Elijah and the Missing Children

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Bumpa, you’re mean! Why do you keep saying that?

Say what, Elijah?

That there’s no national emergency?

Because there isn’t.

Yes there is.

No, there isn’t. How would you know? You’re only 21.

You’re cruel, Bumpa! POTUS is kinder than you!

What’s gotten into your little head?

My head’s not little! My head’s bigger than 96 percent. Doctor said so! I’m in the top four percent!

I know. That’s good. But you shouldn’t get a big head about that! So, tell me, why do you think there’s a real national emergency? 

POTUS declared it. I saw it on PBS!

On Sesame Street? Did Big Bird tell you?

No. It came on after Sesame Street. I saw it!

What did you see, Elijah?

MISSING children, Bumpa! Don’t you know? 1,475 kidnapped children, Bumpa! That’s a national emergency! We need to help rescue all those kidnapped children!

I hear you. We do. But the kidnappers didn’t come from south of the border. The kidnappers are not here illegally.

Uh-huh!

No, they aren’t. They’re legal. Homeland Security took them!

I like security. So there’s no national energency? The children are safe?

Well, no, Elijah. Homeland Security took them away from their parents, and then Homeland Security lost them

So the President called a national emergency to find them, right?

No, Elijah. POTUS hasn’t said one word about the missing children.

Why, Bumpa? Why? That’s not right! Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, right?

Right! It’s not right! 

Right, I told you! You’re wrong! There is a national emergency.

— Bumpa and Elijah, Chaska, MN, Feb. 18, 2019

The Hostages 2019

Going through airport security recently, I thanked the TSA employees for working. Other passengers did the same. It’s an odd thing to do. We expect employees to show up for work. We also expect their employers to pay them for their work. No one can expect employees to work without compensation.

New flag of the TSA unveiled at the TSA’s 2018 commemoration of the 9/11 attacks.

These TSA workers have families. Their needs are not shut down. Only the paychecks that pay the rent and utility bills, the public transportation to and from work, groceries, insurance, prescriptions, and day care for their families are shut down.

Denver Airport security

“Thank you for working,” said the passengers going through the security procedures put in place to prevent another high-jacking like those on 9/11. Their work is essential to national security. Looking back on it, I’m ashamed of myself. You don’t thank hostages for being hostages. You free them from their hostage-taker . . . without paying the $5.1 Billion ransom to make America safe again.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, January 20, 2019

Sequestration Silver Lining

Budget Control Act

Budget Control Act

Only a deadlocked Congress could produce this unintentional miracle.

The military-defense budget has been a sacred cow. Proponents of Department of Defense budget cuts were tarred and feathered as weak on national security.

Perhaps only ‘Sequestration” – this unthinkable package of defense and entitlement program cuts that neither major party thought tolerable – could make it happen. I can hear the applause from the angels and from President Dwight David Eisenhower, whose last words from the Oval Office warned that the rise of the Military-Industrial-Complex was the greatest threat to democracy, even while they weep over the indiscriminate human impacts of Sequestration.

Somewhere over the rainbow….bluebirds…instead of drones…fly. Could it also be that sometimes God really does act in strange and mysterious ways…?

My Grandmother’s Rifle

My 90 year-old Grandmother kept a revolutionary war rifle under her bed in Rockport, Massachusetts. She wanted to be safe. When she showed it to me, I could barely drag it out from under the bed.  How she would have gotten it out and lifted it to point at an intruder was a puzzle, but my Grandmother, like many of us, thought a gun would make her safe.

My Grandmother's revolutionary war rifle.

My Grandmother’s revolutionary war rifle.

Security, weapons, and freedom make strange bed-fellows. Guns will not produce security, and the freedom to buy and use the weapons of war equates pulling a trigger with free speech.

In America the mixing of the right to bear arms, the search for security, and the sanctity of personal freedom without limits are the ingredients of a national security state…and a state of permanent anxiety.

We are not safe in America. The six-year-olds and seven-year-olds of Sandy Hook were not safe. Their teachers were not safe. Their town was not safe. The five-year-old and the two-year-old in Minneapolis who found a pistol under the pillow in their parents’ bedroom were not safe. The two-year old is dead. The five-year-old and his parents will never be the same. Nor will the people of Baghdad, the U.S. Army base at Fort Hood or the folks killed at McDonald’s. We are not safe either at home under Homeland Security or in the places around the world where un-manned drones kill and maim not only those who threaten our safety but innocent children, under that banner of freedom, democracy, and national security.

