Sunday, May 13, 2018

Welcoming the Enemy


 Mother's Day Antiwar Protest In Front Of White House, 2006. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

 In my last post, I ended with a teaser: In the middle of the night in one of those Bolivian jungle villages in 1979, the soldier thrusts the muzzle of his rifle against the stomach of an American woman, who says . . . .  (https://sifat.org/pdfs/Welcoming_the_Enemy.pdf)

I hope you looked up Sarah Corson’s “Welcoming the Enemy” story to find out what the woman said. But if you didn’t, here is (very briefly) the rest of the story: She said, “Welcome, brother! You don’t need rifles to visit here. Everyone is welcome in our home.”  And she must have said it very convincingly, because the soldier (the leader of a squad of about 30 men) was willing to listen to what else she had to say, didn’t kill anyone, didn’t take the whole mission team prisoner (as ordered; the men were later released), came back to visit again several times, attended their church services, was converted to Christianity, etc.

Offering a nonviolent, welcoming, even loving, response to a threat isn’t going to absolutely guarantee you will never get hurt, not in this world. And we do see news stories reporting someone’s using a gun or other weapon to repel or kill a would-be attacker. But realize that those stories are just more likely to be reported than the many more cases in which a weapon intended for defense is turned against its owner, or in which pulling the weapon out caused a fatal attack.  A little book on this issue published in 1975 includes many examples of people successfully using nonviolent responses to threats: Safe Passage on City Streets, by Dorothy T. Samuel (find it on https://www.abebooks.com/).

I will have more to say on this subject. But it is Mother’s Day, so appropriate and relevant for me to share Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation. Our current Mom’s Day observance was started in 1908. But the first proposal for a Mother’s Day observance (to be held on June 2 annually) was made years earlier. Howe, who had written the war-celebrating Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1861 at the outset of the America Civil War, was so horrified by the carnage that ensued that in 1870 she called for a “Mother’s Day for Peace.”  Here is her “Mother’s Day Proclamation:”

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Looking ahead – My top "Reality 101" expert, Nate Hagens (see post for May 2017), has delivered another of his annual Earth Day presentations, this time at the Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas. Highly recommended. Go to: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-05-08/where-are-we-going/


