2008
12.27

For my own memory and also to keep friends and supporters in the loop, I’m going to try to write monthly updates like this in the future.

My last few rather angry blog posts have been staring at me for the last few weeks, so I thought I should post a quick update of a happier nature.

(also, over the last few weeks, I just didn’t see the point in posting about my obvious disapointments in Obama’s tilt towards the right since being elected… I have purposely not posted about it because I figure January will be soon enough to attack his pro-war policies and I just don’t want to dwell on the sadness of it all)

I had a busy but mostly good Advent season.

The first Sunday of Advent (I think the Sunday after Thankgiving, if I remember right) was a humdinger at Joy, as Moses Mast (one of my primary mentors) gave the message. He spoke to us as a prophet and really gave us a very different take on things. (I took notes on his message and may have to repost them sometime)

About that same time I got sick and started off December pretty sick with a lingering case of bronchitis that just wouldn’t go away. Thankfully, my voice did come back in time for a court-martial hearing at Ft. Carson, Colorado that went surprisingly well, in that the judge decided that there wasn’t providence (to what my client was going to otherwise plead guilty to as part of a plea deal). There’s a lot more to the story, but the short version is that the client was chaptered out (given a discharge in lieu of court-martial) instead of having to do jail time.

The way back from Colorado was enjoyable. I went a different route (through the wide open country east of Colorado Springs into Kansas and then back South) and got to see a lot of snow. Sandydog enjoyed the weather but also tried my patience in Limon, Colorado where she ran away from our hotel room. I ended up chasing her almost 2 miles through the town before I finally was able to corner her. Still though, despite the frustration, I liked Limon. A really neat town, especially as it has some pretty long walking/bicycling trails.

Then on Dec. 7th I got to preach at Joy. It was difficult due to my bad voice, but the message was a fun one (I read a letter “written” by John the Baptist to the church of today, to kick off the message)

After that, I spent a fair bit of time at my 2nd home in Lawton (I’m not really sure where my home is these days, but that is a subject for another blog post). I did have a fair number of new resistance cases come in (look for news on them in the coming weeks), but otherwise work slowed down with the holidays. There was still tons to do, but the Army was for the most part out of commission. The Army brass loves vacation days, so it has been mostly impossible to d0 much negotiating for clients the last couple of weeks or so.

After that, I ended up spending most of a week in Oklahoma City. I stayed at the Menno House (a little garage apartment at Joy where I used to live, but is now a temporary home for guests of the church) and enjoyed being in nice and warm place as winter blasted Oklahoma. It was really nice being around local and I was reminded of how much I missed the community and spirit of OKC. I like Lawton in many ways, but I do miss the liberal/progressive/antiwar community of OKC. — which reminds me of another highlight of December, the OKC Infoshop‘s benefit concert for OCC! It was a blast, with 4 bands playing and $120 raised. I came away with a strong desire to get plugged into the Infoshop and its work, and a new appreciation for the power of anarchistic collective social action.

Then last weekend, I drove an AWOL client up to Ft. Riley, KS. We ended up staying the weekend in the Junction City/Manhattan area (waiting for the legal folks at Ft. Riley to be around) which turned out ok. I got to hang out some at one of my favorite little brewpubs, the Little Apple Brewery in Manhattan, and I got to visit my friends at the Manhattan Mennonite Church. And, I got to experience some crazy bone-chilling temperatures… down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit! (also for future reference, the Budget Host motel in Junction City is quite the find… dirt cheap, clean and includes a fridge/microwave in the rooms)

Christmas with my family was fun (we celebrated it early on the 23rd). I was anxious because I was extremely broke, but thankfully my family seemed to enjoy the random gifts I gave them (mostly bought at Big Lots) And the time with the family was quite nice, as we all got along and enjoyed each other’s company. It was especially cool seeing my youngest siblings (twin brothers aged 8 and a little sister a little over one year) interact with their nieces and nephews (aged 6, 5, and 1+). It was wonderful to see all of the children get along so well together.

I stayed the night at my parent’s house on the 23rd and then headed down to the Farm. I ended up being there for the 24th and 25th. I mostly just chilled out in the country, but did spend some time housecleaning. I had planned on driving into Anadarko or Lawton to attend a Christmas eve service (I was leaning towards a Catholic Mass), but actually overslept from an early evening nap, but when I awoke near Midnight I had a really nice time. The stars were out and with Sandydog next to me, all seemed well in the world. I know there really wasn’t a Christmas truce, but that night I pretended that there was one. It seemed like that in at least my imagination there “peace on earth and good will towards men.”

