Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Intimations of the Rebirth of Liberation Theology

Stained glass, public domain image, yahoo
On a snowy January night, some fifty brave souls made it to Lourdes university to hear Fr. Jim Bacik kick off his 2014 lecture series with a talk about "Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez and Immigration." The series is sponsored by the Sylvania Franciscan Village (www. sylvaniafanciscanvillage.org).

Dominican priest Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez..
yahoo image. 

I knew nothing about Fr. Gutierrez, but I am interested in the issue of immigration, and I wondered about the connection.   Also, Fr. Bacik's lectures are always "food for thought."

Fr. Gutierrez, I learned, was born in 1928 in Peru, ordained in 1959, and became priest of  a parish of 8,000 in Lima, Peru. He was surrounded by poverty and oppression, serving the poorest of the poor, and it changed him.  He became a Dominican and is considered "a father of liberation theology," believing the church must help the poor and marginalized above all else.  He played a major role at a conference of Latin American bishops held in Medelin, Columbia in 1968 and a few years later published "A Theology of Liberation."
Tile on Franciscan Center 
at Lourdes,
"E pluribus unum."

He probably knew Pope Francis, I thought to myself.  It didn't surprise me when Fr. Bacik informed us that Fr. Gutierrez, who is mostly in retirement and teaching at Notre Dame University now, met with Pope Francis at the Papal resident in September 2013. That same week the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano published an interview with Gutierrez, along with two of his articles.

Pope Francis knew what he was doing, and he was no doubt seeking advice from a pioneer theologian who worked with the poor, Fr. Bacik noted.

The Catholic Bishops are active in the immigration issue.  They are urging the US Congress to pass strong immigration reform.  No one has been more influential in this action than Fr Gutierrez, historically and up to the present.  "We are all immigrants," Fr. Gutierrez has said.  The Bishops and the "Network," a strong lobbying arm, have argued that such legislation must ensure family unity, protect the rights of immigrant workers, acknowledge that the borders are already secure, speed up processing of already-approved immigrants, enforce the present diversity program, and provide a clear and direct path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people who are undocumented in the US. The Bill that passed in the Senate last year was a start, they believe, although they question the long path to citizenship (13 years) the bill would require.

Pressure is now on the House to do the same.  Speaker Boehner of Ohio is Catholic, and under intense scrutiny.  That man is under pressure from everyone, I thought.  Among the most fierce must be that Network of Catholic bishops and theologians.  "He's had lots of visits from the Bishops," Bacik said with a wry smile.
                                                              *    *     *    *
For more information about Fr. Gutierretz and Liberation Theology:
 http://www. liberationtheology.org/people-organizations/gustavo-gutierrez/

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ukraine Weeps

Jud's Sunflower, weeping.

Are the USA and the EU going to stand by and watch Ukraine sink into another dictatorship under Yanukovich?

The Parliament just passed draconian laws designed to consolidate Yanukovitch's power, suppress dissent, and destroy non- governmental organizations.  "Ukraine is becoming another North Korea," a friend in Kyiv fears. 

The poster below shows some of the worst features: restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly and independent media, on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), on the press and civic activism, on just about every action, including driving, that are part of everyday life in Ukraine. The European Free Alliance calls the legislation "an anti-democratic putsch, which scuppers all previous progress Ukraine has made....and will have catastrophic consequences."

Life is already hard in Ukraine, and it's getting harder.  It's debilitating, dispiriting. How did Nelson Mandela do it?  He was 72 years old when he got out of prison, after almost 30 years, and he never gave up hope. He went back to South Africa and finished the job. 

Somehow the Ukrainian people, and its young leaders, have to muster the will to do the same.  The protests in Kyiv and other places will continue, but for how long, and to what end?

The USA and EU have to do more than talk. Not platitudes, but actions. Freezing billionaires' assets abroad would be a beginning. Financially supporting a free press and NGOs would be another. An infusion of hope from EU and the international community is critical.

