From my side of the dam

your relation to the dam is relative, let's meet on the bridge

Month: April, 2013

Why can’t we all be good?

I have a problem; I tend to only see the good in people. I believe that people want to and strive to be good. Now you might not see that as a problem and no, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that I put a lot of trust and faith in a person to act for the good of others (especially when they are in uniform, but that might be a larger societal issue). Thus, when a person does not use the power given to them to act justly, I get confused. And frustrated. And irritated. And angry.

This week I had to deal with the police. So, quick summary, Colombian police are corrupt. Done. Okay. Well, wait. No. Not okay. Trigger Hannah’s ‘people are inherently good’ problem. Exception #1: Not when it comes to money. Or stupidity, but let’s stick with money.

I know little about law enforcement, and even less about the Colombian National Police, but my basic understanding is that when a crime is committed the offender is to reconcile their offense, and in today’s world that usually involves a punishment such as prison. Simple right? Great.

On Wednesday I witnessed a crime. Members of the community of Las Pavas were bringing palm branches to their farm so that they could build a communal ranch to protect themselves from the elements while they work. Noteworthy is the fact that they were bringing newly cut palm branches because upon arriving to where they had previously cut palm they found the piles in ashes, evidence of another crime. Also of importance is that the tractor loaded with palm had to enter by a secondary route since the palm oil company, Aportes San Isidro, is currently controlling traffic along the public road which services the main entrance to the farm, another illegal act.

So when the community entered the vicinity of the farm, about five armed security guards approached the tractor on horseback and by foot, shooting out the tire with a shotgun.

An hour later the police arrive. Three officers come to take a look at the tractor. I asked them for their names, and one introduced himself as Jairo Hernandez while I caught the last part of his name – rrera – on his uniform before he pulled his shoulder strap to cover it up. When I asked to see his name badge he refused to show me. When they wondered why I needed their names I told them that I wanted to keep them accountable so that the person who committed the crime would also be held accountable. I mentioned that although I have a limited understanding of the law I assume that if we can agree that there has been a crime committed, which we did agree upon, the police do not rest until that person is caught. And while these officers stood studying the bullet hole in the tractor tire, the man we all saw shoot out the tire was wandering around his house 100m away. Well, they informed me that they have no authority to act and are waiting to hear orders from their superior. Awesome.

After a couple hours, and at least 20 officers perched on the gate smoking cigarettes and sharing youtube videos on their phones, a decision has been made that the tractor will not be used to transport building materials to the farm until the inspector can come the following day to sort out the problem. So the community is left with their hands tied while the company continues to control the main road and carry on with their palm harvest. I noted to the officers that despite a crime having been committed today by the palm company, it is apparent that all that has been done is punish the victims by further restricting their movement. They had no comment.

On Thursday morning the inspector arrived, and after carrying out his impartial duties of speaking with both parties he declared that the man had shot the tire of the tractor out of self-defense for fear of his co-worker being run over, and that the tractor may be used only up until the fence until further decisions could be made about the land dispute. The inspector did not view any of the pictures and videos, which clearly show that all men are armed and one jumped in front of the tractor running along with it until the other fired his shotgun into the tire.

The sergeant of the region had also arrived on Thursday and after bragging about his extensive involvement with the situation in Las Pavas and how well he is dealing with it he decided to try to woo me with pictures of his dog and stories of his own farm where he fishes and where I am always welcome to come visit. When I refused to make nice and pressured him on the officer from the previous day who refused me his name, an officer who is apparently under his jurisdiction, he offered no response.

By Thursday afternoon the inspector had left and the officers were still perched on the fence killing time. All security guards were free to carry on with their daily tasks of controlling the main road and threatening the community members with rape and death.

In all of our conversations with the legal authority when we questioned their integrity or drew light on the impunity that they afford the palm company, they cowered away with no answer. The injustice here is so obvious and their reaction to our questions shows that they are well aware. But they refuse to make it right. Sometimes, for reasons of money, pride, or a need to protect and feed your family, the good doesn’t win out.

