Funnel Cakes….

(this is Scott writing…)
Growing up in Pennsylvania, I’d always assumed that a funnel cake was a Mennonite “thing,” something you could only find at a county fair. (I grew up a sheltered “baptist.”)
Alas, nearly every for-profit food stand at this year’s Albemarle County Fair (south of Charlottesville, VA) has its own version of the deep fried summer treat.
I still recommend locals check out the Mennonite funnel cake stand, which has been there for over 20 years. Not just the best, and cheapest, Mennonite funnel cakes are even “good” for you — if you will. All the four food groups are covered; wheat, milk, eggs, sugar, and…. soybeans (oil). :-} They’re “good” too, as they “tickle your tongue.”
If they’re not too busy, you might even find friends who’ve lived a tour or two around Iran and the Middle East.
Reminds me of how various Iranian cities are known for their own wondrous treats, like Esfahani Gaz, Mashhad’s Nabat, Lahijan’s Kulucheh cookies, and one of my favorites anywhere, Sohan from Qom. (Think peanut brittle made with pistachios and saffron. Yum!)
Back to the humble funnel cake: last night, while beating the eggs into the batter, we hazarded to ponder parallels between (Mennonite) funnel cakes and the Middle East — along the lines of delicately woven lattices of hope and promise, threads of sweet human connections, peacemaking tempting fate in holy-charged conflagration — e.g., blistering 400 degree oil.
Get it wrong, soft goo to charred carbon. Cook ‘em just right, so… heavenly.

The “Piece Church”

One wonders what the “Prince of Peace” would have to say about “bringing a piece” to Church. Tonight, the New Bethel Church, in Louisville, Kentucky will be “packing it (guns) in the pews” to “celebrate our rights as Americans.”
That’s right, Pastor Ken Pagano is urging his flock to bring their weapons to his Assemblies of God church. Talk about “fire and brimstone.” Open guns must be unloaded; concealed firearms … well, they won’t be checked.
An AG Professor friend who knows Ken Pagano tells me that Pagano is a reasonable, well-educated conservative chap. (with a Doctorate of Ministry) My friend suspects this event to be more about publicity to attract new members to a small church. Indeed, Pagano has received much media attention, even appearing on Fox News.
Pagano asserts that he wants to celebrate how “God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” that if we didn’t have guns, we wouldn’t have America. Any proceeds from a “raffle” at his bring-your-guns-to-church-day, he says, will “go to charity.” (Would that be the NRA?)
Pagano says he wants to start a dialogue, that he just wants to “promote responsible gun ownership,” that he is open to considering other approaches. Then again, who would want to “dialogue” with someone toting a semi-automatic machine gun?
I wonder too about the fears driving this. We’ve heard about horrible shootings in churches lately. The solution isn’t to bring more “pieces” into the church, but more peace. If matters get really bad, then metal detectors and security. The notion of weapons in a modern sanctuary “creeps me out” — as a person of faith. I wonder too if there’s a good bit of ole’ time southern revanchism afoot here, as I’ve heard all too much “chatter” about “the black man who is going to take away our guns.”
Pagano apparently revels in the attention and is undaunted by the few criticisms he’s heard: “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”
On that point, Pagano does not know his own church’s history. Until 1967, the Assemblies of God Church was officially an antiwar, pacifistic, and peace-seeking church; even today, youth from that church are able to claim “conscientious objector” status. (though very few do)
For more on this lesser known history, I recommend a new book by Paul Alexander: PEACE TO WAR: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God. Alexander chronicles how the former peace church (among the fastest growing worldwide) devolved into a war church — and suggests how it might yet reclaim a middle position, for the sake of its own witness.
Paul Alexander, a Professor at Azuza Pacific University, deserves a wide reading in “charismatic” circles — his book was even favorably reviewed by Amos Yong of (Pat Robertson’s) Regent University.
Alexander runs a new organization called, “Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice.” (strange as that may sound to those who recall my lament about “the mother of all sermons” here at JWN” ) Alas, I doubt his influence is felt very far – yet. Shunned by the AG and mega-evangelical presses, his book was jointly published by two Mennonite Houses. (kudos to Cascadia & Herald)
As for tonight’s gun-fest, cameras are banned, to protect the “privacy” of the gun owners. No doubt. Maybe one of those courageous Iranian protesters with cell cameras can get a peek for us?
As far as I know, the Assemblies of God church hierarchy has remained muzzled about Pagano. The silencer ought to be removed. Or are guns and war the only “fire” left in the soul of the Pentecostal church these days?

