Thursday, December 30, 2004

Responding to disaster

This report from Episcopal News Service shows some of the strengths of the Episcopal Church, in it's quick response to the earthquake and tsunami of Dec. 26. This morning, there are warnings that there may be more tsunamis on the way, and the death toll is already expected to pass 100,000.

This report also gives us glimpses of how people who are posted in churches and dioceses in South Asia are responding to the disaster.

Bulletin: Tsunami aid begins through Episcopal Relief & Development

ENS 122804-1
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
[Episcopal News Service] With numbers of dead and homeless rising across southern Asia in the wake of December 26th's unprecedented Indian Ocean tsunami, Episcopal Relief and Development has begun emergency response efforts and welcomes financial contributions to aid these initiatives.

ERD representatives request that contributions be directed to Episcopal Relief and Development, South Asia Relief Fund, P.O. Box 12043, Newark, NJ 07101. Contributions may also be forwarded on-line ( ).

Devastation is reported worst in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India among other southern Asian countries.

The retired Anglican bishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Rt. Rev. Kenneth Fernando, was the first to reach the Episcopal News Service with comment by electronic mail December 27: "We have received many inquiries about the situation in Sri Lanka after the disaster. It has been a very heavy disaster. Most of those affected are the poor who live in little shanties by the sea. They have lost everything.

"Our churches are being used as temporary camps and the government, and NGO's (non-governmental organizations) are beginning to function.

"Since we live near a lake only a few miles from the sea, we had a few anxious moments as I thought the water level of the lake would rise. But there has been no change at all."

Fernando -- who is well known for building Buddhist-Christian-Muslim dialogue and has served the Anglican Communion as head of its NIFCON effort to build interfaith dialogue with the use of technology among other strategies -- said that various relief agencies, including OXFAM and the World Council of Churches, had begun helping Sri Lanka. 

"Many thanks for your concern for us," he added. "We are hoping there will be no after shocks, The people are very frightened."

Meanwhile, from the Church of South India, Bishop Thomas Samuel of the Diocese of Madhya Kerala, sent the following message to Oregon Bishop Johncy Itty:

"It is with deep distress and immense grief that I share with you the terrible tragedy that has hit the coastal regions of Tamil-Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Sri Lanka. The magnitude of the disaster is difficult to comprehend mainly becasuse of its unexpected nature and also because of lack of exact statistics. The figure of the death toll in South India has gone up to 15,000. This tragedy has suddenly made us not only challenged into rising up to the situation but also made us realize our insufficiency and vulnerability.

"The worst-hit Alappuzha and Kollam are in Madhya Kerala Diocese where thousands were rendered homeless and many were reported missing. Many in these areas  were caught and crushed and washed away before they even knew what was happening. There is no electricity and borewells put for drinking water supply were also destroyed. This is the worst national disaster in recent history because it is affecting so many heavily populated coastal areas. We could have epidemics within a few days unless we get health systems up and runing.

"Our diocesan pastors and leaders have rushed to the disaster areas with food, clothing, medicine etc. Our focus is on supply of drinking water, food and clothing. Sanitation is a big problem. Many camps have been set up to accommodate thousands of homeless people.

"We would greatly appreciate if you would kindly extend your generous support to the relief work. Please do remember us in your prayers."

Also in Tamil-Nadu, Bishop V. Devasahayam of India's Diocese of Chennai, a port center, concurred in a phone interview reported to ERD that the worst damage was in Tamil-Nadu, south of Madras. He said among the hardest hit were fisher-folk, many of whom were fishing at the time of the tsunami. Some 2,000 power boats and 20,000 catamarans were lost, he said.  Many of the islands have been washed out. The bishop said his diocese has set up relief stations in many of the churches. He said the local cathedral complex survived as did many of the churches, including St. Mary's by-the-Sea.
-- From Staff Reports


In other news, I see St. Nicholas visited Canterbury Palace Christmas Day. Despite dire predictions from the conservative wings of the church, he did not leave lumps of coal in Archbishop Rowan Williams' Christmas stocking. In fact, he seemed rather chummy with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Way to go, ABC!  

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Alleluia! He is here

I heard Martha Butler's song "Alleluia, He Is Coming" performed at church several times during Advent. It's one of those songs that can bring tears to my eyes. It's full of longing for Christ, longing for the presence of God, God that we can know, God who became human.

