Friday, July 27, 2012

The Center Holds

An image of a carrot haired young man being arraigned in court fills the upper half of the front page of the Boston Globe.  He stares vacantly into the near distance.  People around the nation wonder what possessed him to arm himself, to fire automatic weapons into a theater full of movie-goers, to booby-trap his own apartment  - with the knowledge and expectation that police would be entering it to investigate.

Until yesterday, the story was on the front page.  It had supplanted the story of the bombing of a busload of Jewish human beings  in Bulgaria less than a week prior.  In the inner pages of the paper, the ebb and flow of power in Syria dominates and then, of course there are the frequent articles about drone warfare – and all of this in the midst of so much press about a presidential campaign that seems to be maxing out in absurdity at times.

On our island, the weather was oppressively humid yesterday – the kind of heavy moisture that enervates and leaves a body one wondering if she is coming down with something.   I moved restlessly from one place in the house to another, unable to focus or concentrate.   The carrot haired young man continued to stare – silently – without expression – without emotion –and I wondered with the nation: “What possessed him…..?”   No answers came.  But the question continued to nag.

With little appetite, I tried to get some lunch down – simply because it was noon and that is what one does at noon in our household.  A curious aching in my heart region kept drawing attention to itself.  I had been trying to ignore and avoid it.  It persisted.   Finally - tears began to seep out of eyes too long dry.  Just a stingy few at first - - and then flowing a little more freely until my whole body felt like I was squeezing them out.   I let the anguish take hold – wrenching its way up out of my belly in animal cries.  It continued for awhile and then, like water finding its own level, the storm subsided, the heart-ache eased and I began to think a little more clearly again.   Sometimes the world is just too much.

As I pondered my own gut response through the rest of the day, very little insight came until I returned to my own breath and began to find the center again.  I do not like being overcome in such a way – but it happens.  The task then is to find my way back to center.

This is an ongoing endeavor for me in the work of living nonviolence – to somehow hold the center. There is often a kind of chaos swirling around in which humans seem to feed on the energy of catastrophic events like the bus bombing and the massacre in Aurora.  Horror and outrage, grief and disbelief, revenge rhetoric and hopelessness all pull the collective consciousness of the events away from the balance that holds at the center of all things – almost a centripetal force that serves to expand the effect of the violent event.  I get caught in the maelstrom too.

But - - - that is not who I choose to be and it is not the response to life that I wish to make.  So the years of discipline begin to take hold again and I breathe….I pray……I focus.  This week, the comfort comes from Isaiah 43:1-3

But now thus says the Lord,
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
You are mine.
When you pass through the waters
I will be with you;
And through rivers, they
Shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through fire you
Shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not
Consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The holy One of Israel, your

The words are a flow of Divine mercy that gains the redemption and restoration of Israel.   In my temporary state of exile, what I need is to know that the center holds – that the greater story that embraces humankind is a story of wholeness. The ancient metaphors work.  They convey a truth greater than our finite understanding, greater than our multitudes of violence and sorrow and tragedy and suffering.

For today, for this moment, the work of living nonviolence is the work of returning to center and finding that it, indeed, does hold.  From there, the witness of a nonviolent response can be heard and believed and – maybe even understood.

 Vicky Hanjian

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Oil Boom

Many of my favorite childhood memories are of being outside. My dad, teaching me how to be silent as we watched a herd of deer in a beautiful green meadow in the mountains of Colorado; playing imaginary worlds by the river that ran by our home in North Carolina; finding snakes under rocks in Florida; making sand castle villages in California, Texas, and Florida; and as I’ve come to be an adult, spending time on Palomar Mountain with my children by the most crystal clear river one can ever imagine; walking through Yellowstone, or simply sitting at my counter watching the deer gently walk by my house… all times when mother earth and I touch one another’s souls. 

I am not an economist nor am I skilled in the art of organizational business. In fact, if you know me at all, you would discover that money, financial management, and structural understanding are not my gifts, but I do understand people. I understand our need for love, security, warmth, acceptance..and I understand our greed, selfishness, our ability to work from a broken center that we all have, whether we like to admit it or not. I understand that we are a mixture of goodness and woundedness and to try to deny the woundedness simply ignores the human potential to hurt others and the world in which we live. 

