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Francis’s interreligious friendships, Iraq’s troubles

Two new items on the homepage: James L. Fredericks looks at Francis’s approach to interreligious dialogue, while the editors comment on the conflict in Iraq and the problems it poses for President Obama.

From “Francis’s Interreligious Friendships”:

[W]hat does Francis think about interreligious dialogue as such? My view of the matter is this: the pope thinks of dialogue with other religious believers more in terms of friendships than formal meetings. This does not mean that he has little interest in theological exchanges. In fact, [Rabbi Abraham] Skorka has said recently that their conversations will move toward more theological issues in the future. My point is that, for Francis, interreligious friendships are more the basis for dialogue than its by-product. Remember, for Bergoglio and Skorka, soccer jokes and lunches came first. Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George captured Francis’s view succinctly in an interview with the Tribune, "Once you have the relationship, then the ideas make sense. Otherwise, it's a debating society. So you don't start with the idea. You start with a person and relationship. The pope is reminding us of this." This means that Francis approaches dialogue in way that differs significantly from that of John Paul II. …

Read the whole thing here.

From “Back to Iraq?”:

One of the hallmarks of Obama’s presidency has been his reluctance to send U.S. troops into combat if there is no clear-cut and realistic objective. He was elected in part to wind down two of the longest wars in American history, a promise he has largely kept. The current situation in Iraq, however, may yet pull the United States back into that country, and thus threatens to undermine Obama’s efforts to reorient American foreign policy.

At a June 19 press conference, Obama stressed that long-term Iraqi stability can come only through political reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites. He pledged that American combat troops would not return to Iraq. But he also announced that he would send three hundred “advisers”—reportedly Navy SEALs and Army Rangers—to assist the Iraqi military. “We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it,” Obama explained. That may sound bellicose, but the president is being realistic. ISIS may not be poised to launch “the next 9/11,” but it is well armed and well funded—and its ranks are growing. If it establishes a stronghold in an ungovernable part of Iraq, the United States will have to watch carefully. Surely the task of guarding America’s vital interests is better handled by its enormous intelligence and security apparatus than by launching another invasion in the Middle East.

Read the whole thing here.



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Ben Fountain's best selling novel on the Bravo Company in the Iraq war brings out in the person of Billy Lynn the feelings of soldiers about the war and America's response to them. Centering aroung Bravo's appearance at the Dallas football game Billy lynn gives his thoughts about the jeweled civilian warriors who try to befriend him and Billy's reaction. I reproduce  a little of it here. It seems well worth the read. 


"After two solid weeks of public events Billy continues to be amazed at the public response, the raw wavering voices and frenzied speech patterns , the gibberish spilled from the mouths of seemingly well-adjusted citizens. We appreciate, they say , their voices throbbing like a lover’s. Sometimes they come right out and say it, We love you. We are so grateful. We cherish and bless. We pray , hope, honor-respect-love-and-revere and they do, in the act of speaking they experience the mighty words, these verbal arabesques that spark and snap in Billy’s ears like bugs impacting an electric bug zapper....

No one spits, no one calls him baby-killer. On the contrary, people could not be more supportive or kindlier disposed , yet Billy finds these encounters weird and frightening all the same. There’s something harsh in his fellow Americans, avid, ecstatic, a burning that comes of the deepest need. That’s his sense of it, they all need something from him, this pack of half-rich lawyers, dentists, soccer moms, and corporate VPs, they’re all gnashing for a piece of a barely grown grunt making $ 14,800 a year . For these adult , affluent people he is mere petty cash in their personal accounting, yet they lose it when they enter his personal space. They tremble. They breathe in fitful, stinky huffs. Their eyes skitz and quiver with the force of the moment, because here, finally, up close and personal, is the war made flesh, an actual point of contact after all the months and years of reading about the war, watching the war on TV, hearing the war flogged and flacked on talk radio. It’s been hard times in America— how did we get this way? So scared all the time, and so shamed at being scared through the long dark nights of worry and dread, days of rumor and doubt, years of drift and slowly ossifying angst. You listened and read and watched and it was just, so, obvious, what had to be done, a mental tic of a mantra that became second nature as the war dragged on. Why don’t they just . . . Send in more troops. Make the troops fight harder. Pile on the armor and go in blazing, full-frontal smackdown and no prisoners. And by the way, shouldn’t the Iraqis be thanking us? Somebody needs to tell them that, would you tell them that , please? Or maybe they’d like their dictator back . Failing that, drop bombs. More and bigger bombs . Show these persons the wrath of God and pound them into compliance, and if that doesn’t work then bring out the nukes and take it all the way down, wipe it clean, reload with fresh hearts and minds, a nuclear slum clearance of the country’s soul. Americans fight the war daily in their strenuous inner lives. Billy knows because here at the contact point he feels the passion every day. Often it’s in their literal touch, a jolt arcing across as they shake hands, a zap of pent-up warrior heat. For so many of them, this is the Moment: His ordeal becomes theirs and vice versa, some sort of mystical transference takes place and it’s just too much for most of them, judging from the way they choke in the clutch. They stammer, gulp, brainfart, and babble, gum up all the things they want to say or never had the words to say them in the first place, so they default to old habits . They want autographs . They want cell phone snaps . They say thank you over and over and with growing fervor, they know they’re being good when they thank the troops and their eyes shimmer with love for themselves and this tangible proof of their goodness. One woman bursts into tears, so shattering is her gratitude. Another asks if we are winning, and Billy says we’re working hard. “You and your brother soldiers are preparing the way,” one man murmurs, and Billy knows better than to ask the way to what. The next man points to, almost touches , Billy’s Silver Star. “That’s some serious hardware you got,” he says gruffly, projecting a flinty, man-of-the-world affection. “Thanks,” Billy says, although that never seems quite the right response. “I read the article in Time,” the man continues, and now he does touch the medal, which seems nearly as lewd as if he’d reached down and stroked Billy’s balls. “Be proud,” the man tells him, “you earned this,” and Billy thinks without rancor, How do you know? Several days ago he was doing local TV and the blithering twit-savant of a TV newsperson just came out and asked: What was it like? Being shot at, shooting back. Killing people, almost getting killed yourself. Having friends and comrades die right before your eyes. Billy coughed up clots of nonsequential mumblings, but as he talked a second line dialed up in his head and a stranger started talking, whispering the truer words that Billy couldn’t speak. It was raw. It was some fucked-up shit. It was the blood and breath of the world’s worst abortion, baby Jesus shat out in squishy little turds. Billy did not seek the heroic deed, no. The deed came for him, and what he dreads like a cancer in his brain is that the deed will seek him out again. Just about the time he thinks he can’t be polite anymore the last of the well-wishers drift away, and Bravo takes their seats.


Fountain, Ben (2012-05-01). Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel (p. 40). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 



Fountain, Ben (2012-05-01). Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel (p. 38). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 



"So you don't start with the idea. You start with a person and relationship. The pope is reminding us of this." This means that Francis approaches dialogue in way that differs significantly from that of John Paul II."

So you don't start with the idea. You start with a person and relationship. The pope is reminding us of this." This means that Francis approaches dialogue in way that differs significantly from that of John Paul II. "

Exactly. The difference between the Church of Dogma and the Church of the Good Samaritan.

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