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Monday, March 2, 2015

LENTEN REPENT--NO MORE ARMS TO YEMEN--AMEN ! {NO MORE ARMS SALES TO THE WHOLE MIDDLE EAST}


I remember my recent trip to Chiapas en el Santuario de Nuestro Senor de Tila atop one of the old city’s hills.  Time spent waiting in relative silence, in the present moment, a beautiful moment—like looking up at the point at the center of the dome of the cathedral—of the whole universe as it slowly turns round within the loving creator.  First procession arrives, the faithful crowd, mariachis and incense.  Here comes the crucified King—carried aloft on shoulders of strong young men, who in no time at all will barely walk themselves.





ack home there’s news.  Rumblings of the duty to sell weapons to the good guys, this time in Syria, and Yemen—fight ISIS, fight Assad, fight Al Qaeda, fight the Houthis [but problems of good guy recognition persist, see below for some details of our involvement in these violent quagmires].
 
Those who sell weapons do not want peace.  {Except for the peace of self-satisfaction critiqued by Thomas Merton—image below}  They sell war and the protection of empires and oil consumption.  Real peace is against their nature of profit motivation wedded to national security.  Those who planned our invasion of Iraq are not dumb.  They understood that violating the delicate balance of the predominantly Muslim territories would guarantee hatreds leading to lasting wars in the Middle East—more than adequate to replace the brief weapons market decline at the end of the Cold War.

At the 2010 SOFEX {Special Operations Force Exhibition} Middle East's arms bazaar - 14th annual

SOFEX takes place every two years in Amman, and is largely the brainchild of Jordan’s king, Abdullah II, who has a penchant for special operations and massive displays of artillery. Over the course of a week, more than 12,000 attendees tromped around 30-odd tents staked across the desert, hosting approximately 300 vendors. The atmosphere was insidious but open, an organized free-for-all in which American companies like Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and General Dynamics sold weapons to almost anyone who could afford them.
Be sure to find the time to watch this video, and the “see more” at their site--VICE Media.

Let’s face it.  Many of our leaders do not want peace.  It’s bad for business, and the business of the military-industrial-complex rules in the USA.  No one can tell us to give up our guns and military superpower—except Jesus, the disarmer-in-chief, who leads without weapons to eternal life, who tells us to put away the swords.  The only way to follow him—mercy—the only way to lasting peace.


{Click on any image to enlarge}

***************************************
Thomas Merton's thoughts on peace, in his chapter, "The Root of War is Fear"
This is from the program booklet of our marriage mass , 1978

Illumination by Kathy Brahney

References




More on our troubles in Yemen next week, the proxy war between the tribes and big oil.

Monday, February 23, 2015

MERCY NOT SACRIFICE


Old Testament covenants were confirmed in blood according to recent readings in this Lent’s “Little Black Book.”  Even in Prophet Isaiah’s writing this was being completed, in a new direction—and fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Son of God, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, says the Lord.”  Mt 9:13

2-9-15 -- ISIS targets bombed by Jordanian strikes -Getty images


But mercy is seldom found in the midst of our nation’s current rules of engagement with other cultures.  They show us little mercy in return.   The tactics of ISIS are abhorrent to us.   The world becomes a more dangerous place.   USA Today focused on this, in a shortened story that appeared in our local Sunday paper {full article worth reading}.  At its center is the testimony of an aid worker Kayla Mueller, recently killed while kidnapped by ISIS.  She was reportedly [not denied by our government] a casualty of our own allied Jordanian fighter jets, during a targeted retaliatory raid on ISIS that we’d encouraged.  Undaunted by the dangers, she’d stated [and many other aid workers feel]—“For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal.”

Even those who deliberately choose not to live by the sword, on both sides of the conflicts, are killed by swords.  Our task as Christians, is to put away this proliferation of swords.

From "The Last Supper" [Catholic Worker table of hospitality]  by Fritz Eichenberg

There is innocence, though completely unearned, in every child in the womb.  There is innocence, however contradicted by guilt, in every enemy.

