Tag Archives: nine-eleven

Crying for Paris

Paris MapThe horrific attacks in Paris this week brought home once again the precarious nature of our freedoms. 

And so we cry for France and the rest of Europe, so vulnerable with porous borders, weak military, costly social welfare, and alarming inclusivity. 

As the daughter of England, America looks to France, and all of Europe, with anguish and tears. America was birthed by the English, explored by the French, settled by the Spanish, and later enriched by Germans, Italians, Irish, East Indians, Africans, Asians and many others. America has gloried in inclusivity, insisting this great experiment in democracy will after all succeed. Yet, in the last fifty years it is showing signs of serious failure. 

Since her birth, America has welcomed all who escaped to her sanctuary of sacred space, of liberty and life and the peaceful pursuit of happiness. All who came desired safety and a chance to live a better life in which to raise their children. Some sought life itself. This stream of grateful immigrants continues, legal and illegal, crossing borders, running around and over borders, desperate to get in. 

As America grew in strength and wealth, she defended England and the countries of Europe, as any good son or daughter would defend their family from harm. She became a force for good, sometimes through might, sometimes through love of all humanity, usually well intentioned. 

But as Europe aged she grew complacent about defense, counting on America’s strength. Americans looked across the seas to Europe’s villages and history, her cobbled streets, her quaint ways, her saints, her cathedrals, her vineyards and her civilized way of life. We were wealthy and could afford a military that could defend the free world, protect our Western Civilization. Europe rested, relaxing borders. With American might, Europe could afford generous social welfare programs. She could house, feed, nurse, and school all who crossed into her lands, even those who broke her laws. Giving and giving, Europe self-righteously distributed her benevolence. Americans, those coarse fellows across the sea, could provide troops as necessary. 

But no longer. A little like Robin Hood, America robbed from her defense to protect her domestic welfare. She too wanted to feel self-righteous, to “care” as Europe cared. To pay for these programs, programs that buy votes, the CIA was cut and we were attacked on 9-11-01 in New York. To pay for these programs, the military budget was cut and policies of disengagement and “dialog” with our enemies were preferred over shows of strength. 

Islamic State took notice. And so, the barbarians are no longer at the gates. They are here. Living among us, networking their creeds of jihad. National boundaries no long keep the bad guys out. They keep them in. 

It has been predicted by many that Europe as we know or knew it is over. Demographics prophesy that France will be a Muslim state within the next decade, and a sharia state soon after. Put simply, free French are not having children; sharia French are. The same could be said for England. 

In America we are teaching our surviving children to hate our culture, its history, its freedoms. They will not be a generation interested in protecting us. 

In America we rob our children of religious faith and leave them to wander in a nihilistic desert. They will fill this void and find meaning in a Facebook network of suicide warriors. 

In America we slaughter our unborn and euthanize our aged, blinded in our selfishness, not seeing that we are assisting in America’s own suicide. 

But in spite of all the wars and rumors of wars, all the fear on city streets, all the anguish in the once glorious city of light, we hope and do not despair. Those who can see are seeing for others. Those who can teach our children the truth are teaching them the truth. Those who can pray are praying. 

We prayed for Paris this morning in our little chapel in Berkeley. And I prayed that the eyes of the West have been briefly opened, hopefully long enough to change course, to destroy this cancerous evil spreading through the free world. We need a strong America again, one clear-eyed and courageous, yet humble enough to sacrifice for others. We need to wave the flag and revive old-fashioned patriotism.

We need an America that will defend the streets of Paris, once again showing the world and its tyrants that we will ensure peace through strength.

Waking the West

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This last week we recalled the September 11, 2001 attacks on American soil. As we mourned our dead and honored our heroes, waves of migrants fleeing oppression flooded into Western Europe. 800,000 men, women, and children are expected in Germany this year. It is a vast humanitarian crisis caused by Western benevolence.

America’s exceptional roots were planted by Christian Europeans, and the saplings, those thirteen colonies, grew strong, while the parent plant, Europe, declined. Europe has retained its own exceptional ideals of freedom, equality under the law, individual rights, and religious liberty. It even from time to time fought for those rights, that way of life Americans and Europeans have taken for granted.

Sometime after World War II, or perhaps earlier, Europe began to count on the protection of their American ally and ensure cradle-to-grave social programs for their citizens.

But America’s eviscerated military has left them (and us) exposed, leaving the Western way of life undefended. Now that we have become more like Europe in our national deficit, burgeoning state, and slashed military, who will protect us?

Bret Stephens writes in the Wall Street Journal how “We wanted a new liberal order – one with a lot of liberalism and not a lot of order. We wanted to be a generous civilization without doing the things required to be a prosperous one… the result is our metastasizing global disorder… openness is a virtue purchased through strength.” Every parent knows how painful yet necessary it is to practice “tough love.” Benevolence is not always good and often harmful.

Waves of desperate people are fleeing their homelands in the east. They are entering Hungary, Austria, and Germany; they are circling through Iceland and into Oslo. They are fleeing persecution, war, and poverty, looking for a better life. Peggy Noonan quotes the U.N. refugee agency when she says that they are coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iraq, and Somalia. The majority are Muslim men.

Walter Russell Mead, professor at Bard College, writes in the WSJ of a “Crisis of Two Civilizations,” claiming that the Islamic worlds have tried and failed to create a workable society, so that the victims of the resulting tyrannies are fleeing into what they see as a prosperous and safe Western civilization. But the West no longer knows who it is or where it is going.

