27 July 2007

victims of torture

The image displayed is a logo created for a "sweat-free" tee shirt that my wife, Banu, is planning to use for me. There's a scripture verse that I consider to be...challenging?...inspiring? It's Hebrews 13:3. "Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured."

Unfortunately, there's no shortage of people being tortured. Also, unfortunately, America can no longer claim moral high ground when it comes to the question of torture. I'm not naive enough to believe that we haven't tortured people all along. I also am somewhat aware of the sorry condition of our jails and prisons. But I think I'm safe in saying that the Bush administration is alone in the post-World War 2 era (even the post-Civil War era) by seriously discussing what kinds of torture are acceptable. Still, what should we expect from a president and vice president whose tenure has repeatedly shown a disregard for constitutional limits?

What methods of torture would Jesus suffer today? If not flogging and crucifixion, what about waterboarding or sensory deprivation? Being held in stress positions? How about being detained in secret prisons, held without charge? If one responds, "We only do that to terrorists," don't forget that similar charges were made against him.

21 July 2007

another reflection from Thomas Merton

When I was at Middle Tennessee State University, I took an honors course called the Medieval Experience. Our final project was to be either a field trip to Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky or a medieval fair at some guy's castle south of Nashville. We wound up doing the latter. I think I was the only one who would have chosen the former. That's because Thomas Merton had lived much of his life at the monastery in Kentucky.

In my initial post as Dr. Sheltie, I quoted Merton, and I want to do so again. He's reflecting on his observations of America. He notes that American people's "most serious concerns seem to be involved in trivialities and illusions...It seems to me that for all our pride in freedom and individuality we have completely renounced thinking for ourselves. What passes for 'thinking' is mass-produced, passively accepted, or not even accepted. We simply submit to be process of being informed, without actually registering on our mind at all. We are content to turn on a switch and be comforted by the vapid, but self-assured slogans of the speaker who, we fondly hope, is thinking for the entire nation."

This was written in 1960 as a preface for the book Disputed Questions. I'm not sure how much we've learned in the 47 years since. The events of the early years of this 21st century may show, in some ways, that we've taken a step backward. While the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union has collapsed (to use Reagan's phrase), we've allowed our government, in my opinion, to adopt many of its methods. The church has had few representatives to raise a voice in response.

One thing in Merton's quote I would say doesn't apply today is the last half of the last sentence. I'm not sure that "we fondly hope" the "self-assured slogans" apply to "the entire nation." Instead, there may be some cynical compliance. There may be an acceptance of news as entertainment--if people even bother to attempt educating themselves anymore.

However, that doesn't serve the purposes of citizens in a democracy--only those of a dictatorship. And it doesn't serve the purposes of the Christ who urges us to love God with, among other aspects of our being, "our minds."

18 July 2007

Why write?

Why write? Why do this digital thing called blogging? Why put my thoughts down before others? Good questions.

Though he died in 1968, before anyone thought about using computers to write, Thomas Merton had similar questions. As he says in The Sign of Jonas, "I continue writing this journal under obedience to Dom Gildas, in spite of my personal disinclination to go on with it. It is sufficient to have the matter decided by a director. If it is tedious to keep a journal, it is still more tedious to keep wondering whether or not I ought to give the thing up. I do not know whether it will give glory to God: but my writing of it has been disinfected by obedience. I need no longer apologize either to God or to myself for keeping a journal."

I haven't been commanded to maintain a blog. (Well, my wife, Banu, has strongly urged me to do so!) Sometimes I feel like I have plenty to say, and other times, I'm convinced that if I never produce another word, things would go just as well. So, let's see what happens...