Thursday, February 17, 2005

Murder mystery in Iraq

Murder mystery in Iraq
by David Batstone
My friend Kirk von Ackermann has joined the list of American casualties in Iraq. Not that long ago he was designated as "missing." He is now "presumed dead." Suspiciously so.

According to a story in last Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, Kirk disappeared on the afternoon of Oct. 9, 2003, on a deserted road in Iraq that runs between Tikrit and Kirkuk. A tire on his car had gone flat, so he used a satellite phone to call a colleague to request a jack. When his colleague arrived about 45 minutes later, Kirk was nowhere to be found. There was no sign of struggle, not even footprints of possible assailants, which would seem to rule out a ragtag team of Iraqi resistance fighters. Robbery also is out for a motive - Kirk's satellite phone, a laptop computer, and a briefcase containing $40,000 were found left in his car, according to the article.

"It was as if he had been abducted by aliens," Ryan Manelick, another one of Kirk's colleagues in Iraq, told the Chronicle reporter. More like professional assassins, I might add. Manelick and Kirk worked for Ultra Services, a civilian contracting company that supplied U.S. troops in Iraq with essential living services (tents, toilets, etc.) and technology.

That's not the only significant observation Manelick had to make. He also shared with army investigators looking into Kirk's "disappearance" that Kirk was ready to blow the whistle on a kickback scheme that involved business operatives and a U.S. Army officer, according to the article.

Manelick voiced fears for his own safety because he also had divulged details about this scandal. "I'm in fear of my own life," he told the Chronicle reporter. "It's not Iraqis I'm worried about, either," he added. "It's people from my own country." The very next day after the interview, a car pulled up alongside Manelick's 4x4 and a gunner opened fire with a machine gun, according to the article, instantly killing him.

I first met Kirk a couple of years ago on a soccer field in Half Moon Bay, California. I was his son's soccer coach. When Kirk could get off work at his business software company, he would come out to the field to help me out with practices.

As our friendship evolved, Kirk shared with me his background as a former deputy director of intelligence for NATO operations in Kosovo. He told me that he subsequently had worked as a Pentagon advisor on counterterrorism and espionage, and had high-level security clearance. He confessed that he could not share details with me, but he was disturbed by the rise of terrorism internationally and the lack of thoughtful U.S. foreign policy that would nourish democracy and freedom abroad. One thing about Kirk: He was a true believer in the potential for America to do good in the world. In Kosovo, he was convinced that the U.S. presence had helped to stop genocide and build a fragile peace.

When Kirk told me that he was going to Iraq to work with Ultra Services, I could only guess what actual role he would be playing in intelligence and security. Early in April 2003, only weeks after the invasion, he wrote me an e-mail from Iraq, and it was flush with hope of a quick end to the conflict, yet also concern for the long-term destiny of the country:

"As I watch what appears to be the beginning of the conclusion of this conflict in Iraq, I'm struck by something that [I became familiar with] in Bosnia and Kosovo - the children. When I was in the Balkans, I always brought something along for the kids, who had suffered for reasons they simply did not understand. As I look at the Iraqi kids, I realize that [those] in their mid-20s were children when the suffering in Iraq started. After eight years of war with Iran, 12 years of sanctions, and this current war, I wonder what the children of Iraq must be thinking."

In that same e-mail, Kirk solicited my help in thinking through an economic and social development program that would offer Iraqi children a chance to build a new society. I received several e-mails over the ensuing month exuding this same passion to change the tides of an oppressive history.

As the months passed along, however, Kirk began to express a frustration and despair that other American military and business personnel did not share his lofty goals. On Oct. 6, three days before his disappearance, he wrote me the following e-mail:

"The real problem is that - not surprisingly - the [Bush] administration seems to have dramatically overestimated the willingness of corporate America to take the risks of Iraq. Other than myself, there really are no contractors operating in Tikrit, Samarra, Balad, etc.... It cannot be stressed enough that even pro-Saddam Iraqis are not anti-American. They are violently opposed to U.S. occupation forces, but not an individual American. The tribal leader in the city where Saddam was born told me, 'We have our Arab pride, we will fight, we will lose, and then we will move on. No one wanted these days, but these are what we have, although it will not forever be this way.' It's dangerous, but not like Bosnia was."

Kirk obviously could not share with me over e-mail his deeper concerns. Apparently, he was aware of a corruption scam involving U.S. military and corporate services. Perhaps he did not know what real danger he had fallen into from his own people.