I looked up and I saw my Lord a-coming
I looked up and I saw my Lord a-coming
down the road
Alleluia He is coming, alleluia He is here
Alleluia He is coming, alleluia He is here

You see, God is too big for my mind to begin to comprehend. But Jesus puts a human face on God, and I can relate to this. God is real in a tangible, touchable way, through Jesus Christ.

I can visualize Jesus. I hold a perfect image of him in my mind's eye: He has a long, ovular face; his cheekbones and nose are a bit sharp. He has large, liquid, chocolate-brown eyes, from which his compassion radiates. He has brown skin and wavy, chestnut-colored hair.

I can even see the hairs on his shins.

This is God we can know, God who walks among us and speaks to us. God who teaches his disciples.

In reading the prophets, we get a picture of a Messiah who is not a handsome man. Yet he is able to draw thousands to him. They follow him out into the countryside and out onto the hillsides. Jesus is truly the charismatic man, full of healing, and that compassion that spills out of him like a river flooding its bank. It is too much to contain within him.

Those who are spiritually attuned sense it and follow him. Those who are spiritually dead or asleep don't feel it.

I can almost imagine what it is like to feel his hands touch me as he prays healing for me. I can imagine the warmth of those hands, his human flesh.

I can love him, passionately. I can grieve him. I can repent of my human pride, greed, envy, all the sins that wrenched him pitilessly from this life:

I looked up and I saw my Lord a-dying
I looked up and I saw my Lord a-dying on a tree

Yet, I think it wasn't just to proclaim his reality to us or even to die for love of us that the word became flesh.

It is one thing to know, another thing to experience. I wonder that, even with the might of the universe at his command, even creating us, forming us in our mothers' wombs and knowing us, God had not experienced being human.

Can even God fully know something without experiencing it?

The Bible said he came to dwell among us, literally, to pitch his tent among us.

A tent is a frail and vulnerable thing. It is not meant to be permanent. It is a temporary habitation, for it cannot long withstand the elements. One good storm, and it's gone.

The Word made flesh was subject to the weakness, the frailty, the vulnerability of human beings. He experienced temptation. God became a God at the mercy of the world around him, instead of in divine control. God experienced this.

So, the New Covenant is a covenant of mercy and grace. He showers grace upon us, for he knows, in a new way, that, try as we might, we cannot do it. The world is too much for us spiritual infants. We cannot make ourselves deserving of God's favor.

His love is now even more full of compassion and tenderness. He knows our humanity. He knows what it is to fear the future, to be ravaged by disease, to suffer loss and grieve. To hurt and to be hurt. He has pitched His tent in the middle of it. He has put His flesh-and-blood hands on it.

Oh, little newborn baby Jesus. So weak. So helpless. So tender, held in your mother's arms. So full of promise.

Alleluia, he is here!

I'll look up and I'm gonna see my Lord a-coming
I'll look up and I'm gonna see my Lord a-coming
in the clouds

He will return for us.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Don't even bother to ask

Culled from AP and Reuters today, regarding Preznit's big press conference before he goes off to the ranch for a nice Christmas vacation. Guess he has to escape from the war and all. Too bad our troops and the Iraqis can't.

I felt ill and angry after reading his statements. It amazes me how the press seems to let these statements by, unchallenged.

I added bolding/emphasis to particularly notable statements. I also added my own commentary.

"Don't bother to ask me," Bush told reporters at a year-end news conference when pressed for the specifics of his plan to overhaul Social Security to allow personal investment accounts similar to a 401(k).

Bush made clear he would not engage in a public debate about how to shore up Social Security's $3.7 trillion, 75-year shortfall until he gives Congress "a solution at the appropriate time." The administration has said a plan is still being crafted.

Yeah, just fahgittabouddit. We peons whose money funded Social Security and whose futures are tied to it don't need to know anything. The shrub has no accountability to the citizens of this country. He'll tell us what he's going to do with the remains of our future when he's good and ready.

Concluding his remarks on the budget came the following:

"The temptation is going to be ... to get me to negotiate with myself in public. To say, you know, 'What's this mean, Mr. President? What's that mean?' I'm not going to do that," Bush said. "The law will be written in the halls of Congress. And I will negotiate with them, with the members of Congress."

What?? What is this -- some new level of schizodom? Does Bushy need his meds? His megalomaniacal tendencies are showing, too.

