Aug 12

How fitting a legacy that would be for a genius at comic relief.

This is the third time in recent weeks that I’ve been startled by a confrontation with depression, mental illness, or emotional distress that wrought  havoc or brought death before such suffering could be successfully treated. And those were only three high profile cases that are emblematic of countless others, especially people on the margins of society with no one particularly paying attention to them.

With no other thread than that, here are my encounters, and each one had impact.

The July 7th issue of ESPN magazine featured an article titled ‘The Pursuit of Radical Acceptance.’ It was about Chicago Bears’ Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and his struggle with ‘borderline personality disorder’, a mental health condition so little understood or talked about that Marshall made it his mission to “make an off-limits subject commonplace.”

He’s reaching out to players who might need help, teaming with mental health organizations through his charity and raising awareness and cash for early-detection programs.

“Where we are now is where the HIV community was 25 years ago,” he says. “We can raise all the money in the world, but people might not go get help. They’re still going to see it as a taboo topic. So it’s important for us to get the conversation started.”

Mental health issues can’t be taboo. They still are though, which is why so much of the population, including high profile celebrities, suffer in silence or within a small circle of closest family and friends. This must change.

Over the years, I recall several cases of prominent professionals whose grown children had ended their own lives, and couldn’t imagine the dreadful horror of such an experience nor how one could live through it. Once you’re a parent, you just know that’s the worse thing that could happen. And it happens to anyone, even the unlikeliest of people and families.

Like beloved Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, American’s Pastor as many people see him, who couldn’t save the life of his own son. I encountered that story again over the weekend in a poignant interview with Raymond Arroyo in ‘The World Over’ on the EWTN network. It covered Pastor Warren’s initiative, ‘A Gathering On Mental Health and the Church’, and the tragic event that inspired him to focus on the issue of mental health, the death of his own son. It’s heart wrenching beyond words to see these parents go out publicly trying to save others from such unspeakable tragedy.

But the hope of saving them is greater if they can be reached, and going back to Brandon Marshall’s point of his mission, mental health is still a taboo subject, so people won’t talk about it the way they will about any range of other health issues for which there’s a support community and charitable organizations championing the cause. Again, that must change.

Now, for the third time in as many weeks, the tragedy of mental despair unresolved and maybe largely unaddressed has hit us all, like a sucker punch that knocked the wind out of everyone. New media preempted coverage of the crisis in Iraq, the Israel-Hamas war, the brink of war between Russia and Ukraine, and other major breaking and developing news stories, for blanket coverage of the suicide of Robin Williams. How terribly tragic.

The articles and television videos and remembrances are so vast, let them celebrate this one man’s life and life’s work that elevated the hearts and minds and spirits of countless people while his own were sinking into darkness. Here are only a couple I’d like to point out.

Friend Elizabeth Scalia posted this on the ‘Murderous Mendacity of Depression.”

Depression is a hissing false witness. It lies and tells someone there is no hope; it lies and declares, “you’re a fraud”; it lies when it warns you to hide your feelings, because people won’t love you if they know how terrified and alone and desperate you feel; it lies and sneers that you’re weak — that you can just snap out of it, anytime, if you really want to; it croons the lie that love is not real, and hope is for suckers; it whispers the most insidious of lies: that your pain will never ebb, cannot be transcended, and has no value at all.

After a while, the pain begins to feel like all you are and all there is: a worthless, pointless void. And when your life becomes just pain-without-end, suffering-without-meaning, tomorrow seems like less a promise than a prison.

When depression wins, it is such a damned tragedy, no matter whether it has carried off a big rich somebody, or an ordinary nobody, because it is the victory of an incessant liar.

Biblically, that refers to ‘the Accuser, who stands night and day accusing incessantly until you hear and start believing that voice, which is the voice of a liar. Who doesn’t hear that voice? But who has moral and mental and spiritual support behind them and who doesn’t? That’s so key to making this a subject and condition to talk about in the mainstream public discussion of health.

My friend Kathryn Lopez posted this poignant piece on her blog, refreshingly innocent and yet deeply knowing about the human condition.

What if every person of faith who ever laughed at a Robin Williams joke, prayed for him? And every day it happened? Could this be a new way for us to live?

On Sunday night I turned on Dead Poets Society, the 1989 movie where Robin Williams, teaching his students poetry, famously encourages them to give a nod to Walt Whitman and go ahead and address him as “O Captain, my Captain.”

I remember watching Dead Poets Society when it first came out and being so taken with the pain of a young man who lost all hope.

Young men, we pray, grow up to be men. And even then … the burdens of pain may grow, despite success.

God help them, God heal them from the pain of what they believe about themselves.

We see talent, they can’t see past fear.

Sunday night, I had turned on the TV to see if anyone was doing anything different given the Christian extermination — and then-some — in Iraq. Not really. So after a quick journey into the center of the Teen Choice Awards, I stopped inside a classroom with Robin Williams, a movie I hadn’t seen in years. The daughter of teachers -– and a schoolgirl who quite liked being a student — I remembered how grateful I was a teacher was portrayed in a good light.

I didn’t watch much of Dead Poets Society Sunday night but I felt prompted to pray for Robin Williams Sunday night. Perhaps simply in thanksgiving. Perhaps because we are — all the baptized — are the body of Christ, and I was called to hear a cry for help from a brother.

Perhaps because he needed prayers and God wanted me receptive to this, interceding for his pain. God looks out for His Creation and relies on His adopted sons and daughters to do the work of His graces, living sacramental lives as the Body of Christ.

I only prayed briefly for him.

What a world it might be if, every time someone made us laugh or otherwise entertained or informed us, we prayed for him? What if we always prayed in thanksgiving and with the knowledge that we don’t know what lies beneath? Anyone who followed Williams’ career knew he had his struggles. We often don’t know. But it’s so often there — no matter how clever or talented. We’re only human.

We must pray. And be alert — looking and listening for opportunities and promptings. Our lives must be ones of prayer and we must set aside time and plead with God on behalf of those who suffer most. In front of us and a world away.

To say “we must pray” is so counter-cultural, and yet Kathryn Lopez is an editor-at-large of a national secular news organization out of DC and New York who regularly blends the secular and the sacred, faith and life, God and man, applying eternal truths to cultural relativism. She does it so well.

One of the Patheos bloggers posted an interesting piece on the saints who suffered from depression.

With this topic very much in the news today, it seems a good time to remember that even the holiest of people have suffered from periods of despair.

It’s a comfort of sorts, a relief for those willing to engage it, and a resource for hope.

Pray if you will or don’t if you won’t. Kathryn Lopez and Deadon Kandra  just make a suggestion and a very good one for those who see the merit and the power of prayer. God only knows what a difference it may have made for Robin Williams.

And all the other individuals out there whose names we don’t know who are suffering as he did. God willing, it may save their lives.

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Aug 07

It’s about time.

Atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities have been perpetrated for months and have grown more ferocious and dire in recent weeks. Then overnight, the horrific account of the Yazidis running for their lives and stranded on a desolate mountain in Kurdistan finally got the world’s attention, those elite media and world leaders who were saying and doing next to nothing or nothing until now.

Elizbabeth Scalia has used her megaphone and all social networking media to call attention to the problem and point to possible avenues of relief. Take a look at just that handful of examples of Christian cleansing from their ancient homeland. With no government response and practically no media mention at all.

Then overnight, this happened and hit the collective consciousness.

Stranded on a barren mountaintop, thousands of minority Iraqis are faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of the encircled Sunni extremists or sit tight and risk dying of thirst.

Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children.

Unable to dig deep into the rocky mountainside, displaced families said they have buried young and elderly victims of the harsh conditions in shallow graves, their bodies covered with stones. Iraqi government planes attempted to airdrop bottled water to the mountain on Monday night but reached few of those marooned.

“There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads,” said Marzio Babille, the Iraq representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

…“Children have died because of dehydration and lack of food,” Vian Dakheel, a Yazidi parliamentarian from Sinjar, said through tears. “My people are being slaughtered,” she continued, referring to reports of mass killings of those who had stayed behind.

Tireless human rights activist Nina Shea had issued this warning about issuing only a statement on so massive a humanitarian crisis. And she describes it in more gruesome detail.