Sunday, April 15, 2018

It's Foolish to think we can stop the killing

The "Road of Death" in Bolivia crosses the Andes Mountains, some 200 miles or so from La Paz to villages in the jungle headwaters of the Amazon on the other side of the mountains. Note that it is a one-lane road. 
I know you're wondering what to make of this photograph of the Bolivian "Road of Death," in a post with a title suggesting it's a response to the controversy over recent mass shootings in the U.S.  I'll get to the Bolivian connection later, but let me start by saying that I had hoped to get this post up on April Fool's Day, which also this year was Easter day.  So you understand why I capitalized Foolish in the title. I'm not going to try to explain that, assuming that you, gentle reader, are familiar enough with the long mythopoetic and historical tradition of the Fool, who is sometimes even the Holy Fool. For example like that rabble-rouser we're told about in the New Testament whose Foolish advice was "Love your enemies."
Once I missed April 1, there was April 4, actually two significant anniversary opportunities (1967 and 1968) to talk about Martin Luther King's Foolish attempts to stop the killing. Missed that one. And then there was April 12, Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I was going to talk about Anne Frank's statement, "In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit." But didn't get that done either.
Now it's Tax Day, and here I am again, but on this Day with another aspect of Foolishness to deal with, the killing our taxes enable our government to carry out.
Back on Easter/April Fool's Day, I had planned to tell real-life stories illustrating how "loving your enemy" turns out in many individual cases to be quite practical life-saving advice. For now I want to focus on "death and taxes." The best analysis I have seen about the recent U.S. mass shootings was by Matt Taibbi in a 2/16/2018 Rolling Stone article titled If We Want Kids to Stop Killing, the Adults Have to Stop, Too (https://preview.tinyurl.com/ybseclkd). Taibbi makes the case that "America's rage-sickness trickles down from the top." Especially relevant: 
What about the fact that we're an institutionally violent society whose entire economy has historically been dependent upon the production of weapons? And how about the fact that we wantonly (and probably illegally) murder civilians in numerous countries as a matter of routine?
Apart from a few scenes in Bowling for Columbine, this is an explanation you won't hear very much. Military spending is the lifeline of virtually every federally-elected politician in the country. You've been to trained seal shows where the animals get a fish every time they perform? The same principle works with members of Congress and defense contracts. The U.S. is more dependent than ever on a quasi-socialistic system that redistributes tax dollars to defense projects in even fashion across both Republican and Democratic congressional districts. 
In an era of incredible division and political polarization, military killing is the most thoroughly bipartisan of all policy initiatives. Drone murders spiked tenfold under Obama, and Trump has supposedly already upped the Obama rate by a factor of eight. The new president apparently killed more civilians in his first seven months in office than Obama did overall, making use of our growing capacity for mechanized murder.
Maybe this is just hippie-ish whining about the military, but if we're talking about where the rationalization of violence comes from in our society, Jesus, how can you not look in this direction?
So, 51 years after King's denunciation of my country as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world," that culture of violence prevails, encouraging individuals angry about whatever issue to think first about buying themselves an NRA-15 assault rifle, and provoking "terrorist" blowback from other countries we have invaded, bombed or otherwise threatened. No, George W, it's not our "freedoms" they hate but what we are doing in their back yards. I love America and I know all the good things we do. A large copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs on our living room wall, a noble document our country still fails to live up to. And I find it hard to deny that in large part the U.S. government, in cahoots with its corporate masters, operates as a criminal enterprise, extorting wealth from the rest of the world at the point of a gun, drone or nuclear warhead. 
So, what is to be done? Most simply put, the best way to stop the killing is to stop killing. 
What can I do? Well, at least stop paying to support the U.S. government's killing machine. About those supposed inevitabilities "death and taxes," I'm happy to report so far holding death off for 82! years, and for most of the last 33 years paying no Federal income taxes.  On April Fool's Day of 1985, I resigned from the last full-time job I ever had, resolving to find ways to live more simply, lowering my carbon footprint and staying below taxable income levels so as not to be paying for War. And in those few years when I had some (usually not much) taxable income I at least refused to pay the taxes willingly, making them come get it (costs more in interest and penalties, but at least sends a message). Relevant websites:  War Resisters League and National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.  
About that Bolivian road of death, I want to recommend another fairly close-by organization I have some personal acquaintance with and confidence that they are worth supporting: Servants in Faith and Technology (aka Southern Institute for Appropriate Technology), based near Lineville AL. SIFAT is another group, like CDCA I mentioned in the previous post, working to help poor people in poor countries. The website is https://sifat.org, and if you go to their homepage, click on About Us and scroll down to Our History, then scroll to and click on Welcoming the Enemy, you can read one of those stories I had intended to tell you about in this post. In the middle of the night in one of those Bolivian jungle villages in 1979, the soldier thrusts the muzzle of his rifle against the stomach of an American woman, who says . . . (https://sifat.org/pdfs/Welcoming_the_Enemy.pdf)
SIFAT is also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sifatbook/

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Making room at the inn . . . .


“Some young refugees who fled war in Syria now live in Germany.” Photo by Gordon Welters for the NY Times.
This photo accompanies an article by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, January 6, 2018, intriguingly titled, "Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History." When I saw this article and photo I immediately thought about the story of Tim the Innkeeper, told in my last posting (March 12). At least some families in Germany must have said to these refugee children, "You can stay at my house."

The article doesn't, however, tell us anything more about those children or any other individuals, instead lifting the "helping people in need" theme to a global statistical level: "2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity. A smaller share of the world's people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate. A smaller proportion of children died. The proportion disfigured by disease fell. Every day the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $2/day) goes down by 217,000. Every day, 325,000 people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water."

Well, I welcome any and all good news. Thanks, Nicholas. However:

For example, that 300,000 people gain access to clean water every day is wonderful; but the number behind that number is of the kind we typically call "staggering:" 663 million people worldwide without good water. About 9% of the world total 7+ billion population. And then to realize that just that 9%, 663 million humans, approaches what some scientists estimate to be the long-term sustainable human carrying capacity of our Earth. If this planet is our "inn," we have massively overbooked it.

And then to realize there was a time not that long ago in "the long history of humankind" when clean drinking water was available in just about every nearby spring or flowing stream. What has happened? Overpopulation, over-industrialized "development." Which, requiring the massive burning of fossil fuels, has brought on catastrophic climate change (aka Global Harming). Those Syrian children are described as war refugees. But the Syrian civil war was brought on in large part by unprecedented droughts causing 1.5 million people to migrate to the country’s cities between 2006 and 2011, seeking help that the Syrian government was not willing or able to provide. 