President Bush defended Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the Iraq war on Monday and said training Iraqi police and army to take over responsibility for the country's security from U.S. troops has been difficult...

Several Republican lawmakers have expressed doubts about Rumsfeld's performance and many Democrats want him fired, but Bush rejected such criticism.

"I believe he's doing a really fine job," Bush said.

"Sometimes, perhaps his demeanor is rough and gruff. But below that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being who cares deeply about the military and deeply about the grief that war causes," Bush said.

Rumsfeld did not sign condolence letters to the families of U.S. troops killed in Iraq, having them machine-signed, instead. Bush's aides said personally signs condolence letters he sends to the bereaved.

On relations with Russia, Bush said he would not let policy differences undercut close relations with President Vladimir Putin, despite the Russian's recent moves seen by critics as potentially damaging to democracy. They plan to meet Feb. 24 in Slovakia as part of a Bush Europe tour, a U.S. official said.

"As you know, Vladimir Putin and I have got a good personal relationship. ... I intend to keep it that way," Bush said. "Obviously we have some disagreements. ... But this is a vital and important relationship."

Isn't it heartwarming to see how the fascistatolitarian boys stick together? All for one and one for all! Maybe Bushy should let Saddam out of the slammer so he can hang with Bush and the boys.

Bushy did stoop to admit that things are going all that great in the War on Iraq:

Bush is often accused of sugarcoating the Iraq situation, but at his 17th solo news conference he talked at length about the difficulties facing the country as it prepares for Jan. 30 elections that the insurgents are trying to derail.

"These people are targeting innocent Iraqis. They're trying to shake the will of the Iraqi people and, frankly, trying to shake the will of the American people. And car bombs that destroy young children or car bombs that indiscriminately bomb in religious sites are effective propaganda tools," he said.

Car bombers struck the Shi'ite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala on Sunday, killing 66 people.

Bush said "life is better now than it was under Saddam Hussein" in the year since Saddam was captured but that "it's important for the American people to understand" that the Jan. 30 elections are only the start of a political process that will see a constitutional government elected in a year.

Who did they survey to determine life is better now? The upper echelons of the Defense Department?

Ain't it strange how the prez allows "policy difference" in some parts of the world and not others?

The President acknowledged the central U.S. goal of training Iraqi police and army so U.S. troops can leave has had mixed results.

"There have been some cases where, when the heat got on, they left the battlefield. That's unacceptable," Bush said.

You mean those Iraqis won't stand up and be shot to please the White House and Rummy?

He would not give a timetable on when U.S. troops might return home but said top U.S. generals are "optimistic and positive about the gains we're making."

Yeah, yeah. I wonder which top generals?

Oh, don't even bother to ask.

Addendum 12-21-04: Sigh. This is the 'moral prez, keeping those Christian values.' Oh, yeah. I can hear the snickering wafting up from the bowels of hell.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Solstice, Christmas and Yule celebration

I was assigned to write an "event" story for the paper, and since there wasn't much of anything going on that hadn't already been covered, I wrote one on the winter solstice, which turned out to be fascinating, at least for me, who knew just the basic fact, that it's the longest night of the year.

The winter solstice will arrive at 7:42 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21, marking the beginning of winter. It's the day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight between sunrise and sunset -- the longest night of the year.

In these parts, the sun will rise at 7:14 a.m. and set at 5:31 p.m. on Dec. 21, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. You can go to their Applications Department, plug in your geographic coordinates, and get the exact time in your neck of the woods.

The winter solstice occurs when the earth tilts in its rotation so the northern hemisphere is farthest away from the sun's light and warmth. South of the equator, the seasons are reversed, and the summer solstice is celebrated on Dec. 21.

Solstice means "sun stands still," as the sun appears to slow down, then hover at the same, unchanging elevation in the sky from day to day, as the solstice approaches.

According to the Naval Observatory, the "season" of the winter solstice actually began Dec. 7, with the year's earliest sunset occurring on that day, at 5:27 p.m. locally. Because the time of sunrise is still moving later in the morning, the latest sunrise won't occur until January 5.

The Naval Observatory site waxed eloquent over the season, saying, "The longest nights of the season are populated by a beautiful collection of bright stars which can now be seen rising majestically in the east in the late evening. The distinctive figure of Orion, with his three prominent 'belt' stars, leads a parade of bright constellations over the eastern horizon. Nine of the sky's 25 brightest stars lie in the vicinity of Orion, and this year a tenth interloper brings up the rear guard."

