August 19, 2016

Project Peace

Josie made a plea to each of us today:
Now’s a good time to take a small action on behalf of peace.  We urge you to call your senators and ask them to block the State Dept.’s latest decision to sell even more weapons to Saudi Arabia to use in Yemen.  US weapons have killed many innocent Yemeni people in hospitals, schools, and more. (See NYT editorial below.)

Congress has the power to block this sale. They have 25 more days to do so by law.   Here’s a link from Codepink that will explain the issue and make it easy for you to take action:

Phone calls will draw even more attention to the issue**:

Senator Sherrod Brown 202-224-2315

Senator Rob Portman 202-224-3353

**I have these numbers stored in my cell phone so it’s easier for me to overcome my inertia and make a call!

Democrat Sen…

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Life’s just one long improv gig

Andrew and ducks 2

A friend of mine who does improvisational theater and comedy loves to regale us on Facebook with impromptu stories from his travels.  You thought being stuck on the tarmac for hours in an overcrowded airplane is excruciatingly painful?  So does Justin, so how does he manage to make a hilarious performance out of a cell phone conversation he overhears from the woman across the aisle?  You and I wake up in the night and stumble to the bathroom.  Justin tries this in Nigeria and suddenly an African-sized spider waiting for him in the darkness turns into a full-blown comedy skit.  After his latest Facebook episode I finally had to leave a comment.  “Justin,” I exclaimed, “your life is one long improv gig!”  His reply came as a surprise:  “Josie, isn’t that what life is for everyone??”

Now I really had to laugh!  Do you mean each one of us is improvising our lives every inch of the way?  If that’s true, I’m laughing out of relief.  I’ve spent most of my life convinced that there’s a big long script somewhere and I’ve forgotten the lines. There’s a right way to do things and there’s a right thing to say.  And I need to find them.  And someone has hidden the script!

Do you mean to tell me I am allowed to write my own lines?   That I can find my lines in the moment?  That if I stay present to everything the moment brings me, I’ll be ready to give back to the moment in the way that only I can give?

When I’ve watched improvisational theater, I’ve been awestruck at the actors’ agility.  They give back a striking and funny response to whatever their fellow actor throws their way.  How do they do it?  Sure, I’ll bet they are naturally funny, but I’m just as sure they are practicing a strict discipline.  I found a set of rules for improvisational theater and noted that the first 5 rules sounded spot on for daily living:

Fundamental Rules for Improv

  1. Listen: easier said than done, and that’s exactly the point
  2. Agreement: say yes and add something, don’t reject ideas
  3. Team Work: have a group mind, think of others
  4. Don’t Block: stealing jokes / not listening / changing topic
  5. Relationship: focus on connection between characters, not just subject of scene

These rules sound familiar.  I’ve heard them in spirituality books and nonviolence training manuals.  In daily life, ‘improvisation’ might just be another word for mindfulness.  And as if to prove that the moment will give me just what I need, today I received  an email with a reflection on Christian mindfulness by Father Jim Bacik.

Bacik explores Thomas Merton’s interest in interfaith dialogue with Zen Buddhism.  He tells us that Thomas Merton “was convinced that western Christians could grow spiritually through dialogue with the Eastern religions.”  Among the Zen teachers he met was the Vietnamese Buddhist peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn.

Hanh has advice for us:

  • concentrate your whole attention on whatever you are doing at the moment; wash a dish as if you were bathing the baby Buddha; practice mindful walking by being aware of your feet touching the ground and imagining a flower blooming in that spot;
  • be attentive to the holiness all around you, for example, the blue skies and the curious eyes of a child;
  • enjoy your work by staying relaxed and uniting yourself with the expenditure of energy;
  • be aware of your thoughts and feelings but do not judge them; consider the individuals you are actually with as the most important persons and making them happy your most important task;
  • concentrate on your breathing when meditating and when stressed because breathing unites our body and soul, helps us get hold of our feelings, and opens our heart to wisdom;

Merton offers a Christian perspective to enhance what we can learn about mindfulness from Zen practice.  Among the examples that Bacik shares are the following:

  • We should be attentive to each moment as a gift from God.
  • We can think of our ordinary daily routine as a way of practicing [St. Therese’s] Little Way of Charity.
  • Our work deserves our attention and best efforts because it is our way of cooperating with God in the ongoing creation of the world.
  • Our time spent with family, friends and colleagues takes on greater meaning when considered as opportunities to encounter the Holy Spirit present in all persons.
  • We can do a better job of attending to our thoughts and feelings without judging them if we remember that divine mercy has a fundamental priority over divine judgment.

That last point has special force for me.  What freedom there is when judgment morphs into mercy!  We can’t practice this by ruminating over past mistakes nor agonizing over future possibilities.  Just like a good improv performer, right here in the present moment is where we can best practice.  And as a Zen teacher once told me:  “We can begin again with the next breath!”


A people’s history erased, restored

Palestine 077972 Magazine posted an article last week about the civics textbook newly released by the Education Ministry in Israel. The text makes absolutely no mention of the military occupation of the West Bank.  This enormous political reality that violates international law and causes so much suffering to the Palestinian people is missing in action in Israeli school children’s history classes.