The economy…everyone has an opinion on how to fix it, how to “create jobs,” how to make sure that the American dream of make and spend stays intact and it seems that the oil boom is one more tactic within this conversation; however, I am not so sure people realize some of the “hidden effects” if you will, of this boom.

Those of us who love the earth talk much about the natural devastation of this boom, but hidden in the background is a social devastation. The people in western North Dakota are in a social crisis because their homes, their lands are being taken over by big money with no regard for the people who love to look out their kitchen window to watch the deer walk gently by.

I have lived in big urban areas, I have lived in small country towns, I have lived in places where construction was everywhere, building, hammering, pounding, and I have seen the differences that the people in these areas hold. The worldviews that are different, the social understandings that are different, theology, politics, all the things that make us a people of a diverse society.  When a massive social change happens as quickly as the change in North Dakota with the big oil companies coming in and taking over, I cannot imagine what the inner spirits of the people who call ND home are feeling. There have to be feelings of grief, loss, fear…a loss of identity! 

We are spiritually tied to our land. There is a theology of “Place’ whether we believe in a “God” or not because we are innately tied to the places we call home. Sights, sounds, smells, all speak to us of memory, identity, self. 

Going home to California as we drive down the San Bernardino Mountains, I begin to see the ocean and pieces of myself come alive. I cannot imagine what the people of North Dakota are experiencing as they helplessly watch the beauty of their home being destroyed by big oil and now big oil is coming to South Dakota….it will infiltrate all areas of our lives…  

Kristi McLaughlin

Monday, July 16, 2012

Democracy & Drones

It's bad enough that the U.S. has become a country where the President makes the law, makes war, has a personal "kill list," and determines what's moral for the rest of us. What's even worse is the deathly silence from the courts, the Congress, the public, and from those institutions that are supposed to be the moral guardians of the society.

It all started after 9/11, when President Bush decided on a policy of "preventive war." Because we could, we would go anywhere, anytime, to attack our enemies. In one fell swoop, any notion of national sovereignty fell by the wayside. Any distinction between offensive and defensive military action was obliterated. For the U.S., all military action was "defensive" and we were at war with the whole world, or at least certain individuals and groups that could be hiding in any country on the planet. Our leaders would get offended at any notion we were engaging in "offensive" military action. The invasion and/or occupation of any country and the killing of civilians simply became the cost of "defending" ourselves. Collateral damage (the deaths of non-combatants) was simply part of the cost of the mission. Given the responsibility of determining whether to carry out a mission where there might be civilian casualties, it's been reported Defense Secretary Rumsfeld never denied a single one.

So we've had these ten plus years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, at enormous cost in human life and national treasure, we find ourselves in the same position we were in when those wars started. The faces of Al Qaeda leadership have changed, as they do with each new killing and drone strike. The locations for training and recruiting environments have moved. But no one, no one, I emphasize no one, will claim the so called "war against terrorism" has been won; nor will anyone claim the U.S. is any safer (except perhaps we can now carry a few ounces of toothpaste in our carry on luggage when we fly).

Congress has been complicit, at least in part because every Congressperson has defense industry or military bases wielding enormous economic clout in  their state. Witness how Republican and Democratic congresspersons in South Dakota aren't able to work together on much of anything, except saving Ellsworth Air Force Base from being closed. Then they even appear together on the same stage.

But they've been complicit for other reasons as well. When talking about the Just  War Theory of Augustine with my students, I always ask them who a legitimate authority is for declaring war (the first criteria). Without fail, almost to a person, they say the President. 

That's not what the Constitution says! A  declaration of war is reserved for the Congress! The framers wanted to make sure we didn't have Kings and dictators, or Presidents, making such significant decisions alone. The people's house needed to assume that responsibility so the decision would be made closer to the homes and hearts of the people. Since World War II, war making decisions have been fudged, because executive powers have increased and Congress doesn't want responsibility for difficult decisions. So Presidents take us to a "war on terror" that has no likely end, no known field of activity (where next, after Iraq and Afghanistan; and after Yemen and Somalia? Indonesia? The Philippines? Pakistan?).

There's nothing partisan about this decay of Constitutional principles and the gradual erosion of democratic values. Although the Bush Administration began the process of preventive and perpetual warfare, the Obama Administration has only escalated it. The major escalation has been not so much in the ends desired but in the means used. We're looking at a new form of warfare and the present administration is focussing on it, unmanned drones.

