Sunday, February 28, 2010

Second Sunday of Lent: Transformation of pain

"And behold two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem." Luke 9:31, passage from Gospel, Second Sunday of Lent, 2/28/2010

What Jesus was to accomplish in Jerusalem is nothing short of another "exodus"--an act of liberating God's people--an act both historic and divine. Jesus' "exodus" continues God's unfinished work: leading God's people out of bondage and into freedom.

To liberate us, Jesus must enter into a full experience of the ramifications of evil and the suffering that that entails.

When does our world not have pain? But with earthquakes rocking entire impoverished nations, with global warming changing our very climate while we quibble over its reality, with death snatching loved ones from our communities, with corruption wreaking evil over nations...the pain gauge has gone from full to overflowing these days.

"I will offer you a simple litmus test to determine whether a person has healthy or unhealthy religion. What do they do with their pain--even their daily little disappointments? Do they transform their pain or do they transmit it? People who are practiced in transforming actual life pain, like Jesus on the cross, are the only spiritual authorities worth following. They know. They can lead and teach. The rest of us just talk."~Rev. Richard Rohr

For your reflection:
What is my pain today? How can I transform it? What is the liberation God wants for me?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Good-by, Luis.

me: far left; Luis: far right
Persons come into the fiber of our lives,
and then their shadow fades and disappears.

We received word that one of our peace vigil community died in a drowning accident last week. This is a photo from the penultimate I saw him--two years ago. Last year I saw him once, only briefly. Nevertheless, I'm very sad that the world has lost this light. His memorial service is here Wednesday.

There is something that makes all of us who participate in the peace movement related to one another. We are family.

"Peace and justice people are the best people in the world!" declared Sister Dorothy Marie Hennessey OSF. She was arrested at the SOA and shamed the federal government by accepting a six months imprisonment even though she was an octogenarian. I knew her pretty well; now, she's deceased too. She was right: the best people in the world work for a better world.

I've noticed that, when Catholic Workers die, the community broadcasts the notice far and wide. Perhaps those who try to be on the margin are the ones who understand and accept one another maybe when others don't. They mourn the loss of one of their own. In some cases, even more than family can or does.

The best relatives, however, recognize the importance of that connection.

Luis' daughter came to the peace vigil corner Friday to meet with us personally. We cried together as she shared a dream she had--after her father had died, but before she had learned of the accidental death. The two of them were sitting together in a boat, and he told her not to worry, that he was all right. That would be Luis--a gentle, caring soul. He would want the family to be reassurred.

Luis was one of the very first members of the U.S. Peace Corps. An artist, his work typically reflected peace themes and he relentlessly kept peace in the public eye as a performance artist. He long since gave up worrying about other people's regard of him. But, when his employer heard of Luis' death, he responded: "I revered him."

As I will miss Brother Tim, I will miss Luis. This song fell into my life this week via Quaker Dave. It is useful for mourning:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Eureka! We discovered an affordable spa!

Border exploring paid off in spades last week when Mr. B.E. and I drove into Truth or Consequences, NM for an overnight at Riverbend Hotsprings. The town sits upon a geothermal aquifer from which ten spas and mineral bath houses draw wonderful, naturally heated mineral water for the kind of baths that the Greek Archimedes would have given his toga for. After some assiduous internet research, we chose Riverbend because of its gem of a location: situated on the bank of the Rio Grande River, at the edge of town.

We arrived earlier than expected, but the hospitable folk at Riverbend said, "Your room is already made up for you!" So we wasted no time in settling ourselves in for a soak in the soothing waters. Five of the eight baths are "public," so we met interesting people and had some delightful conversations with folks from around the country, as well as with some locals. All the bathing you care to indulge in is included in the fee of overnight accommodations at Riverbend. Since we don't like to go out to eat, we opted for an upgraded unit with a complete kitchen. If you have a good heart, read on for the pricetag: All this cost us only $75 dollars, including tax. And had we brought cash along, we could have gotten a $5 discount from that.

We spent a lot of time in the water. Was it our imaginations, or did the minerals make our bodies more buoyant than normal? We both noticed it. The weather was absolutely perfect with Southwest blue skies and cool temps to cool us off when we took a break from the waters.

The stars were wonderful above us at night! And in the chill of the next morning, the steam from the pools beaconed us into their mysterious mists.

Because we were celebrating our 15th anniversary, we indulged for an hour in one of the "private" baths. Clothing is optional in these areas, but that is all I will say on that subject. The photo shows the cascading waters of the bath we selected. Sitting under the splashing waterfall provided a free water massage.

The grounds were immaculate. We were thrilled with our mini-vacation. I could go on and on, but, since other people's vacation slide shows can grind on too long, I will conclude.

