Thursday, September 20, 2007

San Francisco to Provide Health Care for All Uninsured Adults

The New York Times reported last week that the city of San Francisco will begin to provide health care for all uninsured adults. This does not address the plight of the underinsured, and I am not certain whether children are already covered, but it is definitely an impressive move by a local government to provide what The United Methodist Church calls "a basic human right."

Check out this list of official United Methodist statements:

U.S.-Paid Mercenaries Kill 8 in Iraq

The New York Times today reported that employees of the private security company Blackwater USA, contracted by the United States government, fired on and killed at least eight Iraqi citizens on Sunday. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki called the incident "a crime," yet such private security companies are exempted from prosecution under current Iraqi law.

Regardless of the circumstances (and I recognize that I have no inside information or expertise by which to judge the circumstances of this particular incident), the use of mercenaries as proxy troops sets up an environment without accountability and violates the United Nations International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries, a 1990 convention never signed by the United States despite calls by religious organizations including The United Methodist Church to do so.

True Majority Action is providing a web page where people can send Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice the following message:

We insist that you stop using Blackwater employees as State Department guards, and follow the Iraqi government's demand that Blackwater leave the country.
Users can send custom messages along with the standard message above.

CIA Ceases the Use of Water-Boarding

ABC News reported last week that the CIA will no longer use the controversial interrogation technique called water-boarding. Most religious groups have statements against torture. For example, see the relevant portion of my own denomination's statement of Basic Freedoms and Human Rights in its Social Principles section of The United Methodist Book of Discipline: "

Furthermore, the mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs.

The Bush administration has held that the United States does not torture but instead utilizes aggressive interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects for the purpose of securing the safety of American citizens. Others say water-boarding is an act of torture.

No United States legislation specifically mentions water-boarding, but federal law (18 U.S.C. § 2340) defines torture as

an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control. . . .

This law further defines "severe mental pain or suffering" to include "the threat of imminent death." Such a threat is at the heart of water-boarding, as interrogators stuff a cloth in the mouth of the person being interrogated and pour water into the cloth. When the person being interrogated breathes, the sensation of drowning is simulated. In fact, drowning can occur if the technique is not stopped. It is precisely the fear of death that causes people to "confess."

The following video, from Crooks and Liars, shows a controlled water-boarding incident. Judge for yourself whether this is torture.

The CIA claims to have banned this practice, but with such little oversight in this administration, who knows what is really taking place and where it is happening?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Join the United Church of Christ's Petition for Peace

The United Church of Christ is hoping to gather 100,000 electronic signatures for a petition for peace to be delivered to Washington next month. The petition is compatible with the stand of The United Methodist Church (the denomination to which I belong), and I have therefore signed. I encourage you to read and to consider adding your own signature:

Along with thousands of United Church of Christ members and supporters, I call for an end to the war in Iraq, an end to our reliance on violence as the first, rather than the last resort, an end to the arrogant unilateralism of preemptive war.

I call for the humility and courage to acknowledge failure and error, to accept the futility of our current path, and I cry out for the creativity to seek new paths of peacemaking in the Middle East, through regional engagement and true multinational policing.

I call for acknowledgement of our responsibility for the destruction caused by sanctions and war and a beginning to rebuild trust in the Middle East and around the world.

I call for repentance in our nation and for the recognition in our churches that security is found in submitting to Christ, not by dominating others.

I will join protest to prayer, support ministries of compassion for victims here and in the Middle East, cast off the fear that has made all of us accept the way of violence and return again to the way of Jesus. Thus may bloodshed end and cries be transformed to the harmonies of justice and the melodies of peace. For this I yearn, for this I pray, and toward this end I rededicate myself as a child of a loving God who gives "light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Elixir of Love"

On Sept. 6, PBS memorialized Luciano Pavarotti, who had died earlier that day, by broadcasting a 1981 performance of "L'Elisir D'Amore" ("Elixir of Love") on Great Performances at the Met.

