Thursday, December 31, 2009

In Someone Else's Moccasins

For a long time, I have wanted to learn Hebrew. This fall I finally got started. It has been a very humbling experience. Everyday I argue with myself about the benefits of staying with it. Learning a new alphabet, learning to read and write from right to left, learning a new idiom and vocabulary should give my brain a healthy work-out that bodes well for my mental future. So there is method to my madness. But the letters seem to have a life of their own and the shift of one little vowel sign can change the meaning of a word. It will be a long time before I can communicate anything in this new language.

I meet with my tutor once a week. She is very patient and does not lose hope for me. Still, at my age, I am reduced to feeling like a 1st grade student learning everything for the first time. I feel self-conscious about not being able to remember all the amazing discoveries I have made during the preceding week. When I look at what I have written in modern Hebrew script, I can barely read it. I have to sound out words letter by letter. When I have to read out loud or attempt a dialogue with my tutor, I feel extremely tentative about finding the right word. Every other word needs some adjustment in pronunciation. Conjugating more than a dozen different classes of verbs is almost beyond me. My tutor is the soul of compassion. She has been there.

My island community is blessed with a fairly large Brazilian immigrant population. They bring beauty and color and a certain vibrancy of faith to our staid New England milieu. With them comes a strong work ethic and a healthy sense of family and community strength. As Brazilian cooking finds its way into the mainstream, new and strange items appear on the supermarket shelves, their labels unreadable to those of us who have only English. I hear attitudes voiced around me. “Why don’t they speak English?” “Why do they keep to themselves?” “Why are so many of them landscapers and house cleaners?”
Having the experience of learning a new and different language as an adult is giving me the experience of “walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins.” I have learned how uncomfortable it is not to be able to speak another language clearly and fluently. I have felt the almost child-like tentativeness that comes with uncertainty about saying a word correctly or putting the right verb form with the right pronoun. I know what it feels like to be unable to come up with the right Hebrew word and to have to revert to English.

My tutor assures me that by the time I have finished the workbook I am using, I will have enough Hebrew to be able to apply for a job if I live in Israel. The workbook is one that is used in the intensive language training given to new immigrants in Israel. But even with a master’s degree, I’m fairly certain I would be applying for a job in the service industry in order to be able to function at all, just as many well educated Brazilians find themselves doing when they come here.

This has been a humbling exercise in learning compassion for newcomers to our community. It helps to offset the arrogance that characterizes our American culture with regard to our immigrant populations and what we expect of them. Walking in a strange pair of moccasins is uncomfortable as best, but maybe that’s what needs to happen if we are to live together in greater harmony and compassion.

Vicki Hanjian

Saturday, December 26, 2009

In the Beauty of Darkness & Light

The beauty of darkness and the beauty of light come together during this season of light, each accentuating the beauty of the other. Chanukkah candles and Shabbat candles came together twice during this Chanukkah, first night and last night, their glow expanding, brighter yet in the presence of old friend darkness…; shades of Simon and Garfunkle, “Darkness my old friend, I’ve come to walk with you again….”

At an interfaith clergy meeting there was a discussion about light in relation to Advent and Chanukkah, But how do we understand darkness in this season of light? One of the ministers present, a mother of two African American sons, spoke of being sensitive to the subtle message conveyed in common usage of “light and dark.” Whether celebrating Chanukkah or Christmas, it is important to remember that there is neither intrinsic good nor bad in darkness or light. Darkness can be warm and comforting, its presence a time for thought and reflection; or it can be the opaque darkness of sadness and despair. Light can be the glow we feel in the presence of another, the light that guides us on life’s path; or it can be the blinding flash of a bomb or the fire of hate.

On the first Shabbat of Chanukkah, in the lingering glow of the first candle, we also announced the arrival of the new moon. With Rosh Chodesh, the new month begins in a time of darkness. The moon is not visible due to the conjunction of the sun, the moon, and the earth. It is a darkness of hope and possibility, a time of celebration. Like the birth of a child, the emergence of the new crescent of light from the darkness of Heaven’s womb, sings of darkness and light as of pregnancy and birth.

For Shabbat, for Chanukkah, for every festival, we light our candles in that indeterminate time between day and night, when the sky is streaked with dark and light. The rabbis called that time neither day nor night, but beyn arbayim/between the evenings, or beyn hashmashot/between the suns. It is a time of soulful yearning, of wholeness in the presence of two realities joined as one. It is a metaphor for Messianic time, when swords will be turned into plowshares and spears to pruning hooks, as we sing at the end of the Passover Seder, “Draw near the day that is neither day nor night.”

The first word of the Torah portion that welcomed Chanukkah, Parashat Vayeshev (Gen. 37-40), reflects both the tension and its resolution. In one grammatical form, vayeshev means and he settled, as in “dwelled.” In another form, vayiyashev means and he made peace, or “settled” a conflict/yishuv sichsuch. Embraced by the dark warmth of night unfolding, inspired to hope by the delicate dance of flickering candlelight, may our kindling of light be a prayer for harmony in all the places where people dwell, in the beauty of darkness and of light.

Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Value of a Mission

“In a community high in the mountain called Peña Nevada in northern Mexico, a poor farmer named Homero, my friend, came to me and placed a coin in my hand. He asked, ‘How much is this coin worth?’ I looked at it and read the script that was written in English on the top of the coin’s face. “No cash value.”

Then, I turned the coin over and saw a funny clown face stamped on the other side. Immediately, I realized that this coin was a ‘token coin’ that came from an amusement park or a fair playground and it is used to pay for children’s rides and games. I answered Homero, saying that this coin did not have any monetary value.

After answering him, he smiled and said, ‘I give you this coin as a present.’ I smiled back and thanked him for this gift. Later on, I learned the great spiritual value of this coin.

Many thoughts came to mind as I was flipping the coin, scrutinizing its two faces. I realized that when you have a mission in life or a path to accomplish, this is a duty, and the duty has come from our faith or our conscience. This mission of duty has ‘no cash value’, which means that these actions are fulfilling a spiritual goal. These goals do not give back any monetary rewards during our lives. And that it’s a duty that makes us, by choice, fulfill and accomplish it.

In my opinion, missions in our life can be paid with these illustrative coins. And they should always be, figuratively speaking, in our pockets or wallets to remind us of our commitment to this mission and our spiritual goals.

I recognized another message on the other side of the coin with the funny clown face. This image told me that we have to see our mission with a child’s mind, without discrimination of any kind, with a joyful spirit, having fun with what we do even if it means making a choice or sacrifice, always looking for the feeling of joy as the result of serving. We have to see our mission from a child’s point of view and child’s heart.

Rabindranath Tagore’s poem summarizes the essence of our mission.

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I awoke and saw that life was service, I acted and behold, service was joy”.

“God has created everything, including our mission, and in making our mission joyful, we bless all creation and ourselves as well; that is why we should not expect any rewards for our duty, because we have been blessed already.”

Fernando Ferrara


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bodo Land Youth Pledge

It was a quite extraordinary expression of resolve. Thousands of Bodo youth, who gathered at a function to pay homage to the world’s most acknowledged apostle of peace and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, signed onto a pledge to shun the path of violence and use of guns.

Young boys and girls lined up at the site of the ‘People’s Assembly on Non-Violence’, organized by the influential All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) at Kokrajhar, to enlist their name in a public campaign ‘to build an arms and violence free society’.

A huge white ‘democratic wall’ was erected at the entrance of the venue, where anyone who wanted to end the cult of guns, could sign it to express his or her voice against militancy in the autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council areas of Assam.

ABSU chose the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, celebrated country wide as Gandhi Jayanti, as the occasion to start off this civil society movement against violence and gun culture. The idea is to collect as many signatures as possible of people of Bodoland who are against the pervasive violence, who can then be mobilized to pursue peace.

“There is possibly no way to secure justice other than the principle of non-violence so effectively employed by the Mahatma to free our country of foreign rule. The same holds true even today,” said ABSU president Pramod Boro.

He said the Bodo society today was cowering under the shadow of the gun. A section of politicians and opportunist people are promoting this culture of violence to perpetuate their personal ambition and vested interests.