When a people’s history disappears, so does a piece of their humanity.  Their suffering becomes invisible and, in fact, so do they.  The oppressor doesn’t see the oppressed and so doesn’t see his or her own role in the oppression.  When Israeli children grow up and hear about unrest in Palestine, they will understand nothing of the historical context for that behavior and will have precious little to guide their political response.

When I traveled to the West Bank in 2013 with Project Peace, I observed the occupation firsthand.  The photo above shows the wall that surrounds most of Bethlehem.  The wall fascinated me because the Palestinians have made of it an enormous canvas .  While the Israelis erected walls that, in effect, made the Palestinians invisible, the Palestinians reclaimed this blank canvas to express their own reality and claim their human dignity.  They were famously successful when Pope Francis visited Bethlehem in 2014 and prayed by the wall.Pope Francis visits Israel's separation barrier in Bethlehem

Another people’s history: MLK and the Vietnamese peasants 

Today on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m thinking about King’s efforts in the last year of his life to call attention to the history and experience of another oppressed people, the Vietnamese peasants who suffered horrendous death, displacement, and destruction in the Vietnam War.  In a speech at Riverside Church April 4, 1967, he told the inconvenient history that was missing from our nightly news programs.

I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

King told how the Vietnamese proclaimed their own independence from French and Japanese occupation in 1945, followed by our government’s efforts to help France recolonize them.  He spelled out Vietnamese peasants hopes for desperately needed land reform and how those hopes were repeatedly dashed as the years of conflict wore on.  He asked his audience:

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

King sought to restore the voices of these voiceless ones, to restore their history and experience that the war-makers sought to erase.  And one year later to the day, he was dead of an assassin’s bullet.

His efforts remind me of today’s activists all around the world who travel to Palestine to collect the stories of the Palestinian people, to learn their history, and to tell it widely with the dignity and respect it deserves.  I feel certain that if Dr. King were alive today, he would surely be right beside us telling those stories as well.



To Rehumanize: Restoring the prisoner’s face

procession police motorcycle

I’ve been going to Washington, DC every January since 2008 to join the Witness Against Torture community as they lift the voices of Guantanamo detainees in the streets and before the seats of power.  This work has taught me gradually to approach a political problem through the humanity of is victims.  The policy takes on flesh and bones through my own experience of another’s reality.

It all started that first time I came to a WAT action in DC in 2008.  It was the 6th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo’s prison on Jan. 11, 2002.  Activists were suiting up in orange jumpsuits and black hoods to make a prisoner procession from the National Mall to the Supreme Court.  I recall my fear as I made the decision to join the procession. Donning the prisoner garb right there in the center of political power that created these prisoners?  What would it be like to put that hood over my head?

Luckily for me, it was not the thick, stifling hood the detainees themselves were forced to wear.  Instead our hoods were made of a lightweight fabric that allowed us to dimly make out shapes. We could see where we were going and, with a little help from our procession guides, avoid stumbling.

While the hood did not recreate the detainee’s physical experience, it did indeed hint at the psychological experience.  I was now anonymous.  No one knew who I was.  Now for a protester, anonymity could be convenient.  Not so for the prisoner.

The detainees’ guards did not have to look at their faces.  The guards did not see the suffering in the prisoners’ eyes when they were strapped to the floor of a C-130 transport plane for the long journey from Afghanistan to Guantanamo.  Nor did soldiers see their sweating, terrified faces when the prisoners were shoved into cages in the blistering Cuban sun and made to kneel for hours on end.  Most Americans still remember the iconic image of the hooded detainee standing on a box with wires protruding from his arms at Abu Ghraib.  In all these examples, the hood served to hide the prisoner’s humanity.  The hood carried a sinister connotation, and each hooded prisoner took on the threatening identity labeled “terrorist.”  The deliberate dehumanization of the prisoners made it easier to heap tremendous abuse upon them.

Last June in Washington, I learned more about dehumanization at a panel titled Legalized Torture: From Guantanamo Bay to Rikers.  Dr. Maha Hilal, executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, emphasized the role of dehumanization in producing torture. At Guantanamo, she told us, dehumanization took three forms: first, a cultural erasure, then a legal erasure, leading finally to the physical erasure that is torture. She emphasized that torture is part of a continuum, not a discrete act. Prior to torture, people are dehumanized to get the public conditioned to accept it and that becomes part of the torture itself.

I’m grateful to the Witness Against Torture community for its work to tell the stories of the prisoners at Guantanamo in a bid to restore their dignity and humanity before the American people.  One of our artist members has created large canvas paintings each depicting the face of a particular prisoner.  One of paintings was that of Tariq Ba Odah whom we displayed at the White House in the photo below.  When his attorney showed Tariq this photo, he cried tears of joy and gratitude.  So powerful was it to have his face restored, so to speak, and brought to the center of power.

Restoring the prisoner’s face is one antidote to dehumanization and the evils it enables.  I like to call this work “rehumanization.”  And I intend to explore that concept further in future posts.Tariq White House Rally 26 June



Close (don’t move) Guantanamo!

