Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Debunking Paul Johnson's Gay Reading of Song of Songs

One of the most consistently popular posts at The Wild Reed is the April 2, 2008 post "Song of Songs: The Bible's Gay Love Poem." In this post I reprint a review by Jim Kepner (from the International Gay and Lesbian Review) of Dr. Paul R. Johnson’s out-of-print book, The Song of Songs, A Gay Love Poem (Fidelity Press, 1995).

Recently, "Michael," an artist, calligrapher, and translator of Hebrew poetry (who blogs at About Soul and Gone), took to task Johnson's interpretation of the Song of Songs. Rather than let Michael's well-written and informed critique of what he careful shows is Johnson's fraudulent interpretation languish in the comments section of a six-year-old post, I thought I'd share it in a post of its own. I should also say that Michael's critique is not driven by any anti-gay agenda. Rather, as a scholar and translator, he is simply opposed to "specious 'research' and flagrant mistranslation."

Accordingly, I think it's important to share his scholarship. Truth is best, after all. And as Michael eloquently notes, we need to "make cases for just causes based on their justice, not mistranslation of ancient poetry. Doing otherwise is a disservice to both justice and literature."

Here then, with a few added links, is Michael's response to Paul Johnson's gay reading of the Song of Songs.

I'm admittedly six years late to this particular party, but I stumbled upon someone using a horrific mistranslation of the Song of Songs to counter an online homophobe, and traced it back to [your April 2, 2008 post, "Song of Songs: The Bible's Gay Love Poem"]. While countering homophobia is an admirable goal, and I find Christian abuse of Hebrew literature to serve hateful ends more painful than almost anybody, [the] specious "research" and flagrant mistranslation [of Rev. Dr. Paul Johnson contained in this post] is also an abuse, and does nobody fighting the good fight any favors. I am loath to engage in Internet feuds, but it pains me that people are out there patting themselves on the back for finding a bad, agenda-ed translation of my personal favorite poem.

I speak Hebrew and have degrees in both the Hebrew language and Jewish studies, which includes a whole lot of textual history as well as linguistics, and translate Hebrew poetry and literature for a living. I have not read the book in question, but based on [the] description [shared], it is certainly a fraud.

No fragments of the Song of Songs found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (there are only four minute fragments: 4Q106, 4Q107, 4Q108 and 6Q6) differ from the Masoretic text, nor do they disprove any of the informed theories regarding its provenance (although since public and scholarly understandings of the Scrolls are wildly divergent, it's easy to fabricate research as long as you're not writing for an expert audience). While opinions vary, as they do in everything related to Biblical scholarship, almost no scholar would date the song to the tenth century BCE. Its language, which includes Persian loanwords, indicates a likely composition in the period of Persian rule over Judea (the sixth to fourth centuries BCE). The presence of Aramaisms in the Hebrew, considered in conjunction with the Persian words, also indicate a late date as far as Biblical texts. Trust me, if you speak Hebrew, the language of the Song is highly distinct from Biblical texts written earlier.

If you'd like to read a serious, agenda-free, peer-reviewed study of the Song's likely literary antecedents (Egyptian and other Near Eastern love poetry, generally heterosexual) by an actual scholar of the Hebrew Bible, check out Michael V. Fox's The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs. Also try Marvin Pope's Song of Songs.

As far as other claims listed:

"Asher" is a relative pronoun, not a preposition (it is also a name, but the context in which it appears precludes that possibility). The line is שיר השירים אשר לשלמה - shir ha-shirim 'asher li-shlomoh, which is slightly ambiguous because of the preposition ל. It could mean either "The Song of Songs which is Solomon's" or "The Song of Songs which is for Solomon." Likely this is the author attributing it to a prominent historical figure to add a certain cachet to the text, which was a very common practice both among ancient Jews and in the wider Hellenistic world. (Confusing a relative pronoun, a preposition and a proper name should be your first clue that Johnson has no real knowledge of Hebrew.)

There is no neuter in Hebrew. It is a strictly gendered language (note that, as anybody who's taken Intro to Linguistics should be able to tell you, grammatical gender and biological gender have nothing to do with one another, it's just a term used in linguistics to describe a certain system of grammatical inflection, one of many). The language of the Song indicates a dialogue between, largely, a male and a female speaker, with occasional interjections from a different speaker, perhaps serving as something like a Greek chorus. It is extremely easy for anyone with a basic knowledge of Hebrew to distinguish the gender of a speaker and the gender (and number) of the object of a sentence, as all that information is reflected in pronouns and inflections of verbs and adjectives. No Hebrew scholar would "admit," parenthetically or otherwise, that both speakers of the Song are male, because it's simply not in the text.

"Yet all modern versions except that by Rev. Dr. Johnson make it appear as a heterosexual love drama." This should tell you something. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and all but one scholar forcefully assert that it is a duck, it's probably not a mongoose.

This is the text of the passage quoted, which, despite what Johnson says, is unequivocally the oldest version anyone has of the Song of Songs:

מה יפו דדיך אחתי כלה מה טבו דדיך מיין וריח שמניך מכל בשמים. נפת תטפנה שפתותיך כלה דבש וחלב תחת לשונך וריח שלמתיך כריח לבנון

(Mah yafu dodhayikh, aḥothi kallah, mah tovu dodhayikh mi-yayin we-reiaḥ shemanayikh mi-kol besamim. Nofeth titofnah sifthothayikh kallah, devash we-ḥalav taḥath leshoneikh we-reiaḥ salmothayikh ke-reiaḥ levanon.)

I don't even know where to truly begin with the translation posted, other than to say the text quoted is very unambiguous. "How pleasant is your lovemaking, my sister, bride, how much better than wine, and the scent of your oils [is better] than all perfumes. Your lips drip honey, bride, honey and milk are under your tongue, and the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon."

Caleh is not an attested Hebrew name (unless it were a masculine name meaning "impermanent," which it isn't). The word is kallah, and it means "bride." Or occasionally "daughter-in-law."

One cannot simply invent "Dead Sea fragments" in order to come up with a translation that would make any Hebrew speaker or Biblical scholar groan and shake his or her head (and I promise, Johnson has not consulted with a single genuine Hebrew scholar, and if he did, they laughed, not "reluctantly concede[d] the validity of his revolutionary word-for-word translation"). The Masoretes did not produce a homophobic text. They also did not produce a homophilic text. They reproduced a lovely poem about youthful, heterosexual erotic love.

(Also, there is no "clear naming of this thing" - any thing - "going into that thing." The Song is erotic, but it is also circumspect.)

If you want a poetic but also informed translation of the Song by Hebrew-literate Jewish scholars, try Chana and Ariel Bloch's wonderful version. If you'd like to read some brilliant Hebrew poetry that genuinely flouts heteronormativity, try the Jewish poets of al-Andalus, who wrote in love poems to men and boys in the Arabic mold.