“The most distressing fact is that young people , who are lost and find themselves without any direction and hope, are being sucked into this evil design, and it's tearing apart the social peace and harmony” Boro said. As a result, a naturally peace loving, gentle and democratic society finds itself in a situation where people cannot express their opinion freely, fearing retaliation from the arm wielding men.

Bodos by the large believe in mainstream and democracy, even as a section took to arms to achieve social justice and political rights for the Bodos. After decades of violence and bloodshed, two peace accords were signed in 1993 and 2003 to achieve self rule and all round development in the Bodoland areas. Bodos whole heartedly supported creation of an autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) hoping that would bring peace and development in the violence ravaged areas. “We did achieve some semblance of peace and development in the past few years,” ABSU president said, but even this, he felt, was now in jeopardy with the spreading of corruption and suppression of democracy by brute force.

“We are now in a situation which is governed by the gun, inflicting unbearable suffering on ordinary people,” the ABSU president said. In the past one and a half years, at least 107 people died in fratricidal killing or encounters with the security forces. All together, 34 women lost their husbands while 74 children never saw their fathers again, he said.

“We (ABSU) can no longer remain a silent spectator to this mayhem; we need to come together and help rebuild our society rooted in non-violence and democracy,” Boro said. ABSU had always stood for peaceful resolution of all problems and would continue to work for that goal.

“This (call against violence) is a timely step and also a very significant development in the region, which is mired in mindless violence” said noted Gandhi worker Padmashree Natwar Thakkar, who was invited as the key speaker on the occasion.

The youth, which is often seen as the purveyor of violence, pledge to non-violence as a means to secure social justice and peace, is not only praiseworthy but also exemplary, Thakkar averred. He also praised ABSU, a highly efficient and organized student body in the region, for spearheading this silent but highly motivational campaign for non-violence.

“In fact, non-violence is not a mere slogan; it’s a potent weapon of peace which is being advocated across the world,” the noted Gandhian worker said. He suggested that the ABSU carried out a year long signature campaign against violence and use of arms launched on the auspicious day of the Mahatma’s birthday at the people’s Assembly on Friday. “Move out to village to village and enlist support for non-violence, which eventually can be used as a people’s referendum against violence,” he opined.

Speaker after speaker, including former Bodo Sahitya president Brajendra Brahma and national Sahitya Academy awardee and leading intellectual Mangal Singhj Hajowari, passionately reminded the youth of the futility of violence and armed action, which is self-destructive. They exhorted the people of Bodoland to follow the path of non-violence shown by the Mahatma, which is the only way of sustained peace and social harmony.

The new initiative of non-violence, though it failed to attract enough media attention, if sustained could have an overwhelmingly positive impact on the entire trouble –torn region.

Sanat K Chakraborty/ Guwahati
Originally Appeared in The Pioneer, October 6, 2009
Submitted by M.P. Mathai

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Trust in God

One of the programs of Nonviolent Alternatives over the years has been providing opportunities for people to experience the work of nonviolent activists in Gandhis' India. Usually, the programs range from three to four weeks long and are held in three or four different venues. Anyone interested in the program applies to participate and fills out a fairly extensive questionnaire that includes health status and special needs. One year, an applicant skipped the health part of the application.

We started the India program in Bangalore. We had only been there a couple of days when one of the participants approached me. She reported that her roommate was having severe headaches, dizziness and vision problems. All three of these symptoms were signs that she needed medical relief. She had a brain tumor. Her doctors had instructed her that should she experience such symptoms, she was to return to the U.S. and their hospital immediately. The tumor was inoperable, but by draining fluid and reducing pressure they expected to keep her alive, for, who knows how long. The young woman with the tumor hadn't told us any of this, fearful that we might not accept her for this experience of a lifetime, a lifetime she expected to be far too short.

So I talked with her. She didn't want to go back to the states. She wanted to continue the program. This experience was of the utmost importance to her. She believed that the symptoms could be managed and she wasn't afraid or anxious. She understood that we would be leaving the city for the countryside the following day and it would be difficult to get her to adequate medical care, or back to the states, once we left Bangalore. I was left in a quandary by our conversation. I didn't have a clear idea about what to think or do.

So I explained the situation to my co-leader from India, Ramachandran Potti. Potti, God rest his soul, was one of the most devout Gandhians I ever expect to know. For several years he assumed the duties of the Director of the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi. For me, he was a kindred spirit and an elder brother. We were riding in a rickshaw through the streets of Bangalore as I explained the situation to him. I told him I believed the young woman was spiritually driven, not self destructive. Potti just listened. A long silence followed. Then he said, "she should come with us. We will trust in God."

So simple and yet so profound. It speaks to me of the way of nonviolence. When it comes down to the bottom line, the final decision, when it comes to matters of life and death, you trust in God. Enough said!

Our terminally ill participant survived the program, without difficulties visible to those with her. She went immediately to the hospital and care of her doctors on our return. A year later, I heard she was facilitating groups of the terminally ill at a church in a midwestern city.

Carl Kline

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Simplify, Simplify"

"How much is enough?"

That's the question posed by this new multi-media work by blog contributor Phyllis Cole-Dai. It's a fitting question for a nonviolence blog, she believes, since much of the world's violence seems to stem from "the insatiable desire for More."

In this video, which is less than three minutes long, evocative photographs and gentle guitar accompany a few selected verses from The Book of the World, an unusual spiritual text created by an unknown author. This unique book of contemporary scripture, which represents no particular religion and speaks from a human rather than divine perspective, was first published on the Internet in 2007. It soon disappeared, however, having apparently been censored. To resist its suppression, writer/composer Phyllis Cole-Dai joined with a colleague to edit and publish a bound version of the anonymous work. "The Book of the World" is now available on her website,, and on, with net proceeds being donated to charity.

The music in this video is Cole-Dai's arrangement and digital recording of "'Tis a Gift to Be Simple." Credits for the photographs appear at the end of the piece.

Note: If for some reason you have trouble watching the video in the viewer below, try clicking here to see it in low-resolution on YouTube.

Simplify, Simplify from Phyllis Cole-Dai on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Standing in the Place Where the Other Stands

On Thanksgiving Day, Native Americans and supporters gathered on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts to observe a national day of mourning, as has been done on Thanksgiving every year since 1970. On what is the quintessential American holiday, drawing us together from wherever we have come, a nation of immigrants from the Mayflower onward, I have often wondered, what about those who were already here, the only ones whose ancestors weren’t immigrants? In an admirable effort to acknowledge what this day evokes for Native Americans, the town of Plymouth erected a plaque that explains: “Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assaults on their culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggle of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”

With Thanksgiving still in our consciousness, there is opportunity to reflect on the tensions inherent in this much-loved day, and by wrestling with them to be guided toward deeper understanding of other people’s realities. I do not share these thoughts to minimize or diminish the beauty that most Americans associate with Thanksgiving, the warmth and closeness of families gathered, or the importance of giving thanks. By acknowledging that there is another very different, more painful experience of this day, we deepen the positive meaning of Thanksgiving and our own experience of it. I share from a Jewish perspective a challenge that I believe every religious tradition calls its followers to strive toward. To live harmoniously with others, we all need to be able to hold more than one reality. For Jews, there is something in our very being that calls us to hold two realities at the same time. In the Torah portion that was read during the week of Thanksgiving, Genesis 28:10-32:3, the progenitors of the tribes of Israel are born. Among them, the fourth child born to Leah is Yehudah/Judah, from whose name derives the word Jew, which in Hebrew is Yehudi. The root of Judah’s name and the name and calling of every Jew is also the root of the Hebrew word for “thank you,” todah. Todah, however, also means “acknowledge.”