The astronomical meaning of the solstice is only part of the story.

Celebrations of the winter solstice began in prehistory, and traditions from pre-Christian Germanic and Scandinavian observances remain with us today.

Imagine a Northern European, thousands of years ago, watching the nights becoming longer and feeling the days turning colder, as the sun appeared to move farther and farther away in the sky. It seemed as though the sun would finally disappear -- go away forever.

Finally, the sun reached it most distant point. Daylight pierced the darkness for mere hours, if at all. Then came the return of the light, with longer days and shorter nights, promising spring and the rebirth of life, despite the winter months to come.

A feast marked this turning point. It was called "Yule," from the Norse Yul, meaning "wheel," when the the wheel of the year was at its lowest point. Current customs, such as serving ham, came from the Yule feast, when it was customary to serve a roasted, wild boar. "Yule" also means "Christmas" in Scandanavian countries.

Other traditions persist.

Evergreen trees and shrubs, symbolizing rebirth and life amid the winter whiteness, were prized. The prickly holly was particularly sought to decorate openings to the home -- doors, windows and fireplaces -- to ward off or snag and capture evil spirits.

Gift-giving was important, and often meant survival. Gifts were usually food items given by those who still had stored-up food to those friends and family who were running short. The Yule feast ensured that everyone had something to eat, as well. Later, gift-giving incorporated other sorts of items.

Mistletoe, also called the golden bough or Allheal, was prized by the ancient Celts and Norsemen for its healing properties. It was also the plant of peace in Scandinavian antiquity, and if enemies should meet by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms in truce until the next day. Kissing under the mistletoe was popularized in England.

So how did all these pre-Christian, Northern European customs become part of the Christian celebration of Christmas?

First, note the time Christmas is celebrated -- Dec. 25 -- right around the time of the winter solstice, though the Bible gives no date for the birth of Christ.

Dec. 25 was marked as the "Victory of the Sun-God" festival in the pagan Babylonian world, and as a celebration of the Festival of Saturn (Saturnalia), or winter solstice, in the ancient Roman Empire. The ancients believed that the sun god rose from the dead three days after his death, which would have occurred on the solstice, as the newborn and venerable sun.

In the fourth century, under the Emperor Constantine, who wanted to convert these pagans to Christianity as part of his Holy Roman Empire, Pope Julius 1 decreed Dec. 25 as the celebration of Christ's birth. Converting the holiday to a Christian one was reckoned a good way to convert the people to Christianity. It was an easy fit, with Christ a "son-god" who rose from the dead after three days. Like the Northern Europeans, the Romans also used evergreens in their rituals.

When the Germanic and Scandivanian people were introduced to Christianity, their symbols of life, death, rebirth and eternal life came with them into the Christian tradition, and evergreen wreaths, Christmas trees, holly, gift-giving and Yule logs are part of most European and North American Christmas celebrations.

The Puritans objected to the "Christianization" of a pagan celebration and its traditions, such as Christmas trees and reveling, which they considered not Christian at all. They managed to outlaw the celebration of Christmas for a few years in England and its New World colonies in the late 17th century. Some groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, still do not celebrate Christmas.

But, Yule-log lighting ceremonies celebrate the season in many places, ironically, including a local university with a "Christian" history, held Dec. 7, the beginning of the winter solstice season.

The lighting of the Yule log brings light into the dark of the long, winter night, which has meaning in both Christian and pagan traditions.

"It's a symbol of light and life," said the university president, in his welcoming remarks, adding that the ceremony brings together people of different faiths.

Christ was the light and life who came into the world, defeating the darkness. It is meaningful to me that so many religious traditions have the same thrust, of light, life, promise and rebirth after death.

Celebrants gathered around the burning Yule log, and after singing Christmas carols, threw holly sprigs, representing the sins of the past year, into the fire, combining these traditions.

Hot chocolate and pastries replaced the festival dinner of wild boar.

One of the university professors, explaining the Yule log tradition, said, "We link ourselves to generations and generations who came before us to beat back the night."

The circle of another year, the earth's complete rotation around the sun, and the tilting of the earth on its axis to bring the longest night, is complete again. It's Christmas time once more.

