Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Complex Web

I've often thought about the complications that are abundant in this world. Events that take place in our world often effect more than one person. Those people may have very different experiences from the same event. Among those affected, there are those who benefit from a particular situation, alongside a group of people who experience the pangs of discomfort. These events can be anything from political maneuvers, to corporate policy-making, to sporting events, and even to the event of rain falling from the sky.
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Last Saturday, the skies opened up in San Diego, and the rain came down. It's not often that San Diego experiences rain for the majority of any given day. It's especially rare for rain drops to fall that do much more than mist your windshield.

As I sat in my house last Saturday and watched Ocean Beachians scamper to find cover from the rains, I reveled in the moment. I had been in a funk for a few days, and it seemed the rain might be enough of a surprise to pull me out of my stupor. I ran upstairs and threw on my running shoes and sprinted out the door, all the way to the end of Sunset Cliffs. About a mile from my house, it began to dump, and any notion of staying somewhat dry was washed away with the downpour. As my shoes, socks, t-shirt, and shorts (all of which were white, whoops) became saturated, I continued on, embracing the rain. There was an amazing moment when a smile uncontrollably came over me, and I lifted out my arms to my side, looking skyward. It was a moment when I was grateful for a body that is capable of movement, grateful for the unexpected visit of the rain, grateful for the beauty of rain falling into the Pacific, and grateful for the refreshing coolness of the drops that fell on my face. It was one of my finest moments in quite awhile. Arriving back at the house, I stood on my lawn and smiled, as the rain found the few places on my clothes that weren't fully saturated.

It was beautiful. So much joy.

That same Saturday evening, as the rain continued to blanket the San Diego coastline, a man from Pacific Beach experienced the rain much differently than I had.

"A 39-year-old homeless man sleeping under a tractor-trailer rig in Bay Park was injured this morning after a worker got into the vehicle and drove over him. The accident happened at 6 a.m. on Morena Boulevard near Savannah Street, San Diego police said. The 49 year-old worker started the truck and let it idle for a while to warm up and then started to drive away, police said. He was unaware the man was underneath it, police said.

The victim is being treated at a hospital for a broken pelvis and possibly two broken legs, police said."

As I heard this story on Sunday morning, I sat in silence. My breathing stopped momentarily.

Dammit.

This man was trying to find a quick solution to the unexpected rains. His lack of adequate shelter led him a nearby trailer-truck that provided escape from the rains. The rest he found under the truck was tragically interrupted.

It was ugly. So much suffering.
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I realized how complicated our world can be. Our world is this messy collection of beauty and pain, joy and suffering. It's so damn complicated. The joy that I found in the beauty of the rain juxtaposed with the immense suffering that my fellow human experienced is more than I can understand.

The complexity of this man's body being crushed by the only shelter he could find is so twisted. I writhe for this man and for his circumstances, and I'm pissed. The stupid rain.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Quite a play...

I haven't posted in awhile, so I probably lost all my readership..haha.

Here is a play from Division III football. Absolutely incredible.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/football/ncaa/10/28/trinity.lateralapalooza.ap/index.html

Hopefully, I will get to writing something soon.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Serving the poor (and living the part?)

A few days ago, one of my coworkers was describing the Catholic Charities office in El Centro, CA. Apparently the interior and exterior of the building have aged from years of use. The inside of the building was especially cluttered, looking as if the janitor had neglected his duties for several weeks. Upon further investigation, my coworker found that the vacuum being used was janky at best. Apparently, it was busted and had been temporarily fixed with some good ol’ duct tape. Sounds reasonable. I guess the duct tape wasn’t performing up to it’s billing, and hence, neither was the vacuum.

My coworker came down on the man responsible for cleaning the building and told him to purchase a new vacuum. She proceeded to tell him, “We serve the poor, but we don’t have to live the part.”

That really got me thinking. Serving the poor, but not living the part…serving the poor, but only until the clock strikes 5pm?

Paulo Friere would argue that serving the poor but not living the part would not classify as an act of solidarity. Freire defines solidarity as a radical posture. Serving the poor from 8-5 and then escaping to my furnished dwelling while the poor sleep outside my office is certainly not a radical posture. Serving the poor yet willfully maintaining a distinction between the poor whom I serve and myself is anything but radical.

Serving the poor but remaining socioeconomically distinct from the poor seems half-hearted. I can’t seem to reconcile serving the poor yet remaining economically, socially, and geographically distinct from them. It seems that to be in solidarity with the poor requires one’s life. Solidarity is a radical posture of love.

Living in solidarity with others is probably the single most difficult thing I have ever tried. I reflect on it to question and challenge the way in which I live. Somehow I have to reconcile that with the way the poor live.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Larry

Sometimes the world is too complicated. Larry, a homeless man, asked me for food today while I was taking a break at work. I obliged and bought Larry a sandwich, he was thankful. Helen, a kind woman who owns the Heavenly Market and Deli below Catholic Charities, told me that Larry has convinced several people to buy him food in the last week. Her view of the situation was that buying Larry lunch wasn’t a solution. He needed to go down to Father Joe’s or another facility that could give him food and shelter and provide him a long-term fix.

