 
     Although I am a retired UU minister, I worship at an Episcopal church which is far more diverse racially, economically, socially, age-wise, and by almost any other measure than the UU churches in my area (and the typical UU church) because at the church I attend the genuine concerns such as racism (and sexism, homophobia, classism, etc) are placed in a larger context. I might add that the theological diversity where I worship is far richer than at most UU churches with which I am acquainted, without the frequent self-righteousness characteristic of UUism. 
     UUism lacks an articulated paradigmatic story which gives meaning to individual and church life and participation in the larger society. UUism has had the resources of the world's religions to develop such a story and liturgy (UUism typically has "orders of service," not liturgy -- "the work of the people" -- because it focuses most of its worship not on genuine congregational participation but on charismatic ministerial utterances). Lay people have had clearer vision. The ministry, in general, is more of the problem than the laity because of the professional model of Protestant proclamation, rather than sacramentally empowered congregation. A sacred story is told best in ritual as a model for living.
     Neglecting this opportunity, UUism is repeatedly distracted from developing a global faith-story by fads and seemingly urgent social concerns. A worthy candidate for that story (including but larger than Christianity or any other single faith) has been articulated in plain view at least since I was a child, and specifically shaped within a corner of liberal religion as early as the 70s.
     Such a story, all-encompassing and everywhere applicable, is obvious on every level of existence, but it is so large that most UU leaders, focused on whims and winds of momentary passions which paradoxically seem never to end, cannot see it.  It is a recursive pattern and paradigm so palpable and powerful and unifying, laid out, articulated, and offered particularly within the UU movement, but UUs are too wrapt up with what is perceived to be urgent that it appears the UU "bandwidth" cannot perceive what is important, like trying to view a mountain from a snapshot of a weed at its base, or all of history from a single newspaper clipping.
     Denominational leaders are foolish to expect an overwhelmingly white upper-middle class association of churches with distinctive worship styles suddenly to amazingly recruit (convert) African American members whose worship needs cannot be met by what satisfies the current membership. 
     So the UUA wastes its resources and energies doing what other organizations (ACLU, Project Equality, NAACP, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, Southern Poverty Law Center, AFSC, Bridging The Gap, etc) do better -- instead of focusing on its unique religious mission. Certainly UUs would want to be involved for social justice, but they should use instruments designed for that purpose instead of subverting the church. 
     A personal note. Although my sexuality was once illegal and I know oppression, I opposed the vote at the New York GA so many years ago that created an office of LGBT concerns precisely because it was conceived of in political terms, not to research and highlight the wisdom of the world's faiths about same-sex arrangements. (My book, Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire, presents some of this wisdom in a sacred context.)
     Local churches might well have a public issues committee to inform, and a social assistance ministry to play a special part in community welfare, but a social/political action committee often divides a congregation. Let members with political passion join or create an effort outside the church structure and involve people from the larger community. 
     The minister's freedom and obligation to express one's thoughts and exercise a leadership role in the larger community according to one's judgment in consultation with the church leadership is distinguished from the congregation's universal mission, so long as the worship of the church is based on the universal story. 
     Of course, in our wicked (as well as graced) world, the church must often be prophetic and decidedly counter-cultural (see H Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture). But that stance must arise from the sacred story, and be articulated in terms of that sacred story, not from disconnected, partisan, abstract value statements. Otherwise they make about as much progress as the UUs have made since 1968.
     I once thought UUism would be a religion of the future, but it fails to grow significantly because it allows itself to be hijacked from within and without. Unrestrained by a sacred story, those in denominational governance seem sometimes to act with limited scope for vision.
     I'm grateful to the Unitarian Universalist tradition for my own wonderful career, but the exciting promise I saw as a young minister in the UU movement is atrophying into oblivion by the failure to nurture and exercise the story of humankind, giving life to the seven principles and six sources in a sacred and fully inclusive narrative.

1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person; 
2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Six Sources
-- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
-- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
-- Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
-- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
-- Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Easter Literalism

The notion that Christianity necessarily depends upon the factual historicity of literal bodily resurrection on one hand, or, on the other, can be summarized as myth reduced to psychological interpretation, is like questioning the Greeks of the classical period for their demonstration that the many temples were convincing evidence of the gods. The modern secular understanding of religion is like looking at oscilloscope squiggles resulting from a performance of Beethoven's *Hammerklavier* Sonata in order to understand the meaning of that music.

The Olathe Murder

Ignorance and hatred -- and guns -- abound, and social media comments and remarks by certain politicians that encourage prejudice and violence lead to incidents ranging from disrespect to hate crimes of violence and terrorism. The latest local example is here, where men thought to be Middle-Eastern (actually Indian) were shot -- this early report 2017 Feb 23 --

Hate can indeed be blind. Three Christians were murdered at Overland Park Jewish sites in 2014 by an anti-Semite who thought they were Jewish; now folks with Indian heritage were attacked because the hater thought they looked Middle-Eastern.

An inter-faith prayer vigil and peace march
for the victims of Olathe Bar Shootings.

Sunday, February 26th, 2017
Venue : Olathe Ball Conference Center, 
21350 W 153rd St, Olathe, KS 66061
Peace March at 4:00 pm
Prayer Vigil at 5:00 pm
Let us celebrate the life of Srnivas Kuchibhotla who was a great family man and friend of the community. Let us celebrate the survivor Alok Madasani whose life has turned upside down.  Also celebrate the heroism of Ian Grillot who stood up to the bullying and took a bullet in the process.

Here is a compilation of subsequent stories:

Here is a wonderful guest column:

We can overcome hatred and ignorance together

BY MINDY CORPORON Special to The Star

There were not enough white faces in the crowd. This was the thought that crossed my mind when I joined the large crowd at the Ball Conference Center in Olathe for the walk to honor the victims of the deeadly shooting in a family restaurant in Olathe. There was a large crowd of brown faces and a smattering of white.

I exited my car alone looking for my spouse and friends. I walked toward a crowd of solemn people behind a group of about 10 young adult brown men. I had no fear. As I found the end of the walking group, I saw three familiar faces, friends of mine, and joined with them. They are Jewish. I am Christian. We walked quietly, we talked some and we hugged one another. As we felt more comfortable talking out loud and sharing our current lives, how they intertwined almost three years ago, I was stopped by a brown couple behind me and offered a hug. I was thankful that they felt comfortable hugging me. I hugged them back. Kindness has no color.

Hate is real. Evil is real. When hate and evil are not interrupted, redirected or stopped these two can shatter lives. They shattered the lives of my family on April 13, 2014. Since losing my father and son, I have learned information I would rather not know. I wish I didn’t know that the shooter in our murders was well known for years for his anti-Semitic views, tirades and verbal abuse. How many people crossed his path and could have redirected him?

I have also learned much more about the people in our community, their cultures, faiths and commonalities with me. Kindness has no color.

I have been welcomed at Yom Kippur, the most solemn religious fast of the Jewish year, the last of the 10 days of penitence that begin with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). I have attended a few iftars, the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan. I have attended a Shabbat service at a local synagogue. I have attended Friday prayers at a local mosque. I have sat in a meeting with a pastor, a rabbi and an imam. (This is not a joke, although it sounds like a good lead in!) All of these took place while I continued my personal faith in Christianity.

From the moment I came upon my deceased father and injured son in a parking lot, the trajectory of my journey changed. The violence that cut their lives short cuts deep. From overcome with pain to finding healing and peace, my journey is to bring faiths together for understanding. The man who killed on April 13, 2014, and the man who killed on Feb. 22, 2017, have commonalities … other than the color of their skin, which happens to be white. They harbor hate instead of understanding.

We should not stand by and allow anyone else to be so misled by his or her ignorance of the other and let evil and hate overcome them. Understanding leads to kindness. Kindness makes a ripple, and a ripple can form a wave. A wave of understanding and kindness will change our world. Interrupt, redirect and stop ignorance, hate and evil with education, understanding and kindness.

Take action by participating in SevenDays — Make a Ripple, Change the World on April 18-24. Join us in our mission to promote interfaith dialogue by engaging all people to discover commonalities and overcome evil with acts of kindness. Visit givesevendays.org

Mindy Corporon is the mother of Reat Underwood and daughter of Dr. William Corporon, who were murdered by a convicted white supremacist in a hate crime outside of Jewish facilities in April 2014 along with Terri LaManno. Corporon, family and friends created SevenDays — Make a Ripple, Change the World to spread kindness and interfaith understanding.



Eboo Patel in Kansas City, 2017 February 24.

1. Eboo Patel's keynote address repeated his error that America was “designed” for religious diversity. It was not. I would fail any student in my American religious history class who said so. Religious pluralism is a happy accident, and we are fortunate that statements like the one from George Washington he likes to quote can be used against folks who share the view of the annual Hobby Lobby advertisement, that we were founded as a Christian Nation. But neither their nor Patel’s views are correct. It is astonishing that Patel is so misinformed, and that he keeps repeating this basic misunderstanding of American religious history. [Here is an on-line source that indicates the complexity of the question in both historical and some contemporary contexts:
Among many excellent books on American religious history that demonstrate the unplanned story from established churches to the application of the First Amedment to the states, and the continuing struggle for disentangling religion and government are The Religious History of America by Edwin Scott Gaustad and America: Religions and Religion by Catherine L Albanese.]

2. I do think Patel's approach is basic. It is a very convincing and effective way of saying that we ought to be nice to each other. This sometimes appears to be an overwhelming a challenge! And yet the more urgent, larger questions of our endangered environment, the violation of personhood, and the broken community are left unaddressed in any systematic way, failing to use the wisdom of the world's religious traditions so that we may be restored with nature, the self made whole, community in covenant, and the sacred found afresh. 

3. Patel’s praise for Kansas City may have showed his affection for our town but failed to demonstrate his assertion that he knows us. He did repeatedly mention the few organizations with which he has contact —  the Kansas City Interfaith Youth Alliance, SevenDays, Project Equality, the Tammeus blog, and a school at which he spoke in 2009 (I did not hear him identify Notre Dame de Sion). These organizations are wonderful and deserve recognition and praise. He was right to feature them, but I do not recall his even mentioning The Festival of Faiths, which brought him here in 2009. I am glad the Religious Literacy Project was mentioned during the course of the day.

But his ingratiating remarks about our community could have been supported by acknowledging the Interfaith Council (founded in 1989), represented on the afternoon panel. He might have shown awareness of the half-hour network special CBS TV did on interfaith work here in 2002. He seemed unaware of the City’s selection by Harvard’s Pluralism Project and Religions For Peace-UN Plaza as the site of the nation’s first “Interfaith Academies” for religious professionals and students in 2007. He seemed unaware of the five-county study commissioned by Jackson County, which after months of work and community hearings following 9/11, produced a 35,000-word report on how the various faith communities fared, with extensive recommendations. He might have known about the 2001 “Gifts of Pluralism” conference held here over parts of three days, attended by 250 people with no national speaker drawing folks to the event. It would have been helpful if he were aware of the United Way study of models for interfaith organizations and Kansas City configurations. Since he spoke about medicine, his acknowledgment of The Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality for Healthcare Providers, a 740-page reference book created an edited largely in Kansas City, published in London and New York in 2013. Organizations — like the Crescent Peace Society and the Dialogue Institute Kansas City — from within particular faiths doing interfaith outreach should also been part of his background knowledge if he wanted to convince us that he knew Kansas City. And he seemed to know nothing of the work of The Star's former religion editor.or what may be the most stunning evidence of our work on pluralism: the play, The Hindu and the Cowboy, performed many times in the years since the “Gifts” conference in many venues. The gifts of Cultural Crossroads, including its community calendar and the Plaza Library's Human Spirit collection, have enhanced interfaith relationships here. This off-the-top-of-my-head list is a sampling, the mention of some of which would have conveyed something more than Eboo's polite acknowledgment of those with whom he has current contact. My hearing is not perfect -- did I miss something?

It is unfair to expect a distinguished international speaker, organizer, and author like Patel to know any of these details, but then he should not assert he knew Kansas City the way he claimed to know us, just as he asserts knowledge about American religious history of which he appears to be ignorant. He could have said something like, "From the folks I have met, I sense there may be much more happening here than I know," rather than presuming he had identified all the great things about Kansas City's interfaith activity.

4. I place these reservations in the context of his strong appeal as a otherwise knowledgeable and inspirational speaker. I admire and honor him. I respect his writing and his work, especially with young people. Although I wish he could have presented us with material directly relating to the murder in Olathe that occurred earlier in the week, I thought his workshop exercise design was excellent. I am grateful for the opportunity to hear him again.

[My rant above has been linked from the Bill Tammeus 'Faith Matters' Blog entry for 2017 Feb 28 about the Project Equality's "2017 Diversity and Inclusion Summit."]

*Here is an on-line source that indicates the complexity of the question in both historical and some contemporary contexts:

Here I append excerpts of a note to the organizers:

Congratulations on a very successful "Summit"! You brought together a wonderful group of folks who will surely move us forward, so important at this time of local, national, and international distress.

Eboo is a fantastic inspirational speaker, a prominent voice for understanding, and one of America's most significant organizers. . . .

I am writing now to ask you please to consider a next step. You have the skill and perhaps access to financial resources to make this next step happen. Interfaith work in Kansas City is fragmented, in "silos," and it would be so much more effective if the various groups and leaders were brought together to identify their distinctive missions and areas in which they can cooperate and be mutually supportive. This kind of problem often appears with new social movements, but in the last decade or so the proliferation of folks with no idea, or very little, of what other folks are doing is becoming acute. The stories I could tell!

The United Way study of interfaith organizations here some years back revealed significant potential but inadequate financial support to position Kansas City beyond what it formerly has been as a national leader in interfaith work. A conference you might convene, bringing the various "stake holders" together might very well achieve the "critical mass" to attract the money our city needs to make the difference we all want. I am sure many would support your efforts to develop such a conference, so I hope, amid all the other items on your agenda, you will consider this amazing opportunity as evidence of the success of Friday's "Diversity and Inclusion Summit."

In the Kansas City Star 2017 Jan 29, a person from Liberty contributed the following Letter to the Editor:

     It is time to stop using Roman numerals. Referring to Super Bowl 51 as LI is absurd. Let's fdace it: Clarity of the written and spoemn word is a virtue. Let's use plain English.

My response: 

A writer to The Star (Sunday, page 16A) complains about using Roman numerals. He objects to the label Super Bowl LI . He asks us to use plain English. He wants us to write Super Bowl 51. Roman numerals have been a part of plain English for centuries. He is advocating using Arabic numerals, which are more recent in the English language. 

Yes, the decimal system using Arabic numerals is easier. Try doing your income tax with Roman numerals. What we call Arabic numerals seem to have originated in India. Favoring Arabic over Roman numerals is fine, but to call the latter plain English and not the former may be imprecise.

My point is that we habitually deny our indebtedness, historically and today, to what we think of as foreign culture, except, maybe, when we dine. Examples from Islam in general and from the Arabs in particular are all around us. We are benefited by knowing and embracing others.

Vern Barnet
Founder, The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council



From a note to the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
Vern Barnet
Please see articles below from The New York Times and the Interfaith Observer. Use the links to view the photos with those stories.

Huston Smith died Dec 30. The Vedanta Society brought him here several times; and, although I knew him since 1969 or 70 [when, I as a graduate student at the University of Chicago Divinity School, I met him after he spoke about his filming in Tibet; and before that, he was already famous to me because my Buddhist teacher from Penn State, Chen Chi Chang, used Smith's book in a graduate seminar at the University of Nebraska in 2005-6]. [He and I ran into each other at various interfaith conferences, such as the 1990 Assembly of the World's Religions]. 

I interviewed him a number of times [here in Kansas City], but my greatest extended joy was spending time with him between presenting him to several groups on one of his book tours, 2005 October, including at Rime Buddhist Center and Unity Village, with an unforgettable luncheon at Gordon and Nancy Beaham's with David, whom some of you may recall; and earlier that year, in April, taking him to his parents' graves in Marshall, MO. . . . 

I never have encountered a person who more accurately could be called "a scholar and a gentleman." (Since I also knew his father-in-law, Henry Nelson Wieman, as one of my teachers, I'm starting to feel a bit of age!) . . .

Here are a few of my favorite photos:

At the Vedanta Society, 1997 (thanks, uma!) with Swami Chetanananda and a portrait of Swami Vivekananda.

After interviewing Smith in 2003 at the Westin Crown Center. 

In Marshall, MO, on the back porch of the church at the gravesite where Smith's parents are burried. Thanks to Harold Johnson who make the arrangements and drove.

I had the pleasure of introducing Smith to Kay Barnes, then Kansas City Mayor.

I had the pleasue of introducing Smith to Al Brooks, then Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem.

I had the pleasue of introducing Smith to Shannon Clark, then Executive Director of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council.

Smith and Elbert C Cole, who had been senior pastor at Central United Methodist Church in KC and who founded the  Shepherd's Centers of America. They were roommates for a time at Central Methodist College (now University) in Fayette, MO, when Smith came to the US after being raised in China.

Nancy and Gordon Beaham hosted a memorable lunchon honoring Smith in their home during the second of Smith's 2005 visits to KC.

I enjoyed showing Smith around the Nelson.

Smith had always wanted to see Unity Village, so I had the pleasure of introducing him to the audience there.
Smith promoted his just-published book, The Soul of Christianity, and he took questions (how he loved questions!) from the audience at the Rime Buddhist Center in 2005. 

The New York Times
Huston Smith, Author of ‘The World’s Religions,’ Dies at 97
JAN. 1, 2017

Huston Smith, a renowned scholar of religion who pursued his own enlightenment in Methodist churches, Zen monasteries and even Timothy Leary’s living room, died on Friday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 97.

His wife, Kendra, confirmed his death.

Professor Smith was best known for “The Religions of Man” (1958), which has been a standard textbook in college-level comparative religion classes for half a century. In 1991, it was revised and expanded and given the gender-neutral title “The World’s Religions.” The two versions together have sold more than three million copies.

The book examines the world’s major faiths as well as those of indigenous peoples, observing that all express the Absolute, which is indescribable, and concluding with a kind of golden rule for mutual understanding and coexistence: “If, then, we are to be true to our own faith, we must attend to others when they speak, as deeply and as alertly as we hope they will attend to us.”

“It is the most important book in comparative religious studies ever,” Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, said in an interview.

Professor Smith may have reached his widest audience in 1996, when Bill Moyers put him at the center of a five-part PBS series, “The Wisdom of Faith With Huston Smith.” (Each installment began with a Smith quotation: “If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race.”)

Richard D. Hecht, a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, called Professor Smith “one of the three greatest interpreters of religion for general readers in the second half of the 20th century,” the others being Joseph Campbell and, in Britain, Roderick Ninian Smart.

Professor Smith, whose last teaching post was at the University of California, Berkeley, had an interest in religion that transcended the academic. In his joyful pursuit of enlightenment — to “turn our flashes of insight into abiding light,” as he put it — he meditated with Tibetan Buddhist monks, practiced yoga with Hindu holy men, whirled with ecstatic Sufi Islamic dervishes, chewed peyote with Mexican Indians and celebrated the Jewish Sabbath with a daughter who had converted to Judaism.

It was through psychedelic drugs in the early 1960s that Professor Smith believed he came closest to experiencing God. Leary, a Harvard professor who championed mind-altering substances, recruited Professor Smith to help in an investigation of psychedelic drugs. At the time, Professor Smith was teaching philosophy nearby at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Leary thought that he had had a profound religious experience in Mexico in August 1960 when he first ate psilocybin mushrooms, which can produce hallucinations. Accordingly, he wanted religious experts to be part of his Harvard Psilocybin Project for the study of mind-altering drugs. Richard Alpert, a colleague in Harvard’s psychology department, was a critical figure in the initiative. (He later took the name Ram Dass.)