In today’s  lectionary reading we have Matthew 25’s last judgment scene.  God does not ask us sheep or goats if we’d determined if those “least of the brethren“ we’d encountered, appeared worthy of works of mercy.

There is risk in giving service, the same risk that Jesus took for us, and calls us to take, even for those last on our list.



References
Illumination--water color   by Kathy Brahney


Monday, February 16, 2015

CAIN & ABEL -- ISIS & THE US

Yemeni soldiers stand guard outside the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, as it's abandoned, on Feb. 11.   Photo: Yahya Arhab, EPA


Today’s daily mass scripture story [see below--Gn 4:1-15] is that ancient one, Cain & Abel, we feel we know by heart, but have seldom deeply explored for its comprehensive warning against envy & violence—and how that should be applied to today’s commonplace, institutionalized violence.
In this account from Genesis of the earliest of times there are only four people in the world.  Paradise has been lost, and they must work for a living.  To keep mindful of God they make sacrifice, offering first fruits to God.   Abel the younger brother does so [the best of his flock], Cain the older holds back [from the fruit of the soil].  The images we have [not in the text] are of God’s acceptance, smoke rising in Abel’s case, and rejection smoldering down in Cain’s.  Cain is envious and angry at God’s preferential treatment of his brother, so much so that Cain murders Abel—the first grievous sin recorded outside of Paradise.   Cain despairs, pleads with God, that with his banishment to wander, stripped of his ability to till the soil, others will surely kill him on sight.   So God puts on him the “mark of Cain” and the fatal warning—anyone who kills the murderer, will be subject to the wrath of God sevenfold.
 Abel -- by William Blake,   {Cain is marked}
Here in the first texts of Judeo-Christian scripture we find God strictly contradicting the “eye for an eye” worldly justice that still plagues the human race.   We are not to take up the lethal means of the aggressor.  We are not to kill the killers.  Yet in our day we have reversed God’s intention.  Instead of a sign of mercy and protection, we’ve made a “mark of Cain” into an automatic death sentence.

We place a “mark of Cain” [first and unredeemable, in our terms, murderers] on the people of ISIS, and terrorists of many nations, and religious fanatics of the Middle East, and many criminals or racial groups we deem threat to life & limb.   We do not heed God’s Old Testament admonition not to kill Cain--“If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged sevenfold.”   In the New Testament this fundamental message is made flesh—in the life, death and resurrection of God’s only begotten Son.  God is mercy.  God is forgiveness.  God is love.

The most recent manifestations of the ancient sin of Cain occur daily in the Middle East.   A Jordanian fighter pilot immolated in a cage, 56 counter strikes by Jordan’s fighter jets against ISIS military barracks and two ISIS prisoners in Jordan executed, in retaliation.   U.S. strategists want Jordan and others to launch a more continued, ferocious attack, and we’ll give them a 1 billion dollar aid package to help them do it.
 Iraq - Syrian family -- {partial to ISIS or some other faction?}
One center of murderous activity -- site of recent international envy-greed-pride-hatred

In Yemen our drones have been killing off those on a list we’ve marked as Cains for a more than a decade.   The result is at least seven-fold violent vengeance, as our latest allied president resigns, and we retreat from our embassy there, thousands being killed in complex Sunni-Shiite-alQaeda fraternal violence.
Hellfire missiles launched from drone
An image taken from a state-run television channel Al-Masriya broadcast after Egypt conducted airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Libya 2-16-15--Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


nd most recently in Libya more than a dozen Christians are beheaded—and vigorous killing of those Cains that did the deed is the neighboring Egyptian dictator general’s response [still our ally after his coup and violent repression of Egypt’s nascent democracy].  The satanic serpent who calls for the death of Cain continues his seductive insinuating whisper down through time.   Cain’s sin is terrible.   But contrary to the will of God, we’ve used the mark of Cain as our national target practice and war policy.  When will we listen to the voice of God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit—“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Mt 9:13

Illumination y Kathy Brahney
References  

Hosea 6:6  Old Testament
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

**********************
Abel became a keeper of flocks, and Cain a tiller of the soil.
In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD
from the fruit of the soil,
while Abel, for his part,
brought one of the best firstlings of his flock.
The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,
but on Cain and his offering he did not.
Cain greatly resented this and was crestfallen.
So the LORD said to Cain:
“Why are you so resentful and crestfallen.
If you do well, you can hold up your head;
but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door:
his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.”