Christ, the light of the world, is coming. He will come again.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The heir to Christianity

One point I want to clarify as far as my own thinking on the previous post ("Something evil this way comes"):

The "legitimate heir to Christianity" is Christianity, and doing the work of the Kingdom instead of using an ersatz version of it to control people and maintain/build political power, which is what I see going on in the fundamentalist shift in the churches.

It's heartbreaking to hear people in the Episcopal Church sound like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. It's the worst kind of Phariseeism. And it is directly connected to the rise of fascism.

Christ's message was rich in love, in social justice, in helping those who are unable to help themselves. Christ came to set us free from the captivity of legalistic, judgmental, harsh and controlling philosophies.

Jesus said each one of us is so important to God that God knows the number of hairs on our heads. That's opposite to the fascist philosophy that we're important only in what the state/ruling oligarchy-theocracy can get out of us.

I believe in Christ and that he is who he said he is.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Something evil this way comes

I've posted about fascism and it's warning signs before. Here's an updated version of the 12 Warning Signs of Fascism. Note that we're up to No. 14 now in this country.

The latest evidence? The refusal of CBS and NBC to run a United Church of Christ ad. The ad promised to embrace and welcome all, regardless of sexual orientation, etc. "Jesus didn't turn people away, and neither do we" the ad states, as the camera shows a couple of burly-looking men guarding the doors to a church to keep out the undesirable elements. The ad was deemed too "controversial" and might offend some fundie churches.

Might offend the shrub and others who are all for one man and one woman and no gays in marriage. Can't go crossing the Executive Branch, now. Especially don't want to annoy Pat Robertson.

Might upset Jerry Falwell or somebody in one of those red states.

Oh, dear. The networks are worried about delicate sensibilities???? The networks who gave us programming like "Fear Factor" and "Survivor?"

When did loving your neighbor become controversial?

This is censorship, pure and simple.

Note items 6 and 8, particularly in this light. But read, mark and inwardly digest all of it very carefully.

The author is a UU minister.

Living Under Fascism
by Davidson Loehr
You may wonder why anyone would try to use the word"fascism" in a serious discussion of where America is today. It sounds like cheap name-calling, or melodramatic allusion to a slew of old war movies.

But I am serious. I don't mean it as name-calling at all. I mean to persuade you that the style of governing into which America has slid is most accurately described as fascism, and that the necessary implications of this fact are rightly regarded as terrifying. That's what I am about here. And even if I don't persuade you, I hope to raise the level of your thinking about who and where we are now, to add some nuance and perhaps some useful insights.

The word comes from the Latin word "Fasces," denoting a bundle of sticks tied together. The individual sticks represented citizens, and the bundle represented the state. The message of this metaphor was that it was the bundle that was significant, not the individual sticks. If it sounds un-American, it's worth knowing that the Roman Fasces appear on the wall behind the Speaker's podium in the chamber of the US House of Representatives.

Still, it's an unlikely word. When most people hear the word "fascism" they may think of the racism and anti-Semitism of Mussolini and Hitler. It is true that the use of force and the scapegoating of fringe groups are part of every fascism. But there was also an economic dimension of fascism, known in Europe during the 1920s and '30s as "corporatism," which was an essential ingredient of Mussolini's and Hitler's tyrannies. So-called corporatism was adopted in Italy and Germany during the 1930s and was held up as a model by quite a few intellectuals and policy makers in the United States and Europe.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago (in "The Corporation Will Eat Your Soul"), Fortune magazine ran a cover story on Mussolini in 1934, praising his fascism for its ability to break worker unions, disempower workers and transfer huge sums of money to those who controlled the money rather than those who earned it. Few Americans are aware of or can recall how so many Americans and Europeans viewed economic fascism as the wave of the future during the 1930s.

Yet reviewing our past may help shed light on our present, and point theway to a better future. So I want to begin by looking back to the last time fascism posed a serious threat to America.

In Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here, a conservative southern politician is helped to the presidency by a nationally syndicated radio talk show host. The politician - Buzz Windrip - runs his campaign on family values, the flag, and patriotism.

Windrip and the talk show host portray advocates of traditional American democracy - those concerned with individual rights and freedoms - as anti-American. That was 69 years ago.

