Sunday, July 30, 2006

No rights but all the amenities

Amnesty International calls the Guantanamo Bay detention center "a human rights scandal." Five months ago, the UN issued its report detailing the rampant human rights violations, and barely one month ago our President opined wistfully about closing the place. However, we are informed by a report in the Independent that the Pentagon is about to open a new and expanded maximum-security facility on the island.

Camp 6, a state-of-the-art maximum-security jail built by a Halliburton subsidiary, will be able to hold 200 prisoners. Commander Robert Durand, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said the $30m, two-storey block was due to open at the end of September. He added:"Camp 6 is designed to improve the quality of life for the detainees and provide greater protection for the people working in the facility....Commander Durand said Camp 6 will have better recreation and exercise amenities for detainees and integrated medical care. "
Well, if you can't have your rights, I guess there's something to be said for having all the amenities.

(And good for Halliburton to get that contract before the military stopped giving them preference!)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Allowed to care for herself at last

Amid coverage of the continuing "birthpangs" in the Middle East (ah! Condi, what imagery!), the denouement of a domestic tragedy got very little notice last week. On Wednesday, Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity of drowning her children in the bathtub in 2001... and this in Texas, "the death-penalty capital of the world," to quote her former husband, Rusty. At her first trial five years ago, she had been found guilty, thanks to false testimony on the part of a psychiatrist for the prosecution.

All the while weighed down by a mysterious, invisible illness, Andrea cared for her children --even home schooling them-- and made frequent trips to her parents' home to care for her elderly father who had Alzheimer's. She was devastated when he died just before the birth of her youngest child, if I remember correctly. Having suffered from post-partum depression myself (but fortunately, not the point of psychosis), I was anguished to read the many judgmental and even condemnatory commentaries that appeared around the time of Andrea's first trial. So I wrote:

Andrea's Hands

Andrea's hands buttoned her father’s shirt
        fed him breakfast
        wiped his nose and cleaned his dribbling mouth

Andrea's hands changed diapers
        stirred rice cereal
        burped the baby

Andrea's hands took out copybooks and pencils
        guided little fingers
        as they traced each new letter

Andrea's hands kneaded her husband's tense muscles
        fluffed the pillows
        tidied up the bus they called home

O weary Atlas, your eternal burden shouldering,
        look down and see
        the careworn hands that carry you

Andrea’s hands absently picked through the dirty laundry
        her fingernails scratched
        the cereal-caked spoon…

Then one day the too full hands
      by malignant voices perverted
        crushed five tender nestlings
          to save their innocent souls
               …and were empty ever more

Won’t someone take the time
        to hold
        Andrea's hands?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"All our many names for G*d"

I think I can substitute "Quaker" for "Jewish" in the following quotation:

"I am a Jewish practitioner of generic religion. As a G*d-worshipper, I believe, I ought to be at home any place G*d is worshipped. At home, not just a visitor."
--
Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer

A bit more from the Rabbi's website:
Religion — all religion — is intended to be a force to bring people together — together with each other and together with G*d — and not to drive them apart. All our many Names for G*d do not divide G*d and should not be permitted to divide us. Separations and divisions are inherently irreligious acts.

Rabbi Zev on non-violence:
"There are those who believe that violence is the only possible response to violence, that any form of non-violence is a non-response....the nations in which the resistance was violent [during Nazi domination] suffered the greatest depredations; the nations in which the resistance was non-violent saved almost all their Jews. Non-violence is not only right; it is effective."
--from the Tikkun website on War and Peace in the Middle East

(On same webpage: a very informative essay, "Why Hezbollah Fights," by Stratfor, analyzing the history, aims, and supporters of Hezbollah.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A noisy but welcome distraction

OK, so Secretary Rice didn't bring back a ceasefire from Rome. At least she knows where to go to get a good plate of spaghetti ...or maybe saltimbocca.

Sorry, but I need a bit of levity. With Gingrich and others beating the drums for WWIII, I'm seriously starting to worry that we'll be dragged into a war with Iran. (You know, I really wish they'd stop this sh--.) Oh, and Gingrich, Richard Perle and others aren't satisfied that Condi returned with nothing but a couple of bottles of Frascati. They want her replaced by someone tougher before she goes and concludes another one of those "meaningless agreements meant to appease enemies of the United States."

Anyway, I have two boys, ages 16 and 18. The Marines are already marauding on MySpace, in search of a few good men (but they'll take women too). But that's small potatoes. WWIII would result in a draft. So now you know what's really on
my mind.

