FOR Hosts Dialogue with Cuban Pastors
Elmer Lavastida and Gisela Perez
by Don Christensen
On the evening of October 19, the Minnesota FOR, in cooperation with Plymouth Congregational and Westminster Presbyterian Churches, hosted a conversation with Baptist pastors Elmer Lavastida and Gisela Perez from Santiago de Cuba. Partners in marriage and in ministry, Gisela and Elmer have served as co-pastors of Second Baptist Church Salvador in Santiago de Cuba since 1975. Gisela has also been a vice-president of the Council of Churches in Cuba.
The Minnesota FOR was offered the opportunity to host this special visit by Rev .Ted Braun, a retired UCC pastor from Pleasant Hill, Tennessee. Since 1979 Ted has coordinated an annual UCC travel seminar to Cuba for clergy and laypersons. Almost single-handedly at first, and often in a frigid and hostile political climate, Ted has persisted in forging and maintaining a network of solidarity between churches and Christians in the United States and ecumenical partners in Cuba. The visit by Gisela and Elmer was part of the ongoing work of maintaining these ties of friendship and solidarity, and bringing messages of hope and liberation from Cuban churches to churches in the United States.
Responding to the challenging theme that we presented to them -- "Being the Church in Revolution and in Empire" -- Elmer and Gisela shared their experiences as pastors during the past thirty-five years of the Cuban Revolution.
They recalled the early years of the revolution, during which relations between the Cuban government and the church were characterized by suspicion, mistrust and strict limitations on the activities of the church, especially in education and social welfare. They recalled events that began to open more space for the church in Cuban society: visits to Cuba by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Pope John Paul; and a very important meeting between Fidel Castro and nearly one hundred Cuban pastors, in which Fidel responded positively to many of their requests and concerns. Elmer and Gisela also shared stories of the recent growth of Cuban churches and new initiatives by the churches in providing housing and human services, and training pastors. As one participant in the dialogue said, "This conversation was a fascinating window into one aspect of Cuban society about which we hear very little."
Regarding the second half of the theme of our dialogue - "Being the Church in Empire" - another participant had this to say: "We Christians in the north can begin to challenge empire by educating and engaging our churches in the justice work of ending the brutal and punitive US embargo that has caused the Cuban people so much hardship and suffering." To which many participants responded, "Amen!"
Collateral Damages - Expansion of a Topic
by Don Irish
Despite the prevailing view that war is by nature inhumane and uncontrollable, the notion of imposing sanctions on the waging of war has existed in every legal, cultural, and religious tradition throughout the history of warfare.... (World at Risk: A Global Issues Sourcebook. Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly, 2002, p. 585.)
US military personnel, media, and common usage have limited the term collateral damage to the "unintentional" deaths of civilians and destruction of property in situations of armed conflict. The public comprehension of collateral damage needs to be greatly broadened.
The first Geneva Conventions were formulated in 1864-68 (in close association with the International Red Cross) "for the purpose of ameliorating the effects on soldiers and civilians" in warfare. Since World War II, the fourth Geneva Convention (1948-49) and two protocols of 1977 have subsumed a great diversity of concerns: bio-diversity, deforestation, development aid, energy, ethnic aspects, fresh water, genocide, global warming, health, human rights, hunger, educational access, pollution, population, urbanization, women's roles, interrupted trade, labor, income inequality. Since virtually none of the many wars since World War II have been "declared," the term "armed conflict" has tended to be used. Because of numerous violations of the Conventions in recent decades, some authorities have come to consider them "obsolete."
Truth - Truth is the first "collateral damage" in the build-up to warfare, its conduct, and the "factual" historical record of events afterward, which is perceived differently by contending parties. For example, the International Gulf Peace Team in January 1991, situated on the Iraq-Saudi border, included persons from about 25 countries, diverse in faiths, races, cultures. (Marjorie Sibley's daughter, Muriel, and Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, were participants.) The Iraqis evacuated the encampment to Baghdad. The US government contended that a large building bombed by their forces was a military target; the Iraqis said it was a milk-processing plant. Muriel and others went to the site, and it was/had been a milk-processing factory!
