We’ve been hearing an awful lot about the national debt lately – particularly during the current election cycle – and specifically, we’ve gotten an earful about the problem of our enormous debt to China. Though some mistakenly believe we borrow all of our money to finance our upside-down economy from China, the truth is that they hold only about one-tenth of our total debt, which is about the same amount as we owe to Japan.
What’s staggering is that, even at 10 percent of our total indebtedness, that still amounts to well over one trillion dollars. That, in itself, is close to $3,700 for every man, woman, and child in the United States, plus interest. And if you consider that we owe ten times that much, it’s nothing short of depressing.
A man who assaulted two men because he thought they were Muslims and was then ordered to write a report on the cultural contributions of Islam has a new assignment — to write a report on the history of Hinduism.
Bay County Circuit Judge Joseph K. Sheeran on Monday sentenced Delane D. Bell, 26, to two years of probation, with the condition that he pen a 10-page report on Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion.
Last March, Bell pleaded no contest to a two-year felony count of ethnic intimidation, stemming from an incident that occurred on Nov. 26, 2011. At that time, Bell was standing outside a bar when he yelled “jihad” and “Osama bin Laden” at two men of Indian descent. He then punched one of the men and struck the other’s car.
When Bell entered his plea, Sheeran ordered him to write a 10-page report on “the greatest accomplishments of Muslims.”
The Vatican's most sensational trial since the end of the Inquisition might end fairly quickly — and with a surprisingly light sentence.
Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict's former personal butler, goes to trial on Sept. 29 for stealing the pontiff's private papers and leaking them to the press. His crime proved a global embarrassment for the Vatican, revealing infighting and allegations of corruption among the secretive top echelons of the Catholic Church.
But, according to professor Giovanni Giacobbe, a Vatican prosecutor, a conviction carries a maximum jail term of only four years in the lenient legal system of the world's smallest state.
Gabriele was arrested by Vatican police on May 23, and will be tried for “aggravated theft” together with Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer technician at the Vatican's Secretariat of State who has been charged with aiding and abetting Gabriele.
The most recent discussions of U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East, once again say more about politics during an election year, than they do about the fundamental issues we must confront if we want to see substantial change.
So let’s look at the basic issues and fundamental choices we need to make.
Today the Middle East — where about 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25 — is a region dominated by humiliation and anger.
Failure + rage + the folly of youth = an incendiary mix.
The roots of anti-American hostilities in the Middle East run deep (literally and figuratively). We can start with the fact that our oil (and its economy) lies beneath their sands. Couple that with U.S. support of repressive and backward regimes, the continual presence of foreign troops on their land and in their holy places, and the endless wars waged there, ultimately fueled by the geopolitics of energy.
Add to that incindiary cocktail the unresolved Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which continues to drive the deepest emotions of mutual frustration, fear, and retaliation throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.
Injustices and violence caused by the oil economy have sparked a reaction from dangerous religious fundamentalists in the Islamic world. Fundamentalism — in all our faith traditions — is both volatile and hard to contain once it has been unleashed, and it becomes hard to reverse its essentially reactive and predictably downward cycle.
Members of the Syrian opposition generally want a democratic government that protects the rights of minorities, though many also want a constitution based on Islam, according to a recent survey.
Their aspirations are important because the Obama administration has said it is refraining from arming the opposition, which has been pummeled by Syrian security forces for 18 months, in part out of fear of igniting sectarian violence. There's also fear that weapons would reach Islamist radicals who would threaten allies in the region.
The survey by the International Republican Institute, which trains democracy activists around the world, found high support for a government that "respectfully acknowledges religion" and treats all religions equally. The second-most popular model of choice was for a constitution "based on Islam."
"Most of the opposition is Sunni Muslims and they are democratically minded, but they want a government based on some kind of Islamic law or that follows Islamic guidelines," says Elizabeth O'Bagy, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who helped the survey writers find contacts in the opposition movement.
Joe Scarborough said what a lot of Americans are thinking as they watch anti-American protests and embassy attacks in many places across the Muslim world.
"You know why they hate us? They hate us because of their religion, they hate us because of their culture, and they hate us because of peer pressure," Scarborough said on the MSNBC program "Mornin Joe" on Sept. 17.
"And you talk to any intelligence person, they will tell you that's the same thing, and all those people who think we're going to go over there and change them are just naive. ... They hate us because of waterboarding? No they don't. They hate us because they hate us. They hate us because of Obama's drone attacks? No they don't. They hate us because they hate us."
Now Joe would be the first to admit that “they hate us because they hate us” is ... somewhat lacking in analytical depth. But it’s even worse than that. It is a foolish step down an oil-slick slope into a deep, old rut that runs in a vicious, dangerous circle.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States currently spends more than $711 billion per year on military expenditures, which is – by far – the most of any country in the world.