On New Year’s Day in 1961, Leary’s team ingested mushrooms in his living room. “Such a sense of awe,” Professor Smith said afterward. “It was exactly what I was looking for.”

A year later, the group gathered in a church basement as a Good Friday service was being held upstairs and tried an experiment involving 20 volunteers in which half were given the psilocybin mushrooms and the other half a placebo. Professor Smith received the drug, which was legal at the time, and reported that he was certain he had had a personal experience with God. He thought that the voice of a soprano singing upstairs was surely that of an angel.

“From that moment on, he knew that life is a miracle, every moment of it,” Don Lattin wrote in “The Harvard Psychedelic Club,” a 2010 account of the psychedelic research project, “and that the only appropriate way to respond and be mindful of the gift of God’s love was to share it with the rest of the world.”

Professor Smith later became disenchanted with Leary’s “tune in, turn on, drop out” gospel, but he retained his belief that the briefest of insights from a psychedelic trip could be mind-expanding.

Those early drug experiments, however, were enough for him, he wrote in “Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals” (2000). (The word entheogenic refers to substances that produce an altered state of consciousness for spiritual purposes — “God-enabling,” in Professor Smith’s words.)

“If someone were to offer me today a substance that (with no risk of producing a bummer) was guaranteed to carry me into the Clear Light of the Void and within 15 minutes would return me to normal,” Professor Smith wrote, “I would decline.”

Huston Cummings Smith was born to Methodist missionaries on May 31, 1919, in Suzhou, China. The family soon moved to the ancient walled city Zang Zok, a “caldron of different faiths,” he wrote in his 2009 memoir, “Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine.”

“I could skip a few blocks from my house past half the world’s major religions,” he added. “Side by side they existed.”

He decided to be a missionary, and his parents sent him to Central Methodist University, a small church-affiliated liberal arts college in Fayette, Mo. He was ordained a Methodist minister but soon realized that he had no desire to “Christianize the world,” as he put it; he would rather teach than preach.

Admitted to the University of Chicago Divinity School, he became intrigued by the scientific rationalism propounded by Henry Nelson Wieman, an influential liberal theologian there. He also became attracted to Professor Wieman’s daughter, Kendra, then an undergraduate. They married in 1943.

Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Gael Rosewood and Kimberly Smith; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Professor Smith was working on his doctorate at Berkeley and leading Sunday services at a Methodist church when he encountered a book that changed his life: “Pain, Sex and Time: A New Outlook on Evolution and the Future of Man” (1939), by Gerald Heard. Mr. Heard advanced an expansive view of spirituality and came to be called “the grandfather of the New Age movement.”

Professor Smith read all two dozen of Mr. Heard’s books and in 1947 visited him at Trabuco College, which Mr. Heard had founded in the Santa Ana Mountains. After dinner, they retired to a large rock.

“They just sat there in silence, gazing at the barren canyon walls,” Mr. Lattin wrote in “The Harvard Psychedelic Club.” “Huston realized there was nothing he needed to ask the man. It was enough just to sit with him on the edge of the canyon.”

Mr. Heard told Professor Smith how to get in touch with Aldous Huxley, the novelist, mystic and psychedelic pioneer, and Professor Smith took a bus into the Mojave Desert to Huxley’s cabin. The two had a deep conversation about boundless desert sand and Old Testament prophets.

Professor Smith received his Ph.D. in 1945 from the University of Chicago, taught for two years at the University of Denver and accepted a professorship at Washington University in St. Louis.

Huxley recommended he meet Swami Satprakashananda, a Hindu monk who had founded the Vedanta Society of St. Louis in 1938. Professor Smith soon became actively involved with the society as well as an associate minister of a Methodist congregation in St. Louis.

In 1955, he turned his popular college lectures into a series of programs on world religions for the National Educational Television network, the precursor to PBS. On one program, he demonstrated the lotus position.

He was hired by M.I.T. in 1958 and two years later joined other professors in inviting Huxley to deliver seven lectures, which drew standing-room-only crowds. In the decade since their last meeting, Huxley had experimented with mescaline and written “The Doors of Perception,” which became a counterculture classic. Professor Smith confessed to him that he had never had a full-blown mystical experience despite his studies of religious mysticism.

Huxley said Leary could probably supply what he wanted, and gave Professor Smith his phone number.

Professor Smith joined campaigns for civil rights in the 1960s and for a more tolerant understanding of Islam in the 2000s. He wrote more than a dozen books and held professorships at Syracuse University and Berkeley. He helped introduce the Dalai Lama to Americans.

Despite his liberal views, Professor Smith argued that science might not totally explain natural phenomena like evolution. He clung to his Methodism while criticizing some of its dogma. He prayed in Arabic to Mecca five times a day.

His favorite prayer was written by a 9-year-old boy whose mother had found it scribbled on a piece of paper beside his bed.

“Dear God,” it said, “I’m doing the best I can.”


The Interfaith Observer
January 15, 2017
Huston Smith – The Passing of a Giant in Our Midst 

by Paul Chaffee
If Swami Vivekananda’s clarion voice at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions introduced us to the challenge of living happily in an interfaith world, it was Huston Smith’s voice in The Religions of Man (1958) which taught us what that meant. In 1991 the book was renamed The World’s Religions, and more than 3 three million copies have been sold in a dozen languages. Nearly 60 years later, it remains the go-to introduction to the subject. Yet that book is barely one chapter in the journal of Huston Smith’s extraordinary life.

That life came to an end when Huston Smith, 97, died in Berkeley, California on Friday, December 30. The New York Times published a splendid obituary that details the many facets of this man’s life. At the heart of it all was Smith’s impulse to pursue and practice whatever truth he found, wherever he found it. Howard Thurman, another interfaith mystic, repeatedly would say, “Something is true because it is true; it is not true because of where it comes from.” Just so, being an avowed Methodist all his life didn’t at all hinder Smith’s belief in “the possibility of wisdom in multiple faith perspectives,” as Rev. Heng Sure remembers in his compelling story about knowing and working with him. 

It was in his particularities that Huston Smith was so interesting. He began his career as a missionary who did not want to “Christianize” the world. He became a distinguished academic who loved teaching and writing – but who did his most basic research not in simply ‘studying’ a faith but living it. For more than 10 years each, he practiced Vedanta (studying under Swami Satprakashananda, founder of the St. Louis Vedanta Center), Zen Buddhism (studying under Goto Zuigan), and Sufi Islam.

Professor Smith was hardly confined to Harvard and UC Berkeley’s ivory towers, where he taught, or at MIT, Syracuse, and many more. Aldus Huxley, Joseph Campbell, Timothy Leary, Bill Moyers and similar luminaries and ‘thought-leaders’ were close friends and frequent colleagues. And not just the famous, by any means. As the Times article put it, “he meditated with Tibetan Buddhist monks, practiced yoga with Hindu holy men, whirled with ecstatic Sufi Islamic dervishes, chewed peyote with Mexican Indians, and celebrated the Jewish Sabbath with a daughter who had converted to Judaism.” His habit of praying five times a day came from Islam.

He also helped introduce the Dalai Lama to the West. He championed Indigenous traditions, taking, for instance, more than a dozen American Indians to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa in 1999. He was part of a research group organized by Timothy Leary around peyote and LSD, with fascinating results. He wrote a book on religion and science, and was an enduring champion of peace and justice for all.

Rob Sellers, president of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, wrote a remarkable profile of Huston Smith, published last February in TIO. The whole story is engaging, but the following captured me:

… it was the chance to meet Huston Smith personally that made such a profound impact upon me. While attending a conference entitled “The World’s Religions after 9-11” in Montreal, Canada, in 2006, I sat very close to the front of a huge convention hall to hear him address thousands of conferees from all over the globe. Unable to stand at the podium, Smith was seated at a table at center stage. With a gentle demeanor and voice projection dimmed by age, he nonetheless held the audience spellbound. At the conclusion of the session, I rushed to the platform to meet him. Rather than tower above this seated and frail world religions giant, I knelt beside his chair, took his hand, and said, “Dr. Smith, you are one of my heroes.” Without pausing, he smiled and replied, “And if I knew you I’m sure that you would be one of my heroes too!”

My own most powerful memory of Huston Smith was the glowing smile that never left his face for long. Not a self-glorifying glow, but the glow of happiness and joy a person can feel for another person, and the attendant joy of being deeply perceived and sharing life where love is unconditional. He dove into the reality of the Spirit from many, many different religious, spiritual, philosophical perspectives, and emerged with us as a man obviously consumed with love and building bridges that connect us all meaningfully. He was one of a kind, a giant in our midst, and his influence, God willing, will grow and endure for many years to come.

Bill's 'Faith Matters' Blog
Bill Tammeus writes about religion and ethics.

January 04, 2017

Anyone who has read my work in the last 15 years (and even before, though with less focus then) knows that I have been -- and continue to be -- a strong proponent of interfaith understanding and dialogue.

Huston Smith, the man who helped the world with that task perhaps more than almost anyone else, died the other day at age 97. I first learned of it Friday evening when my oldest sister, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., not far from Huston and Kendra Smith, sent me a note saying he had breathed his last about 7:30 that morning at his Berkeley home.

I was surprised that it took until Sunday for a news story to show up about the death of this remarkable religion scholar, who had a lot of connections to Missouri, including the fact that he attended college at Central Methodist in Fayette, Mo.

Several years ago I was privileged to hear Smith when he spoke at Country Club Christian Church in Kansas City. He was quite elderly and mostly deaf but he was still articulate and engaging.

What Huston Smith, most famous for his book, The World's Religions, brought to the discipline of religious studies was both a deep respect for religious traditions other than his own Methodist version of Christianity, and great humility about what can be known in any final way and what, by contrast, requires faith.

It is an attitude I seek to model in my own latest book, The Value of Doubt.

Smith sought to understand religions by getting inside of them and seeing what make them tick. He walked a mile or more in Hindu shoes, in Muslim shoes, in Jewish shoes and on and on.

Sometimes his investigations of spiritual traditions and new spiritual movements led him to some strange places, such as when he sought to understand what Timothy Leary and others were learning about spiritual insights through use of psychedelic drugs.

But for Smith the idea was never to turn on and drop out, as Leary advised, but to learn.

We have entered a time in the politics of the United States when the openness and respect that Smith taught when it came to religious traditions is under severe strain, as the man who will become president in a matter of days is the same man who has wanted to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

Perhaps one helpful thing to do might be to send Donald Trump a copy of Smith's book about world religions with a plea that he read it with an open heart.

That may seem wildly optimistic, but I'm betting if Smith were still here and in good physical and mental shape, he might do that very thing himself.

Read more here: 

American Public Square session January 17, 2017
"Religion & Race: Chasm or Bridge?"

Because I care about religion and I hate the evil of racism and other oppressions, and some folks welcome criticism intended to be constructive, I offer these thoughts with the hope that public programs can be better described, enhanced, and made more inclusive according to the subject.

The panel tonight often seemed unknowingly disrespectful of religious diversity. Even though at one point when several said that their Christian faith required them to love those of other religions, it seemed they were saying we [Jews, Muslims, etc] should all be worshipping together. The all-Protestant panel gave little evidence of knowing anything about, or even acknowldging that there are, Roman Catholics in our community. 
     I thought APS aims to bring folks with different perspectives together for a meaningful discussion. With the wonderful, rich resources of many faiths in the Kansas City area, it is peculiar APS did not access a more diverse panel. Tonight, instead of diversity, there was only unanimity among the panelists. 
     Yes, we should all love one another. And bless the panelists for their good spirit and right intent and actual achievements in their own institutions. It was entertaining and at times inspirational to hear the panelists discuss their own experiences and aspirations. The audience frequently expressed its enjoyment with beautiful laughter.
    Still, what a failed opportunity to explore diversity! and in the name of diversity! My running commentary, in 7 points, submitted in writing on the back of the Participant Survey form, follows below from the photo I took of it before handing it in. An Addendum has been added.

1. The King quote* opening the session is disrespectful of differences in worship style. I say this as a great admirer of King. [I] had the great and awesome opportunity to meet King in Washington, DC [in 1967, I cherish the "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," and have argued it belongs in the Christian Scriptures ("New Testament"), along with Paul's epistles, as I would advice Irenaeus were he developing the canon today]. Should Hindu worshippers or Muslim worshippers all attend the same service? Much African-American religious style is distinct and deserves great respect, as do other ritual styles.
     Should English only and Spanish speaking only and Arabic speaking only [and Hindi speaking only and Chinese speaking only . . . ] attend the same worship service? 
    It is unfortunate that King said what was quoted because he was inspired by Gandhi, the Hindu, and supported by Jewish leaders whose liturgical language is Hebrew.
    *[King's utterance to the effect that the most segregated hour of the week is 11 o'clock Sunday morning] is understandable in the context of the [Civil War era] split between Southern and American (Northern) Baptists, etc, but misleading in 2017. [The history is complicated -- including the facts that before the War whites and blacks worshipped together in the very same churches, and that in many denominations afterwards African Americans chose to separate themselves from white churches, and particularly by founding their own where their distinctive styles of worship could be practiced.
    By framing the evening with this quotation, the discussion was shaped by issues about worship styles, and the fundamental questions of religion and race were, in my view, largely neglected.]

2. The discussion of music ignored the [Christian] "non-program" Quakers who have no sermon, no music, etc. Quakers were leading Abolitionists. [What about Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians for whom sacramental rituals are essential, while many non-denominational churches focus primarily on preaching?] Why should there be ONE worship style [or a potpourri-mishmash] in the name of diversity? [Why not many distinctive worship styles to meet the needs of different people? respecting a variety of heritages and traditions?]

3. The forum should have been labeled "[Protestant] Christianity & Race" [instead of "Religion & Race"] because it ignores our Hindu, Muslim, [non-theistic] Buddhist, American Indian, etc. [friends and] traditions. [They are important members of our KC community, too.]

4. Praising the Coca-Cola commercial model is . . . [shallow sentimentalism and a sign of corrupt, oppressive capitalism.] We need not all sing the same song. Jews don't have to [worship like] Christians, Muslims don't need to become Hindus. [Meditative liturgical Christians should not have to adopt the black call-and-response style -- and call-and-response African Americans should not have to become meditative liturgical Christians.] So far this evening, this is an amazingly shallow discussion.

5. [Thanks to moderator] Rabbi [Glickman] for finally recognizing religious diversity! and speaking about [some of] what I wrote at #3 above.

6. I'm disappointed the question about reproductive rights and LGBTQ issues, etc was not responded to, but [the question about social issues] was addressed only in racial terms. 

7. I appreciate the hospitality of Redeemer Fellowship. [Thanks to APS for envisioning a topic like "Religion and Race," even though it seemed to me to be an inadequate and even ill-informed, misconceived, and misleading session; and thanks to the panelists who, from the depths of their own limited experiences (what more can we ask?) shared with honesty and comviction the artistries of their work and apsirations.]

Vern Barnet
I sent the following to the principals:
Dear [Panelists and APS],
     Thank you for your contributions to last night's APS panel. While I appreciate the efforts, I thought you might be interested in my running comments (complaints!) about the program. 
     Briefly, I agree with Rabbi that the program could have better been called "Christianity and Race" -- or even more fittingly, "Protestantism and Race." To my heart, it was largely a "feel-good" evening that felt good unless you valued diversity.
     Here is a link to my perspective:
     http://www.cres.org/sidebar.htm#APS  (right-hand column)
     Thank you for the good work you do; please consider other perspectives.
Vern Barnet

A number of people who have seen this commentary have let me know they agree with it. But perhaps I should give an example of a more substantial question which might better have framed the conversation:

From your faith background and experience with how people grow in your spiritual tradition, how does your faith free us from racism, or at least lighten the load, (1) individual by individual, and (2) how is that process reflected and enhanced by religious communities affected by larger social forces, and (3) what are those forces as you understand them?

2016 Dec 15 Summary Three Families of Faith and Our Crises

Why I am not Fat

Q. Why are you not fat? Many people your age are at least overweight. Why are you careful about your body?

A. Six reasons.

First, while health cannot be assured by any regimen, one can certainly improve the chances of well-being by attention to diet, exercise, sleep, and other practices. Michael Pollan's three rules make sense: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Of course, by food he means real food, not the highly processed stuff, even with added vitamins, that is sold as food. (Yes, I have some health challenges, and all of us are subject to dangers, known and unknown.)

Second, I am a minister, and I have learned that some people foolishly look to me as a model. What kind of spiritual message would I be giving if I appeared guilty of the sin of gluttony? How can I appear to be managing my life well and inspire confidence in my judgment and decisions if I am obese? How can I expect people to take my advice if I am thoughtless about my body, which the Bible calls the temple of the spirit? (1 Corinthians 6:19) I am a sinner, and enough of my sins are already manifest without demonstrating the (literally) deadly sin of overeating. It is especially important for those of us in the ministry who preach about the power of our thoughts to affect our health.

Third, even if gluttony were not sinful, it often indicates lack of control of one's appetite. Self-control is an important spiritual discipline, and I am poor in many areas, but somehow I have learned the distinction between hunger and appetite. Being a bit hungry everyday reminds me of the multitudes who are hungry all the time, and those whose wealth leads them into forgetfulness and do nothing about the starving.

Fourth, regularly overeating supports a corrupt capitalistic economy which constantly entices one to eat bad "food" and to eat too much. This violates not only personal health but also damages the environment in ways we do not often recognize. Red meat is especially dangerous environmentally because it is an inefficient source of protein and brings environmental costs of refrigeration and transportation. I am reeducating my taste buds to eat much less meat so as to respect ecological balances.

Fifth, I care about those who must sit next to me in tight quarters, such as in some theaters and places like airplanes (although I no longer travel). I don't want to make others uncomfortable the way fat people impose on me and restrict and crowd space around me. I try to be polite and considerate. American obesity has tripled in the last 50 years, and largely consequent diabetes is seven times is prevelant, with these two diseases alone costing incalculable misery and calculable expenses of $1,000,000,000 a day, and related costs of $$1,000,000,000,000 each year, according to David Bornstein in a New York Times report. As a member of society, I do not want to cause others to bear the costs of my suger lust.

Sixth, my financial resources need to be carefully managed, and budgeting for one good meal a day is sufficient. I am glad when I can buy a meal for someone else, just as I am grateful when friends take me out or invite my into their homes. I can happily tolerate two meals in a single day. Still, awareness of how one spends one's money can keep one from habitual over-indulging.

Q. What is it like for you to see fat people? Are you judgmental? Don't you like fat people?

A1. We all have different gifts and abilities. I admit I sometimes have to work through my tendency to judge fat people, especially in the clergy or other roles where they might be emulated. Of course I have fat friends and fat people I admire. I usually don't know their genetic dispositions, histories, circumstances, and struggles. I know that "obesity and its precursor — being overweight — are not one disease but instead, like cancer, they are many," as the NYTimes reports. Reminding myself of my tendency to be self-righteous helps manage the issue. But being judgmental is a problem I have to keep working to overcome. 

Q. Do you discriminate against fat people?

A2. I try to see the whole person. As a society we finally no longer feel social pressure to tolerate unwelcome smoking, but we generally have not looked at gross overeating and the commercial causes for obesity the same way. I know for some fat people, accepting the way they are is a spiritual achievement. Self-loathing is destructive, but the desire to be healthy makes sense for the individual and for that person's family and friends and society at large. Certainly we should not coerce our bodies into shapes that some advertisers present. But I am ready to condemn the lures that lead people to unhealthy decisions, and I want always to respect every individual's personhood. Among my friends are the overweight and the obese; while I wish they were able to manage their health risks better, I admire and love them and cherish their friendship and am inspired by their virtues. But I also admire those, especially of my age, who have found ways to keep themselves trim.

