The Evolution of a Pacifist

April 12, 2011 at 9:17 pm (Uncategorized)

As a liberal, open-minded Democrat, I decided to read George W Bush’s autobiography, Decision Points. As I start recording my thoughts on his book, I should begin with the confession that I was not quite so open-minded while he was President. I admit to calling him “shrub” on a few occasions and to allowing feelings of disdain or anger to pass through my mind when I heard about some of his actions. But after seeing how unattractive the detractors of President Obama appear, I regret my formerly strong partisan reactions.

I have to say that, while not agreeing with him on most points, I now better understand the reasoning behind his decisions, and also realize how much spin there often is on either side of the political debate. Hindsight reveals that his decision not to fund stem-cell research using frozen embryos was vindicated by later research that found other ways to obtain stem-cells. I was disappointed not to read anything about the one area where I did agree with him: his solution to illegal immigration. But I suppose it was omitted because his plan did not succeed, thanks to his fellow Republicans.

The area where I most strongly and fundamentally disagreed with him was on the war. It was the war in Iraq that really awakened my political self and forced me to think about what patriotism means, particularly in time of war, as well as many other things political.

It seems strange to me now that a Christian could be hawkish about war. Yet I remember the thrill of patriotism that swept over me as a child during WWII, when we stood at the beginning of a college band concert to sing “The Star-spangled Banner” and heard planes flying overhead. Many members of my church, which used to be opposed to serving in the armed services except as a medic, have reacted to wars involving America in a “patriotic” way. Even after I considered myself opposed to war, I felt a passing moment of patriotic pride as the “shock and awe” campaign first flashed on our TV screen. Yet, today I am compelled to ask, ‘How can followers of the Prince of Peace glory in war, in the killing of God’s children in other lands, in the importance of power over others?’ This is all so different from what Jesus stood for. It’s true that the Bible relates many stories of war. But despite the claims of some writers, I cannot believe war was ever God’s plan for accomplishing His purposes.

Advancing the cause of democracy through war seems oxymoronic to me! That was Bush’s plan in his “Freedom Agenda,” in which he said, “There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.” I believe God is the only force that can accomplish these goals, and I submit that as a Christian nation we should instead try the radical agenda of Jesus. I believe God would bless such an effort.

Bush also said, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” This statement, it seems to me, betrays fear and a need to protect self, which in turn shows a lack of faith in God.

And his statement with which I am most in disagreement: “Take the fight to the enemy overseas before they can attack us again here at home.” Is this what Jesus would do? I suppose there are many who would answer ‘Yes,’ but I cannot agree.

Pacifism – peace – learning to live together without war – is the ideology I believe Jesus would promote, were He here today. Wouldn’t it be great if Christianity could, for once, live up to the ideals of the Prince of Peace?

There is a piece of paper in one of the stacks I make when I periodically try to straighten up my desk, which I printed out either during the run-up to the last presidential election or the one before. It was a declaration by ministers of many different denominations of ten major points they wanted the president to embrace. The first one was: War is contrary to the will of God. While the use of violent force may, at times, be a necessity of last resort, Christ pronounces his blessing on the peacemakers. We look for political leaders who will make peace with justice a top priority and who will actively seek nonviolent solutions to conflict. If enough Christians would adopt this as a priority, America might have an opportunity to show itself as a truly Christian nation.

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Memorable Concerts I’ve Attended

February 28, 2011 at 7:30 am (Uncategorized)

There is something special and magical about hearing live music. I think maybe the first concert I ever attended was by English pianist Percy Grainger, composer of the sprightly “Country Gardens.” A couple of lab techs, who worked with my dad at Washington Sanitarium and Hospital, took me. It was at the Watergate Shell in Washington, DC, back in the mid-1940s when I was about ten years old. Grainger was quite a showman – he played two encores, one with his elbows, and one on the strings of the piano!

When I was in academy I had a boyfriend, Dick Dunbar, who took me to several concerts at Constitution Hall, where major Washington, DC, concerts were then held. Two that stand out in my memory were by Artur Rubenstein and Vladimir Horowitz. We also went to a couple of chamber music concerts in the National Gallery of Art. During my senior year our music appreciation class went to hear Max Bruch’s newly discovered Violin Concerto in G minor at the U of MD.

