NPR ran a story on a former drone pilot today. Among the things he said:

“I felt numb. This is the reality of war.”

“I saw five photos on the wall when I walked into work. I asked myself, ‘Which one of these !!@#$$’s is gonna die today? That’s not me’.”

He’s been diagnosed by PTSD, and is essentially homeless (“couch-surfing”). The full story is here.

After listening to it, one should read Robert J. Lifton’s reflections on drone warfare. It’s a must-read and offer insight into the experience of the pilot profiled in the NPR story (here and here). Lifton examines our desire for technologically precise killing machines and the effects such machines have on our ethics, our personalities, and one might add, our souls:

We can give the job of killing to an advanced technological entity, a compelling robotic instrument entirely devoid of feelings, and thereby suppress our own feelings in relation to that killing. This extreme psychic numbing enables us to kill while distancing ourselves from the significance, the meaning, of that killing.

From a review of Medea Benjamin’s new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control:

That such extra-judicial killing is illegal is not in doubt – as has recently been reconfirmed by the UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson. Obama’s justification is similar to Bush’s – that those killed are actively threatening the security of the US. But the crucial issue is an ethical one: the pilot of a drone tracking the movements of a Waziri villager and making a life-or-death decision to fire a missile may be sitting in a control room in a US air base in the Nevada desert. That’s when many will agree with Benjamin, a founder of the women’s anti-war movement CODEPINK, that a moral line has been crossed.

Is firing a missile from a drone morally worse than dropping a 500lb bomb from 10,000ft? Or pressing the button that launches a cruise missile? Perhaps what is repugnant is the unique combination of deliberately firing at a specific individual, combined with distance and the knowledge that you yourself are invulnerable to retaliation. Time to reprise the ancient Greeks with their contempt for archers. Despite some loose editing and repetition, Drone Warfare is both a justifiably angry sourcebook and a call to action for the growing worldwide citizen opposition to the drones.

Did you know there was a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill this week concerning drone warfare? The most compelling testimony is here.

Steve Coll recently wrote a lengthy piece on drones for The New Yorker.

Lingering residue from “Ashes to Go”

So I got on the bus today, for the first time since Good Friday, I think. The bus driver saw me, saw my collar, and said, “I remember you (pointing to my collar), we’ve talked about it.” It’s finally Spring, so I couldn’t hide the collar under my winter coat as I’m wont to do if I’m on the bus. But then he said something else.

“That was you out on the sidewalk on Ash Wednesday, wasn’t it?” I said yes. “That’s really cool,” he said, “reaching out to people on the street.”

It’s been almost three months since Ash Wednesday but a bus driver who only saw it as he drove by, and perhaps on the evening news, remembers what we did, and makes a connection for himself, while he also recognizes the potential power of the gesture for other passers-by.

We can never know who we touch, how deeply we touch, and how our actions might be a means for the grace of God to move in the world.

Why priests? Ask Garry Wills, but don’t ask a priest

Randall Balmer’s review (BTW, he’s an Episcopal priest):

Central to the priestly claims to authority, Wills says, was the importance of the sacraments, especially celebration of the eucharist, which could be performed, the church declared, only by priests. “The most striking thing about priests, in the later history of Christianity,” the author writes, “is their supposed ability to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

This exclusivity, according to Wills, derives from Thomas Aquinas rather than Jesus. The Thomistic view of the eucharist understands the Mass as re-enacting the sacrifice of Christ, from which all other graces devolve to the believer. The church, following Aquinas, vested the power of transubstantiation — the bread and wine of holy communion actually becomes the body and blood of Christ — in the priesthood. With that magical power, the priesthood increasingly set itself apart from the laity.

Kevin Madigan’s review in The New Republic (he’s not a priest, he’s a historian of Christianity):

Although the Catholic Church has for centuries maintained the opposite position, it is simply false—from an historical perspective—to assert that Jesus instituted the priesthood. Not only was Jesus not a member of the priestly class; it is simply anachronistic to say that any of Jesus’ apostles were imagined in priestly terms, either by Jesus or the apostles themselves.

I remember many years ago when I was lecturing on organization in early Christianity at the School of Theology at Sewanee, and said something like “presbyteroi–whatever that means” and 23 first-year students shouted back at me “priest”–to which I replied, “tell that to Calvin.”

I doubt I’ll read Wills’ book, but my guess is, he’s probably right on. The understanding of priesthood in the western church is directly related to the elevation of the understanding of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. As Ballmer points out, Luther offered a powerful critique of that view from early in his career, one that continues to challenge our understanding of priesthood and the sacraments. It’s part of the reason why he was so opposed to an understanding of the mass that involved sacrifice. For Anglicans, that we’ve retained the language of the sacrifice helps to explain why we continue to lift up the office of the priest, but we might well ask whether there are downsides to it.