On Wednesday, Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, came under assault from the Islamic State, and all 50 to 60,000 of its residents have fled to Erbil in Kurdistan. In June, Qaraqosh’s residents had fled in terror when Mosul was taken but, some 80 percent of them had since returned. The recent exodus was triggered when jihadists’ mortars killed two children and a 30-year-old woman.

Yesterday, the Christian residents of other Nineveh towns and villages, Bartilla, and Bahzany, also left and sought safe haven in the monastery of Mar Mattai, as well as in Erbil and Duhok. Ba’ashiqa and the Ba’ashiqa Monastery are being evacuated by their inhabitants and the displaced civilians who had recently sought refuge there. The Yazidi and Christian families who lived in Ein Sifni are all fleeing.

The enormity of the humanitarian crisis of the cascading exodus from Nineveh was overshadowed, though, by the early reports indicating genocide is taking place against the people of Sinjar, who are mostly followers of the Yazidi religion but also include some Christians.

The Yazidi city of Sinjar and the towns of Tal Afar and Zummar, captured on Sunday by the Islamic State, remain under jihadi control. Some 200,000 of their citizens fled, mostly to Kurdistan. But about 40,000 are now in a truly desperate situation, trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they had fled on foot without provisions and are now dying. Quoting a UNICEF spokesperson, the Washington Post reports today: “There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads. There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana reports that Kurdistan’s High Commission of Human Rights airlifted ten shipments of aid, each with 20 tons of provisions, to those on Mount Sinjar today.

Others who did not manage to escape have been executed, abducted into sex slavery, or are being used by jihadis as human shields.

This is horrific. The ‘international community’ surely could not allow this to continue….one could only hope and pray.

The following is a description of their ongoing ordeal from a report sent today by Christiana Patto of the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq:

Yesterday 45 children died of thirst. Some families throw their children from the top of Sinjar mountain in order not to see them die from hunger or thirst, or not to be taken by the terrorists. 1500 men were killed in front of their wives and families, 50 old men died also from thirst and illness. More than 70 girl and women including Christians were taken, raped and being captured and sold. More than 100 families are captured in Tel afar airport. There is about 50 Christian families in Sinjar. The terrorists were able to control the Syriac church there and cover the Cross with their black banner. Till now we do not know anything about those Christian families.

Read these numbers as human lives, each and every one. Men, women, children, very young and very old, terrorized and driven by fear and self-preservation to the mountains with nothing but what they were wearing and who they could carry or help make the climb along the agonizing, torturous way. While we sit comfortably in the West either unaware of the ‘headlines’ (behind which there is so much massive human atrocity and unimaginable suffering) or aware and engaged but feeling helpless to do anything about it.

In booking Catholic Near East Welfare Association Communications Director Michael La Civita to come back on my radio program this Friday for the third time in three weeks, I learned that listeners had opened their hears and resources to respond to the persecuted religious minorities in dire need, and they were so grateful. But guest after guest on radio, experts all, expressed frustration at the lack of attention to the crisis by government and media.

I talked about it again on Thursday’s show, calling for awareness of a crisis of epic proportions that grew horrific overnight, citing Pope Francis’ latest appeal for relief. Its tone had increased in extreme urgency.

Pope Francis asked Catholics around the world to pray for tens of thousands of Christians from villages in northeastern Iraq who were forced from their homes in the middle of the night by Islamic State militants.

The pope also made a “pressing appeal to the international community to take initiatives to put an end to the humanitarian drama underway, to take steps to protect those involved and threatened by violence and to ensure the necessary aid for so many displaced people whose fate depends on the solidarity of others,”…

Think about that, having your very fate in the hands of people in other parts of the world even noticing that you are in mortal need and then doing something to help.

Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters the pope was appealing “to the conscience of all people and every believer,” repeating what he had said July 20 after a similar forced exodus of Christians from Mosul: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace. Let us pray in silence, asking for peace.”

Meanwhile, people were suffering the most extreme measures just to hang onto their lives.

This proved to be a turning point.

Overnight Aug. 6-7 fighters belonging to the Islamic State attacked the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh and other villages in Ninevah province, said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. “The Christians, about 100,000, horrified and panicked, fled their villages and houses with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

In an appeal, the patriarch described the scene as “an exodus, a real ‘via crucis’” or Way of the Cross. “Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat” toward Iraqi Kurdistan. “They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter.”

The central Iraqi government appears incapable of protecting its citizens, the patriarch said, and there is no cooperation or coordination with the regional government.

The Islamic State fighters, he said, are taking advantage of the power vacuum “to impose their rule and terror. There is a need of international support and a professional, well-equipped army. The situation is going from bad to worse.”

That’s an understatement. The situation went from torturous to horrific.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said the Islamic State militants are “chasing out thousands of Christians.”

“We are facing a serious humanitarian situation,” Cardinal Filoni told Fides, the congregation’s news agency. “These people have been left to their own devices with a closed border in front of them and they don’t know where to go.”

“The Christians had to abandon everything, even their shoes, and barefoot they were forced toward Iraqi Kurdistan,” a region already overwhelmed with displaced people, the cardinal said.

Relief organizations and some Christian and (few) sympathetic media had been calling on governments and citizens on different continents to intervene in this horrifying crisis. Pope Francis made an urgent appeal when the crisis grew catastrophic late this week, from August 6-7.

Something about the overnight turn of events, something in the Yazidi call for help that made it to the West, reached a US administration well aware of the ISIS problem for about a year. The president referred to that cry for help when he addressed the nation to announce a mission of humanitarian intervention had begun, finally.

The United States has authorized targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in northern Iraq, President Obama said Thursday night.

The aid mission dropped by aircraft 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 meals ready-to-eat to thousands of Iraquis who have been stranded atop a mountain, driven there by attacks from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Obama said he directed the military to “take target strikes” against ISIS to prevent the terrorist group from advancing in Iraq’s city of Erbil and threatening U.S. personnel there. “We plan to stand vigilant and take action if they threaten our facilities anywhere in Iraq, including the consulate in Erbil and embassy in Baghdad,” the president said.

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘there is no one coming to help,’” Obama said. “Well, today America is coming to help.”

He added: “We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

News media coverage of that address and the aftermath of political analysis was in full swing breathlessly trying to come up to speed with a crisis some of us have been talking about and warning of in blogs and columns and news articles for weeks and months.

They played a sort of parlor game in advance of the president’s appearance Thursday night predicting what he would say and how he would say it. Having little patience for that sort of punditry, I turned the volume back on when Obama appeared…not behind the desk in the Oval Office looking squarely into the camera and addressing the world, as some of my colleagues noted, correctly, but at a podium with the left and right teleprompters he’s so used to and comfortable with, before the assembled world press. He looked and sounded determined and resolute, which is rare outside political campaigning for this president. I was impressed with his deliberation. He talked about “adhering to a set of core principles; to support allies when they’re in danger; to stay true to fundamental values, like human dignity’, which was great to hear. This isn’t the time to apply that to a test. And again he talked about “the dignity of our fellow human beings”, finally.

Secretary of State John Kerry said this about the US mission.

The stakes for Iraq’s future could not be clearer, and today’s crisis underscores the stakes profoundly. ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yezedi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide. For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it. ISIL is not fighting on behalf of Sunnis. ISIL is not fighting for a stronger Iraq. ISIL is fighting to divide and destroy Iraq – and ISIL is offering nothing to anyone except chaos, nihilism, and ruthless thuggery. With a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis unfolding, and the rolls of the starving and sick growing daily, there’s not a minute to waste. The United States is acting and leading, and the world cannot sit by and watch innocents die. We will continue to coordinate with our allies in the region and the international community to assist Iraqis to confront ISIL’s brutal ideology which poses a severe threat to Iraq, the region, and the United States.

In the news analysis following the president’s address, one military expert expressed this concern about President Obama’s intentions and tolerance for a protracted engagement: “What does he do next, even if he stops genocide? What will he do to stop march of ISIS toward Baghdad?”

That is for tomorrow. For today, the US government finally stepped up to the role of international relief and aid when the balance of the world seemed to be teetering between chaos and some reconstructed form of moral order. Help had arrived, we learned, and we will learn what will come in the days ahead.