So now life is semi-back to normal. I’m in Lawton today trying to get caught up on work. I’m also treating these next few days between now and New Year’s as a chance to “try on” some New Year’s resolutions, in other words I’m thinking about and even trying out some daily practices that I hope will make my life happier in 2009. Some stuff is practical (diet and exercise), some stuff is more subjective (giving thought to good spiritual practices to adopt) and some is downright critical (working on how to make my work flow better and keep up with law firm administrative tasks better-i.e. billing, staying in touch with clients on cases that are stagnant due to circumstances beyond our control, etc.).

My hope though is that by treating these things not as iron-clad resolutions (that must be kept, come hell or highwater… and invariably will be broken), that I seek to find practices that are ones that I will want to adopt as a lifestyle and that are sustainable over the longhaul. Anyway we’ll see how it works. Right now my life is off-kilter and out of balance, so I’m hoping I can find a better way.

I also want to take a moment to wish all of my regular readers, friends and clients, Happy Holidays! I didn’t get out X-mas cards this year, but do know that you all keep me going. I am so blessed to have such good folks around me.

2008
12.16

MilitaryReligousFreedom.org: “God’s Soldier” – Chaplain Capt. Popov, illegally promoting evangelical Christianity in Discovery’s Military Channel documentary

(be sure and scroll down to the bottom of the page linked above to watch the video)

The most disturbing thing from this video was this portion…

Popov blessing a group of soldiers about to go out on a patrol: “I pray that you would give them the ability to exterminate the enemy and to accomplish the task that they’re been sent forth by God and country to do. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.”

This is immediately followed by Popov saying to more soldiers: “Every soldier should know Romans 13, that the government is set up by God, and the magistrate, or the one who wields the sword — you have not swords but 50 cals and [unintelligible] like that — does not yield it in vain because the magistrate has been called, as you, to execute wrath upon those who do evil.”

CPT Popov is not a real minister of Christ, because he ignores and distorts the teachings of Christ.

Jesus said to not repay evil for evil, and to turn the other cheek, while CPT Popov presumes to pray in CHRIST’S NAME that his troops would have “the ability to exterminate the enemy and to accomplish the task that they’re been sent forth by God and country to do.”

CPT Popov needs to repent of this great evil as does the rest of the Army that is seeking to baptize the evil war with its Chaplain’s corps. CPT Popov would fit well into the history of the backsliding church post-Constantine, but his teachings would be seen as blasephous and evil in the early church.

P.S. With regards to CPT Popov quoting from Romans 13, I’ll post more on that in the comments…

2008
12.16

This is an update to my earlier post: JMBzine.com: Speak out against Michigan man being forced to undergo electroshock therapy against his will

The ELCA finally responded to the email I sent them over a month ago. (I guess they now feel the need to respond to this, after Ray’s case was covered by NPR) I am posting it below along with my response to them.

The best I can tell, the ELCA is saying that…

1. Don’t blame us, because we are one of only many Lutheran groups that sponsor Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota.
2. We have nothing to do with this injustice, even though we either have members of the board of LSS and/or contribute money to them.
3. LSS is able to dodge responsibility for this because they are only a “general guardian” of Ray Sandford and that they have a medical professional (presumably paid for by LSS) do the dirty work of going to court and compelling someone to have electroshock therapy.
4. Mentally ill people shouldn’t have any rights to govern their own care.

From:
Date: Tue, Dec 16, 2008 at 9:54 AM
Subject: Re: Issue with Lutheran Social Services
To: JM Branum

Thank you for writing concerning a story you have heard or seen in the public media. The ELCA is not related to the situation, except as a sponsor of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, one of 280 such organizations in the Lutheran Services in America network. Sponsorship is a fairly loose term from a churchwide perspective, and usually means
that people in the area of the affiliated agency represent the church on the agency’s board, and individuals and congregations may also contribute some funding to the agency.

