Courage

March 12th 2020, Chelsea Manning was once again released from a year long imprisonment for refusing to testify in a grand jury hearing against JOHN DOE 2010R03793Julian Paul Assange.

I wrote to President Obama back in 2013 – after she was sentenced to serve 35 years at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

President Obama later commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence to 7 years time served, Chelsea was released January 17th 2017.

My letter to President Obama – originally posted on August 26, 2013

 

President Barack Obama,

I ran across Chelsea (Bradley) Manning’s sentencing statement this morning. I think that everyone that goes to war as an idealist (and what twenty-something is not an idealist) at some point discovers the truth about war. If only we as a species could somehow teach this truth to our young so that they could learn it without having to experience war themselves every other generation.

The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.
Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown our any logically based intentions [unclear], it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the Japanese-American internment camps—to name a few. I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.

As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

I understand that my actions violated the law, and I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

– Chelsea (Bradley) Manning (August 21, 2013)

Although, as I read through this again – it seems there is still a great deal of idealism in there.

This is the kind of person we should be trying to recruit into our military.
This is the kind of person who would never dishonor our country or our military by committing atrocities in our name; even when ordered to do so.

This is the kind of person that you have allowed to be imprisoned for up to 35 years.

I Believe in Mystery

Originally written for the Saint Hilary’s Episcopal Church – Prospect Heights, IL Newsletter – 2008

I believe in the power of paradox. All the worlds enduring religions have at their core a mystery. This essential mystery is powered by a paradox; something that cannot logically be true, yet must be believed by its members. Whether the belief inspires faith or the faith inspires belief, this tension is a source of energy sustaining a religion as it is transmitted to new believers through time. In the Christian tradition one of our essential mysteries is the nature of God, God in three persons or aspects, distinct yet indivisible, a logical paradox; a mystery.

I am an engineer by training, and have for the past sixteen years worked to maintain computer systems which are consistently and constantly available. In effect, I try to eliminate all the mysteries involved in the configuration of networked computer systems, resolving all the paradoxical, contradictory elements in their configurations so as to make them more reliable. In my work, I am constantly checking and rechecking, looking for paradoxes. These paradoxes act as signposts, showing me what I need to change to make that particular computer or group of computers work better.

I love legends, stories of gods and goddesses, hidden worlds, hero’s and forest spirits like the Green Man, those ideas in our collective myths that contain that paradoxical element of mystery. In this love, I am myself a paradox. I love the paradoxical, but I make my living eliminating paradox and making plain that which is contradictory, and in my art the mystery lives.

My Green Man – Batik – 2006

 

I am a face in the trees,
Amid the thickest leaves,
I am here and there,
I live everywhere,
I am of myth and lore,
You’ve ne’er seen me before,
But I watch you, see?
Oh, you can’t find me!

Jon Breckon

Listening in Profound Silence

Originally posted on August 11, 2014
I was privileged to deliver the sermon at my church yesterday.
(Readings are below)

Listen to this sermon here.

It took me quite some time to discern the common thread in our readings today. But since we are in the season of Pentecost, I should have known that our readings would have something to do with prayer and being in communion with the Spirit of God. All of our readings this Sunday, present to us, examples of prayer and discernment with the Spirit; from several different points of view.

The most obvious example of prayer and discernment is in our Gospel reading from Matthew. A typical day in Jesus’ ministry on earth. After a long day of preaching and teaching, Jesus sends the people and his disciples away and secludes himself to pray. What could be a more typical a passage in any of the Gospels? But notice how long Jesus is praying in this passage – He prays through most of the night into the early morning. My impression is that Jesus often prayed into the early hours of the morning. It was probably the only time of day when he could be alone, when it was quiet; that time of stillness, to reflect and to allow the Spirit of God the time and space to speak to him.

Jesus shows us how important it is to have this time for prayer and reflection by His example.