Q. Don't you know that some people simply are addicted to foods? They can't help themselves. Like any addiction, the brain is changed so as to compel certain behaviors.

A3. Yes, and our nation is addicted to salt, sugar, fats, and other substances that the food processors add to what started out as foods, and that we may amplify at the table by adding still more of these substances that become poisonous in quantity. But one does not have to allow an addiction to shape or ruin one's life. While addicts do not need condemnation, they need understanding and help, and I'm writing about this to increase awareness. Acknowledging addiction is often the first step to freedom from addiction.

Q. Were you not at one time at least a litle pudgy?

A4. Yes, and not so long ago. My best weight was probably in the early '80s after a 77-day fast from solid food as a religious discipline; my doctor said I was in better shape after the fast than before I began. At various times since, I've tried several methods with exercise to control my weight, including diet drinks, counting calories, and sundry forms of select food restrictions, with various short-lasting success. What currently works for me, exercise, sleep, and intermittant fasting with a balanced diet, may not work for others. I like being energetic and trim, easily fitting into my clothes. As I approach my 76th birthday, I am optimistic about maintaining a heathly weight.

After the Election

There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. --Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

Spirit of Light,
We live in a fragmented world that tempts us to despair.
We would put it back together piece-by-piece if it were ours to do -- but sometimes the fragments are enough.
In a world of cruelty there is still power in every act of kindness.
In a time of doubt there is still power in every act of hope.
In an age of division there is still power in every act of unity.
Let us give thanks that sometimes the fragments of light are just the right size to hold in our hands.

--adapated from what I heard the Rev Kendyl Gibbons say

My Political Desires 

It appears, despite the historical pattern of the nation reversing the party holding the Presidency for two terms, Clinton has won the popular vote, even though losing the Electoral College. This means a divided nation, not an overwhelming repudiation of decency. And remember, many did not vote for Clinton because of what they perceived as indecent greed in her expensive Wall Street speeches. Granted that her flaws are like a flea bite compared to Trump's car-bomb explosions, the "false equivalency" perpetrated by the media confounded many voters perceptions. 

Thinking with a long view, this loss for Democrats may be  better than a partial win in the federal government with the Democrats controlling only the White House. Since the GOP shortly will own all, all, branches of the federal government, perhaps buyers' remorse will set in when folks realize that the failure to address our problems was not so much in the Obama White House but due to the obstruction in the Congress and poor Court decisions. This may become clear by the mid-term elections two years from now, assuming at some point truth will again be valued when pain sets in.

We need to

* restore a sense that politics is a holy enterprise and demand those seeking to serve be worthy of such expectations

* correct gerrymandering

* allow a majority of the House members (Republicans and Democrats and Independents) to vote on bills instead of insisting that a minority (a majority of the majority) control the issues to be debated

* correct Citizens United and reduce money in politics
including lobbies such as defense, NRA, AIPAC, energy, Wall Street, big pharma, etc. 

* follow Constitutional custom and procedures

* greatly reduce income and wealth dispartity to pay for needed infrastructure and social programs by taxing the wealthy appropiately, reinstating reasonable inheritance taxes, etc.


The KC librarian on trial 
for defending a man’s free speech 
has been found not guilty


photo: KC librarian Steve Woolfolk says he is 'elated' at being found not guilty. Library head R. Crosby Kemper III says police and prosecutors were out of line. Ian Cummings The Kansas City Star

SEPTEMBER 08, 2017 8:00 PM

Kansas City librarian Steve Woolfolk has received a national award and been put on trial for the same act: trying to stop police from arresting a library patron.

After a trial Friday in Kansas City Municipal Court, Woolfolk was found not guilty on charges of obstruction, interfering with an arrest, and assaulting a police officer.

The charges against Woolfolk, the Kansas City Public Library’s director of programming and marketing, stemmed from an incident in May 2016 when Woolfolk tried to stop the arrest of library patron Jeremy Rothe-Kushel during the question-and-answer part of a talk by Middle East expert and diplomat Dennis Ross at the Plaza library.

Rothe-Kushel of Lawrence had been in the middle of asking Ross a series of challenging questions when he was seized by private guards and off-duty police working security at the public event.

Library officials protested the arrests, with executive director R. Crosby Kemper III publicly saying that he was outraged and that the city was violating the First Amendment.

Kansas City police stood by the arrests, and city prosecutors added the assault charge against Woolfolk nearly a year later.

After a trial that ran late into the afternoon Friday, Kansas City Municipal Judge Joseph H. Locascio issued a quick ruling acquitting Woolfolk on all three counts, remarking: “It was a public event.”

Assistant City Attorney Mike Heffernon, who prosecuted the case at trial, referred questions to City Prosecutor Linda Miller. She could not be reached Friday night.

Woolfolk said he was relieved the ordeal was over. He had been saving a bottle of Macallan scotch for about a year, since the case was scheduled for trial, and hoped to open it Friday night.

“I’m elated. I could not be happier,” Woolfolk said. “Free speech is a fundamental tenet of the library system.”

During the months the case worked through the system, the American Library Association threw in its support and gave the Kansas City library the Paul Howard Award for Courage. Woolfolk received the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity.

If Woolfolk had been convicted on any of the charges, he could have faced up to 6 months in jail. The assault charge could have brought a fine of up to $1,000.

Rothe-Kushel had been scheduled for trial the same day on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest, but prosecutors dropped the charges a few months before the case went to court.

Miller earlier had said she could not comment on why the charges against Rothe-Kushel were dropped.

The arrests occurred on May 9, 2016, as Ross spoke at the inaugural Truman and Israel Lecture, established by the Truman Library Institute and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

The Plaza library hosted the lecture. Woolfolk, as director of public programming, was in charge. The library typically does not have security at such events. In this case, the Jewish Community Foundation proposed to hire private and off-duty police security for Ross. The library agreed — on condition, library officials said, that security not remove anyone from audience without the library’s permission.

The event proceeded without incident until Ross took a question from Rothe-Kushel, who asked a long, convoluted question that among other things concerned whether Jewish Americans such as himself should oppose actions by the U.S. and Israel that amount to “state-sponsored terrorism.” The exchange was recorded on video.

“When are we going to stand up and be ethical Jews and Americans?” Rothe-Kushel asked.

As seen in the video, Rothe-Kushel was still standing at the microphone and speaking quietly when a guard grabbed him and he shouted, “Get your hands off of me right now!”

After Woolfolk tried to intervene, officers arrested both men. Woolfolk said he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee when a police officer kneed him in the leg. Kemper, the library director, said the library paid workers’ compensation for the injury.

Kemper had been vocal in defending both Woolfolk and Rothe-Kushel after the arrests. He criticized police and prosecutors for insisting on pressing the case, calling it “prosecutorial misconduct.”

“The good news is, justice was done,” Kemper said after the trial. “It was always ridiculous.

“A security guy went overboard. Even that is understandable,” he said. “What wasn’t understandable is that the police and the prosecutors went to the mat on this.”

The Kansas City Star
2017 April 22

Free-speech case for KC librarian still unfolding

BY IAN CUMMINGS icummings@kcstar.com

The Kansas City Public Library and a librarian who was arrested last year during a public event are receiving two national awards for defense of free speech.

But the same week the awards were announced, city prosecutors filed two new charges against the librarian.

The awards and the charges stem from a May 9 incident in which the librarian, Steve Woolfolk, intervened to try to stop the arrest of library patron Jeremy Rothe-Kushel during the question-and-answer part of a talk by Middle East expert and diplomat Dennis Ross at the Plaza library.

Kansas City library officials have protested the charges, saying off-duty police and private security wrongly seized Rothe-Kushel, of Lawrence, while he was asking questions. Police and prosecutors have stood by the arrests, saying Rothe-Kushel was disrupting the event and that they removed him.

The American Library Association has awarded the Kansas City Library the Paul Howard Award for Courage, given biannually for “unusual courage for the benefit of library programs or services.”

Woolfolk, the library’s director of public programming, will receive the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity, named for the pen name of Daniel Handler, author of the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books.

“I have long relied on librarians to stand up for our essential rights of freedom and expression,” Handler said in a statement about the awards. “Mr. Woolfolk’s commitment and gumption are inspiring to behold, and it is an honor to stand up for him in the form of an ovation.”

The awards will be presented during the ALA’s annual conference in Chicago in June. Woolfolk and R. Crosby Kemper III, the library’s executive director, will attend the conference with two board members. They will also collect a third award for community awareness.

Kansas City library officials announced the awards Wednesday. Two days earlier, city prosecutors filed the two new charges against Woolfolk: obstruction and assault. The assault charge accuses Woolfolk of repeatedly pushing a detective.

Woolfolk had originally been charged last year only with interfering with Rothe-Kushel’s arrest. Rothe-Kushel is charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. Both men are scheduled to go to trial July 21.

Kemper said the combination of the awards and the new charges made for “an absurd situation.”

“We’re honored by the recognition of Steve and the library,” Kemper said. “We’re thrilled by that, and we think we’re doing a really good job as a library. And one of the things we’re doing really well is events.”

As for the continued prosecution of the case, Kemper said, “It doesn’t pass any kind of smell test. … It’s absurd and it’s Dickensian and it’s outrageous.”

The addition of new charges nearly a year after the incident especially offended Kemper, he said. “They’re playing games with the law. It’s disgraceful.”

Kansas City prosecutor Linda Miller, who took charge of the office earlier this month, said the new charges were added after prosecutors recently reviewed the case.

Police have said Rothe-Kushel disrupted the event, which was hosted by the library together with the Truman Library Institute and the Jewish Community Foundation, by persisting in asking questions after the speaker attempted to move on.

Among other things, his question concerned whether Jewish Americans such as himself should be more critical of actions by the U.S. and Israel that Rothe-Kushel characterized as “state-sponsored terrorism.”

When a private security guard and an off-duty police officer - both hired by the Jewish Community Foundation for the event — grabbed Rothe-Kushel, Woolfolk tried to intervene and officers arrested him as well.

Library officials have said they don’t normally have security at their events, but they allowed the Jewish Community Foundation to bring hired security, including off-duty officers. The library had told the co-sponsors that no one should be removed from the event without their permission.

In his report, arresting officer Brent Parsons of the Kansas City Police Department describes the event as private. But it was a public event.

Police emails show that Parsons made a note in the arrest report indicating an “anti-Jewish bias” in the alleged offense, and that police officials said that note should be removed. Parsons disagreed. Kansas City police have declined to say what decision was ultimately reached.

Rothe-Kushel, who is Jewish, said he doesn’t think he did anything wrong, and that he is thankful for Woolfolk’s support.

Ian Cummings: 816-234-4633, @Ian__Cummings

The Kansas City Star
November 16, 2016

Questions surround arrests at library

BY IAN CUMMINGS icummings@kcstar.com

A man arrested along with a librarian during a public event at a Kansas City library earlier this year says city prosecutors offered him a plea deal on the condition that he release police and private security from civil liability in the incident.

The man, library visitor Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, and the librarian, Steve Wool-folk, have refused plea offers, arguing that the arrests violated their First Amendment rights. Both plan to fight their case in city court. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday.

Rothe-Kushel said he was offered a plea deal of 30 hours of community service and no jail time if he signed a document that would keep anyone involved from being sued.

Police arrested the men during a May 9 talk by Middle East expert and diplomat Dennis Ross at the Plaza library. Rothe-Kushel, of Lawrence, was seized by off-duty police working with private security as he spoke to Ross during the question-and-answer portion of the talk. Woolfolk, the library’s director of public programming, was arrested when he tried to intervene.

Rothe-Kushel faces a city charge of trespassing and resisting arrest. Wool-folk is charged with interfering in Rothe-Kushel’s arrest.

Both men said they did nothing wrong and had no interest in any plea that would involve admitting guilt.

“First of all, this is not the correct way to discuss civil liability, when I’m still under threat of charges that could put me in jail,” Rothe-Kushel said. “And the information is already out in the public that these charges could be specious.”

The head of the city’s library system, R. Crosby Kemper III — backed by the American Library Association — has protested the arrests and charges, saying they cut to the core of the library’s function as a place to exchange ideas freely.

But police have stood by the arrests, and city prosecutor Lowell Gard said his office is prepared to go to trial.

“If the police say, ‘We’re going to handcuff you,’ you need to not fight,” Gard said. “We don’t want to encourage anyone to resist arrest.”

Gard declined to discuss the plea negotiations but said a release from civil liability would not be part of a plea offer written by the city prosecutor’s office.

Civil liability could be a part of negotiations between other parties in the case, including the defendants, the police, the library and the Jewish Community Foundation, a sponsor of the event. The Jewish Community Foundation hired the off-duty police and security. The Truman Library Institute also sponsored the May 9 event.

If those parties came to an agreement, Gard said, the prosecutor could sign off on dismissing the charges.

The Jewish Community Foundation’s interest in the plea negotiation could be explained if it were considered the victim of the trespassing in which Rothe-Kushel was charged, Gard said.

But library officials have said the event belonged to the library and that they had instructed the Jewish Community Foundation that its private security was not to remove anyone except in case of imminent danger.

Rothe-Kushel said he believed the Jewish Community Foundation sought protection from civil liability to protect against a possible lawsuit. He said he received the plea offer from his attorney after a meeting at the city prosecutor’s office on Aug. 10.

The Jewish Community Foundation declined to comment on the case.

For Rothe-Kushel, a key question is whether he was disrupting the event and trespassing.

Standing right behind him, in line to ask a question, was Ian Munro, of Kansas City. Munro said he found Rothe-Kushel’s comments rambling and hard to understand, but didn’t see him as disruptive.

KC Library Violated 
by Security Forces

2016 October 6
Kansas City Public Library Media Advisory:

The Kansas City Public Library continues to work through the aftermath of an incident near the end of its May 9, 2016, event featuring longtime Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, which resulted in the arrest of two people including a Library manager by off-duty police.

The episode at the Library’s Plaza Branch arose from a question to Ross, posed by a local activist during the evening’s question-and-answer session. The reaction by members of an outside security detail, who immediately accosted the questioner, was improper and an infringement on free speech, Library Director Crosby Kemper maintains. And he says the ensuing arrests were unwarranted.

“The Library strives to be a place where people of all points of view can feel safe, welcome, and free to express themselves in an appropriate way,” Kemper says. “And so this incident deeply troubles us.”

 What happened:

The off-duty officers were part of a small, private security squad arranged by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City, one of the Library’s partners in the event. That was to supplement standard Library security. The activist, Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, was first to the microphone when Ross’ presentation turned to Q&A, and his question inferred that the U.S. and Israel have engaged in state-sponsored terrorism. Ross responded and, when Rothe-Kushel attempted to follow up, he was grabbed by one of the private security guards and then by others in the private security detail. Steven Woolfolk, the Library’s director of programming and marketing, attempted to intervene, noting that public discourse is accepted and encouraged at a public event held in a public library.

Rothe-Kushel was subsequently arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest. Woolfolk was charged with interfering with his arrest. Their cases are pending.

Kemper termed the response of private security and police “an egregious violation of First Amendment rights.

“The First Amendment’s protection of the rights of free speech and assembly is cherished by all Americans but particularly by libraries and their patrons,” he says. “An overzealous off-duty police officer violated the rights of one of our patrons at Ambassador Ross’ talk in the Library and doubled down by arresting Steve Woolfolk, who was trying to explain the Library’s rules to the officer.

“In defense of the freedom of speech, the Library stands fully in support of Steve.”


2016 October 6

The library incident has a follow-up in today's Star: {Arrested Kansas City librarian gets support from national library group}

The first Star report, {Kansas City library officials defend employee arrested during public event}
is here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article105294071.html
which the Washington Post reported, attributed to the AP.

Here is another account of the situation: {Security hired by pro-Israel group arrests questioner at Dennis Ross speech in Kansas City Public Library} --

I am more likely to respect Dennis Ross than the writer is, but that makes no difference in evaluating the arrests. I certainly distance myself from certain 9/11 theories, but they deserve First Amendment protection. I can understand the desire for security after three Christians were killed on Jewish sites in April, 2014.

Despite my own multiple, painful experiences with slander, lies, and intimidation in Kansas City (beginning September 16, 2001, about 3:30 pm, and continuing for years until I left the Interfaith Council, and at least one time thereafter), I could not have imagined such a public and outrageous display of disrespect for the First Amendment -- at a public library. We are fortunate to have library leadership to challenge the misuse of security apparatus and defend Constitutional rights of citizens and the sacred space of public forums.


Community loss

The events that have taken place recently involving the arrest of a librarian and a visitor at a talk given in the Kansas City Library is shocking (10-6, A6, “Arrested librarian gets support from national group”). This is disturbing on several levels.
     First would be the attempt, by a community that has suffered at the hands of bigotry for the past century or more, to quash free and honest discourse. I can understand their need for security, but for a hired police force to get involved in a nonthreatening debate smacks of totalitarian regimes of the recent past.
     Do our police not understand who is in charge of affairs at our library? Is there not clear communication as to their responsibility?
     Or if their mission was to protect the speaker and audience from physical violence then what motivated them to monitor and direct the proceedings? Is this another case of police over reach?
     Mark this down as another loss for the Jewish community and the Kansas City police.

Dick Phalen, Kansas City

Gordon Beaham III, 1932-2016

Gordon was a spiritual giant to me as well as a model civic leader, and he and his family's world-wide interests and commitment to the future locally and globally continue to inspire and shape my own life. My interfaith organization, CRES, and later, the Interfaith Council, really began with a lecture he sponsored at what was then the Midwest Research Institute, and his encouragement over decades enriched my life in many ways, as I know he blessed so many of us.


From 1009 comments, The New York Times designated Vern's as a "Times Pick" and featured it in response to David Brook's column of 2016 September 16, "The Uses of Patriotism" discussing Kaepernick's decision not to stand during the National Anthem.

Bombs bursting in air?
I'm 74. When I was six I knew not to stand and salute such war-mongering. I was almost expelled from school. Let's sing America the Beautiful.
Vern Barnet, Kansas City, MO


"But why not set the whole issue aside by not singing the national anthem at NFL games?

"The practice of singing the U.S. anthem at sporting events dates back to the late 1800s and gained ground at Major League Baseball games around the time the United States entered the First World War. Thus not only patriotism, but militarism became connected with the proxy wars of the gladiators on the field."

--John Stackhouse (PhD ‘87) holds the Samuel J. Mikolaski Chair of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, Canada. He was a wide receiver for the decidedly mediocre Widdifield Wildcats Secondary School football team.

Vern's Neo-Baroque Rant



Why does this app apparently view religion in terms of belief? using the modern/Enlightenment concepts of truth and falsity? This seems like evaluating how delicious chef-prepared dish might be solely by whether the food is to be consumed with either a fork or a spoon.

Does the app embrace metaphor? is it able to deal with myths as paradigmatic models of sacred reality? Do the app authors understand how perverted the modern (relatively recent) conception of religion is as a separate category? Can you assess truth claims on, say, Beethoven’s C sharp minor Quartet or the Velasquez painting, Las Meninas, or the Christian doctrine of the Trinity or the Buddhist teaching of pratityasamutpada or the Hindu story of the Bhagavad Gita? If the app says that the ghost of Hamlet’s father could not actually exist, does that mean Shakespeare’s play is worthless? What about Don Quixote? Am I wrong to say I saw a beautiful sunset, even after the age of Copernicus?

