Between a rock and a hard place...

Most of my blog writing these days avoids the political - not because I don't think that world events are not important or a part of the spiritual realm (THEY ARE!!) - but mostly because I don't think I can add anything insightful to the conversation.  There are already too many crude and rude voices - on the Left and the Right - filling the airwaves and blogosphere with mean-spirited and often truly stupid opinions.  So, mostly I keep my mouth shut and my eyes open...

This Lent, for example, we are listening and thinking about how to "Countering Pharaoh" using the insights and wisdom of Walter Brueggemann.  And brother Brueggemann offers a number of valuable challenges to me that demand I find a way to speak about the public context more boldly from time to time.  

For example, he asserts that the Ten Commandments are actually the counter cultural commitments the Living God requires of a covenental people who are committed to resisting the demands of Pharaoh.  Like the old Bob Dylan song says, "You gotta serve SOMEBODY... it may be the devil or it may be the Lord... but you gotta serve somebody." This is a non-negotiable in real life:  it may be your fear, your addiction, your illusion of radical independence, etc. but you WILL serve somebody!

To serve the Lord, of course, presumes that God's people KNOW the Commandments (our assignment for this week) for more often than not, this simply isn't so.  How else do you explain the state of Alabama posting the 10 Commandments in the state courtrooms as a sign of the status quo?  Or try this:  ask one of the aggressive public commendmenteers to TELL you the commandments.  They don't even have to do it in order - or say where to find them in the Bible - just ask them to tell you all ten... Well, you get my point:  it almost never happens.  (NOTE:  try both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, ok?)

So, all week long I've been sitting with Breuggemann's challenge as the tragedy in Japan goes from horrible to disastrous - and the rebels in Libya are beaten into submission and the UN finally found the will to step up on behalf of those opposing Pharaoh and issue a "no fly zone" - and right-wing governors backed by secret conservative money attack the working class in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.  And in today's NY Times there was a brilliant albeit chilling news analysis about how the United States is currently caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to dealing with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the freedom movements blossoming in Tunis, Egypt, Bahrain and the whole Middle East.  (check it out @

Three points are worth sharing:

1) Given the US addiction/dependence on Saudi oil, we are compromised when it comes to pushing the tyrants toward reform and freedom.   And even if we could break our dependence, it would take place in a way that would cool down the tepid economic recovery we are beginning to experience. Tom Friedman has been preaching this truth for 10 years: if we want to live into our highest values AND interact for justice in the world, we MUST break our addiction to Saudi oil.  But short-term political realities and economic truths will keep this from happening even though it is in our long-term interest.

2) Given the US support for the freedom movement in Egypt, relations with the Saudis are now at an all time low.  Both Secretary Clinton and Gates have had to cancel planned trips and King Abdullah is maintaining an angry and hostile reaction to Obama's call for modest reform.  For example, one Arab official has said: "King Abdullah will never allow Shia rule in Bahrain - never!" For the Saudis believe this will open Pandora's Box among the Shia minority in their own land.  So, NO reforms are on the table because even tolerance is seen as capitulation.

3) All of which strengthens the role of Iran in the region - another can of worms for both the US and Saudi Arabia - and we no longer trust one another enough to find a way through this impasse.  The Saudis see internal political reform for the Shias as strengthening Iran while the US believes that gradual reform for the Shias is the only way to avoid a full blown revolution. Consequently, both those who seek reform and operatives in Iran who seek to weaken the Shiite majority in Saudi Arabia are finding themselves cast together in a way that could bring a multitude of unintended consequences.

Clearly a US response from the bottom-up is in order - two parts of which are becoming clearer to me as Lent unfolds.

+ First, I need to help my congregation embrace a commitment to environmental action as part of our covenant within God's community.  To break our dependence of Saudi oil - and diminish our carbon foot print - is both an act of justice for those fighting Pharaoh in the Middle East as well as an act of hospitality for generations yet to come.  In today's post from the Ecumenical Carbon Lenten Fast there was this insight:

+ And second our growing understanding of God's radical hospitality within covenant could be strengthened.  Not in an ideological way, but more like this, which is not overtly political but deeply engaged with the issues of our day...


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