We see something similar in our reading from first Kings. The prophet Elijah was fleeing for his life from King Ahab and especially Queen Jezebel. Elijah was the sole remaining priest and prophet in Israel, all the rest of the priests having been killed by their majesties Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah finds refuge in a cave high up on a mountain. He must have been relieved to have found this hiding place, this place of safety, this place to reflect, this place to pray, this place to wait and to discern what God wanted him to do next. Elijah is told that God is going to visit him just outside this cave on the mountain.

A mighty wind storm sweeps past. Elijah does not even go outside, because he knows that God is not in the mighty wind.

Then an earthquake shakes the mountain, again Elijah does not bother to go outside, because he knows that God is not in the earthquake.

A fire then sweeps over the mountainside, and again Elijah does not stir from his cave, because he knows that God is not in the fire.

Only when the sheer, profound silence settles over the mountain does Elijah get up and cover his head, as is the Jewish custom when in prayer, and go to the mouth of the cave because God is in that sheer, profound silence.

It is in this profound silence, when we are calm, when we have emptied our minds of our concerns and our worries, when our thoughts are quiet; that we may be able to hear the Spirit of God speaking to us.

What is our prayer life actually like?

Again from our gospel reading, we read that after Jesus was finished praying he walks across the water through a violent storm to where the disciples were struggling to keep their ship afloat. They see Jesus out in the storm, walking on the water – they hear him over the sound of the storm – and think they are seeing and hearing some sort of ghost across the water. Peter asks Jesus to command him to walk across the water, and Jesus calls to Peter to join him.

This passage about Peter crossing the water feels like many of my experiences with prayer. How often have I started to pray, to attempt to walk across that gulf that separates us from God – only to start to sink, to be distracted by

the violent storm that sometimes is the world around me,

the violent storm that sometimes is my own thoughts and fears,

and finally as I am going under I call out to be saved:

O God, make speed to save me!

O Lord, make haste to help me!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me!

For 1500 years, Christians have prayed these three, simple, prayers to our Lord: to be saved, to be helped, and for Jesus Christ to show us His mercy.
As fallen human beings, I believe we all have these problems in prayer; I certainly do.

It seems that, most Christians since the time of the apostles have had these problems in prayer.

That is why, we must continually practice prayer, and through trail and error find out what works best for each one of us, at each stage of our lives; to help us in listening to the Spirit of God.

In all our examples of prayer, reflection, and discernment up to this point – we have concentrated on that journey of faith that we travel alone, in our personal relationship with the living God.

Paul in our reading from Romans, takes our discussion to the next level.

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?

What in the world is Paul talking about here? John Gill, the first Baptist theologian, in his commentary on Romans 10 verse 15 really helped me to understand the meaning of this passage.

Ordinary mission is of [people] to be pastors and teachers …. for whom Christ sends forth into such service, he bestows gifts on them, fitting them for it …. and it also includes a call unto it, which is …. by the Spirit of God ….. and the inclination of the heart to this good work which he forms; and which arises not from a vanity of mind, and a desire of popular applause, ….. but from a real concern for the good of souls, ….. being willing to deny themselves, and forsake all for Christ.

Paul’s 4 questions in our reading from Romans, are about how we are to call and select our ministers; our leaders and teachers in the community of Christ. Paul is laying the organizational groundwork for growing Christianity from a small group of believers to an organization – a Church. He is asking how we should listen for; and experience; the Spirit of God, when we believe we are being called to ministry in that larger Church organization.

It has been more than two years since I started my own discernment process. Feeling a call to ministry; I met with my discernment committee here at St. Martin’s and we feel that this call is to diaconate ministry in the Episcopal Church. I had no idea what discernment meant before I started this process. I thought that it would involve an objective, logical analysis of the needs of the greater church, the needs here at St. Martin’s, and how my skills and talents could be used to meet those needs. I was thinking about church ministry in terms of getting hired to do a job, or fill a position or role – as in a business.

I had (and still have) a great deal to learn about discernment!

However, I have learned what discernment is not.

Discernment is not about what you want.

Discernment is not about your talents.

Discernment is not about what the church needs.

Discernment is about listening to the Holy Spirit and letting God direct you to where you should be.