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.”
When they were in the field,
Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
He answered, “I do not know.
Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The LORD then said: “What have you done!
Listen: your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!
Therefore you shall be banned from the soil
that opened its mouth to receive
your brother’s blood from your hand.
If you till the soil, it shall no longer give you its produce.
You shall become a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear.
Since you have now banished me from the soil,
and I must avoid your presence
and become a restless wanderer on the earth,
anyone may kill me at sight.”
“Not so!” the LORD said to him.
“If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged sevenfold.”
So the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight.




Monday, February 9, 2015

HOPE AND SOLEDARIDAD FROM A POOR MOUNTAIN TOWN

Padre Heriberto prepares for the Youth Procession
Young people of San Mateo parish process around the church--one of about 20 processions through the town in the Eight days of  Fiesta

One of my purposes in traveling to the mountains of Chiapas was to see if prayer and renewed contact with the people of San Mateo parish there, could inspire efforts back here in Michigan to help our young people find mission service work.   I was surprised to learn when I arrived, that the young adult group of this remote parish in southern Mexico was right then doing a 2 week service project at a center, 3 hours away, for Central American immigrants & refugees.  Twenty five of them were doing chores and befriending between 100 – 200 of them at a large welcome center run by nuns in Palenque, one of the railroad stops, for those that hop the trains and ride atop them, looking to flee the violence in their own countries.   Mexico with all its problems is still a safety valve for them, and yes, many are headed further north to the U.S. and Canadian borders.

How remarkable with all the dissonance in Port Huron and many U.S. cities created this past year by the “threat” of illegal immigrants including children, that these Mexican youth had taken it upon themselves {with the limited resources of life in Tila, Chiapas} to lend a hand to those less fortunate than themselves.
Central American migrants stand on top of train cars while waiting for the freight train La Bestia, or the Beast, to travel north through Mexico to the U.S. border in January 2012--Jorge Luis Plata-Reuters

Young people down there are putting their faith in action.  Our young adults and older, working together to build new opportunities for international and national service, can certainly do the same.  The harvest is great, but the laborers are few.  There are plenty in the pool of potential laborers, but they’ve yet to be gainfully invited into the work of Gospel nonviolence.   Instead we’ve had a post 911 burst of military recruiting, training in lethal violence, and no end of violence in sight.

Lord, teach us to pray, and to work for peace.  If we begin to look around in the world, making direct personal contact, we will see many, many good examples.

Catechism class leads procession--their banner a plea for justice for assassinated students, and immigrants, an end to violence in all of Mexico

There are opportunities now awaiting -- The hope is to greatly expand, for Catholic youth and all young people -- a new evangelization, of service.






References

For an in depth review of the refugee-immigration problem, which mentions the Palenque situation towards the end, see   http://www.propublica.org/article/the-new-border-illegal-immigrations-shifting-frontier




Monday, February 2, 2015

CHIAPAS - PAY WAR TAX, OR JUSTICE






It’s the vigil of the main feast-day, January 15th, in this town.   Waiting, sitting, three hours in the central church for the 100 automobile procession through the mountains to arrive from Jolja, delayed by rain.   The mass for the coronation of Nuestro Senor de Tila has yet to begin, and will last another two hours plus, more than 5 hours total.   No one in the packed Sanctuario church leaves, except for seven or eight of the oldest, walking away disappointed, with their canes.  It’s surely the longest church visit of my life, and beautiful.     These following thoughts, along with the rosary, and prayer for my family and friends, fill some of the time -----


Yes, you must pay for the common good, but never obligated to pay for the corporate bad.  To pay into an unjust system that brings war death and suffering to so many, in the name of protecting our comfortable way of life, is social [communal] sin.  Our current U.S. federal taxes are also intrinsically unjust, favoring the rich in so many devious details.   How far away from these faithful people that sit around me here in this sacred Sanctuary, is the mountain of money sat on by the international super rich.