The UNHCR reports almost 66 million people world-wide have been "forcibly displaced" from their homes  in recent years. And the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports 24.2 million displaced by natural disasters in 2016, the latest year figures are available for. 

So, clearly there is no room left in our global inn. Just more and more people in need. 

Among the many possible ways to respond to this Situation, I want to recommend supporting two organizations that Judy and I have long-time personal acquaintance with, and are actually Doing Something to help people in need. They are both faith-based (Christian) communities organized to be of service to people in need. The Alterna Community/Casa Alterna helps displaced people find room at the inn, especially in the Southeast USA; the Jubilee House Community/Center for Development in Central America helps people living in the poorest city of the third poorest country of the Americas find sustainable, community-based ways to live, and so avoid being displaced: 


Photo shows Alterna's Anton Flores-Maisonet with Carlos, just one of many people in need befriended by Alterna, on a visit to the Salvadoran consulate. We heard Carlos tell his moving refugee story (translated by Anton) to several hundred people attending the Koinonia Farm's 75th anniversary Clarence Jordan Symposium in Americus GA last Friday.  Alterna is headquartered close by in LaGrange GA, and we cherish a long-time friendship with Anton and his wife Charlotte. Their motto: Love Crosses Borders/El Amor Cruza Fronteras


We got to know and love folks with Jubilee House Community in the 1980s when they operated a hospitality house in North Carolina. (For some years enjoying Passover Seders with them, when they taught us to sing Amazing Grace to the Gilligan's Island theme!) In 1994, they moved to Nicaragua and set up the Center for Development in Central America in Ciudad Sandino, near Managua, where they (with volunteers from the States and other first world countries) provide services promoting health care, education, and sustainable agriculture and economic development. Photo shows a scene at the Nueva Vida medical clinic they operate in Ciudad Sandino. 






Monday, March 12, 2018

No room at the inn?

The Bethlehem Hotel is centrally located in the heart of Bethlehem, within walking distance of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. There are many shops, museums and sites within the vicinity of the Hotel.


A good news story, told by Marian Wright Edelman, seen in the December 27, 2017 issue of The Greene County Democrat:
Some years ago it was Christmas Eve and the pews at New York City's Riverside Church were packed. The Christmas pageant was under way and had come to the point at which the innkeeper was supposed to turn Joseph and Mary away with the resounding line, "There's no room at the inn!"
The innkeeper role had seemed the perfect part for Tim, an earnest youth of the congregation who had Down Syndrome. Only one line to remember: "There's no room at the inn!" 'Tim had practiced the line time after time with his parents and with the pageant director, and he seemed to have mastered it.
So Tim stood at the altar, his bathrobe costume firmly belted over his broad stomach, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines as rehearsed, and awaited his reply.
 Tim's parents, the pageant director and the whole congregation leaned forward as if willing Tim to remember his line.
THERE'S NO ROOM AT THE INN!" Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed. But then, as Mary and Joseph turned away on cue to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, "WAIT!"
Joseph and Mary turned back, startled along with the congregation, and looked at Tim in surprise.
"You can stay at my house!" he called.
Pastor the Rev. William Sloane Coffin then strode to the pulpit and said "Amen."
It was the best sermon he never preached.
However . . . . . . 
The word "inn" in the King James scripture version that created our most widely accepted nativity tradition is likely a mistranslation of the Greek word kataluma, which means simply something like "accommodation," at most "guest space," not "inn." Actually, there likely would have been not even a that-era equivalent of a lowly Motel 6 in the little podunk town of Bethlehem.
So we're actually told that the birth takes place in some family's living space, which in that era would likely have included space for at least some livestock to be brought in over night (thus the manger). And would in that era and under those circumstances have been the most suitable and hospitable place for a birthing.
That means Tim's version of the story is closer to the (possible) history. Not an innkeeper but some Bethlehem family must have said "You can stay at our house!"
The gnarly part of all this is that it is only if we buy the KJV no-room-at-the-inn nativity tradition can we recognize that Tim's version is so much more inspiring, his stepping outside a strictly scripted role to respond from the heart to human need, enacting the message that the grown-up baby Jesus would later deliver in the Sermon on the Mount – using the "unless you become as a little child" analogy.