Especially in wartime, citizens should be very hesitant to assume that their government's contentions are necessarily true, though they may be. Contrariwise, the statements of one's opponents should not be readily rejected as necessarily false, though they may be. Saddam Hussein's claims that Iraq (in 2003) did not have weapons of mass destruction was demonstrated to be true by the UN inspectors. There are times when leaders are provided with false information, which they announce - for example, Adlai Stevenson, in 1962, and Colin Powell, in 2003, both before the UN Security Council. Calling them liars implies intent; they both made statements that were later found to be untrue.
Casualties - During the Gulf War of 1991, General Colin Powell was asked about the number of civilian Iraqis killed and wounded. To paraphrase, he responded that those numbers were not of much interest to him. In 2004 the administration reports the number of US military (or contract workers) who are killed in Iraq, rarely providing data on the injured (thousands in German and US hospitals). Flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base are not to be shown; the human anguish under the bombs is to be ignored or downplayed by the media. The number of Iraqi casualties is even more difficult to determine, even when sought. Some investigators have indicated 10,000 to 15,000 civilian Iraqi deaths from the war; a Johns Hopkins medical team recently reported their estimate to be 100,000. Whose lives are valued?
The 1991 Gulf War never really ended. US and British "fly zones," not authorized by the United Nations, continued until 2003, with bombings of sewage treatment plants, electrical power stations, water treatment facilities: infrastructure that civilian lives depended upon, all in violation of the Geneva Conventions. UN and other agencies estimate that 500,000 children under age five (and perhaps an equal number of youths, adults, the aged) died, for lack of medical aids that could treat preventable diseases. These million deaths, and the responsibility for them, are officially "not remembered."
"Family values" - Perhaps no human behavior is more destructive of "family values" than warfare. Besides the millions of military personnel and civilians killed in the past century by war, many more were wounded (often for life), with shattered hopes and dreams. The lives of their spouses, partners, children and siblings were drastically altered, their hoped-for family life shattered. Young women "at home" then lack prospective mates for marriage and children. Long separations of spouses place severe strains on relationships; those returning find that the one they loved is no longer quite the same person. Divorces, marital strife and child abandonment often occur. Long separations of masses of healthy young men and women is not normal: infidelities, exploitation and abuse of foreign women, abandoned children who come of those interactions, prostitution, and the spread of AIDS are all consequences.
Persons under battle stress, or left at home, suffer breakdowns, suicides, drug addiction and homelessness. The occupations of all those involved, and their employers, are inconvenienced, interrupted. In some arenas, child soldiers are recruited, trained and used. Those who support war and advocate "family values" need to recognize these inconsistencies.
Environmental damage - War preparations (including nuclear development) military maneuvers, and battle damage affect the natural environment on a grand scale. Severe harm is done to fragile ecological areas (deserts, forests, arctic turf) by massive machines. Planes pollute the air and use immense amounts of scarce fuels. The use of Agent Orange in Viet Nam and Round-Up in Colombia has destroyed large areas of forest, polluting rivers and food sources, poisoning wildlife, and creating thousands of internally displaced persons, their lives damaged for the long term. The US military left the Panama Canal Zone by the end of 1999, fulfilling that part of the 1977 Carter-Torrijos Treaty, but left all the toxic materials behind, failing to complete that portion of the agreements.
Similarly, when the US Navy closed the naval bases at Roosevelt Roads and Vieques by May 31, 2003, the toxic materials remained. So land mines, cluster bombs, other ordnance, containers of chemicals and so forth threaten the children and others who remain. Such areas of earth remain contaminated.
Ethnocide - Violence need not be guided by a Nazi-like "final solution" program to threaten the survival of small cultural and ethnic groups: Native Americans, indigenous peoples in Latin America, Africa and Asia, communities in the Balkans.
Energy - War is very wasteful, with tests, training practices, and actual combat consuming immense amounts of increasingly depleted fossil fuels. The mining, processing, use and disposal of nuclear fuel present long-range environmental, health, landscape, safety and other concerns.
Health - "War is not healthy for children and other living things." War brings lack of access to public health aids, destroys housing, fosters epidemics, often causes starvation, and limits or destroys access to potable water.
Education - Children in war-torn areas are not only deprived of a "normal" childhood and a decent family life, but also of basic education. Schools are destroyed, teachers and materials are lacking.
