Sunday, July 27, 2008

International Arms Trade and Military Training

There is clear evidence that the international transfer of arms or the training of foreign security forces can provide repressive governments and abusive armed groups with the means to carry out or intensify gross human rights violations. By encouraging governments to act responsibly in this area, Amnesty International USA seeks to prevent or minimize gross violations or abuses of humanitarian and human rights law.
Quick Links: Cluster Bombs | U.S. approved arms to Iraq | Arms Trade Treaty | Surplus Stockpiles of Small Arms | U.S. Training of Foreign Security Forces.

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Stop Ruthless Arms Brokers that Fuel Deadly Conflicts
Ruthless arms brokers have been at the center of many of the most disturbing arms deals, including weapons transfers to abusive armed groups and countries under U.N. arms embargoes. Many of these merchants of death remain free and unhindered, and continue to traffic arms to human rights abusers. Urge your Member of Congress to press the Bush Administration to support a strong global agreement on arms brokering to better enforce U.S. law and halt this global threat to human rights. » More actions

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Not Your National, Political, Military Messiah

When Jesus took on flesh and blood and came to dwell with us on earth, the Jews rejoiced that the Messiah had first. They were expecting a Messiah that would establish Israel over all other nations. He would be their king, leading them in military conquest and preferring them over all other peoples of the earth.

Jesus refused to be their national, political, and military Messiah. Before Pilate, he confesses that his kingdom is not of this world. Even so, his kingdom/will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Yet it will not come through national, political, or military means. Instead, he established his Church, which is without national, racial, ethnic, political distinction. The Church is made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation, advancing it's cause through the demonstration of faithful discipleship to Christ's way.

When Jesus was on earth and his people tried to force him into the role they desired him to have as their messiah (they tried to declare him king of Israel), the Scriptures say that he "slipped through the crowds". He always refused and was able to escape their grasp.

But now that he has resurrected and is seated at the right hand of God in heaven, we seize him and force him into this role through our teachings and assumptions. American Christians, though knowing Jesus refused to be the national, political, military messiah for Israel, have no hesitancy in declaring that he is all these things for America. According to them, it was God who led the rebellion against the Mother Land, calling us to take up arms to declare our national, political, and religious freedom. He gave us victory in the battles we fought and raised us up to be the "greatest nation on the face of the earth". Like Israel, Jesus led us to the "promised land" as our warrior God, giving us victory as we escaped the Egyptians behind us (England) and wiped out the Canaanites (Native Americans) before us.

Instead of focusing on establishing a Church, he indeed saw the wisdom of establishing a Christian nation, or perhaps we could call it an "earthly kingdom". The atrocities that millions suffered at the hands of the pioneers is all justified, just as Israel's conquests before the time of Christ were justified.

This is the Jesus we have made. We have laid hands on him and forced him to be our national, political, and military messiah. A feat that the Jews could not pull off when Jesus walked among them in flesh and blood, but one which has been done by many nations throughout history since after the time of his resurrection.

Friends, Jesus refused to be this type of leader and god when he revealed himself to us on earth. i submit that he still refuses to be our national, political, and military messiah today. His testimony before Pilate continues to resound throughout the unfolding of human history, that his Kingdom is not of this world. He calls us to enter into his kingdom and his way. Will we dare to force him to submit to our own, if that were even truly possible?

Monday, July 21, 2008

To Speak or Not to Speak, that is the Question

i read a very insightful post on the "Jesus Creed" blog the other day which has really got me thinking. It was geared toward young pastors and theologians who blog. The core of the message was, "keep your opinions private" because they may change over time, but cause harm now.

i understand what he's saying. i agree with him. i am wrenched though because i believe that young pastors and theologians, along with all others, need to be able to be themselves, express themselves, and challenge others through this medium.

At the same time, i'm seeing how my personal convictions can impact others. Not because my convictions are wrong, but because they may not be understood or agreed upon by others. This is especially hard for others when they are placing themselves in a position to learn from you, but don't like everything they may be learning.