Here is a response from Lutheran Services in America which explains the situation about which you are concerned:

To respond to your inquiry and comments regarding a recent story about the medical situation of a vulnerable adult under a civil commitment proceeding, who also has a court appointed guardian:

As a guardian, Lutheran Social Service has both a legal and ethical duty to keep the specific details of clients’ care and treatment confidential. While we can’t discuss the client specifically, we can speak in general about how we carry out our work.

Lutheran Social Service is appointed by the court to serve as a guardian or conservator to over 800 vulnerable adults in Minnesota. We are court-appointed to take on this role when individuals lack the capacity to make decisions about their affairs and there are no family
members who are either able or willing to take on that responsibility.

A civil commitment is a separate proceeding in the State of Minnesota. When a person is civilly committed, a decision to impose electroconvulsive therapy (“ECT”) is a decision made by a commitment court and not the court appointed Guardian. In the commitment process
someone, normally a health care professional, brings a petition for ECT treatment for the individual. The individual is assigned an attorney and a guardian ad litem (not Lutheran Social Service) who act as advocates either to oppose or to consent to the petition. The
commitment court hears evidence from medical professionals and then makes a decision on whether to impose the ECT treatment. The court decision is then appealable by the client and the client’s attorney.

Under Minnesota Statute §524.5-313, a general guardian such as Lutheran Social Service has no authority to impose ECT treatment against the known conscientious, religious or moral beliefs of the individual. The general guardian is not a participant in the civil commitment process regarding the forced imposition of ECT treatment.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota has a long tradition of serving vulnerable children and adults, and careful systems are in place to ensure that decisions are made with the person’s best interest in mind.

Sincerely,
Eric Jonsgaard, Senior Director
LSS Guardianship Options

I hope this helps you understand the situation, and that you will tell whoever suggested that writing to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America might help make a difference that they are misdirecting you and many other people.

Miriam L. Woolbert
ELCA Communication Services

Here is my response to the ELCA…

Ms. Woolbert (cc: office(at)mindfreedom(dot)org),

With all due respect, your church’s response is a cop-out.

If ELCA is a sponsor of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, and has members on its board and/or contributes money to this charity, then it has some influence on what it does. If the ELCA seeks to follow the way of Christ and seeks to stand up for the marginalized, then I expect the ELCA to use its influence to stop Ray from undergoing forced electroshock therapy.

The truth is that your church CAN make a difference. To say otherwise is not accurate.

James Branum

P.S. I didn’t hear about this story from the public media, but rather from Mind Freedom International, of which I am a proud member. I will share your response with them, so they can encourage their members to continue to press the ELCA to do the right thing.

2008
12.11

warning: this is an angry, bitter blog post and isn’t for the easily offended

FoxNews.com: Bush Says Creation ‘Not Incompatible’ With Evolution — President says in televised interview the Bible is “probably not” literally true and that a belief God created the world is compatible with the theory of evolution

This interview was pretty interesting. I was pleasantly surprised that Bush has as nuanced of a theology as he expresses in this interview, but I also was struck by a bigger question.

Why did conservatives (of both the political and religious persuasions) ever think he was a Biblical literalist?

I do believe that there are very few real literalists out there, but if there are, wouldn’t it make sense that the teachings of Jesus be central to one’s beliefs?

Until now, most conservatives would have said that Bush was a “Christian president” who takes the Bible literally. And yet, they flat out ignore the fact that he did not practice the core teachings of Jesus as President.

For example in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …”

In opposition to the very clear teachings of Jesus, George Bush made it clear that not only were there evildoers in the world, but that they should be hunted down, “dead or alive.” And he didn’t just go after the individual evildoers, but he went to war against entire nations and led our troops to battle, which resulted in the slaughter of men, women and children, who had nothing to do with the evil he was resisting.

And yet, George Bush claimed he was a Christian. He was very open about his faith, and still is (as he expresses in the interview).

Now it is obvious that George Bush is not a literalist and never was a literalist.

The question I have… why does he even call himself a Christian? And why do most Americans trumpet so proudly their faith in Jesus, when they have written off the very core of what Jesus taught?

I normally try to be very ecumenical in my approach and normally am uncomfortable with saying who is and isn’t in the Church (in the broader “body of Christ” universal sense— I guess this ecunemism is a reaction to the way I was taught growing up in the Churches of Christ to see the other denominations as hell-bound), but I’m beginning to think that I am wrong in doing this. Maybe it is better to call a spade a spade, and say clearly that it is impossible to be a Christian and ignore his key core teachings on nonviolence.