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Aug 03

This is an old story with new intensity. The elimination of Christians from their earliest homes is at epic proportions.

My files on this go back years. In less than six months, they’ve more than doubled. I regularly have guests on the radio show talk about  latest updates from around the world, always with something people can do to help make a difference for persecuted religious minorities worldwide. But lately, I’m beating that drum almost daily, while also covering the Israel-Gaza conflict, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and other US and geopolitical news. It’s been awfully busy.

There’s too much to cover in one post on the effort by militants to eradicate Christians from Iraq alone, so look at the past week or so chronologically, when ‘Christian cleansing’ reached a new fierce, brutal, in some places final level. Without much of the world even noticing.

Mark Movesian noticed, warned that a line had been crossed in Mosul, and signaled what that meant for Christians everywhere.

Say goodbye to one of the most ancient Christian communities in the world. Last week, members of ISIS—the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” a Sunni Islamist group that recently has captured parts of Iraq and declared a new caliphate—began going through the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter “Nun.” “Nun” stands for “Nasara,” from “Nazarenes,” a word that refers to Christians. The implications were clear. Mosul’s Christians faced the same fate the Christians of Raqqa, Syria, had when ISIS captured their city last spring. “We offer them three choices,” ISIS announced: “Islam; the dhimma contract—involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.”

In other words, convert, pay punitively, leave or die. Or omit ‘leave’ as an option, and face the other three.

By last week, most Christians in Mosul had already taken a fourth option—evacuation. Their departure marks the end of a continuous Christian tradition in Mosul. For thousands of years, Mosul has been a center for Christians, particularly for Assyrians, an ethnic group that predates the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia. Indeed, the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, where the Prophet Jonah preached, lies across the Tigris River. Christianized in apostolic times, Assyrians have divided over the centuries into a number of communions that reflect the history of the religion: the Assyrian Church of the East, a small body, historically associated with Nestorianism, which once spread as far as China; the Syriac Orthodox Church, a member of the Oriental Orthodox family; and the Chaldean-rite Catholic Church, in communion with Rome. A small number of Assyrian Protestant churches exist as well, the legacy of nineteenth-century American missionaries.

As recently as a decade ago, tens of thousands of Christians lived in Mosul, some of them descendents of victims of the genocide the Ottoman Empire perpetrated against Assyrians, as well as Armenians and Greeks, during World War I. After this weekend, virtually none remain. On Saturday, ISIS expelled the fifty-two Christian families still in the city, after first requiring them to leave behind all their valuables. For good measure, ISIS also burned an 1800-year-old church and the Catholic bishop’s residence, along with its library and manuscript collection.

What ISIS has done in Mosul is a worrying hint of Islamism’s possible future.

That, for another post. This crisis of Christian extermination continues to grow more grave, if that’s possible.

Some of the few media people paying any attention to this humanitarian story have called out the Pope to intervene, saying he’s ‘only calling for prayer’ and has to step in and do something. However, Francis is ‘putting his money where his mouth is’, Vatican expert John Allen told me on radio this week. He’s sending relief and opening centers for refugees, among other things.

Meanwhile, what’s the US government doing? Specifically, the president the world is watching? Nothing noticeable. Elizabeth Scalia has been writing frantically for days and weeks about the situation, which the White House saw coming, as it turns out.

The group’s operations “are calculated, coordinated and part of a strategic campaign led by its Syria-based leader, Abu Bakr al Baghadi,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk told a House committee on Feb. 5, four months before fighting broke out in Mosul. “The campaign has a stated objective to cause the collapse of the Iraqi state and carve out a zone of governing control in western regions of Iraq and Syria.”

The testimony raises an obvious question: If the Obama administration had such early warning of the Islamic State’s ambitions, why, nearly two months after the fall of Mosul, is it still assessing what steps, if any, to take to halt the advance of Islamist extremists who threaten U.S. allies in the region and have vowed to attack Americans?

In fresh testimony before Congress this week, McGurk revealed that the administration knew three days in advance that the attack on Mosul was coming. He acknowledged that the Islamic State is no longer just a regional terrorist organization but a “full-blown” army that now controls nearly 50 percent of Iraq and more than one-third of Syria. Its fighters have turned back some of the best-trained Iraqi units trying to retake key cities, while in Syria, it’s seized nearly all that country’s oil and natural gas fields and is pushing the Syrian military from its last outposts in the country’s east.

“What started as a crisis in Syria has become a regional disaster with serious global implications,” Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday.

And the president has said little. Scalia called it ‘a threat ignored‘:

Bin Laden was a Western-educated terrorist looking for the big statement but lacking a substantive plan beyond mayhem. ISIS is a home-grown movement — “calculated, coordinated” per our intel, and apparently well-funded — seeking caliphate. Who is going to stop them? Turkey? Europe?

The unchecked, unprotested aggression of ISIS — now called “Islamic State” — is the story to watch; unlike the border immigration story, or the perennial Gaza headlines, this is the story that will go global, while the people in power do little, say nothing.

Ed Morrissey at HotAir says time is either running out for Christians in Iraq, or already has. That was on July 25th.

The Christians in Mosul have already fled, and those remaining in Nineveh and other areas of Iraq have until Saturday to make their choice to pay jizya, convert, or be put to death. While ISIS conducts an ethno-religious cleansing of Iraq, the ancient Christian communities there wonder when the West will at least speak out:

He and the rest of northern Iraq’s multitude of Christian sects have plenty of reason to worry about the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that’s taken hold in much of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria since Mosul fell to the Islamic State on June 9. The men who lead the caliphate adhere to the most austere and literal interpretation of Islam, one that subscribes to the notion that improperly pious Muslims can be killed and that Christians, Jews and other monotheistic minorities must pay a protection tax or face a similar fate…

Bitterness abounds. In Qarakosh, where fighters from the Kurdish peshmerga militia maintain a front line just a mile or so from Islamic State positions and regularly come under sniper and mortar fire, one refugee from Mosul said he knew exactly whom to blame for the situation.

“Goddamn George Bush,” Abu Fadi spat out in English as he stood in line in the 100-degree heat to register for aid. “He removed Saddam, and this is all his fault.”

Then, in Arabic, he turned his anger on the current U.S. administration, which is still formulating what, if anything, it will do in response to the rapid advance of the Islamic State.

“Tell Obama I lost my house because of America, and now he’s a coward and won’t come save us from these animals,” he said.

McClatchy reports today that the earlier reports that the US had been taken by surprise by the ISIS sweep through Nineveh was no surprise at all. The Obama administration knew that ISIS had planned its invasion and seizure of western Iraq, but didn’t take any action to prevent it despite the obvious consequences…

At the end of the post, Morrissey quoted

Christian Kaldo Oganna, who is living in Iraq.

“Our people are under the threat of killing, ethnic cleansing,” he said. “We are all in fear. The Jihadis are going to attack.”

Oganna begged for condemnation of the violence and begged the United States to stop ISIS before things get worse.

The US has been much more focused on trying to stop Israel from crippling Hamas, for some reason. Maybe they’d prefer that people don’t ask too many questions about how Iraq went from an Obama administration success story in 2011 to a genocidal charnel just three years later.

But the people have done an end run around politicians and even media, however silent they choose to be on the crisis in Iraq. Tod Worner provides this excellent fact checker and updated factual indictment of a disengaged government in the face of a violent onslaught against innocent minorities. Sometime between Elizabeth Scalia’s post and Ed Morrisey’s post, ISIS blew up a sacred site in Ninevah, where Christians not only lived but many had taken refuge.

If you flee, you leave your home, your possessions, your community and your culture. What little you carry is soon stripped and looted from greedy militia men. You leave with your lives and the clothes on your back. But what if you can’t or don’t leave? What awaits you? Beheadings, amputations, gunshots and crucifixions. Unbending Sharia law including women and girls forced to undergo compulsory genital mutilation and to don the most conservative of clothing. You know these are bad people when even Ayman al Zawahari, al Qaeda’s de facto leader, disavows them finding them too difficult too control.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Large swaths of previously secured Iraqi land and resources have fallen. Cultural and religious treasures have been destroyed. The Iraqi Army is in disarray and the Iraqi Government has been shaken up.