One of the most outspoken American fascists from the 1930s was economist Lawrence Dennis. In his 1936 book, The Coming American Fascism - a coming which he anticipated and cheered - Dennis declared that defenders of "18th-century Americanism" were sure to
become "the laughing stock of their own countrymen." The big stumbling block to the development of economic fascism, Dennis bemoaned, was "liberal norms of law or constitutional guarantees of private rights."

So it is important for us to recognize that, as an economic system, fascism was widely accepted in the 1920s and '30s, and nearly worshiped by some powerful American industrialists. And fascism has always, and explicitly, been opposed to liberalism of all kinds.

Mussolini, who helped create modern fascism, viewed liberal ideas as the enemy. "The Fascist conception of life," he wrote, "stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with the State. It is opposed to classical liberalism [which] denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of theindividual."

(In 1932 Mussolini wrote, with the help of Giovanni Gentile, an entry for the Italian Encyclopedia on the definition of fascism. You can read the whole entry at

Mussolini thought it was unnatural for a government to protect individual rights: The essence of fascism, he believed, is that government should be the master, not the servant, of the people.

Still, fascism is a word that is completely foreign to most of us. We need to know what it is, and how we can know it when we see it.

In an essay coyly titled "Fascism Anyone?," Dr. Lawrence Britt, a political scientist, identifies social and political agendas common to fascist regimes. His comparisons of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto, and Pinochet yielded this list of 14
"identifying characteristics of fascism." (The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2. Read it at

See how familiar they sound.

Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are

The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

Sometimes the media are directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media are indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to
the government's policies or actions.

The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations

Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

This list will be familiar to students of political science. But it should be familiar to students of religion as well, for much of it mirrors the social and political agenda of religious fundamentalisms worldwide.

It is both accurate and helpful for us to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. They both come from very primitive parts of us that have always been the default setting of our species: amity toward our in-group, enmity toward out-groups, hierarchical deference to alpha male figures, a powerful identification with our territory, and so forth.

It is that brutal default setting that all civilizations have tried to raise us above, but it is always a fragile thing, civilization, and has to be achieved over and over and over again.

But, again, this is not America's first encounter with fascism.

In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?"

Vice President Wallace's answer to those questions was published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you think his statements apply to our society today.

"The really dangerous American fascist," Wallace wrote, ". is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more
money or more power."

In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw rising in America, Wallace added, "They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."

By these standards, a few of today's weapons for keeping the common people in eternal subjection include NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, union-busting, cutting worker benefits while increasing CEO pay, elimination of worker benefits, security and pensions, rapacious credit card interest, and outsourcing of jobs - not to mention the largest prison system in the world.

Our current descent into fascism came about through a kind of "Perfect Storm," a confluence of three unrelated but mutually supportive schools of thought.

1. The first stream of thought was the imperialisticdream of the Project for the New American Century. I don't believe anyone can understand the past four years without reading the Project for the New American Century, published in September 2000 and authored by many who have been prominent players in the Bush administrations, including Cheney, Rumsfleid, Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Donald Kagan to name only a few. This report saw the fall of Communism as a call for America to become the military rulers of the world, to establish a new worldwide empire. They spelled out the military enhancements we would need, then noted, sadly, that these wonderful plans would take a long time, unless there could be a catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor that would let the leaders turn America into a military and militarist country. There was no clear interest in religion in this report, and no clear concern with local economic policies.

2. A second powerful stream must be credited to Pat Robertson and his Christian Reconstructionists, or Dominionists. Long dismissed by most of us as a screwball, the Dominionist style of Christianity which he has been preaching since the early 1980s is now the most powerful religious voice in the Bush administration.

Katherine Yurica, who transcribed over 1300 pages of interviews from Pat Robertson's "700 Club" shows in the 1980s, has shown how Robertson and his chosen guests consistently, openly and passionately argued that America must become a theocracy under the control of Christian Dominionists. Robertson is on record saying democracy is a terrible form of government nless it is run by his kind of Christians. He also rails constantly against taxing the rich, against public education, social programs and welfare - and prefers Deuteronomy 28 over the teachings of Jesus.

He is clear that women must remain homebound as obedient servants of men, and that abortions, like homosexuals, should not be allowed. Robertson has also been clear that other kinds of Christians, including Episcopalians and Presbyterians, are enemies of Christ.
(The Yurica Report. Search under this name, or for "Despoiling America" by Katherine Yurica on the internet.)

