Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 18, 2015

Emanuel: God with Us

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 18, 2015

Late last evening Chris Bellavita wrote encouraging a delay in my hiatus in order to comment on the shootings in Charleston.  I wrote back,  but did not intend to post anything here.  This morning, after listening to some of the news coverage and comments by others, I have — for better or worse — copied below how I responded to Chris.

While I have never intended to obscure my own spiritual predispositions, I am of the opinion that in a secular, pluralistic, potentially post-modern culture, it is more helpful to use language that is less loaded  and, perhaps, simpler than religious lexicons.  But this may be an instance where to do so is to dishonor the victims.   At least that is my self-justification for bending that principle here.

After writing Chris and Arnold I visited the Emanuel AME website.  I wanted to know what parts of scripture the Wednesday evening Bible Study was considering.  I did not find that, but I did find this quote:

Jesus died a passionate death for us,  so our love for Him should be as passionate.

Sister Jean German Ortiz



I will be in Charleston most of next week.  I have visited Mother Emanuel.  Given the prominence of church spires on it’s skyline, Charleston is sometimes called the “Holy City”.

Especially since the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston the city has been very proactive in its engagement with the black community. Paradoxically, this event will, almost certainly, further advance that sometimes difficult-to-sustain process.

As you know, there is an ancient tradition of Christian martyrdom. In this tradition the martyr is a person of faith whose unjust death serves to inform and empower the potential for justice.  Martyrdom challenges the living to recognize and respond to the call for justice with justice and compassion and courage and love.

At least in the Christian tradition — and especially in the churches founded by slaves and former slaves — the core of our faith is to be vulnerable… to each other, to the whole of reality. Recently I heard Sister Simone Campbell say, “We would be better off if we made peace with insecurity. We’re all vulnerable. Security is all illusion.”  I would not be surprised that many of those killed during their Wednesday evening worship were in those pews precisely because of this awareness.

If Jesus is God and the crucifixion is fact then the central act of any authentic Christianity is to be vulnerable: To know that even God is vulnerable. If the Easter narrative has any meaning, we will be surprised by how being vulnerable to love — as well as all the rest — can overcome injustice and is the foundation of profound community.

Especially within the orthodoxies of Homeland Security, these are counter-cultural claims.  Even among most who call themselves Christians to be this vulnerable is often beyond our ability. But in this inability is an invitation to another paradox: Emanuel is derived from the Hebrew meaning “God is with us”… especially in our weakness, especially in our vulnerability, especially in failure, pain, and death.  In these arid places, especially God is there.

I would never have written anything like this for HLSWatch, but I will write it to you and Arnold… and myself.


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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 18, 2015 @ 8:05 am

Thanks Phil! Your writings and thoughts on this difficult and tragic event welcome.

Comment by Jeff Kaliner

June 18, 2015 @ 6:15 pm

I would have to agree, security is all illusion.

Some might say a social construct.

Regardless, there is no ground that we stand on, it constantly shifts.

Security is the illusion that we can maintain a firm grip.

These ideas are not new, however Alan Watts did a nice job of putting a western spin on them in his classic The Wisdom of Insecurity.

Maybe, as Buddhists (and Phil?) might suggest, we should spend more time exploring this groundlessness, our national insecurities and vulnerabilities, as a way to approach these types of events.

Surely what we have been doing is not providing us with any real solutions or comfort.

Thanks Phil, for stepping out on to this path of the unknown.

As Watts suggested, it might be the only real way of truly knowing anything.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 19, 2015 @ 9:27 am

Jeff: I especially liked Sister Simone’s application that we ought “make peace” with insecurity. Within her Benedictine tradition, this implies to make whole. It also recalls from the Rule of Saint Benedict, “To make peace with one’s adversary before the sun sets.” Which in most versions of the Rule appears immediately following, “To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.” It is worth noting the potential persistence of both adversary and enemy (and the potential distinction). The Buddha taught “right action” (samm?-kammanta) which involves intention, mindfulness, full awareness of self and other and the impermanence of present reality. None of this is simplistic. The strategic implications strike as very sophisticated. In an entirely secular context, John Boyd’s OODA and even David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework have important parallels.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 21, 2015 @ 4:15 am

Several media outlets are reporting that the scripture being studied on Wednesday evening was the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 16-20, from the parable of the sower:

“Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” (New International Version)

Comment by Vicki Campbell

June 21, 2015 @ 12:47 pm

OODA and Cynefin – Seriously?
I have so much to say about the content of this particular topic thus far that I’ve said nothing, because it will require some time, which I hope to have later tonight – because I think its raised literally the most core issues and problems contained in the homeland security community, and our conceptions surrounding national security more generally in this country. I also think these issues and problems are much more clearly and meaningfully framed and understood as and through the lens of race and gender than the kind of religious appropriation, to my mind, that I feel I’m reading. I believe it is both striking and revealing how this thread’s content moved fairly instantly within even the original post into what is an overwhelmingly white Christian frame of reference, including the source of quotes, etc. – in a manner that, however unintentional, quickly erased almost all meaningful trace or meaning of the extraordinary context surrounding the event supposedly being honored, and lost much of the information and learning contained within it. They say there is no more segregated a moment in space and time in America than in its churches on Sunday morning, and the differences in white Christianity and Black theology contains much that white America has considerably more to learn from and about than Black America does to my mind. There is also a difference, to my mind, between appropriation and the much harder work of differentiation, and the much more complex, and I would argue truly useful learning that comes from the more honest, ongoing work of comparing and contrasting ourselves with others – for it is only through truly being willing to know and understand others that we can ever really hope to meaningfully understand ourselves. That is how human beings were designed to learn and develop, however well or poorly we live that out.

I have no way of knowing If I am talking or writing this to white men, on this thread, or beyond, – but that is overwhelmingly my experience most of the time. And if I am, I would like to suggest, and invite you to try on the notion that there is simply no “we” here, rather dramatically actually, whether the topic is religion, security or “vulnerability” – and even more so perhaps if it is the nexus in between. I also invite you, especially as white men if that is the case, (but either way works) to try to imagine conveying the basic message being articulated here that the real or ultimate meaning of this event that has been forced on Black America, which is just one more event of white male terrorism amongst a great many, that this black community just experienced is that we all need to work on accepting our vulnerability and insecurity more. I then invite you to imagine saying it to each other, and see if you feel that it is at all the same act – because I sure as to hell don’t think it is.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 22, 2015 @ 4:19 am


At this point, I doubt others are looking in on this thread. But I would welcome the dialogue.

I am a white male. It is a fair critique that my empathetic reflex initially focused on an aspect of the situation that tended toward the self-referential. I am sure there are many other important angles. Listening to The Rev. Goff’s sermon I was struck by his focus on thanksgiving. As you note, such differences can be crucial.

Regarding your invitation to have white males say to each other that we all need to work on accepting our vulnerability and insecurity: Precisely. I perceive the unwillingness of too many white American males to accept our essential vulnerability to be a profound source of individual and social dysfunction. In our efforts to reject — deny — this fundamental reality we wreak havoc. We can become the threat. We amplify the vulnerability of all.

This will be tough week for me in terms of time. If you find the opportunity to expand on your concerns, I may be delayed in my response. But please do not perceive delay as neglect.


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