I am especially worried about the severe restrictions on NGOs (similar to US nonprofits), because most PCVs work with NGOs. That is what we do. The NGOs, relatively young (since 1991), poor and struggling against the odds, are now under a microscope, restricted in most of their advocacy and service activities, restricted from raising funds, and forced to pay taxes on funds they receive.  If they do receive funds from, say, international foundations like the Gates Foundation and IREX, they could be branded as "foreign agents" and subject to dissolution and severe punishment.  This is truly disturbing. 

A friend in Lugansk who heads a NGO that fights for government transparency and public participation in making laws, posted this dismaying description on facebook:

With the new bill the Ukrainian authorities are trying to copy the Putinite tactics of disgracing, damaging, and seeking to totally control non-governmental organizations that receive support from democratic countries and foundations. The bill brands such NGOs as “foreign agents”, demands them to register and publicly identify themselves as such, and imposes additional taxation burden to limit financial support for civic activism. 

The bill attacks fundamental freedoms, first and foremost, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of association. That is why it has no legitimacy and has no right to exist in independent Ukraine. This weedy bill is yet another evidence of anti-democratic intentions of those who voted for it. 

Will the people vote Yanukovitch out? Yanovovich is now showing his true colors.  He is consolidating his power with help from Russia.  He's purging his regime; he's already gotten rid of several high level financial and military leaders he feels are not in his corner.  He is doing everything he can to ensure it will be hard to vote him out next year, perhaps for many years thereafter.   

I do believe that in the long run, nothing can keep the struggle for freedom from winning: "The arc of history bends toward freedom and justice,"  Martin Luther King reminded us.  But for Ukraine, the arc is long, and with these new laws "legalizing dictatorship" it will be longer.   Ukraine weeps.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Support Peace Corps

With master embroiderer Marta outside of Starobelsk.
To Budget Makers for 2014 and 2015, 

I just learned that my Peace Corps regional manager Vasyl Steferuk, based at Peace Corps headquarters in Kyiv, has been let go in a downsizing made necessary by funding cuts.  Programs in far-eastern Ukraine, Vasyl's region, where some would argue the need is greatest, are being cut too. 

There were 300 PCVs across Ukraine when I lived there, from Starobelsk to Lviv, from Konotop to Odessa to Crimea, and every one of them made a difference in the communities they served. There are now about 180 volunteers.
Drone, yahoo image, calmspeace.com

One drone costs between $1 million to $4.5 million, depending on the type of drone, under a current $11.1 billion contract to Northrup-Grumman Corporation.  The corporation spends over $10,000,000 a year in lobbying for the program.  We lost one $4 million drone over Lake Ontario a few months back.  It just disappeared.

The total Peace Corps budget is $375 million. Less than one drone.  It supports 8,073 volunteers in 76 countries.

President Obama has conducted at least 380 drone attacks over the last few year, costing billions upon billions of dollars, with no end in sight.  It has cost the US about $2.1 million per year for each soldier deployed in Afghanistan.  The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is in the trillions of dollars, and future costs for medical care will skyrocket.  

Huge defense contracts with the likes of Blackwater (mercenary troops) and Halliburton continue.  In Iraq alone the cost to taxpayers is $3.5 billion a year.  The basic appropriation to the Defense budget is over $700 billion per year, more because lots of items for the military are added in different parts of the overall budget.  I don't think this includes NSA. for example, and the cost of anti-terrorism, spying and out-of-control cyber-surveillance programs that lack accountability and oversight.  

The PC budget of $375 million has been the same for the last two years, after the agency suffered a $50 million cut in 2011. That's a huge cut for a small agency with a large mission.  

Billions for drones, pennies for Peace Corps.

Meanwhile, we are learning that the secret drone war is killing more innocent civilians and creating more terrorists than it is killing.  

We know that one PCV can change for the better a whole community's negative attitudes toward Americans and result in enduring friendships across political and cultural boundaries. 

We are learning that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hardly made a dent in the politics of those countries.  The Taliban, al-gaeda and extremists flourish, peace is elusive, the extent of death and destruction boggles the mind.   

We know that 8,073 volunteers in 76 countries this year have served as "grassroots ambassadors," empowering local people to improve their quality of life and resulting in the kind of cross-cultural understanding that is the foundation for peace.  It's hard to remain enemies when you have become friends.  It's hard to kill friends, when you have learned about their families, their communities, their hopes and dreams.   

