Monochromatic Hero and Suicide

On Sunday, I painted my first monochromatic painting. It is an 11″ x 14″ acrylic on stretched canvas of André Trocmé in burnt umber. He is one of my heroes. That turned out so well, I followed it on Monday with an 11″ x 14″ painting of Bobby Glaeser in phthalocyanine blue. Bob was a classmate and neighbor of mine growing up. In early December 1974, a year and a half after we had graduated high school, he killed his parents, his younger sister Ann, and himself, with a 12 gauge shotgun.

trocmeAndré Trocmé was a Huguenot pastor in southern France. Before and during the Nazi occupation of France, he led his city and the neighboring city and surrounding countryside to give refuge to Jews fleeing Hitler’s genocidal death camps. It started with the boarding school his church ran. He did not believe in discrimination, so the school accepted Jewish students, who wore the school uniforms and lived lives indistinguishable from the Christian students. It grew into families sheltering families. He trained them on how to blend in and how to respond to the authorities. They set up an underground railroad to help families escape from France to safety in non-Nazi occupied countries. No one in their network betrayed a refugee into Nazi captivity. His nephew’s class was raided, where he was teaching a few dozen Jewish children. The Nazis seized the children to take them to a camp. Trocmé’s nephew insisted on going with them, as their teacher. He died in the concentration camp. It is estimated that they saved over 3500 lives.

I read Pastor Trocmé’s story over 30 years ago. It was also made into a movie.  As always, the book was better. He had with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and with Gandhi. He was a pacifist and had a strong ethical belief in honesty, charity and non-discrimination. He never made excuses for having to lie to the authorities. He felt that it was still sin, but to tell the truth would make him complicit in the deaths of fellow human beings, which would be a greater sin. He had been taught a hard lesson by his strict father, when he was a lad. He learned that it was not only right to do good; “it was essential to do the good on time!” It was his position that Hitler’s rule, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II was totally preventable, if only people of good conscience in Germany had done the good on time. Once he and his cohorts were in power, it was too late to stop him without doing evil and causing death and destruction. This is an important lesson and one that America needs to heed today.

We have both major parties putting forward the most despised presidential candidates in our history. Both are bigots. One is a capricious fool; the other is a shrewd politician committed to endless war. One would incarcerate Muslims and Latinos here; the other would (and already has) kill Muslims, Latinos and others overseas. They have 30% acceptance rating between them from the electorate. Yet people are deciding their votes on fear of one or the other, instead of doing the right thing and rejecting both.

It is time to do the good on time.

bobbyBobby was a good friend in grade school and junior high. His family lived two blocks away from mine in Golden Valley, Minnesota. We would bicycle together, sled and skate together in the winter, and sometimes camp out in our backyards together in the summer. He was a beautiful boy! He was handsome, with thick, dark hair, athletic and smart. All the girls loved him. Most of the boys wanted to be him. He did not appreciate all the attention. He was shy and became more withdrawn in his junior and senior year in high school; to the point of not allowing any pictures of himself to appear in the yearbook. This painting is based on his two pictures in the 1971 Robin. The pose is from the soccer team’s group shot, but his eyes were closed, so I looked at his yearly picture for details of his face.

The last time I saw Bobby was in the spring of 1974. I was visiting a few of my friends at the University of Minnesota’s main campus. At that time Pioneer Hall was for both men and women; every other room for each gender. I greeted Bobby as he darted stark naked from the showers to his room. I was shocked at this, not because of modesty, but his apparent lack of it. He had changed, and changed radically. Early December, 1974, we heard the news that Bobby had shot and killed his father, his mother and his sister, Ann, then himself, with a 12 gauge shotgun in the middle of the night in their Golden Valley home. A neighbor discovered their bodies four days after when North Memorial Hospital called her to check on his father, because he had not showed up for his on call assignment. He was a doctor.

