Monthly Archives: June 2011

Remembered again, for the first time

The lilt of uilleann pipes
fills my soul
while memories of
green fields never seen,
gentle rains never felt,
and cobblestone streets never walked,
haunt my heart.

27 June 2011
Shire on the Hudson


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Step on

Step by step, we march toward peace,
step by step, the march goes on.
No one steps every step;
each one steps but some.
We may not reach the journey’s end,
but without our steps,
however few, however small,
no one ever will.
Step on.
Step on.

Act by act, justice is done,
act by act, justice does grow.
No one takes every act;
each one takes but some.
We may not see full justice done,
but without our acts,
however few, however small,
no one ever will.
Act on.
Act on.

Note by note, we play our part,
note by note, the song goes on.
No one plays every note;
each one plays but some.
We may not hear the last coda,
but without our notes,
however many, however few,
no one ever will.
Play on.
Play on.

27 June 2011
Shire on the Hudson

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Timing 1.0

I’ve got to work on my timing.

While cruising through the basement after a successful hunting and gathering outing to the local grocery store, I discovered to my deep dismay that I had missed a huge apartment sale.

And only a few weeks ago, I failed to add to my ginormous flea collection when I missed a sale.

Of course buying a huge apartment would, in all likelihood, only result in my creation of a huge(er) than usual mess (mess inevitably expanding to fill the available space). That would not be good. And, should I think things through, remembering that would lead me to put down the huge apartment and walk away. But it would be nice to have the chance to ponder the possibility.

I need to increase my monitoring of the basement signs.

See you along the Trail.

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Peacemaking, justice seeking movie clips

A friend posed the question, knowing that I watch more than my share of movies.

“Can you think of any film clips where a character makes the decision to be a peacemaker – or to do the just thing in a situation of conflict or injustice.?”

Given the context of the question and the person asking the question, the clip needs to be rooted in nonviolence – at least as far as possible.

Honesty compels me to confess that the nonviolent lens eliminates many of my favorite movies and scenes. (The scene in The Wild Bunch where Bishop, Engstrom, and the Gorch brothers decide to go back for Angel, wouldn’t work.)

But I gave it a go. Here are the first two that came to mind:

The Grapes of Wrath: Tom Joad leaves and tells his mother that he will be with her and the family wherever people work for justice.

Hotel Rwanda: Paul Rusesabagina and his staff find rooms for all those who make it to the hotel; Rusesabagina encourages the people at the hotel to call people abroad; the final line: “There’s always room.”

After that movies came to mind – scenes tumbled together; clips piling up. Among them: Norma Rae, Amazing Grace, The Vernon Johns Story, Amazing Grace, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Coach Carter, Edge of America, Field of Dreams, Milk, Cry Freedom, Gandhi, Made in Dagenham, Malcolm X, Real Women Have Curves, The Milagro Bean Field War, Gandhi. I would have to watch these anew to identify particular scenes.

Recognizing my limits, I ask:

What film clips show a character deciding to seek peace or do justice in a situation of conflict or injustice?

What films would you watch again to find clips that show a character deciding to seek peace or do justice in a situation of conflict or injustice?

I look forward to your responses.

See you along the Trail.

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I wish
that we had met
under different circumstances.

Of course it is
the circumstances we face
that shape us, mold us, make us who we are.

Under different circumstances
we would be different people,
and maybe the different you
would not want to know the different me;
maybe the different me
would not want to know the different you.

Or maybe we would.

Since we will never know,
perhaps we would do better
to enjoy what is
than to wish for what we do not know
and will never be.

22 June 2011
Shire on the Hudson 

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A prayer for Sudan

I usually keep my work and personal blogs separate.
But the situation in Sudan weighs on me. So I offer a prayer – a prayer I wrote for a call to prayer issued by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):
Come Holy Spirit, come to the people of Sudan.
Come Holy Spirit, break the hold of violence.
Come Holy Spirit, draw the people together.
Come Holy Spirit, lead the people in paths of peace.
Come Holy Spirit, guide the people to establish justice.
Come Holy Spirit, come to the people of Sudan.
By God’s grace, may it be so. Amen.

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Of Americans ugly and otherwise

It always wonders me – wonders me deeply – when I hear people use the term Ugly American. I know that it has come to refer to people from the United States who travel abroad, who refuse to build relationships with the people in the area where they are living, who refuse to learn about the people and culture and history and country, who judge everything by the standards of the United States, who are culturally insensitive, who are certain they know what is best for the people even without listening to the people, who insert and implement solutions based in United States and developed world values and standards, who are often loud, and who are generally obnoxious.

But still, the term Ugly American grates on me – not because the reality to which it points rings false – I have known people like that. I have been that person. Often. Far too often.

