Sunday, March 29, 2009
The Apples, Bananas, Chips of Food Buying
It was over the chocolate chips this time. Sometimes it’s the bananas (organic and Fair Trade*, or just organic, or no bananas at all since they are never available locally); the beer (locally brewed but not very tasty, brought from within 300 miles, brought from either coast, or imported; or no beer at all in solidarity with those who are unable to moderate their alcohol intake, as Gandhi advocated); or the apples (local and not organic but available only in the late summer and fall; organic and from the west coast, available except in winter; or in winter, organic and from South America or New Zealand; or no apples at all when they are not available locally). The choices this time, today in the grocery store, were between an 8 oz package of Fair Trade, organic, semi-sweet chocolate chips or a 12 oz package of non-organic semi-sweet chips made by a huge multi-national corporation, but $1.00 less than the Fair Trade ones, or forego the chips entirely and then the cookies they would be a part of.
Choice, choices, choices!!! Each with more or less violent consequences, more or less harmful, more or less life enhancing, or more or less exploitive.
Purchasing food, one participates in processes that not only produce the food but also deliver it to the purchaser, entering into a vast network of relationships with the human and non-human world. The choices the purchaser makes have the potential to contribute to the well being and/or the exploitation of these worlds, both human and non-human. In pondering each choice, we weigh the potential consequences for well being against the potential consequences for exploitation. Often the consequences of a given choice will involve both well being and exploitation, as with the purchase of bananas in Iowa, USA. When the bananas purchased are Fair Trade certified one knows that those who grew them have received a fair wage, and when they are organically grown one knows that the soil in which they’ve been grown and the people who live in and around the plants have not been endangered by the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. However, getting the bananas to Iowa requires the use of lots of energy whose source is extracted from the earth and the burning of which contributes to global warming.
Few areas of life offer as many opportunities to practice living nonviolently (or at least less violently) as the purchase of food. As our awareness of the consequences of our food purchasing choices grows, so often does a sense of discouragement as we realize that few choices are truly nonviolent, especially when we consider the potential violence that could be a part of the lifestyle changes initiated by changes in food purchases, e.g., conflict within the family as a result of changing to a vegetarian diet. Yet, finding and making choices that result in less violence is the process of creating a less violent world. When feeling discouraged it may be helpful to recall this quote of Gandhi’s, “The goal ever recedes from us. . . Satisfaction lies in the effort, not the attainment. Full effort is full victory.”
* "To bear the label [Fair Trade], products must be grown by small-scale producers democratically organized in either cooperatives or unions."
CONSUMERS UNION EVALUATION: The Fair Trade label is meaningful and clear with standards that support the concept of a social responsibility, pest management and sustainable agriculture label. The criteria ensure that a fair price is guaranteed to the farmer. The program also supports credit plans, training workshops, limits harmful pesticide use and encourages organic techniques in farming especially in developing countries.
From BILUMI.org (Buy It Like You Mean It)
Friday, March 27, 2009
Photo of Israeli & Palestinian Boys from Documentary Promises
Reflections on an Evening with Combatants for Peace
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
Witnessing the suffering of his people at the hands of the Romans, Rabbi Natan, a second century sage, asks, who is a hero of heroes? He answers, one who makes of an enemy a friend. With the peacefulness of Shabbos lingering, we were honored to welcome to Nehar Shalom two people, Bassam Aramin and Yaniv Reshef, each of whom, through the presence of the other, is a hero of heroes.
I have not felt as deeply moved in a long time as I felt on that Saturday night in listening to these two heroes of heroes. Though it came wrapped in pain, I have also not felt as much hope in a long time. Two gentle and beautiful souls, each bearing psychic scars, Bassam and Yaniv were in the states on a speaking tour and to receive the “Courage of Conscience” award from the Peace Abbey of Sherborn, MA on behalf of “Combatants for Peace.” An organization of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters, “Combatants for Peace” is founded on a renunciation of violence, believing that the bloodshed will not end “unless we act together to terminate the occupation and stop all forms of violence.”