I am all in favor of critical thinking (Dawkins, whose foundation sponsors you, was a great scientist, but his understanding of religion was extraordinarily narrow). Certainly we need more and better-skilled critical thinkers, especially in our political discussions, but to approach religion as if the app as described could be a significant tool by which to apprehend faith is like using a grenade to construct the Alhambra.

Please tell me I am significantly misunderstanding the nature, usefulness, and careful design of this product, and please understand how, from the description on this page, I might have come to such a misunderstanding.

Vern Barnet


Published 2016 September 11 in the Kansas City Star,
22A, in response to its solicitation of letters about 9/11

After two years of preparation, all 15 members of the Kansas City Interfaith Council were scheduled to announce its Oct  26-28 "Gifts of Pluralism" conference to the media at Pembroke Hill School. Before leaving home, I turned on the news and then called additional interfaith leaders to meet with us. 

With a TV monitor in the background replaying scenes of horror, Council members and guests, one by one, A to Z, American Indian to Zoroastrian, spoke urgently, condemning the attacks and working to strengthen our community by building understanding and relationships among us of all faiths. 

The Council continued its work. Out of the terror of that day, we struggled to make something good. 

The Gifts of Pluralism conference, with triple the expected participation, produced both local and national fruits of the spirit, some of which continue to grow. 

Although there can be no compensation for the losses of 9/11, we have learned to move forward together.


I am surprised that Gary Gutting confuses religion with belief and fails to note that classical Judaism and Vedic Hinduism are also "revealed" religions. His historical presentation and logical argument fails because it does not recognize that various faiths at different times emphasize one or more of the "four c's" of religion -- creed, code, cultus, and community. Intolerance most often arises from social rather than theological forces, though they may be expressed or justified in language akin to belief; failing to see the real causes of violence is a critical defect in Gutting's argument.

Three Thoughts About 
The Value of Doubt: 
Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith
a new book by Kansas City's Bill Tammeus

1. If Tammeus wanted me to dispute, agree, challenge, applaud, rethink, and long to be in a group discussing this book, he utterly succeeded.

2. An effulgent fusion of personal stories, spiritual explorations, and profoundly personal questions for every Christian to ponder afresh.

3. You've heard, and asked yourself, these questions before, to a dead end. Here's how to think them forward.

--Vern Barnet, a forty-year fan of Bill Tammeus

Worship elements for 160710
at Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church

I never get an answer, but I write anyway.

2016 June 3

Why does KCPT cancel important public affairs and news programs like Washington Week in Review? I hate missing KC Week in Review but I can imagine production constains. However, Washington Week was obviously broadcast on other PBS stations. Shame, especially in this important season when you should be helping to providing information for the citizenry. Time for local fundraising at the end of WWIR was provided. This is hardly the first time you have cheated Kansas City of important national broadcasts in favor of fluff.


I received this information:

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter posted an op-ed in the Washington Post on May 31, 2016, expressing his disagreement with the human rights and public health organizations that are advocating for the complete legalization of prostitution and sex trade — even the most abusive aspects. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate says he agrees with Amnesty International, UNAIDS and other groups that say that those who sell sex acts should not be arrested or prosecuted — but he cannot support proposals to decriminalize buyers and pimps.

I admire Carter on many things. He is a most exemplary former President.

However, in the face of testimony of many professional prostitutes who have praised their work as non-exploitative and helped them advance with their lives, whose incomes would be limited by this proposal, and in consideration of my ignorance about what seems to be a very complicated question, I wonder about his opposition to full legalization and would be interested in what informed folks might say. One thing I am looking for is an explanation of why someone might sell his or her labor in legitimate sex therapy but not in other forms of sex work; it seems classist in favor of the privileged class. Why is engaging a psychiatrist's precious mind for an hour legitimate but engaging a prostitute's precious body necessarily evil? Other cultures do not see the world in this way. In our own country I'd want to know more about Nevada, for example. Of course I'm opposed to all "sex-trafficking" but I distinguish that from truly voluntary prostitution. Religious phenomenology, from ancient times to our own day includes temple or sacred prostitutes, and I would need to know more about how that works before I could come to a complete agreement with Carter.

Our Culture of Clutter, Noise, and Branding

No doubt I am unfair to the Human Potential Movement to associate it with those group sessions in the 60s where participants were instructed to write a term of identity or aspiration on their blank tee shirts. Yes, there was a time when tee shirts were blank. Sort of like the silence we never hear anymore. 

I've heard of selling one's soul to the devil, but now runner Nick Symmonds* auctions some of his skin to T-Mobile. If he wants to do something with his skin, why not donate the space to a charity? Visiting both coasts in ages past, I saw people wearing clothes with the manufacturer's name as part of the design, becoming an expression of the wearer's identity, a practice since invading the Heartland. Now you are known by your brand. Kids have killed for brand-name shoes. Despite Lady Bird Johnson's efforts to reduce billboards in America, we are now financially forced to call public buildings by the corporations who purchase naming rights. We move from advertisements, tweets, interruptions, bullet-points, passcodes, PowerPoint, and multi-tasking all the way to distraction and hell. With the bombast of our politics I rest my case.

Plain skin is space. Simple is sumptuous. Silence is sacred.

*Kansas City Star, 2016 May 13, page 11A


 "The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens" --Robert Maynard Hutchins. Implied, I think, is the notion that citizens cannot be resposible ules they know enough of the arts and the physical and social sciences to fully enjoy life participating in community, nation, and global culture and affairs.

Chen-Chi Chang


I studied with Chen-Chi Chang at the University of Nebraska (visiting prof from Penn State) around 1965. He has shaped my life. 

One funny anecdote for those who remember typewriters and typing paper. He began one class session by saying that our assignment for the following session was to write a 20-page paper on "the Void." When he completed his instructions, I reached under my chair where I had a box of typing paper and produced 20 blank sheets of paper which I handed to him and said, "Here, Professor Chang, is my paper on the Void." He ceremonially thumbed through the sheets and when he finished, he said, "Ah, very good, Mr Barnet, and here is your grade" as he made a zero with his finger in the air.  The class applauded.

I learned to love the Vimalakirti Sutra from him. I still have notes from his lectures. 

After leaving the Univ of Nebraska, I studied at the Univ of Chicago Divinity School. My 500-page doctoral paper at the affiliated Unitarian Universalist seminary was on the Void.

Vern Barnet


Chang, Garma Chen-Chi (1920-1988)

An authority on Buddhist philosophy, born in China and educated at Kong-ka Monastery, eastern Tibet. Chang came to the United States after World War II and was a research fellow at the Bollingen Foundation in New York from 1955 onward. At the time of his death, Dr. Chang was Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at The Pennsylvania State University.

He wrote a number of books, including The Practice of Zen (1959), The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa (1962), and The Essential Teachings of the Tibetan Mysticism (1963). He also wrote an important review of the book The Third Eye (1958), by Lop-sang Rampa, published in Tomorrow magazine as part of an expos? of the author. Chang showed that Rampa's knowledge of Buddhism and Tibetan occultism was "inaccurate and superficial" and characterized the book as "interesting and highly imaginative fiction." This review appeared alongside a second article, which noted that "Lopsang Rampa" had been born Cyril Henry Hoskins, son of a British plumber.

Chang, Garma Chen-Chi. Esoteric Teachings of the Tibetan Tantra. Lausanne, Switzerland: Falcon's Wing Press, 1961.

——. Teachings of Tibetan Yoga. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1963.

——. "Tibetan Phantasies." Tomorrow 6, 2 (Spring 1958): 13-16.

Chang, Garma Chen-Chi, ed. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1962. Re-print, Boulder, Colo.: Shambhala, 1977.

"Actually, What is Interfaith?"

Speaker -- Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Founder and Director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem, Israel

Moderator -- Ambassador Allan J Katz, Founder of American Public Square

This is not a review of the evening, which I attended in support of the wonderful efforts of the Faith Always Wins Foundation, and in memory of those who were murdered by an anti-Jewish fanatic April 13, 2014 in Overland Park, KS. Rather what follows is simply my emailed reactions. I post these reactions because good intentions alone often fail. Programs of informed quality will make the ripples we need to change the world. 

1. The program was disappointing to me.  If I had a flicker of interest in interfaith work, our speaker would have pretty much doused the spark. I was hoping an enthusiastic and committed account of his experience and vision. It sounded instead as if he wanted to do an academic analysis, but he did not seem well acquainted with work done in that arena, either. I did have some difficulty hearing, so I may have missed some good stuff. However, I didn't hear bubbling enthusiasm at the reception afterwards. You've been to many more recent "interfaith" experiences than I lately, so I wonder how valuable you might have found the program. I always think if you are going to talk about interfaith, you should do some interfaith. Even though the venue would not have made that easy, a simple exercise or two with audience members pairing up would have made the evening much more lively, given folks a chance to know each other more deeply, and created a context for the speaker's remarks. I hate to see opportunities wasted.

2. I was embarrassed by the program last night. The speaker achieved being both abstract and shallow at the same time. I think [--] was disappointed, too. There was no excitement I could detect at the reception afterwards. If I had a spark of interest in interfaith work before the speech, it would have been pretty well doused by the speech. The speaker failed to draw upon his own experience and clearly was not acquainted, on one hand, with the work of academics (which he seemed to want to be), and on the other, with how to move or motivate or cheer an audience. So whatever you did instead last night was a better use of your time. There were less than 100 people, I think, in that large auditorium. Such a shame to waste the occasion. 

3.  We all honor those whose lives were taken two years ago, and want to support the vision and efforts of SevenDays. But I would not be faithful without saying that I felt last night's program failed to meet the promise of the vision. . . .
     If I had a flicker of interest in interfaith work, our speaker would have pretty much doused the spark; he made it sound pretty boring. I was hoping an enthusiastic and committed account of his experience and vision. It sounded instead as if he wanted to do an academic analysis, but he did not seem well acquainted with work done in that arena, either, and in fact made factual errors. And I didn't hear bubbling enthusiasm at the reception afterwards. I always think if you are going to talk about interfaith, you should do some interfaith. Even though the venue would not have made that easy, a simple exercise or two with audience members pairing up would have made the evening much more lively, given folks a chance to know each other more deeply, and created a context for the speaker's remarks. I hate to see opportunities wasted. SevenDays deserved a speaker who knew his subject and knew how to move, motivate, and cheer an audience to make a ripple and change the world.

A Non-Lawyer for the Court

Many of my friends are lawyers. I admire the legal profession. But why do lawyers possess all the seats of the Supreme Court? The Constition does not specify lawyers for the Court.

The Supreme Court should be democracy's temple of justice, not a hothouse where, by acrane arguments, lawyers twist the law to their own ends, too often displayed when folks actually read divided decisions of the Court. Lawyers are not the only ones who can recognize justice. Groups of highly qualified people of diverse backgrounds working together often produce superior outcomes.

Therefore I suggest that at least one Supreme Court Justice, the next one, be a non-lawyer smart enough to access and comprehend the history and technicalities of the law, with a heart beating to justice in the body of democracy, trained in some other profession such as medicine, education, social service, government, business, the arts, sports, science, the media, or religion. 

Kansas City alone has several such polymaths who would enhance the Court's work, and from the nation's talent pool we could easily find someone who would make the Constitution blaze anew with the light of justice for a democratic nation.
Printed in Letters to the Editor in The Kansas City Star 160223


published in The Kansas City Star 2015 Dec 18
The Muslim tradition has given much to our civilization, from the Arabic numerals we use everyday to the Kansas City landmark on the Plaza, Giralda tower. Muslims were part of America before the United States itself was formed. Muslims have made contributions to our community in every conceivable way -- in sports, medicine, education, public safety and the armed forces, business, government, and the arts. Hateful and ignorant remarks by Donald Trump serve as powerful recruiting tools for terrorists; he actually plays into the dangerous and mistaken apocalyptic world vision of ISIS and reinforces their befouled view of who we are. Kansas Citians embrace our Muslim friends, as we embrace those of all faiths, who are building a community of mutual support and understanding. 
--The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn, minister emeritus 
Center for Religious Experience and Study ("CRES")

Ramesh Ponnuru concludes a recent column (Star, Nov 28) by saying that "Islam really is our enemy." Does he view Christian terrorists like the KKK to say Christianity is our enemy? No.

Scoundrels, fanatics, and terrorists -- and politicians -- may wrap themselves in the language of faith, but their deeds betray the very faiths they claim. Why would Ponnuru give any credit to what terrorists say when they claim they act in the name of their faiths? Why should he respect what deranged terrorists have to say about religion, rather than our respected fellow Muslim citizens, Muslim authorities here and around the world, and the millions of Muslims world-wide suffering and fleeing from the terrorists?

The best antidote to the disease of terrorism is Islam itself. Ponnuru plays into terrorists' plan by dividing good people of all faiths among themselves instead of focusing on the evil itself and its perpetrators.


Statement on a claim that Muslims and Christians worship different Gods.

In The Star's Voices of Faith column September 19, a Christian minister answered the question, "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" by saying that "a non-Trinitarian 'God' describes a false god, leaving mankind with no hope of salvation."

Muslims are not Trinitarian. But neither are Jews. What are we to make of many passages of Christian scripture which affirm that the Christian God is the God of the Jews? For example, in Matthew 22:32, Jesus himself makes this claim. In Acts 3:13, Peter makes a similar claim. In Romans 4, Paul justifies Christianity in terms of the God of Abraham, who was not a Trinitarian. James 2:23 says that Abraham was God's "friend." Apparently you can be God's friend and not be a Trinitarian. Other citations would be redundant.

Though their understandings of God's nature varies, Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God. Even among Christians, how God is perceived varies greatly.

Misunderstanding another's faith can lead to much mischief, but friendships among folks of all faiths can bring surprising blessings.

Vern Barnet
Founder, the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council

submitted as a Letter to the Editor, The KC Star 2015 September 19, published in the Sunday edition, September 27.

Here is the original column, to which I object:
   THE REV. SCOTT GORDON, First Baptist Church of Kansas City: My simple answer is “no,” an answer that apologists on either side should readily give.
   Others standing on the outside or those from within either camp wishing to compromise faithfulness to their tradition for various reasons might say, “Yes, but in different ways.”
   I am not saying that people do not have a right to believe what they choose, but let’s at least be honest about what Islam and Christianity teach.
   Christians and Muslims describe God in many disparate ways, most notably in our views regarding the Trinity. Islam depicts Jesus as merely a prophet of Allah, neither as being his son nor being one with Allah (Surah 5:75; 9:30; 19:34-35, 88-93).
   The Qur’an states Jesus denies any claim of divinity (Surah 5:116-117). In fact, Islam denounces the doctrine of the Trinity, though misunderstood as being God, Jesus and Mary rather than God the father, son and Holy Spirit, as blasphemy (Surah 4: 171-173).
   Christians, in contrast, hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, the understanding of God being eternally existent in one essence and three persons, as a core tenet of our faith (John 1:1-5, 14; 8:48-58; 18:3-8).
   So essential is this doctrine that Jesus describes himself as the only one who provides the hope of salvation to anyone (John 14:6).
For a Christian, then, a non-Trinitarian “God” describes a false god, leaving mankind with no hope of salvation.
   While I readily admit a common history between our two religions, I see two very different Gods described and an important choice for all to consider.

Statement on “Laudato Si”

In his encyclical, “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis has beautifully and powerfully written about the moral dimensions and dangers of our violation of the environment. The cultural trance that makes us exploit and separate us from the environment, and from one another, deceives us like the devil himself. 

There are three dimensions in which the sacred is revealed: nature, personhood, and community. Gandhi used a single term “swaraj“ (self-rule) to unite the Asian understanding of managing one’s own personhood with Western-style social urges in the political Indian movement seeking independence from Britain. Now Pope Francis, by addressing the environment, approaches unifying all three dimensions of the sacred and offers us a fresh chance to see the underlying interdependence that is the fundamental character of all that exists. 

If Francis helps us wake from the cultural trance that has been disastrously deepened by greed and willful ignorance, we may yet escape the doom the signs for which are all around us. Instead we may come closer to sharing and celebrating the miracle of abundant life. 

The Statement was published 
in The Kansas City Star 2015 June 24.

Click for the Vatican site for the document.

Click for a Interfaith P?L Study Guide

Statement on Bishop Finn's Resignation  2015 April 21
     From the beginning of Robert Finn's tenure as Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, many Catholic friends were anguished over his totalitarian style and ill-advised and often mean decisions. The wreckage to ecumenical and interfaith relationships is staggering. Healing and repair will be slow, but now may be possible. A strong and vibrant Catholic presence in Kansas City benefits all faiths.

Published in The Kansas City Star 2015 Apr 24
as "Healing for church"

Submission to the KCStar for Lent

KCStar Letter about Yoder ? Citygroup (published 2014 Dec 16)

Post toKansasAllsFair about same-sex marriage,
(2014 June)  1. text only

Review of Hair and Together, Country Joe and the Fish,
Chicago Literary Review (Summer, 1968)

KCStar Letter about Teilhard(submitted 2014 June 7)

KCStar Letter about Ian G Barbour (puiblished 2014 Feb 3 )

NT Times comment on "Israel’s N.S.A. Scandal" about the US giving Israel unredacted information about individuals' private lives for political, not security, purposes.

Statement for the 2014 Gun Violence Community Forum
describing CRES

Response to KCStar Faith Walk for 2014 Nov 22 about the purpose of "the conjugal act."


Lenten Repentance

Many Christians are observing Lent. It is a time of personal and group repentance. Repentance is something we Americans do not do very well. We sanitize our history and our present practices. Yet as we condemn extremism and terrorism, we would honor this season more fully by recounting some of our sins.
   We committed genocide against many of the American Indian tribes.
   We imported human beings from Africa and kept them as slaves.
   We denied full citizenship to women for most of our nation's history.
   We continue to deny full human rights to many minorities, including some who wish to marry those they love.
   The American economy often seems to be based more on profit and greed than on  the desire to serve.
   Our lust for oil led us to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran and install the oppressive Shah, which in turn led to the revolutionary regime we detest.
   We waged war in the Vietnam based on deception by President Johnson.
   We destabilized the Allende democracy in Chile under President Nixon and supported the dictator Pinochet.
   We funded what became the Taliban in seeking to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.
   We have supported vicious governments and groups such as Batista’s Cuba and the Nicaraguan Contras.
   We invaded Iraq based on fabrication from President George W Bush, Dick Chaney, and the Neocons including Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Richard Perle. The foolishness of Ambassador Paul Bremer and others generated the conditions for what is now ISIS/ISIL. The “enormous success story” Vice President Dick Chaney predicted has instead led to an unfolding disaster in the region. The human and financial cost to us is staggering.
   We continue today to support oppressive and corrupt nations with such strong lobbies and commercial interests in the US that I fear to name them. Our politics are visibly in their grip. Our Congress today is largely purchased by foreign interests who wish us to do their bidding and by domestic concentrations of wealth.
   This is the tiniest fragment of our domestic and foreign wickedness. We cannot be, or be perceived as, a just and peace-loving country without acknowledging and repenting of this part of our heritage and continuing practices.
   Let us exercise our tradition of self-criticism, recover our basic American values, and continue the work for justice and peace of which we are rightly proud, as an example to all nations. May repentance lead to reform so that we may be worthy of those who have sacrificed so much to keep the American ideals alive.

Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St Joseph, MO.
He books include 

Beauty Will Save The World,

Unconditional: The Call of Jesus To Radical Forgiveness, 

and now

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace.

used by permission, from Beauty Will Save the World, p219-220.
The Statement is on behalf of Ahmed El-Sherif,Samuel Nachum, and Zahnd,
united in working for peace and the common good.

For the Common Good
Brian Zahnd

We are Jews, Christians and Muslims.

And we are friends.

