Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent I: What I'm Waiting For

Exiles in Babylon, L. Castelli
2700 years ago, in a period of disruption and deepening injustice, prophetic voices spoke out against dishonest leaders, corrupt business practices, oppression of strangers, misuse of workers. They warned of famine, drought, barren land, social upheaval, danger from all sides. The situation they described was bleak; the days beyond, they said, would be harder still.

But somewhere in the future, beyond the hardship and destruction, they foresaw a new leader, a righteous king, someone who would bring healing instead of harm, light instead of darkness. They spoke of a future day of justice, of plenty, when even the poor would have their own land to farm, their own homes to live in, when those who had been hungry would be filled with good things, when those who had oppressed would be brought low, and equity restored.

Hundreds of years later,in another time of disruption and injustice, in a time of almost global corruption and oppression, new voices spoke: angel voices, saying “The time is now.” “The promised one is coming.”

And a young woman from the edge, a powerless no one, found herself waiting as the angel’s voice took shape within her, then gave words herself to what she knew was coming:

Virgin of the Annunciation,
Fra Angelico, Florence, 1400s
“From now on all generations will call me blessed,
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
   holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.”

Her son Jesus - the promised child, the “word made flesh,” strange man of love and kindness who faced down the powerful, welcomed the outcast, healed the sick, raised the dead – Jesus fulfilled some of the prophecies made, but not all. He brought healing, but not justice. He restored individuals, but not nations. He calmed the sea, but left the desert places dry.

He spoke of his kingdom as here, but coming. Now, and not yet.

So some rejected him. He was not the king they’d been waiting for.

And some accepted the partial kingdom and assumed that was all there was: individual salvation. Personal healing. A promise of eternal life, somewhere far away. The rest that was promised – justice, restoration, redemption of nations, lands, all things – too good to be true. Leave it for heaven.

Advent, these days of waiting for Christ to come, of remembering the weeks before his birth, is a time of longing. “Come thou long awaited Jesus, Come to set thy people free.” “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”

We smother the waiting, the longing, in hurry: gift lists, parties to attend. Decorations, Christmas cards.

And we lose the connection between this time of disruption, unrest, injustice, and the promises made so many years ago.

Nativity, Fritz Eichenberg, 1954
But when we pause, we find the longing lingers: for a way of life more satisfying, more fair. For leaders more concerned for those they lead than their own financial gain. For a wise use of resources, that leaves the land more healthy than it started. For real community, real connections, honest conversation.

What am I waiting for this Christmas? What am I longing for?

I’m longing for those who claim the name of Christ to live as agents of his kingdom. There are some, faithful followers, using their gifts, resources, time, energy, to demonstrate the kingdom Jesus told us was unfolding among us. There are others who promote the agendas of greed, environmental harm, penalties to the poor, more and more power to the rich.

We pray, week after week, in churches around the globe, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” then hurry on our way with no thought of what that might mean, now, here, in this place we call home.

Isaiah prophesied seven hundred years before Christ:
   “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus, standing in the synagogue at the start of his years of visible ministry, read that passage, then told all listening: “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But not all prisoners and oppressed were set free. Not all blind recovered sight. The poor are still waiting to hear the good news.

Jesus healing a leper, sketch by Rembrandt
I’m waiting for that. Longing for that.

And I’m waiting for those of us who follow Christ to live out the knowledge that while Jesus met, and meets, with people one by one, the intent was always to knit them into communities, families, the inter-woven, interdependent body of Christ, a visible community of light that extends around the globe, that reaches across time.

“Love each other,” Jesus said, again and again. And showed how to do it: touching lepers. Eating with sell-outs to the Roman regime. Allowing known prostitutes to touch him. Calmly crossing divides of race, religion, gender, to welcome and restore those who were rejected.

That’s what the church is supposed to look like. I see glimpses, now and then. But for the most part, the church is balkanized by race, politics, income level. Divided again and again over things like women in leadership, forms of baptism, liturgical nuance, exegesis of Genesis and Revelations.

