There are many excellent, thought-provoking individuals in this world. Listening to them can be medicine for the soul. There are men and women who understand important issues and can speak eloquently about worldwide poverty, intelligent design, the history of this nation, or even the war in Iraq. Speakers such as Alan Keyes, Ann Coulter, and Judge Roy Moore are bringing Biblical concepts such as accountability, truth, and morality back into the public arena.
But these individuals were not the ones invited to speak at this university next week.
Cindy Sheehan was. The title of her talk will be "One Person Can Make a Difference." I agree with the title of her talk: one person can make a difference. But I have to point out that people can make a positive or a negative impact on their surroundings.
I could tell you what I think right now, or I could let Ms. Sheehan speak first. (Note: The source of the Sheehan quotes in this blog are from a Sheehan-favorable interview at Tomdispatch.com (9/29/05). To read more, take this link.)
So we will give her a mike. Back in 2005, Sheehan explained that her message was her own: "I'd been doing this a long time. I'd been on Wolf Blitzer, Chris Mathews, all those shows. I'd done press conferences. It was just the intensity that spiked up. But my message has always remained the same. I didn't just fall off some pumpkin truck on August 6th and start doing this. The media couldn't believe someone like me could be so articulate and intelligent and have my own message." (She's right, of course: intelligent people don't usually fall off of pumpkin trucks.)
Her message includes such pills of wisdom as "It's a political war. Not only should we not be there, it's making our country very vulnerable. It's creating enemies for our children's children. Killing innocent Arabic Muslims, who had no animosity towards the United States and meant us no harm, is only creating more problems for us."
Of course, the evil in our country has clearly concentrated itself in one man, namely George W. Bush: "I've called George Bush a terrorist. He says a terrorist is somebody who kills innocent people. That's his own definition. So, by George Bush's own definition, he is a terrorist, because there are almost 100,000 innocent Iraqis that have been killed. And innocent Afghanis that have been killed."
There is hope, at least, since, "[w]hen our military presence leaves, a lot of the violence and insurgency will die." (And Sheehan always takes a thoroughly realistic view of the situation).
For Ann Coulter's assessment of Sheehan and her stakeout at the Bush ranch, read this article. Now in 2007 a campus group may describe Cindy Sheehan's message as "powerful and provocative," but Ann has this to say: "Liberals demand that we listen with rapt attention to Sheehan, but she has nothing new to say about the war. At least nothing we haven't heard from Michael Moore since approximately 11 a.m., Sept. 11, 2001."
If the provocative (if oft-heard) message from Sheehan is a shot in the arm, you will want to dose up on the Friday Forums which will take place through April. These weekly forums are being sponsored by the YMCA in town.
The "Young Men's Christian Association" was originally a ministry to young men flocking to the cities, and was aided by strong-hearted believers such as D.L. Moody. Today the YMCA impacts the community by (among other things) hosting Friday Forums.
Of course, the YMCA isn't the only host. A variety of churches including the First Mennonite Church, the Wesley Church and Foundation, and the McKinley Church and Foundation are also cosponsors. What follows is a list of three abstracts from this semester's Friday Forums.
This week (March 2), it's "Sparta and the New Jerusalem: Religion, Violence and American Redemption." As described on the local YMCA website, "This talk will examine relationships between Christian
faith and violence in twentieth- and twenty first-century America,
paying particular attention to assertions that involvement in and
exposure to violence can offer redemption to individuals, communities,
and the nation."
One month before, on February 2nd, you could have heard "Profile In Courage: Fighting Religious Intolerance in City Politics." Dean Kodenhoven was here to share his story: "In his town, former Mayor Dean Koldenhoven fought for the right to establish a Muslim Mosque over local Christian objections and paid the political price. Koldenhoven spoke out against bigotry and religious intolerance and was presented the JFK award, which is presented annually to an elected official who has withstood strong opposition from constituents, powerful interest groups or adversaries to follow what she or he believes is the right course of action."
Th February 16 forum was on this happy topic: "The Political Lessons of the Ishmael and Hagar Story: Reading the Bible with Hannah Arendt." It was presented by Bruce Rosenstock, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies here.
"The story of Ishmael and Hagar in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible tells the story of a mother and child driven from their home by Abraham and Sarah. This story challenges us to think about our duties to those who have been displaced and exiled from their home in general. I will talk about this difficult story, the way the rabbis interpret it, and how the modern philosopher Hannah Arendt helps us to think about the "rights to have rights" that is the basis of all other human rights."
Personally, I'd rather read the Bible with the Holy Spirit as my guide. But this is definitely an intriguing passage, and was likely chosen because it is entirely free from political undercurrents. It involves Israelis heartlessly pushing a woman and son from their home, giving them only a skin of water to refresh themselves. This passage choice was definitely more favorable than other Scriptural accounts of displaced persons. There's more of the matriarch shown in this account than in the one involving a family fleeing a ruler hellbent on murdering all two-year-olds. And while it may not contain any of the rocks-as-pillows, stranger-in-foreign-land, or night-spent-at-bottom-of-well material, the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael has much more potential for adding fuel to the Israeli-as-aggressor theory.
If the Muslim apologetics from Sheehan & Co. were combined and I swallowed them as a bolus, I would be leaving today to enlist -- in the forces of Al Qaeda.
To those attending the Sheehan tirade, I bestow upon you this parting gift. In Sheehan's own words, "Most people, if they came with me for a day, would be in a coma by eleven A.M." For others of us, it doesn't take quite that long.