In fact, if one were to combine the totals of the next fourteen nations on the list (China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Brazil, India, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and Turkey), their combined amount is similar to the USA. All together, the USA provides about 43 percent of worldwide military costs, and in addition, the USA per capita ($2,240) and percent of Gross Domestic Product (4.8 percent) in relation to military funding is far greater than any other nation in the world.
With these statistics in mind, one is provoked to ponder some important questions. For example, what is revealed to us about the USA – and our world in general – when military expenses constitute such a significant percentage of a government budget?
In specifics, why does the USA spend far more on its military than any other country? In addition, what is revealed to us about the condition of our global village when $1.73 trillion is allocated each year to military funding? As stated by Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis, “A budget is a moral document. It clearly demonstrates the priorities of a family, a church, an organization, or a government. A budget shows what we most care about.”
I’ve been reflecting on the recent events in Libya involving the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, and every time, I arrive at a different feeling about it all.
There’s the obvious tragedy of a life unnecessarily lost. By all accounts, Stevens was a humble, passionate man who had invested his life in the betterment of the infrastructure for the Libyan people. He was not, as some dignitaries or diplomats tend to be, resting on his credentials in an easy gig, waiting for retirement. He was living out what he believed in a terribly volatile corner of the world.
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
How many of us grew up with this old adage ringing in our ears? How many of us believe it’s true?
I’ve gone back and forth over the years. I understand that the saying is an invitation to turn our backs on harsh, mean-spirited words thus robbing them of their power, but how many of us are really capable of simply doing that? The truth is words do hurt and sometimes they do more than hurt. Sometimes they are downright destructive and on a large scale.
I think this is what the writer of James is getting at in this morning’s text. Words, the works of our tongues, can be used for good and evil. It is not always easy for us to shape our words and move our tongues in a fashion that serves our faith, our calling as Christians, our work for the reign of God on earth.
One important spiritual discipline, one vital element to our faith formation, then, is learning to tame the tongue. That is, we are challenged to develop custody of our speech in such a way that good news is proclaimed and people are lifted up toward the fulfillment of their creation in the image and likeness of God. Remember, James is especially concerned that we align our words and our work so we both “talk the walk” and “walk the talk.”
If we are offspring of the heavenly parent, if we are made in the likeness of God, how should that shape our speech and control the way we wag our tongues?
Muslim and Coptic Christian leaders in the U.S. are pledging not to let a spate of violent protests in some 20 Islamic countries derail recent efforts to improve the sometimes troubled relations between the two communities.
On Sept. 18, the Egyptian government ordered the arrest of seven Egyptian-born Copts now living in the United States who were allegedly involved in an anti-Muslim film that portrayed Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert.
“We cannot allow the actions of a few deceived fanatical individuals to define our communities,” said Bishop Serapion, head of the Los Angeles Diocese of the Coptic Orthodox Church, speaking during a press conference on Sep. 17 with Muslim leaders in Los Angeles.
“We call on members of both religions to lean on our faiths to counter the hate and the violence with good speech and positive work,” added the Egyptian-born bishop.
The show of solidarity comes almost a week after protesters in Egypt, where about 10 percent of the 90 million Egyptians are Coptic, attacked the U.S. embassy, setting off protests in other Muslim countries, including neighboring Libya, where American ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Since the ban on international trade of ivory in 1989, the ivory black market has been on the rise, and a National Geographic investigation found that demand for religious art pieces carved out of the precious material has played a considerable role.
“No matter where I find ivory, religion is close at hand,” said investigative reporter Bryan Christy, whose article, “Ivory Worship,” is included in the new edition of National Geographic magazine, released Sept. 14.
“Elephant poaching levels are currently at their worst in a decade,” Christy wrote. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) estimates that at least 25,000 elephants were poached in 2011, mostly for their ivory tusks.
Philippine Catholics use ivory to construct crucifixes, figures of the Virgin Mary and other icons. The province of Cebu is particularly known for its ivory renditions of the Santo Nino de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu), used in worship and celebration.
In the middle of the 16th century, Catholic bishops and theologians met sporadically in the city of Trento in northern Italy to discuss the church's response to the Reformation. Over the course of 18 years, the Council of Trent produced documents correcting abuses like indulgences and other corruption.
In 1564, the council ordered that some naked figures in Michelangelo's massive "Last Judgment" fresco in the Sistine Chapel be covered up as a result of the council's dictate that "all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust."
It will be difficult for critics to compare Michelangelo's nudes with the ones photographed by the Rev. John Blair. Just after the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri launched an investigation of the St. Louis priest, many of his photos of nude models were removed from the Internet.
