The Common Good

Blog Posts By Tom Getman

Posted by Tom Getman 21 weeks 1 day ago
This week’s “10 Best Stories” missed an important news item from Palestine — not about Pope Francis but rather a family that practices what the pope preaches.Tent of Nations, in the Occupied West Bank, has become a sign of hope over the otherwise fruitless last decades of peace negotiations. Interlocutors have nibbled around the edges of a “two state solution” since the early 1990s with the result that Israel has been able to confiscate vast areas of Palestine. The Nassar family, represented by Daoud and his parents and siblings, have built on their 100 acres a veritable garden of peace. This luxuriant vineyard is 15 minutes from Manger Square, Bethlehem. It has been owned by the Nassars since Ottoman times, and “Tent” has illustrated, what is declared on a stone at its entrance – non-violent action in its most faithful form. More than 7,000 visitors from around the world along with children in summer camps, as well as both Israelis and Palestinians, have been buoyed by the Nassars' 100-year commitment to living peaceable amidst turmoil by expressing biblical principles of loving neighbors, forgiving those who oppress, and peaceful coexistence with their neighbors.Early on May 19, military bulldozers destroyed 1,500 fruit trees nearly ready for harvest in the valley below the Nassar dwellings. There was no warning of the impending destruction of the trees and terraced land, left in a state of rubble with no hope of being replanted. Daoud said the family was awaiting word on an appeal submitted after military orders to stop cultivation; bulldozers came before a legal response.
Posted by Tom Getman 30 weeks 5 days ago
Oppressive poverty, like corruption and unfettered crime, is a human condition to be addressed and mitigated by principled choices to alter societal structures. This is particularly illustrated in South Africa with the ongoing historic challenge of the lingering old apartheid effects of legalized separation of races and tribal groups. Attitudes and demographics are still entrenched. The marginalized suffer most. Escalating crime is still in large measure black on black, but all sectors of society live with corruption and hear in the media the drumbeat of violence — and not only when there is a high profile feeding frenzy trial such as for Oscar Pistorius.In a meeting with Kairos Southern Africa leaders, a senior ANC party executive acknowledged, “We have failed in service delivery and turned a blind eye to corruption … please help us make the changes necessary.” To be true to the liberation pledges, Kairos members are mobilizing civil society to act accordingly, along with an informed electorate and principled politicians, to address the residue of years of oppression both here and abroad.A public way in which religious leaders from across the theological spectrum participated in this regard was in a solidarity conference called by the South Africa Parliament “portfolio committee” on International Relations and Cooperation. Consensus for action was not automatic on the apartheid-like oppression in Israel and Palestine. But respect for those of differing theological and political understandings was for the most part encouraging and enlightening.
Posted by Tom Getman 33 weeks 1 day ago
In the Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, Baphumelele Respite Care Centre and Clinic serves abandoned children as well as ill adults. The staff faces daily the anguish of caring for babies and older children with serious congenital alcohol and drug syndrome or HIV/AIDS complications. A compassionate professional team and scores of volunteers provide education and rehabilitative residential care for countless patients and support to child headed homes.A nurse friend on the staff gave witness to the disparity between day-to-day realities when faced with the inadequate response by government and societal leaders. It is stunningly the case in South Africa in the post-Mandela era. The clinic was started in 1989 by the local founding-director Rosealia Mashale, “Rosie,” who could not abandon vulnerable children to the trash heap.Even with more than 25 similar agencies active in the sprawling location of mostly substandard housing and services there are thousands still in need.Professor Jonathan Jansen, a trusted commentator in South Africa and author of We Need to Act, reminds citizens to leave their comfort zones and contribute to righting the wrongs of society
Posted by Tom Getman 1 year 3 days ago
What do you do with critical information on intractable justice issues when reputation, methods, or prevailing propaganda make it difficult for people to believe the truth? How does one find ways to strengthen the fragile line between democracy and the lurking dark social disorder? Limiting or reversing anarchy in the U.S. and abroad may depend on finding ways to persuade and protect the common good.A current question is in regard to the 20-year Oslo peace process (which was to be completed with separate States after 5 years). When it failed, its successor peace plans promised to bring flourishing democracy and a just peace that would hold back the winds of war and be good for Israelis as well as Palestinians.The strategy of negotiations with prolonged periods of stalling has only widened the occupation and allowed Israel to strengthen its hold on Palestinian property. It has been conquest by a 1,000 cuts on people (1,500 Israelis and 15,000 Palestinians dead), as well as uprooted trees and bulldozed property. Less than 10 percent of 1967 war land area of Palestine is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It is as though a volcanic cloud blocks the sun. Even with Secretary of State John Kerry’s vigorous efforts to diminish the rumblings and forestall an eruption, those who assure us there are signs of hope declare time is growing mercilessly short.