I understand that viewpoint, but here’s the problem…the man was hungry, and I had a $20 in my wallet. Yeah, an egg salad sandwich won’t change Larry’s life. It doesn’t give him the shelter, food security, or health care that he needs. But it was a meal and he was hungry.

So anyway, I buy Larry lunch. But Helen’s right, it’s not a solution. Larry will be on the streets next week. Larry had the look of an addict. He’s probably been on the streets a long time. A sandwich isn’t his answer, but it was at the moment because he was hungry.

It’s hard to know how to help people. Larry is hungry and homeless, but people argue about how to help him. Helen, who’s worked in that market for 20 years, said that buying him a lunch was a sweet thing to do, but it won’t really help him in the long run, she’s seen his type hundreds of times. Maybe Helen’s right. Maybe an egg salad sandwich doesn’t mean more than a few hours of sustenance. So be it.

I probably won’t ever see Larry again. Maybe I failed Larry by sending him on his way without getting to the heart of what his needs are. Nevertheless, I am glad Helen and I could help him (she insisted on covering half of his lunch). Answers seem few and far between when it comes to poverty and homelessness.

Tangent time: You know what’s messed up? I offered Larry an apple and he had to politely refuse because his teeth are in such bad shape that he can’t bite into a whole apple with losing teeth or experiencing pain from all of his loose teeth.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Social Activists: From Terrorists to Gandhi

I’ve been reading a book by David Corthwright called Gandhi and Beyond: Nonviolence for an Age of Terrorism. The book has been interesting but more biographical and textbook-like than I had imagined. Nonetheless, it’s been quite interesting to learn about the nonviolent resistance of people like Gandhi, MLK, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, etc.

I’ve been disheartened to think of the violence and war that continually occurs around the world. It’s challenging to imagine a world without violence, it seems so ingrained in the way that people and nations respond to one another. On the other hand, I have a hard time understanding why we have resorted to violence. It seems that there are much more effective and morally upright ways to deal with each other. Gandhi convinced the British to grant India independence, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Gandhi and his followers didn’t accomplish this by being pacifists, but by having indomitable wills. Although, there were restrictions to how these indomitable wills could be used, one restriction was that violence was not permitted. The nonviolent movement was so effective and British officials became so intimidated by Gandhi’s movement, that they granted independence to India.

Painted in this light, violence seems cheap. It seems like the easy way out. Maybe violence is what happens when you don’t make up your mind before entering a conflict and you end up acting on impulse and emotion. The Mahatma was resolute in his commitment to nonviolence from day 1. Violence also seems cheap when one considers the suffering that Gandhi and his followers underwent. Their nonviolent resistance wasn’t free of trouble; instead, they committed themselves to undergo any form of suffering for their cause. Violence avoids suffering.

One of the themes that I saw as I read the stories of various nonviolent resisters was love. Cesar Chavez said that “love is the most important ingredient in nonviolent work. Love the opponent…If we’re full of hatred we can’t really do our work. Hatred saps our strength and energy.” It’s clear to me that Chavez, Gandhi, and King were all motivated by love. Love of their fellow farm workers, Indians, and Negroes; as well as love for land owners, the British, and whites. If they were consumed by hatred, the means to achieve freedom would have most certainly been violent

Days after I read the previous quote by Chavez, I was reading an article about the ELF (Earth Liberation Front) in Outside magazine. The article interviewed Chelsea Gerlach, one of the key “eco-terrorists” who destroyed Vail Mountain’s Two Elk Lodge, and engaged in 9 other of ELF’s criminal acts. At one point, she was asked if she believed, in retrospect, that ELF’s actions were wrong. She didn’t say that their choice to destroy property was wrong, but that maybe their motives were skewed.

Activism is motivated fundamentally by compassion and a desire for peace. It’s a big step to use force, and it should be. It’s an act of violence to close your heart to anyone, even for a moment. We were certainly guilty of that. We didn’t really consider how our actions would impact individuals. We felt the pain of the Earth, and that was what we focused on. A few lost jobs didn’t even measure on the scale of the extinction of a species. But it doesn’t matter what the scale is. You’re hurting someone, and you have to grapple with the consequences of that. True compassion has to apply to everyone: lynx and skiers. I apologized to my victims in court, and I meant it. I couldn’t have done that two years ago. The primary responsibility we have as activists and as human beings is to ensure that whatever action we take is based on love. In my involvement with the ELF, we didn’t do that, and in that sense we failed.

A pretty powerful statement that speaks for itself. Gerlach questions the actions of the ELF because they weren’t motivated by love. She also points out that the means, or the consequences of the means, weren’t considered by the ELF. The extinction of a species was severe enough to cause them to do what they believed was justified. Upon reflection, Gerlach realizes that if the means cause harm to someone, then true activism and compassion aren’t present.

It’s so good I need to quote her again: “the primary responsibility we have as activists and as human beings is to ensure what whatever action we take is based on love.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"All you need is love, love, love is all you need."