And yet the diocese's disciplinary board, whose members will decide if Blair's photography constitutes sexual misconduct, will try to answer the same question as Trent's participants 450 years ago: How does the church recognize the beauty of art that depicts God's creation — the human form — without seeming to condone "a beauty exciting to lust"?
Anti-American riots that have spread to more than a dozen countries across the Middle East are a sign of fissures between radical and more moderate Islamists that are vying for power as their societies undergo change, Middle East experts say.
Whether U.S. foreign policy has helped create a political environment where radicals are struggling to remain relevant, or emboldened extremists to act out, is a matter of disagreement.
President Obama's approach to the Arab Spring, to engage with the Islamists and not the secularists, "is seen by our foes as disengagement, while the radicals are not backing off," said Walid Phares, an adviser to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives and author of the 2010 book The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.
"When we withdraw, they advance."
Tamara Wittes, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs until a few months ago, sees it differently.
The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq removed "a massive source" of grievance for ultra-conservative Muslims, called Salafis, who have been leading the charge in the recent protests and who are ideologically close to Islamic terrorists who have warred with the U.S., Wittes said. "Now they're left trying to gin up anti-American feelings over this campy movie. If Salafi groups are left having to troll the Internet for a pretext, I think we're in pretty good shape."
Emmanuel Jal—South Sudanese pop musician, rapper, and peace activist—was beaten and robbed this past weekend by Police in Juba, South Sudan (Rolling Stone). Jal, a former child soldier, was in his homeland promoting an upcoming concert on International Peace Day in two weeks.
“At approximately 9:30pm, Emmanuel was en route to the Gatwich guesthouse in the outskirts of Juba when he was stopped by police and robbed of his mobile phone. Imminent not to use violence, he was repeatedly beaten by 5 police and national security officers until he eventually lost consciousness."
I worked as a welder at a Chevrolet assembly plant near Bogotá, for General Motors’ South American subsidiary Colmotores--until my back began to hurt. I underwent three surgeries and now walk with a cane and have several screws in my spine.
When I could no longer work due to my occupational injuries, GM fired me, paying me no medical benefits or severance.
... I believe God is a God of justice, that the poor will be filled and the rich will be sent away empty.
But our situation was the opposite. The rich sent us away empty.
In the bright light of these days’ events it is helpful to be reminded of unalterable truths that transcend party conventions and oppressive governments. The political gatherings and increasing pain of the Middle East conflicts confuse the consciousness. They divert attention and trouble our slumber. Corporate callousness and individual hopelessness has set in and we have turned our faces to that which inures us from the persistent discomforting news.
Pick your own, even if momentary distraction. For me it has been Washington National’s baseball in the drive for a championship and maybe a World Series appearance. My spirit rises or falls on the team’s performances and batting averages of the Nats mini gods.
The biblical Job sought less superficial solace from his and the world’s sufferings. He responded to one of his “comforters” saying “when the land falls into the hand of the wicked He (God) blindfolds its judges” (9:24).
A court in Cologne, Germany, recently ruled that circumcising young boys represents grievous "bodily harm." The court found that the child’s "fundamental right to bodily integrity" was more important than the parents’ rights. According to the court, religious freedom "would not be unduly impaired" because the child could later decide whether to have the circumcision.
In response to the ruling, some Jews and Muslims who practice circumcision for religious reasons have protested vehemently. Subsequently, German politicians pledged to pass a law to protect ritual circumcision of young boys. Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger even traveled to Berlin to defend Jewish circumcisions, and a complaint against a Bavarian rabbi for performing circumcisions drew the anger of the Anti-Defamation League. The legal and cultural dilemma inherent in the issue makes prompt resolution unlikely.
Most of Germany (and the world) does not circumcise. It is instinctively viewed as harmful. Here's why...
We are connected with people and places through ways and means unlike any previous generation. We live in a “global village."
We are connected through worldwide round-the-clock television networks, rapid international travel, mobile phones, Skype, and wonders of the Internet. But while such connections are indeed profound, the bonds of our global village run far deeper, for we are also linked through global events and international endeavors. Whether it is sporting events like the Olympics, a royal wedding, or various natural disasters that capture worldwide attention and compassion, the reach and depth of our global village passes through time zones and crosses national boundaries.
While these characteristics of the global village are astounding, our connections run even deeper as a result of the global process of production, distribution, consumption, and waste. In other words, the architects of our global economy intentionally linked local communities with others that are thousands of miles away. And so, while these massive multinational connections are often unnoticed in daily North American life, once we take a deeper look, we recognize that they are not only evident, but are also far from impartial.