What you've got here is not translation. It's fanfiction. Make cases for just causes based on their justice, not mistranslation of ancient poetry. Doing otherwise is a disservice to both justice and literature.

And kids, always check your sources.


Thank you, Michael, for sharing your expertise in response to Johnson's misreading of Song of Songs.

Image: "The Song of Solomon" (detail) by He Qi.

Photo of the Day

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In Summer Light
Photo of the Day – August 11, 2014
Helianthus annuus
Summer Blooms
Summer Blooms II
In the Garden of Spirituality

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Catholics Make Their Voices Heard on LGBTQ Issues

I conclude this year's Queer Appreciation series with a post that really should have concluded last year's series. Oh, well, better late than never.

Let me explain by first saying that CPCSM, the organization for which I've serve as executive coordinator since 2003, did not have a presence at this year's Twin Cities Gay Pride. This was due to a number of factors, the main one being that we're in the process of disbanding the organization.

Basically, the board feels that CPCSM (which stands for the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities) has run its course. We've accomplished some incredible things in our 33-year history, including groundbreaking LGBT sensitivity training in local parishes in the 1980s; safe staff training in eight of the eleven Catholic high schools in the 1990s; publication of the first (and to date only) safe staff training manual for Catholic high schools in 2007; and the forming of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN initiative in 2010, which played an important role in defeating the anti-marriage equality amendment of 2012,  paving the way for marriage equality in Minnesota in 2013. There's still work to be done, but we're confident that both Dignity Twin Cities and the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (which CPCSM helped co-found in 2009) are more than able to carry forward many aspects of CPCSM's mission and work.

We did have a presence at last year's Twin Cities Pride. It was a celebratory presence (as this previous Wild Reed post attests) and one which involved not only our celebrating marriage equality in Minnesota, but also our surveying of visitors who stopped at our festival booth. Specifically, we invited those who visited us to complete a questionnaire so as to help us discern the future of CPCSM.

As a result of the feedback we received, the board of CPCSM, as noted above, decided that the time has come for the organization to fold. I'll say more about this later, but first here are the questions we asked and the responses we received.


Two hundred and twenty people completed our questionnaire. Here’s how they identified themselves (using as many of the following descriptors as they deemed appropriate):

• Catholic – 136
• Straight – 58
• Non-practicing Catholic – 42
• Lesbian – 35
• Former Catholic – 24
• Gay – 22
• Bisexual – 15
• Queer – 3
• Transgender – 2
• Other* – 20

* Included: Protestant (x3); Old Catholic (x2); Human; United Methodist; Charismatic/Evangelical; LDS; Recovering Catholic; Lutheran; Non-Catholic, Ally; UU; Unitarian; Atheist; Mother of a gay son; Christian; Discerning Catholic; Non-Catholic member of a Catholic family.

Question 1: What do you think is the most pressing area of concern for LGBTQ people in the Roman Catholic Church?

Overwhelmingly, responders said lack of acceptance (also lack of ‘tolerance,’ ‘love,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘recognition,’ ‘listening,’ ‘compassion,’ ‘dialogue,’ ‘support,’ ‘welcome’). Some noted that this lack of acceptance was from parish communities, though most said it was from the hierarchy (the ‘big church,’ the ‘institution,’ the ‘bishops.’).

Other areas of concern included:
• Equality
• Sacramental marriage
• Bishops’ anti-gay political activism around civil marriage and anti-bullying legislation
• Discrimination/prejudice
• Visibility
• Women’s rights
• Anti-gay Biblical passages
• Anti-gay preaching
• Honesty when dealing with issues of sexuality
• The misconception that gay is wrong and a sin
• Ending hierarchical power politics
• Being disowned by one’s parish
• Shared governance within the church
• Conflict resolution
• Homophobia of hierarchy
• Difference between clergy and laity

Question 2: How would you describe your relationship to the Church?

• Very active (31)
• Non-existent (13)
• Distant (12)
• Attend regularly, disagree on many social issues (12)
• Strained (9)
• Good (7)
• Strong (5)
• Went when younger, not as much anymore (5)
• Not active (4)
• Angry (4)
• Somewhat active (3)
• Haven’t found an accepting church (2)
• Faithful Catholic (2)
• Withdrawn (2)
• Challenging (2)

Other responses included: Have many Catholic friends; Just an outside viewer; The body of the church is excellent but I don’t like the top; Only attend Mass on holidays; Used to be close, but not anymore; Go to church when told but do not feel connected; Back after taking a year off; Could be better; Not strong; Seminary student; Belong to an amazing church community but the church as a whole makes me nervous; A progressive Vatican II Catholic who is active in social justice ministry, Call to Action, and CCCR; Uncomfortable; Controversial; Attended Catholic school; Love the individual, not too proud of the “organization”; Very religious; Former Catholic, now Lutheran; Generally believe most principles; Strongly against the gay lifestyle; Open/honest; Happily divorced and looking for a post divorced friendship; Practicing Catholic; Bad; In progress; Left the church because of the discrimination; Semi-practicing; Precarious; Left the church and joined a welcoming non-Catholic congregation; Catholic but distant from hierarchy; Poor; Do not like how closed-minded the church tends to be; God is #1 and the Church is the path to God; Was brought up in the Church and denied acceptance from parents for being transgender; Disgusted; More spiritual than religious; Close but concerned with the leadership; Uneven – the church does some good things and some not-so-good; Atheist; Do not feel welcome; Painful; Safe, warm environment; Cold – because of how gays are treated; Skeptical; Love Jesus and the message but the church is full of old white men who have no idea; I work for the church.

Question 3: Where do you currently find affirmation and spiritual nourishment?

• Church (51)
• Prayer (23)
• Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis (13)
• Nature (11)
• Family (11)
• Friends (11)
• St. Joan of Arc, Minneapolis (10)
• Pax Christi, Eden Prairie (7)
• Nowhere (7)
• Home (5)
• Meditation (5)
• The Bible (5)
• Music (4)
• Self-reflection (4)
• Reading (3)
• Community (2)
• Personal relationship with God (2)
• Yoga (2)
• Youth group (2)
• Myself (2)

Others responses included: Dignity Boston; Unity Church in Golden Valley; Lutheran Church; St. Olaf Catholic Church, Minneapolis; God; St. Michael Catholic Church, St. Michael, MN; AA; Recovery program; Exercise; St. Catherine University; Spirit of Hope Catholic Community; Science; Cathedral of St. Paul; Love.

