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Timothy Villareal
Timothy Villareal
Timothy Villareal, a Miami-based writer, is a privately-vowed Christian monk. His website is http://timothyvillareal.wordpress.com.

Q & A with Tom Pickering


by: on November 10th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

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Tom Pickering is a living legend of American diplomacy. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Persian Gulf War. He has also served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Israel, India, Jordan, Nigeria and El Salvador. Pickering’s last State Department post was as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs during President Clinton’s second term.

Now 82-years-old and active as ever in U.S. foreign policy discourse, Pickering brings to bear his decades of experience to answer some questions about the seemingly endless array of Mideast policy challenges facing the United States, including the effort to secure a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.


Ambassador Pickering, thank you for granting this interview.

Before getting to the specific questions about some of the major challenges facing the United States, I found something very intriguing in your bio that I’d like to ask you about. Your bio states that when you first started out in college at Bowdoin, you wanted to pursue a career in ministry.

Can you share with Tikkun Daily readers a bit more about your early interest in ministry? What did you have in mind back then as a young man? Relatedly, would you characterize your ultimate decision to pursue a career in American diplomacy as a kind of alternate manifestation of your interest in ministry, perhaps by endeavoring to make the world a safer place for all God’s children?

My interests then did not seem to be a real “calling” and so I shifted my goals and aspirations. It is certainly true that neither profession makes much money and I was not interested in that kind of return.

Perhaps my early interest in church things somehow conditioned me to think in terms of rewards through public service. I believe that public service can be very rewarding in the cause of improved safety and security for the public and in the search for peaceful solutions.

According to your bio, you turned 82-years-old last week. Are you more or less worried about the outbreak of a nuclear war somewhere in the world today than you were when you began your career in the diplomatic corps back in the 1960s?


The Sacred Heart of Jesus is not an ATM Machine


by: on October 16th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Today in the Roman Catholic church we celebrate the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th century French nun. Jesus not only appeared and spoke to St. Margaret Mary, a nun of the Visitation order, He let the nun, like St. John the Beloved at the Last Supper, rest her head on His heart. Some outside of the Catholic church mistakenly believe that we Catholics worship the saints. Nothing could be further from the truth: we venerate the saints. Indeed, every Christian, Catholic or not, whose Christian life has been enhanced by devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has great reason to thank St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about St. Margaret Mary today, not only because it’s her feast day, but because I think if the nun lived in the world today, and in this particular money-obsessed country, the poor woman would have had to go on Xanax. The financial exploitation of Jesus Christ not only occurs in every region of the United States of America, it is has become entirely normative.

Equally devastating, American Catholic bishops, who otherwise never hesitate to inject themselves into any number of modern-day events and issues, remain largely mum about the galloping spread of the total lie that is called the “prosperity gospel.” For decades, as televangelists have reinvented, refocused, and altogether sharpened their tool of spiritual destruction known as the prosperity gospel, Catholic bishops have been out to lunch. Perhaps the reluctance to forcefully challenge the purveryors of this naked distortion of Christ’s teaching is rooted in fear: How can Roman Catholic bishops throw stones at prosperity gospel preachers when some of them are living in glass mansions themselves?

Yet I think it is important to emphasize to all spiritual progressives, regardless of faith tradition or no tradition, this particular point: When Roman Catholic clergy, and I would include Mainline Protestant clergy also, keep mum in the face of the spread of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” your lives are undoubtedly impacted as well. For if we, in the name of religious freedom, consent to living in a society where Jesus Christ can be turned into a personal ATM machine without anyone standing firmly against it – or at most just give a roll of our eyes at the practice – don’t be surprised when you find yourself living in a society that is simply brimming with people who are trying to turn you into an ATM machine as well.


Chuck Hagel: Not a Dot-Connecter


by: on October 12th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

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Over at The Atlantic, Steve Clemons has an in-depth interview with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. It is well worth reading. Clemons, who has opened up avenues of U.S. foreign policy discourse that were virtually nonexistent ten or fifteen years ago, is an unabashed supporter of Chuck Hagel. Therefore, don’t expect a Mike Wallace-style interview should you read it. Nonetheless, Clemons does draw Hagel out on a “whole host of issues” – as our dapper president would say – and that may not be such a great thing for Chuck Hagel, or the country. Indeed, if our nation’s enemies learn what a terrible dot-connecter the Secretary of Defense really is, we’re in more deep doo-doo than we thought.