For all people, to thank and to acknowledge means to be able to hold two realities at once. To the degree that we can do that, recognizing the suffering of others, and reaching out from that recognition, even as we celebrate our blessings, adds profound depth to the meaning and sincerity of our gratitude. At the Passover Seder, when in the midst of joy and gratitude for our redemption, Jews pour off drops of wine even for our oppressors, we acknowledge the suffering of the Egyptians. In the same way, holding two realities and more, as we all must, it seems to me that as Jews we should be able to understand and acknowledge why the “flowering of our redemption” today, our return to the Land of Israel, is experienced by Palestinians, though I admit to wincing at the term, as the Naqba/Catastrophe. As Jews, whose calling is not meant to be in name only, as every people’s ideal calling is meant to be lived, we should be able to acknowledge the reality of both experiences of the same event. Only then can we work to bridge each other’s experience.

Even as the Pilgrims modeled the first Thanksgiving on the Jewish festival of Sukkot, the challenge in the word todah, to thank and to acknowledge, offers a way today to deepen the meaning of Thanksgiving. As a day of commitment to end all racism and oppression, Thanksgiving can become a day of national reconciliation. The Hebrew word hashlamah/reconciliation means literally to make whole or complete, shalem. When through understanding we can stand in the place where the other stands, the circle of reconciliation will be complete. Hashlamah is the root of the word and the goal of the way that is Shalom.

Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Point of View

Last week some of us gathered here in Brookings to be in spirit with folks at the School of the Americas Watch demonstration at Fort Benning, Georgia. We watched a film about the mission of this training center called "Hidden in Plain Sight," shared in a litany, and had some conversation about what has been called the "School for Assassins." Perhaps to counter the SOA acronym, the school was renamed in 2001, "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation." Many are convinced its mission continues to be the same, new name or not.

Different points of view were expressed in the film. Spokespersons for the school extolled its purpose and downplayed the dictators, human rights violators and thugs trained there. They claimed the torture manual was no longer in use and the curriculum included courses on human rights. SOA Watch had a very different perspective.

It reminded me of an experience I had in early 1980. I was in Mexico with a group studying Liberation Theology. One evening, in a break from the program, we visited in the home of one of our hosts. They had the television on and we were watching some news reels of the insurrection in Nicaragua against the dictator Somoza. What particularly caught my attention was the way the picture was moving from side to side and bouncing up and down. What we were looking at was a scene of Somoza's tanks pursuing Nicaraguans through the streets of Managua. The crowd was running and the person with the camera was running with them. It was obviously difficult to run and keep the camera steady at the same time.

When I got back to the states, I saw some similar footage on TV. The difference was, the camera was steady. The cameraman was capturing a chaotic scene of people running for their lives through the streets of Managua. His hand was steady, as his point of view originated with Somoza's tanks.

This experience has helped me understand why those of us in the U.S. are so often ill informed or misinformed. So much depends on ones' point of view. Especially in a world where those who have the gold, rule (and control sources of information), people tend to get the point of view of the rulers. It is seldom we are able to see the world through the eyes of the poor. When we do, we too, may have to run for our lives.

One of the last notes left by Gandhi in 1948 has become known as Gandhi's Talisman. It describes his conviction about point of view.

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest (person) whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?
Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away."

Carl Kline

Monday, November 23, 2009

Blind from Seeing?

I’ve been thinking about the story of Isaac and his inability to see well when he bestowed the patriarchal blessing on Jacob rather than upon Esau, his first born son. (Genesis 27). The chapter begins with “When Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see…” Something many of us can relate to as the years keep piling on! I came across a midrash by Rashi ( medieval teacher of Judaism 1040-1105 CE) that connects Isaac’s blindness with the event in his childhood when his father, Abraham, took him to the mountain to sacrifice him according to God’s command: “Isaac’s eyes became dimmed from seeing” [– a literal translation of the Hebrew me-or’ot]: from the impact of that vision. For when Abraham bound his son on the altar, the ministering angels cried, as it is written,”Hark, the Arielites cry aloud. [Isaiah 33:7]. And their tears dropped into his eyes, and were imprinted into his eyes. And when he became old, his eyes became dimmed from seeing.”

Aviva Zornberg in The Beginnings of Desire-Reflections on Genesis says that the midrash suggests that Isaac’s blindness is a delayed reaction to the unspeakable trauma of his near death at his father’s hands.

The notion of delayed response to trauma has become all too familiar as young women and men return from Iraq and Afghanistan to resume the normalcy of their lives only to find that they are forever changed by the violence they have witnessed or that they have been called upon to perpetrate. The response is not new. It has been called “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” and now “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” I wonder how many more polite euphemisms we can come up with before we finally eliminate the causes of the delayed reaction to the trauma of violence we humans inflict on one another in the name of peace and security.

I also wonder if we humans have witnessed so much violence (military, domestic, social, political, moral, financial, sexual, racial, and gender violence – to name a few) that we, in turn, are in danger of becoming blind, both metaphorically and literally, as we experience a collective form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In the Isaac story, the blindness manifested long after the original trauma and, indeed, it set in motion another cycle of enmity and discord between Jacob and Esau. As deliberations continue about how to respond to the demands for more troops in Afghanistan, how to respond to the escalating need for a more equitable and effective health care system, how to respond to the human needs for housing, food, well being and dignity, I wonder…have we witnessed so much trauma that our eyes are already dimmed from seeing?

Isaac’s eyes were imprinted by the tears of ministering angels. Those tears, perhaps, permitted him to get through the trauma and live into old age. But the eventual cost to him and his progeny was blindness. Perhaps, in order to offset our collective blindness, we need to be shedding our own tears, finding the ways to insert nonviolent responses to life where we have witnessed violence. If tears can dim our vision, perhaps they can also serve to cleanse and clarify it, allowing us to see humanity for the precious gift that it is, allowing us to respond to life not from the imprisonment of the pain and blindness of trauma but from the liberating pain of a broken and contrite heart.

Vicki Hanjian
(Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nonviolent Jesus

In the video "The Narrow Path," John Dear, SJ, speaks about the "nonviolent Jesus." As he reads the Bible, especially the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, it is clear to him; Jesus is calling people to a way of nonviolence. It's what New Testament scholar Walter Wink calls "Jesus' Third Way." What both men are saying is, we have an alternative to fight or flight. In a situation of conflict we have more than two choices, fighting or fleeing. We can choose a third alternative, nonviolent resistance, limited only by our imagination and creativity.

Some years ago I was attending a two day meeting in a city away from home. We had motel rooms booked for the overnight and I was sharing a room. My roommate dropped off to a sound sleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. I, on the other hand, was distracted and disturbed by the noise from the room directly over my head. There would be a few minutes of quiet, then loud outbursts, and I would hear what sounded like people jumping off the bed onto the floor.

This began at 11:00 PM and was still going strong at 1:00 AM. After midnight, I began considering my options. I could flee from any confrontation and do my best to ignore or tolerate the noise. After all, I had managed with sleepless nights before. Besides, they couldn't go on like this all night, could they? Then again, I could start throwing my shoes at the ceiling; or I could call the management or the cops; or maybe I could go kick in the door and make them stop.

Finally, at 1 AM, I decided. I left my room. I walked outside and up an outdoor staircase to get to the room. When I got there, I knocked lightly on the door. A young man opened it. I could see several other young people scattered around the room behind him. The young man smiled, perhaps because I didn't have any clothes on except my boxers and the snow was falling lightly behind me.

I said, "Is there a kangaroo in here?" He smiled again. He said, "I guess we're being kind of noisy." I shook my head yes and left. A few minutes later I heard several cars leave the parking lot and the ceiling was still.

As best I understand it, this is Jesus' Third Way. You don't run away from conflict but you don't enter it with violence either. You do your best to find an alternative where you are able to present your need in an assertive but non threatening way.

Actually, I started this blog thinking about the ritual of Christian baptism. I had a baptism recently. There was one line in the ritual where parents promise to "encourage the child to renounce the powers of evil and receive the freedom of new life in Christ." What if we just changed that slightly to "the freedom of new life in the nonviolent Jesus." What if we encouraged parents to think about shielding their children from the principalities and powers of violence even as infants. What if we enabled them to teach their little ones alternatives to violence.

I'm waiting and hoping and working, for a faith community that takes the third way of Jesus seriously; that invites parents to teach their children nonviolence as a tenet of the tradition and an essential moral principle. Come nonviolent Jesus, come!

