Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Giving and Recieving Help - even when it's not asked for

Taking the time to help a stranger seems like an easy enough task for most of us, but once the car is in gear and your mind is racing to the next stage of the day's game it's hard to put the brake on, get out of the car and offer assistance. I remember leaving a bank parking lot after using the ATM. There was an elderly man standing next to his car which had the hood up. He had a kind face and I felt ashamed as I pulled into traffic and sped off. I had basic tools and jumper cables. I'd worked on cars out of necessity and probably could have helped him out or at least used my cell phone to call someone that could. I don't know where I was headed in such a hurry, but I do remember the feeling of guilt. I wonder how many people I could help that I don't even see because I'm looking the other way. Studies show that the main reason we don't help each other is the sense of being in a rush. We're so preoccupied that we don't help.

When I'm working on something at home, my attention fully fixed on the project of the moment, and my daughter interrupts my thought for something I feel anger arise. It's taken some practice to realize that it's the same impulse that kept me from helping that man so many years back. Whatever I'm doing is more important than the well being of the other. Or more simply, I'm more important to me.  My own self absorbtion is one of the biggest obstacles to my practice of compassion and ahimsa.

Walking out to my car in the grocery store parking lot one day a woman approached me and asked if I could give her a ride home. She was carrying two boxes of wine, not a light load. The day was colder than she had anticipated and she was recovering from foot surgery. Her foot was hurting much more than she expected from her walk there. I gladly gave her the ride home and enjoyed our brief conversation. I felt so good for days after that experience that I wondered if I shouldn't just don't go around offering more people rides. But she asked for help. I don't think I've ever turned down someone who has asked for help. But as a stubbornly independent person I know that asking for help is not an easy step for most of us. If the man in the parking lot had asked I'm sure I would have stopped instantly. His eyes asked and I knew it, but his ego stopped him from asking. 

It is interesting to note that as debase and flawed as some like to paint the human picture, we find ourselves exceedingly happy when we give of ourselves.  I chide my friends, who like myself, will suffer in isolation when ill instead of asking me or another friend for help.  We cheat ourselves of some much needed comfort and also cheat our companions on this journey of the great euphoric joy of helping out.  Movies that show tremendous personal sacrifice for others are the ones that bring tears, even to the tough guys in the audience.  The nonviolent path is challenging, but it has many rewards. 

Sometimes it's even nice to help someone without asking, maybe even anonymously.  To the anonymous kind souls of the world, namaste.

Asking for and giving help...may we stop struggling with the simple things.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Connections and Fall Out

When one tugs at
a single thing in nature,
he finds it attached to
the rest of the world.

~ John Muir

James Cameron's blockbuster movie, Avatar, reminds us of the subtle connections we have to this planet.  Although the Na'vi are highly idealized, falling easily into the category of Rousseau's Noble Savage, it challenges us to question our version of civilization, technology, science, etc., over the simpler state of existence or have we reached a place where the two can enhance one another.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Starbase - Education that Kills

In other countries children are abducted from their beds and forced to serve in a military.  In our country the child recruiters don't have to go to all that trouble, they have full access to our children at school.  Not only that, but the school provides the Department of Defense with the personal information on our children, unless we fill out a form to "opt-out".  Under the No Child Left Behind (a program that becomes more sinister as we learn the military implications of this program) schools are required to report to Uncle Sam certain demographic information on our kids.  Is your child struggling with math, chemistry, etc.?  Is your child late or absent often?  Is your child from a single parent home or on reduced lunches or from a poor neighborhood?  Uncle Sam wants to know if your child fits any of these markers.  If so your child will become the target of aggressive recruitment.  But now DoD has taken another big step in recruitment strategy.  Rather than go to the schools to recruit, the schools are bringing the kids, K-5, to the military bases under the guise of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.  Here, your child will be told about all the great career opportunities available in the military (but they won't hear about the realities of war or what these machines they are being allowed to touch and experience do to the children in Iraq and Afghanistan). 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Call to the Heart

The monthly Fast for Gaza is this Thursday.  Over the last month there have been some positive developments for the people of Gaza, including a letter urging President Obama to pressure Israel to lift the siege, signed by 54 members of congress (thank Oregon's Blumenauer for signing).  Seventy-seven members of the British House of Commons has taken a similar stand.  The world is beginning to take notice.  As long as Hamas doesn't do anything stupid like launching bottle rockets over the wall, I hope that even more of the International community will begin to recognize the dire conditions that these people are facing daily. 