Population - Besides the increased deaths and injuries from war, births are handicapped, often delayed, and there are higher rates of infant mortality. Marriages are delayed. Many families lack one or both parents. Large numbers of refugees and displaced persons are created. Deprivation is general.
Modern warfare of the high-tech sort, as William Safire has said, enables militaries of wealthy countries to kill more people at a greater distance with less feeling of guilt. Still, remember, nonviolence is the norm in daily living. Nonviolence has been increasingly utilized in labor, education, family life, prisons, mental hospitals, sports, and international law, with frequent success in varied situations bringing it greater legitimacy.
Humanity has yet to recognize that warfare as a practice is obsolete, and
needs to be abandoned, but another world is possible. Meanwhile, we cannot
let "psychic numbing" (a term used by Robert Jay Lifton, a Yale
psychiatrist) from the horrendous tragedies dim our hopes.
Minnesota FOR Annual
The annual fall gathering, held this year on November 14 at Macalester Plymouth United Church in St. Paul, was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our community's ongoing commitment to peace, and replenish ourselves for the work to come.
After a delicious meal, we heard reports on MN FOR programs over the last year, our financial status, and the most recent meeting of the FOR National Council. Board elections followed, and we welcomed Alice Kloker, Karen Redleaf and Kay Welsch to the board.
Highlights of the evening were the First Annual MN FOR Witness for Peace
award, to Jo Clare Hartsig; and the keynote address by Dr Richard Deats,
on "The World House of Martin Luther King and the War on Terror,"
followed by a lively discussion.
Photos (top to bottom):
Keynote speaker Richard Deats
Richard Deats and Jo Clare Hartsig
Leslie Reindl and Albert Fenske
To see more photos from the training, please visit our website at <www.mnfor.org>.
Meet the New MN FOR Board Members
Kay Welsch is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ (UCC) who has served as an interim in several UCC churches and also at Faith Mennonite and University Baptist Churches. She is a consociate with the Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ) and a member of the Criminal Justice Working Group; she also serves as co-chair of the CSJ Justice Commission. She and her husband, Delane, have volunteered for over seven years with the Washington County Restorative Justice Program, where they do victim-offender conferencing and work in community circles. She likes to bicycle (when the weather permits), knit and read. She has recently begun writing poetry. She and her husband have two daughters and five grandchildren, whom they enjoy a lot. The Welsches are native Nebraskans and they have lived several other places, including nine years in Thailand, but they have been in the Twin Cities for over 25 years. She is looking forward to her time as a board member with the FOR.
Alice Kloker was born and raised in South Minneapolis, and completed her undergraduate studies in the cornfields of Iowa at Grinnell College, where she became interested in a number of peace and justice issues. From 1996 to 1999, she lived and worked in Berkeley, El Paso and a community in the mountains of Peru. Alice then studied human rights at the University of Minnesota in the departments of political science and feminist studies. As a graduate student, she worked as an activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, and against the violent measures taken by the US government in response to the events of September 11, 2001, such as the bombing of Afghanistan. Alice currently works for the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College.
Karen Redleaf: I am 41 years old and I live in St Paul with my husband and our wonderful canine companion. I am on the steering committee for the Minnesota branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and I serve as their delegate to the Minnesota Alliance for Peacemakers. I am an active working member (and former board member) of North Country Coop. Although I have been active in assorted social justice issues since my late teens, my involvement was sporadic until 2000. In June of 2000 I became a vegan, and it turned out to be a consciousness-altering, life-transforming event for me. Since that time the walls of denial that I had built up over a lifetime of privilege have been crumbling down.
Probably the most dramatic element of the transformation has been a change in my approach to activism. I went from wanting to fight for justice in areas where I felt victimized (for example as a rape victim/survivor I felt called to help others make that transition from victim to survivor and to fight sexism more generally) to areas where I see myself as more actively complicit with the perpetrators of what I see as injustice. What does this mean? It means as a wealthy American woman with an advanced degree in economics I feel the need to speak out against the corporate takeover of our world. I oppose the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, even though I am technically one of the rich. It means that as a Jew I feel called to fight for justice for the Palestinian people, and to combat the notion that the side I have chosen in this battle means I am a self-hating Jew or an anti-Semite. I want to help redeem Judaism from the shackles of Zionism. But I find that I don't have the personal strength to take on this issue consistently or meaningfully. To do this work in the way I would like to, I need a community of like-minded people. This is what has brought me to the FOR.