3. The third major component of this Perfect Storm has been the desire of very wealthy Americans and corporate CEOs for a plutocracy that will favor profits by the very rich and disempowerment of the vast majority of American workers, the destruction of workers' unions, and the alliance of government to help achieve these greedy goals.

It is a condition some have called socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor, and which others recognize as a reincarnation of Social Darwinism. This strain of thought has been present throughout American history.

Seventy years ago, they tried to finance a military coup to replace Franlkin Delano Roosevelt and establish General Smedley Butler as a fascist dictator in 1934. Fortunately, the picked a general who really was a patriot; he refused, reported the scheme, and spoke and wrote about it.

As Canadian law professor Joel Bakan wrote in the book and movie "The Corporation," they have now achieved their coup without firing a shot.

Our plutocrats have had no particular interest in religion. Their global interests are with an imperialist empire, and their domestic goals are in undoing all the New Deal reforms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that enabled the rise of America's middle class after WWII.

Another ill wind in this Perfect Storm is more important than its crudity might suggest: it was President Clinton's sleazy sex with a young but eager intern in the White House. This incident, and Clinton's equally sleazy lying about it, focused the certainties of conservatives on the fact that "liberals" had neither moral compass nor moral concern, and therefore represented a dangerous threat to the moral fiber of America. While the effects of this may be hard to quantify, I think they were profound.

These "storm" components have no necessary connection, and come from different groups of thinkers, many of whom wouldn't even like one another. But together, they form a nearly complete web of command and control, which has finally gained control of America
and, they hope, of the world.

When all fascisms exhibit the same social and political agendas (the 14 points listed by Britt), then it is not hard to predict where a new fascist uprising will lead. And it is not hard. The actions of fascists and the social and political effects of fascism and fundamentalism are clear and sobering.

Here is some of what's coming, what will be happening in our country in the next few years:

a.. The theft of all social security funds, to betransferred to those who control money, and theincreasing destitution of all those dependent on social security and social welfare programs.

b..Rising numbers of uninsured people in this country that already has the highest percentage of citizens without health insurance in the developed world.

c.. Increased loss of funding for public education, combined with increased support for vouchers, urging Americans to entrust their children's education to Christian schools.

d.. More restrictions on civil liberties as America is turned into the police state necessary for fascism to work.
e.. Withdrawal of virtually all funding for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. At their best, these media sometimes encourage critical questioning, so they are correctly seen as enemies of the state's official stories.

f.. The reinstatement of a draft, from which the children of privileged parents will again be mostly exempt, leaving our poorest children to fight and die in wars of imperialism and greed that could never benefit them anyway. (That was my one-sentence
Veterans' Day sermon for this year.)
g.. More imperialistic invasions: of Iran and others, and the construction of a huge permanent embassy in Iraq.  

h.. More restrictions on speech, under the flag of national security.

i.. Control of the internet to remove or cripple it as
an instrument of free communication that is exempt from government control. This will be presented as a necessary anti-terrorist measure.
j.. Efforts to remove the tax-exempt status of churches like this one, and to characterize them as anti-American.

k.. Tighter control of the editorial bias of almost all media, and demonization of the few media they are unable to control - the New York Times, for instance.

l.. Continued outsourcing of jobs, including more white-collar jobs, to produce greater profits for those who control the money and direct the society, while simultaneously reducing America's workers to a more desperate and powerless status.

m.. Moves in the banking industry to make it impossible for an increasing number of Americans to own their homes. As they did in the 1930s, those who control the money know that it is to their advantage and profit to keep others renting rather than owning.

n.. Criminalization of those who protest, as un-American, with arrests, detentions and harassment increasing. We already have a higher percentage of our citizens in prison than any other country in the world. That percentage will increase.

o.. In the near future, it will be illegal or at least dangerous to say the things I have said here this morning. In the fascist story, these things are un-American. In the real history of a democratic America, they were seen as profoundly patriotic, as the kind of critical questions that kept the American spirit alive - the kind of questions, incidentally, that our media were supposed to be pressing.

Can these schemes work? I don't think so. I think they are murderous, rapacious and insane. But I don't know. Maybe they can. Similar schemes have worked in countries like Chile, where a democracy in which over 90% voted has been reduced to one in which only about 20% vote because they say, as Americans are learning to say, that it no longer matters who you vote for.