On the anniversary of the brutal attack on Gaza by Israel, 1400 good people, bearing gifts and humanitarian items, from across the globe assembled in Cairo,Egypt for the Gaza Freedom March.  Of that number only 90 were allowed entry into Gaza, while the reamiaining marchers held fasts and vigils in solidarity from Cairo.   Since then I've read numerous accounts of the events there, but few from those that made it inside of Gaza.  Today, on the FOR website, David Hartsough provides that account.  David Hartsough is the director of Peaceworkers and co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce. 
Reflection: Somehow, we have to get out of this vicious circle of violence and oppression and counter-violence. All of us -- Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans (whose government supports the Israeli apartheid regime and the war and siege of Gaza) -- must come to understand that security comes NOT through more arms and guns and oppression of others. It can ONLY come by treating all people as children of God, and with respect and dignity as our brothers and sisters. If we -- Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans -- could only understand this, we and the whole world would all be much more secure.
To read the rest of his blog:

If after reading David's story of his visit you feel the urge to take some action, however symbolic, I'd urge you to join the fast, even if you just skip lunch that day.  Visit
Be sure to tell your friends too, so they might participate and continue to grow awareness of this tragedy. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Goliath's Last Days

The now ubiquitous peace symbol began as part of the nuclear disarmament movement in 1958.  The symbol itself is a combination of the semaphoric signals for the letters "N" and "D," standing for Nuclear Disarmament.  Yet, here we are more that 50 years later and further from that desired result than ever.  President Obama even received a preemptive Nobel Peace Prize on a promise to disarm our nuclear arsenal, and yet in his budget he's expanding the program.  Many Americans have sacrificed their freedom in order to bring attention to this issue, or to stop the expansion.  And yet the majority of Americans seem to cling to the idea that this arsenal of evil is somehow keeping them safe. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Forest of Peace

What we plant
in the soil of contemplation,
we shall reap in the harvest of action.

~ Meister Eckhart

Nine strong.  That's the number of Redwood sprouts growing in pie dishes at the Whitefeather Peace House.  Seeds from small cones collected beneath the shade of two giants at a nearby park were gently persuaded to awaken.  These fragile beings are filled with the potential of the ancient Goliaths, once the most plentiful trees on earth.  The oldest known Giant Sequoia lived for 3500 years.  It makes our 90 year life span seem rather puny.  Yet, in our brief time we have even greater potential to reach amazing heights of awareness through action. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

No More Guns

Well it was Sunday bloody Sunday
When they shot the people there
The cries of thirteen martyrs
Filled the Free Derry air
Is there any one amongst you
Dare to blame it on the kids?
Not a soldier boy was bleeding
When they nailed the coffin lids!
My first trip out of my own country was to (London)Derry Ireland in October 2001.   It was also my first experience in a conflict zone.  From the moment I arrived I was confronted by a new reality of what it means to live with the constant threat of violence and the remnants and artifacts of the violence both past and present.  The city of Derry is a walled city, surrounded by a medieval, defensible fortress. Armored police vehicles crawl the streets after dark.  The shop windows close their eyes at night, cold metal eyelids shuttering out the world.  Any windows not covered have spiderwebs of cracks or shattered holes.  Concertina wire adorns the tops of fences and walls.  Surveillance equipment seems to follow your every step along these ancient streets.  Graffiti and vandalism scar much of the visible facade of Derry, never letting you forget that death and violence are walking nearby in the hearts and minds around you.

There is sanctuary from the street, the pub.  At night the residents of Derry take solace in jolly camaraderie.  I joined in, eager to imbibe the stories of these people.  How did this happen to them and why?  And more importantly why does it keep happening?

By the late 60s the "Troubles" of Northern Ireland found the Roman Catholic nationalists and the protestant unionists openly fighting one another.  January 1972 the people on the bogside of Derry organized a peaceful protest against the violence.  The protest ended in bloodshed when the British soldiers opened fire on the protesters.  These were fatal shots for 11 people, while two others were run down by armored vehicles.  By firing on a peaceful gathering the British radicalized the youth of Northern Ireland, sending them to the doors of the IRA (Irish Republic Army) to pick up guns for their retaliation.  Violence began to escalate, spilling the blood of many innocents.  No one felt safe in their yards and homes.  Everyone became suspect and neighbors lost trust and hope of each others humanity.  If only Nonviolent Peaceforce, or other unarmed civilian peacekeeping, had been available to them then, much suffering might have been avoided.  The walls of this city have witnessed bloody battles since the 1600s, and it was clear that it was not yet to see peace.

Few in Northern Ireland have escaped the harm of the Troubles.  Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams were deeply affected by the violence in Belfast when the three children of Mairead's sister, Anne, were run down by a member of the Provisional Irish Republic Army (PIRA).  Betty Williams witnessed the event.  the grief stricken mother, Anne, ended her own life.  This event galvanized the women to action and they began "Women for Peace" which later became the "Community of Peace People", winning them the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.  The group began the modest work of re-education, planting the seeds of peace and nonviolence in hopes that one day these concepts would grab hold the collective imagination of the people.