But I can't wait to go back.

Here's a glimpse of the private bath we enjoyed that morning:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Thoughts on the death of Brother Tim

It is a tribute to Brother Tim that I'm so affected by his death. I hardly knew him--not long at all. I never met him. I guess we connected through some mutual blogger friends. I think he looked me up...he is a registered "follower" of Border Explorer, commented here sometimes. Occasionally he'd email. We played games together on Facebook.

Through all these seemingly superficial interactions, I came to know him. And like him. Better than I like most people.

Tim had a clear-eyed view of how this world works, the "dirty rotten system" part that Dorothy Day spoke of. He did not shirk from that. Or pretend it wasn't there.

When I first met him, I was a bit skeptical of his "Jesus is my boss" cap, and the "Brother" moniker. But he was authentic, of that I came to be sure. Those who know him better than I attest to the fact that he was one of the few "real" Christians, in the sense of Gandhi's comment about Christianity might be a good religion if anyone ever tried to live it. They tell me that Tim was one who did. He is the kind of Christian I believe in.

I feel really bad for his family. If I'm hurting this much at losing Tim, what must they be going through?

Brother Tim, I feel really lucky that I got to glimpse your presence on this planet for a bit. You have earned a rest. May your karma, your spirit, remain here and infect the rest of us with your passion for justice and peace.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Billionaire landowner's thugs serve death threats again

[I don't have the photos uploaded, and won't--until maybe tomorrow--but getting the info out there anyway.]

Seven armed men arrived on horseback at Alfredo Piñón Valenzuela's residence in Lomas del Poleo at 9:30 AM last Monday. One of them aimed a gun at Alfredo Piñón and threatened: "Get the [expletive omitted] out of this house or I will drag you out dead, because this land is mine." ("Te me vas a la [XXX] de ésta casa ó te saco muerto, porque éstas tierras son mías"). That man is the employee of a local billionaire who claims ownership of the disputed Lomas del Poleo property.

The Amnesty International (AI) Mexico Team reports that these armed men were hired by a local landowning family. AI calls on the public to advocate the Mexican officials to protect inhabitants of Lomas del Poleo, an area just outside Juarez, who are at risk of further similar attacks.

Alfredo Piñón Valenzuela has been living in the residence of his neighbor, Adelaida Plasencia Sierra. She is recovering from broken ribs, the result of gunshot wounds during an armed attack in December at the same residence. Fearing further attack, she subsequently fled Lomas del Poleo. Alfreda Piñon resides in her house to protect it from being destroyed by those who claim to own the disputed property. Vacated houses in the area are routinely razed [photo 245, 246].

The desolate land of Lomas del Poleo, once available for squatters' acquisition, grew in value tremendously since a group of businesspeople began plans to develop a nearby area into a new urban and industrial area.

Men employed by a local, wealthy landowner have harassed and attacked the people living in Lomas del Poleo since 2003. In 2004 these men erected a barbed wire fence around the area [photo 238, 272]. Security guards employed by the alleged landowner patrol its only entrance, turning the area into a twisted reversal of a gated community [photo 270]. In 2005, according to residents, the "security guards" set fire to 40 homes and beat a man to death. Although they claim they reported these events to the local Public Prosecutor's office, no serious investigation has ever ensued.

Only 17 of the original 256 settling families still live in the area. More than 150 families were either evicted from Lomas or were hounded into "negotiating" the sale of their property out of exhaustion and fear. All this has transpired with the complicity of the state and city government, according to the report of Rev. Bill Morton, a U.S. Catholic priest who knows the residents and has witnessed the process.

A Mexican Agrarian Tribunal has been considering the dispute over the ownership of the Lomas del Poleo land for the past several months. Meanwhile, during that time, the residents have experienced more threats and intimidation. The Tribunal will reach its conclusion in the near future, leading some to believe that the recent threats are an attempt to intimidate the people still remaining in Lomas del Poleo into relinquishing their claim to ownership.

Since the December attack on Adelaida Plasencia Sierra, security guards have repeatedly approached the house of her two daughters, advising them that the land on which it's built is not theirs.

After reviewing the facts of the matter, Amnesty International is calling on the general public to write and fax Mexican governmental officials immediately--and prior to March 17--to advocate for the safety of the residents of Lomas del Poleo. Letters and faxes should urge government leaders to order independent investigations into the attacks and bring those responsible to justice. Amnesty International further asks the public to request those leaders to prevent any attempt to drive residents of Lomas de Poleo off their land and to ensure the dispute is resolved fairly and satisfactorily in the agrarian tribunal.