I was reading fiction, which should be noted, because it doesn’t happen all too often. J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories is really quite good, but quite odd. The characters are brilliantly developed in limited time and often seem to be crazy. The last short story of the book, Teddy, centers on Teddy (appropriately), a young man who struggles dealing with his family as he develops his personal philosophy, which seems to be rather pantheistic. This quote struck me:

“’You love God, don’t you?’ Nicholson asked, with a little excess of quietness.

‘Yes, sure, I love Him. But I don’t love Him sentimentally. He never said anybody had to love Him sentimentally,’ Teddy said. ‘If I were God, I certainly wouldn’t want people to love me sentimentally. It’s too unreliable.’”

I was taken aback by Teddy’s response because it reminded me of myself. If someone asked me if I love God, I would say yes. If they probed a little more by asking how I love God, I would probably suggest that I love God by loving other people. Frankly, the only way I can conceive of how to love God is by showing love to God’s creation. I won’t go into everything that is loaded into ‘God’s creation’, but loving God’s creation primarily means showing love, care, and concern to human beings.

The notion of loving God in a sentimental manner doesn’t make sense to Teddy or myself. God commanded us to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. There is no command to love God sentimentally. Honestly, I am not in love with God. And I am definitely not “head-over-heels” in love with God. There’s something to be said about that being unreliable, and too particular to each individual. Sentimental love is dependent on how an individual feels at any given moment.

I can’t make sense of loving something that isn’t perceptible. In order for me to express love to something, it must be tangible. Therefore, I can love people. Why can I love people? I can love people because of the love of God. God is love. I am created in God’s image and thus am a representative of God, and am thus called to display the love of God to all peoples.

It seems to me that there is something pretty significant regarding Jesus in all of this. God sent Jesus to save our sins, right, I’ve heard that. But maybe there should be more emphasis on the idea that God sent his Son, Jesus, to display God’s love in human form. Without Jesus, God’s love for his creation wouldn’t be as pronounced, or as profound. Without Jesus, God’s love for God’s creation gets glossed over as impalpability, God’s love gets lost in ethereal confusion. Yet through Jesus, God’s love of God’s creation was demonstrated to be real, it became tangible.

Jesus loved people.

Loving people the only way I know how to love God.

I’m not head-over-heels in love with God but each day I try to become more infatuated with loving people the way Jesus did.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mi Hermano

I think it's appropriate that my brother, John, stars in the debut post of my blog. I want to tell a little story about John, as recounted to me by my dad.

John and my parents often take trips to Placer High School, my former school, to run laps around the track. I think John gets stir-crazy from all time spent watching videos, reading books, and looking at packages (think several dozen books,videos, and images wrapped in clear plastic). John is the most routine-oriented person I know and this manifests itself in many, many ways. When John runs around the track, he either carries a book, video, or package (predictable, I know). These jogging episodes may last anywhere from 2-8 laps, depending on John's energy or mood, what have you.

This week, Dad took John out to the PHS track to jog. Usually my dad sits in the bleachers while John run/walks around the track, this outing must not have been any different. As John entered the bend of the track before the straightaway where my Dad stood, John looked back. Behind him was a man who had been running for quite awhile, at least long enough to work up a good sweat. As John saw the runner gaining on him, John took off. He gripped his book tightly and ran, he ran hard. With his legs kicking out in awkward arcs, his back hunched over, his face parallel to the ground, and his head bobbing with pronounced effect, John sprinted as best he could. Dad told me he could hear John saying something to himself. John has been known to engage in self-talk to convince himself of certain things.

As John came down the straightaway, he had clearly gained some ground on the man who was unaware of his participation in the race he was about to lose. John neared the finish line and Dad could hear him saying to himself, "I'm gonna beat this guy." When John was even with my dad, he stopped, as if crossing the finish line. And if I know John, he probably said something like, "All done, let's go home."

The man jogging passed Dad and John, unaware of what had happened. A separate jogger was passing by my brother and father as they sat on the bleachers and said to John, "Hey man, I saw you beat that guy, that was pretty impressive." John, with his head naturally pointed towards the ground, probably looked up at the man, and maybe he offered a simple "thank you."

Something about that story strikes me as very profound. I think about the fact that society sees the disabled as something less than human. I think this transfers into seeing the disabled as helpless. If someone is disabled and helpless, they surely can't be competitive. John's competitive nature that shines through in this story makes me smile. He just wanted to succeed, he wanted to be victorious. He doesn't get the chance to do that too often. I think the Special Olympics probably exist so the disabled can feel a sense of accomplishment and success because there certainly aren't too many outlets for the disabled to succeed in our society.

The second things that strikes me about this story is the observing jogger who spoke to John. I imagine the man noticed the peculiar way which John carried himself as he jogged around the track. As John raced to the finish line, the man probably noticed John's awkward gait. But more than that, the man noticed John's determination. He noticed how fast John ran.

God, teach us how to acknowledge and affirm that John is created in your image. Teach us to foster community for John, and for all those that live with disability. May we each recognize our own disabilities, as big or small as they may seem. But primarily, let us remember that we are one. We are one creation, each created particularly, in your image.