We seek to follow our respective religions faithfully.

We do not believe all religions are the same.

We recognize the reality of our religious differences.

But we are friends.

We are devout in our faith and respectful of our friendship.

Our faith and friendship need not be mutually exclusive.

We recognize that we share common space—the common space of a shared planet.

For the sake of the common good we seek common ground.

We do not share a common faith, but we share a common humanity.

In our different religions we do not practice the same rituals or pray the same prayers.

But in our shared humanity we hold to a common dream: Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

We hold to the dream that our children may play in peace without fear of violence.

And so…

We pledge not to hate.

We pledge not to dehumanize others.

We pledge to do no harm in the name of God.

As individuals we do not compromise the truth claims of our respective religions—

But we will not use truth claims to fuel hate or justify violence.

We will practice our respective faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam.

But we believe our faith can be practiced in the way of peace—

We believe our faith truly practiced need never be at odds with humanitarian ideals.

Our religions share a complex and intertwined history—

A history of interaction that has too often been tumultuous and bloody.

We believe there must be a better way and we seek that better way.

The way of peace.

We are Jews, Christians and Muslims.

And we are friends.

We seek common ground for the common good.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

Ahmed El-Sherif
Samuel Nachum
Brian Zahnd



Post to KansasAllsFair about same-sex marriage

text only

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments,” begins one of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets — which he wrote to his young male friend.
   Sometimes people say that marriage has always been between one man and one woman who love each other.
   But there are many contrary examples. Consider Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines. Are we talking political alliances, procreation, property rights, honored servants, companionship, sexual opportunities — or love?
   Producing offspring was very important to early societies. In the Bible, Onan’s father forced him to have sex with his dead brother’s wife to perpetuate the family line. This custom, the “levirate” marriage, continued into Jesus’ time.
   Love is fickle, and what society then needed above all was stability. Marriage did not originate in love between partners but as a compact between families or groups.
   This is why in the Bible, most marriages were arranged by the parents, sometimes when the children were infants, though Isaac was 40 years old when Rebecca was selected for him.
   Women were like property. But David did not buy King Saul’s daughter; instead he proved his worthiness by presenting Saul with the foreskins of 200 Philistines.
   In the Christian era, Paul prohibited bishops from having more than one wife (1 Tim. 3:2), but Christians experimented with marriage in many forms.
   Marriage was not declared a sacrament within the Roman Catholic Church until 1215. Before then, weddings were often held outside the church because they were less about love than about social stability.
   The late Yale historian John Boswell documented Christian practices through the 18th Century of church unions of men in love. Male couples pledged fidelity for life, joined right hands before the altar, shared a cup of wine, heard biblical passages (such as Psalm 133), and received the priest’s blessing.
  In America, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) of Utah practiced polygamy until it was outlawed, and some break-away groups still favor it in practice.
  The 19th Century experiment in Oneida, N.Y., led by John Humphrey Noyes, prohibited monogamy. The community practiced complex marriage: every man was the husband of every woman, and every woman was the wife of every man. Exclusive relationships were forbidden because members of the “body of Christ” should love each and all.
   Laws against blacks and whites marrying continued in the US until 1967.
      In 1996 the Defense of Marriage Act prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage, with the stated purpose of  insuring the sanctity of marriage. Did that work, even for politicians? Within a few years of passage politicians violating marriage vows included Bill Clinton, Tom DeLay, Eliot Spitzer, Rudolph Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, David Vitter, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Robert Livingston, Jim McGreevey, Kwame Kilpatrick, Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa, and John Edwards. Some in this list favored the DOMA legislation. Clinton, for example, signed it. Larry Craig (arrested in a men’s restroom) with his wife standing with him, denied he is gay. Pastor Ted Haggard is not in politics. Mark Foley is not married but his solicitation of House pages led to his resignation. Sarah Palin announced her daughter, Bristol, a leader in the abstinence movement, was pregnant during her presidential campaign, and would marry the father, but the father declined to marry the mother of his child. It is hard to see any evidence that DOMA has protected heterosexual marriage.
    In much of the last 2000 years, weddings had little to do with romance, but we’ve come to expect an affair of the heart. Whether union, marriage or some other word is used to describe the commitment, the idea of two becoming one is both tricky and full of sacred meaning.
   Most cultures in world history have blessed or at least tolerated same-sex relationships. 
   Consider for example,
classical Greek traditions, in which love between spouses was considered decidedly inferior to love between male friends. Plato’s Symposium makes this quite clear.
     While two men or two woman alone, without surrogates or previous marriage, cannot bring children into a same-sex marriage, they can bring to their children from adoption or an earlier marriage the most important foundation, namely love. Many heterosexual sexual marriages are childless but legal.
    Marriage, in fact, is both a legal and, for many, a religious institution. While states do have authority to change the civil meaning of marriage (as in permitting divorce and marriage of mixed races, and now in places, same-sex couples, but not yet in Kansas), government cannot tamper with the spiritual meanings of marriage, and religious institutions may always grant restrictions and expand freedoms for marriage as they choose.
     But the state, unlike religions, must treat each person equally. Two people who declare their love and desire to commit themselves in the sacred relationship must be recognized by the state, whether they are same– or opposite-sex partners. It is sad that religions would discriminate within their own communities, as, for example, women are discriminated against in the Roman Catholic Church by being denied priesthood.
     But as women are full citizens with every civil right in the eyes of the state, so same-sex couples, regardless of religious customs, must in the eyes of the state, be recognized with the civil right of marriage. As some conservatives have observed, the state actually promote social stability by recognizing and supporting the civil commitment of marriage between same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples.
   Kansas cannot stop men loving men and women loving women, anymore than it can stop men and women loving each other. So, bigots, get over it. And get on with your lives instead of interfering with people who love each other.
Vern Barnet (vern@cres.org)



Hair, (LSO1143), (LSO1150), RCA Victor, $4.59
Together, Country Joe and the Fish,
Vanguard, (USO79277), $4.59.
by Vern Barnet
   Hair has been called the most exciting musical to hit Broadway since Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. It is not surprising, then, that RCA Victor seems unable to keep the record shops supplied with the original cast album – either of them. For there are two “original cast” recordings, one (LSO 1143) produced when Hair opened Joseph Papp's Public Theatre last year, and the second (LSO 1150) from the  present incarnation at the Biltmore. I saw Hair when it was still underground, before it underwent the changes to appeal to the prurient interests of the over-thirty audiences which now flock to and applaud a less than honest Broadway production.

   So though your record shop is apologetic about having only the first first recording, grab it and risk disappointing your friends because you failed to purchase the “unexpurgated” version. The stodgy New York  Times finds the second album superior to the first; but in fact, the second is heavy-handed, artificial, and grossly commercial, as only a commercial hippie product can be. It is unfortunate that James Rado (who with Gerome Ragni wrote the lyrics) replaces Walker Daniels as Claude in the new production. The title song “Hair,” for example, is a natural ornament for any
head in the first recording; in the second, Rado sings as if his “Hair” were a compulsive toupee.

   Though the play is billed as an “American tribal love-rock musical,” composer Galt MacDermot has not written much genuine rock; he has mainly substituted guitars for the traditional Broadway orchestra. 

As a play about war (the Revolutionary, the Civil, the Vietnam), sex (all kinds), civil rights (including miscegenation), drugs, the draft, education, the generation gap, astrology, air and water pollution, Eastern religions, and space travel, Hair is a landmark in our generation’s attempt to escape a manifesto; as music, Hair, by recognizing recent folk and rock developments in popular music, simply legitimizes the use of “rock” in theatre and fails to reach the standard of innovation achieved by, say, Gershwin in Porgy and Bess.

   The best song is the hymn “Ain't Got No – I got Life” which begins the first album. The male leads sings what they ain't got (and the chorus comments): 

     no pot (busted!), 
     no faith (Catholic!), 
     no soap (dirty!),
     no job (lazy!) , 
     no good (good!), 
     no TV (honest?!), 
     no sleep (high!),
     no books (lovely!), 
     no sex (ugly).

After an extended and pleasant catalog in this fashion, Mother 1947 asks, “What have you got, 1967, that makes you so damn superior and gives me such a headache?” The inevitable and cleanly optimistic and profoundly religious response: 

     I got life, mother; laughs, sister;
     freedom, brother; 
     I got good times, man; . .
     I got headaches and toothaches 
     and bad times, too, like you. 
     I got my Hair, my head, my tits, 
     my ass . . . . I got life.

   The honesty, frankness, and openness of the play is joyously captured on the first disk, nowhere better illustrated than in Shelley Plimpton's disarmingly corny “Frank Mills:” “If you see him, tell him that I don't want the two dollars back, just him.”

   As the radio stations seem intent on playing original “original cast” album if you want to hear what Hair is really about.

   While these days it's fashionable if not politically obligatory for liberals like myself to accept anything black, I can now admit that I just don't find much soul music worth listening to – an opinion kept private until buttressed by the release of Country Joe and the Fish: Together (Vanguard VSD 79277). The first cut on the disk is “Rock and Soul Music,” a mock tribute to James Brown. The Fish have “discovered” in soul a great new beat (Bam), and they play it, once (Bam), twice (Bam Bam), thrice (Bam, Bam, Bam). This is the best satire on bad popular music since Peter Paul and Mary's “Dog Blue.”

   The cut that has been most aired is “The Harlem Song,” a commercial, much more successful as music and comment than the LSD advertisement in the first Fish album. David Cohen's spoken introduction is in flawless travelogue diction. He says:

Glorious, breath-taking, spectacular! Relax in the grandeur of America's yesteryear – Harlem, land of enchanting contrasts, where the romantic past touches the hands of the exciting present. First, the pleasure of being received with warmth and genuine hospitality, the easy adjustment to the comfort and style of superb meals, exotic beverages, colorful entertainment, and dynamite action.

    The music is in a pleasant Hawaiian-country style, broken with an interlude of conversation on the street, itself perfect in stereotypic dialect. “I was havin' a good meal of wat'rmel'n and hom'ly grits... “ The musical phrasing of “Harlem Song” is immaculate, as if to contrast with the mess suggested at the end of the ad: “If you can't go to Harlem, maybe you'll be lucky and Harlem will come to you.”

   The “Good Guys-Bad Guys Cheer” illustrates the futility of the good-bad guy polarity, and the consequent confusion that accompanies insistent and persistent side-taking. The “Cheer” leads into “The Streets of Your Town” (New York), in which the striking phrase, “The subway is not the underground” carries more weight the first time you hear the song than on repeated playings.

   The final cut, “An Untitled Protest,” is a rock recitative. The subject is Vietnam, and perhaps more effective in its quiet way than the earlier Fish “I-Feel-Like-I'm Fixin'-To-Die Rag.” The new protest is conceived in personal rather than political terms; and, as in the quatrain below, the satire is not raucous but sad,

   Superheros fill the skies,
   Tally sheets in hand;
   Yes, keeping score in times of war
   Takes a superman.

   The new Fish record is the group's most successful album as social comment, but it falls short of the high achievement in the earlier “Electric Music for the Mind and Body” in purely musical terms. The new record has no music that can compare with “Flying High” or “Lorraine.” Instead, the emphasis on the novelty song rock of which the Fish are capable. “Waltzing in the Moonlight,” for instance, is a tortured flamenco with dull chord progressions and a bromidic use of the Spanish style. One vocalist’s  “Away Bounce My Bubbles” is often and indefensibly off-pitch. The electronic tricks in “Susan” are annoying. Some of the organ playing in this album is good, however, especial in “Bright Suburban Mr. And Mrs. Clean Machine,” where, before we get to the third floor, “underwear, Barbie dolls, war toys, plastic artificial flowers . . ,” we hear the gospel tabernacle sound – it never sounded as good! The most interesting song musically is “Catacean,” which has several distinguished solos. But the song is just beginning when it ends, “Open the door and love walks in; close the door and you're alone again.”

Mr. Barnet is a graduate student at the Meadville Theological School.

LETTER to The Kansas City Star, 2014 June 7

Thank you for the story about the Jesuit scientist and theologian, ("Tough Talk," June 7). As a religion-hater finishing high school, I first heard about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1960 when his book, The Phenomenon of Man, became available in English. Teilhard's reconciliation of science and religion led me into the ministry and ultimately into interfaith work.

   The separate categories of science and religion are arbitrary historical accidents. To see the world and ourselves whole requires transcending the confines of ordinary human language which at best can only point to the Holy. 

   The world’s religions typically find the Holy in the realms of nature (primal religions), selfhood (Asian faiths), and the history of covenanted community (monotheistic traditions). Teilhard's vision, often stretching the language of science toward the divine, implies the congruence of these three realms. 

   The interfaith promise is nothing less than the restoration of nature, the recovery of the whole self, and the life of a community of love. To move beyond our overwhelmingly fragmented, oppressive, and exploitive secularism, we must see that these three realms are one, that our environmental, personal, and social disorders can be healed by the same unitive vision that enthralled Teilhard. 

Vern Barnet
Kansas City, MO

The Good Book
Exposes Our Vulnerabilities — 
As It Should

By Elissa Strauss
Published May 25, 2014.
The Forward

You know what could use a trigger warning? The bible. If any book merits a note of caution it is the one that is colloquially referred to as good.

In the recent debate over whether colleges should warn students of material that deals with potentially post-traumatic stress syndrome inducing topics like war, sexual violence, racism, and anti-Semitism, I couldn’t help but think about how the raw and vulgar bible has sat warning-less for centuries.

Students at the University of California Santa Barbara and Oberlin College believe novels like Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” (for racial violence) and “The Great Gatsby” (for misogynistic violence) should be presented with a warning label, all the while the world’s most popular book, easily found at safe-seeming places like churches, synagogues and hotel rooms, is brimming with much worse.

The bible is a book without heroes or hagiography; there’s hardly a character who fails to misstep. Instead we get war, slavery, rape, deceit, plagues, smiting, apocalypses and, in some ways the most threatening of them all: soul-crushing doubt in the Almighty. And yet, historically speaking, how many soldiers, victims of sexual assault and believers have found comfort in its words?

For many of us today the bible is the stuff of myth or tribal tales, but in previous generations many took it as God’s word. Imagine the horror of reading about not just people but also God’s capacity for violence while also believing that God was the author.

So why didn’t the architects of the bible (you might believe it is God, I believe it was various people over time) try to do some damage control? If not by way of slapping a warning on the cover, at least in the editing of the text?

Thank God they didn’t.

The bible is a raw, sometimes bleeding text, pulsing with fear and bitterness and the crumbling of will in the face of temptation. I believe that this very rawness is responsible for its endurance.

Because what is raw is also tender, and it is in this tender place where real transformation happens. The bible does not shy away from our vulnerabilities, nor does it seek to accommodate them. Instead, when read with an honest mind (which is, regrettably, not a universal phenomenon), it exposes us to them, and ultimately ourselves.

It is this intrinsically unapologetic nature of the text, its refusal to soothe or conceal, which not so long ago took me by great surprise and ultimately drew me in.

Until five years ago, I had never read the bible and knew of it only through the second-hand sanitized versions I learned at Hebrew school or from watching Disney movies. If I hadn’t been invited to be an artist fellow at LABA, a laboratory for Jewish culture which hosts a non-religious house of study, I am not sure I would have ever gotten around to it. So entranced I became with the unsparing nature of the text on human behavior, I eventually became co-director of the house of study.

Every year as new fellows come study with us, many of whom who have also never read the text, I see them go through the same experience of being caught off guard and shaken up by the piercing directness of the bible. They are triggered, and it is from that place that they are inspired to create.

I lack the vitriol some feel against those who are trying to make trigger warnings happen. Those students are well-meaning and want to protect the people among them who have experienced trauma. But the question is, what are they really protecting them from?

If it’s from reading something that might take them outside their comfort zone, that might cause more harm than good. (With exception, of course, of serious cases of PTSD.) As Los Angeles Times’ Megan Daum wrote in her column on the topic, we are already self-censoring enough: “Liberals stay away from Fox News. Conservatives shield themselves from MSNBC. We choose to live in particular neighborhoods or regions in part because we want neighbors who share our values. We rant away on social media, but we’re usually just talking to people who already agree with us. We call that an echo chamber, but isn’t it also a way of living inside one big trigger warning?”

If the ban is an attempt to shield some individuals from others’ insensitive comments, well this is what a good professor should help out with through the facilitation of nuanced conversation that makes everyone uncomfortable and not just those with a troubled personal connection. When everyone is vulnerable, everyone grows, through the development of empathy for others or a reckoning with their past. This is how we prepare students for a big bad world filled with wounded people and devoid of trigger-warnings.

The bible has long-served a similar role. Its nakedness pushes those of us who study it to strip down too, and contemplate just what is at stake for ourselves and those around us. It does not shy away from the dark matter of life, and so we should not shy away from it or any other of the good books that do the same, because reading them together is how we grow.

Elissa Strauss is a contributing editor to the Forward. Read more: http://forward.com/

In response, Martin E Marty writes 
Monday | June 9 2014 , in part:

Religious scholars . . . know that religious texts treat the extremes of existence, of life and death matters, of love and hate, care and brutality, and not only do they not shy away from discussing them but that they can also promote depth of understanding, care, solace, and healing. The human story gives unlimited illustrations of these.

LETTER to The Kansas City Star 
published 2014 Feb 3

Are science and religion really in conflict, or do they support each other? No person has explored this question with greater skill than Ian G. Barbour who died late last year at the age of 90.

      His books, and especially Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, comprehensively examine issues such as astronomy, evolution, quantum mechanics and human nature. He took a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago and an advanced theological degree from Yale. In 1999, he won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, often compared to the Nobel Peace Prize.

     The year Barbour’s Issues in Science and Religion was published,  I began working my way through graduate theological studies at the University of Chicago by running errands for scientists there, and the awe I felt from the interplay of these two fields leads me to write this tribute to Barbour.

     Folks with inadequate backgrounds in science and religion (that is, most of us) can penetrate the mysteries of science and faith a little more deeply because of Barbour’s work.

Vern Barnet
Kansas City, MO


CRES highlights several sections

Vatican City, 6 June 2015 (VIS) - “Today’s meeting is a sign of our shared desire for fraternity and peace; it is a testimony to the friendship and cooperation that has been developing over the years and which you already experience daily. To be present here today is already a 'message' of that dialogue which everyone seeks and strives for”, said Pope Francis to the participants in the ecumenical and interreligious meeting held in the Franciscan international study centre of Sarajevo.

The leaders of the Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina greeted the Holy Father, who recalled one of the fruits of this desire for encounter and reconciliation – the establishment in 1997 of a local Council for Interreligious Dialogue, bringing together Muslims, Christians and Jews – and congratulated them on their work in promoting dialogue, coordinating common initiatives and developing relations with State authorities. “Your work in this region is immensely important, particularly in Sarajevo, which stands as the crossroads of peoples and cultures”, he said. “Here, on the one hand, diversity constitutes a great resource which has contributed to the social, cultural and spiritual development of this region, while, on the other, it has also been the cause of painful rifts and bloody wars. It is not by chance that the birth of the Council for Interreligious Dialogue and other valuable initiatives in the area of interreligious and ecumenical work came about at the end of the war, in response to the need for reconciliation and rebuilding a society torn apart by conflict. Interreligious dialogue here, as in every part of the world, is an indispensable condition for peace, and for this reason is a duty for all believers”.

Francis underlined that interreligious dialogue, before being a discussion of the main themes of faith, is a “conversation about human existence”. “This conversation shares the experiences of daily life in all its concreteness, with its joys and sufferings, its struggles and hopes; it takes on shared responsibilities; it plans a better future for all. We learn to live together, respecting each other’s differences freely; we know and accept one another’s identity. Through dialogue, a spirit of fraternity is recognised and developed, which unites and favours the promotion of moral values, justice, freedom and peace. Dialogue is a school of humanity and a builder of unity, which helps to build a society founded on tolerance and mutual respect”.