My problem relates to the term’s origin.

As I understand it, the term Ugly American  comes from a novel by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Published in 1958 (and first read by me at an unknown time) and set in Southeast Asia, The Ugly American contrasts U.S. approaches to opposing Communist influence.

Most of the folks from the United States in the novel fit the contemporary usage of the term Ugly American. Loud, boorish, certain they have all the answers, unwilling to learn from the people, relying on U.S. technology, their work benefits U.S. contractors and companies and the elites of the country. They build no relationships with the people and accomplish little.

A smaller group proves somewhat more effective because they meet and relate to the people. They listen to the people and try to implement projects and programs based on what they learn. They make use of technology appropriate to the situation and the needs and assets of the people. The members of the first group distrust them immensely and limit their effectiveness.

Then there is the title character. Homer Atkins is ugly. That is made clear. His appearance is ugly. In particular, his hands are described as ugly. His rough clothes and unrefined manners contrast with the pressed clothes and polished mien of the diplomats.

Atkins is an engineer. He spends his time with the people. He learns from the people – both in terms of what they need and in terms of what they suggest as solutions. He is the one who reveals and practices cultural sensitivity and proficiency. His efforts, rooted in the people, benefit the people.

I realize that I swim upstream against years of linguistic usage. But the way we have twisted the meaning – losing the context from whence it came – sometimes seems and feels like an example of the very phenomenon the term seeks to describe.

So whenever I hear Ugly American used with its contemporary meaning, I cringe. I recognize the reality to which Ugly American as we use it today points – in myself and in so many others, and I grieve and cringe again. Then I remember all the women and men who live in real life as Homer Atkins did in fiction, and I give thanks.

Some day I will tell you about Madame Defarge. 

See you along the Trail.

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Clipping the wings of those who feast on violence

Create a human sculpture that shows what violence is.

That was our assignment. The Nonviolent Peaceforce was leading a introductory training event to their theory and practice for a number of representatives of nongovernmental organizations in the United Nations community.

They divided the participants into two groups and gave each group five minutes to imagine and design a human sculpture showing what violence is. The instructions noted that we should be able to hold the positions in the sculpture for three minutes so the other group could ponder what we had created.

Our group caucused and planned quickly and decided to go with the theme of the utter devastation that violence wreaks – taking a brutal, deadly toll on all who are involved.

Roles were assigned – several people were to be dead with various twists: two died locked in an embrace of death; others died with their “weapons” (fingers made into a pistol) still firmly held and pointed at each other.

One tableau of two involved a person in the act of finishing off someone who was not yet dead.

One person knelt in prayer – grieving the dead – invoking intervention.

And the final person assumed a position of flight – as a carrion bird poised about the carnage –
representing those who feast on the violence that consumes others.

For some reason, it took my group about point two seconds to cast me as the carrion bird.

We created the sculpture and our colleagues in the other group were asked to observe us, study us, and determine what was happening.

The first observation centered on my “menacing grin.” From that point they did a pretty good job of analyzing our “art.” They did think I was a drone plane – but they got most everything else pretty close to right.

The trainers then invited the other group to make three changes in our statue that would transform the situation.

Their first step was to have me put down my arms – “clipping my wings.” They then moved to the section where one of our members was engaged in violence against another and separated them. Finally, they removed the “guns” from the situation.

We then talked together. That’s when I pointed out that I was not a drone – but a carrion bird (c’mon, have you ever seen a drone with a grin of any sort let alone a menacing one?). Upon learning that, one of the other group members said, “So we clipped the wings of those who feast on violence.” And there was a moment of silence as those words sunk in.

Therein lies essential peacemaking work: figuring out who feasts on – who profits from – violence. Armament makers? Arms traders? Transnationals? Those who obtain the resources in the conflict area? No doubt it is different people and groups in different situations. But always there is someone – there are someones. Who are they? How can we restrict or cut off their profits, and thereby diminish violence. Those are questions I will continue to ponder.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Human Rights


I made a joke.
A tired, stale joke.

Slowly, reluctantly
almost in spite of yourself,
you laughed.

And life seemed good.

17 June 2011
Shire on the Hudson

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Watch, pray and weep

We watch,
we pray,
we weep.

As blood flows,
society implodes,
agony unfolds,
and the pile of corpses grows.

We watch,
we pray,
we weep.

We call the international community
to move
to intervene.

We watch,
we pray,
we weep.

We give to humanitarian causes
who raise the alarm
and count the bodies.

We watch,
we pray,
we weep.

It is not enough
never is it enough,
but it is all we have,

So though our
heart breaks,
our spirits recoil,
our stomachs retch,
we turn not away.

We watch,
and weep.

16 June 2011
Shire on the Hudson
As reports of violence in Sudan mount

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