Ideological Purity in a Time of Sarin Gas


by: on October 10th, 2013 | Comments Off

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When a head of state, Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has already used what amounts to mobile gas chambers on his own people, remains firmly in power – with no prospect of end to that power – there is nothing whatsoever about that circumstance that can be remotely characterized as a moral victory.

And yet, many on the Tea Party Right and what I’d call the Neo-Soviet Left are indeed crowing about the post-August 20th series of domestic and international political events vis-a-vis the Syria crisis; political events, like the deluge of Americans calling and writing to their members of Congress, which have averted what may or may not have been a pointless and merely “symbolic” cruise missile strike against the Assad regime, a mere “shot across the bow” as President Obama put it.


Burying the Aborted Dead: Can Pope Francis and Spiritual Progressives Find Common Ground?


by: on September 22nd, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Across the world, gay Catholics and allies have been rejoicing over the comments made by Pope Francis in his America magazine interview. Yet looking strictly at the pope’s comments on homosexuality, I see only a more clever iteration of the Catholic church’s “love the sinner, hate the sin” teaching. Frankly, as one who rejects sexual identity labels as nothing more than the social trauma-rooted intellectual residue of the twentieth century, and who embraces homosexuality as an extraordinary erotic gift from Almighty God that is available to all men and women of open mind and open heart, I think the pope’s ever-evolving cleverness on homosexuality is getting way too much attention.

Yet far more interesting and substantive are his remarks on abortion, given in his America magazine interview and subsequent sermon to a group of Catholic gynecologists.

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To the Catholic gynecologists, Francis said abortion was part of the “widespread mentality of profit, the ‘throwaway culture,’ which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many.” Just a day earlier, the pope caused a stir stemming from his America magazine interview when he said, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.”

Reviewing the pope’s zigzaggery on this issue, at least in terms of his communication style, a legitimate question could be raised: Could Pope Francis be trying to turn a new page on the Catholic approach to abortion, specifically an approach that would uphold the fundamental sanctity of every human life from the moment of conception, while simultaneously steering conservative Catholics away from their decades-long effort to use the heavy club of state power to control the lives of women who seek elective abortions?


“The Two-State Illusion” by Ian Lustick


by: on September 15th, 2013 | 13 Comments »

Credit: Creative CommonsIn the summer of 1995 I had the opportunity to “intern” with the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) in Jerusalem, a think-tank devoted to Israeli-Palestinian peace. I put “intern” in quotes because I never actually did anything constructive, as I was much more in absorbing-mode than in doing-mode. Most of the time I just read the volumes of the material available on the Arab-Israeli conflict at IPCRI’s office, then in an old Jerusalem home a stone’s throw from the Damascus Gate, and observed the staffers go on about their work. One of those staffers was IPCRI founder Gershon Baskin, a man with a big mind and a big heart.

I thought about Gershon today upon reading Professor Ian Lustick’s eye-popping and already widely-discussed op-ed in the New York Times titled “The Two-State Illusion.” In addition to shortsighted politicians with petty interests in the U.S., Israel and the P.A., Lustick argues that the two-state solution, or “illusion” as he puts it, still enjoys official political backing because of the career needs of a cadre of “peace process” professionals, though he is careful not to mention names. Lustick writes:

Finally, the “peace process” industry with its legions of consultants, pundits, academics and journalists needs a steady supply of readers, listeners and funders who are either desperately worried that this latest round of talks will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, or that it will not.

Reflecting on this particular assertion, I’m so glad I once got to meet Gershon Baskin and to see him in his element: I can say I have met at least one person in the “peace process” industry who does what he does not out of a love for mere process, but for no other reason than that he simply hates human suffering, and believes all peoples are entitled to peace and freedom.

Yet there are two far more worrisome aspects to Lustick’s NYT op-ed: He is entirely rational in his larger political diagnosis of the conflict, which will give him much street cred among those in the West who are Mideast truth-seekers with no pre-existing axe to grind with Israelis or Palestinians, and yet, his political remedy amounts to a full-scale erasure of the Jewish state.


Lift Every Voice, Scapegoat None


by: on September 4th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

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In 1998, one of my favorite public intellectuals, Lani Guinier, wrote an inspiring book titled Lift Every Voice. The book chronicled her 1993 nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and the subsequent betrayal by President Clinton who caved in to an onslaught of paranoid backlash, from both Republicans and Democrats, against the distinguished constitutional scholar.

While the book is not directly related to the war and peace issues now confronting the Congress, the President and the entire nation, I highly recommend reading this excellent book to all who may feel like their values are on the losing end of political debate and, ultimately, law and policy.