Carl Kline

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gaza & These Righteous Ones

Near the end of the Torah portion that is called Noah, after its central character, beyond the raging waters of the flood, nations begin to branch out. At first they are the direct children of Noah, survivors of the cataclysm, and then the generations of the children of Noah. The generations unfold, and from these the groups of nations branched out, each to its own land and dialect. As the nations branch out beyond the flood, through Ham, second son of Noah, the border of the Canaanites extended even until Gaza. Soon, we all come to be the children of Noah, all who hold to a universal moral standard that the rabbis called the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah. These laws set a standard by which to judge righteousness.

Righteousness can be measured by the nature of one’s behaving in regard to others; not by whether one is a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, nor by any of the ways and tongues by which people call out to God.

We are told in the beginning of the Torah portion that Noah was a righteous and upright man in his generations. The rabbis debate; was he righteous only in relation to the violent ways of his own generation, or was he truly righteous in regard to all generations? How shall we judge him? How shall we judge ourselves? Noah was a righteous man, but whether for lack of moral insight or creativity he was not righteous enough to avert disaster. Whether he should have drawn the question out of others, made it part of the moral debate, the people of his time were too blind to see the ark and to ask why.

And now, a flood of fire consumes the righteous along with the wicked. I encountered two people during the week in which we read the Torah portion of Noah, each one righteous beyond their generations, each one through words and deeds building an ark of truth, hoping that we will be brave enough to look and to see it before it is too late.

I was privileged to participate in a rabbinic conference call with Judge Richard Goldstone, sponsored by “Taanit Tzedek-Jewish Fast for Gaza.” As lead investigator for the report that bears his name, Judge Goldstone accepted the United Nations Human Rights Council appointment only on condition that he would be empowered to investigate the possibility of war crimes committed by Hamas as well as by Israel during the Gaza war. A life long Zionist, a trustee of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, president emeritus of World ORT, a deeply committed Jew and lover of Israel, Judge Goldstone has been vilified as a traitor. His pain and sorrow were palpable. Would that he could shield his family from the hate and vitriol. A passionate defender of human rights, he played a key role in the dismantling of apartheid in his native South Africa. He was the chief prosecutor for the international criminal tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Humbly minimizing his own Jewish knowledge and standing, he quietly explained why he agreed to investigate the Gaza war: “I really felt to live with myself and my own conscience I couldn’t justify having been involved in the investigations in many other countries, and because I was Jewish refuse to use the same norms and principles in relation to Israel.” It is painful to look at one’s own culpability in the suffering of others, even more so when one’s own grievances beg to be acknowledged. Judge Goldstone wanted to interview Israelis and get a fuller picture from within Israel, but he was refused entry. Only when we can open our eyes to a larger picture than our own is there any hope of averting the flood.

Later in the same week of the Torah portion Noah, we were gathered in a local synagogue, with another talk to rabbis. How my heart breaks for the anguish of Dr. Izzeldeen Abuelaish. A physician, a healer of people and peoples, holding each patient close, Israeli or Palestinaian, Dr. Abuelaish is from Gaza, born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp. An obstetrician/gynecologist for whom every life is precious, “the happiest moment in my life,” he said, “is to hold a baby.” Living in Gaza, working in Soroka hospital in Beersheva, Israel, he is a bridge of hope. “We know each other through one eye,” he said, “the eye we want to see from; Palestinians as terrorists, Israelis as occupiers.”

I thought about the ark we cannot see for moral blindness, the inability to see reality as experienced by others, the prophetic warnings we cannot hear. This righteous man, a believing Muslim, explained that one should take apart the Ka’ba in Mecca stone by stone before taking an innocent life. Then the room became so still. We were embarrassed before his moistening eyes and his soft, steady voice. A story that chilled hearts throughout the world at the time, it was his house that was shelled by an Israeli tank on January 16th, one day before the cease-fire. Would that he could have shielded his family. Three of his daughters and a niece were killed, another daughter severely wounded. His words came without bitterness, “Israel said militants were in the house; yes, my daughters were militants armed with love.” We were overwhelmed by the depth of his faith and his own love, his towering moral presence; “At that moment, what can I do,” he said, “I can go one of two ways, close off, have nightmares, or turn to the light. My daughters won’t come back, but my other children, others, need me.” How much we needed him in that moment, to hear his voice, not to be left alone with images of horror that we had not known but through him.

Judge Goldstone described the horror he felt amidst the destruction that is Gaza. He continues to hope that Israel and Hamas will conduct their own investigations, somehow coming to acknowledge and affirm the lives that were lost, making moot the recommendation to prosecute. If we could only begin with ourselves, talking with each other across the political divide, stepping back from the precipice of refusal and denial, only to look and examine, and to cry.

Dr. Abuelaish carries the destruction of Gaza with him. He transcends the horror with a message of hope, with a challenge for Israelis and Palestinians, for all of us, “words and understanding are stronger than bullets.” Finding his greatest joy in bringing life into the world, the lives of his daughters who were taken from this world inspire him on the path of healing. Channeling his grief by affirming life, he honors his daughters through a foundation that will promote education, health, and leadership for women and girls throughout Gaza and the Middle East.

Of these righteous ones, you can witness a heartbreakingly beautiful tribute to his daughters by Dr. Abuelaish at this website:; and hear Judge Goldstone’s talk to the rabbis at this website:

Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Monday, November 9, 2009

Prayers, Candles & the Berlin Wall

Twenty years ago, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall opened up. Thousands of exhilarated East Germans streamed through to celebrate with Germans on the west side.

If you are old enough, you may remember that day, but many people still do not know about the events leading up to the fall of the East German's wall and their government.

Six people in Leipzig had started a prayer group in 1982. For years a faithful group met every Monday after work in St.Nicholas (Lutheran) Church to pray for peace and then stand outside, each with a candle, for one hour.

In 1989 more people discovered the Monday peace prayers and came to pray and hold candles.

The state security police and the ruling Communist officials took notice. In May they blocked the roads leading to the church on Mondays. But the congregation grew. People were arrested but insisted on non-violence. Still more people gathered.

In September when people exited the church, thousands joined them in the square, everyone holding a candle, a symbol of non-violence. You need to hold a candle with both hands to keep it from going out, which makes it impossible to throw stones.

On October 7, there were hundreds of arrests. The newspaper announced that on Monday, October 9, "the counter-revolution" would be put down with "whatever means necessary." There were fears that the same brutality would be used as in Tiananmen Square only 4 months earlier.

Monday, October 9, the government sent Communist party members to fill the church pews, but the pastor shrewdly reserved the balconies for the peace demonstrators. The prayers concluded, statements supporting non-violence were read, the bishop gave a blessing, and the people went out. Those coming out of the church were amazed. The 10,000 people of the previous week had not been scared away. Now there were 70,000 people with candles.

Historian Rainer Eckert tells what happened: "The authorities had threatened to use force to break up the protests. But that never happened. The guns remained silent … The security forces found themselves in the situation where they weren't standing against German imperialism or fascism but against their own families and colleagues and children…. The order to fire never came."

Pastor Christian Führer of St.Nicholas Church said recently: "We were afraid …, but we had the courage of our convictions.... It still moves me today to recall that in a secular country, the masses condensed the Beatitudes in the Lord's Sermon on the Mount into two words: No violence!"

German foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher said, "On this day it became clear that peace is stronger than anything else."

The next Monday, October 16, 120,000 people filled the streets of Leipzig. There was no violence -- no looting, no stone throwing, no killing. On October 18th, head of state Erich Honnecker resigned.

In other East German cities also, people began meeting on Monday nights at their city squares, including over half a million in East Berlin on November 4.

By November 7 the entire government resigned. On November 9, the Berlin Wall opened up.

A leader of the East German Communist Party said afterward, "We had planned everything, we were prepared for everything, but not for candles and prayers."