Bobby’s case was written up in a feature article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He had suffered some sort of mental breakdown prior to this and had been in treatment. He left the treatment and had been alienated from his family. They reached out to him. He was home for dinner that night to discuss re-entering treatment as an inpatient. After they had all gone to bed, Bobby got his hunting gun and shot his parents and his younger sister while they lay in their beds. Then he shot himself.

The four of them had a joint memorial service at Valley of Peace Lutheran Church. Their were four, beautiful Christmas wreaths on stands in the front of the packed church. Pastor Stine gave this horrible message. He said, “Heaven is God’s gift to us at Christmastime. Bobby gave his family their Christmas gift early.”

I got up, then and there, and walked out of that church! What an ass! This was the same ignorant pastor who had kicked me out of confirmation class one month shy of completion for asking too many questions about heaven and hell, and how one gets to heaven, after my best friend, Steve Rainoff had died by falling through a skylight, chasing a soccer ball, in a locked school in New Jersey.

In the spring of 1975, the Mpls. paper had a feature article on Angel Dust. The authorities had just seen a rise in its use. The symptoms of its use and long-term effects sounded just like Bobby. I have always wondered if he could have been exposed to that, and that is what changed his personality so never know.

I painted his portrait in monochromatic phthalocyanine blue, from a happier time in his life. Bobby was a beautiful boy. He had all the advantages. That could have been me.

I actually published a book!

Finally I have compiled a number of “Other People’s Children” into a book that will move you and inspire you. I wrote and edited more chapters to meet the deadline as well. Nothing like impending open heart surgery and a good 40% off coupon to get things onto the front burner, eh?

Seriously:

This little book is an invitation to YOU to step into a new comfort zone with your sisters and brothers in this world. We are all frightened children trying to find the silk edge of the blanket at times. Let us be kind.

The plan is, that this is just the first of several little volumes. This book contains 16 original paintings by me, plus one ‘artistic photograph’, so it is a large undertaking. The book is 8″x10″ in full color so you can appreciate the art along with the stories.

Buy a hard copy. You will want to hold this in your hands. Then you will want to give more copies as gifts.

Nebraska

Oh, to be young again!

Or, in my case, for the first time. I spent most of my time as a child with adults, or at least older children. I would help my older sister with her homework. My brother took me to college when I was 13, got me drunk; and I still held my own in theological discussions with the divinity graduate students into the wee hours of the morning. I still remember the discussion nearly 50 years later! I was born old! This was not the case for Nebraska.

Even though Nebraska had had a pretty hard knock life so far, he remained childlike, cheerful, confident; just a downright happy guy and a joy to be around! We hosted Nebraska (yes, that is his real, first name) for a weekend in our home, while he was staying at Liberty House prison aftercare program in Schwenksville, PA, in 1986. I was Mennonite Chaplain and Volunteer Director with Liberty Ministries at the time and had helped reorganize the aftercare program there, after it had closed in Phila. Nebraska was one of the early residents. He was just 20, and had already been in prison. He had been raised in the foster care system.  Who knows if he actually committed a crime? He was a dark skinned, black youth. He was irrepressibly cheerful. That is enough to get one locked up in any number of towns and neighborhoods in Pennsylvania.

We had a great time with Nebraska. The one memory that sticks out is our trip to Ikea. We all went to Ikea together, all seven of us: Bethann and I, our four daughters and Nebraska. Now Bethann and I were about 30. The girls were 9 and under. In the store, we got a little spread out, but we could see each other. One or another of the girls would exclaim, “Mommy, come see!” or “Daddy, come see!” when they saw something they liked. Then Nebraska exclaimed, “Mommy! Mommy! Come see!” loud enough for the whole floor to hear, and they all watched Bethann answer. We have been tickled by that scene every time we have recalled it, in the 30 years since!

nebraskaWe don’t know what happened to Nebraska after that weekend. I was so busy overseeing over 500 volunteers in eight different jails and prisons and starting several tutoring and other programs. We never saw him again in prison or in aftercare, or on the street, so I’m taking that as a good sign. But I don’t know.