PBS writes:

The two-and-one-half-hour, two-act opera was originally broadcast on PBS
stations from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on March 2,
1981. A highlight of the telecast is Pavarotti's stunning rendition of "Una
Furtiva Lagrima," an aria he made his own in his illustrious career. Charlie
Rose introduces the In Memoriam broadcast.

"L'Elisir D'Amore," a romantic comedy, revolves around the unrequited love of poor villager Nemorino (Pavarotti's role) for wealthy farm owner Adina. Overhearing Adina read to her workers the story of how Tristan made Isolde fall in love with him through the use of a magic potion, Nemorino spends all his money on a similar potion he buys from conman Dulcamara, who is making his way through the area.

Though the audience knows the potion to be merely wine, Nemorino is certain of its powers and begins drinking it. Tipsy from the wine, he pretends not to be interested in Adina, secure in the "knowledge" that she will be his in just one day. Angry at him for ignoring her, Adina agrees to marry obnoxious army sergeant Belcore that night, before he leaves on a military campaign.

Frightened that Adina will marry before the potion kicks in, Nemorino seeks out Dulcamara to see if there is a potion that will work immediately. Dulcamara assures him that, for a price, he has a potion that will make all the girls love Nemorino. Joining the army for the enlistment bonus, Nemorino buys the potion and drinks it.

Unbeknownst to Nemorino, Adina, and Dulcamara, a report goes out that Nemorino's rich uncle has died, leaving him lots of money. Women begin flirting with Nemorino, convincing him all the more of the potion's efficacy.

Adina sees the flirting and is enraged. Dulcamara tries to sell Adina a bottle of the "elixir of love," explaining how it has worked so well for Nemorino. Touched that Nemorino would join the army to win her love, Adina buys his enlistment papers back and announces her love for him. Dulcamara sells a lot more of his elixir and quickly leaves town.

Even though this opera contains no overt religious content, I am interested in it as representative of the implicitly religious nature of all culture. Paul Tillich viewed all cultural artifacts as manifestations of "ultimate concern," that which is the object of one's faith. Works of art that contain less religious form can often contain more religious essence.

What is the ultimate concern of this opera, and in what ways does it communicate trust in this ultimate concern? Is its ultimate concern the importance of romantic love, or the need for comfort that that the universe is alright the way it is, or the nature of simplicity, or the role of the trickster? I think all of these options (and many more possibilities) are ripe for analysis.

As you ponder, enjoy Pavarotti singing "Una Furtiva Lagrima" ("A Furtive Tear"), an aria from "L'Elisir D'Amore" (though not the performance recently on PBS).

Saturday, September 15, 2007


My name is David Miller, and I work at Union College in Barbourville, KY, where I am the College Minister and Instructor of Integrated Humanities. I am an ordained clergyperson in the Kentucky Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church (an Elder, for those who know the distinctions within Methodist clergy). I am also a student in the University of Louisville's Humanities Ph.D. program, with an interdisciplinary area of concentration in Studies in Culture and specializations in Continental Philosophy of Religion, Phenomenology of Religion, Hermeneutical Phenomenology, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, and Marion.

This blog is an attempt to update a personal website I had back in the min-nineties. (If you're into time travel, you can check out that old website, which includes a handful of sermons, at Internet Archive's Way Back Machine.) This blog, like that old website, will link to sites I found to be meaningful. I will try to provide commentary that is life-affirming, truly salvific. The things that provide this for me are my spirituality, the love of family and friends, intellectual stimulation, and play. I am not interested in politics, per se, but, because of my religious convictions regarding social justice, I will include political material.

For most of my adult life, I have been nourished and nurtured by inclusive Protestantism. I honor these roots even as they impel me beyond the bounds of their traditions. I seek goodness, truth, and beauty in the world’s wisdom as expressed in religion, literature, history, music, art, philosophy, and science. I see these expressions of wisdom as gifts of the divine that liberate people from whatever binds them and that help people grow into their best selves. Wherever it is found, I will seek to study this wisdom appreciatively, critically, and with a post-critical naivete; I will seek to teach it in ways that are appropriate to the development of those around me; and I will seek to practice it in ways that are integral to who I am now and to who I hope to become.