Five+One… +One => Seven

A LOT has been happening the past two weeks relating to US-Iran relations, much of it catalyzed by President Obama’s NowRuz Address to Iran. Scott Peterson summarizes major developments in this CSMonitor article. Note especially Farideh Farhi’s comments, explaining what’s potentially different from previous Bush and Clinton era approaches.
In the same realm, Roger Cohen continues to make waves with his extraordinary NYTimes opeds, variations on the taboo theme of how the “treacherous alliance” involving the US, Israel & Iran needs… rebalancing. Who wags this dog? Today’s Cohen essay entitled “Realpolitik for Iran” features memorable quotes from an interview with IAEA chief Mohammad El-Baradei, like these two:

“I don’t believe the Iranians have made a decision to go for a nuclear weapon, but they are absolutely determined to have the (nuclear) technology because they believe it brings you power, prestige and an insurance policy….
Israel would be utterly crazy to attack Iran,… I worry about it. If you bomb, you will turn the region into a ball of fire and put Iran on a crash course for nuclear weapons with the support of the whole Muslim world.”

Now for the higher math: And it likely won’t quite make the headlines, but it matters: 5+1…+1 => 7 equals. My turn to explain:

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Startling news

First, Iran and the US have just announced the appointment of ambassadors to each other. Impressive choices. According to The Iranian,

Mr. Haji Firooz will be representing the Islamic Republic of Iran as ambassador to Washington and Dr. Azar Nafisi will serve as the U.S. ambassador to Tehran. These distinguished individuals have been carefully selected for their deep understanding of political and cultural matters in our respective countries and we are confident that they will take important steps in rebuilding ties between our two great nations.

No doubt. As will the recent exceptionally balanced Miller Center/PBS debate over whether or not to bomb Iran.
The most startling news of the day comes from Jim Wallis who explains here how he parted the Red Sea in getting Rush Limbaugh to speak at a Sojourners “Mobilization to End Poverty.” I had heard Wallis was building bridges to conservatives, but this one surprised me. Just the other day, I heard Rush going on and on about how the “the vast majority” of CEO’s getting huge bonuses and government bailouts were “liberals.” Here’s the youtube clip from Limbaugh’s Sojourners address.

Noa’s (peace) Ark Leaks

One of the nice things about “comments” here is you can learn while contributing. Earlier today, I posted a largely positive note about the two Israeli singers who will compete in Eurovision in May. From the recent New York Times account, we get the impression that Achinoam Nini (Noa) and Mira Awad were being criticized from the left because their appearance (as a Jew and a Christian Arab) constituted “an effort to prettify an ugly situation.”
Alas, thanks to an alert jwn reader (h/t Richard Parker), we discover that Ethan Bronner left out something — that “Noa” recently uncorked some screeds that raise questions about what rail her peace train rides.
Even as Israel’s bombs were “falling down like acid rain” on Gaza (in the words of one Syrian-American singer), Noa on 8 January wrote a long open letter to Palestinians that justified the slaughter. After condemning the “one joint enemy… of fanaticism, of all who who claim “god” as their sword and shield,” she moved to a rabid depiction of Hamas and called for its eradication:

Now I see the ugly head of fanaticism, I see it large and horrid, I see its black eyes and spine-chilling smile, I see blood on its hands and I know one of its many names: Hamas.
You know this too, my brothers. You know this ugly monster. You know it is raping your women and raping the minds of your children. You know it is educating to hatred and death….
I can only wish for you that Israel will do the job we all know needs to be done, and finally RID YOU of this cancer, this virus, this monster called fanaticism, today, called Hamas.