Question 4: What are the issues you would like CPCSM to focus on in the future:

• Sacramental marriage for LGBTQ Catholics (135)
• Anti-bullying (130)
• Issues relating to wider church reform, such as women’s ordination (122)
• Establishment of alternative forms of (and venues for) worship and pastoral support (98)
• LGBTQ civil rights issues such as immigration reform (70)
• Transgender issues (45)
• Other* (19)

* Included: Acceptance (x4); Welcoming of openly gay people to the sacraments, including Eucharist (x2); Keeping our LGBT kids feeling whole and worthy of God’s love; Disability access – full inclusion of people with disabilities; “Get rid of the Archbishop”; Reconciling Catholicism to the fact that gay people exist; Parish-based programs of welcome; Poverty issues.


It's interesting, don't you think, that the number one issue that folks want CPCSM to work on is sacramental marriage for LGBTQ Catholics? Personally, I have absolutely no desire to work on this issue, and having recently worked on securing civil marriage rights for LGBTQ couples in Minnesota, the CPCSM board is also reluctant to now take on the Catholic hierarchy on this particular issue. Besides, and I speak for myself here, I don't need the blessing of the hierarchy if and when I marry the man I love. Still, it's clearly important for many LGBTQ Catholics, and something that is no doubt connected to the "lack of acceptance" many identified as the "most pressing area of concern."

The second issue that people said they'd like to see CPCSM work on was anti-bullying in schools. We've been involved in such work for some time, dating back to our safe staff training initiative in local Catholic high schools in the mid-late 1990s, and culminating in the 2007 publication of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective (which I edited and in large part wrote). Also, earlier this year the Minnesota legislature passed the Safe and Supportive Schools bill, a bill that CPCSM supported. Of course, thanks to intense lobbying from the Minnesota bishops, Catholic schools are exempt from the anti-bullying policies enacted when the bill become law. Still, many believe (or at least hope) that in time the shift in the wider society around this issue will impact the climate of Catholic schools. Also, as documented here, a leading local Catholic voice in challenging the bishops' hostility toward legislation ensuring safe and supportive schools for LGBTQ students was the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). The CPCSM board trusts that CCCR's informed and respectful advocacy on this issue will continue.

Issues relating to wider church reform, identified as important by those surveyed by CPCSM at last year's Gay Pride festival, are also very much being covered by CCCR. In particular, CCCR is working on ensuring lay participation in the selection of our next archbishop. As for the establishment of alternative forms of (and venues for) worship and pastoral support, another identified need, we have in the Twin Cities one of the most vibrant examples of this: Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community. Not surprising, Spirit of St. Stephens is hosting the 2015 national gathering of Intentional Eucharistic Communities. So, again, the CPCSM board feels that yet another local group has already assumed leadership in an area important to LGBTQ Catholics.

We hope to have some sort of celebration of the history and accomplishments of CPCSM in the fall. Once plans for this have been finalized I'll post them here at The Wild Reed, as well as at The Progressive Catholic Voice and at Sensus Fidelium, CPCSM's blogsite.

For previous posts in The Wild Reed's 2014 Queer Appreciation series, see:
Same-Sex Desires: "Immanent and Essential Traits Transcending Time and Culture"
Lisa Leff on Five Things to Know About Transgender People
Steven W. Thrasher on the Bland and Misleading "Gay Inc" Treatment of the Struggle to Overturn Prop 8
Chris Mason Johnson's Test: A Film that "Illuminates Why Queer Cinema Still Matters"
Sister Teresa Forcades on Queer Theology
Omar Akersim: Muslim and Gay

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Even in This Darkness"

I know you are thinking of me and praying for me. And I am so thankful. I feel you all especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.

From a message memorized in June by a fellow captive later freed,
and printed in the article, "Foley Describes Captivity in Letter to Family"
Associated Press
August 24, 2014

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
James Foley: "Prayer Was the Glue That Enabled My Freedom, An Inner Freedom"

Related Off-site Links:
James Foley's Family Shares His Hopeful Final Letter – Polly Mosendz (The Wire, August 25, 2014).
Bishop: Slain US Journalist Foley Opened Our Eyes – Jeff McMenemy (Associated Press, August 24, 2014).
James Foley: Focus on Humanity Amid Suffering – Dave Clark (AFP, August 20, 2014).
What My Friend Jim Foley Taught Me to Question – Jessica Desvarieux (The Real News via YouTube, August 20, 2014).
James Foley on the Power of Prayer – Frank Weathers (Patheos, August 19, 2014).
Remembering James Foley's Remarkable Faith – Antonia Blumberg (The Huffington Post, August 20, 2014).
Faith, Prayer Sources of Strength for Slain U.S. Journalist, His Family – Catholic News Service (August 20, 2014).
Priest Comforts Foley Family After Killing of JournalistCatholic Herald (August 20, 2014).
Pope Phones Family of Slain U.S. Journalist – Francis X. Rocca (Catholic News Service, August 21, 2014).
British Intelligence Reportedly IDs James Foley's Executioner – Dashiell Bennett (The Wire, August 24, 2014).
ISIS, Hip-Hop Jihadists and the Man Who Killed James Foley – Christopher Dickey (The Daily Beast, August 25, 2014).
One Big Question Surrounds The Murder of U.S. Journalist James Foley by ISIS – Michael B. Kelley (Business Insider, August 25, 2014).
Top Islamic Authority: Extremists Are No "Islamic State" – Sarah El Deeb (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 24, 2014).
Top Sunni Cleric Says Stop Calling Terrorists "Islamic" – Patrick Goodenough (CNS News, August 25, 2014).

Image: Candles are lighted on the town common during a vigil for James Foley in his hometown of Rochester, N.H., Saturday, August 23, 2014. Foley, a freelance photojournalist, was killed earlier in the week by Islamic State militants. He was abducted in November 2012 while covering the civil war in Syria. (Photo: AP/Jim Cole)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

James Foley: "Prayer Was the Glue That Enabled My Freedom, An Inner Freedom"

"Prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom,
an inner freedom . . ."

Photojournalist James Foley wrote these words in 2011, when reflecting on the 44 days he and two others were held captive in Libya. He went on to say that prayer, in this instance, also enabled "the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us." He acknowledged that such a turn-of-events made no sense, but that faith did.

Shortly after his return to the U.S. from Libya, Foley, who was raised Catholic and graduated from Marquette University in 1996, visited and spoke to members of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, his family's parish in Rochester, New Hampshire. "I knew you were praying for me," he told the community.

Foley soon returned to the Middle East, though not before raising $12,000 for the Syrian American Medical Society. On November 22, 2012, he was abducted while reporting for GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse on the ongoing civil war in Syria. For almost two years nothing was heard from him, although one source says that he was "moved a number of times and passed through the hands of various captors."