With friends in Starobelsk, Ukraine, 2011.
My friend Jud in Konotop started leadership training seminars.  Barb, in Simferopal, helped upgrade the Crimean Tatar library and worked with Windows on America, as did several other volunteers elsewhere. Wyoming and Caroline in Lugansk worked to help nonprofits (NGOs), one of dozens of critically important grassroots projects.   Suzanne, out West, started an English Club, a popular type of project, for people who wanted to learn English or improve their conversational skills, essential tools for participation in the global economy, securing jobs and increasing opportunities. Ilse and Carl worked on business development near Odessa, as did Robin and Jim in Ivano-Franco.  Young volunteers like Rachel, Megan, and Jesse worked at summer youth development camps for young girls; many young men and women were TEFL volunteers in public schools, at colleges and evening classes.  Community development PCVs raised funds for human rights, worked hard on HIV prevention and education projects, and ignited efforts to computerize libraries and bring internet access to their towns. 

Every one of these projects leaves a mark. Everyone of these projects is a building block for peace.  

I believe the Peace Corps way is more powerful than guns. More cost-effective, too, and with more enduring positive results, than the military way.   
PCVs  focus on helping communities achieve their own self-defined goals.  They model what is best about America, our "can do" attitude, our enthusiasm, openness, diversity, tolerance.  People who once feared America and distrusted Americans begin to change their long-held views.  New friendships develop, and with them, new possibilities.  It's a powerful process, slow but transformative.   
That's why cutting the Peace Corps budget or just maintaining its current low level of funding is so short-sighted, so counter-productive to our foreign policy goals.  The Obama administration, in the name of Christopher Stevens, whose Peace Corps experience defined his work as ambassador to Libya prior to his tragic murder, should advocate for the largest budget possible.  At the very least, the Peace Corps budget should be comparable to the cost of a few drones or the defense contracts to Northrup-Grumann, Blackwater and Halliburton. 

For some good information see:

To contact your elected officials (it takes time and patience but is worth it,and it's never too early or too late to inundate your representatives, ceaselessly):

For information on current advocacy efforts contact National Peace Corps Association at http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/advocacy/peace-corps-funding.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Arctic Shouting at Us Again

The Arctic is shouting at us again.  Pelting us. Pounding us.  Freezing us.
"As tundra-like temperatures and wind chills as cold as 70 below zero fan out across the country, everyone is blaming the "polar vortex...Polar vortexes, though, are nothing new. They occur seasonally at the North Pole, and their formation resembles that of hurricanes in more tropical regions: fast-moving winds build up around a calm center. Unlike a hurricane, these are frigid polar winds, circling the Arctic at more than 100 miles per hour...The spinning winds typically trap this cold air in the Arctic. But the problem comes when the polar vortex weakens or splits apart, essentially flinging these cold wind patterns out of the Arctic and into our backyards.NOAA scientists have suggested that warming temperatures in the Arctic may be responsible for the weakening of the polar vortex. When the vortex weakens, it's more likely to break apart and become a factor in our winter weather." Lauren Friedman, Yahoo news, 1/6/14
"So much for global warning," some folks sneered.  Not so fast you naysayers.  As Andy Borowitz said in a wonderful satiric column, "people making these remarks are being punched in the face....and better stay indoors."  (The Borowitz Report, New Yorker online, 7 Jan. 2014) http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2014/01/polar-vortex-causes-hundreds-of-injuries-as-people-making-snide-remarks-about-climate-change-are-pun.html).

Basically, "global warming is freezing us."

That frigid Arctic air, a polar hurricane, is breaking up and swirling South (yahoo photo above), and the Midwest states are feeling it now. I remember below-zero temperatures in Madison and Chicago many years ago, but this freeze is beyond that and more widespread. Heck, there are even cold warnings in the Florida Everglades.  Unheard of!   My sister and friends in Tallahassee are shivering. "Have a good fire going in my fireplace," my sister messaged me, "but worried about my plants."