Even your charitable contributions—are factored out for most of us.  You must be relatively rich to get credit for giving to the poor.  Unless one has many professional expenses and qualifying deductible for interest paid on large debts, and capital depreciations, IRS Schedule A & B says your charity doesn’t count.   Even though the poor and middle class are as charitable percent wise, or more so than the rich, our system ignores their gift.  In the U.S. gambling and instantaneous financial speculation in stock market and foreign currency exchange are much more rewarded, than kindness to our neighbors.

Pay taxes, but for real needs, not to those that rob and kill the poor to give excess to the rich. 
Here in Tila we’re surrounded by poverty, and faith.



ow back home in Port Huron, MI USA, as April 15th slowly approaches -----


Lord, help us in our country, land of the free, take the IRS risk of re-directing our federal income tax dollars—to help end injustice at home and abroad, encourage creative work, turning away from war towards peaceful purpose.

Martin Luther King has said that an unjust law is no law at all.  Isn’t cooperating with a system which routinely exploits the poor worldwide, and favors the powerful, a cooperation with evil?  [We keep talking about winding down our wars, but nearly 50% of our federal income tax money still goes to the military’s war-making and preparedness] How long will we wait for the powerful to give us back a balanced, grass-roots democratic system {unshackled from billionaire manipulators} which meets all people’s needs, and rejects the violent domination of war machines?   Vote for peace and charitable justice now, openly, with civil disobedience tax dollars.   {On how, & risks, visit the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee }.


“Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people,” Dr. King said.   The people of Tila are embracing this courage, out of years of “low intensity” war in their part of Chiapas, Mexico, a war that was partially maintained 30-35 years ago by our tax money.  They’ve prayed for healing grace this Jan 15, and are on the path of reconciliation and peace.  May we also pray, and take courageous steps to embrace our all being members of the same church, followers of the Lord Jesus, seen in this part of Chiapas as Nuestro Senor de Tila, who enjoins us everywhere to, “love your enemies, pray for them who persecute you.”  “Put away the sword.”
Mexican soldiers of low intensity warfare - still present in Chiapas



We are considering a number of small charitable projects in partnership with the parish of San Mateo, Tila to continue with them on the path for justice.  More on these later.

Illumination by Kathy Brahney

Click on image--enlarges most of them.

See video [first effort] of our local group in front of the St. Clair Co. Courthouse, July 4, 2013, urging us all to take steps to convert from unjust war taxes--from war tax to peace tax.  Thanks to, and prayers for, Sandy Quintano, the videographer now deceased, for her years of courageous persistent service to the cause of peace.



  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

IN THE MIDST OF ANCIENT PROCESSION -- JUSTICE & LIFE


Before in Tila Chiapas, MX, Parroquia San Mateo, I’ve been an intermittent ayudante-observador for a span of 14 years.  Esta vez ando en medio de ellos – this time I walk in the midst of them.   Back and forth each day of the Novena, enveloped in the processions between barrios y iglesia, I walk pray take a few fotos, and find myself looking over heads of many {seldom elsewhere my vista} and most of us all at my same level, in this moving sea of believers.  Short strong young men in the lead carry the image of the black crucified Christ [Jan. 15th, the day we celebrate Martin Luther King].   Whole families surround and proceed the holy image, carefully step by step marching adorned with their best dress, or sometimes t-shirts, and flowers everywhere.  The oldest smallest women carry the tallest banners.

It’s a daily visitation pilgrimage—in the morning down to a barrios’ host household, in the evening returning to the parish’s ancient sanctuary at the peak of this small city.


