Tuesday, March 25, 2008

There Will Be Vader

Two of the great nihilists in film history (excluding, of course, the Germans from "The Big Lebowski") finally meet. Here's what it would look like if Daniel Plainview was badly burned when the oil derrick blew up, had to put on Darth Vader's suit to survive, and was transported to a galaxy far, far away...

See more funny videos at CollegeHumor

My only question is how Darth Vader is going to drink a milkshake? The force is strong with this one...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

5 years later

Today is the 5th anniversary of the US's invasion of Iraq. Today President Bush gave a speech defending his decision to start this war and his resolve to keep fighting it. Today many other politicians, including presidential hopefuls McCain, Clinton, and Obama, will give speeches touting their positions, saying why the war was and is a good idea or was/is a terrible idea. Whether it's appropriate or not, today is a day filled with rhetoric.

I've weighed in on this war before, so I won't rehash my position. If you want to know how I feel, just look to the left for the pink button. That will tell you all you need to know. So instead of policy talking points or even a lengthy theological interpretation thereof, I want to share my memories of where I was five years ago when we started this war.

Five years ago, in March of 2003, I was a Senior at Butler University getting ready to graduate and move to Nashville to start at Vanderbilt Divinity School in the Fall. On this particular day I was in the informal room of the fraternity house where I lived, along with about two dozen of my brothers watching the opening rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament. Most of us didn't go to class that day because we didn't want our schedule of beer drinking, pizza eating, and basketball watching/ amateur commentating to be interrupted by something as silly as academics. Like it or not, this is the logic of guys in college.

This yearly basketball viewing ritual was a little different, however. The games continued without interruption (because God forbid viewing of a single free throw be interrupted by breaking news of people dying), but during the commercials Dan Rather would come on the screen and show us live footage of Baghdad being bombed. Since it was nighttime in that part of the world, we saw the bombing in fuzzy green night-vision.

Fueled by a combination of too much alcohol and too many video-games, most of the guys cheered for each explosion the way they did a three point shot. The cheers were accompanied by laughter, very creative racial slurs, and impressions of people with Arabic accents running from falling bombs.

I wish I could say that I spoke up and told my friends that this wasn't OK, that each explosion meant that people died, and that people we knew might be killed in the invasion. I wish I could say that I took a moral stand, but I didn't. The whole experience was so surreal that I sat there transfixed, unable to believe what I was seeing on TV, never mind being able to process the reactions around me.

You can support the war or oppose the war, but people dying is never funny. All wars, no matter how positive the outcome (and I firmly believe that positive things can come out of any situation, no matter how bad), the death of anyone, civilian or soldier, is a tragedy. We can and should debate with one another whether the war was the right thing to do and whether we should stay in Iraq, but as we do, let us remember that lives are being lost every day that are never coming back. People lovingly created in God's image are dying, and God is the first one who cries any time any person meets a violent end.

I hope and pray that we we reflect on, debate, and disagree about what has happened over the last five years, that we can remember all the precious lives that have been lost, and that whatever position we support, we do so sincerely trying to honor those lost lives.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Speaking out against torture

I usually refrain from commenting on specific political issues. While I believe Christianity should be politically engaged, I don't believe it should be partisan in the way many on the Religious Right have been during my lifetime, seemingly giving unwavering support to one particular political party no matter what they do. Not being part of the Religious Right, I don't want to replicate the problem by giving unwavering support to the other political party. So what I'm about to say should not be taken as an endorsement of any political party or individual candidate for elected office.

At the end of last week President Bush vetoed a bill that would ban what he calls "enhanced interrogation techniques" that include a practice called "waterboarding", which creates the sensation of drowning for the purpose of extracting information from a person. I believe that waterboarding is cruel, inhumane punishment, and that terms like "enhanced interrogation techniques" are a fancy way of avoiding the only adequate term for such practices: torture.

As a citizen of the United States, my government represents me in all of its policies. I have not only the right but the duty to speak out when my government's practices conflict with my personal beliefs.

Much more importantly, as a Christian I cannot sit silently while another human being is being subjected to such cruel treatment. Every human being, including a terrorist, is a child of God, lovingly created in God's image. God weeps whenever human life is treated as anything less than sacred. Practices like waterboarding are not acceptable to those who believe in the sanctity of human life.

One of the cornerstones of both of George W. Bush's campaigns for President was his very public Christian faith and his claims to be a strong moral leader. He claims to be staunchly pro-life, referring to his opposition to abortion. A great moral leader who is truly pro-life would respect life both in and out of the womb. 

The sacredness of human life is something granted by God's grace, and as such cannot be lessened or taken away by anything a person can do, including murder or acts of terrorism. Those who commit such acts should be detained and prevented from committing further acts that disrespect the sanctity of human life, but that does not make it acceptable for governments to disrespect even a single human life in the pursuit of protecting other lives. Either every life is sacred or none are.

Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran pastor in Germany in the 1930s who opposed Hitler but, unlike colleagues like Detrich Bonhoeffer (who called his own participation in the plot to kill Hitler a sin), didn't speak out, and he was eventually imprisoned in a concentration camp. Later he wrote a poem that said:

First they came for the Communists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the trade Jews, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the homosexuals, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a homosexual.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up.

I'm not worried that the US government is ever going to arrest me and subject me to waterboarding. But it doesn't matter. Fellow human beings are being tortured by my government, and because I am a Christian I cannot stay silent.