I'm worrying about more than our plants.The warming of the North Pole is a global disaster in the making.  The ice is melting as temperatures creep up; new waterways are emerging; polar bears and penquins are finding it hard to survive; the seas are rising.  There is melting water where it never before existed. Meanwhile, global politics in the region are warming up too, as nations fight for their rights to the oil rich Arctic.

There are lots of us plain folks listening to the scientists and experts.  Why won't the politicians? Maybe the news that Santa Claus has moved his workshop to Mexico would make a difference.  But, oh wait.  There's a report that Mexico is chilling out, too.  What will we do when there is no place on earth that's save for human beings? When the Everglades freeze over? When the oceans rise and cover our coasts?

And we haven't even begun to talk about the melting of the polar ice caps in Antarctica. 

For info on Antarctica, here's an interesting site::

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Everly Brothers: Music Transports

wikimedia public domain image
I loved the Everly Brothers, their love songs full of double entendres, and the innocent time their music embraced. 

Music, perhaps more than anything else, transports us to specific places, moods, experiences.  Music evokes memories, vivid, supersaturated memories. More than that, music evokes the feelings associated with those memories, the deepest of feelings. The highs and the lows. The joy and the sorrow.  First love, last love, lost love, screw ups. 

As soon as I heard the news that Phil Everly had died, I started singing "Bye, Bye Love. Bye, bye happiness; hello sweet caress; I think I’m going to die…Bye,bye my love, goodbye.”  Other songs popped into my head.  I remembered the words, the times.

I was back in Rochester, NY, in high school, swaying and swinging to “All I have to do is Dream" and“ Wake up little Susie.”   I was at my pink desk in the little study off my sister's and my bedroom, the desk my mom had lovingly painted and hand decorated in a Japanese motif.  I was in the student lounge at school, painted in large black and white squares with a window exit into a nearby field and Allen's creek.  I joined friends at a hamburger joint; drove my dad’s Oldsmobile convertible with the top down and the radio blaring; went to at a sock hop and danced the jitterbug under a crystal ball that radiated beams of light all over the gym. I joked and laughed with a boyfriend, my first love.  

Elvis Presley promoting "Jailhouse
Rock." yahoo public image.
My friend Rindy and I had a little competition going.  She loved Elvis; I loved the Everly Brothers.  We’d sing and shout across the room.  We cheered when we heard our favorites.  She gyrated with Elvis. Heartbreak Hotel!  I swooned with Don and Phil. Cathy’s Clown!

“It’s like knowing where you were when JFK was shot,” my sister Andy said, as we shared the memories. "Yes, or when the Twin Towers were attacked, and having the same feelings you had then." 

The very same feelings all over again, because your brain has been jarred, and your heart.  The news touches something deep within.  The news of Phil's death touched something deep inside: "The day the music died."

“Harmony is the ultimate love,” Phil said.    

And the best harmonies of all time at that time were the songs of the Everly Brothers. They came after Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, around the time of Elvis, but before Crosby, Stills and Nash, before Simon and Garfunkle and the Beatles.  

That “river of music absorbed many streams,” Don Everly said of this tradition and the sounds of his and his brother’s music, a kind of fusion of country and rock and roll. The harmony twanged at times; the guitar definitely rocked. 

Oh, to be carried into heaven on the wings of an Everly Brothers' song.  The times have changed, beyond our wildest dreams, but the music lives on.  "Oh my love, my darling...I'll be coming home. Wait for me."

Friday, January 3, 2014

Snow World

The snow has lasted for three days, light and fluffy.  It’s still coming down, along with the temperature, now near zero.  It's not a blizzard, more a persistent storm.  The white, cold world keeps me inside, warm and cozy, sipping hot green tea.   I stand at the large windows of my second-floor apartment. I see the tops of roofs and trees, whiteness in stillness, a photo untaken, a canvas unpainted.  Heavenly peace.

Today I saw a neighbor’s dog walking merrily down the street, unbothered by the large snow plow that barreled ahead of him.  Wait.  Is that…could that be…Mary Oliver’s dog, the one she writes about in her poetry?  The one she would like to take to Ukraine and Iraq, Jerusalem and Palestine, “so that the sorrowing thousands might see his laughing mouth”?  