Hardly a day goes by when there isn't a new drone strike somewhere. They happen with some regularity in Pakistan, and now in Yemen. The first American citizen was targeted and killed by a drone in Yemen and his sixteen year old son killed in a later drone attack. It's not clear if the teenager was consider a "target" or collateral damage. The White House, of course, has already prepared the "legal" defense for unmanned drone attacks, even on American  citizens. And to show how bi-partisan warfare can be, the most far right Republicans are going public, supporting President Obama in his aggressive drone strikes against terrorists.

One of the problems is, of course, if you're piloting a drone from near Las Vegas that's targeting a house in Pakistan, the intelligence about who is there is not always accurate. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (a rare animal these days) determined in August of 2011 that till then, 2,292 people had been killed in Pakistan in drone attacks, including 775 civilians. In just one hit on a Madrassa in 2006, 69 children lost their lives. Some of the latest reports indicate more and more strikes on funerals of Al Qaeda leadership. Apparently the assumption is, only sympathizers would participate. Are we forgetting about family members, like children, or grandparents?

In 2001, there were only a handful of drones in the government inventory. Today, they number about 7,000. There are proposals and some implementation for using drones in policing the Mexican border, aiding homeland security and local police departments, and providing new services for assorted businesses.

Frankly, I agree with the Rev. Wright, and my grandmother, "the chickens come home to roost." What the U.S. is doing around the world will eventually show up at home. Democracy is at risk, as courts ignore executive "law-making," as a purchased Congress turns away from responsibility, as citizens cover their eyes, ears and mouths, and as a moral compass is turned upside down by materialism and selfishness. It's going to require more than voting to turn this slide around.

Carl Kline

Saturday, July 7, 2012

On Birdfeeding Squirrels

Last year my parents, who are in their seventies, moved from their home in Kentucky to a small property in the mountains of North Carolina. In their backyard they erected a number of bird feeders that attract a constant stream of colorful customers--at last count, birds of nearly 20 varieties, from hummingbirds to thrushes to finches to doves to cardinals to blue jays to, yes, even nasty ol' crows. The poor crows my parents always scold off, whooping and hollering out their sliding glass door, loud enough that they sometimes rouse the attention of neighbors.

That circus of birds is a great sight to behold, winging in and out of the cypress and pine trees. My parents spend hours watching them circle and swoop and dive, and they take enormous delight in the arrival of every visitor of a new variety, hurrying for the bird book. They study how the different birds cling to the feeders, how they crack open the hulls. They note which birds prefer which types of seed. They observe the dynamics among the various species.

Put simply, my parents love the company of those birds. And anybody who visits my parents, should she stay long enough, is apt to fall in love with those birds, too. I speak from experience.

Living where they do, one could reasonably expect that my folks might also find fellowship with other critters in their yard. But such critters, if they're around, have kept a very low profile--even the squirrels, which is surprising, especially given the presence of all those well-stocked bird feeders.

It wasn't until early this summer that a squirrel or two started attacking the birdfeed. How rude. They hadn't been invited to the party. My parents promptly installed anti-squirrel countermeasures and made sure to give any squirrel the same scolding as every crow.

What happened next is unbelievable. After some days of discouragement, one of those squirrels actually climbed up on my parents' back porch, walked up to their sliding door, and rapped on the glass. That's right. That little critter was no dummy. He knew who was really running the show. He knew who really dispensed the birdfeed. And now, here he was,  politely asking to be fed.

My mother, telling me this on the phone, said, "I don't know what we're going to do. He's a little pest. But he's so cute."

"Well," I said, "why not just feed him?" I couldn't help but tease her a little. "I mean, are you really going to try to explain to that squirrel why you're willing to feed birds but not him? Are you really going to try to justify squirrel discrimination?" We both laughed. We were joking around, but at the same time, the question was real, and we both knew it. What makes one creature worth feeding, and another not? What makes one worthy of our attention, and another not? What makes one a pest, and another a welcome guest?

Simple questions from nature, all too applicable in the realm of human animals.

I haven't heard anything about that squirrel for several weeks now. Time I should get an update.

Deep peace,
Phyllis Cole-Dai