Love each other? We look past each other – amputated body parts, ineffective in every way.

I long for Christians, myself included, to be real reflections of Christ. And I long for the church to be the church he had in mind. His body, a place of welcome, love, healing. I confess my own failings in these, and long for a community that will challenge me to do better.

And  yes – I long for, wait for, pray for Christ to come. I pray for him to come, to me, in me, through me, every day. And I pray for him to come to his church, his people, to be visible, to be known.

But I pray, too, for him to come again as the righteous judge, the king of glory, the great I AM. To set this mess right. To restore justice. To set the prisoners free.

What am I waiting for, this advent season? I’m waiting for the fulfillment of the vision of the prophets so long ago, working toward it now, longing for it later:

He will teach us his ways,
  so that we may walk in his paths. . .
He will judge between many peoples
   and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
   and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
   nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
   and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
   for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
Peaceable Kingdom, Fritz Eichenberg, 1950

This post is part of a monthly synchroblog, a group of bloggers posting monthly on the same theme. This month's theme: Jesus Is Coming: What Do You Expect? Other entries are listed below:
Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments

Sunday, November 20, 2011

All Comfort

 from Drawings by Van Gogh
By expenditure of hope,
Intelligence, and work,
You think you have it fixed.
It is unfixed by rule.
Within the darkness, all
Is being changed, and you
Also will be changed.
. . .
Is given that is not
Taken, and nothing taken
That was not first a gift.
I had thought to write this week on thanksgiving. I had been mulling over a great quote about the subversive nature of gratitude, and had ideas about where that might lead.

But it’s been a difficult few weeks. An email from a friend asking for prayer for painful dynamics in a over-burdened family. A facebook post, then email, from another friend trying to serve a beleaguered community, beleaguered herself by endless health concerns and the resultant financial weight. A call about someone I love, back in the hospital, battling unrelenting mental illness.

Weave through that the endless headlines about child sex abuse in State College. At every new revelation, I grieve again. After my years of doing all I could to safeguard the young people in my care, I find myself sick at heart at the thought of all those men protecting their jobs, their reputations, their programs, at the expense of children who most needed their protection.

Add alarm and grief at the fracking debacle unfolding in the hills and valleys of our beautiful state. As participant in organizations concerned with the health of our water and air, I receive emails with updates, too many updates. A fracking blow-out in one town. More dead cows in another. A pond bubbling with methane. More children with unexplained, scary symptoms. And I find myself talking with people affected. Moms afraid for their families. Farmers worried their safe, organic crops are no longer safe, but not sure what to do.

Ten days ago I came across a passage I had never really seen. I’m sure I’d read it, but it hadn’t registered. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7: 
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 
It’s kind of an extreme passage – with nine uses of the word comfort in one short paragraph.

That passage came to mind again when the phone rang last Sunday with word of another grief. A young man we knew through involvement with our urban partner church died of a brain aneurysm early Sunday morning. He was a senior in college, a hard-working kid determined to do his best. No drugs, no alcohol, no foul play. And yet he’s dead, and a whole community is grieving.

What does comfort have to say in light of a loss like that?

What does it mean that God is “God of all comfort”?

It was part of my job, for over a decade, to say the right thing in times of trouble, to kids, families, young adult leaders. But sometimes there is no right thing to say. Sometimes the best we can do is sit in the dark of difficulty and despair, grieving, with those who are grieving. And wondering, with those who are wondering: Why? How can this be right?

In fact, it’s not right. There’s nothing  “right” about our young friend's death. It’s an outrage.  As the abuse case at State College is an outrage. As fracking, as it’s currently done, is an outrage.

Yet, here’s the puzzling thing: none of this is a surprise to God. The lightening strike that shattered our friend Emily, three years ago, wasn’t a surprise to God.

We live in a battered, broken world. Death’s grip is strong, and pain is inescapable.

We work hard to build our defenses: If I do the right thing. If I live the right way. If I pray the right prayers. If I avoid all risk.