Submitted by guest blogger, Cathy Brechtelsbauer
Some websources:


interview with the pastor, and pic of him:,,3805080,00.html

a couple editorials:

Genscher quote:

has photo from inside the church

chronology of events in 1989, includes peace prayers,chronology-seemingly-minor-events-in-early-1989-led-to-big-changes.html

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Photo by John A. Anderson, from The Sioux of the Rosebud: A History in Pictures

Every summer when we went to the Ring Thunder Powwow on the Rosebud Reservation, there was a Giveaway. In Indian country, when you want to honor or remember someone, you sponsor a Giveaway. At Ring Thunder, the Giveaway usually began when two or three pick up trucks pulled into the ring loaded with goods. There would be pots, pans, storage containers and utensils for the kitchen; towels and wash cloths for the bathroom; and sheets, blankets and star quilts for the bedroom. Everyone present got something. Special friends of the one being honored or remembered got something special, like a hand sewn star quilt, and they were recognized as they came to the center of the ring to receive their gift. Those who were visitors were often astonished to receive gifts from people they had never met, in honor of someone they didn't know.

In traditional societies, Giveaways were a method for redistributing wealth and meeting human needs. There was no reason to identify someone as "poor" and establish some special program to help them. Rather, structured into the society, were methods of sharing the wealth.

The idea of Giveaway has been a blessing for me. You see, I have an addiction to books. Let me loose in a bookstore and I can fill a grocery cart in no time. (Fortunately, most bookstores don't have grocery carts.) I doubt that I will live long enough to read all the books I have right now. Still, the AAUW is sponsoring a used book sale next week that I will not be able to resist. The Public Library now holds TWO book sales every year. And we recently made a trip to Madison, WI, at least partly because we love a Half Price Books store there, as well as a huge used books section of Barnes & Noble.

When I left my last full time job, I didn't want to move all the books in my office. So I packed up a couple of boxes of those books I absolutely had to keep, and put all the others on three banquet tables for my first Giveaway. Within a week, they were all gone. Lots of friends and acquaintances were grateful and I was ecstatic.

Last November, I could hardly work in my home office, it felt so cluttered, with books. So we added a line to our annual Christmas party invitation. It read, "It is hoped everyone will select at least one book from the book Giveaway table." Then I proceeded to put some bookshelves on a long low table and pile it all high with books. Some who came misunderstood. They thought it was a book swap. But I screwed up my courage and made them take their books back home. None came in. Eventually, all of the books on the table went out.

I'm doing a book Giveaway again this year. I have to! Regretfully, I've not conquered my addiction. Maybe, if things don't improve soon, I'll start a book list on a blog and you can order by email.

Carl Kline

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rethinking Afghanistan

Recently I had the opportunity to view "Rethinking Afghanistan," a powerful dissection of the reasons most often cited for America's continuation, and indeed escalation, of the war in Afghanistan. That war is costing the United States about $2 billion per month, and its human toll is immeasurable, with countless American and Afghanistan lives lost or forever changed.

As President Obama and his advisers mull over the future of the American military presence in Afghanistan, it is vitally important for us to do the same, and then to make our opinions about this eight-year-old war well known to our political leaders and within our communities.

This eleven-minute excerpt from "Rethinking Afghanistan," entitled "Security," argues that the war is increasing, not decreasing, the likelihood that American civilians will be killed in a future terrorist attack. "National security," it asserts, is therefore an invalid argument for "staying the course." I invite you to consider this argument with an open mind and heart.

To view "Security," either press play in the embedded viewer or click this link: Please be forewarned that some images you will see are graphic.

If you wish to view additional excerpts from this important film, please use these links:

Excerpt: "The Cost of War"
Excerpt: "The Women of Afghanistan"
Excerpt: "Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan"

Phyllis Cole-Dai

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Low Profile Is Not a Bad Thing

“The counterinsurgency strategy the U.S. is employing in Afghanistan may be the template for war for the next generation. But critics say it overreaches—and could lead to a succession of mini-Vietnams.” So reads the lead to a feature article titled “The future of war” in the October 2, 2009 issue of The Christian Science Monitor. I side with the critics.

Thirty-five years ago this August, I arrived as a Foreign Service Officer with my young family in Islamabad, Pakistan. I spent the next 18 months there working as an agricultural economist for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the economic development arm of the State Department. This experience has been much on my mind recently as the U.S. searches for sensible policies in Afghanistan and next-door neighbor Pakistan.

The Obama administration correctly sees the Afghanistan and Pakistan internal conflicts as intricately intertwined, and State Department veteran Richard Holbrooke has been assigned to coordinate and direct civilian policies as Special Representative. The New Yorker’s September 28, 2009 issue has an excellent article by George Packer on Holbrooke’s current efforts in this role.

So-called counterinsurgency strategies, like the earlier pacification programs in then South Vietnam, call for combining local economic development efforts with military security on the ground. The theory sounds good. But it requires a massive military presence to provide sufficient security for the economic development activities to be carried out. And it requires a long-term commitment. Is the U.S. really prepared to have large numbers of troops in Afghanistan for many years to come? I don’t think so. The ‘volunteer’ army is greatly overstretched, and the multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are placing impossible strains on troops and their families. Unless the broader U.S. public is willing to share the burden and pain through a draft—which seems highly unlikely—I do not see how a long a long-term counterinsurgency campaign is feasible.

My USAID stint in Pakistan, in 1974-76, occurred during a period of relative (for Pakistan) political stability. Pakistan was recovering from the civil war that resulted in East Pakistan splitting off into the new political entity of Bangladesh a few years earlier, and an elected civilian government was in place. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the father of Benazir Bhutto (who was assassinated in December 2007), was president. USAID and the World Bank had major economic assistance programs in Pakistan at that time, many of them focused on agricultural development. At the time, it appeared that some success was being achieved through these efforts. But even then, in ‘peacetime’, foreign assistance efforts were severely constrained.

Pakistan was then, and remains now, a basically ‘feudal’ country in the rural areas. The Bhuttos themselves came from a large landlord family in Sindh Province. Democratic institutions at the local level were largely absent. There was, and continues to be, a very low adult literacy rate—55 percent at present. Such constraints made it extremely difficult for outsiders to design and carry out programs that might transform the lives of people at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. My reading of noted Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid’s 2008 book, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, leads me to believe that amazingly little progress has been made during the last three decades in transforming Pakistan from a feudal to a modern democratic society.

Many would view with considerable cynicism Pervez Musharraf’s recent statement to an audience at Augustana College that one of his accomplishments in Pakistan was introducing “an essence of Democracy” (Argus Leader, October 3, 2009). Musharraf was the latest in a series of military dictators who have periodically overthrown civilian governments during Pakistan’s chaotic political history since receiving independence (along with India) from the United Kingdom in 1947; he led Pakistan from 2001 to 2008.

If carrying out economic development in Pakistan is difficult, imagine what it must be like in Afghanistan, where national and local institutions are even less developed and the security situation is far worse than in most of Pakistan. The U.S. government is now attempting to recruit agricultural experts to serve in Afghanistan, but I think it highly unlikely that there will be many qualified American applicants for those positions, given the extreme risks experts would face in the country.

Although there are no doubt many crying needs for agricultural and other economic development assistance in Afghanistan, underlying any potential strategy is the issue of poppy production. The U.S. and its NATO allies reportedly have backed off from many of the efforts to destroy poppy fields and otherwise try to directly halt poppy production in Afghanistan. Those policies surely created tremendous resentment on the part of smallholder farmers. Instead, U.S. and NATO poppy control policies are concentrating on opium drug dealers instead of crop eradication, according to The New Yorker article by George Packer.

Packer mentions a recent visit of Richard Hollbrooke with the Provincial Governor of Helmand, a major poppy production region of Afghanistan. Hollbrooke and the Governor discussed “whether the price of this year’s wheat harvest would be high enough to dissuade farmers from planting poppies”. It is difficult to know the larger context of that conversation, but I hope that Hollbrooke and his associates are not operating under an illusion that wheat prices are ever likely to be sustained at levels high enough to provide much incentive for peasant farmers to voluntarily switch from poppies to wheat. The difference in profits per unit of land is enormous, and will remain so as long as the demand for opium remains strong.