The U.S. Constitution is a work of genius and wisdom depending on how well it is interpreted by the Courts. The First Amendment the right to free speech. The Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, a right originally intended to maintain the power of the people, collectively, to overthrow another King George or a government that did not serve the well-being of the American people.

Among the “arms” protected by the Second Amendment there was no assault weapon able to shoot 100 times in 60 seconds and then reload or a pistol capable of 30 shots before reloading. What the framers of the Second Amendment had in mind was muskets.

“Load… aim… fire…..  Load… aim… fire.”

The Second Amendment never imagined the likes of the M-16 or its knock-offs or a semi-automatic pistol concealed in one’s purse or trousers. The weapons used against a mother and elementary school children in Newtown and against customers having a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s were the furthest thing from their time-bound imagination.

There were no McDonald’s when the Second Amendment was adopted and there were no semi-automatic weapons sold at gun shows. Today, ABC News reports that, according to the 2011 statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there were 4.17 times as many federally-licensed retail gun dealers and pawn shops(58,794) than McDonald’s (14, 098) in the U.S – more death shops than places to eat a Big Mac.

ABC News also reported that “2012 has been a record-setting year for gun sales. As of November, the FBI recorded 16,808,538 instant background checks for gun purchases for 2012. Even without counting December, which has historically been the busiest month, this beats last year’s record by more than 350,000.”

Argument for strict Constitutional interpretation by Justice Scalia

Argument for strict Constitutional interpretation by Justice Scalia

Strict Constitutionalists like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia know full well that my grandmothers revolutionary war rifle was the “arms” the Second Amendment had in mind. Every citizen in America has the right to have a revolutionary war rifle –  a single shot “load…; aim…; fire… re-load…; aim…; fire…” under the bed… or under the pillow in the parents’ bedroom.

Freedom was never intended to produce a domestic or international killing field. If we Americans have learned anything from 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Columbine, Red Lake, and Sandy Hook, it is that our security is not found in a gun or a drone in every home. Neither was the nation’s security license to monitor the phone calls, emails, texts, bank records, and personal movements of citizens.

I exercise my right to free speech by writing and publishing words as the weapons of persuasion in hopes that they might contribute in some way to a national introspection and action that minimizes the human impulse toward violence and destruction. I have to believe that words are more powerful in the end than the Bushmaster .223 assault rifles and drones that kill at home and abroad – all in the name of keeping us alive and “safe”.

According to strict judicial interpretation of the Second Amendment, everyone in America has a right to own a musket or, perhaps, pull a revolutionary war rifle from under the bed.

The Ocean and Homeland Security

Will we risk killing the hand that feeds us – the oceans and the order of nature – to insure homeland security?

I’m not a groupie and I’m not a shouter. I’m tired of all the emails telling me that the sky will fall if I don’t do this or that…give $5.00 by midnight tonight or sign the petition. If I don’t act now, Darth Vader will win. Delete, Delete. Trash.

But this morning’s email got my attention. It alerted me to a July 10 deadline for comment on a Navy testing program which, according to the Navy’s own research, will deafen 1,600 whales and dolphins and kill 1,800 more.

ABC News reported the story on May 11:

The Navy estimates its use of explosives and sonar may unintentionally cause more than 1,600 instances of hearing loss or other injury to marine mammals each year, according to a draft environmental impact statement that covers training and testing planned from 2014 to 2019. The Navy calculates the explosives could potentially kill more than 200 marine mammals a year.

The old Navy analysis – covering 2009-2013 – estimated the service might unintentionally cause injury or death to about 100 marine mammals in Hawaii and California, although no deaths have been reported.

The larger numbers are partially the result of the Navy’s use of new research on marine mammal behavior and updated computer models that predict how sonar affects animals.

The Navy also expanded the scope of its study to include things like in-port sonar testing – something sailors have long done but wasn’t analyzed in the Navy’s last environmental impact statement. The analysis covers training and testing in waters between Hawaii and California for the first time as well.

View from house in Sequim, WA

The request to comment took me back to the summer of 2010 when the house we rented for a week on a beautiful salt water lagoon on the coast of Sequim, Washington turned out to be next door to a highly classified U.S. Department of Energy marine research center.Ours was the last house on Washington Harbor Road which dead-ended  200 yards away at the place whose business  was a mystery to everyone in town.

NO TRESPASSING,” read the sign on the security fence.“Marine Sciences Laboratory, Pacific National Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, managed by Battelle. Under 24-hour camera surveillance. Trespassers will be prosecuted to the full extent of federal  law.”