But enough talk of escalating conflict. Obviously tired of having their ears hammered several evenings a week, our neighbors --parents of a 16-year-old drummer-- sent Marcus Light, their son's band, packing ... two doors away... to the house of the lead guitarist -- our 16-year-old. That's right. My husband came home from work this evening to find the budding emo band practicing. Looks like it's our turn to watch TV, read, do Zen meditation, and engage in other relaxing pastimes while ignoring the elephant ...uh...the noisy band in the basement.

You go, guys! Make music, not war!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Caught between Haifa and Beirut

I was doing OK working with the peace group, writing to my senators and congressman about the Iraq war....things certainly weren't budging very quickly, but I was resigned to the long haul.


The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah (and, so the analysts say, Iran and Syria) with Lebanon caught in the middle (how many more populations must be caught in the middle?) caught me up short, took away what wind I had....

I have a friend whose elderly relative lives in Haifa and a colleague who works at the American University in Beirut. I thought of both of them immediately. Got a postcard from my friend, saying that his family member is OK, spending his days in a bomb shelter where, fortunately, there has been telephone access. My colleague responded to my email, telling me that she had a treacherous drive to Damascus and from there managed to return to her family in the US via Vienna, thanks to Austrian Airlines.

Amazing to think that William Butler Yeats wrote "The Second Coming" just after WWI. Of course, every generation thinks it is witness to Armageddon...some in the current generation actually rejoice to think so, mistaking the imaginings of a couple of novelists for the word of God.

Yeats must have had this verse in mind: "If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ !' or, 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it." (Mk 13:21)

No, it is not Christ ...the upheaval and bloodshed are our doing.

THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


But tonight I feel thankful for Deepak Chopra who reminded me of this poem, just as he reminds us in his book Peace Is the Way that it is up to us to take care of things here on earth, our home, and not to expect God to intervene.

Bringing me a bit of the wisdom of the Orient, he reminds me to seek the middle way, to reclaim my center. Concentrating on my breath, like the yogis... There he is
...I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Breathing hope into the everyday mess

I detect a somewhat desperate tone in the following prayer by Pastor June Mears Driedger, featured in the latest edition of Peace Signs:

A Plea for God's Help

Oh God, where are you?

You have disappeared from our world,
You have turned your back on us when we desperately need You.

We need you to act and move in this world-
Bombs are flying and falling,
People are dying
While the powers keep talking and talking and not listening and listening.

Oh God, where are you?

You have abandoned us,
You have left us when we desperately need you.

We need you to give us words and voices to talk to the powers--
We need you to break through their words and worlds and cause them to pause, to listen.
We need you to halt the death and destruction that is occurring all over the globe.
We need you.

Oh God, your word promises us that you will never leave us nor forsake us.
Please show yourself to us and to the world.
Please pour out your goodness, your love, your mercy to all of us.
Oh God, please act and move in this world, today and everyday. Amen


http://peace.mennolink.org/cgi-bin/m.pl?a=317

I have to admit that I really identify, as they say. I'm a bit dazed by
  • the report released by the UN revealing that 14,000 Iraqi civilians were killed during first 6 months of 2006.
  • by the leaders of the G8 who appeared on TV Sunday -- I'd have expected them to drop everything and try to get the warring parties in the Middle East to call a truce at least. Instead each of them --are we talking here about the 8 wealthiest, most influential countries in the world?-- seemed more interested in enunciating his/her assessment of who was to blame.
  • Today's extraordinary gesture by the President to save embryos. I sincerely respect the beliefs of those who take a pro-life stance, but in this case there seems a total lack of proportion...saving embryos while doing so little to stop the slaughter of those already walking the earth is something that I'm having a lot of trouble grasping.
7/25/2006 addendum: "The poor man who is currently our president has reached such a point of befuddlement that he thinks stem cell research is the same as taking human lives, but that 40,000 dead Iraqi civilians are progress toward democracy." You said it, Molly!

OK, add to this two nights of meetings:
  • the Financial Stewardship Committee ...trying to keep our miniscule monthly meeting in the black
  • our local Amnesty International chapter ... a handful of faithful persons who show up to write cards and letters on behalf of political prisoners, torture victims, and girls and women sold into the sex trade...Like the apostles, I'm tempted to ask, what are these among so many?
Now I'm going to take a breath, imagine myself sitting at the base of a mesa...and hope some more.
...oh, and I forgot: I'm writing, writing, writing ... to the President, Sec of State, John Bolton, my senators, congressman, newspapers .......Get out there and write too!!!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Another INFP

I suspect that Jeanne and I share the same Myers-Briggs type.

