Sunday, September 22, 2013

Blessed Are The Poor in Spirit

For some time now, I've been thinking about putting some of my sermons on my 'Rude Awakening' blog. Over a 33-year pastoral career, I've written, well, quite a few sermons.  Starting around 1994, I went digital in my sermon writing, and so I've got all of my 1994-2010 sermons just sitting here on my computer!  With a simple copy and paste command into a blog post, I can easily place them online.

So, each Sunday for awhile, I'm intending on putting one of my past sermons on my blog for whoever's interested in reading it.  To make this feasible, as well as emotionally doable, I'm not going to try and edit or change them in any significant way.  I may or may not agree now with everything I wrote then, but I'm going to leave them alone and let them speak for themselves!  

In looking through my list, I've decided that I'm going to start with a sermon series I preached in 1994 on the Beatitudes, while I was pastoring in Highlands, NC.  I am drawn to this in part because for me, the teachings of Jesus, such as we find in the Beatitudes and the larger Sermon on the Mount in which they are contained (Matthew chapters 5-7), are at the heart of the Christian faith.

And in the case of this first sermon, dealing with the first Beatitude--"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"--I can't help but of the newly elected Roman Catholic leader, Pope Francis.  In his recent statements and interviews, he seems to embody the humility and meekness that is at the heart of being 'poor in spirit'.

So I would like to dedicate this first sermon on my blog to Pope Francis.  May he have a long and successful Papacy!

Spiritual Paupers
September 25, 1994;  Rev. Carl W. Lindquist

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 5:1-3)

When Mary Beth and I traveled to the Holy Land 18 months ago, one of the most beautiful places we visited was a mountainside high above the coastline of the Sea of Galilee, near the ancient village of Capernaum.  From this vantage point we could see the entire lake and the surrounding countryside, with its bright, contrasting hues of blue, brown and green.  It was on that very site, called the Mount of Beatitudes and now consecrated by the presence of a most lovely chapel, that Jesus is believed to have delivered his most famous teaching, what we call the Sermon on the Mount.

It is of course no accident that Jesus gave this ethical teaching where he did, on the mountain.  For from the perspective of our Resurrection faith, we can see the similarities between Moses and Jesus.  Moses, the greatest of all the prophets of Israel, received God’s Law on the mountain of Sinai and brought it down for the people to hear and obey.  Now Jesus, the new Moses, who was the fulfillment of the covenant of Israel, was giving a new law for a new covenant and a new Kingdom. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

America Looking Like George Zimmerman

Comedian Bill Maher hits the nail on the head with this commentary on America and our strange love of bombing other countries.

Friday, September 13, 2013

"I Think No War": Nancy Pelosi's Grandson and the Syrian Crisis

"House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) emerged from a meeting with President Obama and other congressional leaders earlier today and publicly declared her continued support for military intervention in Syria. But before she left the press gaggle, she shared one last story about a curious conversation she had with her five-year-old grandson over Labor Day weekend.

"Before she left her home in San Francisco, Pelosi said her grandson approached her with this question: 'Are you ‘yes’ war with Syria, ‘no’ war with Syria?' ...when she asked her grandson what he thought, he said, 'I think no war.' She proceeded to make her case to the young man, describing how Bashar al-Assad’s regime has 'killed hundreds of children there.'" (

So who wants this war with Syria, and who doesn't?  Let's start with the 'ayes', shall we.

Of course, we can begin by listing the usual Washington 'hawks': Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who seem to be in favor of any war, at any time, in any place.  And they especially like Middle Eastern wars for some reason.
Nancy Pelosi and her grandchildren

And then there is the brood of vipers called 'neo-conservatives', led by the unctuous Bill Kristol and his 'Weekly Standard', the Kagan clan of Washington insiders (Frederick, Robert, etc.), Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, etc.  This poisonous nest of copperheads was given a place to infest in the Bush administration, resulting in the 2003 Iraq catastrophe.  They retreated back to their nest after that war went 'south', so to speak, but it seems that they are beginning to find Obama's 'toughness' on chemical wars something to applaud and support, since it gives them entry to the desired war on Syria.