The Goths that crossed the Danube and conquered the Roman Empire didn’t find much resistance for the same reason. The Romans had become effete with a weak military. They didn’t know who they were or what to preserve and defend or why.

Professor Mead describes the crisis in Europe and the West:

Increasingly, the contemporary version of Enlightenment liberalism sees itself as fundamentally opposed to the religious, political, and economic foundations of Western society. Liberal values such as free expression, individual self-determination, and a broad array of human rights have become detached in the minds of many from the institutional and civilizational context that shaped them… Too many people in the West interpret pluralism and tolerance in ways that forbid or unrealistically constrain the active defense of these values against illiberal states like Russia or illiberal movements like radical Islam. (italics mine)

The Western world has a right to defend itself, its ideals and way of life, with military might. If nothing else, we must keep that defense at the ready, simply to assure the balance of power and peace in the world. American withdrawal from the mid-eastern theater in the last eight years has been a key factor in this current humanitarian crisis. We share the guilt with European governments who shy away from their own defense.

As we remember the Trade Center bombings, the Pentagon attack, and the plane crashing in the Pennsylvania field, those tragic attacks on American soil, we must face the unwelcome fact that the world has become less safe with all of our benevolence. It may be too late to teach our children the roots of freedom, so that they understand who they are and what they must defend, but we must renew our efforts. 

We must encourage policies that ensure prosperity, capitalistic policies that grow the economy, so that we can afford a strong military that will keep the peace with its presence. Some experts say it is too late for Europe to wake up from their dream and rally a defense. Is it too late for America? The answer lies in the next election.

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Secret Stairs in Berkeley

secret stairs 1I’ve been studying a map of Berkeley and the secret stairs of the Berkeley Hills produced by the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association. The characters in my novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, follow these steps that bridge roads winding into the forests above the university campus, winding up to the Fire Trails.

It is curious how maps organize a broad range of information and yet at the same time help the eye to focus and pinpoint one spot. Maps are like our brains, full of detail, a network of perception of both the past (memory), the present (observation) and the future (plans). Like this shiny unfolded paper that covers my desk, we too are mapped with broad ranges as well as focal points; our brains are miracles of design, epicenters of will and desire.

Novels are stories that connect the dots, draw the lines between moments of intense focus. These moments are often crises producing turning-points. A main crisis propels the major arc of the novel along, as sub-crises propel the chapters, and sometimes even sub-sub-crises propel the scenes. The process is much like walking through Berkeley, coming upon secret stairs that connect the winding roads; sometimes we rise and sometimes we fall.

History is full of these patterns, and these crises often catalyze action, focusing our attention, the attention of our community, the attention of our country, the attention of the world, upon a single incident. The crisis we remembered this week was the horrific bombing of the World Trade Center thirteen years ago on September 11. Our television screens invaded our homes with the shocking news, and although there had been many smaller crises leading up to this one, it was this one that caught our attention, that became America’s and the Western world’s turning point.

We had not been attacked on our own soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941. Our violence since then had been self-inflicted – shootings, riots, demonstrations. Some of us, in our arrogance, tried to deny it was the work of a foreign enemy. How could anyone do this? Each of us recalls, like the day that President Kennedy was shot, where we were and what we were doing when we found out, when we first saw the plumes rising, heard the rumble of the falling towers. It was as though the jets had sliced a knife into our hearts and minds. Our safe and civilized world crumbled; the map of our culture had been ripped apart and was increasingly incomprehensible. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were threatened; our freedom of speech – in word, deed, and worship – was attacked.

They say that the West experienced a similar shock as it counted its dead in the aftermath of World War I, a war we memorialize this year, begun one hundred years ago. Then too, the fire trail was breached, and the flames of barbarism crossed into our peaceful lands, threatening to destroy all that the West had built, over thousands of years since Abraham (then Abram) was called to leave the pagan world of Ur. World War I was a turning point, a catalyst that produced nihilism and despair, Lenin and Hitler and Mao, Nietzsche’s superman and the cold liberal arrogance of academic elite reigning from their own towers, these of ivory.

Church and temple imploded, divided on the path to take. Many of the once-faithful claimed God to be dead, or at least sleeping. Many delighted in such a claim, worshiping themselves and contributing to the anarchy of self-gratification now so fashionable. And so, darkness descended upon the Western world, lit here and there by communities of traditional believers, those who held onto their map, saw the way forward clearly in Scripture, Sacrament, and Creed, and who lit their candles, calling all to come and worship.

There have been three beheadings in the last month, at the last count, and I suppose now the world is watching and counting. We are finally focused. The many lines, the many roads, the many intersections where we weren’t sure which way to turn, have all converged in a single place on our map. Like the World Trade Center bombings, these violent images have stabbed our hearts and minds.

Through it all, the lights lit in our churches and temples burn brightly, calling us together, to gather as one heart and one mind before God. And as I knelt in the pew this morning in St. Joseph’s Chapel in Berkeley, my minutes and days of the week, however scattered, were gathered together in that single hour of worship. In that hour of song and praise and penitence and communion, all that was past was brought into the present and redeemed. All that would come in the future lay in God’s palm, cradled.

The connecting stairs were no longer secret passageways, but right there in beautiful bold print in my Book of Common Prayer. The paths led sensibly through the dark and into the light between the onionskin pages of my tattered Bible. Sin was forgiven, death destroyed. I could turn again, re-pent, re-form, in this weekly turning point. I could face the days ahead of me, the chaos of the world, the burning of the good and the beautiful and the true. For here was the essence, the distillation of the good, the beautiful, and the true. Here was life, for me and for each of us. Here was love that passeth all understanding, love that made sense of all maps.