Didier Francois, a veteran French war correspondent who was held with Foley for nine months before being released with three other French hostages in April, told the Reuters news agency that Foley "was an extraordinary person with a strong character. He was a pleasant companion in detention because he was solid and collective. He never gave in to the pressure and violence of the kidnappers."

Another released Frenchmen, Nicolas Henin, told France's Express magazine that Foley had been treated worse than the other captives, after militants searched his computer and discovered his brother was in the U.S. Air Force. "Because of that and as he was American he got extra bad treatment. He became the whipping boy of the jailers, but he remained implacable," said Henin.

The uncertainty and silence surrounding Foley's fate was tragically broken this past Tuesday when a gruesome video was posted online showing him being beheaded by a masked member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Notes the New York Times:

Titled “A Message to America,” the video shows [Foley] kneeling in a desert landscape, clad in an orange jumpsuit — an apparent reference to the uniforms worn by prisoners at the American military detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Standing to his left is a masked ISIS fighter, who begins speaking in English, with what sounds like an East London accent. Pulling out a knife, he says that Mr. Foley’s execution is in retaliation for the recent American airstrikes ordered by President Obama against the extremist group in Iraq. . . . [After Foley's decapitation] the video concludes with the fighter threatening to kill Steven Sotloff, another American freelance journalist, who was being held alongside Mr. Foley. Mr. Sotloff is seen kneeling in the same position, in the same landscape and wearing the same style of orange-colored jumpsuit. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” the fighter says.

The Obama administration has confirmed the authenticity of the video, and the Foley family has paid tribute to their son, noting that James was "a martyr, a martyr for freedom."

John and Diane Foley also praised their son's "deep courage" and his passion for reporting from the front lines. John Foley said that his son always sought to "humanize" the people and the struggles he witnessed. "He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," Diane Foley added.

In London, Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, who worked alongside James in 2011, echoed Diane Foley's sentiments, noting that James had shone "a light into . . . dark places where dictators thrive."

In paying tribute to her friend and colleague, Real News reporter Jessica Desvarieux recounted how "Jim wanted to speak to the [Syrian] people so that we would get a sense of what's really going on. . . . He wanted to share with the world [their] stories."

James Foley himself told the BBC in 2012 that, "I'm drawn to trying to explore the untold stories. I'm drawn to the human rights side. . . . So many of the reporters are. . . . That's the inspiring thing about it."

These words of James' remind me of broadcast journalist Amy Goodman's contention that journalism, and the listening and sharing of other people's stories that it involves, is a "sacred responsibility."

Since news broke about James Foley's death I've been drawn to his story and, in particular, the role that prayer played in his life and the life of his family.

After the ordeal that he and his two colleagues experienced in Libya, for instance, he wrote of how during his time of captivity he had come to trust "some cosmic reach of the universe" to help him connect with his loved ones, his mother in particular. Drawing on his Catholic upbringing, James used the praying of the rosary to facilitate this experience of communication and connection.

Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

James' words bring to mind those of Catholic theologian Michael Morwood. You may recall that just yesterday I shared an excerpt from Morwood's book It's Time. The focus of this particular excerpt was on "the Divine Presence," Morwood's term for the ancient spiritual understanding of God "always here, always and everywhere active in an expanding universe."

Of course, if God, the Divine Presence, is indeed "always and everywhere active," then those open to this presence and action are always connected to one another in a profoundly beautiful and mysterious way, one that not even death can put a stop to. I also believe that regardless of whether or not we acknowledge or recognize it, we are all held within, and connected with all creation through, the Divine Presence.

Prayer doesn't create this connection, this mystical oneness, as it's already and always there. What prayer can and does do, however, is attune us to and heighten our awareness of this wondrous connection. Through prayer we open ourselves to what author James Conlon describes as the "embrace of divine energy that enfolds our presence and heals our pain." It's an embrace that, as James Foley and his loved ones experienced, holds us together and provides strength, courage and mercy – a mercy which we can, like Jesus, extend even to those who grievously hurt us. I was quite moved and inspired to hear James' mother, Diane, say in an interview that in the wake of her son's murder she is praying (and asking others to pray) that she doesn't become bitter. "I don't want to hate," she says.

I hope and pray that throughout the duration of James Foley's imprisonment in Syria and right up to the moment of his death and his entering fully into the Divine Presence, that he knew that "inner freedom" he spoke about during his previous captivity in Libya. I hope and pray that he knew liberation from all that sought to undermine or break his sustaining connection, his relationship, with God; that he experienced the strength and love of the Divine Presence and thus of his family who, though half the world away, were still very much connected to him . . . and will always remain connected to him.

I purposefully chose not to include in this post any stills from the video of James' execution. As brave as he was in the moments leading up to his death, depictions of him bound and next to the psychopath who would soon brutally murder him is not how I wish to remember James Foley.

Instead I share some of the images that James took while doing what he loved most: documenting and humanizing the people and struggles he encountered while reporting on the front lines of various conflicts in the Middle East. These photos are from that part of James' Facebook page that is open to the public. They were taken in Iraq in 2008 and 2009, and show what a gifted photojournalist and perceptive human being James Foley was.

May his spirit be one with the transforming love that is the Divine Presence.

