Friday, January 14, 2011

Pastor/Journalist in Palestine

Some years back I met Wayne Smith, a pastor at Praise Covenant Church in Tacoma, Washington, through my wife. I took an instant liking to him for his sincerity, candor and clarity of spirit.

Last December he and his wife, Ruth, embarked on a four-month mission to the West Bank. Wayne has been blogging as a witness and a journalist there.

I strongly recommend visiting his blog site. His reporting is rock-solid, eye-witness journalism. Often he takes the reader right down to ground level, as he did in his short essay about boundary stones as ominous Israeli warnings, as affronts to Palestinian pride and as telling historical markers referenced in the Bible.

I don't say this lightly when I suggest that Wayne Smith's reporting reminds me of George Orwell's essays describing the wounds of injustice and tyranny in British-ruled India, Burma and Fascist Spain.

In his classic essay "Why I write," Orwell noted the primacy of political purpose to his writing. When he lacked such purpose, he admitted to writing "lifeless" prose.

Wayne's prose is palpably driven with purpose — spiritual and, inevitably, political.

Lifeless it is not.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pausing in a culture of conflict

In President Obama's memorial address yesterday in Tucson, the most memorable and telling line for me was:

"At a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

Why did the President appeal for a mere "pause"? Is that the best we can do?

Why not make our healing permanent and speak and listen with civility, even humility, so that we are truly "one nation indivisible."

Our nasty little secret, and the President knows it, is that we are an adversarial society that thrives on a culture of conflict.

Our economy and political system are rooted in competition built on our baser instincts and emotional appeals. Our legal system is all about winning. Justice is often a lucky happenstance. We place far more value on individuals and their rights (often at the expense of others) than on community and harmony. Our media and our cultural stories describe and explore conflict in detail, often bloody detail. So few of our stories are about cooperation and compassion (though the President poignantly amplified a few in his speech.)

One commentator, the late George Gerbner, described mass media as creating a "Mean World Syndrome." He pointed out that a society steeped in a brutally harsh fiction has a way of transforming that fiction into fact.

The media's millionaire political hate-mongers would be paupers if they suddenly became "healers" instead of slash-and-burn rhetorical "wounders." We are not conditioned to watch a world at peace.

In his media moment yesterday, the President played his role as healer and truth-teller. Sadly, it was only a pause — flicker of light in our darkness.

We need a strong and steady beacon. Where will it come from? What will it be?

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Rhetoric of violence corrodes entire political culture

In the aftermath of the shooting in Tucson, a lot has been inevitably been written about the vitriolic rhetoric of politics.

Blame has been laid on prominent Right-wing commentators such as Sarah Palin and her gun analogies, Rush Limbaugh and his demeaning smears, and Glenn Beck and his rants.

The political Right, of course, points accusingly at commentators on the Left.

The problem is much greater than either side would have us believe. The whole political establishment and the mainstream media are equally culpable for their own day-to-day rhetorical choices.

And we, the people, have become inured to them.

Without blinking, all political campaigns, Right, Left and everything in between, refer to (and the media blindly accept and transmit) “targeted audiences,” “war chests,” “the air wars” (TV ad campaigns), “sabotaging,” “counter-attacking,” “burying,” “sniping,” “war rooms,” “political bombshells,” "political cross hairs," and “ground troops.”

The list goes on and on.

Face it, much of American politics is defined by words of violence and war.

The unquestioning use and acceptance of such terms corrode our political culture.

Worse, the use of such words only increases the likelihood of terrible deeds like the shootings in Tucson.

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