The accounts testify to a miracle here 300 years ago.  A life-size image of the crucified Christ had been thrown out, abandoned, and when re-discovered and a commitment made to restore, was miraculously made completely new in shining black beauty overnight.   The people believe Jesus wants to be near them, and so they come as close as possible up the stairs behind the altar to touch his feet if they can, to be healed of their cares and offer their promesas.   As a church they pray for the justice that will re-unite the broken world-wide community of rich and poor.  The roots go deep, as there was a Mayan plaque on the site well before the conquistadores came and the church was built.   Their confirmed family faith in Jesus continues their love for their mountain communities.

Mayan plaque from Tila, now enshrined in parish yard of the neighboring town of Bachajon

I see many faces that look at me now in the crowds at mass in the homes and streets, smiling recognition from back through these years.  One Juan Incino comes up to behind church to say we took a photo together four year ago—he is one of the traditional Chol dancers—wizened face of many lines, white rough cut suit, woven belt.  I begin to recollect and it pleases us both.   Later they have to cover their homespun clothes with visqueen plastic cut from a large roll.  It’s raining but they’ll dance on in religious procession.
Traditional Chol dancers make ready for procession in rain
Padre Heriberto’s sermon praises the youth group [such groups thriving amazingly in most Chiapas churches] and they are there at the start of the main mass of the day with gritos-chants protesting-praying over the deaths of their fellow students.  43 murdered and disappeared, no bodies yet found, in the state of Michoacan, far away yet close to their hearts.  Those students were in a college that promoted social justice, city of Ayotzinapa, and presumably got in the way of the local government linked to narcotraficos.  Our drug habits have taken a terrible toll on Mexico.   Our youth group cries out as they process in down the main aisle lead by a spirited young woman:
  Somos el futuro,   de Latinoamerica.  
  Somos estudiantes,   porque nos asesinaron?
The names and faces of the murdered students appear on posters all over the inside church walls, continually prayed for.   The assassinations happened last September, hundreds of miles away from Tila.  How many of us have ever before heard of Ayotzinapa?
video

Young handsome assistant pastor Padre Bernabe preaches the next day, inviting all without the gravest of sin to communion, including those who have been excluded in the past because of church marriage legal problems.  They’ve already opened the doors to those in need of the healing real presence of Jesus.  Are personal sexual problems more grievous than those who put money and power before their God they ask?
                                                                                                         
Ermundo stops me in the street—heard I was here again announced at mass—eager to ask me theological questions about how he can come closer to God.  He has a list of ten or more detailed questions in his notebook.  Gracias a Dios he only asks a few, and they all point to the above.  Trying to be attentive, but not really the authority, I answer—read each Gospel slowly from beginning to end as a prayer, over weeks or months if you need, and there meet Jesus.  Too many read the Gospel in snippets, as if sound-bites.   Its one of the same messages I give to the young men potential fathers-to-be who come to our Blue Water Pregnancy Care Center—to become closer to Jesus, who resolves the dilemmas.


esus Hernandez Perez.  I see this three day old child in the arms of his young mom and dad, not in the clinic but in the sacristy waiting for mass to begin.   He hasn’t taken the breast at all since birth, only a couple of sips from a dropper, and in a quick exam I note his skin has no bounce, he doesn’t react well—dehydration—and I feel a cyst-like object in his abdomen.  They’ve been both to clinic and the poorly staffed clinic here in town.  He is a twin, the other one doing well.   With Padre Bernabe we pray all together, and they promise to go that day to the hospital in Yajalon, 30 miles distant.   We’ve yet to hear how he’s doing, if he’s still alive.

There is so much to do in a place like this far away from one’s home.  My experience in medicine gives me something to contribute, and I share this with Pancho, who has been here before me, lives in a local village, grew up speaking Chol, and will be here long after the line of outside helpers.   It takes an effort for me to translate some of the Mexican medicines and diagnosis into my idiom {and has been on every visit} but something good is accomplished each time.   The Dispensario Chol will be a little bit better, at the very least from our compatible medicines that made it through customs once again miraculously.  The Mexican government insists its people need no medical help.   Pancho is a physician assistant, as I have been, though there’s no comparable certification available to him.  He was well trained by a young Dr. Demostenes, another Chiapaneco, who with his family spent 13 years in Tila helping to organize the Dispensario, and a whole system of health promoters out in the mountain comunidades.
A younger Pancho, with Abelardo one of the promoteres from out in the comunidades, at the Dispensario Chol--part of San Mateo parish in Tila