One cannot forget to mention, of course, the deadly duo of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, partners in international war crimes.  Together since the Nixon and Ford Presidencies, these two super villains led the way via George W. Bush into the Iraq quagmire, followed by the ever-gullible American people.

But along with this standard cast of characters, you now have (since it is a Democratic administration) the 'humanitarian interventionists', aka 'liberal internationalists'.  These are the (mostly) Democrats who want to go to war to defend 'human rights' and 'world peace'.  They last were in power during the Clinton administration and pursued their trade in Yugoslavia.  Now, under the leadership of Susan Rice, Samantha Powers, and I suppose, John Kerry, they are waxing eloquent about the moral necessity of bombing Syria to teach Syria a lesson about the use of chemical weapons.  Nancy Pelosi is one of these (though her grandson appears not to be!).

Among the foreign forces pushing for war, of course, we can't forget to mention Israel and their American Jewish lobby.  Everything I read says they are pushing hard for an American military strike on Syria, which is of course one of their mortal enemies in the Middle East, exceeded only by the dreaded Iran.

Hidden behind all of these forces are the countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Jordan: they also want war with Syria.  In fact, they are directly providing the logistics for the military support of the Syrian opposition, composed of both Syrian dissidents/rebels and foreign Islamist militants.  It is with these frontline countries that the U.S., the U.K., and France have been working for years now to try and overthrow the current Syrian government.

This is a formidable alliance wanting to take over Syria and transform it into something else (a Sunni client state of all of the above?).  What has kept that from happening?

While there is a desperate and powerful Syrian regime in place, led by young Bashar al-Assad, that wouldn't be enough to prevent its overthrow without the help and support of Russia, China, and Iran.  These three nations (and others too, I'm sure) have helped maintain the Syrian status quo, in the face of growing opposition.

Russia and Syria have long been allies, and Russia maintains its only naval base on the Mediterranean Sea in Southern Syria.  So despite the fact that Russia is only a shadow of its former military self, it is still the second largest nuclear power in the world, and that causes everyone, including the US, to be wary of a direct confrontation.

Britain has long been a US partner in Middle East intervention, primarily because they were one of the big colonial powers in the region after WWI.  However, the Britain people (as reflected in the Parliament refusing to go along with PM Cameron's Syria war proposal) seem to be as war-weary as the American people are, it appears.  This may well have been the final straw in Obama's decision to go to the Congress for approval, in order to be avoid being ALL alone in attacking Syria.

On the domestic front, the American Military also seems to be hesitant about a new Syrian commitment, from what I can see on the internet.  So this is definitely not the Pentagon pushing for a new war.  They need time to recuperate from the 2+ wars they are just winding down.

But strangely enough, perhaps the biggest ally coming to the aid of Syria in the last month or so is the war-weary American public, led by the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party in Congress.  Of course, the true Left in America (not the neo-liberals like Obama and his administration) has always been against our Middle East adventures (read the website Counterpunch if you want to see what they're like).  But the opposition of the American Right to another military strike/invasion is something new.

In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq invasion, the peace movement consisted mostly of the anti-war Left and a few scattered libertarian or old Right neo-isolationsts.  But now, after a decade of war, many thousands dead, and trillions of dollars wasted with little to show for it, many average Americans who would normally considered to be sympathetic to our various wars can be considered that way no longer.  They are listening and agreeing with the Ron/ Rand Pauls of the Republican Party, who are arguing against military action against Syria.

This is something new in American politics, something that hasn't been seen since the days before Pearl Harbor and WWII.  Whether it will outlast Obama and the Right's contempt for him is hard to know (indeed, if a President Mitt Romney were urging a Syrian strike on the country, would the Republican Party support him?).  But for now, the plans for a Syrian military strike are having to be reconfigured, and we shall see where all of this leads.

