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Pat’s Chat

The Free Press WV

March winds definitely showed up in February, and April showers, as I said last week, showed up as watery snow in March.  May is supposed to be the flowers.  (“April showers bring May flowers.”  As a kid the joke was to ask, “What do May flowers bring?”  “Pilgrims, of course!”  Ha Ha Ha!  The riddles and funny jokes of childhood remain with us for life, it seems.  We older seniors may forget people’s names, but we remember words to many, many songs and jokes.) So maybe April will bring us more flowers, and May will just surprise us.

I have a beautiful assortment of early crocuses, one group of which bloomed out in a beautiful, round, picture-perfect spray of a lilac-colored bouquet.  The spring flowers are so bright and refreshing, after winter and snow.  I love spring and fall best of all seasons.

Last week I wrote about the first of the 28 doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, that the Bible is the word of God, written by folks inspired by God, but in their own words.  This week we will learn about the second doctrine, The Trinity.  I find this easy to believe but not easy to explain.

“There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three coeternal Persons.  God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present.  He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. God, who is love, is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation. (Gen. 1:26; Deut. 6:4; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 28:19; John 3:16 2 Cor. 1:21, 22; 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2.)” (https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/god/trinity/)

Since long before Creation, God knew that creating beings with power of choice meant that someone would choose to go his own way instead of obeying the directions of his Creator, so arrangements were made that the Son part of the Godhead would become a human being; sacrifice his own life to pay the penalty for all transgressions of the law (sin) in one fell swoop. (See I John 3:4)  The penalty or wages of sin is death, so he died for all, for each of us. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ who died in my place (I John 3:4) and not only died (paid the penalty) but he lived a perfectly righteous life, which becomes MY righteousness.  When I am judged, only HIS perfect life will be considered, not my own bundle of unchristlike behaviors.  When I ask, he forgives my sin and cleanses me from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).

Of course, they were together in creation, for Genesis states that God created the heaven and the earth and that the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the water. (Genesis 1:1-3) and then verse 26 reports that God said, “Let us make man in our image and after our likeness. . . .”  (Note it say “our” image, plural.)  Verse 27 continues, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”  All three members of the Godhead were active in creation.

When Jesus insisted that John the Baptist baptize him, John didn’t feel worthy to do that.  He believed that Jesus was God.  Jesus insisted that John baptize him so that he would be fulfilling all the righteousness expected of any other human being.  When he was brought up out of the water of the Jordan River, the voice of God, the Father, was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son.”  The Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a Dove.  All three of them together!  (See Matthew 3:13-17). 

Just as an aside from this about the Trinity, I John 3:4 states that the “GIFT” of God is eternal life.  There is no way to EARN eternal life.  It is a gift and we only have to accept it.  We are told that we are rewarded for our works, but our works cannot earn us eternal life.  Salvation is a GIFT of God.  You can do good works from now until Jesus comes back and it will not earn you salvation.  Only through the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice can we be assured of salvation and eternal life and when we accept it we become children of God and heirs of the kingdom.  Talk to Him, Read His Word, Get acquainted with Him and His great love for you.

Maranatha!

Trump and Kim, Act II

The Free Press WV

Trump was correct to describe denuclearization last June as a lengthy “process” that one summit meeting could not achieve. However, the second summit, in Hanoi at the end of February 2019, again showed that personal diplomacy divorced from an engagement process that incorporates flexibility and give-and-take raises the risk of failure. The Hanoi summit ended early without agreement, as Trump was unwilling to end sanctions in return for the closing of North Korea’s main (but not only) nuclear enrichment plant at Yongbyon. As it is, Trump played with a weak hand: Besieged by investigations at home, and the riveting public testimony of Michael Cohen that coincided with the summit, Trump may have had less maneuvering room than usual to make a deal. (Trump acknowledged the impact, saying: “I think having a fake hearing like that and having it in the middle of this very important summit is really a terrible thing.”)

Had a better process preceded the summit, agreement might have been possible step-by-step, including time points for establishing diplomatic relations, freezing or reducing North Korea’s nuclear weapons in a verifiable way, and gradually easing US and South Korean sanctions. Indeed, early reports indicate that Kim might have been open to establishing a US liaison office in Pyongyang.

In short, there is no objective reason why these talks should have failed. The North Koreans believed that after the first summit in Singapore, they had taken the first steps in confidence building, enough to justify an end to sanctions, and some US analysts agreed. But Trump’s hard-line advisers, wedded to the demand for “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” (CVID), saw to it that the administration added to sanctions and rejected South Korean proposals for easing their own. (“They do nothing without our approval,” said Trump: .) In a sense, Pompeo and Bolton may have sabotaged the talks.