ISIS blew up the Tomb of Jonah in Ninevah, and the international community is doing what? Scalia cited the Washington Post as finally getting the picture, though barely:

The problem: In Iraq, the Islamic State is advancing. If it’s willing to destroy anything other religions — even other Muslims — hold sacred, what’s next?

Some Congressmen, led by Jeff Fortenberry, humanitarian rights advocate, tried to rush through last minute legislation for emergency relief before Congress went on recess.

And Commentary magazine laments, no one cares.

With reports of how the doors of Christian homes were ominously marked by Islamists so as to streamline this campaign of ethnic cleansing, with incidents of Christians having been crucified–yes, crucified–you might have thought that some of those avid humanitarian activists attending the recent anti-Israel rallies could have at least organized a sub-contingent to highlight the terrible fate of the Iraqi Christians, but no, that might have risked detracting in some way from the anti-Israel political objectives of these protests.

It’s a political chess board and Christians are the pawns. Even though many innocent Christians are in Palestine, which is getting Western media and activists’ attention, the Iraqi Christian holocaust is getting very little.

Kirsten Powers highlighted it in her USA Today column on July 29th.

Iraq’s Christians are begging the world for help. Is anybody listening?

If that sounds dire, it’s because it is.

Human rights lawyer Nina Shea described the horror in Mosul to me: “(ISIS) took the Christians’ houses, took the cars they were driving to leave. They took all their money. One old woman had her life savings of $40,000, and she said, ‘Can I please have 100 dollars?’, and they said no. They took wedding rings off fingers, chopping off fingers if they couldn’t get the ring off.”

“We now have 5,000 destitute, homeless people with no future,” Shea said. “This is a crime against humanity.”

For the first time in 2,000 years, Mosul is devoid of Christians. “This is ancient Nineveh we are talking about,” Shea explained. “They took down all the crosses. They blew up the tomb of the prophet Jonah. An orthodox Cathedral has been turned into a mosque. … They are uprooting every vestige of Christianity.” University of Mosul professor Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a Muslim, bravely spoke out against ISIS’ purging of Christians and was executed.

Lebanon-based Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, who heads the Syrian Catholic Church, called the crisis “religious cleansing” in an interview. “I want to tell American Christians to stand up, wake up and no longer be a silent majority. American-elected representatives need to stand up for their principles on which the U.S. has been founded: the defense of religious freedom … and respect for human rights.”…

Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf has taken to the House floor three times in the past week to plead for action from the U.S. and world community.

Wolf told me, “The Kurds have done a good job, but they are bearing the burden. President Obama should thank and encourage the Kurds for protecting the Christians. He also needs to provide (humanitarian aid), including funds for water and food.”

But he hasn’t done those things. Relief organizations and religious groups are doing what they can, and Scalia is giving these causes all out attention.

The Nineveh plains to which many Iraqi Christians fled are within the sites of the Islamic State; water and electricity are already cut off.

Patriarch Louis Rafael I Sako denounced IS as worse than the country’s Mongol invaders during the medieval period.

“This has never happened in Christian or Islamic history. Even Genghis Khan or Hulagu [the Mongol destroyer of Baghdad in 1258] didn’t do this,” he said, according to Reuters, at a church service in Baghdad where 200 Muslims joined in solidarity.

“We are seeing great swatches of Christianity wiped from the Middle East,” said Edward Clancy, Aid to the Church in Need’s director of evangelization and outreach. He said IS enforces “the strictest and most brutal interpretation of sharia,” including “little children having their hands hacked off” for stealing food out of hunger

“They have no problem with crucifixion, and they have done it,” he said.

Clancy said Aid to the Church in Need confirmed IS’ atrocities with priests and bishops on the ground through its regional coordinator.

“Simply put, it is all true: They are kidnapping, there are crucifixions, beheadings, beatings and enforced conversions,” he said.

Citing another writer, she concludes:

Their witness stirs our conscience, too. We Americans want the world to take care of its own problems, but now Mosul’s Christians, along with many other embattled religious minorities, remind us that we can not wish away evil.

John Allen reports on those cries for help from Mosul’s Christians.

“We have to ask the world: Why are you silent? Why do you not speak out?” said Catholic auxiliary bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad last week.

“Do human rights exist, or not? And if they exist, where are they?” Warduni said. “There are many, many cases that should arouse the conscience of the whole world: Where is Europe? Where is America?”

Others are pleading with their fellow believers to act.

“We need the solidarity of Christians worldwide, not to be afraid to talk about this tragedy,” said Archbishop Amel Nona of Mosul.

On Wednesday, Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him to pressure the international community to step up assistance to Iraq’s Christians and other minorities targeted by militants.

It’s up to the people to act, contact members of Congress (in their home districts at this point), media, relief organizations, anything they can do to help. People are finding ways.

Members of ISIS have been marking Christian homes in Mosul with the Arabic character N, which stands for “Nazarene,” meaning Christian, Sichko said. “It is reminiscent of the Star of David that marked Jews in Nazi Germany.”

Because of that, “St. Mark in Richmond, Kentucky, today has marked our Church doors with the the Arabic letter N in solidarity with our brothers and sisters” in Iraq and around the world, he said.

“We are all Iraqi Christians,” Sichko said. “As Catholic Christians, the members of St. Mark stand together in defiance of genocide, of persecution, of hate and the slaughter of Christians anywhere.”

It takes a village? The part that’s on fire urgently needs relief from the rest of the ‘international community.’

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Jul 16

How you connect the dots determines the picture that emerges.

The recent chronology of events provides a startling snapshot of abortion extremism in this country.

The Supreme Court ruled on the Hobby Lobby lawsuit on June 30th, upholding free exercise rights established in the Constitution but more specifically, the bi-partisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Then Democrats in Congress reacted with outrage. And a reactionary legislative bill.

“Women across the country and men are outraged by a decision by five Supreme Court justices that all of a sudden says your boss has an opportunity to decide for you what your health care choices are,” Sen. Patty Murray, the bill’s sponsor, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday.

“That outrage is being transmitted to everyone, and I think we have a very good chance of rewriting the law so that the justices can’t take away women’s ability to make their own health care choices.”

So wait…what?

To reset, as politicians are fond of saying, it was “all of a sudden” that this administration announced in January 2012 that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated certain drugs and procedures to be provided by employers in their health insurance coverage, decided by government with no choice for employers.

And now that such government overreach has been found excessive and in violation of RFRA, a Supreme Court decision is going to be rewritten in law? So “the justices can’t take away women’s ability to make their own health care choices”? When was the last time something so audacious was undertaken by politicians, even after the Supreme Court wrote abortion into law and swept away the separate and enumerated power to make laws for all 50 states in one fell swoop?

This is surreal. Even the liberal Washington Post did a fact check on congressional Democrats claims and found them demonstrably false, calling it all “overheated rhetoric.”

“Really, we should be afraid of this court. The five guys who start determining what contraceptions are legal. Let’s not even go there.”

That was House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, with what WaPo called “a very odd statement”, which her office tried to walk back, though foot dragging along the way.

Then the WaPo article cited this quote:

“The one thing we are going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five white men. This Hobby Lobby decision is outrageous, and we are going to do something about it.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), remarks to reporters, on July 8

Spoken by a white man who wields power in the Senate with potentially less considered reasoning on a daily basis than justices on the Supreme Court on occasion. And by the way…

The Hobby Lobby decision was written by Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. That’s certainly five men, but Thomas is African American.

Reid’s office said he realized the mistake after he made it, and reverted to citing this decision as having been made by five men.

And so on. The fact checking goes on at the WaPo site.

Into the fray comes legal scholar Helen Alvare with her calm, clarifying and poised voice.

Prior to the 2012 HHS Mandate, there were no “runs” on birth control suppliers, nor were there demonstrations in the streets by women demanding free birth control. Nowhere was there observed a dearth of women willing to work for businesses informed by a religious conscience on matters of contraception or abortion.