Or, as Wendell Berry says in his Sabbath poem, “By expenditure of hope, Intelligence, and work, You think you have it fixed.  It is unfixed by rule.”

Christ in Gethsemane, Michael D. O'brien, Canada
Sometimes I wish I knew Greek. Some words for suffering in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians suggest persecution for the Christian faith. Others suggest any kind of anguish, distress or trouble.

In other places, even later in this same chapter, Paul suggests some of those kinds of distress: lashings, beatings, stoning, shipwreck, imprisonment, hunger, betrayal by coworkers and friends.

And yet he dares to say God is able to comfort in the midst of all suffering, that in fact, as the suffering grows, the comfort grows. As suffering “abounds,” comfort overflows to others.

Again – what’s this word “comfort”? It brings to mind “comfortable” – which has little to do with the kind of grief and suffering Paul is describing. It’s not “comfortable” to experience loss, illness, injustice. To speak of “comfort” in the face of great loss feels a little simplistic, maybe even insulting. 

Some words are sadly flattened in translation, and “comfort” is definitely one of those.

Parakaleo (the verb form) carries all of this:
to call to one's side, call for, summon
to address, speak to in exhortation, entreaty, comfort, instruction
to beg, entreat, beseech
to strive to appease by entreaty
to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort

Paraklesis (the noun) suggests exhortation, admonition, encouragement, consolation, comfort, solace; persuasive discourse, stirring address: instructive, admonitory, conciliatory, powerful hortatory discourse.

Even with all the defining words, we don’t quite get there. “Exhortation” and "hortatory discourse" sound kind of preachy. The real meaning is much deeper, more sympathetic. We don’t have a word for it. "Parakleo" suggests something that speaks to the deepest part of us, with insight and encouragement that goes far past words.

Maybe a better way to explain these words would be to say they’re drawn from the same root as "Paraklete", a word used to describe the Holy Spirit: advocate, helper, encourager, consoler.

Why struggle to understand Greek words from a very old book? What help are they in the face of today’s sorrows?

Sometimes words fail. And our interpretations fail. But there’s something Paul is saying that he’s seen to be true: in our sorrow, as we open our hearts to God and to others, something happens that goes beyond words. God’s kindness, mercy, comfort, presence, fill us in ways we can’t explain. And as we wait with others in their grief, as we speak with others of their sorrow, that same comfort can move through us, overflow from us, filling others, bringing real comfort to us all.

“Within the darkness,” Berry says, “all Is being changed, and you / Also will be changed.”

Christ and Adam, Michael D. O'brien, Canada
In the dark places of grief, our simple answers are painfully stripped away. Our childish belief that we can control things melts.

And in the dark places of grief, if we call out to God, we can come to know him in a way far beyond words. We can feel his presence pressing in close – love, warmth, understanding, mercy, hope, peace. Those words are only hints of what transpires in those places of sorrow as God comes near and our defenses melt.

And in that place of darkness we are reshaped, into people who can grieve with others, hear the pain of others, call on God on behalf of others.

Sometimes, not always, we can become agents of that deep comfort God offers: his warmth can flow through our own burning hands. His love can be heard in our own words of blessing.

I don’t have space to tell of the times I’ve felt God’s presence in my own broken places, but I have. Sometimes through others – strangers, friends, family – calling to God on my behalf. Sometimes all alone, knees on hard floor, tears flowing, grace surrounding me with courage, hope, even joy.

And I don’t have space to tell of the times I’ve seen God move in others: melting icy places of bitterness. Lifting heavy loads of guilt. Speaking words of kindness and love past walls of doubt, anger, grief. 
Is given that is not
Taken, and nothing taken
That was not first a gift.
So I do come, despite the sadness of the day, to a place of thanksgiving. These lives that circle mine, these fragile, precious lives, these lives are gifts. Gifts given, taken. Thank you for these gifts.

The land I love and grieve for – mountains, valleys, rivers, streams. Beautiful, enduring, groaning. Gifts given. Thank you for these gifts.