On the eve of the second summit, Donald Trump said: “I don’t want to rush anybody. I just don’t want testing. As long as there is no testing, we’re happy.” Well, Kim made him happy; the North’s nuclear weapons and missile testing moratorium will continue. But that left Kim’s entire bomb and missile inventory intact, allowed for accumulation of more fissile material, and also accepted that North Korea will continue research and development of nuclear weapons and missiles of various ranges. Testing, of course, is essential to determining the reliability of weapons, but for now, as Kim has said, the DPRK is confident it has the nuclear and missile strength it needs.

Hard to say where we go from here. Both sides have adopted an all-or-nothing approach, which probably means that while the North Koreans forego weapons tests, they will continue to refine the weapons they have and the Americans will persist with sanctions that are not working and that the Russians and Chinese are undermining. Denuclearization, however understood, is more remote than ever.


Mel Gurtov, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

The Squirming Buddha

The Free Press WV

The world hemorrhages. Refugees flow from its wounds.
Is there a way to be innocent of this?

People are washed ashore. They die of suffocation in humanity-stuffed trucks. They flee war and politics; they flee starvation. And finally, we don’t even have sufficient air for them to breathe.

For words to matter about all this, they have to express more than “concern” or even outrage – that is to say, they have to cut internally as well as externally. They have to cut into our own lives and personal comfort. They have to cut as deep as prayer.

“Wonderful column, Bob. It brings up the post-Katrina images of armed citizens blocking a bridge so that our own refugees could not infest their neighborhoods.”

These are the words of my sister, Sue, who emailed me last week in response to my column about the refugee crisis and the global shock over the picture of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body, which washed ashore in Turkey after his family’s boat capsized during the short crossing to the Greek island of Kos in their attempt to flee to Germany. As she let her personal feelings wash ashore as well, I thought about where I had not gone with that column: into the realm of personal responsibility for the larger welfare of the human race.

“I thought,” she went on, “of offering to open my home, and then the multiple worries, inconveniences, fears, etc., etc. sounded in, trumpets shooting fire as ‘practical arguments’ shot down compassion.

“What in my life today, in myself, in my community, in my culture, prepares ME, not some other person in some border area trying to live his or her own complicated life, what prepares ME to take in a refugee?”

This is where I felt the cut of razor wire.

“My bigger TV? The little glider in my backyard? Any of my stuff? My careful savings in order to have enough to pay my quarterly estimated taxes and what’ll come due next April? My love of poetry and Shakespeare? . . . I look around at my conservative neighbors, who and wherever they are, and I wonder just how very different I am — not in what I believe but in what I will actually do.
“I’d contribute money — and occasionally do — but to which Band-Aid?”

I open this door of uncertainty not to pretend I have answers but precisely because I don’t.

Sue concluded: “I really and truly do not know how to work effectively for the changes that are needed. I know it is not ‘up to me’ — thank goodness for that — but my day-to-day life just leaves me so unfit for much more. Even taking the time for this email effort at dialogue means that I’ve blown the window of time I had to maybe catch up on my paperwork, a daily and weekly depressing dilemma for me. I’ve never fit in solidly with collective humanity, and that I have not remedied this in any realistic way, I can truly attest, is a failing.”

I confess not knowing what to say in response. I think about the words of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire: “no one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark . . .” I think about the refugees in my own city, Chicago, standing at intersections holding signs that plead for help. Help means money. Maybe it also means eye contact. Sometimes I don’t even have any of the latter to spare.

But no, that’s not quite it. Eye contact can be the beginning of God knows what. A dozen years ago I gave eye contact to an old friend, a Guatemalan who had fled U.S.-sponsored hell in his native country in the 1980s. I’d written about him when I was a reporter. We were friends, but I hadn’t seen him in a long time.

Then, there he was. It was 2004, a year into George Bush’s occupation of Iraq. We were at the Federal Building, at the end of a march protesting the war. When I saw him, my blood ran cold because I could tell in an instant that his life had collapsed. I could tell that he was destitute and homeless and utterly lost and the last thing I wanted to give him was eye contact, but I did. And with it I offered him the mirage of hope.
We talked. I invited him for dinner. He was a skilled carpenter and did some work for me. Eventually, a few months into our reconnection, I invited him to move into my house. He lived there for almost five years.