My personal connection to a lost American in Iraq adds to my sense of despair over U.S. engagement in Iraq. The smell of rotting fish continues to waft its way out of Iraq - and we catch mere glimpses of the misdirection of billions of dollars passing through the likes of Halliburton, Kellogg Brown & Root, and other less-than-credible corporate enterprises. We need to head down a different road, one driven by integrity.

Kirk worried about the children of Iraq, and their future: He wrote in one of his e-mails to me: "In Bosnia and Kosovo I noticed...the eyes of the kids - knowing that they weren't likely to die anymore, but still so far from hope. Of course, kids are kids and can take a stick and a rock and make up grand adventures, but when war's ravages have subsided it often takes something to reawaken the spirit of belief, especially in young people."

Kirk was right. It is not enough to wave the flags of democracy and freedom. We must live up to their lofty standards.


Mark two years of war with prayers and action

Saturday, March 19, will mark two years since the beginning of the costly U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. As people of faith, we are called to raise prophetic voices for peace and to remember the deadly consequences of war. We are called to hold in prayer all those affected, from Iraqi civilians to our own soldiers, along with the decision-makers in Washington and Baghdad as they attempt to advance a peaceful solution.

Sojourners is sending out an urgent call to action to honor the lives lost and advance the imperative for peace. We ask that you consider organizing an anniversary vigil that weekend in your hometown. We are putting together a downloadable tool kit with everything you need to host a vigil in your church or community center. We will provide worship resources, publicity for your event, and resources to help you get people involved in further action for peace. Vigils can take place anytime over the weekend of March 18-20.

The Questions

The Questions
1. Is there “salvation outside the church?”
2. What can we say about God by looking around us? At nature? At other human beings?
3. How should the less theological, more historical, sections of the Bible be taken? Is it right to make the theological/historical distinction?
4. The “Acts of the Apostles” is about the early Christian church, should the cannon be re-opened as to fill in details about the middle, late Christian church?
5. Should spiritual leaders be celibate? Why? Why not? Should they be both male and female? Why? Why not?
6. Is scripture a discussion or a lecture?
7. Why is God?

A quote

Freedom of speech makes it much easier to spot the idiots.

- Jay Lessig, quoted in the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

This may be the last blog

My computer is dying, so this may be the last blog post you get, at least for a while.

Another valentines day come and gone

Ended up going to "Lovefest" last night at Kyla Coy's house. Basicly a bunch of single people (actually two couples crashed the thing, of course we were using Kyla's house so I suppose you can't say she and Joe crashed it as such) hung out and watched "HAROLD AND MAUDE" a movie about a suicidal 20 something who ends up falling in love with an 80 something holocaust survivor.
Odd that.
Here is a valentines comic for the day.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Sermon

We desert people
Chris Halverson

This Wednesday, this Ash Wednesday we entered the Season of Lent, and so we now enter into the desert, the wilderness. The scattered brush looms large over us like twisted and grasping hands. The craggy cliffs and sand worn slopes peer at us like giant disfigured faces. In the day we cry out for a drink of water, only to find dry sand. At nights the wind howls and bites into us, gnawing into our marrow. The jackals snap their grisly teeth and the desert owls howl a mournful, hopeless, wail. It is like a moonscape, always cloudless. We can see the sun set in the West, even as the moon rises in the East, and we can truly see that we are but dust blown about in the cosmos.
Look, two lone figures stumble into the desert before us, hiding their shameful faces, they are the first exiles, the first people to come to the desert. Adam is torn from Eve, and Eve from Adam. The one flesh has found enmity with itself, and with all of creation. Wife and husband blame each other for their choices, for their sin. They blame the snake for their choices, for their sin. They are exiled from all of creation. And so these two fall away from the garden and come out to this place, shame turning to horror. We are in the desert.
And look, there, there is Cain, hands bloodied, gleaming in the moonlight. Shame sticks to him. He is a fugitive, a wanderer. We are in the desert.
And look, Abraham and Sarah go out from Ur, leaving the safety, the security, the ease of the Chaldes. We are in the desert.
And look, Hagar and Ishmael wander through the heat, abandoned mother abandons child to the elements. We are in the desert.
And look, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, with the Hebrew slaves, come out of Egypt, into the desert. They grumble and complain. They create calf-idols as perches for non-existent gods even as the Great I AM provides for them, and leads them. Even the wise Moses gets impatient and is banished from the Promised Land. We are in the desert.
And look, there, there are the Northern Tribes, scattered by Assyrian might. They are caught up in the desert wind, and disappear into the heat. We are in the desert.
And look, the Exiles, lead off by mighty Babylon, cower in terror as they contemplate their fate. They are forced to leave their family behind, forced to leave their land behind, forced to leave, in chains. We are in the desert.