And the deeper gift: the knowledge, beyond words, reason, questions, grief, that God is near. A gift I would give to others. The comfort from the God of all comfort. That, too, is a gift. Thank you. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fracking Hysteria?

When I was twelve or so, a camp counselor described me as “phlegmatic.” I had just put six arrows through an archery target's bull’s eye, and instead of jumping up and down, or screaming enthusiastically as some girls my age might have done, I silently went to pull the arrows out (in the proper way, left hand against the target, right firmly grasping the arrow), and handed the bow off to the next girl in line.

I wrote the word down and next time I was near a dictionary, I took a look. “Phlegmatic: adjective: (of a person) Having an unemotional and stolidly calm disposition.”

Well, maybe. I don’t resonate with the description, but it’s true that I’m not given to wild enthusiasm, tend not to worry much, and I’m rarely overcome by panic. I like a little drama now and then, but hysteria? Never. Not even close.

Hysteria has become the word of choice in describing those who express concern about fracking, hydraulic fracturing.  Spend time on Shale Gas Coalition websites (boring, I agree, but someone has to do it) and you’ll find a consistent message:
  • Oil companies have been using hydraulic fracturing for 60 years.
  • Hydraulic fracturing is safe and effectively regulated.
  • Misrepresentations, hysteria and fear-mongering threaten this clean energy resource.                                     
We live in an interesting time. In fact, the more I read, see, listen, think, the more convinced I am that the next few years will be long remembered as a watershed, or turning point. Where we’ll end up is still not clear, but it will be someplace very different from where we are right now. 

The oil and gas industry has a great deal of money committed to preserving the status quo, reliance on fossil fuel, even though that fossil fuel is harder and harder to get, and extracted from more and more sensitive regions, in more and more untested and dangerous ways.

The industry could use its profits to lead the way into a different future, but instead is spending millions fending off criticism and concern about the current course. This is tragically true in Pennsylvania, which has no limit on campaign contributions.  Donors from the oil and gas industry gave Governor Tom Corbett’s campaign over $1.6 million; more than a quarter of that was from individuals subsequently named to serve on his Marcellus Shale Commission. Another 1.9  million was given to people running for the state legislature. 

Add in the money spent on TV spots promoting “clean energy and good jobs”, an army of high-priced lobbyists, and the military psy-ops hired to make sure the industry maintains control at small town meetings and it’s clear the industry is determined to have it’s way, no matter who objects, or why.

from the Gasland movie website
Yes – I know eyes glaze over at the mention of hydraulic fracturing. It’s complicated, it’s science (who wants to think about science?) and those hysterical fear-mongers are putting snail darters, or some other environmental nonsense, over energy and jobs. And we know how much we need energy and jobs.

But we need our health more. And clean water. And clean air. Not to mention democratic discusson, among real stakeholders, about what’s best for our both our environment and our economy.

While the natural gas industry has been drilling for gas for the past sixty years, the techniques that are the focus of the current controversy are much more recent, and still untested. Slick-water fracking (injecting a stew of chemicals to keep seams in the shale from closing) was first tried in 1997. Horizontal and multi-stage fracking (which extend fractures far beyond the initial drill site) were introduced in 2004.

So – it’s all safe, right? Not at all. For each concern raised, for each disaster that happens, the industry says “That has nothing to do with this,” “You can’t prove we’re responsible,” “That was a glitch, but we’ve solved that now.”