Meanwhile, I’m going to have to be more skeptical about the intentions of people; I cannot blindly trust that people will see the black and white injustices that I see. But at the same time I refuse to believe that we do not have a conscience. People are good. And even if we make mistakes, there is a way to be good again.

2013-04-24 09.44.09

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Shots Fired in Las Pavas

I just got home from Las Pavas and our team has already put out a release: Shots Fired in Las Pavas. Please read and consider adding your voice to those of ours striving for justice amidst corruption and impunity.  There is also a delegation headed to Las Pavas at the end of May for those of you interested in hands-on non-violent resistance.

“But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand”

– Mumford and Sons

2013-04-14 15.36.01
2013-04-14 15.22.06
2013-04-13 13.16.07

Retirement at 24

I remember in elementary school when our teachers would say – whether they were trying to encourage excitement about going to highschool or ebb away our fears I do not know – “just you wait, everything’s better in highschool because you get to choose the courses you take!”  Finally, I won’t have to sit through another art class trying desperately to turn my stick figure into 3D, or suffer through another sewing lesson in Home Economics.  The bells of freedom of choice and the right to chew gum in class rang loudly as I anticipated this novelty that was sure to make going to school essentially painless.

Highschool came and went and it didn’t take long to realize that those promises were quite empty as my newfound freedom did not find me skipping to class whistling a tune for love of what I was supposedly choosing to study.  Barely before my elementary teachers’ words left the echos of my eardrums, the highschool administrators were already repeating the same mantra, only this time for post-secondary education.  We were accosted daily by one university or another, welcomed by a toothy-grinned guidance counselor assuring us that university will be the best thing that has ever happened to us, only because this time, for real, you get to study  what you really want to, and in depth.  Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but it ain’t all that.  University – for me – included a lot of hair loss (natural and otherwise..), weight gain, loneliness, stress, confusion, and on top of that, obligatory courses that I didn’t want to take.  So. Strike two.

Then, the other day I heard someone comment on retirement, where one becomes so busy because one can finally do what they really want to do, and not what they’re paid to do.  That’s promising.

So, moral of the story: we’re destined to always be unhappy with what we’re doing, only to hope that the next stage in life will bring real meaning to us?

That doesn’t seem like a nice place to be.  At least you’re hopeful, I guess.  I for one, after living through the tragic let downs of school, do not plan on waiting around for retirement to get on with living a life doing what I really want to do (even if they don’t pay me!).  What about you?

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Allow me to introduce you to some people:

My host in Bogota and a fellow CPT reservist, Alix Lozano, took me under her wing as if I were her daughter, helping me navigate the city of 8 million and the Colombian context in general.  Bless her.

Another CPTer, Jenny Rodriguez, kindly spent her precious time with me (she works and studies full time) to shepherd me from office to office, meeting with CPT partners and giving me an introduction to life on team in Colombia.  Bless her.

On April 9th I marched with over 1 million people for peace.  I marched with grandmothers and granddaughters, blacks, whites, and mestizos, heterosexuals and homosexuals, farmers and businessmen, Colombians and foreigners.  CPT accompanied over 400 people on a 24 hour bus ride from the province of Antioquia to Bogota in order to march for peace.  There was an energy for change.  Bless them.

Two campesino leaders from Las Pavas stayed at the CPT house the past two nights, meeting with a round table of organizations accompanying them in their fight for their land and sharing with me their stories of struggle.  We also shared breakfast, laughs, and hugs. Bless them.

One of my afternoons was spent at a meeting with the OFP (Popular Women’s Organization), where I met many women leaders, some who have had their lives threatened and have had to send their sons abroad for safety.  These women have no fear and refuse to give up.  Bless them.

Caldwell, Stuart, and Pierre, my cohorts in this wild thing we call advocacy and accompaniment for peace and social justice.  They work tirelessly to build relationships and raise awareness of the injustices that occur daily to the people of Colombia.  Bless them.