In the meantime, is there any hope, or do we just band together like lemmings and dive off a cliff? Yes, there is always hope, though at times it is more hidden, as it is now.

As some critics are now saying, and as I have been preaching and writing for almost twenty years, America's liberals need to grow beyond political liberalism, with its often self-absorbed focus on individual rights to the exclusion of individual responsibilities to the larger society.

Liberals will have to construct a more complete vision with moral and religious grounding. That does not mean confessional Christianity. It means the legitimate heir to Christianity. Such a legitimate heir need not be a religion, though it must have clear moral power, and be able to attract the minds and hearts of a
voting majority of Americans.

And the new liberal vision must be larger than that of the conservative religious vision that will be appointing judges, writing laws and bending the cultural norms toward hatred and exclusion for the foreseeable future. The conservatives deserve a lot of admiration. They have spent the last thirty years studying American politics, forming their vision and learning how to gain control in the political system.

And it worked; they have won. Even if liberals can develop a bigger vision, they still have all that time-consuming work to do. It won't be fast. It isn't even clear that liberals will be willing to do it; they may instead prefer to go down with the ship they're used to.

One man who has been tireless in his investigations and critiques of America's slide into fascism is Michael C. Ruppert, whose postings usually read as though he is wound way too tight. But he offers four pieces of advice about what we can do now, and they
seem reality-based enough to pass on to you. This is America; they're all about money:
a.. First, he says you should get out of debt.
b.. Second is to spend your money and time on things that give you energy and provide you with useful information.
c.. Third is to stop spending a penny with major banks, news media and corporations that feed you lies
d.. And fourth is to learn how money works and use it like a (political) weapon - as he predicts the rest of the world will be doing against us.

That's advice written this week. Another bit of advice comes from sixty years ago, from Roosevelt's Vice President, Henry Wallace. Wallace said, "Democracy, to crush fascism internally, must...develop the ability to keep people fully employed and at the same time balance the budget. It must put human beings first and dollars second. It must appeal to reason and decency and not to violence and deceit. We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy in the form of monopolies and cartels."

Still another way to understand fascism is as a kind of colonization. A simple definition of "colonization" is that it takes people' s stories away, and assigns them supportive roles in stories that empower others at their expense. When you are taxed to support a government that uses you as a means to serve the ends of others, you are - ironically - in a state of taxation without representation. That's where this country started, and it's where we are now.

I don't know the next step. I'm not a political activist; I' m only a preacher. But whatever you do, whatever we do, I hope that we can remember some very basic things that I think of as eternally true.

One is that the vast majority of people are good decent people who mean and do as well as they know how. Very few people are evil, though some are. But we all live in families where some of our blood relatives support things we hate. I believe they mean well, and the way to rebuild broken bridges is through greater understanding, compassion, and a reality-based story that is more inclusive and empowering for the vast majority of us.

Those who want to live in a reality-based story rather than as serfs in an ideology designed to transfer power, possibility and hope t o a small ruling elite have much long and hard work to do, individually and collectively.

It will not be either easy or quick. But we will do it. We will go forward in hope and in ourage. Let us seek that better path, and find the courage to take it - step, by step, by step.
> ===============
> Davidson Loehr
> November 2004
> First UU Church of Austin
> 4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX

Homeless Blues

A couple of weeks ago, I did a big piece on the homeless -- and the lack of homeless shelters in our area. The homeless try to be "invisible" to stay out of trouble with the law and the merchants who complain about them and so forth.

This came out of it.

Homeless Blues
by the unSaintly Pat

Yeah, I'm the invisible one
The one you pass on the street,
Your eyes carefully passing over me
While I keep mine on my feet.
I run like a mutt, dodging the stick
I prowl like a cat in the alleys,
Slinking away from a hard, swift kick;
Bullies toy with me. To them, I'm just a bug.

You think I'm not the same as you,
My hat out, panhandling on the corner.
You think I chose this life of rags and rue.
Well, an afternoon gets me a drink
to get me through the night.
So throw me a quarter and tell yourself
how you've done me right.

Just wait until you get really sick
or lose your job, or lose your mind.
Then it might be you dodging the kick.
It doesn't take that much to lose it all.
Just a bit of bad luck, one misstep
Then it's your back against the wall.
Then you'll see how the shoe fits.