At least as far back as my time in Pakistan during the 1970s, the U.S. had programs that attempted to wean farmers in the North West Frontier Province and Tribal Areas from poppy production. But these programs had little effect. Poppy production was simply too profitable. (I have a photo in my files, taken on a weekend drive, of my wife walking in a poppy field not far from Islamabad, with farm laborers openly harvesting poppy resin in the same field.) Authorities may temporarily shut down poppy production in a particular region if military and police efforts are harsh enough, but production usually will just move around to some other region in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or other nearby countries.

During the presidential election campaign, Barack Obama began to advocate incursions from Afghanistan into the mountainous border regions of Pakistan, to pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters who take sanctuary there. I was baffled at the time, wondering if Obama had any real comprehension of the terrain of eastern Afghanistan and the frontier regions of Pakistan. I have seen some of that terrain on the Pakistan side. It would be insane, in my view, to commit American troops in those rugged and remote regions of Pakistan. Pilotless drones are being used for such incursions, but that kind of high-tech weaponry requires good ground verification, something that is often lacking—with sometimes tragic consequences for innocent civilians. Moreover, many Pakistanis view the use of drones on their territory as an unwarranted foreign military intrusion, just as would we if the Mexican government were to use drones to target drug kingpins in Arizona.

Current events in Pakistan and Afghanistan have a back to the future feel for me. This leads me to the following recommendations concerning U.S. policy options for this part of the world.

One, recognize our limits. It is difficult to transform whole societies. That is true in peacetime, but even truer when there is major violent conflict underway. I do not believe the U.S. and our NATO allies can impose military solutions in Afghanistan or the borderlands of Pakistan, even military solutions carried out in a counterinsurgency context.

Two, continue to offer economic and other institution building assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan to the extent the assistance can be effectively utilized and if the poor and powerless are helped, not harmed, by such assistance. For all the positive things U.S. assistance may have accomplished in decades of economic assistance to Pakistan—increased cereal crop productivity, for example—almost nothing has been accomplished in terms of creating a more democratic, just, and egalitarian society. Many millions of people in Pakistan remain desperately poor, powerless, and without a fair and reliable justice system. The more closely associated the U.S. is with governments that perpetuate unjust systems in their countries, the more the U.S. is tainted. We ultimately face a backlash.

In 1977, a year after I left the USAID offices in Islamabad, the civilian government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was overthrown in a military coup. Bhutto himself was later imprisoned and executed by the military government of General Zia ul-Haq. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad was burned by a student mob in 1979. These events caused me to more fully comprehend why the USAID Mission Director in Islamabad during the time I was there lent the front portion of the quite fine building that USAID owned to several United Nations agencies. The United Nations identification was on the front of the building and the front gate, not USAID identification. United Nations employees had the big, glass-front offices facing the boulevard, while we USAID employees were in cramped offices in the back part of the building. But the USAID Director’s rationale was that although U.S./Pakistan relations were good at the time (mid-1970s), you never knew when political events could turn, and the U.S. might be vilified and threatened by mob action. If and when that time came, he wanted the USAID offices to have a very low profile. How right he was! It was the U.S. Embassy building, very conspicuous a mile or so away, that the mob burned, not the USAID building. Sometimes a low profile is not such a bad thing.

This blog was adapted from an October 10, 2009 column in The Dakota Day, titled “Back to the future in Pakistan, and implications for U.S. policies in Afghanistan” by Thomas Dobbs, Professor Emeritus of Economics at South Dakota State University. Tom is our guest blogger this week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Blood and Oil

Walking into the kitchen the other day, I caught an interview with Donovan Campbell on NPR. He's an Iraq vet who served two tours of duty there and the author of the book Joker One. One of the situations he described took my breath away. He and his Marines were charged with cleaning out a housing complex, detaining possible insurgents. They were going about this process, in the middle of the night, busting into homes and waking frightened families. The detainees were taken to waiting trucks at the end of the road. Campbell said the families of the detainees began lining the side of the road, wailing their grief. Women and children were crying, pleading, even beating themselves in their fear and despair, believing they would never see their husbands and fathers again.

Campbell said he and his men were deeply disturbed by the scene. They wanted to tell the women and children they were not bad people, that they had families of their own. They wanted to say, this detention is precautionary, your husbands and fathers will probably be alright. But of course, they didn't know Arabic and couldn't communicate with the people and, ultimately, they had no idea what would happen to the men.

To make matters worse, as one of the trucks pulled away in the dark, it ran into a ditch and tipped over. Two Marines were injured as well as many of the detainees. The scene became one of chaos and hysteria as the medics tried to relieve the suffering and the wailing got worse. Campbell concluded his description with the reflection that they never knew what finally happened with those detainees; whether any of them lived or died or returned to their families.

In another situation, the same uncertainty plagued the soldiers. They had been providing cover for a school inspection, attracting the usual crowd of 20-30 children. They also attracted insurgent fire, which hit the children. The scene Donovan describes of child body parts all over the landscape is gruesome, as is the attempt to piece and patch them back together. Eventually, they have to leave this tragedy to an Iraqi ambulance crew and move on to fight another battle.

It's good that this book has been written. We need to break through the silence that too often glamorizes war. It also helps put us in touch with the demons many veterans endure, the roots of all those cases of post traumatic stress and suicide we're seeing.

But more than ever, it's made me conscious of how diligently we need to work for a fossil fuel free future. I'm reminded of this by a recent article in Truthout from Nick Mottern called "Killing and Dying in the New 'Great Game': A Letter to Members of the U.S. Military on Their Way to Afghanistan." Mottern reminds us of the strategic importance of Afghanistan for securing Caspian Sea area oil and natural gas resources. Even when the Taliban were in power, oil execs were trying to negotiate a pipeline across the country.

There may be other secondary reasons for our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the consequent suffering of both warriors and civilians. But fossil fuels and the powerful exploiters of them are certainly the primary reason. The quicker we're able to create sustainable alternatives, in a decentralized manner, the better.

Carl Kline

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Cake of Custom

In my World Religions class we've been studying Confucianism. Confucius came into the world at a time of turmoil and disintegration in China. There was full scale tribal warfare and massacres of the innocent. There was nothing that was holding the society together. Missing was what Houston Smith calls the "cake of custom." For Smith, these are the values and traditions one learns in a society, the glue that keeps a given society from coming apart.

As always, this dimension of Chinese history gives my class an opportunity to talk about the "cake of custom" in the U.S. In the year 2009, what is it that holds this society together? My students are generally pessimistic about our "cake of custom" and this class was no exception. Most of my students are parents and when they think about where their children learn values and traditions, the only place they can name is in the home. For them, parents generally stand alone. The school, the church, the government, the media, business ... all seem to be encouraging self interest, a "go it alone" mentality, and an amorality that hardly encourages shared purpose and meaning. My students also lamented the difficulty of learning values and traditions through the extended family, as finding time and covering enormous distances make trips to grandmothers house more and more exceptional. For my students, many elements of the society seem more intent on tearing us apart than on holding us together.

Faced with turmoil and chaos in China, Confucius went about the process of creating what he called "deliberate tradition." What values and attitudes from the past deserved to be reclaimed? What traditions could be successfully integrated once again into Chinese society? Once these questions were answered, Confucius and others set out to integrate these ideas and values into the very fabric of China, through the games children played, the history they studied in school, the heroes held up as models to be followed. In every conceivable way, the values and traditions chosen were integrated into daily life so people learned them as if by osmosis.

I'd like to reclaim a value from our past. It hasn't been totally lost in rural America. The population is so small you still have to depend on your neighbors. The value I want to be deliberate about is neighborliness. If New Orleans had been organized by neighborhoods, maybe people wouldn't have been left without transportation in the face of natural disaster. If we still lived in neighborhoods, we might have more community gardens and mom and pop groceries instead of big box stores that monopolize the food industry. If we resurrected neighborhoods, we might have reasonable size schools where our children didn't drown or disappear. If we organized our neighborhoods, Habitat for Humanity groups might spring up all over the country and barn raisings continue.

Our neighborhood is organized. We've fought city hall twice and won both times. We've had a history of pot luck dinners in the street, to welcome new neighbors and visit with the old. It means I suggest to my 90 year old neighbor that she get off her roof and I will clean out the gutter for her. It means we tell each other when we're leaving for a few days, knowing that if something needs doing, a neighbor will do it.