Related Off-site Links:
American Killed in Syria a Journalist to the Core – Rik Stevens (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 19, 2014).
James Foley: Focus on Humanity Amid Suffering – Dave Clark (AFP, August 20, 2014).
James Foley Remembered as "Brave and Tireless" Journalist – Brian Stelter (CNN, August 21, 2014).
For James Foley, Covering Combat Zones a "Siren Song," Despite Time Jailed in Libya Prison – Sasha Goldstein (New York Daily News, August 19, 2014).
James Foley and the Last Journalists in Syria – Uri Friedman (The Atlantic, August 19, 2014).
Why Did Islamic State Militants Execute James Foley? – Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor, August 20, 2014).
Militants Use British Killer as Propaganda – Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
British Muslims Blame Jihadi Subculture After Beheading Video – Kate Holton and Raheem Salman (Reuters, August 21, 2014).
Identifying James Foley's Executioner Seen as Possible, if Difficult – Christopher Werth (Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2014).
James Foley's Parents: "He Was a Martyr, a Martyr for Freedom" – Dylan Stableford (Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
James Foley's Parents: "He Was Courageous to the End"CBS News (August 20, 2014).
Foley Describes Captivity in Letter to Family – Associated Press (August 24, 2014).
Slain Journalist's Employer Publishes E-mail to Family from Islamic State – Reuters via Yahoo! News (August 21, 2014).
In Case of Slain Journalist, Negotiations, Silence, Then a Chilling Warning – Warren Strobel and John Irish (Reuters, August 21, 2014).
From Daniel Pearl to James Foley: The Modern Tactic of Islamist Beheadings – Adam Taylor (The Washington Post, August 20, 2014).
After James Foley Murder, An Effort to Stamp Out Jihadi Twitter Accounts – Elizabeth Dickinson (Christian Science Monitor, August 20, 2014).
Officials: U.S. Rescue Mission Failed – Julie Pace (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
How the U.S. and Europe Failed James Foley – David Rohde (The Atlantic, August 20, 2014).
Foley Captors' Ransom Demand Revives Debate Over U.S. No-pay Policy – Ariel Zirulnick (Christian Science Monitor, August 21, 2014).
The Race to Save James Foley: The Inside Story – Cassandra Vinograd (NBC News, August 21, 2014).
James Foley’s Brother: The U.S. Could Have Done More for Jim – Liz Goodwin (Yahoo! News, August 22, 2014).
Reporter’s Execution Could Unleash U.S. Against ISIS – Rob Garver (The Fiscal Times via Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
Obama's Mission Against ISIS Just Fundamentally Changed – Brett LoGiurato (Business Insider via Yahoo! Finance, August 21, 2014).
White House Calls Foley Killing "A Terrorist Attack Against Our Country" Russell Berman (The Wire via Yahoo! News, August 22, 2014).
Jim Foley, Faith, and Heroic Journalism – Sarah Christian (Millennial, August 20, 2014).
Remembering James Foley's Remarkable Faith – Antonia Blumberg (The Huffington Post, August 20, 2014).
Faith, Prayer Sources of Strength for Slain U.S. Journalist, His Family – Catholic News Service (August 20, 2014).
Priest Comforts Foley Family After Killing of JournalistCatholic Herald (August 20, 2014).
Pope Phones Family of Slain U.S. Journalist – Francis X. Rocca (Catholic News Service, August 21, 2014).
Bishop: James Foley Opened Our Eyes – Jeff McMenemy (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 24, 2014).
James Foley, Marquette ’96, Writing on the Power of Prayer – Frank Weathers (Patheos, August 19, 2014).
James Foley Speaks to Students About Journalism, Courage and What Inspires Him (2011) – Republished August 20, 2014 at The Huffington Post.
1,071 Murdered Since 1992: More Must Be Done to Protect Journalists Like James Foley – Howard Tumber (The Conversation, August 21, 2014).
Top Islamic Authority: Extremists Are No "Islamic State" – Sarah El Deeb (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 24, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"
Karl Rahner on the Need for Prayer
Prayer: Both a Consolation and a Demand
Be Just in My Heart
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence

One of the books I'm currently reading is Michael Morwood's It's Time: Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith, a book that focuses on the crisis of faith confronting Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular. In response to this crisis, Morwood proposes that we discard institutional claims of unique access to a heavenly deity, replace it with a twenty-first century understanding of the Divine Presence permeating the universe, and focus on Jesus as the human expression of that Presence.

I must admit I resonate with much of what Morwood says, and found it interesting that his writings on the Divine Presence mirror my thoughts on prayer as articulated in a number of recent The Wild Reed posts. (See, for example, here and here.)

Following is the first of three excerpts from the chapter of It's Time that focuses on the Divine Presence.

It is time to take seriously what Christianity has always proclaimed: that this Mysterious Presence we call "God" is everywhere and is beyond all our human concepts. It is time to make a significant shift in our understanding of "God." It is time to shift from notions of a deity to an understanding and appreciation of the Divine Presence always here, always and everywhere active in an expanding universe and in the evolution of life on this planet.

Institutional religion's resistance to this shift is understandable because it has significant investment in the notion of an elsewhere deity. That notion of God underpins the Creed and Church doctrines about God, about Jesus and about humanity's relationship with God. It is the notion of God on which Church authority depends to justify the claim that it has unique access to God through the resurrection of Jesus. It is the notion of God in our scriptures: a heavenly deity who reacts, plans, has definite opinions, intervenes, controls, and sends His Son from heaven to earth. It is the notion of God that Church leadership uses to claim that its authority stems from a "divinely conferred commission." It is the notion of God that Church leadership relies in its claim to know the express views of God on important issues.

While this resistance is understandable, it is lamentable. Christianity has traditionally proclaimed belief in the everywhere presence of God, an everywhere Presence holding and sustaining everything in existence. The shift being proposed here is rooted in fidelity to this belief, in being ready to explore its implications for Christian faith, and most importantly, in the desire to understand the person and message of Jesus in the light of what we know today about our universe, rather than the worldview of two thousand years ago.

The shift starts with considering the age and size of the universe in which we live, and with what it means to say that the Divine Presence is everywhere, holding and sustaining everything in existence. What does it mean to believe that there is no outside of this Presence? And how can we best discern this Mystery present and active in everything that exists?

If this presence is everywhere, "charging" and holding everything in existence, we should be able to discern the Presence through examining how the universe unfolds. It makes eminent sense, then, to go to the scientific world and discover the basic, universal patterns of operation in the emergence and expansion of the universe and in the development of life on earth. These patterns of operation can and should be our contemporary pointers to the Presence. They will point us well beyond the "God" of scripture and doctrine to an awesome Mystery in which we live and move and to which we give human expression.

What is the "big picture" contemporary science paints for us about how the universe expands and develops that would help us discern and appreciate the Divine Presence through all and in all?

To be continued.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Garden of Spirituality – Michael Morwood
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
A Return to the Spirit
The Onward Call

Recommended Off-site Links:
Michael Morwood for Pope? – Michael Dowd (The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity,December 17, 2010).
From Sand to Solid Ground: An Interview with Michael MorwoodCatholica (2008).

Image: "Spiral Speak" by Sam Brown.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

Without really meaning to, Kate Bush has stood for many things. She has stood for English pop as a discrete idiom, sheared free of its American roots. She has stood firmly for artistic independence in the face of corporate will, by standing up to record-company bosses and by forming her own management and publishing companies at an age most of us are prepared to swallow whatever trickles down. She has stood for privacy in the face of presumption by the media. She has stood, fiercely, against the sexual objectification of women as an industrial norm. She has maintained the conviction that one's first duty is to one's own artistic muse, and she has done it as if it were all in a day's work and not a continuation of her work by other, self-dramatizing, means.

. . . It's quite hard now to recall with any sort of completeness the context of her advent in 1978, at the height of disco and punk and at the tail end of the English art-rock sensibility, which favored style, performance and smart ideas over the American pop verities of personal authenticity, songwriting and musical discipline. She didn't, at the time, come off like the illegitimate daughter of Bowie, Roxy and the Sensational Alex Harvey, any more than she fit the herky-jerky street-art model proposed by the incipient New Wave. She was way too literary, polished and home-bound for that, and she was waywardly, Romantically stubborn, like a devoted Noel Streatfeild heroine: overtly middle class, when "middle class" were two dirty words. She was always an outlier.

