"Dog" is "God" Spelled Backwards

They warned me about California before I left Texas. They told me all the crazy things you hear about these people out here are true. And at first I thought they might be right, when I encountered “laughter therapy” on the beach, and a bearded man in a furniture store wearing a sun dress. He was also wearing sandals, and his toenails were painted black. His beard was rather gray. And the strangest thing of all . . . no one else in the store gave the man a second look.

There was other weirdness everywhere, but after a couple of months I got used to it. Then came church last Sunday.

I sat in a pew about halfway down on the right. The pastor was speaking up front, making the usual weekly announcements about church activities, when a woman in the pew behind me started whispering. It sounded like she was trying to calm her baby. “There, there,” she whispered. When she continued talking during a prayer, I turned around to look. On the pew beside her, peering from her massive purse, was a brown and white Chihuahua.

Immediately, I faced forward again. I felt embarrassed, as if I’d accidentally witnessed someone doing something intimate, or shameful. Then I felt a growing sense of outrage. It was shameful to bring a dog into that holy place! But before my outrage had a chance to grow to action, I heard the woman speaking to a person sitting next to her.

“Excuse me please, I see my family up front. I need to go sit with them.”

She rose while all the rest of us were seated, and as the pastor spoke up front she passed along the crowded pew behind me, whispering, “Excuse me. Excuse me,” and she walked up the church aisle with her little dog in her arms. Then the woman repeated the process in reverse, entering another pew, whispering her excuses, until at last she reached the place where she wanted to be, and sat down again.

Suddenly I was not outraged anymore.

The woman’s utter lack of awareness of her inappropriate behavior had reminded me of a movie I saw recently, The Year of the Dog. (Spoiler alert!) It's about a woman whose deepest relationship is with her pet beagle. When the beagle dies, the woman is shattered. She copes by becoming involved in animal rescue work, ends up with about 50 dogs running amuck in her house, loses her job when she forges corporate checks to animal rights groups, and loses her family’s trust when she destroys her sister-in-law’s expensive fur coats and traumatizes her little niece by taking her to an animal processing center. Through it all, there is a nice young man in the background, and one hopes she will eventually transfer her affections to him, but he is not interested in anything but dogs. In the end, she rides off on a bus filled with other animal activists, intent on making the world a better place for animals, and utterly alone in the crowd. This was supposed to be a comedy, believe it or not. I almost cried.

So there I was in real life—or as close to real life as one can get in Southern California—and this woman walked the aisle in the middle of a worship service with a Chihuahua in her arms, and I remembered the character from The Year of the Dog, and suddenly I realized the woman had no idea there was anything wrong with bringing her little pet to a worship service because her dog was her best friend . . . perhaps her only friend. I almost cried.

“Dogs are man’s best friend.” I tried to imagine how shallow life would be if that were really true. Don’t get me wrong; I think dogs are one of God’s very best ideas. But a dog’s love is bread and water compared to the lavish banquet Jesus offers.

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:10-12)

I understood that woman perfectly. She had brought her imitation Jesus in her arms, just as I had so often brought mine in my heart. We were much the same: both of us settling for far too little. Puppy love is not enough, just as love of money, sex, career, or even family is not enough. Only God’s love is enough, because only “God is love.”

Call me just another crazy Californian, but I hope the woman comes back to church again this Sunday, and I hope she brings her dog. At least she’s being honest about how lonely she really is, which is more than most of us can say. Na├»ve honesty like that gives God something He can work with. It means there’s real hope for that poor woman. And as far as I’m concerned, it means she, and her dog, have come to the right place.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 8:06 AM 4 comments  

Huckaplan For Foreign Policy

For some reason people like to say Mike Huckabee is weak on foreign policy. I’d like to know who is stronger. Among all the congressmen, senators and ex-senators, ex-governors, and ex-mayors in the running, no one exactly has the resume of a diplomat. None of them has even been on a congressional foreign affairs committee as far as I know. Governor Huckabee is every bit as qualified as any one of them, and he is definitely a man with a good plan. Want proof? I can’t convince you with a sound bite. If you have an hour to spare, you can hear his strategy for yourself, in a recent speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Or you can read a 24 page transcript of his speech. Or you can read the following summary, which is longer than my usual blog but still a lot shorter than his speech.