The Exodus was organized by neighborhoods. Gandhi preached decentralization. Schumacher wrote Small Is Beautiful. We need a society that is human size again and living as neighbors in neighborhood organization can help us do it. Let's be deliberate and resurrect this "cake of custom."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Entertaining Pain

Channel surfing. It’s an odious practice at times –the search for something to watch on TV that will entertain and relax. I paused, transfixed, on the image of a group of young, morbidly obese people engaged in some kind of competition on a beach – urging a teammate onward as she struggled to reach the goal. “Come on! You can do it! Just a few more yards!” The young woman was on her hands and knees, barely crawling. The cheers continued. She collapsed in the sand, barely conscious. Her comrades gathered around her. “Come on! You’re almost there!” In an effort to reach the team’s goal, they began to drag her toward the finish line – no simple feat for a group of young people who averaged between 250 and 300 pounds each in weight. As they pulled their teammate over the finish line, their shouts of encouragement turned to screams of panic. “Open your eyes! Breathe!! Stay with us!” The young woman was not responsive. Even I could see that she was in a state of physical collapse from which she might not recover. The closing shots were of her being administered oxygen and evacuated from the beach by helicopter - - the video cameras capturing it all for later viewing by a public audience, complete with anguished commentary by the other participants in the show called “The Biggest Loser.”

I have alternated between sorrow, anger and incredulity since watching for those few brief minutes. Perhaps there was a good outcome. I don’t know if the woman survived. I don’t know how the producers of the show managed the after effects of that segment. I wondered how it is that the exploitation of human suffering and pain, and in this case, obesity, has become a form of entertainment.

A houseguest sits in the next room watching daytime TV programming. The volume is low, but not low enough for me to miss the mesmerizing chant of “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” as an audience cheers for Jerry Springer. Beginning there and throughout the day the most intimate of personal dilemmas and humiliation are broadcast as entertainment for the world to see. From Jerry to Dr. Phil to Judge Judy to “reality” shows – human pain and conflict seems to be fair game for public entertainment.

I try to convince myself that, perhaps, witnessing the conflict and tragedy in the lives of others on the flat screen might elicit compassion, perhaps eventuating in acts of kindness toward others in real life. And I suppose it does in some instances. But the taunting and adversarial shouts from the TV audiences as human beings play out their life dramas in public frequently give the lie to that fantasy, evoking scenes of gladiatorial contests in ancient Roman amphitheaters. Indeed, the exploitive voyeurism that typifies a lot of “reality” programming dulls the mind and flattens the ability to respond to human suffering with compassion. Human dignity is violently sacrificed on the altars of shock value and TV ratings. How have we come to this?

Vicki Hanjian

Friday, October 9, 2009

Awareness of Our Weak Temper

Hoping to control my frustrations, last night I called my Indian brother on the other side of the world at 2:30 AM, my time, because I could not quiet my thoughts so I could sleep. I was really frustrated because the outcome of my actions, instead of making me closer to people, were separating me from them. My conscience was calm and happy, but I kept asking myself, why when I do everything by myself to solve a problem, am I relegated outside the community? I was not seeking to be recognized, but simply seeking to be accepted as a part of the community.

I knew last night that I had to calm my frustrations so that I would not become angry and violent in thought or action. I knew that if I did not, I would lose my temper if presented with the same problem again. Yes, I know myself very well. Facing the problem again will make me lose my temper. So I was advised to take my time, to be patient and wait for the true outcome of the problem, so I would be capable of seeing the others' point of view. And maybe I needed to understand that the people who had to correct the problem were not comfortable with their solution, or had frustrations too, and that the truth will come in the end. My positive action will lead me to be seen as a respected member of the group.

I decided to listen to the advice and went to sleep at 4AM, hoping that in a day or two a good answer would come and help me smooth my frustrations. The next day I woke up at 8:30, late, but ready to face my duties and be worthy of satisfying my needs. I took a minute to shower and jumped into my car. In front of the steering wheel I keep a little piece of a native´s Oaxaca carpet. I saw a piece of thread hanging out of the carpet, so as anyone might do, I pulled it and it broke very easy. Immediately, my mind realized how weak is the control of our emotions, especially when we are frustrated. An anger comes out flashing like the mighty thunder. This control in me is as weak as that thread.

It does not take a big force to control our emotions. It is the awareness of our weakness in controlling our temper that is important. I realized that I am capable of not becoming angry, and this awareness can prevent me from the foolishness of becoming angry, which doesn’t solve anything. And knowing that after frustration there is a possibility of violence, we can control ourselves and restrain the violence.

Immediately, I took the orange thread and placed it around my wrist like young kids do today. I said to myself, "this is a symbol of your weakness and you should wear it when facing frustration as a tool for controlling your anger and to avoid violence."

Now I believe that to become nonviolent, we all can use a thread, to remember how weak our control is from frustration to anger. Maybe everybody knows that already, but we have to be aware of it always, anyway.

Fernando Ferrara

Monday, October 5, 2009

Solitude and Demons

Returning from combat in the Vietnam war, a friend took some spiritual classics and made a pilgrimage to the desert. He stayed there in the wilderness, alone and in silence, till the demons inside had gone quiet. He spoke later about that time of solitude as transforming, likely life-saving. He was there for forty days and forty nights.

I'm of the opinion our demons are threatened by solitude, silence, wilderness. Perhaps it's that they prefer a world of distractions, where they can lose themselves in anxiety and busyness and things and routine. A world where surface realties hide the gnawing unease underneath, that threatens to eat out our essentials, till life unexpectedly caves in on itself. Or perhaps it's that demons don't like the natural world, where the sounds of rushing wind and stream replace the noise of automobiles and the flow of sun and stars tells a gentler time. I've seen someone (the only person I've ever known who I thought was truly possessed) flee a wilderness setting, a sacred site at that, because her demon was fearful of healing.

One winter I spent a week in rural New Hampshire. It happened during a period in my life when time had become a demon. Time owned me. There was no time I could call my own. So I went to live in a cabin on a lake a few miles off the asphalt. There was no clock, no phone, no electricity, no heat but the fireplace, no water except what I carried from the lake. There were no people. I didn't see a single soul for the whole week.

One afternoon, on a beautiful sunny winter day, with the earth covered in an untouched blanket of new snow, I sat in a tree at the edge of a meadow. After an hour, birds joined me in the branches. As the sun set over the hills, I realized the experience had been timeless. My demon had been quieted.

But time came back with a vengeance that night. I read by firelight in the evening till I became sleepy. I went to sleep at what I thought was the usual time and when I awoke it was still dark. I felt rested so I rose and read. What seemed like hours later there was still no light in the sky. I began to hallucinate, "what if the sun doesn't rise?" With each new chapter read, and no light in the dark outside, my anxiety increased. My demon laughed. Eventually, I wrote a poem, "What if the Sun Didn't Rise," calming and defeating my demon and watching the sunrise slowly break over the eastern sky.

It's not surprising that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness and the devil was defeated there. Neither is it surprising that Buddha was tempted by Mara under the bodhi tree and she was ultimately defeated when Buddha touched the earth and the earth bore witness to his endeavor. Nor is it surprising that Lakota/Dakota people still go up "on the hill" for direction from their better spirits.

For persons committed to nonviolence, being alone in the natural world can be an enormous source of strength for the struggle. And it can be a distinct threat to the demon violence that haunts so many.

Carl Kline

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stand Up

Thousands of American soldiers have gone absent without leave or filed as conscientious objectors rather than fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among them are highly decorated officers and veterans. Military statistics are hard to come by, but the ranks of war resisters within the armed forces appear to be swelling. By refusing to participate any longer in these wars for reasons of conscience, all of these soldiers risk loss of liberty, economic deprivation, social ostracism and even bodily harm.

This music video is offered in tribute to these war resisters, as well as the sympathetic but silent comrades they undoubtedly represent. May we stand in solidarity with them, defending their right to the free exercise of conscience, even as we seek the well-being of those soldiers who, choosing differently, continue to fight. May all the troops come home soon.