– Nick Coleman
Quoted in "The Inimitable Kate Bush"
The Independent
August 17, 2014

Kate Bush's series of 'Before the Dawn' concerts will take place from August 26, 2014 at the Eventim Apollo, London.

To listen to "Misty," a track from Kate's latest album, 2011's 50 Words for Snow, click here.

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
My Hero: Kate Bush – Jeanette Winterson (The Guardian, August 22, 2014).
An Encore 35 Years in the Making: Kate Bush Fans Travel to See Rare Concerts in London – Melena Ryzik (The New York Times, August 22, 2014).
Famous Fans Explain What Makes Kate Bush So Brilliant – Vicky Carroll (The Big Issue, August 22, 2014).
Kate Bush: 'Before the Dawn' Signals a New Era for Pop's Enduring Enigma – Graeme Thomson (The Guardian, August 22, 2014).
Will Kate Bush's Comeback Sink or Swim? – Alison Boshoff (The Daily Mail, August 21, 2014).
Kate Bush, the Queen of Art-Pop Who Defied Her Critics – Simon Reynolds (The Guardian, August 21, 2014).
Kate Bush: What Might We Expect from Her New Stage Show? – Helen Brown (The Telegraph, August 20, 2014).
Kate Bush Makes a Valiant Stand in the Battle of Transcendence v Smartphones – John Harris (The Guardian, August 20, 2014).
Kate Bush Asks Fans Not to Use Phones or Tablets at London Comeback Gigs – Hannah Ellis-Petersen (The Guardian, August 19, 2014).
Kate Bush Concert Tickets Sell Out in 15 MinutesBBC News (March 28, 2014).
Kate Bush Receives CBE from the Queen – Rebecca English (Daily Mail, April 10, 2013).
Why We Should All Love Kate Bush – Laura Barnett (The Telegraph, March 14, 2011).
Kate Bush News and Information
The Official Kate Bush Website
Kate Bush's Official YouTube Channel

For more of Kate Bush at The Wild Reed, see:
Scaling the Heights
"Oh, Yeah!"
Celebrating Bloomsday in St. Paul (& with Kate Bush)
"Rosabelle, Believe . . ."
Just in Time for Winter
"Call Upon Those You Love"
A Song of Summer

Image: Kate Bush (1993) by Guido Harari (from the recently-released book Kate Bush – Photographs by Guido Harari.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"


Come to our aid, O Beloved!
Darkness seems to pervade the earth;
Where is the faith, the integrity
that once lived in our hearts?
Where is the truth, the trust
that made its home in us?

– Excerpted from Psalm 12
(as translated by Nan C. Merrill in
Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness)

Perhaps, like me, you are feeling overwhelmed by the chaos, death and destruction that has been taking place in many parts of our world. From Ukraine to Gaza, Syria to Iraq, Nigeria to Missouri we are inundated with images and stories of unrest, injustice, violence and heart-breaking suffering.

Before I share some thoughts on prayer in the face of such harsh realities, I invite you to view the following images which, for me, serve as icons. I consider them icons, in the religious sense, as they are windows through which we are invited to see God present in the trials and sufferings of humanity . . . and in the devastated natural environment of the planet.

Above: A Palestinian girl who had lost a family member in an Israeli airstrike at a U.N school cries at Beit Hanoun hospital in the northern Gaza Strip.(Photo: AP/Adel Hana)

Above: Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community carry their children as they cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014. (Photo: AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

Above: Rescue workers carry a stretcher with a body past the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, presumed to have been shot down by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine on July 19, 2014, killing all 298 passengers. (Photo: Anastasia Vlasova)

Above: A Palestinian boy wounded by Israeli shelling, receives treatment at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, 20 July, 2014. (Photo:Ali Jadallah/APA)

Above: A Palestinian youth surveys the destruction in Gaza wrought by Israeli airstrikes.

Above: It's been called "the most environmentally destructive industrial project on the planet": the Keystone XL Pipeline. (Photo: Peter Essick/National Geographic)

Above: Police in riot gear walk toward a man in Ferguson, Missouri – August 11, 2014. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been under a dramatic siege since Saturday, when a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. In the wake of the killing, protests have engulfed the community — drawing a heavy-handed police crackdown with St. Louis County police officers armed with assault weapons and outfitted with military equipment.(Photo: AP/Jeff Roberson)

Above: Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community gather for humanitarian aid at the Syria-Iraq border at Feeshkhabour border point, northern Iraq, Sunday, August 10, 2014. Kurdish authorities at the border believe some 45,000 Yazidis passed the river crossing in the past week and thousands more are still stranded in the mountains. (Photo: AP/ Khalid Mohammed)

Now, I have to say that when I look at images like the ones above and read about the suffering and destruction taking place across the globe, the activist in me wants to do something, wants to take action to solve or at least address in meaningful ways, the many problems and complex issues that plague our world.

But as I said at the beginning of this post, it often feels just so overwhelming. Indeed, it often feels as if the only action I can take is to beseech God to take action, much as the psalmist does in the opening words of this post: Come to our aid, O Beloved!

But then I remind myself that I no longer believe in an interventionalist God, a God who needs to be told what to do and then, if so moved by our pleadings, may or may not chose to act – like a puppet-master, pulling strings; or a cosmic chess master, moving people and events around like pieces on a global chess board.

No, instead of belief in such a God I trust that the all-loving energy that infuses every aspect of creation is constantly trying to get our attention and yearning to transform us and our world, yearning to bring about compassion, justice and peace. Yet such transformation is dependent on the conduit that is human presence and action. We must be open to embodying this sacred energy; to being, like Jesus, living vessels of transforming love.

And so I continue to seek to be informed about issues and events (see, for example, the off-site news and views links listed at the end of this post). I also participate in rallies and vigils for justice and peace, and make financial contributions when I can to organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch that I trust are making a difference. Most of all, though, I strive to be a loving, respectful, and attentive presence to all I encounter and in every situation of my day-to-day life.

A wondrous capacity

As for prayer, well, on a very fundamental level, it can be the most powerful action of all. I'm not talking about prayers of petition, although I often find such prayers helpful in focusing my thoughts. Rather, instead of pleading to a puppet-master God, I'm drawn to prayer that is all about becoming attuned to the presence of the sacred within and around me. At night in bed, for example, I often visualize this presence as a glowing sphere of mother-of-pearl colored light, deep within me. It's a sphere of light that, as trustingly and lovingly as I can, I expand outwards, bringing healing and love to people and places both near and far. Often I think of specific people, situations and places that I know are in need of healing and transformation. I picture this light I'm sending forth kindling its same lightself within others. Deep calls to deep, the psalmist reminds us! In time I visualize the whole planet aglow in this healing and transforming love, an all-encompassing love that each and every one of us can consciously and compassionate chose to recognize and kindle within ourselves and share with others. I sense that a visual exercise like the one I've just described can and actually does do something beautiful and good in the "energy field" that is the universe, a universe infused with sacred mystery.