This should come as a shock to those predicting the end of women’s freedom as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. It should also shock those protesters screaming about women’s ovaries on the steps of the Supreme Court. It should even shock the president of the United States, who took time away from his deliberations concerning Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria, to tweet cleverly against this win for religious freedom. And perhaps it will deliver the biggest shock to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose dissent in Hobby Lobby spoke of the “harm,” the “havoc,” and the threat to women’s “ability to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation” posed by the decision. Media reaction has been predictably similar.

Helen goes on to enumerate “myriad reasons that many women won’t be joining Justice Ginsburg in the panic room post-Hobby Lobby”, aptly describing the current environment.

One…

Justice Ginsburg, like so many feminist activists of her generation, has a tendency to claim to speak for all women when she frames a grievance on women’s behalf. But relatively few women are actually affected by the majority opinion in Hobby Lobby. Poor women, and even women at several times the poverty level, already have free or subsidized birth control available from the state. Since 1970, they have been served by the National Family Planning Program (“Title X”).

She lists other ways access to birth control has been widely available to women for low or no cost.

Also, generally speaking, the Centers for Disease Control report that cost does not even make the list of “frequently cited reasons for nonuse” among the 11 percent of sexually active women not using contraception. A Guttmacher source claimed that only 3.7 percent of the total sample of women seeking abortions listed cost as a barrier to contraceptive usage.

And then…

There is also a sizable cohort of women who dislike (or even hate) the side effects of some forms of contraception—especially those of hormonal methods such as the pill, Depo-Provera, and IUDs. Ironically, these are the more costly methods that Justice Ginsburg and other activists hope the mandate will most promote. You can find women hating hormonal birth control for decidedly nonreligious reasons in books like Holly Griggs Spall’s Sweetening the Pill, or in articles on popular news sites.

Then there is the significant group of women who have suffered some alarming health effects from their birth control. Think of the 10,000 women suing Bayer Pharmaceuticals for blood clots or strokes related to the Yaz pill (Bayer has paid more than $1.6 billion in settlements so far), or the 3,800 women suing Merck & Co. for the blood clots, strokes and heart attacks related to the Nuva-Ring. Even birth-control cheerleaders like Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and the New York Times acknowledge the serious or fatal effects of some methods for some women, or their role in increasing AIDS/HIV transmission. Not to mention the World Health Organization or the American Cancer Society, organizations that label some forms of the pill carcinogenic to some parts of the body, while noting that some forms might mitigate the risk of cancer in others.

Click on the link to this article for all the links Helen Alvare provides for these references. It’s outstanding. Here’s more:

What about women who are just sick and tired of the obsession with contraception and abortion—women starving for concrete policies allowing them to manage the costs of education and the demands of work, and also to marry and have kids?

This adds up to a lot of women who are not nodding their heads in agreement over the “you can take my free contraception out of my cold, dead hands” tone of the Ginsburg dissent, or other frenzied post-Hobby Lobby laments.

Read the whole article. It’s brilliant. And in her professorial mind, she sums up well:

The all-too-brief summary is as follows: when birth control and abortion separate sex from kids, non-marital sexual encounters increase as the perceived “risks” (children) appear to decline. Sex easily becomes the “price” of obtaining a romantic relationship, and “shotgun weddings” following a pregnancy disappear because women have the right of access to abortion. But because there are so many more uncommitted sexual encounters, and because contraception regularly fails, and because of continuing aspirations for children and relationships, cohabitation skyrockets, nonmarital births and abortions increase, and marriage is delayed or forgone (despite women’s fertility patterns and persistent desire for children). Single parenthood by women (and therefore poverty) becomes far more common.

It wasn’t just the “technology shocks” of the pill and abortion that shaped this marketplace; the law cooperated. The feminist legal establishment of the latter part of the twentieth century argued (and the Supreme Court agreed) that children imposed serious disadvantages on women. Contraception and abortion were thus achieved as constitutional rights. At the same time, leading feminist voices glamorized paid work and failed to pursue policies harmonizing motherhood with work outside the home. They played down differences between women and men, allowed the “ideal male worker” model to dominate women’s work lives, and let birth control and abortion policy constitute nearly the entire “women’s agenda.”

In sum…

We must clearly draw attention to the nature and workings of the marketplace of relationships today. Ask women to honestly confront the question whether it is to their advantage to participate according to this market’s current terms. In particular, point out the good of renewing female solidarity toward relinking sex, commitment, and children for the benefit of women, children, and men as well. Finally, vocally offer to cooperate on public and private policies enabling women to manage the demands and costs of education and employment, in harmony with their aspirations to marry and have children.

How I wish this work were as simple as parroting the simplistic claim that Hobby Lobby harms women. It isn’t. But the alternative—allowing Ginsburg to stand unchallenged—is unacceptable if we are to be fair to women and to preserve religious freedom for both women and men.

However, the Senate stayed in the “panic room” and worked on some draconian legislation. One was a bill to overturn the Supreme Court ruling on Hobby Lobby, upholding religious freedom. That one was called the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.” another was written to undo a host of state abortion laws, as many as 200 of them nationwide, laws that set common sense limits like sex-selective abortions, fetal pain limits at five months (extremely liberal even at that duration), abortion clinic health regulation ordinances for the safety of women, informed consent laws for the sake of truly informed choice, and so on. That bill was called the “Women’s Health Protection Act”, which stood for the opposite of what it was called. One was called the ‘Not My Boss’s Business Act’, which is more true than drafters realized. It’s not the business of the employer to provide no-cost birth control pills and morning-after pills and other drugs mandated by the HHS. Especially when they’re not mandated to provide essential vaccinations, or many other preventive health services.

National Review Online got it right in this editorial. Unfortunate for longtime purists, but true today.

Democrats hold one thing — and one thing only — sacred, and that is abortion. Our diplomats may be murdered abroad, the rule of law may be grossly violated at home, the First Amendment may be written off as just another roadblock on the freeway to utopia, but abortion will always have for them a uniquely holy status — even if that means employing unholy methods to facilitate it. Thus Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has introduced a bill, cosponsored by a majority of Senate Democrats, that would purport to strip states of their ability to impose even the most basic of health and safety regulations on the grisly procedure, a bill that David French has rightly suggested should be titled the Kermit Gosnell Enabling Act of 2014.

How horrifying. But how aptly named.

Senator Blumenthal proposes to apply the Philadelphia model to the nation at large. Under his bill, states would have effectively no power even to ensure that abortions are performed by licensed physicians — surely the most minimal standard of medical responsibility that there is. Laws covering grisly late-term abortions would be forcibly overturned and fetal viability would be redefined according to the subjective whim of the abortionist. While the Democrats are bemoaning a fictitious war on women, their bill would provide federal protection to sex-selective abortions — the barbaric practice under which generations of girls have been decimated in such backward jurisdictions as China and Azerbaijan, a practice The Economist describes as “gendercide.” Laws restricting taxpayer funding of abortion would be overturned. Laws protecting the consciences of physicians who choose not to perform abortions would be overturned.

So here we are. The Senate voted on one of these bills Wednesday, and it failed in this first go-round.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lamented that this pro-abortion bill only gained 56 of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture (end debate), and promised another vote “before the year is out” (read: before the November elections). In other words, Sen. Reid is signaling to his pro-abortion allies that he will make the abortion-pill mandate a central issue of the fall elections.

That’s clarifying. That they had 56 votes today on something so draconian is a warning. More Americans are self-identifying as pro-life. But they and others may not realize how comprehensive this bill is in covering “extremism we’ve never seen before”, as an Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel explained to me today. He said, flatly, that the bill covered even physician assisted suicide drugs under the terms of its wide and mandated coverage.

From the NRO piece:

Morally literate people, including those who generally support abortion rights, understand that abortion is fundamentally unlike anything else doctors are commonly called upon to do, and that it is morally significant in a way a tonsillectomy is not. People of good will may disagree to some extent about the moral significance of what is maturing in a woman’s womb — but it is not an ingrown toenail, and all the Senate proclamations in the world will not change that fact.

Right. Let’s be clear on the proclamations and the reality. Reactionaries are reaching for the ‘war on women’ declaration again, which denigrates and demeans women. Let them speak for themselves.