Two concerts I especially remember from college days were by Andre Segovia, famous classical guitarist, and Jerome Hines, MET opera basso, who dedicated “Some Enchanted Evening” to Bob and I the night we announced our engagement! And Bob took me into LA to hear the Robert Shaw Chorale.

When we lived in Hawaii, we got season tickets to the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Their new young conductor, Robert ?, wore a tux with tails lined in red satin, which his vigorous conducting frequently exposed to view! My two oldest sons and I went to a brass quintet concert at U of Hawaii, where I was first treated to the brass music of the renaissance. For the opening number, the players stood around the outside of the room and we were engulfed in glorious sound!

It was in Singapore (1970-1985) that I probably went to more great concerts than any other time in my life. Famous artists often traveled through Singapore to other destinations and our local impressario would snag them for a concert. They were very inexpensive then – we often got the cheapest tickets for US$2-3. Some that I especially remember were by the Kings’ Singers, the Scholars (a similar group from Oxford), the Eastman Wind Ensemble, a chamber music group from Sweden, I think, who wore period costumes and wigs, the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, who played Zoltan Kodaly’s “Hary Janos” Suite, and many others. Later Singapore got it’s own Symphony Orchestra and we attended a number of their concerts. A really outstanding conert shortly before we left Singapore was the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. It was an outdoor concert, as they played Tchiakowsky’s 1812 Overture with real cannons. We got seats on one end of the first row and could actually read the scores of the cellists playing in front of us.

In Seattle we have a great orchestra conducted by Gerard Schwartz and have gone to many of their concerts, as well as to the wonderful concerts by Seattle Choral Company. Once we enjoyed a concert by flamenco dancers, and another time we sat on the very front row of Benaroya Hall when classical guitarists Odair and Sergio Assad from Brazil played – we could see the perspiration fly, we were so close!

But the most memorable concert is yet to come, when we hear the angels sing in heaven!

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Review a Book you Like

February 25, 2011 at 8:09 pm (Uncategorized)

Since I haven’t yet figured out another way to do it, here is my request for your review of one of your favorite or most meaningful books.

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Madeleine L’Engle – Books for my Season of Life

February 25, 2011 at 8:06 pm (Uncategorized)

Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite authors, too. Of course, I’ve read all her books for teens and loved them (confession: many years ago, when Paul was a teenager and I discovered him reading some of her sci-fi books, I was horrified! But that was before I’d read anything by her.) She is a Christian author, albeit a rather liberal one, and her science fiction runs along the line of angels, biblical stories, and the struggle between good and evil. Her stories are about wonderful, healthy, loving families. A few of them are sort of mystery stories, but with a Christian accent.

But the ones most meaningful to me right now are from her Crosswicks series – journal-type stories about her personal life. Shelley, my pastor’s wife, gave me Two-Part Invention, the story of her marriage and the death of her husband, in which she shares both the beauty and the difficulties of marital life.

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, which I’m reading right now, is the story of her mother’s decline into senility over the last year of her life. In both books she shares her struggle to accept the inevitability and mystery of death.

At age 75 (nearly), when I buy more sympathy cards than any other kind, and when two consecutive nights bring news of the death of a loved one and a dear friend, these books really resonate with me. At an age when Bob’s and my lives have become so intertwined that it’s hard to imagine life without each other, yet we know that any day could bring that experience. And as I read about her summer of caring for her dying mother, I am reminded of my deep gratitude to my sister-in-law and brother for caring for my mother during her final illness.

Here are just a few thoughts I want to share from these two books:

From Two-Part Invention: “When Hugh and I get angry at each other we tend to be explosive, both of us being volatile. But we never nibbloe or chiip. And our anger never lasts beyond bedtime. When it happens, and I suspect there’s no marriage where it doesn’t, it’s a good, clean anger, clearing the air. The explosions are not physical, but they are volatilely vocal. And I am reminded of one woman who, when asked if she had ever contemplated divorcing her husband, replied, Divorce, never! Murder, yes!”

Just after her husband’s bladder malignancy was found: “I call several close friends to ask for prayers. That afternoon Hugh and I have to attend the funeral of an actor friend, here in our Congregational Church. As we approach the white-spired church we hear the mournful sound of bagpipes, and in front of the church is a man in kilts, playing a dirge. My skin prickles.
We go in and I sit beside Hugh, and we hold hands, as the bagpipes continue to drone mournfully outside. I have to clench my teeth to keep from crying. And I am praying, praying.”