This I do know. Nebraska was not a thowaway. He was not a ‘taker’. He was, and hopefully still is, a beautiful human being, and our brother someplace.

Kenny

missionaymentalitySKenneth Cobbs challenged me and instructed me like few other persons in my life in such a brief time. I can count on one hand the people who have had this kind of impact in this short a time, and they all seem to totally, irretrievably disappear. At least Kenny left me with a couple books of his poetry, including one poem about me. It is not particularly complimentary toward me. I was alarmed when I read it. Kenny and I discussed it. He stuck to his guns and defended it. This was how he felt. It cut me to the quick. I was grateful for the critique and thanked him for his honesty. I asked his forgiveness, for that was not how I wanted to come off or how I intended our ministry to be perceived. At the time, I published it in The King’s Jubilee newsletter as a confessional, with an appeal to help please, let’s all do better.

Kenny had given me two booklets of his poetry that he had typed up. He managed to photocopy several copies and staple and fold them. He would sell them for $5 each to raise a little cash. I made some copies for him. I told him I would retype and reset the booklets in nicer fonts, with full color covers. I did this. He never showed up to retrieve them or the money for the copies that I sold for him. I never saw him again. I contacted the nuns who he said he was visiting that week. they had not heard from him. I left my phone number. I have searched for him every couple of years, since, to no avail. That was in 1998. I keep hoping that he chose to disappear and become a Buddhist monk somewhere. He was an intense person, wise beyond his years, yet I fear the world was too rough for him. He had been part of the MOVE family and had not recovered from the terrorism inflicted by the city, and the lies and machinations to frame Mumia Abu Jamal for killing a cop; after Mumia dared to report sympathetically about MOVE.

Kenny took me down a peg. I was glad for it. He did it with honesty, in the spirit of true brotherhood and love. I have gone back again and again to our conversations and his critiques to see how I measure up “according to the Kenny scale.” If he knew, he would laugh so loud!

kennyI painted this from emotional memory. Kenny’s skin was darker. I have a hard time with painting dark skin tones and still getting feature definition. Sorry. My counselor and I talked about this painting today. This is the first time I have obscured a part of a face. I think this is because both of us were blocked in some major ways. He was dealing with PTSD from Mayor Goode’s bombing of West Phila. I was a recovering fundamentalist; had been abused by clergy, yet still playing the clergy game. Kenny’s right eyebrow is raised. This was done subconsciously on my part, but it makes perfect sense. Whenever I think of Kenny, I think of our conversations and his piercing, unflinching criticism. It is rare that I can find someone who can give as good as get. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Prov. 27:6) I measure my progress on stepping down from my “god complex” and getting over being a “white knight” on the “Kenny Scale”. This is the raised eyebrow and slightly more open right eye. (his right) The background color of orange and shirt as bright red were chosen because of the MOVE fire on Mother’s Day, 1985. My missing front tooth is from that night, as well. But that’s another story.

I think I’m doing pretty OK on the “white knight” problem. I’ve been invited to events by black friends. When I have shown up, I was the only white guy there.  I overhear their friends ask, “You didn’t say he was white.” My friend says, “Oh, I forgot.” At one party, they replied, “You forgot?!” My friend said, “Yeah. Chill. Just get him a beer. Talk to him for a while. You’ll see he forgot, too.” I think Kenny would be just OK with me now.

Robert and Joyce

I met Robert when he was an inmate in the Philadelphia House of Correction and I was Mennonite Chaplain. He was then transferred to the Phila. Industrial Correctional Center when it opened in 1986. He attended my Bible studies there. He asked me to bring some groceries, a Bible and a few other items to Joyce where she was living, Richard Allen Homes.

robertjoyceWhen the other inmates heard I was going there, they urged me not to go. They assured me it was far too dangerous for one such as me.