Only in reaching out to each other, Israeli and Palestinian, as for each one of us toward those from whom we are divided, is there hope for sh’laymut/wholeness, the root of shalom. This is the message of the law of the half-shekel (Ex. 30:11-16) at the beginning of the Torah portion Ki Tissa that framed the week of Bassam and Yaniv’s talk. All are to give a half-shekel to the upkeep of the sanctuary. A very small amount, the rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less. All are equal and need each other to be whole. The 19th century Torah commentator, Malbim, sees in the law of the half-shekel not a teaching about money but of people, each individual is but half... and needs to join with another in order to become a whole entity. As for individuals, yearning for wholeness in the presence of the other, so too for peoples. This is the essential teaching of nonviolence, recognizing the humanity of the other, whom we need in order to be whole. Seeking to overcome and destroy the other, rather than to find common ground and purpose, destroys the possibility of our own wholeness.
Through the witness of their own lives, Bassam and Yaniv offered a profoundly moving, compelling, and personally illustrated teaching on the meaning of nonviolence as a way of life and as a means for change. Traumatized in the way that changes one’s relationship to life, having seen too much killing too close at hand, Yaniv put down his rifle, refusing to again serve as a soldier. Describing the path that led him to understand nonviolence, he shared the power of a moment of confrontation and transformation. His unit had stormed a Palestinian home in Gaza. Facing their guns, a Palestinian man placed a large furry rabbit into a soldier’s arms to be petted, quietly suggesting they put down their weapons. Yaniv spoke of how much safer he felt, once having put down his rifle. Overcoming bitterness and grief, Bassam’s personal example is overwhelming. Having spent seven years in Israeli jails, Bassam came to know the other, and bitterness shifted to a desire to reach out and change his jailers. Bassam spoke quietly of the greatest tragedy, the death of Abir in 2007, his ten-year-old daughter, shot in the head on the way home from school by an Israeli soldier. I cannot read his words without crying, “I’m not going to lose my common sense, my direction, only because I’ve lost my heart, my child. I will do all I can to protect her friends, both Palestinian and Israeli. They are all our children.” Combatants for Peace now builds playgrounds for children, each one called “Abir’s Garden.”
But for the hardest of hearts, it would seem impossible to hear Bassam and Yaniv and not be moved. Whatever our politics or prior assumptions, our particular identities of faith and belonging, our bonds of history and blood, in their presence we are challenged to reflect on the nature of our relationship with others. Whether for individuals or nations, it is only possible to rise to such challenge in the safety of our common humanity recognized, and knowing that the presence of each one is affirmed.
Nonviolence is not an abstract concept. It is not simply about the absence of physical violence. It is about the way that we live our own lives and make real the ideals we profess. It is a way of response to all expressions of violence, a joining of means and ends in challenging all of the ways that people hurt people. Nonviolence is about the way that we listen to and speak of the other. It is about our willingness to consider possibilities and perspectives without setting prior conditions. It is global and it is personal. In the way that we live in relation to others, the challenge of nonviolence is for all of us, not only for those like Bassam and Yaniv, former combatants whose lives have been defined by violence. Demonizing the other, rather than seeking to transform, is a frequent failing of progressives. We do well in offering a vision of the just and peaceful society and world that we would create, but we are often not as attuned to the way of its fulfillment. The tone of our message, the nature of our symbolic statements, the manner of our relationship to both sides in conflict will determine our effectiveness as bridge-builders and peacemakers. Bassam closed his remarks with the classic Gandhian expression of the vision and the way, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
The week that began with Bassam and Yaniv’s talk ended with Shabbat Parah/Sabbath of the Heifer, the third of four special Sabbaths that help us to prepare for Passover and the journey to freedom. We read on that Shabbos from a second Torah scroll (Num. 19:1-22) the ritual of the Parah Adumah/the red heifer, a purification rite to facilitate the re-embrace of life following contact with death. In a special reading for Shabbat Parah, we read from the prophet Ezekiel (36:26): I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
There has been too much death and too much killing. If not as directly as it touches Bassam and Yaniv, it touches all of us. We too often become inured to violence. In the way of the ancient ritual, our purification in the return to life is through change of heart and hand, by recognizing and challenging the myriad ways of violence in the worlds around us, and the more subtle expressions of violence within ourselves. Unafraid to examine our own hearts, individuals and
communities, to be of flesh within us and not of stone, we open the way to embrace the other and become whole, each of us a hero of heroes.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Here's another music video from blog member Phyllis Cole-Dai (www.phylliscoledai.com). Entitled "Circling," it was inspired by these lines by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world
I may never complete the last one
but I give myself to it
The challenge, Phyllis notes, is "to continually open ourselves, to expand through an entire lifetime our understanding of and compassion for the world."
