As some of you may know, I’ve been working in Barrancabermeja, Colombia with Christian Peacemaker Teams since January 5. I’ve been writing regularly about my work here on my blog for the Mennonite, but I thought it was about time I wrote something here on YAR.
CPT’s work here in the Magdalena Medio has changed quite a bit since I was last here 3 years ago. At that time our work was still mainly focused on the Opon, an area where paramilitaries and guerillas threatened the civilian population as they vied for control. CPT’s work there has focused on a physical presence as a deterrent to human rights abuses, threats and killings by armed groups. CPT Colombia continues to accompany the Opon, but has also broadened it’s accompaniment to include other communities in the Magdalena Medio region.
The region is rich in resources including oil and the largest gold deposits left in South America. This means it is also a major target for multinational corporations and their proxies the Colombian government and paramilary groups. Communities across the region are finding ways to nonviolently defend their rights and their land. Today, CPT is accompanying many of the communities where that conflict is the hottest. (more…)
This past weekend, my friend Gus was arrested in Georgia. Now before you worry too much, let me further explain that he was arrested after an act of civil disobedience as part of the annual protest against the School of the Americas (a.k.a. Western Hemiphere Institute for Security Cooperation), a notorious training school for some of the worst human rights abusers in Latin America.
Gus was one of 11 people who trespassed across the line into Fort Benning, where the School of the Americas is housed. Thousands of others marched outside the gates of Fort Benning in what was the 18th Annual Protest against the school and the US foreign policy it stands for.
In 2005 the story of the SOA came particularly close to home for me when eight members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community in Uraba, Colombia were killed while I was in the country with Christian Peacemaker Teams. According to witnesses, the assasins were members of the Colombian military’s 17th Brigade, commanded by an SOA graduate. Ironically, Luis Eduardo Guerra, one of the leaders who was killed, spoke at the November 2002 vigil outside the gates of the School of the Americas.
It was the first time Gus had attended the vigil, but not the first time he had risked arrested. This year he was arrested twice while occupying Senator Durban’s office to encourage him to end the occupation of Iraq. But Gus isn’t your average peace activist type. He does janitorial work for the building where I live, working alongside my wife to sweep the floors and the was the windows here. He does not often talk about his convictions unless pushed.
I’m really sad today. I often become sad when I read the NY Times.
I wasn’t sure which article I should write an urgent post about, there were so many. Women are being destroyed in Congo as rape has become the most common tool of war and the crisis has reached unprecedented proportions. I was sure I was going to blog about that–as soon as returned to the computer from a session of weeping–crying out and pleading with God that people in every country would respect women’s bodily integrity. Here is that article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/world/africa/07congo.html?th&emc=th
But, I couldn’t write about that one because I got overwhelmed by the next article. Rape and pillaging in wars will never stop as long as long as people in the imperial center do things like spread the gospel using Halo3, a dichotomizing, bloody video game. The article is copied into this post. Here’s an excerpt.
Witness the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game’s allure: “It’s just fun blowing people up.”
Once they come for the games, Gregg Barbour, the youth minister of the church said, they will stay for his Christian message. “We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell,” Mr. Barbour wrote in a letter to parents at the church. “
HOW–with what words, passages, or guiding principles–can we speak to our christian “brothers and sisters” about this? YAR has been a community of support for speaking truth to power. Words of advice, comfort, or challenge as we welcome many more christians by way of accepting Jesus as their savior while they were aroused by the massacring and tag-team destruction they just did?
In the past few months, we’ve discussed how to handle churches that stray from their nonviolent roots, why we should refrain from commenting on situations we don’t know in-depth, and why those of us in comfortable lives should hold their tongues when people in uncomfortable lives outside of North America use violence. Yes, that’s a simplistic way of saying it, but it’s a decent summary.
