Saturday, August 27, 2011
Thursday, August 4, 2011
My wife, Grace, and I just returned from a two-week tour of Jordan and Israel sponsored by Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Corona del Mar.
What a great trip, and what a privilege to visit places I have read about in the Bible and elsewhere since childhood. It was truly sobering to think that we were standing in the places where so many important things happened throughout history!
As one of my best friends says, the Holy Land is a powerful place filled with confusion, but brings clarity to pilgrims seeking to know God. I agree and, first and foremost, this was a humbling religious experience. But it was so intensely personal that I don't feel I can share it with you, other than to ask you to pray for me, as I will pray for you.
Otherwise, as St. Augustine said, "Life is a book, and people who don't travel read only one page."
In that regard, there were many things I had not realized before this trip, such as how small Israel is. For example, the distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is about five miles, to Jericho about 40 miles, and to Nazareth about 70.
Furthermore, and I don't think this is sacrilegious, often throughout our time in the Holy Land I kept wondering why God would have ever designated this place as the "Promised Land," where it is hot, dry and rocky. Why not Maui, Pacific Palisades or Newport Beach instead?
We started in Petra, Jordan, one of the great historic and archeological sites. The elaborate tombs of kings and nobles were sculpted straight out of the sandstone cliffs. And I am happy to tell you that Petra was not destroyed by Indiana Jones in his "Last Crusade" movie.
We also visited the Sea of Galilee, which is really a freshwater lake, and swam in the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on Earth's surface at 1,400 feet below sea level, and is so salty that it probably is impossible to drown. In fact, I couldn't even sit down in 18 inches of water because my legs kept popping up.
The ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee were truly moving. This was where Jesus spent most of his time teaching, where he gathered disciples, and also performed some of his miracles.
We also learned that as best as can be determined, actual history does not match some of the stories we have heard all of our lives. For example, Jesus was probably born in 4 B.C. around harvest time, which would have been in April instead of December.
And there probably weren't any "inns" as we think of them in Bethlehem. Instead there were numerous caves, some of which were reserved for people living communally, and others were left for the animals. So actually the innkeeper in the Christmas story has probably been wrongly disparaged throughout history, because by providing the space in a cave with the animals he was giving Mary some privacy during childbirth, which she otherwise would not have had.
And because they had little wood in the area, what we call the manger was probably a stone watering trough for the animals. But although these variances are interesting intellectually, they certainly do not make any difference in the religious significance of the stories.
Another place that really had an impact on me was the fairly new Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which was built near the site where the Archangel Gabriel informed Mary that she had been chosen to bear the son of God. Within the basilica are large and deeply impressive murals from many countries of the world depicting the impact of that wonderful story from their perspective. My favorite murals were from South Africa, Japan and the United States.
But the most overwhelming experience was being inside the Old City in Jerusalem where we followed the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, and went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Being in the places where Jesus bore the cross, and was crucified, died, placed in a tomb and resurrected was beyond deeply moving and sobering. It really cannot be explained, but only experienced.
Although I am not Jewish, the Western Wall was also a place of deep impact. Their belief is that God is actually always present at this the nearest point to the destroyed Temple. And the people praying at this wall with such sincere devotion is something worthy of the utmost respect.
Throughout our trip all of us felt safe and even welcomed. But this certainly is a deeply troubled land where the Palestinians are obviously being occupied, and the evidence of past and present conflict is never far away. Throughout Israel are young men and women in the police or army, both Israeli and Palestinian, armed with machine guns. At the River Jordan we saw portable bridges that could be used by the army immediately in the event the bridges were destroyed.
And, of course, the tilt-up, 25-foot high cement wall in Jerusalem separating the Palestinian from the Israeli land, along with the armed checkpoints through it, were omnipresent scars. As a professional mediator of disputes, it continually went through my mind that all of this should be unnecessary.
If people would begin by understanding that there are no "solutions" to these problems that go back for hundreds and even thousands of years, that would be a good start. Instead there are only "resolutions," which will not be perfect, but the best that can be achieved under difficult circumstances.
Israelis should be ensured of their right to exist safely in their own land; Palestinians should have a designated country of their own, and be able to control their own water, power and movements; and all religious sites should be respected and as much as possible be under the control of the group that is affected by them.