I went. I was shocked to find such deplorable conditions. Joyce was living on the couch in a tiny, bug & vermin infested apartment with an older woman who was dying of leukemia. Joyce was there illegally, but she exchanged care for the woman in lieu of rent of couch space. There was a waiting list to get into RAH. The entry hall had been firebombed and never cleaned up.

I dropped off the groceries. We had a short visit. As I was leaving, I saw that several cars in the parking lot had their windows smashed. Another car with its windows smashed out pulled in just then. The next thing I see is a group of tough guys sizing me up. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt; nothing to indicate that I was a minister of any kind. This was the kind of trouble the men at PICC had been worried about. Then, all at once, they all focused just above my head. Then I heard one of them mutter to the others, “Don’t mess with him. He’s a missionary man.” The tallest of them then said, “Have a nice day.” I replied with the same and proceded to my car, hoping to find it with windows intact. They were.

After Robert got out of jail, we had Joyce and him to our house for dinner. There were more grocery runs. Then word came that Joyce had died from AIDS and then word from the street a month later that Robert passed, as well. We knew them less than a year, but they left a mark on our hearts.

They were the first people we knew to die of AIDS. This was several years before World AIDS Day in 1991 and the red ribbon AIDS awareness campaign. I put a little anachronous AIDS ribbon earring in Joyce’s ear in the painting. Once again, these are not accurate likenesses, since we have no photographs, and it has been nearly 30 years. They are likenesses painted out of loving memory.

Angie

To say that Angie was not a pleasant person, is the kindest euphemism I can muster. Let me just say, when her body was found dead of murder, no one was surprised, and there was a long list of people with possible motive. Yet we considered it a joy to serve her a hot nutritious meal in the park, rain or shine, once a week for about fifteen years. I think she died around 2007.

Angie loved to tease people. That is an understatement; it was more that she liked to torment people. She wanted to tease and provoke until blood was boiling. She positively delighted in making other people angry. She was proud of being a Native American “squaw”. She was always bundled up and totally covered, even when the weather didn’t call for it. She always had some scam going. She would give one of the volunteers some tea or some special lip balm. The next week they were informed they owed her $10 or more; and, by the way, she had the rest of their order now. She didn’t care whether she was picking on children or adults. She could be relentless.

One time I brought venison stew down to the Love Park from a roadkill deer that Alex Smerkanich had picked up while it was still twitching alongside of the 309. A coworker and I butchered it after work. I just left the ribs long. I roasted them and served them as an added bonus to those who wanted them. Many of the people were puzzled as to what kind of animal these bones came from. I let them know it was deer. They asked where it came from. I told them. Angie was off to the races! And she didn’t stop until she died. She was constantly after me about sweeping pigeons off the pavement, running down squirrels, etc., to put roadkill in the soup. It frustrated her that I never got angry with her over this.

angieOne night, the entire McGraw family, all eleven of them, came down in their short bus to help serve. They even brought along their three-legged Great Dane. After we were done serving, they got the dog out for a little social time and walk in the park. Angie saw this dog and exclaimed, “What happened to that poor dog’s leg?!” Sweet little Elisa McGraw, who had never uttered a word down there before, immediately replied, “We put it in the soup!” We were all surprised. It sure shut up Angie.

I have painted a terrible picture of Angie, but I recall tender moments, as well, and times when she apologized with tears and said thank you. It is hard to imagine what torments she must have suffered to have built such terrible defenses for her psyche. We all start life with great potential and aspiration. No one looks at a little baby and envisions a bitter, contentious, homeless lady leaving conflict in her wake. Who and what did this to her? Why did it happen to her and not to me? When we start to ask these questions, we are starting down the path of understanding what Paul of Tarsus was saying when he said we should each look at ourselves as the worst sinner ever. (1 Tim. 15) This puts Jesus words, “Judge not”, to the test. People do what they feel they need to do to cope. We rationalize our own behavior. At the time, in the moment, our behavior, no matter how bizarre or hurtful, always seems rational. And we’ve done some pretty stupid, bizarre and hurtful stuff in our lives, no? Everyone you see is fighting a great battle. They haven’t had the same advantages, perspectives and privileges as we have.