Problems? Books can, and will be, written. I did blog on this a bit back in September, but the more I know, the more concerned I am:

     ·   Contaminated well water, either from mishandled fracking fluid, or from migration of fluids and methane through the fracture shale, causes headaches, rashes, dizziness, cancer, kidney failure, miscarriage. Pets and livestock have died. No count on how many wells have been contaminated so far. And no good research yet on what happens when the same contaminates find their way into larger drinking water supplie
Explosion near San Francisco
  ·    Toxins that evaporate from the fracking ponds — heavy metals, non-biodegradable chemicals, radioactive substances — settle on farms, on growing food, on pastures, waterways. Gases and dusts lingering in the air cause asthma, headaches, itchy eyes, leukemia, other cancers.
·         Methane migration into basements has caused explosions. “Blowouts”, well sites that explode from uncontrolled methane, have caused whole communities to be evacuated. Local volunteer fire companies are not prepared to handle these events, and are put at risk when they are called on to put out these fires.
·         Whole streams have been killed from improper dumping of fracking fluids, or from toxins released by well site blowouts. Vegetation dies on contact.
·         And remember those strange earthquakes last summer? In places that don’t normally have earthquakes? The natural gas industry says there’s no possibility that they’re connected, but just this week an oil industry newsletter publicized the headline: U.S. Government Confirms Link Between Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracturing.
I could go on. And on. And on. About the Halliburton Loophole, the exemptions the industry has from clean air and clean water regulations, the maneuvering by the industry, in individual states and in the national arena, to cut regulation and defund regulatory agencies, the potential impact on tourism, farming, food and water supply. 

This is an important month in the fracking world. And an important month for anyone in Pennsylvania, or the mid-Atlantic states. The Pennsylvania legislature is debating proposals from Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission for regulating fracking in the state. The proposals don’t address questions of density, don’t acknowledge the limited research on a host of health questions, and don’t go far enough to protect citizens, the environment, or the over-loaded roads and municipal water systems. A bipartisan Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission has offered its own recommendations, which have so far been ignored. Concerned watchdog groups are asking for a complete ban on further wells until more research is completed.

from the Josh Fox documentary Gasland
At the same time, the Delaware Basin River Commission is preparing to lift a moratorium on drilling in the Delaware watershed. The water supply of over fifteen million people is at stake, including public water in New York City, Trenton, Philadelphia, and Wilmington. As a regional paper notes: "The rule-making process is technical and complicated, yet it must be tempered with one precaution: If a fracking spill or blowout or illegal dumping of waste fluid ends up contaminating the Delaware River, it might not be easy to contain. Shutting off the intake valves for the public water supply of millions of people is not an option."

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist, professor, author, poet, mother and environmental cancer survivor, spoke at the conference I attended last month, and offered a compelling analogy she’s used in other settings: 
“Consider the drunk who has already cashed out his kid’s college fund, hocked the family heirlooms, burnt the furniture and terrified the dog. He’s beginning to grasp that he has a problem. And he’s also running out of whisky. He flirts with the idea of alcoholics anonymous. But wait. He suddenly discovers a fully loaded wine cellar buried deep beneath the basement of his house. Falling in love with his own cleverness, he begins to lay plans to blow up the foundation to get at it. His own family members hold an emergency meeting. What will they decide to do? Stay out of his way? Help him get the wine and regulate its consumption? Insist on overseeing the detonation of the basement? Or will they all join together and bar the way to the cellar steps?”
It’s time for intervention. And given the scale of the problem, it needs to be a big intervention.  The gas industry is rolling out fracking plans around the globe; France has already banned the practice, and other states and countries are watching Pennsyvlania to see if the industry can be stopped, or regulated in some way that ensures the safety of people, water, and air.

Need more information? Here are some places to start::
o        Fractracker
o        No Fracking  (a New York group, but scroll down on the site for a wealth of informative links)  
Organizations working together? Here are a few of the biggest. There are dozens more:
o        Clean Water Action
o        Damascus Citizens
o        Earthjustice
o        PennEnvironment

Want to do something right away?
o        Email the president:    
o        Sign a petition:  
o        Contact your legislators:
o        Or – in Pennsylvania  - call Governor Corbett’s office, 717-787-2500, and ask him to declare a  statewide moratorium on fracking.

The Loyalsock - a river at risk/ 2010
I’ll be participating in two protest events in the days ahead, one in State College on November 18, another at the Delaware River Basin Commission’s shale gas conference in Trenton on November 21.