Discernment does not end after you are called to some ministry. Discernment continues. The proper place for you today may not be where God needs you next year.

As I started to understand what discernment is about, I was surprised by how familiar it turned out to be. It seems I have been in discernment all along, I just did not know what I was doing, and I have been using it for trivial things. All this time, in my work when I have been stuck on some network or programming problem. I clear my mind, to either not think about anything at all, or to think about something completely unrelated to my current problem. And then suddenly, from out of nowhere, I will receive an idea about how to approach that particular problem, or how to put together a solution. The artist waiting for inspiration, or the engineer waiting for that technical insight are in discernment. They are opening themselves; allowing their own divine nature to commune with the divine nature which is present in everything in the universe around us. When we are inspired, we manage; for just that brief instant to hear God’s voice, the Spirit of God, speaking to us.

I have found that in discerning what God wants me to do – I am discovering what I am capable of becoming:

I am learning who I am.

God as our Father and Creator, knows us far better that we know ourselves.

It is a startling and humbling experience to be 51 years old and to be finally learning who I am.

I’d like leave you with this thought.

Discernment is for Everyone.

Not just those people, who are the clergy.

Not just those people, who are on the vestry.

Not just those people, who are being called to ministry.

Not just those people, who are working on revising our mission or vision statement.

Everyone.

We should all be trying to be present and aware of God’s spirit speaking to us in our reflections, our thoughts, our feelings, and our prayers.

We should all be finding time, each day, to listen to that sheer, profound silence; allowing the Spirit of God the time and space in our lives, so that we may hear the quiet voice of God.

1 Kings 19:9-18

At Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Romans 10:5-15

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

My Father – 31 Jan 2020

A familiar voice over the phone,
“About two hours?”
“Hello?”, I replied.
“OK, about two hours. I’ll be with you in a minute, Ladies.”
“Hello?”, I replied.
A phone call from my father,
just checked into the nursing home,
ended abruptly without an acknowledgement.

Two days later, my sister told me a story.
A female orderly, threatened by my
angry father, allowed him to make a call.
He needed to get his truck fixed.
A truck he no longer owns.

I recall a similar event.
The control module in his Chevy truck failed.
It was ’87 or ’88, late summer, Akron, Ohio.
I was studying Engineering after my time in the Navy.
Outside the professional offices of our HMO.
I picked him up to buy a new one.
It was the first time he ever let me drive him anywhere.
As his peer, I might finally be his friend.