Posted by Tom Getman 1 year 13 weeks ago
Mr. Venter’s question is a constant thought during these declining days of Nelson Mandela’s life, especially today — his 95th birthday.  I pray daily for my South African daughter Eliza, husband Jonathan, and their four sons Noah, Aidan, Luke, and Sam, along with the many dear South African friends gathered over the past 30 years.   Will they live the on-going dream or in an emerging nightmare? In 1994, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, I had the honor of meeting President Nelson Mandela in a most unexpected way — just two months after his April inauguration as the first democratically-elected President of South Africa. 
Posted by Tom Getman 1 year 25 weeks ago
Most Americans sat glued to the TV or radio on April 15 (or raced to finish tax returns) transfixed by the horrific Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath. Nearly 100 friends of Fr. Michael Lapsley’s gathered that evening at Busboys and Poets restaurant and bookstore in Washington, D.C., to be soothed with a testimony of faith by South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, soul-stirring cello music, and a transporting testimony of healing by apartheid regime bomb victim “Father Mike.”One of my favorite newspapers in the world, the South African Mail and Guardian, reported on April 19 this way: “Boston bombings: the marathon struggle of survival and healing … a priest from South Africa, apartheid fighter and a bomb victim himself reaches out to Americans about forgiveness … He had not planned it that way. The event was to launch his book. It had been scheduled for last October but Hurricane Sandy scuppered those plans. Instead it took place on a day when three people were killed and more than 100 injured in Boston.”
Posted by Tom Getman, Karen Getman 1 year 30 weeks ago
Having achieved our freedom we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. We would be less human if we do so…we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.       - President Nelson Mandela- December 1997There is visceral identification by South Africans with the suffering of the Palestinians.Newspapers and speakers at South Africa Human Rights Day/U.N. International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination focused on the liberation of the oppressed and the importance of a mobilized civil society to stand with the marginalized. The events commemorate the nonviolent protest against the racial passbooks, March 21, 1960. The day ended tragically with the Sharpeville massacre, which left 69 people dead and 180 injured. Nelson Mandela burned his discriminatory passbook a week later and the long march for freedom and dignity began in earnest. Even when it is still a journey in progress of real equality and democracy for all, there is an intentionality expressed best by Mandela.
Posted by Tom Getman 1 year 35 weeks ago
For those who are students of Africa, the Caprivi Strip of Northern Namibia brings memories of the awful border wars and independence struggles of the 1970s and 80s. Perhaps the lessons apply to Israel and Palestine.Ironically, one of the last and longest, most peaceful and unpolluted rivers in the world is the Okavango. It is the border between Namibia and Angola where still today a long stretch of the north bank Angolan farmland is mine infested. Large breem and tiger fish jump, and magnificent fish eagles take flight from trees on the Namibian bank and wing to large dead trees in Angola where hippo provide background music with loud braying. The behemoths make their way back and forth and often spend the early evening hours lounging on the beach in front of the main buildings of the River Dance Lodge near Divindu on the southern shore.This gently lapping, wide, drinkable stream — that creates in nearby Botswana the amazing Okavango Delta — is bordered by Angola, Namibia, and Botswana. The crystal clear ribbon of nearly 500 miles of uninterrupted resource runs just a few yards under my feet a quarter of a mile across from where the Angolan fields and forests were the hiding place for Jonas Savembi before he was killed in 2002. His South African- and American-supported troops were routed by Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, the socialist leader of UNITA and president since 1979. We can see homes there that have been vacant since the war because local farmers fled the fighting. Kavanaga tribal tradition requires people to not dwell in places where violent deaths have occurred. Ethnic tribal relations are still tense between the Portuguese-speaking Angolans and the English/German-speaking Namibians, even though they are from the same ethnic group. The horrific memories of vicious cross-river raids and shelling persist.
Posted by Tom Getman 2 years 6 weeks ago
In the bright light of these days’ events it is helpful to be reminded of unalterable truths that transcend party conventions and oppressive governments. The political gatherings and increasing pain of the Middle East conflicts confuse the consciousness. They divert attention and trouble our slumber. Corporate callousness and individual hopelessness has set in and we have turned our faces to that which inures us from the persistent discomforting news.  Pick your own, even if momentary distraction. For me it has been Washington National’s baseball in the drive for a championship and maybe a World Series appearance.  My spirit rises or falls on the team’s performances and batting averages of the Nats mini gods.The biblical Job sought less superficial solace from his and the world’s sufferings. He responded to one of his “comforters” saying “when the land falls into the hand of the wicked He (God) blindfolds its judges” (9:24).