Marine Sciences Laboratory, Sequim, WA

No one seemed to know what was going on behind the fence. ”It’s top secret,” said the townspeople. No one I asked seemed to care. Our rental property was on the lagoon just around the corner on the other side of the sandbar in this photograph of the lab.I wondered then why a marine environmental research laboratory was under the Department of Energy rather than the Department of the Interior. I assumed it must have to do with the development of oceanic energy and sustainability, but wondered why such a facility would be under wraps as top-secret. I also wondered about the manager of the operation, Battelle. Clearly Battelle was one of vast network of private corporations under federal government contract, but what qualified it to manage this research center? What was Battelle?

This morning’s email about the whales and dolphins piqued my interest again. The website for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory says the following about our Sequim next door neighbor . The bolded print is mine.

The Marine Sciences Laboratory (MSL), headquartered at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Sequim Marine Research Operations on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, is the Department of Energy’s only marine research laboratory. This unique facility and the capabilities of its researchers deliver science and technology that is critical to the nation’s energy, environmental and security future.

Building upon a history of research related to marine and coastal resources, environmental chemistry, water resources modeling, ecotoxicology and biotechnology—and more recently, national and homeland security—the MSL is emerging as a leader in these three areas:

  • Enabling sustainable development of ocean energy
  • Understanding and mitigating long-term impacts of human activities, including climate change, on marine resources
  • Protecting coastal environments from security threats”

There is no way to know whether MLS was part of the Navy own environmental impact study. The Navy is under the Department of Defense. MSL is under the Department of Energy. But the third area of MSL’s “research operations” – “protecting coastal environments from security threats” – and the use of the word “operations” make it a natural fit for such research.

The recent addition of national and homeland security as a third focus of MSL’s research operations increases the likelihood of its being a player in this debate.

Its three areas of emerging leadership lead me to imagine how vigorous the debate would be among the staff behind the fence next door at the end of Washington Harbor Road. Presumably those who work at a marine sciences lab are oceanographers who stake their lives on protecting Earth’s greatest treasure. Introduce national and homeland security – i.e., national defense operations – and one can imagine how hot the debates would be among the scientists weighing the respective mandates to protect the American coast (the Navy program) and to “mitigate long-term impacts of human activities, including climate change, on marine resources” (high decibel sonar signals and explosions that render whales and dolphins deaf, disoriented, dead).

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leader in the battle to regulate sonar use and protect marine life, reminds us that whales and other marine mammals rely on their hearing to find food, find a mate, and navigate their ocean habitat.

If you’ve ever seen a submarine movie, you probably came away with a basic understanding of how sonar works. Active sonar systems produce intense sound waves that sweep the ocean like a floodlight, revealing objects in their path.

Some systems operate at more than 235 decibels, producing sound waves that can travel across tens or even hundreds of miles of ocean. During testing off the California coast, noise from the Navy’s main low-frequency sonar system was detected across the breadth of the northern Pacific Ocean. …

Stranded whales are only the most visible symptom of a problem affecting much larger numbers of marine life. Naval sonar has been shown to disrupt feeding and other vital behavior and to cause a wide range of species to panic and flee. Scientists are concerned about the cumulative effect of all of these impacts on marine animals.

Even the Navy estimates that increased sonar training will significantly harm marine mammals more than 10 million times during the next five years off the U.S. coast alone.

Tillich Park - "Man & nature belong together..."

Tillich Park – “Man & nature belong together…”

“Man and nature belong together in their created glory, in their tragedy and in their salvation.” These words of theologian Paul Tillich greet visitors along the path of Tillich Park in New Harmony, Indiana where Tillich’s ashes are buried.

Tillich loved the ocean. It became for him, as it is for me, a symbol for God. The human attempt to conquer nature would not end in human glorification or to salvation. To the contrary, human arrogance regarding nature portended great tragedy.

A nation that defines its security in ways that kill the whales and the dolphins invites such a great tragedy, biting the hand that feeds us – the ocean on which the planetary “homeland” of every nation depends.

How a single voice threatened to set the world on fire

Minnestota Public Radio (MPR, 91.1 FM) published this commentary after a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran. Some things don’t seem to change.

– Gordon C. Stewart, September 28, 2010

Everyone from time to time feels insignificant. As I did, while watching fires burn across the world, lit by the words of one pastor in Florida. I felt like a spectator in the stands watching the game I care about go terribly wrong, a hostage of verbal terrorism uttered in the name of Christ.

I would imagine that the Rev. Terry Jones and his small congregation also had felt insignificant before they announced the 9/11 Quran burning, and that they were stunned when their pastor’s voice, although terribly misguided, lit the forest on fire without ever burning a Quran.  One of their own, one who had felt insignificant, had raised his voice and now had the ear of a commanding general, the secretary of defense and the president of the United States.