My constant work while on these journeys, as I believe it is for any visitor-helper in foreign countries, is to understand the language, and what’s going on.   It’s a puzzle always needing a new piece, vocabulary, grammar, plain old comfortable comprehension when it can be had.  Difficult especially in groups when everyone else is at their own speed.  It’s {their word} a rompe-cabezas.  One’s head tires of the effort.  The only real solution is to live in country from many months to years {and there, removed as much as possible from other English speakers}.   So a word to the wise—study, practice, read as much as you can.  The weapon of the peacemaker is to learn a foreign language.  The weapon of the soldier is the gun.  Be a peacemaker.  Get in training.

Sharing one’s faith in God is the well-spring of this understanding, and covers over a mountain of mistakes.   The trust engendered by the language of prayer helps make a holy spirit of cooperation, even when there is cultural cross-connect, which is bound to occur.   The fact that I came this time, more as a prayer pilgrim to Jesus, Nuestro Senor de Tila, unsure of how best to be of assistance now, and in the future, for them, and in my own life, has blessed us all, made me closer to them, and to our God.

There is more hope in these mountains now than when I was here 14 years ago in a time of deep army dominated armed conflict.  Justice is slowly gaining ground.   Padre Heriberto, gran luchador [local champion of the struggle] para La Justicia, has our Pregnancy Care Center t-shirt—justice and respect for life are indispensable to each other.  Gracias a Dios, God is with us, and speaks to us in the faith of these indigenous people who care for the earth, and want to help us heal and conserve God’s creation.
Many clear mountain streams run through the comunidades de Municipio Tila

Water color and illumination by Kathy Brahney

Monday, January 12, 2015

FROM NORTH KOREA TO CHIAPAS

Kim Jong Un, leader of N Korea, & Dennis Rodman, former Detroit Pistons basketball star

Kim Jong Un - from the Interview

The USA Today story headlines “Obama imposes sanctions on N. Korea for Sony hack.”  Their arms industry is now the specific target of our sanctions.  And the specific insult of a film which made a parody of assassinating N. Korea’s current dictator was the initial provocation for their internet attack on Sony’s industry.   You must attack our most vacuous movies to make us finally embargo N. Korea’s armament makers?

Why were we comfortable with any of their weapons business in the first place?   They have long been an avowed enemy and a prime part of the “axis of evil.”  Evil except when they were helping Pakistan build a nuclear weapon, when Pakistan was our erstwhile ally allowing our troops access to Afganistan?   And who knows how many others of our friends and enemies they’ve been helping with guns and bombs.   Our government for decades has just been giving N. Korea a wink and a nod.

The business of war is a crazy amoral adventure, for the benefit of profiteers and political strategists.   We point powerful fingers at impoverished N. Korea for promoting war, as if we didn’t.


This Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus by John the Baptist—a voice crying in the desert, “Repent, repent.”   Here in Tila at the parish of San Mateo in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico the indigenous faithful are celebrating the 300 year old miracle of Nuestro Senor de Tila, on January 15th.   They have new hope that some space has opened up for peace and a new justice, from out of a time of conflict here between rich and poor, and between political factions.  Violence has diminished, but good work and opportunity are still scarce.    As in the USA the birthday recognition of Martin Luther King approaches, champion of Gospel nonviolence, on this same Jan. 15th, may the miracle of God’s mercy and justice continue to convert all corners of the world.


One of the three big processions a day, thousands of people, for 5 days leading up to Jan 15 the biggest procession, in a town of 7000 inhabitants, some do come from miles around.




Martin Luther King's national holiday birthday celebration in the USA
 also -- Jan 15th
His dream yet unrealized.
His first principle of organizing for justice with nonviolence
on a previous billboard in Port Huron, MI.