Are you picking up what i'm putting down?

This blog of course gets into all sorts of topics where i probably diverge slightly from the traditional positions, though i don't believe from biblical positions. This is very difficult for some who really like me, but don't realize it's because they like who they want me to be, not who i really am. As they get to know me, i'm still the same person, but they are disappointed to learn that we do not think the same on all the issues. We aren't perhaps two peas in a pod after all. In as much as i am different from them, they will see me as being "off track". That's true, if they are referring to their set of tracks.

While differences are accepted in a relationship where one considers themselves either superior or equal to the other, they are not accepted when one places themselves in a position to learn from you, or perhaps expect you to reaffirm what they already believe.

So i feel myself caught in a place where i need to hide my convictions and simply reaffirm what others believe. Where i can't do this, i feel pressured to simply remain quite. Yet i can't remain quite because the only reason i'm a pastor is because i feel called to challenge the Church to rethink, reimagine, and reexamine their thoughts and practices. i did not become a pastor because i was so pleased with the Church in America that i wanted to simply see it well "maintained". No, i want to shake it, reinvigorate it, recast a vision, and help it to carry out Christ's mission for today. In my view this will require the Church to shed some of the old cultural ideas we've adopted as biblical ideals.

Of course, if everyone leaves, then what good have you done?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Patriotism vs. Blind Allegiance

As a pastor, my biggest concern is that as Christians we don't allow our patriotism to entice us to leave the basic teachings of Christ, such as loving our enemy, blessing those who curse us, doing good to those who hate us. Now, while nations may not be able to live this out perfectly, i do believe those who have converted to the teachings of Christ have no other option, except to abandon his teachings.

We may find ourselves in the awkward position of seeing the actions of our government as sensible, while personally unacceptable. At other times, we may be required to speak out against the actions of our nation, even though it may be unpopular among the general population. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, found himself in this position. America is better for having Martin Luther King Jr., though his message was considered unpopular and unpatriotic during the time he lifted his voice.

i don't believe Christians are required to force others to live according to all their standards, but i do believe when it comes to basic social justice issues, we have an obligation to be a voice for the voiceless, oppressed, and marginalized. The Hebrew Scriptures attest to this as well, as God called non-Jewish nations to follow basic expectations when it came to how they treated their fellow human beings, without requiring them to live out the Law. MLK did not believe in the use of brute force, which is probably why he had such a powerful impact. Like Gandhi, he was willing to die for the cause, but for no cause was he willing to kill.

Having recently undergone a barrage of accusations that i'm unpatriotic, i very much appreciated this speech by Obama.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Guest Post: Paper or Plastic? A Look at the Facts, Myths and Numbers

Paper Or Plastic? A Look At The Facts, Myths And Numbers

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Treehugger | Collin Dunn | July 8, 2008


Paper or plastic bags: which is better?
It's an age old question, when it comes time to check out when grocery shopping: paper bag or plastic bag? It seems like it should be an easy choice, but there's an incredible number of details and inputs hidden in each bag. From durability and reusability to life cycle costs, there's a lot more to each bag than meet the eye. Let's take a look behind the bags.

Where do brown paper bags come from?
Paper comes from trees -- lots and lots of trees. The logging industry, influenced by companies like Weyerhaeuser and Kimberly-Clark, is huge, and the process to get that paper bag to the grocery store is long, sordid and exacts a heavy toll on the planet. First, the trees are found, marked and felled in a process that all too often involves clear-cutting, resulting in massive habitat destruction and long-term ecological damage.

Mega-machinery comes in to remove the logs from what used to be forest, either by logging trucks or even helicopters in more remote areas. This machinery requires fossil fuel to operate and roads to drive on, and, when done unsustainably, logging even a small area has a large impact on the entire ecological chain in surrounding areas.