I've found a number of writings that have inspired me to embrace and embody this way of prayer, a way that encourages me to remember and celebrate the reality that, as humans, we have the wondrous capacity to develop an inner life that can transform the often troubling realities of our outer life. These writings reflect an evolutionary spirituality, something I've discussed and explored previously at The Wild Reed (see, for instance, here and here).

First, here is how James Conlon defines prayer in his book The Sacred Impulse.

Prayer is being present to the beauty and pain of life, finding language and symbols to express the inexpressible. Prayer is entering into those important moments in our own lives and the lives of others. Prayer may be contemplating a sunset. It may be reflecting on the issues of life: birth, love, work, wonder, and death. Prayer is interacting with and affirming the divine presence in all of life. Prayer is gratitude and acknowledgment. Prayer is the deepest desire of our life, through which the divine is revealed in our midst. Prayer is a conversation, sharing the burden, celebrating the excitement. Prayer is being with God in our journey through life.

Prayer means living in the soft embrace of divine energy that enfolds our presence and heals our pain. It is an opportunity to renew our deep-seated desire for a life of justice, peace, and renewed possibilities. Prayer is paying attention to the breath of life, to the reality of doubts, to what our world could be.

Next is an excerpt from Vimala Thakar's book Spirituality and Social Action: A Holistic Approach. (You'll notice that what Thakar calls "the vast intelligence that orders the cosmos," I've been calling the transforming love of God, or simply "the sacred." Other names include Divine Presence, Holy One, and Sacred Mystery.)

What is necessary in these critical times is that all sensitive and caring people make a personal discovery of the fact of oneness and allow compassion to flow in their lives. When compassion and realization of oneness becomes the dynamic of human relationship, then humankind will evolve.

We are suffering throughout the world in the darkness of the misery we have created. By believing in the fragmentary and the superficial, we have failed to live together in peace and harmony. . . . [We] feel the urgency to go deeper, to abandon superficial approaches that are inadequate and to activate the creative forces available to each of us as expressions of wholeness. The vast intelligence that orders the cosmos is available to all. The beauty of life, the wonder of living, is that we share creativity, intelligence, and unlimited potential with the rest of the cosmos. If the universe is vast and mysterious, we are vast and mysterious. If it contains innumerable creative energies, we contain innumerable creative energies. If it has healing energies, we also have healing energies. To realize that we are not simply physical beings on a material planet, but that we are whole beings, each a miniature cosmos, each related to all of life in intimate, profound ways, should radically transform how we perceive ourselves, our environments, our social problems. Nothing can ever be isolated from wholeness.

One final thought/prayer: I find it very helpful to spend time in nature, as here I experience God's presence in ways that are uniquely grounding and energizing.

My sense is that there are many people feeling overwhelmed by what here in the northern hemisphere has been called the "summer of strife." Perhaps you include yourself in this number. If so, then I hope that the thoughts and prayers I've shared will help you in understanding and responding to all that's going on in ways that facilitate ever-deepening connection to the sacred. I know that the writing of this post has helped clarify my thinking about a number of important things and inspired me to live a more compassionate and conscious life, a life increasingly attuned to the sacred – a prayer life, I guess you could say.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
Karl Rahner on the Need for Prayer
Prayer: Both a Consolation and a Demand
Letting Them Sit By Me
"We Will Come Together in Our Pain"
Clarity, Hope, and Courage
Seeking Balance
Threshold Musings
Thoughts on the Feast of the Ascension
Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
The Plight of the Yazidi
40,000 Iraqis Stranded on Mountain as ISIS Jihadists Threaten Death – Martin Chulov (The Guardian, August 6, 2014).
U.S. Plans Rescue Mission for Besieged Yazidi Refugees – Martin Chulov (The Guardian, August 10, 2014).
Yazidi Survivors Say Militants Buried Victims Alive – Humeyra Pamuk (Reuters via The World Post, August 18, 2014).

The Rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS)
Islamic State Carves Jihadist Hub in Heart of the Middle East – Samia Nakhoul (Reuters via Yahoo! News, August 12, 2014).
The Rise of ISIS: US Invasion of Iraq and Foreign Backing of Syrian Rebels Helped Fuel Jihadis’ AdvanceDemocracy Now! (August 13, 2014).
Islamic Militants Crush Tribal Uprising in Syria – Bassem Mroue (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 12, 2014).
Religious Leaders Say ISIS Persecution of Iraqi Christians Has Become Genocide – Sam Jones and Owen Bowcott (The Guardian, August 8, 2014).
Iraqi Christians' Nightmare – Kirsten Powers (USA Today, July 29, 2014).
The Importance of Caring About Iraqi Christians, But Rejecting Sectarianism – Robert Christian (Millennial, August 12, 2014).
A Friend Flees the Horror of ISIS – George Packer (The New Yorker, August 6, 2014).
Australia, US Appalled at Decapitated Head Photo – Martin Parry (AFP via Yahoo! News, August 11, 2014).
Iraqi and Kurdish Forces Recapture Mosul Dam from ISIS – Agence France-Presse via The Guardian (August 18, 2014).
Islamic State's Message to America: "We Will Drown All of You in Blood" – Reuters via Yahoo! News (August 18, 2014).
Journalist James Foley Reportedly Killed by Islamic State GroupPBS NewsHour (August 19, 2014).
US officials: Video Shows American's Beheading – Lara Jakes and Bradley Klapper (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 19, 2014).
"Spare the Lives of the Remaining Hostages. Like Jim They Are Innocents": Mother of Beheaded American Journalist Calls on ISIS to Cease Killing as She Pays Tribute to Her "Extraordinary Son" – James Nye and Ashley Collman (Daily Mail, August 19, 2014).
A Look Into the Heart of the Jihadist "Caliphate" in Syria and Iraq – Brigitte Dusseau (AFP via Yahoo! News, August 23, 2014).
Top Islamic Authority: Extremists Are No "Islamic State" – Sarah El Deeb (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 24, 2014).

Iraq and Endless War – Robert C. Koehler (Common Dreams, August 14, 2014).
The Women in a Morgue in Baghdad – Rania Abouzeid (The New Yorker, August 11, 2014).