For this reason, “interreligious dialogue cannot be limited merely to the few, to leaders of religious communities, but must also extend as far as possible to all believers, engaging the different sectors of civil society. Particular attention must be paid to young men and women who are called to build the future of this country. It is always worth remembering, however, that for dialogue to be authentic and effective, it presupposes a solid identity: without an established identity, dialogue is of no use or even harmful. I say this with the young in mind, but it applies to everyone.

“I sincerely appreciate all that you have managed to accomplish up to this point and I encourage each of you in your efforts for the cause of peace of which you, as religious leaders, are the first guardians here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I assure you that the Catholic Church will continue to offer her full support and willingness to help”, the Pope emphasised. “We are all aware that there is a long way yet to go. Let us not be discouraged, however, by the difficulties, but rather continue with perseverance along the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. While we seek to recall the past with honesty, thereby learning the lessons of history, we must also avoid lamentation and recrimination, letting ourselves instead be purified by God Who gives us the present and the future: He is our future, He is the ultimate source of peace.

“This city, which in the recent past sadly became a symbol of war and destruction, this Jerusalem of Europe, today, with its variety of peoples, cultures and religions, can become again a sign of unity, a place in which diversity does not represent a threat but rather a resource, an opportunity to grow together. In a world unfortunately torn by conflicts, this land can become a message: attesting that it is possible to live together side by side, in diversity but rooted in a common humanity, building together a future of peace and brotherhood. You can live life being a peacemaker!”.

Following his discourse, and before asking all those present to pray for him and assuring them of his prayers, Pope Francis recited the following prayer “to the Eternal, One and True Living God, to the Merciful God”:

“Almighty and eternal God,
good and merciful Father;
Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is visible and invisible;
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,
King and Lord of the past, of the present and of the future;
sole judge of every man and woman,
Who reward Your faithful with eternal glory!

We, the descendants of Abraham according to our faith in You, the one God,
Jews, Christians and Muslims,
humbly stand before You
and with trust we pray to You
for this country, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
that men and women, followers of different religions, nations and cultures
may live here in peace and harmony.

We pray to You, O Father,
that it may be so in every country of the world!
Strengthen in each of us faith and hope,
mutual respect and sincere love
for all of our brothers and sisters.
Grant that we may dedicate ourselves
courageously to building a just society,
to being men and women of good will,
filled with mutual understanding and forgiveness,
patient artisans of dialogue and peace.

May each of our thoughts, words and actions
be in harmony with Your holy will.
May everything be to Your glory and honour and for our salvation.
Praise and eternal glory to You, our God!


 Why Israel Lies

By Chris Hedges

All governments lie, as I.F. Stone pointed out, including Israel and Hamas. But Israel engages in the kinds of jaw-dropping lies that characterize despotic and totalitarian regimes. It does not deform the truth; it inverts it. It routinely paints a picture for the outside world that is diametrically opposed to reality. And all of us reporters who have covered the occupied territories have run into Israel’s Alice-in-Wonderland narratives, which we dutifully insert into our stories—required under the rules of American journalism—although we know they are untrue.

I saw small boys baited and killed by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis. The soldiers swore at the boys in Arabic over the loudspeakers of their armored jeep. The boys, about 10 years old, then threw stones at an Israeli vehicle and the soldiers opened fire, killing some, wounding others. I was present more than once as Israeli troops drew out and shot Palestinian children in this way. Such incidents, in the Israeli lexicon, become children caught in crossfire. I was in Gaza when F-16 attack jets dropped 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on overcrowded hovels in Gaza City. I saw the corpses of the victims, including children. This became a surgical strike on a bomb-making factory. I have watched Israel demolish homes and entire apartment blocks to create wide buffer zones between the Palestinians and the Israeli troops that ring Gaza. I have interviewed the destitute and homeless families, some camped out in crude shelters erected in the rubble. The destruction becomes the demolition of the homes of terrorists. I have stood in the remains of schools—Israel struck two United Nations schools in the last six days, causing at least 10 fatalities at one in Rafah on Sunday and at least 19 at one in the Jebaliya refugee camp Wednesday—as well as medical clinics and mosques. I have heard Israel claim that errant rockets or mortar fire from the Palestinians caused these and other deaths, or that the attacked spots were being used as arms depots or launching sites. I, along with every other reporter I know who has worked in Gaza, have never seen any evidence that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.”

There is a perverted logic to Israel’s repeated use of the Big Lie—Gro?e L?ge—the lie favored by tyrants from Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin to Saddam Hussein. The Big Lie feeds the two reactions Israel seeks to elicit—racism among its supporters and terror among its victims.

By painting a picture of an army that never attacks civilians, that indeed goes out of its way to protect them, the Big Lie says Israelis are civilized and humane, and their Palestinian opponents are inhuman monsters. The Big Lie serves the idea that the slaughter in Gaza is a clash of civilizations, a war between democracy, decency and honor on one side and Islamic barbarism on the other. And in the uncommon cases when news of atrocities penetrates to the wider public, Israel blames the destruction and casualties on Hamas.

George Orwell in his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” called this form of propaganda doublethink. Doublethink uses “logic against logic” and “repudiate[s] morality while laying claim to it.” The Big Lie does not allow for the nuances and contradictions that can plague conscience. It is a state-orchestrated response to the dilemma of cognitive dissonance. The Big Lie permits no gray zones. The world is black and white, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous. The Big Lie allows believers to take comfort—a comfort they are desperately seeking—in their own moral superiority at the very moment they have abrogated all morality.

The Big Lie, as the father of American public relations, Edward Bernays, wrote, is limited only by the propagandist’s capacity to fathom and harness the undercurrents of individual and mass psychology. And since most supporters of Israel do not have a desire to know the truth, a truth that would force them to examine their own racism and self-delusions about Zionist and Western moral superiority, like packs of famished dogs they lap up the lies fed to them by the Israeli government. The Big Lie always finds fertile soil in what Bernays called the “logic-proof compartment of dogmatic adherence.” All effective propaganda, Bernays wrote, targets and builds upon these irrational “psychological habits.”

This is the world Franz Kafka envisioned, a world where the irrational becomes rational. It is one where, as Gustave Le Bon noted in “The Crowd: A Study of the Public Mind,” those who supply the masses with the illusions they crave become their master, and “whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.” This irrationality explains why the reaction of Israeli supporters to those who have the courage to speak the truth—Uri Avnery, Max Blumenthal, Noam Chomsky, Jonathan Cook, Norman Finkelstein, Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Ilan Papp?, Henry Siegman and Philip Weiss—is so rabid. That so many of these voices are Jewish, and therefore have more credibility than non-Jews who are among Israel’s cheerleaders, only ratchets up the level of hate.

But the Big Lie is also consciously designed to send a chilling message to Gaza’s Palestinians, who have lost large numbers of their dwellings, clinics, mosques, and power, water and sewage facilities, along with schools and hospitals, who have suffered some 1,650 deaths since this assault began—most of the victims women and children—and who have seen 400,000 people displaced from their homes. The Big Lie makes it clear to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions. The vast disparity between what Israel says and what Israel does tells the Palestinians that there is no hope. Israel will do and say whatever it wants. International law, like the truth, will always be irrelevant. There will never, the Palestinians understand from the Big Lie, be an acknowledgement of reality by the Israeli leadership.

The Israel Defense Forces website is replete with this black propaganda. “Hamas exploits the IDF’s sensitivity towards protecting civilian structures, particularly holy sites, by hiding command centers, weapons caches and tunnel entrances in mosques,” the IDF site reads. “In Hamas’ world, hospitals are command centers, ambulances are transport vehicles, and medics are human shields,” the site insists.

“... [Israeli] officers are tasked with an enormous responsibility: to protect Palestinian civilians on the ground, no matter how difficult that may be,” the site assures its viewers. And the IDF site provides this quote from a drone operator identified as Lt. Or. “I have personally seen rockets fired at Israel from hospitals and schools, but we couldn’t strike back because of civilians nearby. In one instance, we acquired a target but we saw that there were children in the area. We waited around, and when they didn’t leave we were forced to abort a strike on an important target.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, in a Big Lie of his own, said last month at a conference of Christians United for Israel that the Israeli army should be given the “Nobel Peace Prize …  a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”

The Big Lie destroys any possibility of history and therefore any hope for a dialogue between antagonistic parties that can be grounded in truth and reality. While, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, the ancient and modern sophists sought to win an argument at the expense of the truth, those who wield the Big Lie “want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality.” The old sophists, she said, “destroyed the dignity of human thought.” Those who resort to the Big Lie “destroy the dignity of human action.” The result, Arendt warned, is that “history itself is destroyed, and its comprehensibility.” And when facts no longer matter, when there is no shared history grounded in the truth, when people foolishly believe their own lies, there can be no useful exchange of information. The Big Lie, used like a bludgeon by Israel, as perhaps it is designed to be, ultimately reduces all problems in the world to the brutish language of violence. And when oppressed people are addressed only through violence they will answer only through violence.

This article was published at NationofChange at: http://www.nationofchange.org/why-israel-lies-1407246992. All rights are reserved.


I do not want to believe what Hedges has written. But over and over, throughout the years, otherwise decent people here in Kansas City have lied to protect Israel even when the matters are local and only tangentially related to Israel. Many of these are documented and some in local print.  So my personal knowledge and intimate experience require me to at least consider what Hedges has written, even as I detest the violence of Hamas. 

It is difficult to understand how Israel can continue to build settlements against international law and oppress those it occupies while claiming it wants peace.

Since Israel (through AIPAC) has purchased  the Congress, European govenments and the international community are the best hopes for a more balanced understanding of the requirements of justice,

NYTimes 2014 Aug 24
SundayReview | OPINION

The End of Liberal Zionism

Israel’s Move to the Right Challenges Diaspora Jews

LONDON — Liberal Zionists are at a crossroads. The original tradition of combining Zionism and liberalism — which meant ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, supporting a Palestinian state as well as a Jewish state with a permanent Jewish majority, and standing behind Israel when it was threatened — was well intentioned. But everything liberal Zionists stand for is now in doubt.

The decision of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to launch a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza has cost the lives, to date, of 64 soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side, and nearly 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians.

“Never do liberal Zionists feel more torn than when Israel is at war,” wrote Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian’s opinion editor and a leading British liberal Zionist, for The New York Review of Books last month. He’s not alone. Columnists like Jonathan Chait, Roger Cohen and Thomas L. Friedman have all riffed in recent weeks on the theme that what Israel is doing can’t be reconciled with their humanism.

But it’s not just Gaza, and the latest episode of “shock and awe” militarism. The romantic Zionist ideal, to which Jewish liberals — and I was one, once — subscribed for so many decades, has been tarnished by the reality of modern Israel. The attacks on freedom of speech and human rights organizations in Israel, the land-grabbing settler movement, a growing strain of anti-Arab and anti-immigrant racism, extremist politics, and a powerful, intolerant religious right — this mixture has pushed liberal Zionism to the brink.

In the United States, trenchant and incisive criticism of Israeli policies by commentators like Peter Beinart, one of liberal Zionism’s most articulate and prolific voices, is now common. But the critics go only so far — not least to avoid giving succor to anti-Semites, who use the crisis as cover for openly expressing hatred of Jews.

In the past, liberal Zionists in the Diaspora found natural allies among the left-wing and secular-liberal parties in Israel, like Labor, Meretz and Shinui. But Israel’s political left is now comatose. Beaten by Menachem Begin in the 1977 national elections, it briefly revived with Yitzhak Rabin and the hopes engendered by the 1993 Oslo Accords. But having clung to the Oslo process long past its sell-by date, the parliamentary left in Israel has become insignificant.

Diaspora Jewish politics has also changed. In the 1960s, when I was an enthusiastic young Zionist in England planning to settle on a kibbutz in Israel, some organizations had names virtually identical to Israeli political parties. This identification lasted only as long as the institutions that prevailed in Israel seemed to Diaspora Jews to reflect a liberal Zionist viewpoint.

Today, the dominant Diaspora organizations, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as a raft of largely self-appointed community leaders, have swung to the right, making unquestioning solidarity with Israel the touchstone of Jewish identity — even though majority Jewish opinion is by no means hawkish.

Though squeezed by a more vociferous and entrenched right, liberal Zionists have not given up without a fight. They found ways of pushing back, insisting that their two-state Zionism held out the only hope for an end to the conflict and setting up organizations to promote their outlook. J Street in America and Yachad in Britain, founded in 2008 and 2011 respectively, describe themselves as “pro-Israel and pro-peace” and have attracted significant numbers of people who seek a more critical engagement with Israel.

I became an Israeli citizen in 1970, and I am still one today. I worked in the Jewish community in research and philanthropic capacities for 30 years, serving the interests of Jews worldwide. But in the 1980s, I began to rethink my relationship with Israel and Zionism. As recently as 2007, while directing the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, an independent think tank, I still thought that liberal Zionism had a role to play. I believed that by encouraging Diaspora Jews to express reservations about Israeli policy in public, liberal Zionism could influence the Israeli government to change its policies toward the Palestinians.

I still understood its dream of Israel as a moral and just cause, but I judged it anachronistic. The only Zionism of any consequence today is xenophobic and exclusionary, a Jewish ethno-nationalism inspired by religious messianism. It is carrying out an open-ended project of national self-realization to be achieved through colonization and purification of the tribe.

This mind-set blocks any chance Israel might have to become a full-fledged liberal-democratic state, and offers the Palestinians no path to national self-determination, no justice for their expulsion in 1948, nor for the occupation and the denial of their rights. I came to see the notion that liberal Zionism might reverse, or even just restrain, this nationalist juggernaut as fanciful.

I used my position at the think tank to raise questions about Israel’s political path and to initiate a community-wide debate about these issues. Na?ve? Probably. I was vilified by the right-wing Jewish establishment, labeled a “self-hating Jew” and faced public calls for me to be sacked. This just confirmed what I already knew about the myopia of Jewish leadership and the intolerance of many British Zionist activists.

Today, neither the destruction wreaked in Gaza nor the disgraceful antics of the anti-democratic forces that are setting Israel’s political agenda have produced a decisive shift in Jewish Diaspora opinion. Beleaguered liberal Zionists still struggle to reconcile their liberalism with their Zionism, but they are increasingly under pressure from Jewish dissenters on the left, like Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Independent Jewish Voices.

Along with many experts, most dissenting groups have long thought that the two-state solution was dead. The collapse of the peace talks being brokered by the American secretary of state, John Kerry, came as no surprise. Then, on July 11, Mr. Netanyahu definitively rejected any possibility of establishing an independent Palestinian state. The Gaza conflict meant, he said, that “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan” (meaning the West Bank).

Liberal Zionists must now face the reality that the dissenters have recognized for years: A de facto single state already exists; in it, rights for Jews are guaranteed while rights for Palestinians are curtailed. Since liberal Zionists can’t countenance anything but two states, this situation leaves them high and dry.

Liberal Zionists believe that Jewish criticism of Israeli policies is unacceptable without love of Israel. They embrace Israel as the Jewish state. For it to remain so, they insist it must have a Jewish majority in perpetuity. Yet to achieve this inevitably implies policies of exclusion and discrimination.

They’re convinced that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, but they fail to explain how to reconcile God’s supreme authority with the sovereign power of the people. Meanwhile, the self-appointed arbiters of what’s Jewish in the Jewish state — the extreme religious Zionists and the strictly Orthodox, aided and abetted by Jewish racists in the Knesset like Ayelet Shaked, a Jewish Home Party member who recently called for the mothers of Palestinian “snakes” to be killed — are trashing democracy more and more each day. Particularly shocking are the mass arrests — nearly 500 since the beginning of July — of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel for peacefully protesting, and the sanctions against Arab students at universities for posting pro-Gaza messages on social media.

Pushed to the political margins in Israel and increasingly irrelevant in the Diaspora, liberal Zionism not only lacks agency; worse, it provides cover for the supremacist Zionism dominant in Israel today. Liberal Zionists have become an obstacle to the emergence of a Diaspora Jewish movement that could actually be an agent of change.

The dissenting left doesn’t have all the answers, but it has the principles upon which solutions must be based. Both liberal Zionism and the left accept the established historical record: Jews forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes to make way for the establishment of a Jewish state. But the liberals have concluded that it was an acceptable price others had to pay for the state. The left accepts that an egregious injustice was done. The indivisibility of human, civil and political rights has to take precedence over the dictates of religion and political ideology, in order not to deny either Palestinians or Jews the right to national self-determination. The result, otherwise, will be perpetual conflict.

In the repressive one-state reality of today’s Israel, which Mr. Netanyahu clearly wishes to make permanent, we need a joint Israeli-Palestinian movement to attain those rights and the full equality they imply. Only such a movement can lay the groundwork for the necessary compromises that will allow the two peoples’ national cultures to flourish.

This aspiration is incompatible with liberal Zionism, and some liberal Zionists appear close to this conclusion, too. As Mr. Freedland put it, liberal Zionists “will have to decide which of their political identities matters more, whether they are first a liberal or first a Zionist.”

They should know that Israel is not Judaism. Jewish history did not culminate in the creation of the state of Israel.

Regrettably, there is a dearth of Jewish leaders telling Diaspora Jews these truths. The liberal Zionist intelligentsia should embrace this challenge, acknowledge the demise of their brand and use their formidable explanatory skills to build support for a movement to achieve equal rights and self-determination for all in Israel-Palestine.

Antony Lerman, a former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, is the author of “The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist.”


The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST

A War of Choice in Gaza
SEPT. 8, 2014 New York Times
Roger Cohen

LONDON — Another round of violence is over in the Holy Land. More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians and many of them children, have been killed. More than 70 Israelis are dead. The grass, in that appalling Israeli metaphor, has been mown (and will now start growing again). Hamas, through its resistance, has burnished its reputation among Palestinians. Israel is angrier. Nobody is better off.

Periodic eruptions are intrinsic to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy of maintaining the status quo of rule over millions of Palestinians, expansion of West Bank settlements and maneuver to deflect American mediation. Oppressed people will rise up. Israel’s anemic embrace of a two-state objective is the best possible cover for the evisceration of that aim. Still, the question arises: Was this mini-war necessary?

I think not. Certainly it was not in Israel’s strategic interest. Much mystery continues to shroud its genesis, the abduction on June 12 of three Israeli youths near Hebron and their murder, now attributed to a local Palestinian clan including Hamas operatives who acted without the knowledge or direction of the Hamas leadership. (There has been no major investigative piece in the American press on the incident, a troubling omission.)

But enough detail has emerged to make clear that Netanyahu leapt on “unequivocal proof” 
of Hamas responsibility (still unproduced) for political ends. The prime minister’s aim was to discredit Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, for reconciling with Hamas; vindicate the collapse of the peace talks Secretary of State John Kerry had pursued; stir up Israeli rage over the fate of the teenagers; sweep through the West Bank arresting hundreds of suspected Hamas members, including 58 released under the terms of an earlier deal with Hamas; and consolidate divide-and-rule.

Assaf Sharon of Tel Aviv University, the academic director of a liberal think tank in Jerusalem, has a powerful piece in The New York Review of Books. It makes the important point that Hamas was beleaguered before the violence, isolated by the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the rise of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. This weakness lay behind the reconciliation with Abbas. Netanyahu might have used this development to extend Abbas’s authority into a more open Gaza at the expense of Hamas, the very objective now apparently sought after so much needless loss of life.