We hear a beautiful sound

WaPo published an article yesterday announcing a new milestone at Guantanamo:  The population of the prison will soon fall below 100 for the first time since its first month of existence 14 years ago. Ten Yemenis will soon be released, bringing to 14 the total released so far this year.  We can celebrate the new pace of release for dozens of prisoners who have languished in prison despite being cleared for release many years ago.  Yet our joy is brought up short as we read further in the article to find the following reminder:

As the pace of transfers accelerates, officials are also racing to finalize a plan they must submit to Congress outlining steps the White House hopes to take to end detention operations at Guantanamo, including bringing some prisoners to the United States for trial or indefinite detention without charge.

Note that Obama’s plan to “close” Guantanamo includes moving prisoners to the United States to continue their detention without charge or trial.  Who knew that closing Guantanamo was more about zip code than justice?

A tweet by the Center for Constitutional Rights aptly called out this moral outrage:

To bring Guantanamo’s prisoners to our shores to be held indefinitely, perhaps for a lifetime, in some US supermax is, simply put, to bring Guantanamo home.  Our government proposes to embrace a practice that violates international and human rights law and compromises our moral standing in the world.

To shut down Guantanamo must mean shutting down indefinite detention.  If insufficient evidence exists to place a prisoner on trial, then release him.  If the only evidence that can be found was produced by torturing a prisoner, then set him free. Protect the rule of law in the service of justice.

“Let them go home!” is the message the Witness Against Torture community brought to the White House at Monday’s rally marking 14 years of the prison at Guantanamo. They  held a ritual in which each detainee’s name and photo was brought into a space symbolizing home.  As they concluded, they faced the White House and sang their message to the President:

We hear a beautiful sound.

It is the breaking of chains.

We see a path full of hope.

We have found the way.

Let them go home.

Let them go home.

Let them go home.

Let them go today!


Abolish War?

“An End to War?” Commonweal’s cover story in the Jan. 8 edition caught my eye.   Writer David Carroll Cochran reminds us that we have ended other barbaric practices in relatively recent human history.  He recounts that private vengeance and dueling were once accepted as a part of normal life, “unavoidable, a reflection of the natural human tendency to give and respond to offense.”  When Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton Burr dueled in 1804, the practice was only then being outlawed in the northern United States.  Yet today we take modern policing and courts for granted and we no longer accept duels and private vengeance as necessary or legitimate.  In fact, today we find these historic practices revolting and barbaric.

Just as dueling was once considered a reflection of a “natural human tendency,” so is war often described today.   Examples abound for barbarisms that were once standard practice, including slavery and capital punishment.  Cochran maintains that war can join this list.  Alternative conflict resolution practices are well studied and have a proven track record.  What we still lack is the firm conviction that war can be abolished.  He cites the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes: human beings must “free ourselves from the age-old slavery of war” by moving toward “the time when all war can be completely outlawed by international consent” through “establishment of some universal public authority” that provides a better way to uphold international peace, security, and justice.

Let’s say it out loud: To outlaw war by international consent reall means that the nations with the most wealth and technology consent to stop supporting war.  The players with the advantages that money and power bring want to use them to amass even more wealth and power.  Pope Francis used his 2016 World Day of Peace message to point to this problem.  He asks, “How many wars have been fought, and how many will continue to be fought, over a shortage of goods or out of an insatiable thirst for natural resources?”

When will we learn that we can better use our wealth and technology to alleviate the shortages and inequities that fuel conflict?  When will we set aside the supposed advantages of our massive military arsenals to get serious about nonviolent methods of conflict resolution?  Pope Francis cites his recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, to remind us that we and our world cannot afford to continue along our present path.  When will we come to terms with the barbarism of war, embrace alternatives that wait only for our serious consent, and abolish war?



by Terry Lodge

I grew up on Memorial Day.
My father made floral arrangements
Which we left at the gravesites of friends and relatives
Who had died in war.
I remember watching the tears form in his eyes
As he recalled what he, himself, saw in the South Pacific
Choking up in mid-sentence.

And there were parades
And that somber poem
‘We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.’
Every Memorial Day.
Every accursed Memorial Day.

Those millions of torched boneboxes
Swept along on the rising tide
Of hundreds of millions of gallons of blood
Spilled for what?
To ‘take up the quarrel with the foe?’

Those torched boneboxes immolated billions of dreams
Millions of hearts swollen with love
And millions of pounds of brains
From which personal inclination
To oppose My Lai
Carpet bombing
War profiteers
Drone murders
False patriotism
The military-industrial-genocide complex
Depleted uranium holocausts
Dead collaterals,
Had to be erased
And replaced with war
As the health of the state.

Tell me when we wage class warfare
To end warfare
At Fallujah

I oppose Memorial Day.
‘Short days ago we lived
And now we lie in Flanders fields.’
The Earth should vomit up that shame.

Tell me when we wage class warfare
To end warfare.
There is no dying class –
The lie of Flanders fields.

– Terry Lodge, 5/30/11