Peace Activists Bear Weight of the World
http://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/guest_columns/475873opinion07-14-06.htm

"Those of us across the U.S. who are challenging this empire's greed are the ones here who see the situation for what it is."

Of course, the trick is to take what we do seriously while not taking ourselves seriously (and we INFPs take ourselves sooo seriously!!), and not to fall prey to partisan politics.

"Political action therefore was not a means to acquire security and strength for one’s self and one’s party, but a means of witnessing to the truth and the reality of the cosmic structure by making one’s own proper contribution to the order willed by God. One could thus preserve one’s integrity and peace, being detached from results (which are in the hands of God) and being free from the inner violence that comes from division and untruth, the usurpation of someone else’s dharma in place of one’s own svadharma. These perspectives lent Gandhi’s politics their extraordinary spiritual force and religious realism." Thomas Merton, (first published in Ramparts magazine, then in Seeds of Destruction -- emphasis mine)http://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/gentle.htm

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ephphatha!

Obviously I should stop watching the news and reading the news sites. There's absolutely nothing I can do to influence the ever-escalating crisis between Israel and Hezbollah and reduce the number of people who are dying. OK, I sent an email to the White House asking the President to use his influence to bring about an immediate ceasefire. Maybe he'll read it when he gets back from St. Petersburg. Maybe one of his aides will read it and put a tick mark in the anti-Israel column. And they'll be wrong. And the fighting will continue.

Still, I feel compelled to keep up with the developments (now there's a misnomer!) and to note the mounting the body count. I think it has something to do with being an INFP. You know, the Myers-Briggs personality type. As a member of our staff development team said once, we INFP types wake up every morning worrying about what we can do to save the world. To which one of my colleagues quipped, "Yes, but every morning?????"

Well, it's not about me. This blog is, of course. Regardless what I write about, it's sure to say more about me than about the stated subject. But the deaths, the ones who mourn lost loved ones, the war-without-end, all that isn't about me.

I read commentaries too. Lots of them. One of the most poignant I read today was by Chris Hedges, former New York Times war correspondent and Middle East bureau chief and author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. In the piece "Mutually Assured Destruction," he says that the only language the warring parties only seem to know how to speak is the language of violence. They need to learn another language if this maddness is ever going to end:

...unless those fueling these conflicts learn to speak another language, unless they break free from an indulgence in collective necrophilia, the Middle East will slip into a death spiral.

So tonight, before taking a break from the news to get some sleep ...in a quiet neighborhood where I won't be awakened by the whistle of rockets or feel the ground shake as they hit, I pray --sighing--ephphatha!


Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). Mk 7: 31-34

Saturday, July 15, 2006

On severing the road to Damascus

" 'Only violence pays,'has been the lesson often taught both [the Palestinians and the Hezbollah] by Israel, and by the many militant groups who oppose her in the Middle East." So reads this morning's sad BBC report.

In another report we learn that 10 more Lebanese civilians were killed by an Israeli a missile strike as they tried to flee over the southern border.

And in this report filed by two Mennonite peace workers located in Bethlehem, we learn that
Israeli military shelling led to the destruction of the facilities of the Palestinian Authority foreign ministry as well as the home of a Palestinian family in Gaza City leading to the deaths of nine Palestinians, including seven children, all from the same family.
Finally, Ken Seitz, a Mennonite Central Committee worker located in Beirut, tells us in a podcast that Lebanon is effectively under seige. The country has again become the "soccer field for what is happening between Iran and Syria and Israel," as it was in the late 70's. He describes the blockade and the electricity outage... no lights and the road to Damascus cut off.

Right now it's Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah (and their supporters)...and in the country located between Syria and Iran, it is the shiite militias, the IED-makers, and us...cutting off the Light and cutting themselves/ourselves off from the road that could lead to self-questioning and to revelation:
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:3-4)
...the revelation that in persecuting our enemies, it is always the Holy One that we persecute.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mournful

Today I'm just too sad over all the killing, all the warmaking. I needed to resurrect a poem I wrote awhile ago.

Peace by Peace

Bullets are swift
   surging out of the barrel
   plunging into sinews and arteries
   writing their message in red characters
   congealed onto human vellum

Bombs shout
   smithereens spin in the air
   then drift
   piece
     by
       piece
   to the ground
   spelling out their message
   in bits of bone and flesh

Love takes much longer
   passing imperceptibly across membranes
   spreading
   cell
     by
       cell
   peace
     by
       peace
until -fully metabolized-
   its message is expressed
   by hands that heal and serve

Love is not for the impatient
   or for the easily discouraged
   for it must burrow under mental blocks
   feel its way around facile solutions
   jump perilous synapses
   of double standards
   and glide past nodes where temptation is great
   to become violence charged

Love whispers
   its message
   from ear to ear
   peace
     by
       peace
   among those now living
   its speaking voice emerging at last
     from those yet to come


Sign the Declaration of Peace!