I sat in my hotel room in Derry in 2001, watching the local news.  Martin McGuinness, a Derry local and leader of Sinn Fein,  was making an announcement to the people of Northern Ireland.  McGuinness is highly respected in the local community, he was also one of the youth that had been driven to join the struggles as a member of the PIRA after Bloody Sunday.  After so many years of violence, he stated, the IRA was ready to begin disarming and handing over their weapons.  I sat in disbelief.  As I spoke with locals I found this skepticism to be the norm.  Yet there was hope.  Could these people, after so many decades of fear and mistrust, learn to live in peace?  Most seemed weary of violence and ready.  This was a big moment.  As time passed it has happened, but not until 2006.  I guess it takes time for those seeds to sprout, but unless they're planted nothing will ever happen.

My five year old daughter brought in the mail the other day.  Inside was a coupon booklet from Bi-Mart.  It had hearts on the front for Valentine's Day.  She flipped through the book to find other sweet gifts of love on the pages.  She came up to me with a very concerned look on her face and showed me the page that earned this sad look.  There were guns.  She said "Aren't guns for war, for killing people and animals?"  I told her yes, that is what guns are intended for.  We both agreed that guns should not be a gift for a day dedicated to love.  We will write a letter to Bi-Mart, stating of protest of their sale of guns.  The members of the IRA had to obtain guns illegally, yet in our country we have the "freedom" to walk into a large box store and buy a lethal weapon.  Some claim that owning a gun keeps them free, but I'd suggest that the people of Derry discovered otherwise.  That the more guns on the streets, the less free they were.  The more concertina wire, surveillance equipment and shuttered windows are the cost of that kind of freedom and it's not the kind of freedom we should be asking for.  Let's disarm our hearts and our homes, and truly be free.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Free the Hikers


This is a picture of Kurdistan, a beautiful and relatively peaceful area in Iraq that is near the Iran border.  Six months ago three U.S. Hikers from California lost their bearings in this vast wilderness and accidentally stepped into Iran.  They have been detained there ever since.  Josh, Shane and Sarah need your support, as do their families.  Visit the website at to see what else you can do to help.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Culture of War and Lipstick

The sexy singer from Barbados, Rihanna, has a new video for her song "Hard".  I have to wonder if she wasn't paid by the military recruiters to make this video.  If she wasn't, she should have been.  It attempts to make war itself desirable and sexy.  It's an appeal to the "bad-ass" mentality.  To me it represents so much of what is wrong with the American war culture.  The real bad-asses are the ones standing unarmed in front of the guns and tanks, demanding justice and security for the innocent civilians caught in all the red-blooded, testosterone driven nationalism.  I'd rather see Rihanna using her sex appeal to get the boys to put down their guns, rather than adding more bullets to an atmosphere already heavy with lead and death.

The message to young women is clear, that by adopting the "hard" violent persona you are somehow more sexy, desirable and secure.  There's also the implication that your sex is itself a weapon, and that a girl can use it to control and manipulate the man's world.  It's far from a new message.  I got the same message when I was a young woman from Cher, Madonna, Tank Girl, etc.  The messages are that "we have what they want and can use it to get what we need" and that it's somehow safer to join "them" in the game rather than to play by our own rules.  What exactly is it that we need from men that we can't get from a sperm bank?   R-E-S-P-E-C-T as Sister Aretha spelled it out for us all.  This is the clearest message being delivered in this video, that if your woman enough to straddle a pink tank, you will have that desired respect from all men.  It's a tragically flawed message. 

The reality of our war on terror is that more of our soldiers have died by suicide than have been killed by the "enemy".  War is not sexy.  It is wholesale murder, mostly civilian.  A greater percentage of female soldiers are raped while in service, Enemy within: rape in US military ranks.  Their sexuality and acceptance of violence as a way of life did not protect them.  They did not even get the respect of the men that they were fighting side by side with.  Please, my beloved sisters, do not join this team.  It can only bring suffering.

How does war affect a woman?  Does she bring a soothing quality to combat?  Or can she kill another woman and her children as cold-bloodedly as a man?  Turns out that she can.  Women have proven to be just as, if not more so, brutal than men.  Often they claim that they have to be to prove that they aren't "soft".  Some of the worst atrocities in the Rwanda genocide were waged by a woman,

Mother of atrocities: Pauline Nyiramasuhuko's role in the Rwandan genocide

At age 18 Israeli girls must serve in the military.  They are speaking out on how that service has changed them. 

Female Soldiers Break Their Silence

Sure, we can be like the famed Amazons, we have warrior hearts, but let's use that courage and ferocity to wage peace.  Of the two genders women should best understand what it takes to bring a beautiful human being into this world.  Let's not break each others hearts by killing those precious beings we've worked so hard to nurture.  Let's own our sexuality sisters.  What is more sexy than a mother nursing her child, or playing hide and seek in the park, or the mother holding the peace sign outside the White House demanding a better, safer life for all mothers everywhere.  Let's make peace the sexiest game in town.

Here's a better video, join the tribe.