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Jun 30

Yes, the Obamacare HHS mandate does violate fundamental rights, said justices willing to state the obvious.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into law under President Bill Clinton after near unanimous approval in the House and Senate in 1993, applied a two-pronged test to any attempt by government to impose a federal law that substantially burdens citizens’ free exercise of their religion. The first test requires the government to show it has a ‘compelling interest’ in enforcing such a sweeping law, and the second is that government was seeking the ‘least restrictive means’ possible to achieve its ends. There’s no way this federal fiat issued in January 2012 could possibly pass either of those tests.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty dubbed the HHS mandate ‘a contraception delivery scheme’, which describes it well. As the court cases piled up across the country and spectrum of employers from non-profit organizations to for-profit business owners, academic institutions to healthcare providers (see Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius), government lawyers could not defend their claims coherently.

Here’s the breakdown of current cases against the federal government when those arguments have been heard in courts at all levels. Monday’s Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby will impact a great number of others, and certainly scored a victory for religious freedom.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a landmark victory for religious liberty today, ruling in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of David and Barbara Green and their family business, Hobby Lobby, ruling that they will not be required to violate their faith by including four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan or pay severe fines.

“This is a landmark decision for religious freedom. The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and counsel for Hobby Lobby. “This ruling will protect people of all faiths. The Court’s reasoning was clear, and it should have been clear to the government. You can’t argue there are no alternative means when your agency is busy creating alternative means for other people.”

The decision also has important implications for over 50 pending lawsuits brought by non-profit religious organizations, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which are also challenging the mandate. In two different respects, the Supreme Court strongly signaled that the mandate may be struck down in those cases too. First, it rejected the government’s argument that there was no burden on the Green’s religious exercise because only third parties use the drugs. Second, it held that the government could simply pay for contraception coverage with its own funds, rather than requiring private employers to do so.

“The handwriting is on the wall,” said Windham. “The Court has strongly signaled that the mandate is in trouble in the non-profit cases, too.”

The Court upheld a June 2013 ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals protecting Hobby Lobby and the Green family from the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. That mandate requires Hobby Lobby and co-founders David and Barbara Green to provide and facilitate, against their religious convictions, four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan. The Greens argued that the mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs in violation of a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court stated:

The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate . . . against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs. . . . Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.”

Justice Kennedy’s concurrence added: “Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion.”

There will be plenty to cover and analyze on this in the days to come. But here’s some good background worth reading, artfully written with accurate citations by creative thinker Tod Worner, news coverage as a play in three acts. Written just over two months ago, after oral arguments were presented in the Supreme  Court by plaintiffs and government lawyers in the HHS mandate cases justices would decide later, it ended with this:

Plaintiffs and defendant would rest. The Court would adjourn. The verdict will come to us in June.

Who is this young, promising man – this main character in our play? Perhaps we can know by considering him in each act: The Speech, The Executive Order, The Court Case. Perhaps.

This play, in three acts, is far from finished. There is more to be said and done. Will it end as a comedy? Or a tragedy? How will it end? How, indeed? We shall see. We shall see.

We now see how the Supreme Court ruled on this day in this pivotal case. We’ll see what comes next. Stay tuned.

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Jun 16

Earth to Dad…did you get the message? That’s okay, here’s a backup…

On Father’s Day weekend in America, I couldn’t sign onto Facebook without an onslaught of the vast majority of postings from my ‘Friend’ world displaying a changed profile or timeline picture of their fathers, or them with their fathers. And in some cases, it was accompanied by stories about their fathers.

This is important. Men have been marginalized and trivialized and rendered irrelevant and worse, as in part of the problem of society. But it’s quite the opposite. A society of fatherless homes and children who grow up without the influence of a father deeply impacts society. For the worse.

There were many tributes to fatherhood over the holiday celebrated in America. But some contained within then’ the seeds of the future of the world’, as Josef Ratzinger put it many years ago.

Ethika Politka devoted this and another article to the topic.

Not one of us has been born without a biological father, and I knew that I was about to become one. I had as much certitude about this as I had that England was an island. But what I was not certain about, nor prepared for, was what came next. Suddenly, it was not an idea, or a sonogram, or a heartbeat, or even the feel of a foot pushing against the soft pulled flesh of his mother. Suddenly, the lightning fast presence of a beautifully formed human being was before me; not as a category, or an idea, or a possibility, but as a person whose presence poured over me. It was like the dawning of a new horizon, or a new aspect of the horizon I had always known, but not understood…

I can remember the exact moment when that distinction became evident to me. When we were preparing for the birth of our son, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England, I did not doubt that the child being born was my own. Not one of us has been born without a biological father, and I knew that I was about to become one. I had as much certitude about this as I had that England was an island. But what I was not certain about, nor prepared for, was what came next. Suddenly, it was not an idea, or a sonogram, or a heartbeat, or even the feel of a foot pushing against the soft pulled flesh of his mother. Suddenly, the lightning fast presence of a beautifully formed human being was before me; not as a category, or an idea, or a possibility, but as a person whose presence poured over me. It was like the dawning of a new horizon, or a new aspect of the horizon I had always known, but not understood…
I can remember the exact moment when that distinction became evident to me. When we were preparing for the birth of our son, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England, I did not doubt that the child being born was my own. Not one of us has been born without a biological father, and I knew that I was about to become one. I had as much certitude about this as I had that England was an island. But what I was not certain about, nor prepared for, was what came next. Suddenly, it was not an idea, or a sonogram, or a heartbeat, or even the feel of a foot pushing against the soft pulled flesh of his mother. Suddenly, the lightning fast presence of a beautifully formed human being was before me; not as a category, or an idea, or a possibility, but as a person whose presence poured over me. It was like the dawning of a new horizon, or a new aspect of the horizon I had always known, but not understood.

His eyes were wide open, and if he could see, I believe that my face was the first one he saw in this ebullient and miraculous world. At that moment, the midwives asked me to cut the cord. I declined not because I was squeamish, but because I was now in awe of something more ontologically present to me: my son.

They cut the cord, swaddled him, and settled him into my arms. I had seen illuminated on the big screen all those stock birthing room scenes, so I was reasonably certain that they would put him into his mother’s arms, at least initially. I thought there would be some continuation of the distance, that the hidden nature of my biological fatherhood would be extendable by the more obvious physical bond to his mother. But there was no differential, no slow transition, no easing into it. All of the sudden, something like an ontological conversion had taken place in a flash. I spontaneously began to sing a nursery tune that I remembered my grandfather singing. He was a revelation to me. A potency hidden in biology, a possibility, an idea, was now actually personal and real.

It is a story that my wife likes to recount partly because the singing itself was a sign of the joy we both felt, but it was also a sign that something had been born in me too. The singing was the sign that I was not only a biological father, but that I had become an ontological father as well. This had changed not my nature but who I was as a person. Suddenly I was not merely an external cause of the goodness of this life, but had entered into communion with him, and this revealed to me that fatherhood was not simply something that could be given, but also something to be received from another.

Then there was this message from a young mother.

When I first met my then boyfriend, Tyler, he was basically a kid. Tyler avoided responsibilities; he didn’t have a care in the world other than his own enjoyment. Tyler was careless and care-free because he could be. His life was a downward spiral, but he didn’t care—he was unstoppable.

Then I got pregnant.

You’ve got to read the rest for yourself. It’s a journey of discovery.

Becoming a father transformed Tyler the kid into Tyler the responsible man—from a person who didn’t care, to a caring person. Tyler came to understand that the way he was living before wasn’t living—it was existing. Now he strives to always do better for the sake of his family.

Fathers make a huge difference in their families. Tod Worner devoted this post to that fact.

In the last several years, there has been a debate (I would not say a robust debate) about whether or not fathers matter. The discussion seems to center around whether a household run by a single mother or grandparent or other alternative fatherless households can provide the same (or superior) child-rearing environment. The answer, it seems, is a foregone conclusion. “Of course”, it is answered. “How could you suggest otherwise?”, it is asked. And then the litany of abuses or errors that fathers have brought to their children’s lives is listed soon followed by the not subtle insinuation that it is bigotry to suggest otherwise. Thus, it would seem, endeth the debate.

Now, on this Father’s Day, I only want to offer three insights regarding this debate. First, there are plenty of extraordinary families that don’t have a father involved. Second, there are a number of fathers who have done terrible things to their children and are rightfully considered abominable. And third (and perhaps most importantly), quite simply, fathers matter.