For more than two weeks after the abduction, persuasive evidence that the teenagers were dead was kept from the Israeli public. A hugely emotional return-our-boys campaign was pursued while the recording of a phone call from one of those boys to the police in the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping was not divulged. In it, shots and cries of pain could be heard. As Shlomi Eldar wrote, 
“It was a murder in real time, horrifying and monstrous.” After it, “Those who heard the emergency call recording knew that the best one could hope for was to bring the boys to their final resting places.”

The effect of this concealment, whatever its justification, was to whip up an Israeli frenzy. This was the context in which a Palestinian teenager was killed by Israeli extremists. It was also the context of the drift to war: air campaign, Hamas rockets and tunnel raids, Israeli ground invasion. Drift is the operative word. Israel’s purpose was shifting. At different moments it included “zero rockets,” demilitarizing Gaza and destroying the tunnels. “Lacking clear aims, Israel was dragged, by its own actions, into a confrontation it did not seek and did not control,” Sharon writes.

The only certainty now is that this will happen again unless the situation in Gaza changes. That in turn necessitates Palestinian unity and renunciation of violence. It also hinges on a change in the Israeli calculus that settlement extension, a divided Palestinian movement, and vacuous blah-blah on a two-state peace are in its interest, whatever the intermittent cost in blood.

Two other recent pieces are essential reading in the aftermath of the fighting. The first is Connie Bruck’s “Friends of Israel”
in The New Yorker, an examination of the political sway of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby group. In it, she quotes Brian Baird, a former Democratic congressman, getting to the nub: “The difficult reality is this: in order to get elected to Congress, if you’re not independently wealthy, you have to raise a lot of money. And you learn pretty quickly that, if Aipac is on your side, you can do that.” She also quotes John Yarmuth, a congressman from Kentucky, on upholding the interests of the United States: “We all took an oath of office. And Aipac, in many instances, is asking us to ignore it.”

Finally, read Yehuda Shaul
 in The New Statesman on the corrosive effect of the occupation and his experience of military service in the West Bank: “We needed to erase the humanity of Palestinians along with our own humanity.”


Israel’s N.S.A. Scandal

COMMENT on the NY Times story about the US giving Israel unredacted information about individuals' private lives for political, not security, purposes --

Although I have many Jewish friends and have always supported the existence of the state of Israel, I have also sought justice for Palestinians. At one point, a leader in the Jewish community in line with the Israeli government here in Kansas City tried to damage my relationships with several prominent Muslims by intimating that I am homosexual. (The tactic backfired.) The lengths Israeli operatives will go to here on a relatively unimportant person (I merely founded the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council), makes Bamford's report credible to me.

Statement for the 2014
Gun Violence Community Forum
describing CRES

CRES --the Center for Religious Experience and Study, founded in 1982, is a Kansas City area institute promoting interfaith understanding. In 1989, we created the Interfaith Council as one of our many programs. Our work has been recognized by Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, a half-hour CBS-TV special, and numerous awards.

By using the wisdom from the world’s primal, Asian, and monotheistic religious traditions, CRES seeks to reverse the endangered environment, the violation of personhood, and the broken community so that we may be restored with nature, the self made whole, community joined in covenant, and the sacred found afresh. 

We favor sensible regulation of guns and ammunition to reduce violence and accidents which destroy lives and damage the social fabric. 

Our website is www.cres.org.

The Kansas City Star



   Pope John Paul II once wrote that “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”
   Faith and reason are faculties of the soul that are aimed at the same ultimate goal, and therefore faith and reason cannot contradict.
   Many tenets of faith cannot be adequately tested by reason — for example, no empirical or logical evidence can prove or disprove the belief that God loves us — but other tenets of faith can be placed under philosophical and scientific scrutiny.
   For those of us who put such faith in reason, we must recognize that discoveries of certain facts may force us to change our beliefs. For example, if it can be proved that Jesus never rose from the dead, then we must renounce Christianity.
   This puts us in an interesting position. If, through the use of reason, we discover a certain fact that conflicts with our religious life, we must change that life.
   This illustrates an interesting trend within our present culture. I subscribe to the traditional view that, when truth is discovered, one must respond to that truth by incorporating it into one’s life.
   The current trend seems to be the opposite: Nowadays many people respond to the facts not by changing their lifestyle, but changing the facts.
   I do not mean this in the Orwellian sense — such fact-changing occurs at a much less noticeable level. Take, for example, the traditional Christian teaching that contraception violates the natural law.
   It is a clear fact that artificial birth control is contrary to the natural result of the conjugal act, namely, the inherently good creation of a new life.
   But rather than change one’s life in response to this fact, the more common option in today’s world is to change the fact. Many people now claim that the production of life is not the natural result of intercourse.
   They do this even though this fact is a central assumption of contemporary evolutionary biology, and there has been new scientific discovery that has called it into question.
   I only raise this example because it gives us a sociological picture of what we deal with on a daily basis. Any time we enter into sin, it is because we would rather ignore the truth than look to God for the strength to change our lives.
   Of course, I struggle with this. We all do. But we must remember that we are created by God to respond to the truth through our faculties of faith and reason. When we ignore truth for the pursuit of our own desires, we fail to be the faithful and rational creatures God intended us to be.

   Michael Hayes may be reached at faith@kcstar.com

Dear Mr Hayes--

Thank you for writing well for The Star.

In reading your column for today, I wondered if you were curious about how others might see the "natural result of the conjugal act." Seeing this differently might lead to a different conclusion about whether "artificial birth control is contrary to the natural result of the conjugal act."

If you are curious, here is one of many possible different ways of looking at sex:

    The natural result of the conjugal act is pleasure. 
I believe biologists would say that this is true far more frequently than the creation of a new human being. And in two-thirds of those cases when the egg is fertilized, nature (or God) aborts the process by failure of the fertilized egg to implant in the uterus. Thereafter, miscarriages occur 15-20% of the time. So the case statistically is overwhelming that it is far more likely that the "natural result of the conjugal act" -- for both partners -- is pleasure, not the creation of a new human being. And of course there are couples who are infertile or simply beyond child-bearing years. Should they be denied the blessings of conjugal bonding because no child can result?
But, frankly, I wonder if we are looking too narrowly when we think biologically. What about spiritually?
    Perhaps the "natural result of the conjugal act" is an emotional and spiritual bonding between partners. This might be called Love. Scripture says, "God is Love." One way of looking at the "conjugal act" is spiritually, and the expression and deepening of love through the divine gift of sexuality might be the chief "natural result of the conjugal act."

For couples who cannot afford another child, or who would face medical dangers in pregnancy, contraception may offer the security that enhances the expression of love, and therefore should be praised.

Thank you for your provocative column. I would be grateful for any thoughts you might have in response to my comments and questions.

Vern Barnet


SUNDAY, NOV 23, 2014 05:59 AM CST

Karen Armstrong on Sam Harris and Bill Maher: “It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps”

Blaming religion for violence, says Karen Armstrong, allows us to dismiss the violence we've exported worldwide


Karen Armstrong has written histories of Buddhism and Islam. She has written a history of myth. She has written a history of God. Born in Britain, Armstrong studied English at Oxford, spent seven years as a Catholic nun, and then, after leaving the convent, took a brief detour toward hard-line atheism. During that period, she produced writing that, as she later described it, “tended to the Dawkinsesque.”
     Since then, Armstrong has emerged as one of the most popular — and prolific — writers on religion. Her works are densely researched, broadly imagined and imbued with a sympathetic curiosity. They deal with cosmic topics, but they’re accessible enough that you might (just to give a personal example) spend 15 minutes discussing Armstrong books with a dental hygienist in the midst of a routine cleaning.
     In her new book, “Fields of Blood,” Armstrong lays out a history of religious violence, beginning in ancient Sumer and stretching into the 21st century. Most writers would — wisely — avoid that kind of breadth. Armstrong harnesses it to a larger thesis. She suggests that when people in the West dismiss violence as a backward byproduct of religion, they’re being lazy and self-serving. Blaming religion, Armstrong argues, allows Westerners to ignore the essential role that violence has played in the formation of our own societies — and the essential role that our societies have played in seeding violence abroad.
     Reached by phone in New York, Armstrong spoke with Salon about nationalism, Sept. 11 and the links between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

S: Over the course of your career, you’ve developed something of a reputation as an apologist for religion. Is that a fair characterization? If so, why do you think faith needs defenders?

A: I don’t like the term “apologist.” The word “apologia” in Latin meant giving a rational explanation for something, not saying that you’re sorry for something. I’m not apologizing for religion in that derogatory sense.

After I left my convent I thought, “I’ve had it with religion, completely had it,” and I only fell into this by sheer accident after a series of career disasters. My encounters with other faith traditions showed me first how parochial my original understanding of religion had been, and secondly made me see my own faith in a different way. All the faith traditions have their own particular genius, but they also all have their own particular flaws or failings, because we are humans and we have a fabulous ability to foul things up.

The people who call me an apologist are often those who deride religion as I used to do, and I’ve found that former part of my life to have been rather a limited one.

S: Your new book is a history of religion and violence. You point out, though, that the concept of “religion” didn’t even exist before the early modern period. What exactly are we talking about, then, when we talk about religion and violence before modern times?

A: First of all, there is the whole business about religion before the modern period never having been considered a separate activity but infusing and cohering with all other activities, including state-building, politics and warfare. Religion was part of state-building, and a lot of the violence of our world is the violence of the state. Without this violence we wouldn’t have civilization. Agrarian civilization depended upon a massive structural violence. In every single culture or pre-modern state, a small aristocracy expropriated the serfs and peasants and kept them at subsistence level.

This massive, iniquitous system is responsible for our finest achievements, and historians tell us that without this iniquitous system we probably wouldn’t have progressed beyond subsistence level. Therefore, we are all implicated in this violence. No state, however peace-loving it claims to be, can afford to disband its army, so when people say religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history this is a massive oversimplification. Violence is at the heart of our lives, in some form or another.

S: How do ritual and religion become entangled with this violence?

A: Well, because state-building was imbued with religious ideology. Every state ideology before the modern period was essentially religious. Trying to extract religion from political life would have been like trying to take the gin out of a cocktail. Things like road-building were regarded as a sort of sacred activity.

Politics was imbued with religious feeling. The prophets of Israel, for example, were deeply political people. They castigated their rulers for not looking after the poor; they cried out against the system of agrarian injustice. Jesus did the same, Mohammed and the Quran do the same. Sometimes, religion permeates the violence of the state, but it also offers the consistent critique of that structural and martial violence.

S: Is it possible to disentangle that critiquing role from the role of supporting state structures?

A: I think in the West we have peeled them apart. We’ve separated religion and politics, and this was a great innovation. But so deeply embedded in our consciousness is the desire to give our lives some meaning and significance that no sooner did we do this than we infused the new nation-state with a sort of quasi-religious fervor. If you regard the sacred as something for which we are willing to give our lives, in some senses the nation has replaced God, because it’s now not acceptable to die for religion, but it is admirable to die for your country.

Certainly in the United States, your national feeling, whether people believe in God or not, has a great spiritual or transcendent relevance — “God bless America,” for example; the hand on the heart, the whole ethos. We do the same in the U.K. with our royal weddings. Even in our royal weddings, the aristocracy are all in military uniform.

S: Ah, that’s a great observation.

A: In your great parades, you know, when a president dies, there’s the army there.

The religiously articulated state would persecute heretics. They were usually protesting against the social order rather than arguing about theology, and they were seen as a danger to the social order that had to be eliminated. That’s been replaced. Now we persecute our ethnic minorities or fail to give them the same rights.

S: I’d like to go deeper into this comparison between nationalism and religion. Some people would say that the ultimate problem, here, is a strain of irrationality in our society. They would argue that we need to purge this irrationality wherever we see it, whether it appears in the form of religion or nationalism. How would you respond?

A: I’m glad you brought that up, because nationalism is hardly rational. But you know, we need mythology in our lives, because that’s what we are. I agree, we should be as rational as we possibly can, especially when we’re dealing with the fates of our own populations and the fates of other peoples. But we don’t, ever. There are always the stories, the myths we tell ourselves, that enable us to inject some kind of ultimate significance, however hard we try to be rational.

Communism was said to be a more rational way to organize a society, and yet it was based on a complete myth that became psychotic. Similarly, the French revolutionaries were imbued with the spirit of the Enlightenment and erected the goddess of reason on the altar of Notre Dame. But in that same year they started the Reign of Terror, where they publicly beheaded 17,000 men, women and children.

We’re haunted by terrible fears and paranoias. We’re frightened beings. When people are afraid, fear takes over and brings out all kind of irrationality. So, yes, we’re constantly striving to be rational, but we’re not wholly rational beings. Purging isn’t an answer, I think. When you say “purging,” I have visions of some of the catastrophes of the 20th century in which we tried to purge people, and I don’t like that kind of language.

S: Let’s try a different analogy: Perhaps our search for narrative and meaning is a bit like a fire. It can go out of control and burn people pretty badly. Seeing this destruction, some people say we should just put out the fire whenever we can. There are others who argue that the fire will always be there, that it has benefits, and that we need to work with it to the best of our abilities. And you’re sort of in the latter camp, yes?

A: I would say so … If we lack meaning, if we fail to find meaning in our lives, we could fall very easily into despair. One of the forensic psychiatrists who have interviewed about 500 people involved in the 9/11 atrocity, and those lone-wolves like the Boston Marathon people, has found that one of the principal causes for their turning to these actions was a sense of lack of meaning; a sense of meaningless and purposelessness and hopelessness in their lives. I think lack of meaning is a dangerous thing in society.

There’s been a very strong void in modern culture, despite our magnificent achievements. We’ve seen the nihilism of the suicide bomber, for example. A sense of going into a void.

S: In “Fields of Blood,” you explore how the material needs of people can give rise to more abstract ideas. So, speaking about nihilism as something particular to the modern era: Are there political or social conditions that underlie this sense of meaninglessness?

A: Yes. The suicide bomber has been analyzed by Robert Tate of the University of Chicago, who has made a study of every single suicide bombing from 1980 to 2004. He has found that it’s always a response to the invasion of the homeland by a militarily superior power. People feel their space is invaded, and they resort to this kind of action because they can’t compete with the invaders. [Suicide bombing] was a ploy [first] used by the Tamil Tigers, who had no time for religion. Of the many Lebanese bombings [in the 1980s], only seven of them were committed by Muslims, three by Christians. The rest, some 17 or so, were committed by secularists and socialists coming in from Syria.

I think a sense of hopelessness is particularly evident in the suicide bombings of Hamas, where these young people live in refugee camps in Gaza, with really very little hope or very little to look forward to. People who talk to survivors of these actions found that the desire to die a heroic death, to go out in a blaze of glory and at least have some meaning in their lives and be venerated and remembered after their death, was the driving factor.

S: There’s a line in your book that struck me: “Terrorism is fundamentally and inherently political, even when other motives, religious, economic, and social, are involved. Terrorism is always about power.”

A: I think I’m quoting some terrorist specialist there.

Even when [terrorists] claim to be doing it for Allah, they’re also doing it for political motives. It’s very clear in bin Laden’s discourse. He talks about God and Allah and Islam and the infidels and all that, but he had very clear political aims and attitudes towards Saudi Arabia, towards Western involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. The way he talked always about Zionists and crusaders rather than Jews and Christians — these are political terms. Since the early 20th century the term “crusade” has come to stand for Western imperialism.

In the Hamas martyr videos, the young martyr will segue very easily from mentioning Allah the Lord of the world, and then within a couple of words he’s talking about the liberation of Palestine — it’s pure nationalism — and then he’s into a third-world ideology, saying his death will be a beacon of hope to all the oppressed people who are suffering at the hands of the Western world. These things are mixed up in that cocktail in his mind, but there’s always a strong political element, not just a going towards God.

In fact, all our motivation is always mixed. As a young nun, I spent years trying to do everything purely for God, and it’s just not possible. Our self-interest and other motivations constantly flood our most idealistic efforts. So, yes, terrorism is always about power — wanting to get power, or destroy the current power-holders, or pull down the edifices of power which they feel to be oppressive or corruptive in some way.

S: How direct is the link between colonial policies in the Middle East and a terrorist attack in New York or London?

A: I think — and I speak as a British person — when I saw the towers fall on September 11, one of the many, many thoughts that went through my head was, “We helped to do this.” The way we split up these states, created these nation-states that ISIS is pulling asunder, showed absolutely no regard for the people concerned. Nationalism was completely alien to the region; they had no understanding of it. The borders were cobbled together with astonishing insouciance and self-interest on the part of the British.

Plus, a major cause of unrest and alienation has always been humiliation. Islam was, before the colonial period, the great world power, rather like the United States today. It was reduced overnight to a dependent bloc and treated by the colonialists with frank disdain. That humiliation has rankled, and it would rankle, I think, here in the States. Supposing in a few decades you are demoted by China, it may not be so pretty here.

Every fundamentalist movement that I’ve studied, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation.

S: So, when we in the West talk about religion as the cause of this violence, how much are we letting ourselves off the hook, and using religion as a way to ignore our role in the roots of this violence?

A: We’re in danger of making a scapegoat of things, and not looking at our own part in this. When we look at these states and say, “Why can’t they get their act together? Why can’t they see that secularism is the better way? Why are they so in thrall to this benighted religion of theirs? What savages they are,” and so on, we’ve forgotten to see our implication in their histories.

We came to modernity under our own steam. It was our creation. It had two characteristics. One of these was independence — your Declaration of Independence is a typical modernizing document. And you have thinkers and scientists demanding free thought and independent thinking. This was essential to our modernity. But in the Middle East, in the colonized countries, modernity was a colonial subjection, not independence.

Without a sense of independence and a driving force for innovation, however many skyscrapers and fighter jets you may possess, and computers and technological gadgets, without these qualities you don’t really have the modern spirit. That modern spirit is almost impossible to acquire in countries where modernity has been imposed from outside.

S: When you hear, for example, Sam Harris and Bill Maher recently arguing that there’s something inherently violent about Islam — Sam Harris said something like “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas” — when you hear something like that, how do you respond?

A: It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe. This is the kind of thing people were saying about Jews in the 1930s and ’40s in Europe.

This is how I got into this, not because I’m dying to apologize, as you say, for religion, or because I’m filled with love and sympathy and kindness for all beings including Muslims — no. I’m filled with a sense of dread. We pride ourselves so much on our fairness and our toleration, and yet we’ve been guilty of great wrongs. Germany was one of the most cultivated countries in Europe; it was one of the leading players in the Enlightenment, and yet we discovered that a concentration camp can exist within the same vicinity as a university.

There has always been this hard edge in modernity. John Locke, apostle of toleration, said the liberal state could under no circumstances tolerate the presence of either Catholics or Muslims. Locke also said that a master had absolute and despotical power over a slave, which included the right to kill him at any time.

That was the attitude that we British and French colonists took to the colonies, that these people didn’t have the same rights as us. I hear that same disdain in Sam Harris, and it fills me with a sense of dread and despair.

S: Is Islamophobia today comparable to anti-Semitism?

A: Let’s hope not. It’s deeply enshrined in Western culture. It goes right back to the Crusades, and the two victims of the crusaders were the Jews in Europe and the Muslims in the Middle East.

S: Right, because Jews along the crusaders’ routes would be massacred —

A: They became associated in the European mind. We’ve recoiled, quite rightly, from our anti-Semitism, but we still have not recoiled from our Islamophobia. That has remained. It’s also very easy to hate people we’ve wronged. If you wrong somebody there’s a huge sense of resentment and distress. That is there, and that is part of it, too.