My question is, when should we insist on peace and nonviolence? When should we, as people committed to the peacemaking roots of our church tradition (and not because it is our tradition, but because we believe it, too), stand up and say, “Nope, I’m not going to let this get watered down”? If a person with a U.S. military background comes into our churches and says, “Don’t tell people in Palestine not to throw rocks when people point guns at them,” how do you respond? Should we insist on peacemaking and nonviolence for ourselves but decline to comment on how others live? Can we live in church fellowship with those who say otherwise, and if so, does this mean asking them not to promote their beliefs in our churches? (more…)
All day today I’ve been meaning to sit down and right something meaningful about the escalating situation in Burma which seems ripe for change or extensive repression. Turns out someone with far more experience has done a great job of laying out the history of the situation there and a useful perspective on what’s happening:
Excerpt from Burma on the March by Gene Stoltzfus (founder of Christian Peacemaker Teams):
Buddhist teachings and values are deeply ingrained in Burmese society and when monks lead, an unwritten message is sent to the nation. The arrest of monks creates a shocking dissonance in the minds of the Buddhist population. In the practice of Buddhism in Burma, people frequently leave the routine of their lives for a few weeks to become monks. With saffron robes, shaved heads and begging bowls they examine their lives, perhaps in the hope of gaining merit, more spiritually centered living, or to move along in their own personal cycle of karma. Some of the monks walking in the demonstrations now are almost certainly people who have only recently joined the monastery for a brief break.
A friend asked why I go to Iraq at a time when the situation is deteriorating even further. I go in expectation, trusting that the Jesus way of nonviolence always brings more creativity and positive change to situations of injustice and violence than the tools of war. The resurrection for me is a sign that life trumps death. Yes, it is a high risk project, but a project that participates already in the future for which we pray and yearn!
Yesterday at a debate with Senator Kerry, security guards at the University of Florida used a taser on a student who went over his alloted question time:
I showed this to a friend and his response was that the student seems to be deliberately escalating the situation. Personally, I find the situation disturbing because of how quickly the security guards escalate the situation in the first place, by grabbing him. What do all of you think? (more…)
This interview is a repost from my blog on the Mennonite of an interview with Jarrod McKenna, a leader in the Emerging Church movement in Australia and founder of Empowering Peacemakers in Your Community, an organization that runs trainings on nonviolence and ecology in Australian schools, churches and prisons. I’ve previously referenced an article Jarrod has written on Emerging Peace Church Movement & the “Open Anabaptist Impulse”. Jarrod won the Donald Groom Peace Fellowship, a national Australian peace award. The Original intention was to do an interview with him for this blog and so, though I published it on the Mennonite site first, I think YAR is its true home. Enjoy! If you have your own questions for Jarrod, feel free to leave them in a comment and perhaps he’ll come by and answer them himself.
Tim: Where did you first come across the Anabaptist story?
Jarrod McKenna: The timing of my intro to Anabaptism was nothing short of God’s grace. It was a hugely significant time in my life though I was only 13 years old. Just before school started for my first year of high school, I made the very serious decision to follow Jesus. Up to that point I had gone through school not having the easiest time because of my dyslexia and ADD. I dealt with it by being the funny kid and when that didn’t work, beating kids up. I got good at both and was popular because of it. Yet the emptiness I felt would keep me up at night, looking up at the stars from my bedroom window and saying “God, if you’re there, I need you”. While some people have dramatic conversion experiences mine didn’t happen in a flash. But slowly my eyes opened to the Holy Spirit’s gentle work in my life. Night after night as the stars ministered to me I began to be sensitive to God’s love for me, and that love meant I could change, and follow Jesus. (more…)
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
This comes immediately after the well-known “taming the tongue” section of James. I’m not really quite sure what to say to go along with this BVotD because it reminds me to keep quiet when I don’t have any real wisdom to share. Since I don’t want to blather on to hear myself talk, I’m keeping this short.
I suppose the best way to start all this is to explain who I am and what I’m doing. My name is Nick, and I’m a member of the Church of the Brethren and a Peace Studies major at Manchester College. A couple months ago I was arrested at a witness in Fort Wayne, and was asked by my employers in the Residential Life department at Manchester to write a paper explaining what happened. I posted the paper on my own blog, and was subsequently urged to re-post it here. The paper was intended to be a complete account of my experience, and as such does not necessarily have one coherent message. I’ve edited out the parts that really only pertain to my school, so it may appear to jump around some but… well, read it for yourselves.