As ornery as Angie was, we still looked forward to seeing her as part of the mix on the nights we would serve. I still remember her gruff laugh. I didn’t mind being the butt of her jokes. I could play along, if it kept her from picking on someone else. I just wasn’t raised to throw people away. And people she was!

Let us be kind.

Oscar

My fourth portrait is another one from memory. This time, I am reaching even further back into the dusty recesses of my brain; over 20 years back, to paint my friend, Oscar. My painting is now officially therapy. My doctor prescribed it after she noticed that my blood pressure went down 20 points in 4 minutes just talking about it.

I shared Oscar’s story more than 20 years ago in a TKJ newsletter shortly after he had died. Oscar was in his early 50s. It was 1992. I was 37. We were serving on the sidewalk on the City Hall side of JFK Plaza at that time, more commonly called the Love Park because of the world famous LOVE art in front of the fountain there. We would see Oscar on occasion. Every time he came, he made it a point to seek me out afterward to say how thankful he was for what we did. He would say how special that I am for doing this. I always deflected by saying something like, “I’m just doing what Jesus compels me to do. I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t do it. It is Jesus who loves you.” He would reply, “I don’t believe in any of that god stuff. I just know that you are really special and I am truly grateful. Thank you!”

Oscar
Oscar

At times, we would talk about history or philosophy or the arts. He was well educated. He had had a good paying job at one point. I don’t know if I ever learned how he ended up on the street. He had used cocaine and had suffered a couple of heart attacks as a result. He is among the most civilized people I have ever known, with a twinkle in the eye and a Bohemian side.

Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead, FL, in August of 1992. Church groups were sending clothing and supplies down to the more than 100,000 families whose homes had been destroyed. Word got out that people were having a hard time surviving because it was it slow process to get any cash to buy necessities. So people started tucking cash into the pockets of clothing to short circuit that process, and get money into people’s hands quickly. Several bags of men’s clothing did not fit onto a truck bound for Homestead, so they got re-directed to The King’s Jubilee. They told me about the potential money in the pockets. Between working full-time, leading a Bible study at Graterford prison that afternoon while Bethann made the soup, coordinating with the Pottstown and SC serving sites, somehow searching pockets got missed.

When we gave away the clothing that night, it was a free for all, like always. There was one garment no one seemed to want. It was a corduroy sportcoat with suede elbow patches. Oscar grabbed it and put it on. It fit. It was warm. He said, “I’m not proud. It’s warm. It’s clean.” The others laughed and called him professor. Who knows? Perhaps, that’s what he had been. He disappeared for a couple weeks. When he came back, he told me what happened. Later that night, he checked the pockets of the sportcoat and found a $50 bill. He told me that he wished he could say he did something productive or constructive with it. Alas, he said, he had a good meal at a fancy restaurant and went on a week long bender. He said, “I’m sorry. But it’s been a long time since I had such a good time and could forget about all of this. Thank you. Can you forgive me?”

I told him there was nothing to forgive. He found the money. It was his to do with what he wanted. If he got some relief, well, who am I to judge? (I am weeping as I type this.) His eyes welled up and he thanked me again with a hug. The next time he thanked me for serving all the guys on the street. He said, “I thank God for you, Cranford.” My eyes welled up with tears.

I don’t know if he had found faith, or if he was just being gracious and kind to please me. It was the last time I saw Oscar. He died of a heart attack at 53. I attempted to paint this from memory. It is a poor likeness. The beret and the neck scarf are there. The beard, long, full hair, and brown eyes are there. I tried to convey both his thoughtfulness and the mischief, with the intent stare, the tilt of the head, and the slight smile.