Since “foreign policy” these days mostly means dealing with the Middle East, here’s a crash course on Mike Huckabee’s plan to defeat terrorism:

Open lines of communication with Iran. Always leave the military option on the table. (Huckabee: “There is no way Iran will acquire nuclear weapons on my watch.”) However, acknowledge that 30 years of avoiding diplomatic relations with Iran has accomplished nothing constructive. Meanwhile, many people on the streets in Iran have no problem with the US. After 9/11, when the Palestinians celebrated, there were spontaneous candlelight vigils in Tehran. Iran’s government offered to provide boots-on-the-ground intelligence during our invasion of Afghanistan, but the Bush administration refused this offer, and announced they were part of an “axis of evil.” If we had parlayed their offer into open diplomatic relations, there is an excellent chance we would have known the truth about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction before invading. We should be talking to Iran about everything, not just nuclear weapons. Here’s a Huckaquote: “We should always put the protection of our citizens above our own pride and being bullheaded by saying we’re not going to have any conversations with these people.”

Assert ourselves militarily in Pakistan if necessary. While Iran has national interests we can understand and exploit, al Qaeda is a stateless enemy that can only be destroyed. Our failure to destroy al Qaeda’s leaders in Afghanistan led them straight to a “perfect base of operations” in the Pakistani no-man’s-land along the border. (Al Qaeda means “the base.”) Immediately after 9/11, Musharraf promised us full military access to this lawless region to destroy al Qaeda. The Bush administration later allowed him to go back on that promise, even though we have had “high confidence” intelligence reports on the exact locations of al Qaeda leaders there, and Navy Seal prepared to attack the area. Now Pakistan says they will fight the terrorists, while simultaneously saying they can’t fight them because they don’t control their own territory. Narrowly averted terrorist plots on the order of 9/11 have been directly linked to planning by al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan. Huckaquote: “If al Qaeda attacks [the USA] tomorrow, it will be postmarked ‘Pakistan.’ Pakistan has become the new Afghanistan.” Pakistan cannot or will not attack al Qaeda’s leaders. We must do it ourselves, or suffer the inevitable consequences.

Be wisely benevolent. If religion provides the spark for terrorism, poverty provides the tinder—yet the USA devotes only 0.25% of its national budget to foreign aid. In most Muslim countries, massive wealth is held by a few dictatorial rulers, while most people live in poverty. In Pakistan, for example, 25% of the national budget goes to the military, while less than 3% goes to social, health and educational programs. The USA has given over $10 billion in foreign aid to Pakistan since 9/11. Less than $1 billion of it reached the Pakistani people as direct aid. Meanwhile, like all forms of tyranny, terrorism flourishes whenever there is a wide gap between the upper and lower classes, with little or no middle class to function as a buffer. The USA cannot always export democracy, because sometimes too much political freedom too soon only allows violent extremists to win elections. But we can and must export socioeconomic reforms (a free press, fair courts, and functional economy), which gives real hope to the citizens of other countries, reducing their desire to support terrorism. Thus, our strategic security concerns coincide with our moral obligations as a rich neighbor. Using foreign aid wisely will generate good will with the Middle Eastern people and simultaneously remove the poverty and ignorance that inspires suicide bombers.