Thursday, March 29, 2007, I joined eight other Manchester students, and three faculty and staff in a peace vigil at the federal building in Fort Wayne as part of a nationwide campaign called the Occupation Project, a civil disobedience campaign aimed at literally occupying the offices of U.S. Congressmen who refuse to cut off funding for the continuing war in Iraq. (more…)
I woke up way too early this morning from a strange dream, as I knew I would when I went to bed at 1. Whenever I go to bed in a distressed emotional state (thankfully this doesn’t happen too often) I sleep my physical tiredness off in a couple hours and then wake up right before the light starts to come, toss and turn for a while. I decided to get up and do something useful. My original idea was of something useful was studying for this huge test I have to take in about a week… but then I thought I’d elicit some words from you all instead. Still useful, right?
The dream was pretty funny, actually. I found myself forced to sit in a kind of revival-style worship service, surrounded by male friends from my hometown, kids my own age. I realized that we were all gay (in my dream), and that this was a service to try to convert us (to holiness and heterosexuality, I guess) The service built to a kind of altar call. A line of young men (who I recognized as older boys from my hometown) were marched in to surround us “sinners” and all assumed a kneeling position of prayer – they were to serve as beacons of virility and heterosexuality and virtue while we responded to the call. Defiantly, I got up and tried to make my way to their line and assume their same posture, to show that they had no exclusive claim on prayer or virtue. One of them got angry and pointed me back to my seat. (more…)
I spent the afternoon yesterday afternoon attempting to eradicate Canadian thistles from a section of garden. The area had been thoroughly weeded a week before, but already small green thistle shoots were poking above the ground. But the size of the shoots was deceptive. When I dug beneath the surface, their roots were as thick as my finger in some places. When I pulled the roots up, they would usually break off after 9 or 10 inches. But if I carefully dug down farther I could find the mother root, buried horizontally like an electrical cable a 18 inches beneath the surface. Every inch or two along its length the mother root sends up a new shoot to the surface to become another new thistle. You can pull out five thistles from the surface, but the mother root will quietly send up new thistles to the surface five feet away.
So why all this information about a weed? I was gardening with Cliff Kindy, a life long peacemaking gardener. Cliff compared his vision of Christian peacemaking in the midst of empire to the Canadian thistle. Cliff has spent the last 15 years working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in places like Colombia, the West Bank, Iraq and Vieques, Puerto Rico.
A Canadian thistle isn’t a warm and fuzzy image like a donut hole or even a mustard seed (though some have been doing a lot of good work to rehabilitate its image). (more…)
What’s the matter? Now that we know our conversations are to be summarized in another venue, we stop talking? I hope everyone’s just busy being radical in their offline lives.
The real reason for my post is to talk about vegetarianism and animal rights/welfare. This is another topic on which many Christians (perhaps especially Mennonites in rural areas) have only vague notions of why anyone would decide not to eat meat. It seems silly, pagan or perhaps even anti-Anabaptist when you’re talking about “meat canned in the name of Jesus for the missionaries to eat.”
It’s with some trepidation that I write this. I don’t want to come off as a zealot who believes everyone has to do as I do. There’s just so much misinformation out there it’s hard to know where or how to begin. It would certainly be encouraging to discover YARs aren’t scared to talk about something that is at once philosophical and immensely practical for those of us who eat three meals a day. (more…)
Since Ben Anderson asked about the difference between pacifism and nonviolence over on the Practical nonviolence prevents bank robberies post, I thought I’d start a new thread along the same line to see if others wanted to add their thoughts on the topic. It just so happens I came across a current event which adds an interesting angle to the discussion.
This past Friday, Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire was shot by the Israeli military while participating in a nonviolent protest against the wall being built in the West Bank. I for one didn’t hear anything about until this evening when it happened to show up on my Google news page. A quick search shows that only 13 articles have been written about this incident in the past week. Robert Naiman highlighted this dearth of coverage in a blog post on the Just Foreign Policy website (also sent out as a press release by the International Solidarity Movement). Naiman’s challenge is a good wake up call to pacifists who often advocate nonviolent social change as an alternative to armed struggle: (more…)
For many years bank tellers have been told to do nothing when faced with a prospective robbery. The main goal was to make sure no one gets hurt. The new “Safe Catch” technique described in the radio story above empowers bank tellers by allowing them to step out of the expected victim role. They enthusiastically greet the suspicious person and thereby invite them to step out of their role as aggressor. It sounds a lot like the nonviolent deescalation tactics we learned as part of Christian Peacemaker Training. (more…)