I need to start selling these paintings. We live in a small house. I need to keep painting. I will need more paint. My contact info. is at the bottom of the page to make an offer.  This one is 20″ x 16″. Thanks.

Playing in the Intersection

This post is cross-filed in three categories, because my painting has now crossed the line. Perhaps I should say, I am not coloring inside the lines? It has gone beyond a matter of the technical, “If You Can Read, You Can Cook …” concept, yet encompasses that. My primary care physician has now prescribed my painting as art therapy as part of my heart healing and stroke prevention plan, so it is part of “My Healthcare Journey”. Most importantly to me, and why any of this is happening is that my subjects fall into the third category: “Other People’s Children”.

“Other People’s Children” is a totally different approach to pro-life. It looks at adults whom the world has thrown away and sees the absolute beauty and value the world missed. The term “pro-life” has been hijacked by the anti-abotion mob, who are anything but. I celebrate my friends, true loved ones, whom the so-called “pro-life” crowd cast aside as ‘takers’ because of their disabilities, gender, color or economic standing. I am painting their portraits to go along with their stories. Some are from my weak memory. I have very few photos.

rosalie I tried to capture the essence of Rosalie, a woman I met in the Women’s Detention Facility in 1985. We became lifelong friends. She was irrepressible. She attached herself to me immediately. We were both about 30, just a month apart in age, worlds apart in backgrounds. She died of leukemia on the street in 2008, when we were about 53. This is just a poor cartoon representing her. It really looks nothing like her aside from the freckles, frizzy red hair and big smile,  but does capture some of the emotional impact of her coming toward me for the first time in the House of Corrections.

I miss her.

alexThe next portrait is of Alex Bejleri or “Alex the Albanian”, my dear friend. We have known him since I started to serve on the street in 1988. We helped him learn English so he could get his citizenship. He walked over 5 miles in the snow to visit me in the hospital when I was ill. He calls me when I can’t make it to the street. He no longer needs our service, but he loves my soup. He prays for me and for my family daily. He still believes what they told him on Radio Free Europe, even though he has spent most of the last 28 years in Philadelphia, living on the street. I guess, if you go to jail for something, then escape, give up your homeland, your family ties, move half a world away; it’s hard to come to terms with the reality that it was based on an illusion. You see. He was a ‘political prisoner’ in Albania for listening to American propaganda radio broadcasts. I had to find him a shortwave radio so he could try to tune them in here. I kept trying to explain that America lied to him and they were not allowed to do that here. It was too much for him. Of course, now, they have changed the law. The CIA is now allowed to lie to us “legally” by broadcasting propaganda within the US. I guess Alex should try firing up the shortwave again.

My life is so much richer for knowing him.

These are just two of the hundreds of ‘throwaway’ people whom I have known throughout my life and grown to appreciate, enjoy, and sometimes love. These are the people whom the cold-hearted, falsely self-labeled ‘pro-life’ Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and his ilk call “takers”. If one doesn’t like people, all kinds of people, one isn’t pro-life. People are not interchangeable widgets. Each one of us is a unique, living, breathing, unrepeatable expression of the love, exuberance, joy and persistence of life! Each one of us longs to be and ought to be respected and celebrated. I am attempting, with these feeble cartoons and little articles to do that for some of my lovely brothers and sisters whom most of society would rather not see.

The doctor prescribed it, because she took my blood pressure after I told her about these paintings and it was 20 points lower than before. This is good for my heart. I hope they are good for yours, too.

Courting Disaster

Disaster is about the only thing that gets courted these days. Men no longer court women, nor do the ladies expect to be courted. Instead, young men and young women engage in flirtation, dating and sexual conquest, much of the time postponing marriage well past their youth. The sex drive is greatest in young people, especially in young men. To ask them to wait until they are in their late 20’s to wed is truly courting disaster. Sex outside of marriage is called fornication, which carries the connotation of filthiness or uncleanness. This is not an outdated label to make us feel guilty. Sin is called sin because it is something other than love and it gets in the way of love. TV sitcom dads tell their kids that sex with no thought of marriage is OK if two fifteen year olds “love” each other; just use protection. This attitude robs adolescents and young adults of an opportunity for great joy and weakens marriage.