A “Christian” re-write of Leonard Cohen’s Halleluia

Radical conservative Christian (and neocon) Marvin Olasky has improved Leonard Cohen’s classic Halleluia

Verse 4:

“Blood your hyssop, I’ll be clean.
Wash me so my sin’s not seen.
Give me of your Holy Spirit, will you?
Create in me a new, clean heart.
Give me now a strong, fresh start,
So every breath I draw is Hallelujah.”

The post links to a recording of the new song, if you’re interested.

I’m speechless.

Here’s Cohen singing it recently:

Or one of my favorites, KD Lang:

 

 

A moral cesspool: Dave Zirin on Notre Dame

It’s not just Notre Dame, of course. There is rot at the heart of collegiate athletics. Well, given Lance Armstrong, what happens with injuries in the NFL, and major league baseball’s coverup of steroid use, it permeates all of sports. But Zirin has pursued the scandals at Notre Dame fearlessly and writes:

Yet as with the far more serious previous scandals attached to this storied program, the problem is not just the behavior of students but the moral compass on display by the adults in charge. Within hours of the story breaking online, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick held a press conference where he backed Te’o to the hilt saying, “Every single thing about this was real to Manti. There was no suspicion. The grief was real, the affection was real, and that’s the sad nature of this cruel game.”

Swarbrick revealed that a private outside firm had been hired to investigate just who had perpetrated this “cruel game.” The athletic director even cried. His behavior only raises more important questions than anything Te’o will face tomorrow. Why hasn’t there been any kind of privately funded, outside investigation into the alleged sexual assaults committed by members of the football team? Why was there no private, outside investigation into Coach Brian Kelly’s role in the death of team videographer Declan Sullivan? It says so much that Te’o’s bizarre soap opera has moved Swarbrick to openly weeping but he hasn’t spared one tear, let alone held one press conference, for Lizzy Seeberg, the young woman who took her own life after coming forward with allegations that a member of the team sexually assaulted her. Swarbrick’s press conference displayed that the problem at Notre Dame is not just football players without a compass; it’s the adults without a conscience. Their credo isn’t any kind of desire for truth or justice. Instead it seems to be little more than a constant effort to protect the Fighting Irish brand, no matter who gets hurt.

The cost to higher education is not just moral; it is also financial. A study released this week provides shocking evidence of how much more is spent on athletics than on academics:

Football consumes much of the athletic budget. At institutions competing in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision, the report found, median athletic spending per athlete was $92,000 in 2010, compared with median academic spending per full-time student of less than $14,000. In the other Division I subdivisions, median athletic spending per athlete ranged from $37,000 to $39,000, compared with median academic spending per full-time student of about $11,800.

Think about that the next time you watch a game on TV. For my friends in academe, think about that the next time your dean asks you to cut your budget….

Some links on prayer

I mentioned that I read Anne LaMott’s Help, Thanks, Wow. It’s a quick read about her life of prayer. LaMott writes with humor, honesty, and insight.

The Other Journal has been focusing on prayer, including this interview with Sarah Coakley.  There are two parts, both of them worth reading. She talks about asceticism, silent prayer, and the erotic (among a number of other things). Part I is here. Part II.

A very different take from Cathy Warner, who writes about her life of prayer:

When I was ten and composed my first prayer, I wasn’t trained or qualified. I didn’t know the right words. Once I joined a church, I tried to replace my primitive prayer with a better one. I thought if I invoked the precise and proper words, suffering would pass me by. I was wrong.

From Everyday Liturgy, five spiritual practices to cultivate in 2013.

Ann Hood writes poignantly about her search for a church with open doors in which to pray: A Prayer at Christmas – NYTimes.com. It’s one of those things I hate myself, that we can’t keep Grace open to the public as a place of prayer. Occasionally I’ll encounter someone who asks if they might come in to pray. I always invite them in to the church.

The Appeal of Psalm 139

An appreciation of Psalm 139 in the translation of the Authorized Version (KJV):

Psalm 139 gets my vote for being the most beautiful of the psalms in the King James version. The other day I happened to read it in French and it left me cold—it conjured up surveillance—whereas the high-low diction of the King James translators sings and is intimate, because you would only sing this way to a God you loved: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me.” It’s like an advertisement for the English language.

Paris Review – Psalm 139, Lorin Stein.