Not because I’m hysterical. And not because I’m a fear-mongering activist.

But because I’ve seen the devastation of mystery illnesses – health lost to hidden dollars. I’d like to see less of those – not more.

Because I love streams, birds, cows, clean water, healthy food.

Because I want a say in the world we leave our children.
1. How much poison are you willing to eat for the success of the freemarket and global trade? Please name your preferred poisons. . . .
4. In the name of patriotism and the flag, how much of our beloved land are you willing to desecrate? List in the following spaces the mountains, rivers, towns, farms you could most readily do without.
5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes, the energy sources, the kinds of security, for which you would kill a child. Name, please, the children whomyou would be willing to kill. 
      (From “Questionnaire,” a poem by Wendell Berry)
Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Limbaugh and the LRA

What do you know about the LRA?

I first heard of the Lord’s Resistance Army a decade ago, when Bishop Ojwang and his wife Margaret visited our church to strengthen the partnership between the Church of the Good Samaritan and the Anglican Diocese of Kitgum in Northern Uganda.

The LRA was formed in 1985 by Joseph Kony, an irrational, often violent man. By early 2002, the year of the Ojwangs’ visit, he had cut a wide swath of misery through four countries of central Africa, crossing borders between Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. His mode of operation: attack villages at night, abduct young boys and their early adolescent sisters, insist the new captives torture, dismember, then murder remaining relatives, burn whatever's left. Captives who didn’t comply immediately were tortured and killed; children who attempted to escape were killed by other children. 

The Ojwangs were hoping to raise awareness of the tragedy unfolding in their region, and were looking for financial and prayer support. At the time, almost a million people were living in IDP camps (for Internally Displaced Persons) in Northern Uganda. Roads were impassable because of land mines and marauding bands. A once prosperous farming region was no longer yielding food, because the patterns of life were so disrupted.

Five years later, another priest from Kitgum visited our church, about the time we were learning of the Invisible Children. Someone in our youth group had seen the Invisible Children video about “night commuters” in Northern Uganda, tens of thousands of children living in fear of abduction, traveling miles from their villages each evening to sleep in relative safety in larger towns. We showed the video to our group and sat in tears as we watched the suffering of children an ocean away. One student asked if she could design a tee shirt to sell to raise money for the work of Invisible Children.

Our visitor, Rev. Wilson Kitara, then secretary of the Diocese of Kitgum, was able to offer his own perspective of the trouble in Kitgum, and told our youth group about the thousands of children the church sheltered every night, the ongoing work of providing food, medical care, and emotional and spiritual support to those children. Our group decided we would sell tee shirts and bracelets to support the work of Invisible Children, do what we could to share what we knew about the LRA and the night commuters, and find other ways to raise money for the Diocese of Kitgum in their work with the thousands of children affected.

Rev. Kitara invited our son, a recent college graduate, to come to Uganda to help write grant proposals, a continuing struggle for the short-staffed and underfunded Diocese of Kitgum, so that fall our church sent him off as a short-term missionary. He spent three months visiting IDP camps (at that point, swollen to hold almost two million displaced people), teaching computer skills to church staff and interested young adults, writing proposals and reports, and looking for ways our church could offer more support. He came home with a deep love for the people of Kitgum, some great ideas about continuing partnership, and a backpack full of bead necklaces the clergy wives had made for us to sell to raise money for school fees for the many children of the community.

Over the years we've continued to support and pray for the Diocese of Kitgum, raising money for the work there, selling the mothers’ bead necklaces, and joining a group called Resolve which has faithfully worked to raise awareness of the continuing tragedy of the LRA.

Through the advocacy of Resolve, Invisible Children, and others human rights groups, the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act was introduced to Congress in March of 2009 by five bi-partisan co-sponsors. Over the next year, the bill gained momentum and attention as activists made endless phone calls, lobbied representatives, and organized letter-writing campaigns. By the time the bill came to the Senate floor a year later, it had 65 Senators as cosponsors. It passed unanimously, then moved to the House of Representatives on May 13, 2010 with 202 Representatives as cosponsors. Again, it passed unanimously, and was signed into law by President Obama on  May 24.