Finish the job in Iraq. Look at the map. Iraq is the physical buffer zone between the Persians, Kurds, and Arabs; a barricade between the Sunnis (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt) and the Shiites (Iran, Syria). Huckaquote: “Iraq is the crossroads where these cultures meet. If it is nor a peaceful buffer, it will be a tinderbox. Al Qaeda sees its central location as the perfect place to create anarchy and have it spread.” The USA upset this balance and opened up the possibilities for al Qaeda when we removed Saddam Hussein. To leave now, before balance is restored, would open us to serious security risks, especially with the looming prospect of nuclear weapons in Israel and in Iran. Fortunately, by all objective standards, the surge is working. While politicians in Bagdad and Washington fumble and bluster, there is a true bottom-up revolution taking place in the peaceful moments created by the surge, with Iraqis on the street stepping in to make a difference. We must remain in place until the Iraqi people are able to complete their transition to a stable nation. To do otherwise would not only leave Iraqi men, women and children in horrific danger from insurgents like al Qaeda, but would also leave us with the prospect of regional war, perhaps even world war, with Iraq’s many neighbors stepping into the vacuum to protect their interests.

Follow the “Powell Doctrine” of overwhelming force. From a foreign policy standpoint, overwhelming force aids diplomacy because it means less chance we will actually have to use the military option. It allows us to, as Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” And in the event of military action, it means fewer American lives lost. When the former Yugoslavia was liberated under President Clinton, for example, peace was maintained by 20 soldiers for every 1,000 civilians with virtually no civil unrest or military casualties. We have less than one quarter of that ratio of soldiers-to-civilians in Iraq, and that’s after the build-up for the surge. This explains in part why we have lost over 3,700 men and women since President Bush gave his “Mission Accomplished” speech. We spend 3.9% of our budget on the military today, compared to 6% under President Regan during peace time. Meanwhile, our national guard and reserve troops are being asked to give far more than they signed up for, with our military strained to the breaking point. We are at war. We need to get closer to the 6% figure. If we faced another military situation elsewhere in the world at this time, then as Governor Huckabee said, “God help us.”

Become energy independent…now. Our own money spent for Middle Eastern oil is being used to fund the very terrorists who want to kill us, Our dependence on oil also means we have to pander to state sponsors of terrorism, instead of, as Governor Huckabee puts it, “dealing with the Saudis like we would the Swedes.” Of course, all the other candidates would agree so far, but only Huckabee seems willing to give this the sense of urgency it deserves. Consider the governor’s words: “Energy independence really is a matter of urgent national security and ought to be addressed not with the attitude of, ‘Well, maybe someone will come up with it in 20 years.’ Look, this is the country that had the technology of bottle rockets in 1961 and John Kennedy said we’re going to put a man on the moon and come home in a decade. Eight years later Neil Armstrong had his feet on the lunar surface. It requires that kind of commitment and I’m convinced this country has the capacity and innovative quality to be able to pull it off.”

Start acting like a nation at war. Since the American people are in a war, we ought to behave like a people at war. On this one, I’ll just quote the Governor from a question and answer session after the speech: “…after 9/11…essentially the instructions the American people got to fight global terrorism was, ‘Go back and live normally.’ …we were not called upon to have some ownership of the fight against terror…I think history will reveal [that] was the single greatest mistake that we made. Because what should have happened was what happened after every other international crisis America has been involved in. Everyone’s got to pull together. I can remember it didn’t take us long to go from Democrats and Republicans linking arms on the Capital steps and singing God Bless America, and every house sporting an American flag out front to—within a few months—there was the same kind of partisan bickering and complete isolation that we’ve seen happen in this town [Washington, D.C.]—total polarization, total paralysis, and the result has been just incredibly detrimental. If we’re going to fight this war…we all have to have some skin in the game…there ought to be a greater sense of shared sacrifice and participation.”

There you have the basics of Governor Huckabee’s speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies on foreign policy, and terrorism in particular. In the full speech the governor gives a brief but masterful analysis of the various historical and cultural forces at work in the Middle East, but this is his basic plan. It makes perfect sense to me, and I hope and pray he will get a chance to put it into action.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 4:49 PM 3 comments