Maybe I’m too emotional to think straight on these issues. A few days ago, one of my clients told me of how he saw an Iraqi kid have his head ran over by a humvee in Iraq. It was an accident (well as much as the crazy things that happen in war are ever accidents), but the kid’s face was ripped off in one clean sweep as the tire caught hold of the kid’s nose. Of course the humvee kept rolling. They couldn’t stop to help or they would likely have been killed by angry people. This is the kind of ***ing tragedy that is going on every day, while pious “Christians” are celebrating Christmas, and flying their American flags and pretending that the way of American Imperialism is Christian.

It’s not. Constantine tried to baptize Roman imperialism in his day and all he did was make the Church poisoned and that is what has happened in our day and time.

OK, I’ve said enough for tonight. I gotta try not to be hateful to the haters but right now it is hard to see straight.

2008
12.01

I’m a few days late in reporting on this, but it such huge news that I think it is better late than never…  

Courage to Resist: AWOL Army resister applies for asylum in Germany

Military Counseling Network: André Shepherd seeks German asylum

Bellacio.org: Statement of André Shepherd at press-conference in Frankfurt (also see the statement at Connection-ev.de

Financial Times (UK): US soldier’s German asylum plea imperils ties

This is encouraging to me on several fronts…

1. If the 40+ public war resisting asylum seekers in Canada lose their court fights, I think it would be wonderful if they could be accepted by a nation in Europe instead of facing certain persecution in the US.

2. The situation in Europe has unique legal twists. Here’s one blurb from the Financial Times story that explains this in more detail…

Under a 2004 European directive, now part of German law, the country must grant asylum to deserters if the conflicts they are fleeing from are being conducted in an unlawful manner. Mr Shepherd, 31 has been staying with German friends, often changing locations and working illegally on construction sites. He said he was reconciled to the idea that a successful asylum application would make it impossible for him ever to return to the US. “I miss my family a lot, but Germany has also become a second home” he said.

Mr Shepherd’s lawyer, Reinhard Marx, said: “Legally, his prospects are looking very good.” The German Federal Administrative Court ruled in 2005 that the Iraq War violated international law and labelled the invasion an act of aggression.

I’m definitely rooting for him and will keep you updated on what we in the US can do to assist André in his struggle for justice.

And I must say I’m awfully proud as a Mennonite to see the MCN stand behind him, as the Mennos are some of MCN’s key supporters.

2008
12.01

Peacearena.org: 5 year blogiversary, or, my thanksgiving story

I started blogging on Thanksgiving weekend in 2003. I was inspired by an Oklahoma blog I started reading shortly after moving to the state in January. That blog: JMBzine and its owner is now a friend and colleague of mine in several social service and political projects.

Of course, I have blogged very sporatically, and using at least five different URLs and using the following blog tools

* Movable Type
* Blogger
* WordPress
* Xoops
* Wordress again
* Drupal
* WordPress again

It is hard to believe that it has been 5 years (both of Rena’s blogging but also of my friendship with her). Time sure does fly.

Rena’s post has made me think a bit of what I’ve learned about blogging over the long haul. (I started blogging on May 24, 2001, so I’ve been doing this for 7-1/2 years)

I’ll have to give it some thought, but most blog authors who stick with it for a long time do one of three things…

1. They write lots and don’t worry much about editing. (which is mostly my philosophy)
2. They are super dedicated and treat much like a “real” publication (sorta the Okiefunk.com model — most who manage to do this either have lots of free time, are super-dedicated and/or have figured out a way to make money off their blog)
3. They stop and start many times, often reinventing themselves in the process, but they don’t ever give up for very long (I’ve done this some, as has Rena)

I think the key though is to just do it. I wish more people would. It is such an empowering thing to do and has definitely made my life richer.

Also on a sidenote, I took a quick scan through my old mass media grad school term paper, The Blogging Phenomenon: An Overview and Theoretical Consideration. It is interesting to look at for me, because I had only been blogging for a few months when I wrote that paper. I also found it interesting to look at the Mass Media theories discussed in the paper (the 2nd half of the paper). I think I can now say that those theories were in fact pretty descriptive of what happened with the phenomenon of blogging. Blogs serve as both the “agenda setters” but also as news makers who shape not only what is discussed but how it is discussed.