Calendar of Events - Winter 2004 / Spring
Tuesday, December 14, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers annual meeting and luncheon at Hennepin Ave United Methodist Church, 511 Groveland Ave, Minneapolis. Prof. David Schultz of Hamline U. speaking on the US electoral system, campaign finance reform, and the recent election. 612-374-5321.
Saturday, January 22, 2005, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. "Refusing to Fight": a training workshop for conscientious objector counseling. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 28th Ave between Lake and 31st, Maples. Co-sponsored by Every Church A Peace Church and Veterans for Peace. 612-721-6908.
Sunday, January 23, 1:00 - 5:00 p.m. MN FOR Board annual planning retreat. Hospitality Place in Circle Pines. Everyone welcome. 651-690-2609.
Tuesday, February 1, 7:00 p.m. MN FOR Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration - screening and discussion of Brother Outsider. See details below.
Tuesday, March 1. Jack Nelson Pallmeyer speaking at Community Lutheran Church, 4113 W 54th St, Edina, on "The Church and the Challenge of Empire."
June 17-19. "Creating A Culture of Peace": MN FOR nonviolence training at Hospitality Place in Circle Pines.
Ongoing Peace Vigils
Wednesdays, 7:00 - 8:00 a.m. "Who Profits? Who Dies?" Alliant TechSystems, 5050 Lincoln Drive, Edina.
Wednesdays, 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. "Say "No" to the War in Iraq! Bring the Troops Home Now!" Lake Street/Marshall Ave Bridge.
Fridays, 4:15 - 5:15 p.m. "End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine!" Intersection of Summit and Snelling, St Paul.
Thanks Given for MN FOR Nonviolence Training
by Susan Moore
The second MN FOR training event, From Violence to Wholeness, appeared to be a very welcome and timely event in the lives of sixteen participants on the weekend of November 5-7, 2004.
In the simplest of educational settings -- which included one large room, seating for all, one easel with paper and markers, print resources and two guitars -- there was enough structure and guidance from the curriculum and two experienced facilitators to nurture sharing and exploration of themes of nonviolence. Participants were buoyed by the luxuries of shared silence, guidelines of safety and respect, a beautiful and serene setting, plentiful and varied food, warmth, fresh air and water.
Within the context of the Pace e Bene-based curriculum, the violence and nonviolence experienced by participants in their lives was looked at carefully and respectfully through discussion, story telling, role playing, meditation, prayer, music, poetry, problem solving and strategizing.
The group called on personal and shared spiritual guides for strength and wisdom and engaged with a curriculum of readings and examples from the lives of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thich Nhat Hanh, Dorothy Day, Walter Wink, Kathy Kelly and others. They went more deeply into the question of how people incorporate nonviolence into their lives -- struggling, for example, with Martin Luther King's principle of the necessity for suffering in nonviolent action, and finding comfort in the ideal of the Beloved Community.
Participants left with resources, connections, goals, plans and some hope.
Comments from participants:
"What I like best was being with like-minded people. You think you're alone in the world and it gives you support."
"I felt like I had finally come home, and had always known all of these people. Later, after giving that reflection, I decided it was because everyone there was truly being himself or herself. It's easy to recognize one another when we are genuine together."
"... The participants seemed to share a common awareness that cultivating a nonviolent consciousness in ourselves and our country has an urgency to it.... The FOR program restores hope, provides practical experience, and gathers people committed to learning the nonviolent way of life."
"To be present and to share each other's feelings of confusion, disappointment, fatigue and compassion was life-giving and that is so needed at this time."
Darlene Coffman and John Marino in conversation with Eleanor
Yackel, our host at Hospitality Place
All together on the last afternoon
I was introduced to the Minnesota FOR through my Introduction to Social Justice Issues class during my junior year at Hamline University. Don Christensen came in to the class to talk about the FOR, and through my professor, Rev. Beverly Wallace, I stayed in contact with Don and became an intern for the year.