The difference between the Rev. Jones and most people is that he has a pulpit.  On any given Sunday he speaks and a few people actually listen.  Most of us do our ranting and raving in the shower, at the water cooler or with like-minded people at the coffee shop, but we don’t much expect anyone to listen.

But as the Jones story developed, those of us with pulpits were feeling no less beside the point.  Then, as I prepared for worship, I was drawn by some old lines about spiritual arson. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is a fire … a restless evil, full of deadly poison” and “the seeds of righteousness are sown in peace by those who make peace” (Letter of James 3).

The thought crossed my mind: We could invite a Muslim friend to join me in the pulpit, perhaps my neighbor Muhammad or Abdi or one of their children, whom I meet daily while walking the dogs.  I decided to invite Ghafar Lakanwal, a Pashtun Afghan-American cultural diversity trainer, a Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen, to bring greetings of peace and share some passages about peacemaking from the Quran in our Sunday worship on 9/12.

Our little church in Chaska welcomed Ghafar, and his words about the spiritual “obligation to learn, not burn” still ring in our ears. Our service drew media attention, and Ghafar’s words were heard on the evening news  and noticed by a stranger in Australia, who sent a message through the church website. “I was touched,” he wrote, “when I read about your recent Sunday service in the news. …  I for one can testify that it has certainly comforted a far away Muslim to know that there are neighbors who will stand together in difficult times.  My salaam [to you].  May we all grow together to attain Allah’s pleasure.”

“Ah!” someone will say. How can any Christian rejoice when the author uses the name “Allah” for God?  But the reaction to the “name” is misbegotten.  It is not the name of God; it’s the Arabic word for what we in English call God.   The forest fire lit in defense of “God” in advance of the anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that two kinds of religion potentially exist everywhere people gather to practice their faith. One kind burns. The other kind learns.  One hates; the other loves.

As James, writing to those who would follow Jesus, put it: “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).  We can set the forest ablaze with our small spark or we can use it to light a candle of hope and peace. But, after the events of this month, none of us can again think that what we say is insignificant.

I would imagine that the Rev. Terry Jones and his small congregation also had felt insignificant before they announced the 9/11 Quran burning, and that they were stunned when their pastor’s voice, although terribly misguided, lit the forest on fire without ever burning a Quran.  One of their own, one who had felt insignificant, had raised his voice and now had the ear of a commanding general, the secretary of defense and the president of the United States.

The difference between the Rev. Jones and most people is that he has a pulpit.  On any given Sunday he speaks and a few people actually listen.  Most of us do our ranting and raving in the shower, at the water cooler or with like-minded people at the coffee shop, but we don’t much expect anyone to listen.

But as the Jones story developed, those of us with pulpits were feeling no less beside the point.  Then, as I prepared for worship, I was drawn by some old lines about spiritual arson. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is a fire … a restless evil, full of deadly poison” and “the seeds of righteousness are sown in peace by those who make peace” (Letter of James 3).

The thought crossed my mind: We could invite a Muslim friend to join me in the pulpit, perhaps my neighbor Muhammad or Abdi or one of their children, whom I meet daily while walking the dogs.  I decided to invite Ghafar Lakanwal, a Pashtun Afghan-American cultural diversity trainer, a Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen, to bring greetings of peace and share some passages about peacemaking from the Quran in our Sunday worship on 9/12.

Our little church in Chaska welcomed Ghafar, and his words about the spiritual “obligation to learn, not burn” still ring in our ears. Our service drew media attention, and Ghafar’s words were aired on the evening news and heard by a stranger in Australia, who sent a message through the church website. “I was touched,” he wrote, “when I read about your recent Sunday service in the news. …  I for one can testify that it has certainly comforted a far away Muslim to know that there are neighbors who will stand together in difficult times.  My salaam [to you].  May we all grow together to attain Allah’s pleasure.”

“Ah!” someone will say. How can any Christian rejoice when the author uses the name “Allah” for God?  But the reaction to the “name” is misbegotten.  It is not the name of God; it’s the Arabic word for what we in English call God.   The forest fire lit in defense of “God” in advance of the anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that two kinds of religion potentially exist everywhere people gather to practice their faith. One kind burns. The other kind learns.  One hates; the other loves.

As James, writing to those who would follow Jesus, put it: “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).  We can set the forest ablaze with our small spark or we can use it to light a candle of hope and peace. But, after the events of this month, none of us can again think that what we say is insignificant.