Note: For those of you receiving this post by email subscription, you may need to click on the video's title in order to view it.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
When Martin Luther King Jr. was in a seminary class on Christian theology in 1950, he was assigned a series of outlines on Beliefs that Matter, a collection of essays by a prominent Protestant theologian, William Adams Brown. One of those essays was called How a Christian Overcomes Evil. You can find King's outline in the first volume of his collected papers. It's an important document because it proclaims an approach to evil that was instrumental in King's approach to life and one that he integrated into his vision of nonviolent transformation. The three steps to overcoming evil in the essay could be a formula for nonviolent activists of our time.
The first step to overcoming evil is to discover what is worst in us. This is hardly the normal Western approach. Our first impulse is to blast the evil that's out there. Our habit is projecting our problems on others. So this first step can be transforming. Self examination comes first. Then we need to admit this fault within us is, indeed, an evil. We have to name it before we can remove it.
The second step in overcoming evil is to engage in combat with this personal evil by a daily weighing of the struggle and a willingness to recognize the help and grace of a higher power. One works to turn the fault into its opposite virtue.
Walter Wink, in his little book Jesus and Nonviolence, tells the story of the small child who was always being bullied on the school bus because of his stature. He had chronic sinusitis. Tired of the bullying one day, he blew his nose in his hand and offered it to the bully, saying, "I've always wanted to shake hands with a bully." Since his weapon was always loaded, the bully left him alone. He turned his problem into his strength.
The third step to overcoming evil is concentrating not on the eradication of evil but on the cultivation of virtue. Don't knock out, crowd out. King writes, "Evil is never to be attacked directly, but indirectly. Evil is not driven out, but crowded out."
This reminds me of my high school speech teacher, how he probably saved my life. High school was a time when my friends and I were rather nihilistic and self destructive. It might mean driving a hundred miles an hour after a night of partying, or decorating the school grounds on opening day with highway signs, especially stop signs, collected from all over the county. Teachers and preachers and parents tried to knock this rebellious evil spirit out of me, to no avail. But my speech teacher saw a gift I could cultivate, that he nurtured and fed through two semesters, till it flowered in a national oratory championship; and while some of my friends were dying on the highway, the negative behaviors were crowded out of my life.
King believed that evil could never be driven out by force but had to be crowded out by love. It's why he could encourage his followers to love their enemies. If we want to know the force we need to integrate, should we wish to be the change we seek, we might take King at his word about the agent of change. "It is not a hatred of evil, but a love of God which crowds out evil,
for hate is useless unless we love something else more."
Monday, March 9, 2009
When you have a moment, please take some time to view this music video created by blog team member Phyllis Cole-Dai, www.phylliscoledai.com. The video asks what might happen today if, instead of regularly resorting to violence or the forceful exercise of power to "resolve" contemporary problems, we were to imagine and implement more creative and just alternatives, as has sometimes been done in the past.
The trip across the prairie had grown gradually warmer as the sun moved higher in the sky. Piercing blue ahead of us. A cloud of golden brown dust behind. We were on our way to the Ring Thunder family powwow. Newly arrived in South Dakota from the urban and suburban sprawl of New Jersey, I had little clue about what to expect. Vague, guilty anxiety rumbled around in my stomach. I felt all too aware of the less than admirable legacy of white presence in Lakota country, all too aware that in crossing the water into West River country, I was no longer on familiar turf - - rather a visitor in another nation, all too aware that the color of my skin alone was enough to evoke terrible memories.
Suddenly we were at our destination. The rattling gray van pulled into a parking slot at the perimeter of an open wooden arbor, roof latticed with tree branches for shade in the warm June sun. My anxiety hit 10+. How would we be received? How would we be perceived? Tourists? White liberal do-gooders? Ancient enemies? Maybe I would just sit in the van.
Sitting in the van was not an option and I scrambled over the seats and miscellaneous back packs to make my way out into the dust and the heat.
My feet had barely touched the ground when I heard a mid-western twang bursting out of the squawky PA system. “OK folks, we have some guests. Come on in - - we’re passing out the potato salad right now - - bring your bowls and forks.” Within seconds my camp bowl was filled with the best potato salad I have ever eaten. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.