I remember speaking at NATO once, and a German high officer of NATO got up and spoke of the Turks resident in Germany, the migrant workers who do the work, basically, that Germans don’t want to do. He said, “Look, I don’t want to see these people. They must eat in their own restaurants. I don’t want to see them, they must disappear. I don’t want to see them in the streets in their distinctive dress, I don’t want to seem their special restaurants, I don’t want to see them.” I said, “Look, after what happened in Germany in the 1930s, we cannot talk like that, as Europeans, about people disappearing.”

Similarly, a Dutch person got up and said, “This is my culture, and these migrants are destroying and undermining our cultural achievements.” I said, “Now you, as the Netherlands, a former imperial power, are beginning to get a pinprick of the pain that happened when we went into these countries and changed them forever. They’re with us now because we went to them first; this is just the next stage of colonization. We made those countries impossible to live in, so here they are now with us.”

S: How should one respond to something like the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, or the threat of terrorism that originates in Muslim countries?

A: Saudi Arabia is a real problem, there’s no doubt about it. It has been really responsible, by using its massive petrol dollars, for exporting its extraordinarily maverick and narrow form of Islam all over the world. Saudis are not themselves extremists, but the narrowness of their religious views are antithetical to the traditional pluralism of Islam.

We’ve turned a blind eye to what the Saudis do because of oil, and because we see them as a loyal ally, and because, during the Cold War, we approved of their stance against Soviet influence in the Middle East.

Fundamentalism represents a rebellion against modernity, and one of the hallmarks of modernity has been the liberation of women. There’s nothing in the Quran to justify either the veiling or the seclusion of women. The Quran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce, legal rights we didn’t have in the West until the 19th century.

That’s what I feel about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. It’s iniquitous, and it’s certainly not Quranic.

S: Where do you, as someone outside of a tradition, get the authority to say what is or isn’t Quranic?

A: I talk to imams and Muslims who are in the traditions.

S: I think it’s easy to say, “Well the text isn’t binding” when you see something in there that you don’t like. But when you see something in the text that you do want to uphold, it’s tempting to go, “Oh, look, it’s in the text.”

Oh, it is. We do it with all our foundation texts — you’re always arguing about the Constitution, for example. It’s what we do. Previously, before the modern period, the Quran was never read in isolation. It was always read from the viewpoint of a long tradition of complicated, medieval exegesis which actually reined in simplistic interpretation. That doesn’t apply to these freelancers who read “Islam for Dummies” …

S: – and then do with it what they will.

A: Yes.



Kansas City Star Letter to Editor
submitted 2014 Dec 11
published Dec 16

Yoder’s missteps

According to the Dec. 11 New York Times, “Furor over move to aid big banks in funding bill,” by Jonathan Weisman, Kansas Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder inserted language, written by Citigroup, to eliminate the Dodd-Frank protection taxpayers have against having to pay for the banks’ mistakes in another financial crisis, as part of the spending bill decried by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

It sounds like Kansas’ financial irresponsibility is quite fashionable among Republicans nationwide.

Vern Barnet
Kansas City

How Politics Has Poisoned Islam
Mustafa Akyol FEB. 3, 2016 

ISTANBUL — We Muslims like to believe that ours is “a religion of peace,” but today Islam looks more like a religion of conflict and bloodshed. From the civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to internal tensions in Lebanon and Bahrain, to the dangerous rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Middle East is plagued by intra-Muslim strife that seems to go back to the ancient Sunni-Shiite rivalry.

Religion is not actually at the heart of these conflicts — invariably, politics is to blame. But the misuse of Islam and its history makes these political conflicts much worse as parties, governments and militias claim that they are fighting not over power or territory but on behalf of God. And when enemies are viewed as heretics rather than just opponents, peace becomes much harder to achieve.

This conflation of religion and politics poisons Islam itself, too, by overshadowing all the religion’s theological and moral teachings. The Quran’s emphasis on humility and compassion is sidelined by the arrogance and aggressiveness of conflicting groups.

A suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque in Sana, Yemen, late last year. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
This is not a new problem in Islam. During the seventh-century leadership of the Prophet Muhammad, whose authority was accepted by all believers, Muslims were a united community. But soon after the prophet’s death, a tension arose that escalated to bloodshed. The issue was not how to interpret the Quran or how to understand the prophet’s lessons. It was about political power: Who — as the caliph, or successor to the prophet — had the right to rule?

This political question even pit the prophet’s widow Aisha against his son-in-law Ali. Their followers killed one another by the thousands in the infamous Battle of the Camel in 656. The next year, they fought the even bloodier Battle of Siffin, where followers of Ali and Muawiyah, the governor of Damascus, crossed swords, deepening the divisions that became the Sunni-Shiite split that persists today.

In other words, unlike the early Christians, who were divided into sects primarily through theological disputes about the nature of Christ, early Muslims were divided into sects over political disputes about who should rule them.

It is time to undo this conflation of religion and politics. Instead of seeing this politicization of religion as natural — or even, as some Muslims do, something to be proud of — we should see it as a problem that requires a solution.

This solution should start with a paradigm shift about the very concept of the “caliphate.” It’s not just that the savage Islamic State has hijacked this concept for its own brutal purposes. The problem goes deeper: Traditional Muslim thought regarded the caliphate as an inherent part of Islam, unintentionally politicizing the faith for centuries. But it was not mandated by either the Quran or the prophet, but instead was a product of the historical, political experience of the Muslim community.

Moreover, once Muslim thought viewed the caliphate as an integral part of the religion, political leaders and Islamic scholars built an authoritarian political tradition around it. As long as the caliph was virtuous and law-abiding, Islamic thinkers obliged Muslims to obey him. This tradition did not consider, however, that virtue was relative, power itself had a corrupting influence and even legitimate rulers could have legitimate opponents.

In the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire, then the seat of the caliphate, took a major step forward in the Muslim political tradition by importing Western liberal norms and institutions. The sultan’s powers were limited, an elected Parliament was established and political parties were allowed. This promising effort, which would make the caliph the head of a British-style democratic monarchy, was only half-successful. It ended when republican Turkey abolished the very institution of the caliphate after World War I.

The birth of the modern-day Islamist movement was a reaction to this post-caliphate vacuum. The overly politicized Islamists not only kept the traditional view that religion and state are inseparable, they even recast religion as state. “True religion is no more than the system which God had decreed to govern the affairs of human life,” Sayyid Qutb, a prominent Islamist ideologue, wrote in the 1960s. And since God would never actually come down to govern human affairs, Islamists would do it in his name.

Not all Islamic thinkers took this line. The 20th-century scholar Said Nursi saw politics not as a sacred realm, but rather a devilish zone of strife. “I seek refuge in God from Satan and politics,” he wrote. His followers built an Islamic civil society movement in Turkey, asking only religious freedom from the state. Contemporary Muslim academics such as Abdelwahab El-Affendi and Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im have articulated powerful Islamic arguments for embracing a liberal secularism that respects religion. They rightly point out that Muslims need secularism to be able to practice their religion as they see fit. I would add that Muslims also need secularism to save religion from serving as handmaiden to unholy wars of domination.

None of this means that Islam, with core values of justice, should be totally blind to politics. Religion can play a constructive role in political life, as when it inspires people to speak truth to power. But when Islam merges with power, or becomes a rallying cry in power struggles, its values begin to fade.

Mustafa Akyol is the author of “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” and a contributing opinion writer.


Is It Wrong to Watch Football?

His body wrecked at 36, Antwaan Randle El regrets ever playing in the National Football League. After he died of an overdose of pain medication at 27, Tyler Sash was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. Concussion diagnoses have increased by about a third since the league let independent medical officials assess players. And it seems that with each N.F.L. veteran’s death, another diagnosis of C.T.E. is revealed.

How can fans enjoy watching a game that helps ruin players’ lives?

[See http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/02/05/is-it-wrong-to-watch-football for all entries to this discussion.]

Do You Like to Watch Football? 
Then Watch What Really Happens.

Markus Koch

Markus Koch played six years for the Washington Redskins, including on their Super Bowl championship team in 1988. He is a holistic health practitioner.

Football is a spectacle of extreme athleticism, controlled mayhem and violence that entertains our thirst for domination. To really appreciate the glories of the game and what it does, though, maybe fans should watch more of it, and get closer to the real game.

Perhaps, to really show the game fully and augment the experience, telemetric technology imbedded in uniforms could inform viewers of the condition of the anterior cruciate ligament, broken forearm or separated shoulder of their favorite players. 

Helmets could discolor and ooze when the dura mater in a player’s cranium is damaged.

The N.F.L. could find yet another revenue stream with a downloadable app that could load metrics into a “game suit” featuring pneumatic devices allowing fans to feel every blindside sack by a 350-pound lineman, every “tremendous hit” experienced on the field.

So everyone should intensely watch that linebacker with the steel plate over the 14-day-old fracture in his arm as he throws himself into the fray, and really, really identify ourselves with our by our disposable Sunday afternoon hero.

Better yet, if we can stomach it, how about 24-hour coverage of what he’s gone through in the days leading up to his moments of fleeting glory? Did the screws go into his arm cleanly as the surgeon installed the plate? Is the Toradol and Novocaine kicking in?

My God, how brave and proud we must feel! Watch. Watch closely. See everything.

Nobody, outside of our families -- if they’ve been able to stick it out – gets to see the underpinnings of our bravery, our pride and perhaps our greed.

Years later, when the cameras are gone, and our minds go “funny,” our legs don’t work, our backs are a contracted morass of inflexible knots that won’t let us sit in a chair with the kids at Christmas, we’ll resort to bottles and pills that we don’t want our kids to know about. By then, we’ll be on our own. 

Once, everyone wanted to watch us. Once, we wanted everyone to see us play. But now, unless a player is arrested after flying into a violent rage, or blows out his C.T.E.-infused brains under a highway overpass, there will be no televised coverage of our greatest challenges.

Vern opines: Football is addictive. It releases some of the same chemicals in the brain that are associated with drugs and other behaviors. It is a patriotic American addition. It corrupts cities, schools, and governments. Some of the folks I love have this addiction, and I know I am susceptible myself. Football weakens our social fabric (rapes and violence increase after games) and lowers the level of political discourse with far more competitive than cooperative (team) metaphors. I haven't mentioned how it damages players' brains physically.


Why Israel Lies
     by Chris Hedges

The End of Liberal Zionism
     by Antony Lermanaug

Worship elements for 160710
at Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church

Call to Worship Minister and Members of the Congregation 
M. Into each other's company we gather after births, after deaths,
1. to search in the eyes of each other wider wisdom for our ways,
2. to give the hand that makes joy in the journey
3. to take our places in the cosmos with Buddha, Christ, Yahweh, Shiva, Zeus, Confucius,
4. and with Aton, Gilgamesh, Allah, Thor, Coyote, Kami, Br'er Rabbit, and historical inevitability;
5. with gods and demons, lobbyists and congressmen, with Socrates, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi,
6. with Malala Yousafzai, Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, Lincoln, Marie Curie, Martin Luther King Jr, and Sappho;
7. with universities, legislative districts, multi-national corporations, the GNP and IRS; 
8. with the military-industrial complex, the National Rifle Association, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and J Street;
9. with ghosts of slaughtered millions, terrorist threats, and a heritage of nameless generations;
10. with exploitation and oppression here and abroad, and rising inequalities and prejudice;
11. with the Koch Brothers, Governor Brownback, and bullying and ignorance and money in politics;
12. with ids, egos, moieties, computers, and all sentient beings;
13. with unaccountable acts of understanding and compassion,
14. with the beauties of nature still unsullied, so overwhelming we sometimes gasp, 
15. with works of painting, music, architecture, theater, and dance so inspiring we sometimes become part of the art,
16. with communities of faith committed to service in love. 
17. In such a company we light our chalice and our way;
18. We illumine faces of anguish and ecstasy, apathy and energy, that hide the darkness of infinite being,
19. for the flame and the shadow create each other as we create ourselves:
20. Innumerable gods and goddesses are we, sporting in the universe, dancing in the stillness of the void,
21. carrying flames to the edge of the abyss,
22. and wondering together at the magnitude and multitude and mystery of creation.

Meditation spoken together
We who stand in the presence of holiness
Admit to ourselves and to each other--
That sometimes our joy is so great we lose self-consciousness and become one with the flow around us;
That our love is so expansive we accept with gratitude all that is, and practice compassion without limit;
That as a result we and others have lived fully with faith.
We also admit to ourselves and to each other--
That sometimes we allow ourselves to be distracted, losing sight of our center,
That we have done things we ought not to have done, 
And left undone things we ought to have done;
That as a result we and others have suffered brokenness.
We ask now from ourselves, each other, and Processes of cure,
that divisive thoughts be healed,
that harsh words may be forgiven,
that unwise actions may be redeemed,
As we resolve to see this day as a new Day of Creation.

The World’s Faiths and the Three Crises of our Time

I contribute thoughts for the DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION SUMMIT not from a particular faith tradition but as an overview of humanity’s religious urges from the Paleolithic to the present. My perspective is informed by study of religious phenomenology with some of the world’s great scholars, a career focused on interfaith work, wide travel, and community engagement including founding the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, chairing the Jackson County 9/11 Diversity Task Force, teaching in area seminaries and universities, and writing a weekly “Faith and Beliefs” column for The Kansas City Star and interacting with its readers for eighteen years. 

Modern world civilization is diseased because we have greatly diminished the essential ingredients of health: an intimacy with wonder, a temperament of gratitude, and a passion for service. We have lost a sense of the sacred as revealed in the world’s religions in three different arenas: nature, personhood, and society. 

As a result, the plague of our desacralized culture presents three parallel symptoms of our moribund extremities: our environmental crisis, the uncertainties of personhood, and a destructively partisan, exploitative society here and elsewhere. As the accompanying chart indicates, each symptom corresponds to the three realms in which the world’s religions have discovered and emphasized the sacred, which can be described as “that on which our lives depend.” 

* In PRIMAL FAITHS (such as traditions we have not yet completely extinguished, including the American Indian, tribal African, and Wiccan, as well as the ancient traditions of Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Maya and the Inca), we find ecological awe: nature is respected more than controlled; nature is a process which includes us, not a product external to us to be used or disposed of. Our proper attitude toward nature is wonder, not consumption.

* In ASIAN RELIGIONS (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism) we rediscover the awe of genuine personhood as our actions proceed spontaneously and responsibly from duty and compassion, without ultimate attachment to their results.

* In MONOTHEISTIC TRADITIONS (including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the awesome work of God is manifest in history’s flow toward justice when peoples are governed less by profit and winning and more by the covenant of service.

The wisdom from these three families of faith was identified in the 2001 “Gifts of Pluralism” conference held in Kansas City, and celebrated in a unanimous Concluding Conference Declaration. Today many traditions are more visible and encountering each other as never before. This religious pluralism is not a threat; it is a gift. It is essential to our health. We are beginning to see that the three realms of the sacred interpenetrate and compose each other, different dimensions of a single reality, in ways largely hidden from previous generations. 

But we are still distracted and benumbed by particular and competing partial agendas instead of noticing—beholding—the sacred in all its expressions in a unitive vision. To each faith, interfaith exchange promises a deep and fresh understanding of its own tradition. To those faiths in respectful interchange, it also promises mutual purification. This in turn draws us to the restoration of nature, the recovery of the wholesome self, and the life of a community of love. 

We can pull back from the three great crises of our time by immersing ourselves in the wisdom of the world’s faiths and enacting their wisdom in wonder, gratitude, and service.

The Rev. Vern Barnet, DMn
minister emeritus
Center for Religious Experience and Study


for auto
    I was able to survive the desperation of my first two years in college because of Beethoven's Last Quartets, particularly the C-Sharp Minor (14) and the A Minor (15). I did not have money for a proper phonograph, but I found an abandoned turn-table, made a tone arm out of copper tubing, and brought a cheap needle and cartridge to affix to the tubing, and wore out the records I had somehow acquired. (Page 93 of my book includes a famous passage from the F Major Quartet.) I love the symphonies well-performed (Michael Stern and the KC Symphony did a wretched job this season on the 8th), and particularly the energy of the 7th and the drama of the 9th, which leads to magnificent appropriation.
    But I favor Beethoven's chamber music over the symphonies. Less is more. The late works especially are more intimate and transcendent at the same time. About 20 years ago, I became obsessed with the piano sonatas, and particularly the late ones, and most especially #29, the "Hammerklavier," which I listened to every day for several years, obtained the score, and, by raiding 2nd-hand CD stores, have acquired over a dozen recordings of this rarely-performed masterpiece. The third movement, which follows the playful second, which follows the astonishing first, compares with the most mystical passages of the Last Quartets. This third movement is not very accessible at first hearing, and begins in a most inconsequential way, but lifts to the highest heaven and penetrates the darkest recesses of the heart. The CD performances range in length for this single movement from 14 to 23 minutes, amazingly different interpretations, yet all valid; I know of no other piece of music so elastic. The final movement is fugal, one of the most difficult pieces anyone ever wrote, a tour de force that leaves you simply aghast and dumbfounded.

I was severely depressed but the quartets (esp A minor & C sharp minor) showed me the nature of the darkness and charted the way through the struggle to a sublime affirmation. The Grosse Fuge is a difficult labyrinth, full of surprising twists and turns, changing the traveler as he journeys through the roughest terrain and emerges with an unshakable confidence and sweetness.

I figure the Mar 16 program arranged by Friends of Chamber Music may be the last time in my life I'll get to hear a live performance of the Beethoven Quartet # 13 B Flat Op 130 with the original Grosse Fuge, so I'm preparing by studying the 40-page analysis in Joseph de Marliave's book on  the Quartet?s?
and the Wikipedia page on the fugue.
     I hope your space in the paper will allow you to point out this precious opportunity.
     Although my favorite Q's are the ones in C sharp minor (14) and A minor (15), the spiritual revelations of the "Last Quartets" together saved my life when I was a college freshman, so I am duty-bound to suggest your brilliant writing draw attention to this opportunity if the other demands on your space permit.

GHTC survey Holy Week excerpt
I strongly, emphatically, suggest, not just for Easter Vigil but for most regular large congregational services when any number of the congregation feels it appropriate  to exercise the option on BCP page 362/368/373 following the Sanctus et Benedictus to express a sense of reverence after acclaiming, through the recitation or chanting of the text, of the holiness and advent of the divine by kneeling, that the presider allow sufficient time for folks to get to the kneelers before continuing with the Eucharistic Prayer. Failing to do so is like inviting guests to a special dinner party but not waiting for those who move slowly to make it to the table before the host or hostess begins eating. It is disrespectful. Many of our congregation take time to move their bones. In this service, we heard nothing before the words "your only and eternal Son" (page 15 of the Easter Vigil printed program) until all were able to take the kneeling attitude, as I perceived the situation. Because such inhospitable rushing headlong through the Eucharistic Prayer makes it impossible for many folks to continue joining their hearts with the presider in the Eucharistic Prayer without this unseemly and unnecessary gap, it seems not only disrespectful to those members of the congregation but also to the majesty and beauty and dignity of the Prayer itself. The sound of the kneelers being placed for use is itself a beautiful aural recognition of the respect with which those folks attune their very incarnate bodies to the mystery unfolding at the table and in our hearts. Can any song of any angel present any greater honoring of the act of Thanksgiving than those who humble their bodies to acknowledge the presence of the divine? To have this so often disregarded, especially at a major festival of the Church as Easter Vigil, requires the use of this "feedback" opportunity that it be mentioned, while also respecting those who feel called to express their devotion by remaining in standing prayer who surely could also benefit from a pause to contemplate the meaning of the ancient words beginning, “Holy, holy, holy . . . .”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHRZGOcZwas   Lessons from a third grade dropout, by Dr. Rick Rigsby .