We learn in Orthodoxy that there is no feasting without fasting. This discipline of our eating habits is instructive for chastity and fidelity. I can’t count the times I have heard people say about Thanksgiving or Christmas something like, “Yeah, we have to eat turkey again.” In this land of plenty, with meat served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day of the year, turkey and ham have become commonplace. There’s little special about a feast for most Americans. On the other hand, if you are part of an Orthodox community that keeps Great Lent and Holy Week, then breaks the fast together after the Paschal Liturgy; you understand how truly exciting cheese can be; let alone turkey and ham! The Apostle Paul pointed out the connection between fasting and chastity by quoting a pagan folk proverb that used eating meat as a metaphor for sex. “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” [1 Cor. 6:13] Some modern versions of this pagan proverb are: “If it feels good, do it.” and “It’s only natural.”

Sex is supposed to be the seal or consummation of a mutual covenant and pledge of love between a man and a woman who are part of something larger than themselves: a family, a community, a society, a culture. Practically, it is the means by which new humans come into being. As Orthodox Christians, if we truly believe our stated theology that every human being bears the image of God and is a unique, unrepeatable reflection of his Glory; then we need to do our best to respect, honor and protect the potential of sex.

With all of the world’s casual attitudes toward sex along with its temptations and pressures to conformity, it takes more than a three word slogan like “True love waits” to equip young people to make the hard choices to avoid fornication. We need to be transformed in our thinking and approach, as a community, to provide more appropriate settings for socialization of adolescents and a proper framework for courtship that recognizes natural urges, yet protects chastity and love.

(to be cont’d.)

Bush, McCain and Palin’s Holy War

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin taught in her “Bible study” class at the Assemblies of God Church in Wasilla, Alaska, that the US troops in Iraq had been sent “out on a task that is from God.” 1 She also taught the School for Ministry graduates that it was God’s will that the natural gas pipeline be built across Alaska. “God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that,” she said. The fact that this pipeline would make BP, Shell and Alyeska Pipeline, sponsors of her inaugural celebration, that much more profitable was only a side effect, I guess. Of course she also said that the war in Iraq is about oil. She told BusinessWeek: “We are a nation at war and in many [ways] the reasons for war are fights over energy sources.” 2 So I guess she is saying that it is God’s will that we start preemptive wars to kill people to get oil.

To be clear, there is no such thing as a holy war. Neither the Bible, nor the Orthodox Church teach that any war is just. James tells us clearly where wars come from, and he makes no exceptions for so-called Christian countries who are running out of gas. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:1-3)

President George W. Bush claimed to hear from God that he was to strike down Saddam. 3 This is while he was lying to the world about WMD’s, pressuring the CIA to come up with the right intelligence that would match his aims, and his own father, former President George H. W. Bush was telling him not to go there. If you are hearing from God, why should you listen to the CIA, the UN or your dad? Praise God and pass the ammunition!

John McCain has expressed on numerous occasions, including most recently his acceptance speech that we have a sacred obligation to win any war we engage in. This includes a preemptive war started on falsified intelligence based on a document planted by the Bush White House, because Fearless W. Leader heard the voice of God telling him to take out Saddam. By the way, intentionally targeting an individual, even in time of war, is a crime. Targeting a head of state is a war crime, a violation of the Geneva Convention (which W. claimed we are not subject to, because this is not a war), and is stupid and counter-productive, as are torture, and indeterminate, incommunicado imprisonment. John McCain used to oppose torture, but this year he voted to authorize its use in order to get the full support of the Republican Party. That one vote disqualifies him for office and would leave him open to charges of crimes against humanity in the civilized countries of the world. I guess when you are on a mission from God, you are allowed to bend the rules.