Part way between trees and paper bags. Photo credit: Sally A. Morgan--Ecoscene/Corbis

Once the trees are collected, they must dry at least three years before they can be used. More machinery is used to strip the bark, which is then chipped into one-inch squares and cooked under tremendous heat and pressure. This wood stew is then "digested," with a chemical mixture of limestone and acid, and after several hours of cooking, what was once wood becomes pulp. It takes approximately three tons of wood chips to make one ton of pulp.

The pulp is then washed and bleached; both stages require thousands of gallons of clean water. Coloring is added to more water, and is then combined in a ratio of 1 part pulp to 400 parts water, to make paper. The pulp/water mixture is dumped into a web of bronze wires, and the water showers through, leaving the pulp, which, in turn, is rolled into paper.

Whew! And that's just to make the paper; don't forget about the energy inputs -- chemical, electrical, and fossil fuel-based -- used to transport the raw material, turn the paper into a bag and then transport the finished paper bag all over the world.

Paper recycling plants, like the one shown above, is the best place for bags to go when you're done with them.

Where do paper shopping bags go when you're done with them?
When you're done using paper shopping bags, for shopping or other household reuses, a couple of things can happen. If minimally-inked (or printed with soy or other veggie-based inks) they can be composted; otherwise, they can be recycled in most mixed-paper recycling schemes, or they can be thrown away (which is not something we recommend). If you compost them, the bags break down and go from paper to a rich soil nutrient over a period of a couple of months; if you throw them away, they'll eventually break down of the period of many, many years (and without the handy benefits that compost can provide). If you choose the recycle paper bags, then things get a little tricky.

The paper must first be re-pulped, which usually requires a chemical process involving compounds like hydrogen peroxide, sodium silicate and sodium hydroxide, which bleach and separate the pulp fibers. The fibers are then cleaned and screened to be sure they're free of anything that would contaminate the paper-making process, and are then washed to remove any leftover ink before being pressed and rolled into paper, as before.

How are plastic bags produced?
Unlike paper bags, plastic bags are typically made from oil, a non-renewable resource. Plastics are a by-product of the oil-refining process, accounting for about four percent of oil production around the globe. The biggest energy input is from the plastic bag creation process is electricity, which, in this country, comes from coal-burning power plants at least half of the time; the process requires enough juice to heat the oil up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit, where it can be separated into its various components and molded into polymers. Plastic bags most often come from one of the five types of polymers -- polyethylene -- in its low-density form (LDPE), which is also known as #4 plastic.


How does plastic bag recycling work?
Like paper, plastic can be recycled, but it isn't simple or easy. Recycling involves essentially re-melting the bags and re-casting the plastic, though, according to the U.S. EPA, manufacturing new plastic from recycled plastic requires two-thirds of the energy used in virgin plastic manufacturing. But, as any chef who has ever tried to re-heat a Hollondaise sauce will tell you, the quality isn't quite as good the second time around; the polymer chains often separate, leading to a lower-quality product. What does that mean to you? Basically, plastic is often downcycled -- that is, the material loses viability and/or value in the process of recycling -- into less functional forms, making it hard to make new plastic bags out of old plastic bags.


What about biodegradable plastic bags?
Biodegradable plastic is a mixed bag (pun intended) as well; while biopolymers like polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) and Polylactide (PLA) are completely biodegradable in compost (and very, very, very slowly -- if at all -- in a landfill) and are not made from petroleum products, they are often derived from our food sources. The primary feedstock for bioplastics today is corn, which is rife with agro-political conflict and often grown and harvested unsustainably; because of these reasons, and because it competes with food supply, it is not likely to be a long-term solution in the plastics world. Plus, some bags marked "biodegradable" are not actually so -- they're recycled plastic mixed with cornstarch. The cornstarch biodegrades and the plastic breaks down into tiny little pieces but does not actually "biodegrade," leaving a yucky polymer mess (if in small pieces). The only way to avoid this? Look for 100% plant-based polymers, like the two mentioned above.

So, while it's good to have the alternative (and to recognize the innovation it represents), bioplastics aren't quite ready to save us from the paper or plastic debate.