During the internship I have been focusing on one major project: I am currently building a list of contacts with peace groups on the college campuses in the Minneapolis/St Paul area. I am also meeting with the groups to discuss the FOR and upcoming events. I am especially excited to discuss the conscientious objector seminar in January [ed.'s note: "Refusing to Fight" on January 22; see Calendar]. Next semester I hope to continue attending board meetings and meeting with college peace groups. I would also like to look at working on new initiatives to best spend my time helping the FOR.
During the month of January I will be taking a trip to Trier, Germany. The trip is a part of a first-year seminar that I student-led in the fall. We will be staying with host families and spending a good portion of our time learning conversational German. We will also do a bit of traveling to Luxemburg, and I will be taking a side trip to Paris. I am extremely excited to learn more about another culture and encompass that knowledge into my daily life.
It has been an honor and a pleasure for me to work with the Minnesota FOR this semester, and I look forward to next semester and what we can accomplish together.
Report from the FOR
National Council Meeting
October 22-25, 2004, Nyack, NY
The Overcoming Racism Working Group screened a video, The Shadow of Hate, followed by a discussion about our sustained commitment to make the FOR an anti-racist, multicultural organization both with respect to its internal culture, and in its outreach to communities of color.
We heard a report on the Iraq photo project, initiated by FOR USA, which has gotten quite a bit of attention of late in the press (and, somewhat less sympathetically, from conservative talk show hosts!). Over 400 photos have been collected, including more than 2000 people offering their apologies and heartfelt words of regret and mourning for the effects of the US-led invasion of Iraq. The results of the first phase of the project will be made available to Arab and international media outlets, and we will continue to collect photos, which may be viewed through the FOR website.
A number of the NC members attended a memorial service for David Dellinger at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Saturday evening. Among the speakers were George Houser, Howard Zinn, Vernon Bellecourt, Tom Hayden, Jay Craven, and members of Dellinger's family. Pete Seeger led us in song. Of the services I've attended, this one stands out as a true celebration of a long life of activism and principle.
Back at Shadowcliff, Janet Bloomfield presented a video and filled us in on the "Abolition Now!" Campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, and former NC member David McReynolds gave a talk about the war in Iraq, calling for Bush's impeachment, and action by the UN General Assembly against both Britain and the United States for waging what Kofi Annan has called an illegal war which violates the UN Charter. Just for us, David took time out of his race for a seat in the Senate with the Green Party, but I don't imagine that his campaign speeches were qualitatively different than the one we heard -- a refreshing change from most of the election stumping.
As a group, we also initiated a discussion of post-election strategizing, not knowing at the time who would win, but safely betting that there would be plenty of work to do no matter what the outcome. As it turns out, there's still some question as to which candidate actually won, but the peace agenda and imperative is clearly far from obsolete.
the last word
Dear Friends of the Fellowship of Reconciliation,
As the daylight hours grow ever shorter here in Minnesota, and the headlines seem only to add deeper shadows to our lives, I remember these words from FOR member Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make because the world is all messed up, the nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around, that's a strange statement. But I know somehow that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars (April 3, 1968).
When I walked into the MN FOR Annual Meeting in mid-November and saw the faces of those gathered for the evening, my spirit soared. I saw stars. I thought to myself, "We're still here." I saw a room full of people who are committed to nonviolence and have a deep desire to share their knowledge and experience in wider and wider circles. I saw an unbroken chain of peace testimony stretching back for over six decades. I saw and heard exciting reports about our nonviolence training programs, cooperative ventures with other peace groups in the Twin Cities, and personal peace witnesses from a number of our members who have been traveling to other parts of the world.
Please read over this newsletter and celebrate with us the wonderful work being done by our MN FOR staff person Don Christensen and many of our members. We are still here. We can continue our work with your ongoing support. Please consider helping the stars shine a little brighter (and a little longer!) by writing a check to the Minnesota FOR during this season of light.
The Rev. Jo Clare Hartsig
Chair, MN FOR Board
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Produced quarterly (September, December, March and June) by the Executive Committee of the Minnesota Fellowship of Reconciliation. Send submissions, letters and comments to Rachel Mordecai <rachel.mordecai @ gmail.com>, editor.
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