And one more: “Oh, my love. When we first learned of Hugh’s cancer I was as dry as the parched land suffering drought in the Southeast. Now the tears are close to the surface. For the third time this summer I come to the Psalms for the evening of the fourth day and read, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and the tears rush out silently and stream down my face. Music, too, tends to pluck at the chords of emotion. Tears are healing. I do not want to cry when I am not alone, but by myself I don’t try to hold the tears back. In a sense this solitary weeping is a form of prayer.”

And after her husband died: “Does a marriage end with the death of one of the partners? In a way, yes. I made my promises to Hugh “till Death us do part,” and that has happened. But the marriage contract is not the love that builds up over many years, and which never ends, as the circle of our wedding band never ends. Hugh will always be part of me, go with me wherever I go, and that is good because, despite our faults and flaws and failures, what we gave each other was good. I am who I am because of our years together, freed by his acceptance and love of me.”

And here are just a couple of quotations from Summer of the Great-Grandmother: “It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand. It stops us from taking anything for granted. It has also taught me a lot about living in the immediate moment.”

And: “I hold her as she, once upon a time and long ago, held me. And I say the same words, the classic, maternal, instinctive words of reassurance. ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m here. It’s all right.’
‘Something’s wrong. I’m scared. I’m scared.”
I cradle her and repeat, ‘It’s all right.”
What’s all right? What am I promising her? I’m scared too. I don’t know what’s going to happen with my mother this summer…What’s all right? How can I say it?
I mean these words. I do not understand them, but I mean them. Perhaps one day I will find out what I mean. I may never find out with my intellectual self what I mean, but if I am given enough glimpses, perhaps these will add up to enough so that my heart will understand.”

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Favorite Authors

February 24, 2011 at 1:28 am (Uncategorized)

I have quite a few favorite authors. When I read a book I really enjoy, I usually try to read everything that author has written. Here are just a few of my favorites. Who are some of yours?

Philip Yancey – a Christian writer who shares his spiritual journey, his doubts and questions, and whose writing is very relevant to my life.

Gerald Durrell – Dr. Dunbar Smith (director of the FED health department and my boss for a couple of years) introduced me to this author, an animal collector and owner of a zoo in the Channel Islands off England. He writes largely about his collecting trips and has a delightfully dry sense of humor, as well as being very informative about natural history and a bit earthy.

Jan Karon – Her charming “Mitford” series about an Episcopal priest, Father Tim, leave you feeling good about the human race, something that’s not always easy to feel in our current contentious society.

Jennifer Chiaverini – Son Paul gave me one of her quilt novels for a birthday present a few years ago, and I quickly became addicted. They combine an interest in quilting with a group of interesting quilters from many backgrounds, and stories about the Underground Railway. I’m always checking the library to see if she has written a new one.

Rosamunde Pilcher – These are just plain old fiction, but she makes her characters so lifelike and believable that you are immediately drawn into their lives. She is another author who leaves you with a good taste in your mouth.

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Off to a Good Start

February 24, 2011 at 1:25 am (Uncategorized)

My life as a bookworm got an early start because my mother taught me to read when I was four. My Aunt Thelma, a school teacher, sent her the “Dick, Jane, and Sally” primers, and I was off and running. Soon I was sounding out words on billboards and buildings.

When I started first grade at Sligo Elementary School in Takoma Park, Maryland, if I got to school a few minutes early I would take out my reading books and read through them all before the bell rang. In second grade our library contained a set of biographies of famous Americans, with orange covers, and I devoured them. Mom gave me the first book in a series about a little girl, Elsie Dinsmore, and I was soon addicted to them.

I started piano lessons when I was seven and much as I loved practicing, if I was in the middle of a good book, it was hard to tear myself away. When I had advanced a little and was playing scales and memorizing pieces, I would prop my book up on the piano and multi-task. My piano teacher kept some books about a little girl names Maida on a table for her students to read if they had to wait for their lessons, so I always came early to read.

Daddy was delighted when I was able to accompany him as he sang “Old Man River,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “Open the Gates of the Temple,” and other favorite songs. By third grade I was playing for Sabbath School and our morning worship at school.

The folks always bought the “Reading Course” books published by our church and gave them to us for Christmas, and they were my favorite presents because the joy of them lasted so long. I’ve always been very thankful to my parents for giving me the opportunity to enjoy books and music!

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