This was not an easy situation. His spiritual wounds were deep; he treated them with alcohol. I know that I helped him, but I don’t think I would be so open again. I’m careful about the eye contact I dole out, but I cannot sever myself from a sense of responsibility to others in need.

Once I found a $10 bill in a parking garage. As I exited the garage, I passed a man panhandling for spare change and kept on walking, but half a block later, stopped, paralyzed with guilt. Whose money had I just found? I returned to the panhandler, reached into my pocket and dug out a dollar in change. I was still $9 ahead. As I continued to my destination (a movie theater), I felt my inner Buddha squirming inside me with disappointment. I had selfishly kept the bulk of my lucky find, to be squandered, no doubt, on junk food. And suddenly I knew the title of my autobiography, if I ever wrote it: The Squirming Buddha.

I hate the idea of razor wire on national borders. I am torn apart by the suffering of refugees and the bombastic manipulation of politicians, who try to turn the planet’s most vulnerable into national enemies. But like my sister I don’t trust or understand my relationship with collective humanity. Who are we in relation to others? What do we owe them? What do we owe ourselves? How do we unite in all our flawed humanity? Let the dialogue begin.


Robert Koehler, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is available.

When Will We Ever Learn?

The Free Press WV

On Tuesday evening, February 27, 2019, I attended a beautiful, yet painful, event, entitled, “Vigil in Remembrance of Those Affected by Gun Violence.” The event, sponsored by Moms Demand Action, was at a local church, in my hometown, in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Names of those who have been killed were read. Hopeful statements by survivors were also read by attendees, and while the familiar sites of many shootings were also named (Columbine, San Bernardino, Orlando, Sandy Hook . . . sadly, the list went on and on), we all lit candles. I was prepared to be there I thought. As a college professor of more than two decades, so many shootings have taken place at schools, that at the start of each semester, I have always looked around my classroom and imagined what I would do and say to protect students if someone with a gun appeared at the door.

Part of my usual classroom routine has always been to put quotes on the board for students each day we met. I have a long list of favorites, but the list continues to grow. In 2015, I felt I had to add the following when I learned the details. A fellow English instructor at a community college was killed on the first day of class. As a tribute to his life, I wrote on the board for my students:

“’Today is the first day of the rest of your life,’ written on the board on the first day of class in introductory Writing 115, at Umpqua Community College in Oregon by adjunct English professor, Larry Levine, 67, before he was shot along with nine others by a lone gunman.”

Honestly, I have become a bit numb when I hear of another shooting, but I still pay attention. Students in my classes in the last few years were born about the time of the Columbine shooting, so they’ve grown up with active-shooter drills. Yet, I still came to a difficult realization at the Vigil as I was listening to the featured speaker, Lauren Carr, a survivor from the 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University. She explained that she was in the third row when someone entered her lecture hall at the right of the stage and began shooting. All the students around her were hit. Her laptop took a bullet and her seat had bullet holes, but somehow she escaped. She spoke bravely about her fears since the event, followed by anger, and then therapy, and now her active practice of looking for good in others.

Carr went on to explain that just a year ago, she and other survivors met in DeKalb, Illinois, on the NIU campus for the 10-year anniversary of the shooting, February 14, 2018. Many had stayed in touch but it was helpful to be together, facilitated by university professionals, to discuss their progress, to remember their friends, and to commemorate that they were still here and thriving, or at least attempting to thrive. Then Carr paused, and explained at a certain point during their reunion, some of them started getting texts, and then all of them did. The information they received revealed the facts of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida actively taking place. Ten years later, on Valentine’s Day again, another mass shooting disrupted our country, killed more young people, and destroyed the faith and trust the survivors from NIU were just beginning to feel.

Astounded, I realized that when the Parkland shooting occurred, I didn’t put the date together with the shooting at NIU exactly 10 years earlier. How common must these shootings have become for me, despite actively seeking for ways to prevent one in my own classroom, that the same date did not even register. I had not lost a loved one at NIU, but perhaps I just subconsciously decided to let February 14 stay Valentine’s Day? 

Most Americans know we have a gun problem in the United States, but are we still looking for solutions?  Thankfully, the Parkland students launched the March for Our Lives that many of us participated in, but have universal background checks been passed into law yet? Just last week, a gunman killed five people at a place of business in the city of Aurora, IL. A student from NIU was an intern there, reporting for his first day of work. Is this ever going to stop? When will it ever end? When will we ever learn?

Ellen Lindeen, is an Emeritus Professor of English at Waubonsee Community College where she taught Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution and Human Rights & Social Justice.

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