But you know, the truth, as it often does and when you least expect it, may have ultimately come out of a child's mouth, that of Nancy Pelosi's grandson of all people:  "I think no war!"

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

We've Been Involved In This Syrian War For Quite Some Time Now

The United States, along with four major Sunni Muslim states in the Middle East--Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia--have been involved in funneling weapons to the Syrian rebels for nearly two years now.  There seems to be little doubt about it, and extensive details can be found in this article in the New York Times from last March.

With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.
The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.

In other words, the US and its major allies have been involved in promoting civil war in Syria for two years.  Likewise, Iran and Russia have been helping the Syrian government in a similar fashion.  

If anyone thinks that our involvement in or concern about Syria just began with a recent chemical weapons attack, then think again.  And if you think our involvement will end if the chemical weapons are given over to international control, think again.  

This looks like it's going to be a long, drawn-out struggle, and we're in the thick of it, albeit mostly covertly.  But that of course is our normal modus operandi in these matters, about which most of us know very little. (See this recent piece on US/Nato scheming on Syria, for example.)

It's simply amazing what we (average Americans) are not told and have no clue about when it comes to what our military-intelligence complex is doing around the world.

Earning His Nobel Peace Prize

Syria has brought me back to my blog again.  Sorry for the absence, dear readers.  I've been lazy, I guess.  Actually, I've been doing a lot of Facebook posting of things I would normally have put on here, but it's easier and quicker to post them on FB.  However, what I CAN'T do there is to tag my posts so that I can quickly refer and link to them in the future.  So I'm going to try to be better about posting here more.

Let me begin by saying that I'm glad Barack Obama is president, instead of those other guys that he ran against in the last two elections.  Either of them would, I believe, have us already bombing away in Syria (and possibly also Iran).  And the odds are that we would also have 'boots on the ground' as well, in the form of advisers and 'special-ops' at least.

Hell, we probably already have advisers and special ops teams on the ground in Syria, not to speak of CIA operatives.  Does anyone really doubt that, given the way we operate in the world?

Even so, and perhaps despite that, Obama does undoubtedly brings a certain prudence and caution to foreign policy, which I appreciate immensely given the alternatives.  The media--not to speak of the foreign policy establishment--may find that aspect of him irritating, given how reticent and careful he is.  But I love it.

Since the beginning of this Syrian crisis, I have been very skeptical of our proposed plan for a 'military strike'.  There's a lot of reasons for that, which I really can't go into now, but I can probably summarize my position by saying that I am just really sick and tired of American intervention in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

I was dubious of American interventionism before 9/11, but everything that has happened since that fateful day has just about driven me crazy.  And what has been accomplished?  Nothing, and worse than nothing.  We've killed a lot of people on all sides, wasted a lot of increasingly scarce resources, and ignored a lot of other problems.  Oh, and we've made a lot of weapons manufacturers and private equity companies very rich, too (which of course is a big reason these wars go on and on).

What's been very pleasant to behold is how sick of it all the American people are as well.  Now, granted, some of the negative polling on the proposed Syrian intervention is a result of sheer Obama-contempt.  But I also believe that a good portion of it, particularly on the Democratic side, is a weariness with our, as someone once put it, going abroad searching for dragons to slay.  As Andrew Sullivan put it so memorably on his blog The Dish the other day, "Why do the citizens of Ohio have to take a position on whether the Alawites or the Sunnis should run a crumbling French colonial remnant?"

Excellent question, Andrew.  Now, I am not an 'isolationist', nor is Andrew Sullivan.  I just want our foreign and military policy to be more modest, humble, cautious, and careful.  With a few notable exceptions (Afghanistan and Libya), this is the way President Obama has handled things.  And it looks like Syria may turn out that way as well.

Keep it up, Mr. President (the caution and prudence, that is) and maybe before too long, you'll have actually earned the right to own that Nobel Peace Prize.