Monthly Archives: June 2014

You Make a Mess; You Clean It Up

Some many of the contemporary world’s political problems have their roots in centuries of European and later Euro-American (Let’s lump ‘em all together and call it “Western”) colonialism. Wars, revolutions, riots, poverty, genocides, all because of the racist arrogance and greed of Western colonial powers. And nowhere is this more evident, at least at the moment, than in the Mid-East.

Let us consider as a case study Iraq. It did not exist until the Western colonial powers decided in the aftermath of WWI to carve up the defeated Ottoman Empire. Was their guiding principle what was best for the people living there? Respect for ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries? Recognition of the relations between differing tribes and other groups? Not a bit of it! Their guiding principle was: Get The Oil!

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that Iraq was created over lunch. Seems there was great debate about how to carve up that particular area, and Winston Churchill was getting tired of it. So over lunch, he pulled out his napkin, sketched a map of this new country, gave it to his staff and told them to create it. They did, and now we have Iraq.

Did this actually happen? I don’t know. The point is not the accuracy of the story. The point is the arrogance of the Western Powers.

There are three large groups of people in Iraq. There are the Sunni Muslims, the Shia Muslims, and the Kurds. The Sunnis and the Shia have hated each other for more than a thousand years. And the Kurds do not even speak a version of Arabic. They speak a language (languages actually) within the Persian linguistic family. It is more closely related to Farsi than to Arabic. (In fact, being Indo-european, it is more closely related to English than to Arabic.) As a result, the Sunnis especially, do not trust the Kurds. Sound to you like a marriage made in heaven?

And so now we have a new civil war in this cobbled together nation. I won’t go into how our domestic politics is involved in this. Books need to be written about that. Instead I want to address what I think would make sense for us it do.

  1. Admit that the US, among others, has made an unholy mess of things. We have caused untold suffering through our meddling in cultures about which we had little to no understanding and cared even less.
  2. Admit that our military regime change (Iraq War 1 and Iraq War 2) is the only thing that has held the current version of this nation together, and in turn this means that it has been a puppet government totally beholden to the US and that the withdrawal of our military simply permitted the civil war to resume.
  3. Admit that a resumption of US military intervention might damp the civil war down, but only temporarily and would therefore be a destabilizing influence in spite of appearances.
  4. Therefore the best thing we can do is to declare ourselves neutral and refrain from any attempt at influencing the outcome of the civil war, even of that means standing by and watching the dissolution of the nation of Iraq.
  5. Recognize that this will undoubtedly cause a lot of bloodshed and suffering and accept the fact this this is the inevitable result and legacy of Western Colonialism run amuck. We bear a major share of the responsibility for that bloodshed and suffering.
  6. Accept that it is therefore our responsibility to help to rebuild whatever emerges from the ashes, but only at the request of the people then in power and only under their control and direction. We help them build the nation(s) that they want, not the nation we want them to have.

The domestic political consequences of following this course of action strike me as enormous and mostly to the detriment of President Obama, were he to try it. In fact, our entire nation may well suffer for it. But the suffering we might inflict upon ourselves pales by comparison with the suffering we have inflicted upon others over the last few decades.

And if anyone has a better idea, I’d like to hear it.

Recent Events at Starr King School for the Minsitry

Except for a couple of private communications, I’ve been silent about this. Now, however, it has been widely published publicly, and so I fee free to speak publicly.

Starr King is where I learned to be a minister. Starr King is where my heart began to open to its flawed humanity. Starr King is where I became an adult. Starr King is where I began the conscious journey to discover myself as a spiritual human being. Starr King is my alma mater, my spiritual mother, and I will always love it as such.

It breaks my heart to see how broken it has become in such short order, but brokenness is what reminds us that neither individually nor together in community are we called to perfection. We are called to be human, and being human involves faults, mistakes, being broken and the breaking of others. There is a dark side to being human as well as a bright side. To deny this is to perpetuate darkness.

As I read about the events, I see that mistakes, serious and pain-producing mistakes, were made on all sides. The first of these, of course, was the distribution of confidential material. It is less important to me who did this or why or how. What is important is that it happened, that it led to a cascade of further errors of judgment and action, and that good people have been injured as a result.

There are deeper, unaddressed, issues at play here as well. It appears that this action is the culmination of a history of distrust and alienation at least between the student body and the Board, and perhaps also involving the administration. It is naïve in the extreme to suppose that these deeper issues can be addressed simply by solving the immediate, culminating problem. It will not happen.

To address the deeper issues, it is necessary for both (or all three) sides to speak honestly and from their hearts to one another. The corollary of that, of course, is that all sides must also listen to each other honestly and from their hearts. Each must be aware that they made mistakes, that they are responsible for those mistakes, that they must be willing to make recompense for the mistakes they made, and that they must be willing to forgive the mistakes committed against them. I doubt that any of this will happen as long as the recent events remain unresolved, and these events will not be resolved as long as the disclosing email remains anonymous.

Perhaps the disclosure of confidential information was done as an act of civil disobedience. If so, it is incomplete. Civil disobedience cannot be done anonymously since it requires that one accept responsibility for the action. As long as the offending email remains anonymous, the act is not an act of civil disobedience and whoever sent it has not helped to bed the arch of the universe toward justice. On the contrary, all it has done is to further divide the community.

And so I call on those involved in the disclosure to come forward. I further call upon the Board and the administration to treat this coming forward as an act of reconciliation and begin to take steps toward the resolution of the deeper issues. Nothing else will serve the cause of justice.