Paper bags hold more stuff, but plastic bags use less energy during production and recycling. Photo: Getty Images

Paper or plastic: A look at the facts and numbers
Further insight into the implications of using and recycling each kind of bag can be gained from looking at overall energy, emissions, and other life cycle-related costs of production and recycling. According to a life cycle analysis by Franklin Associates, Ltd, [pdf] plastic bags create fewer airborne emissions and require less energy during the life cycle of both types of bags per 10,000 equivalent uses -- plastic creates 9.1 cubic pounds of solid waste vs. 45.8 cubic pounds for paper; plastic creates 17.9 pounds of atmospheric emissions vs. 64.2 pounds for paper; plastic creates 1.8 pounds of waterborne waste vs. 31.2 pounds for paper.

Paper bags can hold more stuff per bag -- anywhere from 50 percent to 400 percent more, depending on how they're packed, since they hold more volume and are sturdier. The numbers here assume that each paper bag holds 50 percent more than each plastic bag, meaning that it takes one and half plastic bags to equal a paper bag -- it's not a one-to-one comparison, even though plastic still comes out ahead.

It's important to note that all of the above numbers assume that none of the bags are recycled, which adds a lot of negative impacts for both the paper and plastic bags; the numbers decrease in size (and the relative impacts decrease) as more bags are recycled. Interestingly, the numbers for paper bag recycling get better faster -- the more that are recycled, the lower their overall environmental impact -- but, because plastic bags use much less to begin with, they still ends up creating less solid and waterborne waste and airborne emissions.

Paper and plastic bags' required energy inputs
From the same analysis, we learn that plastic also has lower energy requirements -- these numbers are expressed in millions of British thermal units (Btus) per 10,000 bags, again at 1.5 plastic bags for every one paper bag. Plastic bags require 9.7 million Btus, vs. 16.3 for paper bags at zero percent recycling; even at 100% recycling rates, plastic bags still require less -- 7.0 to paper's 9.1. What does that mean to me and you? Plastic bags just take less energy to create, which is significant because so much of our energy comes from dirty sources like coal and petroleum.

The best way to go? A reusable bag, not a plastic bag. Anya Hindmarch's wildly popular "I am Not a Plastic Bag" tote is helping give the reusable bag some sex appeal.

Paper bags or plastic bags: the conclusion
Both paper and plastic bags require lots and lots of resources and energy, and proper recycling requires due diligence from both consumer and municipal waste collector or private recycling company, so there are a lot of variables that can lead to low recycling rates.

Ultimately, neither paper nor plastic bags are the best choice; we think choosing reusable canvas bags instead is the way to go. From an energy standpoint, according to this Australian study, canvas bags are 14 times better than plastic bags and 39 times better than paper bags, assuming that canvas bags get a good workout and are used 500 times during their life cycle. Happy shopping!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Living on Purpose

Our culture is one with a strong work ethic. Our productivity and creativity have made us world leaders. This places a lot of pressure on us to continue to "succeed" and "excel". Most people i know who are working, work well over the average 40hr work week. At the same time, most aren't working jobs in areas they are passionate about.

i've made a conscious decision to cut back my hours. It is easy for me to dedicate 55hrs a week to my job, and i am thankful that i am passionate about what i do. Yet there are other areas of life that are too important to sacrifice, and other relationships that i can't afford to neglect.

Have we allowed our culture to teach us that our most important role in society is corporate productivity? Do we find it necessary to work more in order to afford a lifestyle that is beyond necessary and which we don't get to enjoy due to our lack of time? For those who are on salary, do we feel we are obligated to give an extra 10-20hrs weekly in order to maintain our employment status? Do we feel guilty for enjoying the various aspects of life, as though they should only be occasional leisure activities?

i believe the life Jesus calls us to is one where relationships take priority. If our work is keeping us from the most important things in life, then i think we must reevaluate. What is it i'm striving for? Am i finding my identity in the wrong things? Am i confusing my "needs" with my "wants" and therefore unable to sustain a living on "less"? Am i living according to Kingdom of God values or kingdom of the world values?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Guest Post: Eugene Cho

What Do 'Patriotic Dissenters' Appreciate About the USA? (by Eugene Cho)

Patriotism is the highest form of dissentAs we recently marked the "birth" and independence of the United States, I'd like to ask you to consider a very simple question:

What do you appreciate about the United States?