Even as we call out the prayer of Jesus, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are lead by the Spirit into this desert, this temptation. Yet, look up there, Jesus too is here. Jesus too was lead into temptation by the Father, and he too is here in the desert, with us.
God forces us here, to this desert, with Jesus, tempted by the Tempter himself, for good reason. In our temptations, in our trials, in the pains and sufferings of this life, we can do nothing except cling to our hope in God. Our family will fail us, our friends will fail us, our ideologies will fail us, our own bodies will fail us; out here in the desert only God will not fail us. It is said that during forty years of wandering in the desert the Hebrews had nothing, God provided everything, their sandals didn’t wear out, God provided food from heaven, and made drinking water gush up from the ground.
In this desert of Temptation the question is begged, the answer asked for, and we are forced to take a stand. The desert sand strips us of our pretensions and heming and hawing and maybes. We have no choice except to stand firm before the power of Sin, Death, and the Devil, and say, as Martin Luther said, "Hie stehe ich; ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen," that is, “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Today Jesus is confronted by the Devil. Is this not the temptation of Eve and Adam? Their temptation, “led to condemnation for all,” and yet, through Jesus’ standing up to the Devil and the resistance of temptation, “the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.” Jesus is standing against original sin itself. On this Lenten evening He is beginning a salvific wave that culminates in His Easter resurrection, rippling through all things, destroying the hold of Sin upon this world, that this desert may be watered and become Eden.
The Tempter says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” If you will remember Jesus does end up doing miracles with bread, he feeds the five thousand. The difference, though, between the feeding of the five thousand and what Jesus is tempted to do now is that here in the Wilderness Jesus would be feeding himself. That would be selfishness, and greed. Jesus stands for a radical other centered love; “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” and, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” This is the Jesus who we follow. Who we seek to emulate. We don’t proclaim Satan’s plaything, shoveling gobs of bread down his gullet, but the Son of God.
The Tempter takes Jesus to the center of the temple, where the people and the pious could see him, and says, “If you are the Son of God throw yourself down.” He wants a haughty Jesus, arrogantly floating into Jerusalem with the wailing of a thousand angels, and a prideful swagger to his step. He wants a Jesus who can be turned into a spectacle for the people, a toy for the crowd, that will leave the people in awe, then be thrown away when he ceases to amuse. But instead Jesus says unfashionable things that make him hated. He does not yield to the will of the crowd, but says to God “your will be done.” This is the Jesus we follow. Who we seek to emulate. We don’t proclaim a Christ of popularity, but the Son of God.
The Tempter shows Jesus the Empires, the kingdoms, the powers and principalities, the political machines of all the earth and says, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Satan wants Jesus to be a Messiah of this world, offering him raw, unadulterated power. This power itself is an idol, believing that somehow we have transcended dust and now rule our own fate, that we are our own god. In standing up against Satan Jesus is standing against Idolatry and Power. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war-horse, he saved his people not by becoming Rambo and storming Rome, but by suffering and death. Jesus says, “if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Jesus stands for humility, even humiliation, even to death. This is the Jesus we follow. Who we seek to emulate. Not a powerful politician promising dreams and schemes, but the Son of God.
Look though, Jesus does more than stand against Satan, he also stands for God. The Spirit of God has already proclaimed him Son; the Son of God has nothing to prove to Satan. He refuses to be defined by the measures of Satan. Each time that serpentine tongue slithers and speaks Jesus has a response. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” “Do not put the LORD your God to the test.” And “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Every response goes back to God. In every temptation we face may we do the same, go back to God.
Here in the desert, relationships are broken, pains are suffered, lives are lost, and we can do nothing except cling to God. Yet, that is the hope, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Though we be bedraggled, tempted, banished sinners crawling through the desert, God has done a new thing in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and we have found a transcendent oasis.
In this desert, this Lent, with the whole people of God from every time and place, from Eden to the Exile, let us be stripped bare to the foundations of our faith. Toss away Greed, Power, Idols, Spectacle, and cling only to God. Make straight the path into the desert, through the desert, always to God.

I hate to say it, but I feel like my ideas got a bit disorganized, but I think this is pretty much the sermon I'm going to preach in the morning. I feel like I am leaning too much on Rhetorical tricks.
Good night, and Peace,