Fortunately, the Palestinians now seem to be closer to having a responsible government with whom the Israelis and others can negotiate. The U.S. should step forward and exert some neutral and principled leadership to help bring a lasting peace to this confused place. Probably no one else could do it but us, and it is long since time for us to take that role.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net.
Posted by Judge Jim Gray at 10:30 PM
On Sept. 1 you will have a chance to help us make history. On this date there will be an event to support the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Initiative that will be on the November 2012 ballot. Please join us.
The event will be hosted by Richard Moriarty at his Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery, 2128 Mesa Drive, Newport Beach, which overlooks the Back Bay from behind the Newport Beach Golf Course. This truly interesting winery isn't open to the public, and doesn't give public tastings, but Richard is opening his doors for us because he believes in this cause.
The honorary host for the reception will be Assemblyman Chris Norby, and Steve Downing, the former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, will be joining me as a co-host. The reception will be in the Wine Cave from 6 to 8 p.m. But it will be preceded by a VIP tour led by Richard. This will consist of not only the grounds of the winery, but he will also show us the Lamborghini that he has hanging from the wall of his living room. In addition, he will be "firing up" the Lamborghini's engine, which he has turned into a coffee table in his garage.
And marijuana is also the largest source of revenue for juvenile street gangs, Mexican drug cartels and lots of other thugs. By passing Regulate Marijuana Like Wine, we can take much of that money away from these violent groups. Of course, the additional benefit of being able to tax the sale of marijuana is not the reason to vote for this initiative, but the extra tax revenue won't hurt either.
Of course regulating marijuana like wine will not eliminate these criminal organizations, but today Mexican drug cartels are not planting illegal vineyards in our national forests in competition with Robert Mondavi. In addition, teenagers are not selling Jim Beam to each other on their high school campuses, but they are selling marijuana to each other all the time.
Why? Because it is illegal!
But this new initiative actually will make marijuana less for children than it is now. How is that? Because today under Marijuana Prohibition it is easier for young people to obtain marijuana, if they want to, than it is alcohol, because illegal marijuana sellers today don't ask for ID.
For the exact language of the initiative, visit http://www.RegulateMarijuanaLikeWine.com. You will see that the initiative expressly addresses what were perceived to be the defects of Proposition 19, which was on the ballot in November 2010. Thus, it expressly does not change any laws or regulations about driving a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana, people using or being impaired by marijuana in public or in the workplace, furnishing marijuana to anyone younger than 21, or allowing anyone younger than 21 to buy, possess, sell or use marijuana.
In addition, the initiative expressly prohibits any advertising of recreational marijuana. And instead of allowing each of California's cities to establish a regulatory system, it mandates the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control establish a workable system, with the wine industry being used as a model.
Yes, even under this new initiative marijuana will still be illegal under federal law for anyone to buy, use or possess. But does anyone honestly believe that the federal government has all of the answers? To the contrary, don't you agree with me that we in California are adult enough to decide how best to control our health, safety and welfare regarding marijuana and hemp?
Recently the Drug Enforcement Administration released a statement that marijuana has absolutely no accepted medical uses. Note that this pronouncement did not come from the U.S. surgeon general or any other medical professionals. Instead it came from police officers, who are literally attempting to practice medicine without a license, and who are purporting to be more of an authority than either the voters of California who passed Proposition 215, or the hundreds of medical doctors in our state who recommend the use of marijuana to their patients.
As you are probably aware, last June the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes a former United Nations secretary general and United States secretary of state under President Reagan, as well as former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, labeled the world's War on Drugs a complete failure, and called for its repeal. This action has already been called for by the United States Conference of Mayors, and just last week the NAACP made the same recommendation.
You and I now have a large opportunity to put those recommendations into practice. Personally I believe that the most effective and patriotic thing I can do for the country I love is to help us repeal the failed policy of Drug Prohibition. But you do not have to go nearly that far to believe that there must be a better way, particularly regarding marijuana.
If you want to help us find that better way, I invite you to support the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Initiative on Sept. 1. Tickets are $150 and $1,500 for the VIP tour. For tickets, contact my friend Jason Pitkin at (949) 232-8882. If you attend, introduce yourself to me as a supporter because I will want personally to shake your hand.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed And What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs" (Temple University Press, 2011), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net.
Posted by Judge Jim Gray at 10:29 PM