Let’s be clear about the Bush administration’s request to give the CIA an exemption from the U.S. Army’s Field Manual on Interrogation. It was opposed by the Pentagon. It was opposed by career State Department officials. It was opposed by career CIA people. Why? Because torture is inhumane and counter-productive. It does not generate reliable information. It dehumanizes us in the eyes of our enemies, thus it is an added recruiting tool for extremist groups. It endangers our people as it increases the possibility that they will be tortured upon capture. These are the reasons that torture was outlawed by the Geneva Conventions. Bush, McCain and Palin don’t need to heed common sense or history or international law, however, because they have God on their side.

The Iraq invasion was a preemptive war. America has never before rationalized such an act. The only leaders in modern history who have tried to justify such preemptive strikes are Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, Stalin and Golda Meir (though Stalin and Meir thought better of it and decided against it). McCain has embraced the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war. 4 He hasn’t chosen very honorable role models.

It’s very hard to argue with someone who says God told him or her to do something. Hitler was establishing the Third Reich to usher in the coming of the Lord. George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden are intent on starting Armageddon to bring on the coming of the Lord. Hirohito didn’t need to hear from God. According to Shinto practice, he was god. Palin’s Assemblies of God background should be troubling to any sane voter. Pentecostals believe in personal, special revelation from God on anything, and then fit the facts of the world around it. The two most prominent AG members in politics thus far have been Secretary of the Interior James Watt and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Watt didn’t have any problem with clear-cutting national forests of strip-mining in national parks, without any concern of sustainability. He felt we only needed to make sure there were enough resources for the few generations left until the Lord returned. The largest ever petition to remove someone from office was delivered to President Reagan regarding Mr. Watt. He was finally forced to resign after he made an insensitive remark about his staff in a public address. One of his more quotable quotes is: “If the trouble from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used.” 5 John Ashcroft anointed himself with Crisco before taking the oath of office. He was known for his opposition to desegregation and proposing the TIPS program where Americans were to snitch Soviet-style on their neighbors for unpatriotic behavior.

I am not saying that because James Watt and John Ashcroft were Pentecostal wackos that Sarah Palin is also. But it’s scary to think that she thinks that the war in Iraq is a task from God and that God assigned her the task of building a gas pipeline. Also, I have to question the judgment of anyone who names their children: Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig. Especially since they are all obviously boys’ names and three of them are girls.

People are all excited that McCain and Palin are “pro-life.” Preemptive war is not pro-life. They just don’t like paying for abortions. This isn’t pro-life. It is just cheap. Gov. Palin doesn’t like paying to help prevent teen pregnancies or care for teen mothers so they can have their babies either, as evidenced by the use of her line item veto. Bush, McCain and Palin have opposed any plans that would guarantee prenatal care for every expectant mother and healthcare for every newborn. This isn’t even cheap. It is just mean-spirited, as providing this care would prevent so many birth defects, diseases, and handicaps that it would be cost beneficial. Not to mention how many infant deaths would be prevented. Every civilized country has universal healthcare. The infant mortality rate in our inner cities is the same as that of the poorest third world countries. Shame on us! Shame on the Republican Party! Universal healthcare is pro-life.

During the Reagan and GHW Bush years abortion rates increased. During Clinton’s two terms, abortion rates and numbers went down every year. After Bush II took office, the numbers and rate started to increase again. The culture of endless war, out of control govt. debt, lack of care for the poor and working class, no hope of meaningful increase in minimum wage, cuts in WIC funding (a program which the GAO concluded was the most cost-effective program the federal govt. ran), all contributed to a hopelessness and culture of death in which more mothers chose to kill their babies than to let them come into such a world. Not discounting any of his other faults, Bill Clinton promoted a climate and vision of hope. More mothers were willing to let their babies live, as they were entering a world where there was hope for a better tomorrow.

War is never holy or pro-life.

Hope is pro-life.

Universal healthcare is pro-life.