In Syria, a Barrage of Barrel Bombs: Attacks on Civilians Defy UN Resolution – Human Rights Watch (July 30, 2014).
Syria Has Become a Humanitarian Catastrophe of Epic Proportions – Nigel Pont (The Huffington Post, August 14, 2014).
U.N. Says Syria Death Toll Tops 190,000, Human Rights Envoy Raps World Powers – Stephanie Nebehay (Reuters, August 22, 2014).
One Cartoon That Captures the Horrible Truth About Assad and ISIS – Zack Beauchamp (Vox, August 22, 2014).

Egypt's Tiananmen – Kenneth Roth (Foreign Policy, August 12, 2014).

Gaza and Israel
Killing Machines and the Madness of Militarism: From Gaza to Afghanistan – Henry A. Giroux (Truth Out, July 24, 2014).
Depth of Gaza Devastation Becomes Clear After Cease-fire – William Booth (The Washington Post, July 26, 2014).
Who Is Behind Gaza's Mass Execution? – Jesse Rosenfeld (The Daily Beast via Yahoo! News, August 1, 2014).
Political Will is the Obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian Peace – Mel Gurtov (Peace Voice, August 6, 2014).
Israeli Peace Activists Facing Backlash as Gaza Truce HoldsRIA Novosti (August 11, 2014).
In Midst of War, Israel Clamps Down on Internal Dissent – Sarah Lazare (Common Dreams, August 11, 2014).
Signs of Fascism in Israel Reached New Peak During Gaza Op, Says Renowned Scholar – Gidi Weitz (Haaretz, August 12, 2014).
Searching for a Palestinian Dr. King – Dean Obeidallah (The Daily Beast, August 15, 2014).
Gaza Conflict: Peace Talks Resume in CairoBBC News (August 17, 2014).
Air Strikes and Rocket Fire Resume as Gaza Negotiations Collapse – Allison Deger (Mondoweiss, August 19, 2014).
Hamas Claims Responsibility for Kidnapping, Murder of Israeli Teenagers in June – Ben Mathis-Lilley (Slate, August 21, 2014).
Israel, Hamas Accept Gaza War Cease-fire – Associated Press (August 26, 2014).

The Rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe
Anti-Semitism on Rise Across Europe in "Worst Times Since the Nazis" – Jon Henley (The Guardian, August 7, 2014).

Downing of Flight 17 Should Trigger Talks, Not More Violence – Katrina vanden Heuvel (The Washington Post, July 22, 2014).
With 100,000+ Displaced, Why is U.S. Ignoring Ukraine’s Civil War?Democracy Now! (July 24, 2014).
NATO: "High Probability" Russia will Invade Ukraine – Adrian Croft and Sergei Karpukhin (Reuters via Yahoo! News, August 11, 2014).
Silent March for MH17 Victims, One Month After Air Disaster – Reuters via The Guardian (August 17, 2014).
Russia and Ukraine Ministers to Meet in Berlin for Ceasefire Talks – Julian Borger (The Guardian, August 17, 2014).
No Sign of Quick End to Ukraine Conflict – Nataliya Vasilyeva and Peter Leonard (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 26, 2014).

100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held – Heather Murdock (Voice of America, July 23, 2014).
Boko Haram Kidnap Dozens of Men and Boys in Attack on Nigeria Village – Jill Reilly (Daily Mail, August 15, 2014).
Thousands Flee to Cameroon After Boko Haram Attack in Nigeria – Aminu Abubakar (AFP via Yahoo! News, August 25, 2014).
Boko Haram Becomes the Latest Terror Group to Declare an Islamic Caliphate – Adam Chandler (The Wire, August 25, 2014).

The U.S./Mexico Border
Here's How the U.S. Sparked a Refugee Crisis on the Border, in 8 Simple Steps – Roque Planas and Ryan Grim (The Huffington Post, July 18, 2014).
Echoing Pope Francis, Bishops Decry Indifference to Suffering of Migrants Under U.S. Immigration System, Call For Action on Immigration Reform – USCCB (April 1, 2014).
Unthinkable Violence Drives Hondurans North to United States – Linda Cooper and James Hodge (National Catholic Reporter, August 18, 2014).
Militias Complicate Situation on Texas Border – Christopher Sherman (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 18, 2014).

Ferguson, Missouri
The Killing of Michael Brown: Missouri Police Shooting of Unarmed Black Teen Sparks Days of ProtestsDemocracy Now! (August 12, 2014).
Journalists Face Tear Gas, Police Threats While Covering Protests Against Killing of Michael Brown – Jack Mirkinson (HuffPost Media, August 12, 2014).
This Is the Terrifying Result of the Militarization of Police – Paul Szoldra (Business Insider, August 12, 2014).
11 Shocking Facts About America's Militarized Police Forces – Alex Kane (AlterNet, June 27, 2014).
The Militarization of U.S. Police: Finally Dragged Into the Light by the Horrors of Ferguson – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept, August 14, 2014).
Riot Sparked by Shooting of Unarmed Man Is About So Much More – Leonard Pitts (Portland Press Herald, August 12, 2014).
America is Not for Black People – Greg Howard (The Concourse, August 12, 2014).
When Terror Wears a Badge – Ryan Herring (Sojourners, August 14, 2014).
This Is Why We're Mad About the Shooting of Mike Brown – Kara Brown (Jezebel, August 11, 2014).
Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men? – Jaeah Lee (Mother Jones, August 15, 2014).
Autopsy Shows Michael Brown Was Struck at Least 6 Times – Frances Robles and Julie Bosman (The New York Times, August 17, 2014).
Chaos Erupts in Ferguson as Police Launch Abrupt Offensive – Gabrielle Bluestone (Gawker, August 17, 2014).
More Fergusons Are Coming: Why Para-Military Hysteria is Dooming America – Robert Hennelly (Salon, August 18, 2014).
Ferguson Unrest Shows Poverty Grows Fastest in Suburbs – Toluse Olorunnipa and Elizabeth Campbell (Bloomberg via Yahoo! News, August 18, 2014).
Missouri National Guard to Be Deployed at Ferguson Protests – Jon Swaine and Rory Carroll (The Guardian, August 18, 2014).
Michael Brown Shooting: Amnesty International Sends Team Within U.S. for First Time as National Guard Deployed – Natasha Culzac (The Independent, August 18, 2014).
Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended – Associated Press via Yahoo! News (August 20, 2014).
Ferguson Protests Cool After U.S, Attorney General Meets Michael Brown's Parents – Carey Gillam and Scott Malone (Reuters via Yahoo! News, August 21, 2014).
ACLU: Ferguson Police Report on Michael Brown's Death Violates Law – Jason Sickles (Yahoo! News, August 22, 2014).
Mourners Gather in St. Louis for Funeral of Michael Brown – Sara Burnett and Jim Suhr (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 25, 2014).