I immediately get up from my computer to find my Oliver books. What better way to sit out a snow storm than reading poetry?  "All that's missing is the fireplace," my sister would say. I forget about that, forget about writing, just read.  Such pleasure.

A few hours later, the day growing darker, blacker around the edges, I return to writing. I'm stuck.  Words are not coming. Some veil rises up, holds me back, exposes self-doubt.  I confess. Whenever I read a poet like Mary Oliver I feel inadequate to write about anything. She would say 'bah humbug, disown the sharps and flats of life, lay down in the welcoming green grass and be yourself, keep at it like the wild geese.'  I'll try, but deep down a twinge of unease floats in my veins, the familiar anxiety that I can't measure up, that my narratives and my prose can’t compete with the poets or the storytellers. 'Oh, listen to the mockingbird in the fields, why compete at all?' the poet asks me.  Simply “lose yourself inside this soft world.”  I can’t say anything better than Mary Oliver. 

The Storm, by Mary Oliver.
Now through the white orchard my little dog
     romps, breaking the new snow
     with wild feet.
Running here, running there, excited,
     Hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
Until the white snow is written upon
     In large, exuberant letters,
A long sentence, expressing
     The pleasures of the body in this world.

Oh, I could not have said it better.   

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Auld Lang Syne Blues

yahoo image, enjoyfestivals.com. 2013 Sydney Fireworks.
Beautiful shot of Opera House, lots of memories.
New Year's Eve has become over time just another day. The exuberant celebrations, from Sydney to Budapest, Dubai to London to New York City, are fun to watch but not as exciting as they used to be. What comes to mind is Shakespeare's "full of sound and fury," but the awesome festivities do, after all, signify something: the inexorable passage of time.

New Year's Eve once packed a punch, the night to party with friends and lovers; to dress up, put on high heels and bright lipstick, don silly hats and blow colorful streamers into floating crystal balls. The champagne flowed to cacophonous strains of "Auld Lang Syne."  We didn't know all the words, but it didn't matter.

Some years I crowded in with friends and neighbors on the top of the Cairo condo where I lived, the tallest building in Washington and responsible for the height ordinance, or on the top of a high rise coop in New York City, and watched stunning fireworks displays. Unforgettable. There were concerts on the Mall, dinner and great jazz at Blues Alley in DC.  It seemed sinful in those times past to spend such nights alone, to be an observer in front of a television and not a participant in the merrymaking. The exuberance, the anticipation, drew you out. In Florida we sat on beach chairs, without coats or jackets, on the balmy shores of Tampa Bay or the Gulf, sipping wine under a full moon, the palm trees swaying, the lights of holiday decorations aglow, the sounds of  the ocean soothing our souls.

yahoo image, Kiev 2013, a city that holds a special
place in my heart.
Some of the best celebrations came in unexpected ways and places: in New Delhi, in Rome, in Kyiv, in Luxor, Egypt, in Istanbul, in San Miguel de Allende. Last year it was San Miguel with my grandson Josh. Closer to home, I remember being with my mom, sister and brother in Tallahassee, Florida, on the night that 1999 turned into 2000 and a new century was born.  That was precious. "I didn't think I'd live to see it," our mom said.  She was growing frail, but she glowed at the thought. A new year's eve etched in forever.

I'm feeling now like my mom must have felt then. I've made it this far, with the help of others,  but as a new year arrives, I'm coasting. It's just another turn of the clock.  I don't have to do anything. I'm lucky if I can stay up to 12 midnight.

It sounds like the Auld Lang Syne Blues.  Well, maybe it is. On the other hand, it's more reflection than depression, more wonder than skepticism. I'm wondering, in amazement, at the passing years, at the speed of the passage of time and the ongoing long journey into another new year. And I remind myself how grateful I am that it is so.

Glaring Contrasts: Trump Rebuked in George H.W. Bush's Eulogies

photo Huff post. The state funeral of president George H.W. Bush, for a brief moment in time, was orchestrated to restore a sense of...