As this incident is so recent, and the contact information is not yet available onAmnesty's Lomas del Poleo file, it is reprinted here for your convenience:


PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Spanish or your own language:

Urging the authorities to ensure that Alfredo Piñón Valenzuela and other residents of Lomas del Poleo who have been attacked and threatened by security guards working for local landowners are given appropriate protection according to their wishes;

Urging them to order independent investigations into the attacks, and bring those responsible to justice;

Urging them to prevent any attempt to drive residents of Lomas de Poleo off their land, and to ensure the dispute is resolved fairly and satisfactorily in the agrarian tribunal.


Governor of Chihuahua State

Lic. José Reyes Baeza Terrazas

Gobernador del Estado de Chihuahua, Palacio de Gobierno, 1er piso, C. Aldama #901, Col. Centro,

Chihuahua, Estado de Chihuahua, C.P. 31000, Mexico

Fax: +52 614 429 3300 (then dial extension 11066 when prompted)

Salutation: Dear Governor

Attorney General of Chihuahua

Patricia González Rodríguez

Procuradora del Estado de Chihuahua

Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado

Vicente Guerrero 616, Col. Centro

Chihuahua 31000, Mexico

Fax: +52 614 415 0314

Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Mayor of Ciudad Juárez

Lic. José Reyes Ferriz

Presidente Municipal de Ciudad Juárez

Unidad Administrativa Benito Juárez. Primer piso, ala norte.

Av. Francisco Villa # 950 Norte, Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico

Fax: +52 656 615 0690

Salutation: Dear Mayor

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Senseless Savagery: The U.S. connection to the Juarez Student Massacre

Caption: Carlos Marentes ponders the gravity of the violence in Juarez.

Sixteen Mexican youth were gunned down at a high school party by multiple, heavily armed killers, who reportedly filed away in silence. A horrified world views photos of Sunday morning streets running red with innocent blood. And the neighboring United States watches silently, with widened eyes, wondering: “How do we respond to this? How should we respond?”

Clearly, violence in El Paso’s twin city has escalated to an unbelievable level. Known in 2007 for the murder of women, the city of Juárez now claims a dubious record: first in the world in homicides per capita with 2,600 assassinations just last year. And with 227 assassinations already this year, 2010 stands a good chance of topping anything we’ve seen yet.

Expressions of sympathy and wishes of solidarity may be appropriate. But words not backed by deeds are only empty words. What does a neighbor do in the face of such savagery? What now, United States?

Human rights activist Carlos Marentes, native of the border cities of Juárez /El Paso, suggests that reconsideration of the Merida Initiative, the U.S. package of drug war aid to Mexico, is a good place to start. “The Merida Initiative is the main source of revenue for the war,” asserts Marentes.

But, doesn’t Mexico need this assistance more than ever now?

“Juárez is frozen in a climate of fear. The citizens can not differentiate between criminals and authorities. For most of the people, they are one and the same. They are acting together.”

According to Marentes, the climate of violence in Juárez is a direct result of the drug war, an anti-trafficking initiative of the Bush Administration. This strategy functioned conveniently for the U.S. because the casualties occurred on foreign soil (Mexico) thereby keeping the U.S. public largely unconcerned and uninvolved.

Through the Merida Initiative, the U.S. provides resources—a pledge of $1.6 Billion--to strengthen the Mexican military. But increasingly the war casualties are innocent civilians. Mexican authorities, who once asserted that the fatalities were related to the drug trade, can no longer deny that violent crime has ended the lives of many ordinary citizens, including children, journalists—with already 3 three reported 2010 deaths--and human rights advocates.

Ironically, a recent story in the Mexican El Universal reports that 70% of Merida Initiative resources remain in the United States as profits from contracts for military and intelligence equipment. The U.S. corporations reap the profits; Mexico reaps the corpses.

As early as July 2009, Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. Department of State to disallow Merida funding until alleged Mexican military human rights offenses are tried in civil, not military, courts.

This cry was reinforced this weekend at the National Latino Congreso, held in El Paso. A number of the resolutions they approved addressed the violence. One is particularly noteworthy. It “vehemently urges” the U.S. to tie Merida Initiative funding to demonstrated respect for human rights in Mexico. It was sponsored by the coalition Mexican Journalists in Exile (PEMEX).

The people of Mexico survive in a state of on-going grief, frozen by the paralysis of mourning. Bizarre and ruthless warfare, operating on several levels, has spun out of control. U.S. funding is fueling the fire. U.S.-manufactured weapons are killing and intimidating the innocent. U.S. demand—consuming 25% of the world’s drugs—drives the dynamic.

Merely shaking a finger at Mexican corruption, or sending a sympathy note about Mexican violence is not enough now. These responses are easy, but they are not honest. The U.S. needs to consider its own role in the Mexican bloodshed.

Senseless savagery will continue unabated if we don’t.