These are a few of the peacemakers I have met in the past couple of days.  May they be blessed as they strive to find creative ways to confront the atrocities they face and may they find strength in the Creator who has called them to this work.  May they be blessed.

Here’s to hoping

At a event tonight entitled Peace, Pies, and Prophets held at Conrad Grebel, Ted & Company provided side-splitting  giggles and guffaws in a series of sketches outlining today’s societal idiosyncrasies regarding the military-industrial complex, terror, trauma, and “how to buy an enemy” among other thought-provoking and hilarious topics.  Meanwhile, they also managed to auction off a smorgasbord of pies for upwards of $150 each, all of the proceeds going towards the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), an organization I tend to admire.

During the intermission, James Loney, a fellow CPTer and friend of mine, reflected on his time in captivity when he was held in Iraq for 4 months from November 2005 to March 2006 with three other CPTers, one of whom, Tom Fox, was killed two weeks before their release.  James recalled a moment during captivity where Tom, after the CPTers had noticed that one of their captors had sustained an injured foot as a result of a soccer game, knelt and held the captors foot praying over it.  When he finished, he raised his head to look at the others and said, “sometimes, I can draw the pain out”.

As I go forth into a place where power imbalances hold farmers captive from cultivating their lands, hold women captive under threats of violence for speaking up about equality, and armed groups hold anyone captive who can provide leverage for their cause, I can only hope that I may somehow, sometimes, “draw the pain out”.

In God’s name?

A lot of things are done in God’s name.  Feeding the poor.  Getting rich.  The early church community.  The Crusades.  Opposing violence.  Defending homophobia.  Waiting for manna.  Ransacking nature’s resources.

It’s strange.  It seems as though we’ve mastered the art of manipulating God.  It dawned on me during another poignant moment during The Bible special on The History Channel.  While Jesus prayed with his disciples at the Last Supper, the scene cut to the prayers of the Pharisees that they might kill Jesus that night.  Back to Jesus and Judas.  Back to the robed teachers of the law.  Both seemed to think that they have God on their side.  Years later Paul also believed he had God on his side while he massacred, plundered, and pillaged;  much like the behaviour of our modern day politics, corporations, and societies.

So now what?  We stand by as the Israelis continue to destroy Palestinian homes, schools, land, and way of life, because the Jews are God’s “chosen” people?  We watch as the Land of the Free continues to discriminate against and prohibit homosexual freedoms like that of marriage because it’s “unbiblical”?  We allow our governments to act with complete disregard to our natural resources and blatantly ignore the First People from this land because at some point Europe had the gall to think that their Christian God had entrusted them with superiority over the Earth and her inhabitants?

My god.  MY God.  Or is She your God? I’m sure I’ve got it figured out, I’m doing what She wants me to do.  And you’re positive that She is backing you up.  So, how does God pick sides?

One theory would suggest that indeed there are no sides.  Everything was once good, evil is only an angel who has fallen.  But with redemption that angel can be good again.  For “if the demonic arises when an angel deviates from its calling, then social change does not depend on casting out the demon, but recalling its angel to its divine task” (Walter Wink).

Another theory suggests that God must have a side.  He’s the judge right?  Right.  GOD is the judge.  Not us.  Some would say God can not be non-violent because he’s the prosecutor.  He must judge.  But we don’t judge, we act.  And how are we to act?  Cue the nativity scene.

Jesus. A revolutionary.  A teacher.  Amidst many fallen angels, what does he do?  He broadcasts himself on the road to Damascus and gives Paul, a murderer, an opportunity.  In the garden where Jesus was betrayed and arrested, he reaches out and heals the soldier’s ear, cut off by Peter.  Jesus picks no favourites.  Jesus denies no rights.  Jesus claims no land.

Jesus listens.

Jesus washes feet.

Jesus loves.

Whatever I do, let it be in Jesus’ name.