My Rules

Gibb’s Rules My Rules
Rule 1: Never let suspects sit together. Rule 1: Always Tell the Truth.
Other Rule 1: Never screw over your partner. Other Rule 1: If you cannot tell the truth, say nothing at all.
Rule 2: Always wear gloves at a crime scene. Rule 2: Always believe in what you say
Rule 3: Never believe what you are told. Double check. Rule 3: Believe in the Impossible
Other Rule 3: Never be unreachable. Other Rule 3: Try to believe in six impossible things before breakfast, every day.
Rule 4: Best way to keep a secret. Keep it to yourself. Second-best, tell one other person—if you must. There is no third best. Rule 4: Best way to keep a secret. Keep it to yourself. Second-best, tell one other person—if you must. There is no third best.
Rule 5: You don’t waste good. Whatever it is, if something is good, don’t waste it. Rule 5: You don’t waste good. Whatever it is, if something is good, don’t waste it.
Rule 6: Never say you’re sorry. Rule 6: If you are sorry – say it, if not – do not. Never apologize out of politeness, if an apology is not heartfelt – it is less than useless.
Rule 7: Always be specific when you lie. Rule 7: Always be specific when telling a story.
Rule 8: Never take anything for granted. Rule 8: Never take anything for granted.
Rule 9: Never go anywhere without a knife. Rule 9: Never go anywhere without a knife.
Rule 10: Never get involved personally on a case. Rule 10: Never get involved personally on the job.
Rule 11: When the job is done, walk away. Rule 11: When the job is done, walk away.
Rule 12: Never date a co-worker. Rule 12: Never date a co-worker.
Rule 13: Never involve lawyers. Rule 13: Never involve lawyers.
Rule 14: Bend the line, don’t break it. Rule 14: Never provide Computer support to Doctors and Nurses.
Rule 15: Always work as a team. Rule 15: Always work as a team.
Rule 16: If someone thinks he has the upper hand, break it. Rule 16: If someone thinks he has the upper hand, he is right where you want him.
Rule 18: It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission.  
Rule 20: Always look under. Rule 20: Always look under.
Rule 22: Never, ever bother Gibbs in interrogation.  
Rule 23: Never mess with a Marine’s coffee if you want to live. Rule 23: Never mess with a Sailor’s coffee if you want to live.
Rule 27: Two ways to follow someone. First way, they never notice you. Second way, they only notice you.  
Rule 28: When you need help, ask. Rule 28: When you need help, ask.
Rule 35: Always watch the watchers. Rule 35: Always watch the watchers.
Rule 36: If it feels like you’re being played, you probably are. Rule 36: If it feels like you’re being played, you probably are.
Rule 38: Your case, you’re lead.  
Rule 39: There is no such thing as a coincidence. Rule 39: There is no such thing as a coincidence.
Rule 40: If it seems like someone’s out to get you, they are. Rule 40: If it seems like someone’s out to get you, they are.
Rule 42: Never accept an apology from somebody who just sucker-punched you. Rule 42: Always accept an apology from Anyone – but be careful – see rules 8, 20, 35, 36, 39, 40, 69
Rule 44: First things first, hide the women and children.  
Rule 45: Clean up your own messes. Rule 45: Clean up your own messes.
Rule 51: Sometimes you’re wrong. Rule 51: Sometimes you’re wrong.
Rule 62: Always give people space when they get off an elevator. Rule 62: Always give people space when they get out of elevator, bathroom, subway/trolley cars: just let everyone else go first.
Rule 69: Never trust a woman who doesn’t trust her man. Rule 69: Never trust anyone who does not trust those close to them.

 

Enlightenment

The way of Enlightenment is Three.
Toleration, Acceptance, Celebration.
By whichever of the infinite paths we travel,
These are the stations upon the way of Truth.

First, we must refrain from violence,
in deed, in word, in thought.
Even as we bear the centuries of hate,
Today, this hour, we do not strike.

This day, we do not incite,
This hour, we do not kill.
Perhaps today, we learn from each other,
We finally learn how to live together.

In living together, even in conflict,
mere forbearance becomes something new.
Not just tolerance of our differences,
our disagreements, our faults and strengths.

In spite of ourselves, can we at last accept
each other in all our complexity and doubt.
Forged by the flames of our
mutual distrust and discord.

Practicing acceptance, the final transformation.
From discord and difference; delight.
From disagreement and conflict; celebration.
From many at odds, many now acting in accord.

Celebrating every difference,
with endless delight in our infinite diversity.
Attaining the potential of all sentience,
Living into our souls’ divine light.

These are the stations upon the way of Truth.
By whatever of the infinite paths we travel,
Toleration, Acceptance, Celebration.
The way of Enlightenment is Three.

Emoluments

A Open Letter to all Representative Members of the 116th Congress of these United States.

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have been following closely your progress in investigating and drafting articles of impeachment for President Donald John Trump with considerable frustration. From his first months in office, President Trump has accepted payments (emoluments) to his businesses (from which he has divested in name only) from domestic and foreign organizations and governments in direct contravention to the United States Constitution Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 8:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

and Article 2, Section 1, Paragraph 7:

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

The meaning of these clauses that no federally elected official is to receive any gift, payment, or payment in kind; is so clear that no president before now has even sought to challenge them.

A further charge of obstruction of justice suggests itself from President Trump’s repeated successful attempts thus far to block the release of his tax returns. The lengths of litigation to which President Trump is willing to commit would make any reasonable person wonder at the perversities he has indulged in his tax filings.

Please include in your articles of impeachment the charges of receiving emoluments from organizations and governments both foreign and domestic. We need to set a strong precedent that our federal officials cannot accept payments of any kind from any source.