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Reach for the Stars

That bit of advice is usually offered metaphorically, but it was advanced very literally by famed British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in a speech he delivered recently in Hong Kong. According to Hawking, if the human race manages to survive the next 100 years, we'll have acquired the know-how to colonize a planet in some other star system ... which should allowhomo sapiens to survive at least another millennium.

"It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," Hawking said. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of." (See AP story.)

Well gee, Steve, thanks for the good news!

To cheer us up, Hawking then revealed that he's working on a children's book with his daughter. Hope it's not a bedtime story...

"If the human race manages to survive." Hawking obviously considers this such a big if that he put the question out to universe ... the universe of Yahoo! Answers, that is. For the uninitiated, Yahoo! Answers is a service that combines the features of your local library's reference desk with those of an online gambling casino. You ask your question and then take your chances on the answer you get from any Joe or Jane Smith who considers himself/herself an expert on the topic. As a matter of fact, the question is still open, so hop
over there and enlighten Hawking and the rest of us with your response.

Well, it's Sunday morning, and I'm pondering Hawking's question along with an article on the price put on human life appearing in this morning's Washington Post. The life of an American fetches a higher price in dollars, of course. Families of American military personnel killed in the line of duty receive a $
400,000 death benefit, while families of Iraqi civilians inadvertently killed in the line of being liberated receive a payment of $2,500. That the death of a human being becomes a dollar figure and then just another statistic is bad enough, but the fact that someone's worth depends on his/her nationality, ethnicity, or whatever is beyond pitiful. (We Americans don't have a monopoly on this sort of relativism. See this morning's BBC report on sectarian killings in Baghdad.) Sort of makes me agree with one of the more than 600 (at this count) respondents who answered Hawking's question with another question:

"Do we deserve to survive the next hundred years?"
With disasters such as global warming or nuclear war looming, Hawking dreams about moving to another planet. Sure. Then when we wreck that one, we can move on to the next one, right? And while we're at it: just who is going to get to pile themselves and their belongings into those intergalactic moving vans? Maybe there will be a lottery à la Shirley Jackson. Or maybe the "lower classes" and those whose lives fetch a lesser dollar amount will simply get left behind, like those who traveled steerage on the Titanic.

Things like putting a price tag on human life and looking for the next planet to trash could really get me down this morning.

Fortunately, hope comes in the form of South African writer William M. Gumede who responds to a much more concrete question posed by the Washington Post: If you were appointed as mediator in this latest Israeli-Palestinian crisis, what steps would you recommend?

"What is now needed on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says Gumede, "is for them to, just for one moment, suspend the past and even the present."

...even the future...or rather, for the sake of the future, I'd add.

Gumede describes the compromises that had to happen before the bloody conflict over apartheid could be settled, learning to overcome mutual distrust and the ever-present, irrational fear of appearing weak to the other side. (Some people still think that way, apparently: "You have to understand the Arab mind ...The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face.") Compromise and mutual respect are signs of strength not weakness. And these are our only real hope. In other words, appraise your neighbor's life at the same price you would want your life appraised..

"Out of the despair, a solution is still possible."
I choose to reach for the stars named cooperation and mutual respect. I don't flatter myself that I'll get a ticket on Hawking's starship (if I live that long).


Cartoon "Homo sapiens celebrating their diversity" from the American Anthroplogical Association Newsletter, as found at http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/~pwilloug/anthro150.htm

Saturday, July 1, 2006


El Niño del Valle del río Chama

The toddler crept silently
from his crib
and stole outside as the sun
came up

Bending down
he stroked the green velvet
carpeting the mesa

and giggled

Then he toddled the length of the canyon
following the Chama's
thread-like path

Thirsty he reached up
squeezed a spongy cloud

and laughed
as raindrops sprinkled
his pudgy cheeks
and outstretched tong
ue

But then he felt cold
...and hungry

Startled hummingbirds fled
as a baby sob
echoed through the canyon

Just then Mamacita bent down
gathered her toddler in her arms
wrapped him in a blan
ket
of woven sunbursts
and carried him off to breakfast




The Mesa

There's something reassuring
   abo
ut a mesa
   that's withstood
     wind

        lightning
          and rain
   for countless millennia

Still, solid, and silent
   it seems to whisper


lean your flinching soul
   against my sturdy flank
let your spirit rest awhile
   in an unseen crevice
Learn to trust again