I often find myself in the company of women and men who are more inclined towards the art of deconstruction and cynicism. We tend to criticize and often harp on the negatives. The government can do no right. We're often called "enlightened evangelicals"--people who have seen the light, and are thus capable and enlightened to be self-proclaimed prophets against the horrible, evil, corrupt, and hypocritical regime of the United States. And I think it's safe to say that many of the contributors and constituency of Sojourners and the God's Politics Blog can be lumped into that group. I certainly can be.

We sometimes say that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism."


Do you really believe that? I don't. How about "some dissent is one form of patriotism?"

Ok. I get it. The United States of America isn't perfect. I share the belief that for a country that has been given so much, we have fallen short. There are things of the past and present that I do not understand--stuff that embarrasses and angers me. The perception of the USA around the world is in shambles. As I write this entry, I'm currently in South Korea where the daily demonstrations and mostly peaceful protests that are going on because of the beef crisis are, well, about more than just the beef, and speak to how others view the country we believe to be the most powerful in the world. But that's another post.

As we demonstrate a level of our patriotism with "some dissent," I think it's absolutely critical that we do not lose sight of the amazing privilege we all enjoy as citizens and residents of the United States of America. We hear and speak criticisms enough. I just wonder if we take ample and genuine time to also remind ourselves and others of the amazing people and country that is called the United States of America. In a similar post on my blog, here were some of the reasons amongst many that were shared in response to my question, "What do you most appreciate about the United States?"

The thing I love about the United States is that everyone here has either left their home and bravely traveled to a new land, is a recent descendant of someone who has, or is a native who, against all odds, has endured a crushing and ceaseless invasion of foreigners.


There's a deep well of courage here.


I'm grateful for the freedoms I have here as a woman. What a relief to be able to drive, work, walk in my neighborhood, and sit alone in public without ridicule. I wouldn't say we've achieved total gender equality, but I do appreciate how Americans before me have lobbied and fought for the freedoms I now enjoy.


America is a nation built upon ideas--pretty dang good ideas!--and upon the rule of law. Our identity stems, not primarily from a shared ethnic heritage, but from our commitment to the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (At least, it's supposed to!) Can any other nation say the same?

We speak enough of the ways this country and its government has fallen short. So I ask you this question:

"What do you appreciate about the United States?"

Eugene Cho, a second-generation Korean-American, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, and the executive director of Q Cafe, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood café in the city with only a handful of cafés. You can stalk him at his blog

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Don't Feed the Animals

I’ve been reconsidering this idea, that seems especially embraced by us conservatives, that we ought not allow people to rely on the government for assistance. The idea is that we need to be challenged to find our own way out of the ditch we are in.

Just the other day I was reading the testimony of a man who had survived through the Great Depression. He said they did not imagine or expect government assistance. The plight they found themselves in belonged to them and the answer to their problems was one they were expected to create. Nobody blamed the government nor did they rely on government.

This has always sounded like a lofty and noble idea to me. I love having to overcome a challenge. On the other hand, we are human beings, not animals. It reminds me of the signs posted in the national parks: “Don’t Feed the Animals”

It is thought that if animals become dependent upon humans for their sustenance they will no longer know how to survive on their own and they could also become a nuisance to the general population.

Perhaps that’s true concerning wild animals, but what about tame animals? A woman, asking Jesus for assistance says, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”. Jesus is delighted with her response and grants her request. In another episode, the religious leaders are upset with Jesus for helping a man on the Sabbath. Jesus responds, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?”

Indeed then, there is a difference between wild animals and domesticated animals, and there is a difference between human beings and beasts.

"Please Feed Hungry Humans"