Posted by Tom Getman 2 years 11 weeks ago
I have so often pondered what might have happened if the media had covered more honestly the stifling of protest that Nakba Day in 1999 and as a result the local officials and the world community had heard the cry?  Could the disaster have passed and peace with justice been advanced.Today the media is much more candid. One wonders if we have received a rare gift of unaltered reality in this period of deepening crisis in the Holy Land and overheated atmosphere in the American presidential campaign. For this week it is being reported clearly that we have a presidential candidate, and probably millions of likeminded uninformed voters, who are apparently oblivious or uncaring about the explosive oppression of Palestinians.  
Posted by Tom Getman 2 years 19 weeks ago
Last week was Memorial Day, but if you are like me your memories of the day are fraught with colorful childhood parades but also with horrors filled with sadness. It makes one wish for the power to short-circuit war.The earliest recollection for me of a grieving “Gold Star” family is the gathering around the death of my oldest cousin Bob in World War II. Memorial Day dinner with my 93-year-old mother clarified some of the difference between family lore and a 4-year old’s memory. As though it was yesterday I see Bob’s parents and brother gathering with extended family, before the funeral, on the lawn of my grandparents’ home in Rock Rapids, Iowa.  I have no recollection of a memorial service or war cemetery graveside ceremony… but I do recall the tears and unspeakable grief of elders consoling one another about something awful. Bob had miraculously survived the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. As the war was nearing its end in the spring of 1945 he was catching some “R and R,” asleep upstairs in a two-story house near the Belgian front. One of his friends was cleaning a M16 on the floor below.  The gun went off killing Bob instantly as he slept.  He became one of the many (20-30 percent it is estimated) war casualties killed by “friendly fire,” or “accidents.”  
Posted by Tom Getman 2 years 21 weeks ago
Engaging in international travel to participate in political justice — especially anti-apartheid issues in the Mid East and Africa — is a bit like playing big league baseball.  The “player” must submit to an excellent coach, pick a good team, learn the essential rules about foreswearing violence, not getting caught stealing by the opposition, and arrive home safely with limited physical or psychic injury. One of the “hall of fame” coaches still is Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu who wisely said, “if we had taken up arms when things appeared hopeless in our struggle against apartheid in South Africa we would all be dead and apartheid would still exist.”   The Archbishop was in town last week for a CBS webcast interview along with American Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori on the “Mission of the Church.” He reinforced that “mission is about receiving the love of God in Jesus and then going to the world to make love incarnate” rather than trying to resolve the world’s terrible conflicts with military interventions.   
Posted by Tom Getman 2 years 25 weeks ago
As an annual visitor to South Africa I am often asked, “will the budding democracy survive or will it go the way of other African dictatorship kleptocracies?” For starters of course it can be said that all democracies, even America’s in an election year, are works in progress.But beyond the obvious it is accurate to assert that the model post-apartheid constitution and bill of rights in the early 1990s established a sound foundation. The media and courts remain vibrant and even courageous, African National Congress party discipline is improving, the government is being held accountable for corruption and lack of basic service delivery, and a growing vocal parliamentary opposition is emerging. The grass roots civil society—planted and thriving from the liberation struggle—is active in movements such as Kairos Southern Africa.
Posted by Tom Getman 2 years 32 weeks ago
In 1985 the South African writers of the Kairos Document declared the Dutch Reformed Church’s “state church” theology to be heretical because of its justification of apartheid. In the months following, Desmond Tutu and many other anti-apartheid leaders risked their lives for change. On the 2012 Centenary Celebrations of the African National Congress, 21 years after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the Kairos Southern Africa theologians have released, “A Word to the ANC in These Times.” The document boldly calls attention to the “certain contradictions [that] continue to militate against … fully achieving the dream that the injustice … meted out to black South Africans by the colonizers would come to an end.” The document raised other critical issues, such as diminishing diversity, party factionalism and inappropriate security measures. The authors clearly declared, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Matthew12:25) The Kairos steering committee met with the ANC executive in a closed meeting February 8. The discussion focused on poor standards of education, unsustainability of an “opulent ‘American dream’ lifestyle, respecting the Constitution of the Republic, and closing the gap between the richest and poorest.
Posted by Tom Getman 2 years 43 weeks ago
A hegemonic power that separates and excludes is not of Jesus. I came away from the deep darkness settling on the land of the Holy One to declare along with my fellow Kairos delegates that, to paraphrase Bishop Marianne, “the fate of the free world depends on a civil society committed to Christ and a persistent, all-encompassing faithful non-violent tenacity pursuing creative and compassionate resistance.“We must respond to those faithful ones behind both sides of the walls who are saying to us, “Come and See and Be with the people.” We must feel what Jesus felt as he witnessed tyranny and empire – the principalities and powers that oppress and dispossess and kill the poor for whom He had a heart. Please listen to the cries of the oppressed and act today in doing at least one small thing to bring a just peace…make a personal and if possible corporate choice in this critical moment of God’s Kairos.  If all who hear the “Bethlehem Call” respond then momentum will build for the liberation of all God’s children in the Holy Land.