As Guinier so eloquently explained in the book, save for her own attempts to salvage her nomination by arguing in the media why she was the best candidate to fill a post as crucial as head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, she never got a Senate nomination hearing. Having been put in the national spotlight by President Clinton, she never got the chance to publicly and fully make her case to the United States Senate and the American people.

Lift Every Voice highlights an episode when modern American democracy simply broke down.

Regarding the attacks on AIPAC, including some here at Tikkun Daily, friends, let’s get real: When members of Congress take a pass on the ample opportunities they have to explain their values and thought processes, in fora ranging from committee hearings to floor debates, and from press releases to constituent letters to media appearances, they and they alone are responsible for their cowardice – not AIPAC.


The World is Too Complex for a One-Note Dissent on Syria/Iran Policy


by: on August 31st, 2013 | 16 Comments »

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Yesterday, before the British House of Commons voted against British participation in any Western military intervention in the wake last week’s sarin-mustard cocktail gasattacks in the northern suburbs of Damascus, protesters gathered in London to demonstrate. The protesters indignantly shouted “Hands off Syria! Hands off Syria!”

Yet the complicated question that I would like to have answered from President Obama, which he did not address in his White House press conference, is this: How exactly can the U.S., along with the French, prevent Assad and his henchmen from committing more atrocities, capture them dead or alive, and if alive, bring them before the International Criminal Court, and all without inadvertantly empowering the Al-Qaeda affiliated Syrian opposition groups? Complicated, indeed.

The question I would like to have answered from the London protesters, and those on this side of the pond with a similar outlook, is much more basic: How would you feel if you and your family were gassed by a brutal dictator as major world powers sat back and did nada?


Will Pope Francis Take Jewish-Catholic Relations to the Next Level?


by: on August 21st, 2013 | 5 Comments »

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As has been widely reported, Pope Francis began his papacy with an already strong relationship with the Jewish community. Yet only time will tell if this pope will put the final nail in the coffin of Christian anti-Judaism: namely, an official end to the absurd notion that Christian faith produces more compassion and mercy in the human heart than does the Jewish faith.

It is worth noting that in addition to his expressions of solidarity with Argentina’s Jewish community, Pope Francis, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, participated in a Jewish-Catholic Tzedaka service; a charity effort where Jewish and Catholic volunteers went out – together – distributing aid to the poor and downtrodden of Buenos Aires.

Arguably, inter-faith Tzedaka-like service programs could be a template for a healthy, and I would argue very necessary, reform of Catholic religious life: specifically, the kind of reform that would help to end the utter fiction that Christians are more loving and compassionate than Jews.


Nuns Who Commit Sexual Abuse and the Annexation of Mercy


by: on August 15th, 2013 | 10 Comments »

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Steve Theisen, 61, is the Iowa director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Unlike the vast majority of men and women whose lives have been positively affected by the support SNAP provides to victims of clergy abuse, Theisen was not sexually abused by a Catholic priest: he was sexually abused by a Catholic nun.

The abuse began in the 4th grade, when Theisen was just nine-years-old. He stayed after class one day to wash the blackboards. Alone with the nun in the classroom, she showed him how the Eskimos kiss: by rubbing noses. Some weeks later, she then showed him how Americans kiss. Then a few more weeks passed. The nun then said to the boy, “This is how the French kiss.” And with that, the forty-something nun stuck her tongue in the boy’s mouth. It escalated from there. As Thiesen recalls, the nun never touched his genitals, and neither of them were ever disrobed. But from 4th through 6th grade, after school and sometimes on weekends, the nun would have him on the floor, French kissing and necking. Sometimes the nun would be on top of him, other times she put the boy on top of her.

Theisen also recalls sitting next to the nun in chapel. She would hold his hand under her religious habit so that no one would see.

It was not until well into adulthood that Theisen told someone what had happened to him: his therapist. It took 18 sessions with the therapist to finally open up about the experience that so affected his life. As Theisen explained to me, trust does not come easy to victims of child sex abuse.

Theisen’s testimony is gut-wrenching to hear, for those who are willing to listen. Not only did he live in daily fear as a child that someone would find out what was happening between him and the nun, he was also wracked by guilt. For when the school children would ask the nuns why they wore rings on their fingers, the nuns would tell the children that they were married to Christ. During the abuse, Theisen thought he was committing “the most grievous sin in the entire world because he was fooling around with Jesus’s wife.”