So much for finding “a better way.” One self-dubbed Noa fan, Richard Silverstein, on Jan 27th observed that,

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Healing Wounds of War: Local Film Series

Here in Charlottesville we’re being treated to an unusual Sunday evening film series, hosted by our local Mennonite Church.
This Sunday, March 1st, For the Love of Tomorrow tells the story of how one woman, a member of the French Resistance against the Nazis, overcame intense hatred to become a key force transforming relations between Germany and France.
Two weeks later, on March 15th, The Imam and the Pastor considers how a Nigerian Christian pastor and a Muslim Imam went from being mortal enemies as bloodied militia leaders to co-directors of a Muslim-Christian Interfaith Mediation Center. I’m especially curious about how this happened.
Closing out March, on the 29th, The Radicals examines how early anabaptists refused to take sides in the religious wars of the 16th and 17th Century, considers why their stand threatened the established political orders, and ponders why they deemed their peacemaking model worth the terrible cost.
Each film will begin at 6:30 at the Charlottesville Mennonite Church. (intersection of Monticello Ave & Avon Street) All are invited; pre-film snacks at 6:00 p.m.; childcare provided; brief discussion after each film.
Footnote to the last film: Among the actors in “The Radicals” is the late Mark Lenard, best known to Star Trek fans as Sarek of Vulcan, father of Spock. “Live long and prosper.” (Or if you prefer, “be well and at peace.”)

Obama @ Prayer Breakfast

Despite his hesitance to say anything “principled” ahead of Israel’s upcoming elections, President Obama today did remind us of a profound truth about all major faiths at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast:

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.
We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Torah commands, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” In Islam, there is a hadith that reads “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule – the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

While these humble, yet vital words are not getting much press, I am encouraged. Like his inaugural reference to “the slaughter of the innocents,” might today’s reference to all faiths having a shared humanity have an implied application to those who would turn their eyes away from the sufferings anywhere, including in Gaza?
Such ecumenical sentiments will not go down well with the “just warriors” and their media agents who have been so determined to launch crusades against “the jihadi religion.” Yes, the ironies in that statement are intended. In my experience, those “religious” figures most determined to do battle with another “jihadi” religion often seem themselves most determined to justify war in the name of their religion.
Yet just as each creed breeds its own jihadis, so too we can yearn for better angels to emerge. May they draw from within to build common ground in our shared humanity, our capacity for empathizing with the suffering of another, beyond creed and confession.
As the 13th Century Persian poet Sa’di put it, as etched into the walls of the United Nations:
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

Learning Peace Lingo

In furthering my study of peace agencies I delved further into the US Institute for Peace. The USIP held a conference in January, “Passing the Baton — Foreign Policy Challenges and Opportunities Facing the New Administration.” I figured that would be a good place to start.
The event convened nearly 1900 participants and a “high-level, bipartisan group of current and former U.S. foreign policy officials and practitioners.” The web site which recorded the results of the conference featured several photos of one paticipant in particular, General David Petraeus in his uniform with its many rows of colorful ribbons. A peace institute conference on “Foreign Policy Challenges and Opportunities” featuring a warmaker! That was a clue to some of what followed.
The conference included panel discussions of several topics. I was particularly interested in Morning Panel 3: “Stabilizing War-Torn States: Goals and Guidance for a New Administration.” This panel included an army general (not Petraeus, another one), a “senior program officer” from USIP and a university assistant professor.

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Peace Now!

The US government doesn’t seem inclined to back off its all-war, all-the-time policy. It’s even got some of us thinking about war too much of the time. Me, anyhow.
It’s time we thought more about peace, isn’t it? . . .Down By The Riverside.

    Gonna lay down my sword and shield
    Down by the riverside
    Down by the riverside
    Down by the riverside
    Gonna lay down my sword and shield
    Down by the riverside
    Ain’t gonna study war no more.
    I ain’t gonna study war no more,
    I ain’t gonna study war no more,
    Study war no more.
    I ain’t gonna study war no more,
    I ain’t gonna study war no more,
    Study war no more.

Doing a little research, I learned that there is a United States Institute of Peace! Who knew? Perhaps you did, but I didn’t. And apparently I’m not the only one, judging from the title of this NY Times article from last June: Below the Radar: A Federal Peace Agency

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Jimmy and ME

Former president Jimmy Carter is back with new advice for resolving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The former president is scheduled to publish a new book on the issue — slated for release on January 20, coinciding with the inauguration of Barack Obama.
The title for Carter’s new book, “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work,” seemingly suggests a more optimistic tone than that of his previous book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
“I was going to call it, ‘Yes, We Can.’ My wife talked me out of it,” Carter said in jest, during a December 3 discussion in Atlanta.
No details were provided on the content of Carter’s new book, but based on recent remarks by the author, it is clear that his approach toward the Israeli–Palestinian conflict has not changed. According to an Associated Press report, the former president pointed, in the December 3 discussion, to the “persecution of Palestinians” and lack of American active involvement in the Middle East as the main sources for instability in the Muslim world.

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