The act required the president to submit a strategy to Congress, which he did last November.  In the intervening months, those who care about northern Uganda, the child soldiers, and all impacted by the LRA have waited to see the strategy put into action. Budget conversations threatened to derail it, and repeated phone and mail campaigns have been undertaken asking Congress and the president to move “From Promise to Peace.”

On October 14, I was happy to receive news from Resolve announcing the president’s plan to deploy 100 US military advisers to LRA-affected areas as an initial step in a multi-faceted plan to bring the years of violence to a conclusion. The advisors will work with regional militaries, coordinating efforts across borders, encouraging rebel leaders to defect, and increasing surveillance of rebel activities while watching for human rights violations by both rebels and regional armies.

The plan also includes improved communication technology for military and impacted communities and a commitment to greater diplomatic efforts in the region, as well as a promise of ongoing funding for reconciliation and transitional justice initiatives, and much-needed reconstruction assistance to northern Uganda.

While I was celebrating this long-prayed-for announcement, I received another email, announcing “President Obama sending troops to kill Christians in Africa.” The email warned that the president had bypassed Congress and was plunging the US into further war.

In the days and weeks since, it’s become clear that that email, and more like it, was prompted by hasty remarks by commentators with no knowledge of the LRA and no real interest in learning the truth before initiating attacks against the president. The tidal wave of criticism and misinformation was launched by Rush Limbaugh, who announced that President Obama had invaded Uganda to attack a Christian army:
“[M]ost Americans have never heard of it, and here we are at war with them.  Lord's Resistance Army are Christians. . . .  They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan.  And Obama has sent troops, United States troops to remove them from the battlefield, which means kill them. . . .So that's a new war, a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda, and no, I'm not kidding.”
I’m still trying to understand how even the most irresponsible commentator could misrepresent a situation so completely. And I’m trying to understand how any organization could fire off email alerts without first doing a few minutes of research to see if the alarm was well-founded. Five minutes on Google yields a heart-breaking supply of information about the harm Kony and his LRA have done.

I’m amazed that in the outcry since Limbaugh’s comments, he hasn’t seen the need to apologize or correct his statements. And I have yet to receive clarifying emails from those organizations and individuals who alerted me to the president’s plan to kill Christians. 

How is it possible that a national news commentator would not have heard of an international war criminal who has killed thousands, and impacted millions, across a span of twenty-five years?

And how is it possible that political antipathy would overrule the simplest rules of public discourse? Is the truth that expendable? Is fairness even possible?

And how helpful can it be to have headlines rocketing around the globe: "Obama Invades Uganda"? "President Killing Christians"?

I find I’m grieving at the state of political conversation, as I continue to grieve at the incredible damage done by one evil man and those he drew into his web.

In a public statement released last week, Bishop Ojwang and other Christian leaders in northern Uganda thanked the US for promised aid, and asked policy makers in the United States, Africa and elsewhere to heed the lessons of history and focus their efforts on dialogue rather than force, engagement rather than confrontation. Despite all the violence and suffering, they still pray for a non-violent solution. “Let us redouble our efforts to engage in dialogue. We believe this is the only way to bring about a lasting solution that will foster healing and reconciliation.” 

If they can advocate for understanding, reconciliation, and peace, after all the atrocities they’ve witnessed, all the suffering they've lived through, surely we can find a way to do the same. Hard as it is to speak with those who hear only what they want to hear, and say what they want with no interest in the truth, "Let us redouble our efforts to engage in dialogue." And continue to pray for reconciliation, healing, and peace, here, and in Central Africa.
We pray for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world;     
     That there may be justice and peace on the earth.
Give us grace to do your will in all that we undertake;    
     That our works may find favor in your sight.
Have compassion on those who suffer from any grief or trouble;    
     That they may be delivered from their distress.  
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