Read the whole post, it matters to facilitate this discussion of fatherhood.

But my father – the product of an alcoholic upbringing – never missed one of my football games, baseball games, plays, choir concerts, solos, speeches or history presentations. Incredibly busy, he never flaunted what he did for me. He simply showed up, told me he loved me and how proud he was of me…

My dad taught me to pray, read me stories from the Bible and modeled a steady devotion not only to attending church, but giving the church time and treasure. He taught me how to engage in conversation, look a person in the eye and offer a firm handshake. He mentored me about character, virtue and truth. When I have gone through dark times in my life, he not only listens, but is one of the few people – ever – to give me consistently good advice. And, do you know what? I have never, ever, ever had the impression that my dad thought I was wasting his time (even when I knew he didn’t have much time to give). This is my dad. My friend, my counselor, my mentor, my hero.

Now…let us return to the original debate about whether or not fathers matter. And let me simply say this: Thank you for offering me statistics. I appreciate you providing expert psychological and sociological opinion. It is kind that you thoughtfully construct a point-by-point analysis and share this with me on this issue of great importance.

Thank you.

But I don’t need it.

I already know the answer. How do I know?

Because fathers matter, he realizes.

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Jun 09

The more time passes, the more we can appreciate the timelessness of that historic event.

Or series of events. Before it gets any further away on the calendar, I want to point out some striking memorials and they continued to come out even after June 6th, the day of the Normandy landings, the day that initiated the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi occupation during World War II.

Tributes to that day on the 70th anniversary were remarkable.

Hotair’s Ed Morrissey gave this tribute.

There is little to say or write about D-Day that hasn’t already been expressed over the past seventy years by those more eloquent than me, or especially by those who took part in the greatest invasion in human history, and for the noblest purpose. Some events challenge not just the imagination, but even language itself. Seventy years ago, the assault on the beaches of Normandy by the free men of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and units from the countries occupied by the Nazi horror remains perhaps the most stunning act of determination and defiance in history, as 160,000 men stormed Fortress Europe and sent evil reeling — thousands of whom would die that day for freedom.

And he gives video after tortured, treasured video testifying to the raw reality of that day.

They certainly gave everything they had — so that we might live free, and not just in Europe but in America as well. Many of them gave their lives for a freedom to which they knew they might never return, but those men gave us that precious gift. May we remember them, and the men who survived and kept fighting and then returned home to build their lives and families too. We owe them a debt that can only barely be imagined, but can be repaid with constant vigilance and dedication to the cause for which they fought.

Freedom.

Ronald Reagan’s commemorative Normandy speech concludes the post, every bit of it worth experiencing.

Tod Worner did something similar here on Patheos. Something poignant and eloquent and very human.

Now, it may be argued that the horrors discovered in Europe long after D-Day exceeded anything that could have been imagined when the invasion began. But Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and men and women of the military knew the Nazi worldview: Aggression, Fanaticism, Hatred, Ruthlessness, Greed. Values antithetical to human dignity and freedom. The Nazi creed taken to its extreme, yet logical, end would lead to the concentration camp. And it needed to be stopped.

So 70 years after D-Day…what have we learned? Were there doubts? Absolutely. Trepidation and uncertainty coursed through every individual from the grunt to the generals. Was there a duty recognized by leaders and soldiers alike to liberate the European peoples? Unquestionably. And what was the outcome?

Deliverance. Sweet deliverance at a very high price.

Doubt. Duty. Deliverance. To all veterans who have paid or been willing to pay that price, humbly, sincerely and endlessly…thank you.

For those who fully appreciate the cost and for those who never knew the price paid, The Atlantic provided a stunning visual montage, each photo worth time spent lingering.

How many countless people and nations are grateful for those who took some part, any part, in this historic and timeless event in the battle for human freedom.

The French still are, notes John Fund at NRO.

“We love you! Thank you for all you did!” 15-year-old Audrey Rigaud said with tears in her eyes as she embraced Bob Bedford, a 90-year-old veteran of D-Day, outside the banquet this small French town held in honor of their country’s liberation from Nazi occupation. The difference in their ages may have been three quarters of a century and their cultures a continent apart, but the message was clear: A surprising number of French haven’t forgotten America’s role in “the liberation.”

Audrey had come to Normandy all the way from Marseille — 700 miles away — with her classmates to commemorate D-Day for a school project. “Our feelings are so full, we want to make sure no one forgets the liberation,” Olivia Diddi, a fellow student of Audrey’s, told me. For his part, Bedford was overwhelmed by the reception he’s gotten. “It’s the first time I’ve been back since 1944,” the former Navy lieutenant told me. “If I’d only known how they felt.”

Fund was there, to capture this commemoration.

I heard a lot of things in Normandy this week that might sound trite or simplistic to someone who has never been in battle. But you quickly realize that the reason some truths are eternal and valuable is precisely because they can have such great meaning to people. Europe was occupied by a terrible tyranny and its people were slowly starving as the war ground on. America, Britain, Canada, and other countries that sent their young men and women overseas to take back Europe did a noble and courageous thing. It’s refreshing to learn that so many people in Europe who weren’t alive to witness the joy of liberation still do so much to commemorate it…

The message I take away from the windswept beaches of Normandy is that there are times when tyranny must be opposed with every fiber of our being — and that service comes in many forms, some dangerous and some just a matter of doing what even the weakest among us can. And finally, that even though it can’t be expected or wished for, the gratitude of people toward those who fought against tyranny can be long-lasting indeed. I learned that here in Normandy.

There’s a message flickering in some of these statements and memories and reports of commemorations. It’s a message that service is there today for all of us to take up and act on, and even if it seems mundane or simple, it is there in front of us to do. So that in our own way, we hold off modern day forces of tyranny against the weak and vulnerable and dependent, anywhere we encounter such threats. For the long-lasting effect such service may have.

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Jun 05

Most things about war have changed since the battle with the Nazis at Normandy. But that day endures. Why is it emblematic?

In the lead of this NRO piece, the word ‘refreshing’ leapt out as startling.

During a week in which many of the comrades of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl have expressed outrage at what they say was his betrayal of his country in Afghanistan, it’s refreshing to return to the beaches of Normandy for a celebration of the authentic heroes who stormed ashore here 70 years ago this week.

Northern France was under the boot of Nazi occupation, and was defended by an intimidating array of fortifications and gun emplacements all along its coast. But on June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of beaches whose names have gone down in history — Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword — in what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and at the cost of 9,000 killed or wounded soldiers, the Allies gained a toehold in Europe that became the staging area for the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany.

The passage of years has taken its toll on the veterans. Take Pointe du Hoc, a series of 100-foot cliffs that were scaled by U.S. Army Rangers at great peril on June 6. “In 1984, when President Reagan gave his famous speech at Pointe du Hoc, there were 15 busloads of 82nd Airborne troops who had parachuted into France there,” recalls Keith Nightingale, a retired colonel with the 82nd Airborne who has visited Normandy 30 times since his first visit in 1977. “This year, the unit will only be represented by two men.”

But while the ranks of the original veterans are thinning, their places at the lavish commemorations that are held here every five years are being taken by younger generations. Schoolchildren in Normandy are required to learn about “the Liberation,” and many know more about the battle’s disposition of various units than some of the returning veterans. More than 200,000 people are crowding into the Normandy region this week, and more than 12,000 of them — including world leaders from many countries — will attend the main memorial services.

Commentator John Fund pays tribute to why this is still able to happen, and should.

I am visiting Normandy along with members of the Reagan Legacy Foundation, which was founded by Michael Reagan, the president’s oldest son. At a welcoming dinner last night at the château of Alexis de Tocqueville, Reagan noted that his foundation was unveiling a film on the significance of D-Day at the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère Église this week. He reminded his listeners that his father died exactly ten years ago, on June 5, 2004. “We are here to honor the veterans but also to honor a president who spoke so eloquently about their sacrifice,” he told me. Indeed, after the dinner a French businessman came up to me clutching a brochure bearing Reagan’s words from his 1984 speech at Pointe du Hoc: “The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next.” The man was visibly moved by the dinner we had just attended, but also moved by Reagan’s long-ago words. “He explained the meaning of it all the best, and we remember both D-Day and him,” he told me.