"War will exist," declared President John Kennedy, decades ago, "until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."

To view this video, either click here or watch the embedded video below.

Video created by Phyllis Cole-Dai. Original piano music composed and performed by Phyllis Cole-Dai,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Walking in White

I'm reminded by Code Pink, and recent experiences, that nonviolent actors can use the color of their clothing to demonstrate solidarity and communicate meaning in symbol.

Fernando told me I needed to wear white for the Peace Walk. We were in Monterrey, Mexico for a three day workshop on Gandhian nonviolence. The Walk was the last event of the workshop. Organized by workers at a local plant and supported by the community peace group Mesa de Paz, we were walking about two miles from one city center plaza to another, through the early evening traffic.

All the white clothing I had were my undershirts, so Fernando brought me three shirts from which to choose. Little did I know that when we arrived at the meeting site, white T shirts with appropriate slogans would be passed out to all the participants. I ended up wearing three white shirts in the humid heat.

I've been thinking about the symbolism of peace people wearing white clothing. White is the combination of all colors. We tend to associate white garments with divinity. Angels are always garbed in white, as is the Pope, as are Muslims on pilgrimage. And I began to recall other situations in other settings where white garb was the choice of nonviolent actors.

I remember how moved I was by Joanna Macy's description of the Peace Meditation she attended in Sri Lanka in 2002.

"I arrived at Anuradhapura on the day of the meditation. The sacred site, probably half a mile in diameter, contains several great stupas and the world's most ancient bodhi tree, grown from a cutting taken from the tree that sheltered the Buddha during his enlightenment, brought to Sri Lanka by King Ashoka's daughter, Sakyaditta. When I got there, people were streaming in from all directions. In the tradition of these events, everyone was dressed in white and moving in silence. They had arrived from all over the country on foot and on trains, bicycles, and, according to one person's count, four thousand buses. ...

The meditation ceremony took place at 3 PM. Members of the clergy of all the religions of Sri Lanka were gathered on a platform, and each said a few words. In front of them on a slightly lower stage, surrounded by flowers, was Ari. After the spoken prayers, he began to lead us all in anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing in and breathing out. The silence was the most exquisite sound I've ever heard. It was the sound of a half million people--actually it turned out to be 650,000 people-- being quiet together, in the biggest meditation ever held on planet Earth. I said to myself, "This is the sound of bombs not exploding, of land mines not going off, of machine guns not firing. This is possible." That is what I went to Sri Lanka to hear."

Only this week, I watched the documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell." In it, the women of Liberia organize and act decisively to bring their war torn country back to its senses. The shirts they chose were white, with their organization and values printed on them.

The sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka speaks of a 500 year peace plan. Sometimes it helps to think long term. In the meantime, maybe I need to wear my Peace Walk shirts every day, wherever and whenever I walk.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When Peace Led the Way

Our story is set in Assam, which, over the last two decades, has
witnessed tremendous unrest, bloodshed, loss of lives and
destruction of property. People know only fear, and uncertainty. They
are never sure, when they leave their homes, whether they will ever
return alive, or not... Our story is about the brave women workers,
belonging to an organization, known as Kasturba Gandhi National
Memorial Trust, of which I happened to be the Secretary, at that time.
These courageous women had been conducting padyatras (foot
march) through all those areas which were infested by violence and
regarded as trouble prone. Bodo, ULFA and other terror groups were active in this area. As they walked
through these areas, they made it a point to talk to the local people, especially to the young, who were the
most likely recruits of different terrorist groups. These groups would often force their way into people’s homes,
and would demand food, and just live there, whether the people wanted them to, or not. The terrified villagers
were too scared to say “NO”, and just gave in to their demands, for fear of a bloody reprisal. In a way, they
were coerced into supporting them, against their wishes. The main problem was that there was no unity
amongst the villagers themselves---another reason why they were easy victims of terrorists.

It was obvious that the task the women activists had taken on themselves, was not an easy one. Their first
priority was to give the villagers a lesson on the importance of unity. This would give them the courage to resist
any opponent. In meetings with groups, big and small, they would stress this. These activists would visit
people’s homes and talk to the families; they would talk to people sitting in small groups, in little shops in the
wayside villages—wherever the people had gathered. They would try to infuse in the villagers the courage to
say “No” if the terrorists tried to force their way into homes. They advised the villagers to go to their neighbours
to seek help, rather than give in. If they were together, the terrorists would find it difficult to threaten them.
I would like to tell you about one particular incident, set in Padampur village of Lakhimpur district, in North
Assam, where a Peace Centre of the Kasturba Trust was functioning. Earlier all the centres of the trust in
Assam were known as Seva (service) kendras but realizing that the work of Peace was of prime importance in
this area, the nomenclature was changed to Peace Centres.

The Centre workers had been going around 12 villages in the area, persuading the people not to buckle down
to terror, but face it boldly. They should not be cowed down by violence and bloodshed. The women workers
gave a call for a Peace rally or a “Rally against Violence” in which women from all the 12 villages had agreed
to join. One of these workers, Kunj Baruah, who was also the Chief worker of this centre, was busy preparing
for this rally. Other sisters were helping to prepare placards and banners. The rally was to start at 10 am.
Suddenly, a little boy came running and informed the worker, “Baidev” (sister), someone is calling you. She
asked him who it was, and as the little boy took his name she recognized him at once, as he used to attend the
balwadi run by the Centre, when he was small. She replied that she would take a little time and would come
after finishing her work. But the boy came back and said, “He is calling you now. Please come immediately”.
So, she followed the little boy. He led her to a dark room, where she found the young man, dressed in “filmy”
style, wearing dark glasses, along with another young man. Both were sitting on two chairs, they had an
“attitude” about them. Placed before them was a table, on which various kinds of guns and pistols were laid
out. She realized at once that this was a terrorist outfit.

“Why do you want to take out a Rally against Violence?” he asked. “I want you to stop it at once. I believe in
violence, and work for it!” he added
“It is not my decision alone…..the women of 12 villages around have decided to take out the rally. I have no
right to stop it….” she replied.”And I do not want to stop it because I believe in nonviolence,” she countered
“Do you realize what the consequences could be?” he said threateningly. Immediately, another young man
stepped out of the shadows, picked up two guns, and placed them on her two shoulders, on either side of her
head. However she did not lose faith or courage.”Kill me if you wish, but I will not stop the rally.” Her voice was
firm, but had love and compassion in it.
The young man who had called her said, “I have no wish to kill you…but at least you can take our message to
the village women and tell them that we do not want you to go ahead with the rally against our wishes...”
She replied calmly,” I work for peace and nonviolence. This is a peace rally, and I will not stop it simply
because you tell me to…….but I can certainly take your message to the village women, and tell them that you
do not wish that we go ahead, and then see what they have to say. I know they would not stop the rally.”

The women started the rally at the scheduled time, carrying placards and banners with messages of peace, of
nonviolence. It was a spectacular sight…..all women, walking in silence, peacefully, through the streets. There
were no speeches. The rally ended with Sarva Dharma Prarthana (all religions prayer). No one dared to
obstruct or prevent it from passing. There were no disruptions of any kind.

Later, one evening, the young man along with one or two others came to see her and said, “baidev,(sister) we
really admire your courage and strength. Despite all our threats, you stuck to your decision.”
Again she replied calmly, “Ours is the power of Nonviolence; yours is the power of violence. If you will follow the
path of nonviolence, you too will gain the strength and courage that we have, my friend!”

Kunj Baruah was asked by her seniors in the Trust to leave the centre in the village, and the area in general,
as there was a danger to her life. But she decided to stay on and continue her work of helping and serving the
people while spreading the message of nonviolence and peace, side by side. She continued to persuade the
young people, especially young boys, not to join or help the terrorists. It was a slow process, but it worked.
Gradually, the area became more and more peaceful and the young men of the area also changed their minds
and activities because they were impressed by the power of nonviolence.

Radha Bhatt
First Published in SAPA (South Asia Peace Alliance) Bulletin, August 2009