Before long, we were seated on benches under the arbor, bodies resonating with the organic rhythm of the drums, hypnotized by the grass dancing. And then we were drawn out into the center of the powwow circle to dance ourselves, no longer observers but participants in an age old tradition.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
The dancing ended and it was time for the Give Away – a sort of redistribution of wealth. A colorful mountain of household items, toys, clothing, and magnificent handmade Star quilts appeared in the center of the powwow circle. Material goods collected over the span of a year for just this moment in the celebration. With great ceremony, names were called and goods distributed. Two children came toward me laden with gifts. Nylon stockings, a purse, a handmade quilt cover - - for me. I was naked and you clothed me.
Lakota lessons in nonviolence.
Friday, March 6, 2009
We were doing a peer mediation training at a middle school in South Dakota. We did the training in two parts. The first part was with teachers, staff and parents, who would implement the program. The second part was with the students, once they had been selected by their peers and confirmed by the adult advisers.
We were working in the second part of the program with the students. We were role playing some mediation sessions. One of the teachers and I played two middle school boys who were always getting into a fight on the playground. According to the role we were playing, we both loved basketball. We played pick-up games every chance we had. I complained that he fouled people constantly and never admitted to it. He claimed I was just timid on the basketball court and was afraid of aggressive and physical play. Our mediators were two sixth grade girls.
He told his story. I told mine. The mediators asked us for ways we might resolve the conflict. For us, there were none. We were both rigid in our accusations, unable to envision a resolution. In this kind of situation, our mediation practice allowed the mediators to implement a brainstorming session where we went around the group and each one had a chance to put forward an idea for resolving the conflict. The teacher and I maintained our rigidity but when it came to the first sixth grader, she said "what if you decided you would only play on the same team."
The idea was so simple and yet so profound I was momentarily stunned. The teacher and I looked at each other. He smiled. I smiled back. I knew in my heart of hearts it was the perfect solution. I wanted an aggressive player on my team. He wanted a team mate who held others to a standard of fair play. Our sixth grade mediator had helped turn enemies into friends.
Narayan Desai tells a memorable story of Gandhi turning enemies into friends. It was during the boycott of British goods and Narayan was one of the children living in Gandhi's ashram. Narayan heard through the grapevine that some toys had come for him from outside and Gandhi had confiscated and hid them. So Narayan gathered some of his childhood friends together and they went as a group to confront Gandhi and get the toys.
When they arrived at his cottage, Gandhi was spinning. Narayan asked Gandhi if he had hidden some toys that came for him. Gandhi replied that it was true some toys had come for Narayan but that he hadn't hidden them since they were in plain sight on the shelf. So Narayan said, "give them to me. We want to play with them." Then Gandhi said, "can we play with foreign made toys."
Narayan writes* that in Gandhi's use of that one little word, we, "Bapu had placed me and him on the same side of the fence." Narayan knew Gandhi couldn't play with the toys. At this point, the other children were slipping out of the cottage. Narayan realized his argument had been undercut, the enemy was his friend.
Martin Luther King also reminds us of this fundamental principle in nonviolence. The sixth and last step in nonviolent social change is reconciliation. The final object and goal is turning the enemy into a friend.
Sixth graders, children, can understand this!
*Gandhi Through a Child's Eyes: An Intimate Memoir, Narayan Desai, Ocean Tree Books, 1992.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
After eight Oscars were awarded to the movie, Slumdog Millionaire, the cast, the producers and director, the musicians, in fact most of Mumbai it seemed, were ecstatic over the popularity of the movie.
There are two ways of looking at this from afar. Is this movie an exploitation of people whose way of life is unthinkable to most Americans? By bringing slums into view, will it create more violence against the populous struggling so hard to survive? As a New Delhi writer said “There are no fairy-tale endings for most of India’s street kids”.
Or will it bring some good to them? It was reported the children featured in the movie would be able to buy better homes for themselves and their families. When accepting his award, the director said the movie was made to show the power of hope and optimism—that with passion and belief, anything is possible. It also brings awareness to the plight of poverty, and hopefully a better understanding of India’s culture.
We need awareness, we need understanding, we need optimism, we need to realize that people everywhere and in every circumstance are our brothers and sisters. We need to know them and if it takes a movie to do that, I would say it’s a good thing.
So, to nonviolence by way of understanding and compassion—the movie’s popular song says it best—
JAI-HO (Be Victorious)
Photo credit: http://blog.movieset.com/tag/danny-boyle/