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Jun 02

Ever since he’s been pope, Francis has talked about this problem often and called for specific action. His sense of urgency is clear.

And his determination undaunted. He has shown it time and again, like here when he addressed a group of ambassadors to present their Letters of Credence, something Francis wasn’t about to allow to be merely ceremonial.

Today, there is one area I would like to consider with you which concerns me deeply and which currently threatens the dignity of persons, namely, human trafficking. Such trafficking is a true form of slavery, unfortunately more and more widespread, which concerns every country, even the most developed. It is a reality which affects the most vulnerable in society: women of all ages, children, the handicapped, the poorest, and those who come from broken families and from difficult situations in society. In a particular way, we Christians recognize in them the face of Jesus Christ, who identified himself with the least and those most in need. Others, who do not profess a religious faith, in the name of our common humanity share our compassion for their sufferings and strive to liberate them and alleviate their wounds. Together we can and must employ our energies so that these women, men and children can be freed, thus putting an end to this horrible trade. It is believed that there are millions of victims of forced labour, victims of human trafficking for the purposes of manual work and of sexual exploitation. This cannot continue. It constitutes a grave violation of the human rights of those victimized and is an offense against their dignity, as well as a defeat for the worldwide community…

Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free the victims and stop this increasingly aggressive crime which threatens not only individuals but the basic values of society and of international security and justice, to say nothing of the economy, and the fabric of the family and our coexistence.

What is called for, then, is a shared sense of responsibility and firmer political will to gain victory on this front.

He goes further, calling out governments responsible for protecting…

…the victims of this crime, which, not infrequently is related to the narcotics and arms trade, the transport of undocumented migrants, and organized crime.

Here again, he called out the Mafia. And called on leaders and their ambassadors to confront anyone, even and especially the powerful, to use their influence for the protection of vulnerable human beings.

Your Excellencies, it has been my intention to share with you these thoughts regarding a social scourge of our time, because I believe in the value and the power of a concerted commitment to combat it. I therefore urge the international community to devise a more united and effective strategy against human trafficking so that, in every part of the world, men and women may never be used as instruments, but always be respected in their inviolable dignity.

Inviolable human dignity is the centerpiece of my new book, the center of gravity that should ground us all, no matter where different faiths and beliefs go from there.

I devoted Monday’s radio show to this topic, and the hour flew before we got very far. Liz Yore was my guest, international child protection attorney, former General Counsel and Director of the International Division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, presenter at conferences on human trafficking, including at the Vatican, and driving force being a website devoted to awareness and relief of the problem of modern human slavery.

This is happening across the world and in our hometowns. I learned from Liz on Monday that our hometown of Chicago is a major hub of human trafficking, with one ‘safe house’ for victims, once they’re identified. There are two very obvious problems with that statement: one safe house in a major metropolitan, world class city, and the only one for victims once they’re identified, because they mostly stay hidden in the darkness and shadows of the trafficking trade. “Victims don’t disclose, so it goes unnoticed,” said Yore. When authorities see weapons or drugs cross the borders, they confiscate them. When humans don’t disclose that they are being smuggled, there is no detection and therefore not tip off to retrieve them from smugglers’ control, she explained. They live among us, undercover, terrified to speak up because of the potential consequences.

Millions of dollars are spent on conferences about trafficking, just to talk about the problem, Yore told me. That thought is just mind-boggling, considering that nothing demonstrable comes from meetings. But when the meetings are with Francis, he sends attendees out with assignments, to report back to him on progress.

So here are ways to make a difference, Yore said. Of course, pray for victims, for justice, for an end to human trafficking. Support groups working to protect vulnerable human beings. At the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, the trafficking trade is expected to have a major uptick. Write FIFA and ask what they’re doing about it. This article helps.

And finally, Yore said, befriend people you meet, show them a friendly face, someone caring, someone they might trust if they are in danger. Because the workers at a local nail salon, or on the cleaning crew in offices after hours, just may be enslaved in one of these dire situations and afraid to speak up. Give them an opportunity.

And by the way, before the radio show ended, one caller was a police chief in Minnesota who had been listening to the conversation and everything Liz Yore had been saying about all this. And he called to tell listeners that it was all true, it’s all around us, and we must do everything we can to be present for people who desperately need protection, safety and trust.

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May 29

We need to be reminded of lessons we vow never to forget.

When Pope Francis visited each stop on his Holy Land pilgrimage last weekend, he delivered short but poignant messages, keeping with the way Francis addresses everything he sees and sums up concerning problems for global humanity.

They were each poignant, relevant, challenging, true and incisive. I followed them all, and thought the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial message was stunning.

The day after his return to Rome, Vatican expert analyst George Weigel was my guest on radio for an hour of compelling conversation about this Middle East visit, Pope Francis, what Christianity proposes to the modern world (which is the same as what it proposed to the ancient world), and the Church engaging current global affairs. Weigel is the world’s pre-eminent papal biographer (with a two-volume analysis and commentary on the life of John Paul II).

He made a very interesting point that after John Paul’s Yad Vashem address during his March 2000 pilgrimage, one might think nothing said there could be as profound.

Weigel vividly recalled the opening of that address.

In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.

I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain.

How powerful a remembrance, one that seared our consciousness. But George went on to say that what Francis said last weekend at Yad Vashem was quite startling and profound, and probably at least equaled the depth of John Paul’s message.

Francis spoke from scripture readings that posed the voice of God, and it was powerful.

“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9). Where are you, o man? What have you come to? In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more: “Adam, where are you?” This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child…

Adam, who are you? I no longer recognize you. Who are you, o man? What have you become? Of what horror have you been capable? What made you fall to such depths?…

Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you? Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were god?

At this point, I had two thoughts, beyond a visceral reaction to so breathtaking an indictment.

One, the timely, insightful book my friend Elizabeth Scalia published just before Francis was elected pope, Strange Gods. From the beginning of his papacy Francis has warned often of idolatry.

And two, the fitting analogy of the abortion culture. “What made you fall to such depths…Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.”

On Wednesday, preparing for an hour with National Review Online’s Kathryn Lopez, co-founder of Catholic Voices USA, we collaborated on what we saw as important topics to cover in fast and fleeting time, there was so much. It was the day a Tweetfest was planned by abortion activists claiming that #WomensHealth called for the global body of the United Nations to tie ‘reproductive rights’ (euphemism for abortion) to binding international documents. Kathryn and I both saw the tie-in.

Her post at NRO.

Were you to do a Google search for “International Day of Women’s Health,” as I just did, the first link you would find is from the Center for Reproductive Health. There you would learn that:

“On May 28, the Center for Reproductive Rights joins health and women’s rights advocates from around the world in commemorating the International Day of Action for Women’s Health. The Center also calls on governments to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, which is essential to improve women and adolescent girls’ health.”

Sexual and reproductive health services. That’s one of those phrases abortion-rights activists use when they don’t want to say abortion. Which is why there should be no tears shed for the “women’s health” lobby when they complain that their day was “hijacked” by pro-life activists today [May 28].

Kathryn included some remarkable screen shots for this post, check it out. By a long shot, the pro-life movement overtook Twitter with messages that countered the abortion propaganda of that day’s campaign. Her post captured the extreme lengths abortion activists have gone to for the right to end new human life.

Think about that. The right to end life at will.

And remember the Shoah. As John Paul II did.

Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale.

We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.

“No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale.” What is happening in abortion clinics every day cannot be ignored and vast numbers of women, men, siblings of those now lost will not forget. No one can diminish the scale of the population lost to abortion, close to 57 million babies in the US alone since Roe v. Wade, and countless numbers beyond. Watching those numbers tick up so rapidly moves some of us urgently to try to stop it.

Pope Francis at Yad Vashem, last weekend.

Almighty Lord, a soul in anguish cries out to you. Hear, Lord, and have mercy! We have sinned against you. You reign for ever (cf. Bar 3:1-2). Remember us in your mercy. Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life. Never again, Lord, never again!

“Adam, where are you?” Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.

Remember us in your mercy.

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