The Common Good

Colombia Journal

Sojomail - August 14, 2002


                       S O J O M A I L

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++++++++++++++++++++++ 14-August-2002 +++++++++++++++++++++++++
+++++++++++++++++++++ Colombia Journal ++++++++++++++++++++++++

 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *U.S. federal judge: Most dramatic shift in my lifetime

 C o l o m b i a   J o u r n a l
     *No tolerance for nonviolence in Colombia?

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *The personal ethical assistant

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *Bottoms up: Income disparity by state

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Passing of a peacemaker: Ladon Sheets

 T e c h   E t h i x
     *Smile, you're on in-store camera

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *"The Rising" - Bruce Springsteen's new CD reviewed

 B o o m e r a n g
     *SojoMail readers speak their mind

 W e b s c e n e
     *Explore nonviolent options for international conflict
     *Yo-Yo Ma follows the Silk Road
     *Breakup songs

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Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k

"This is the most profound shift in our legal institutions
in my lifetime and - most remarkable of all - it has taken
place without engaging any broad public interest whatsoever."

        -- William G. Young, the U.S. federal judge presiding
           over the criminal case against Richard Reid, British
           citizen and alleged "shoe bomber," discussing the Bush
           administration's shift to secretive military tribunals
           for alleged terrorists. Judge Young was appointed by
           President Ronald Reagan.


C o l o m b i a   J o u r n a l
No tolerance for nonviolence in Colombia?

by Janna Bowman 

On the evening of Colombian Independence Day, more than 80 people organized by Justapaz and the Conscientious Objection Collective gathered near La Plaza de Bolivar, the seat of the national government in Bogotá. Sympathetic passersby, curious street people, and expressionless armed police peppered the crowd.

With glowing candles, we sang of peace and read litanies until a congressional event concluded and the senators and representatives began to leave. We cleared from the street to allow armored SUVs, filled with soldiers and members of congress, to pass. Some of us continued to sing while others stood in silence, positioning the banners to ensure their view was unobstructed.

However, the police and army were growing weary of our presence. More troops arrived, with heavier armament. About this time I read a greeting from Boston Mennonite Fellowship, the first of the solidarity messages sent to us for this event:

  On this Colombian Independence Day, we stand with you in
  spirit as you remind each other and all who will listen
  that peace comes through peacemaking, not warmaking. We
  long with you for the day when you, we, and all people
  everywhere live together in peace instead of war, with
  joyful anticipation instead of fear, with bellies satisfied
  instead of hungry or overstuffed, and nurturing instead of
  plundering the earth. May you be richly blessed for your
  creative and courageous efforts toward this peace.

This message was not well received by the state security forces. Not only were we organized and public with our peace stance, we had international support. As the tension mounted, we returned to our song sheet. Then, to my disbelief, I heard the unmistakable roar of a riot tank approaching. We were told they were ready to hose us down. For what - singing prayers of peace? I turned to my friend, who read my question on my face. "This," she said with tears flooding her eyes, "is war, Janna."

With the riot tank came additional reinforcements. One Mennonite pastor called on the riot police not to use their weapons against the peaceful group. Another urged them, and all armed groups, to lay down their guns and relinquish faith in violence, and allow the Prince of Peace to intervene in the Colombian conflict. The microphone was then passed to Peter Stucky, president of the Colombian Mennonite Church, and he began to speak. As he did so, another riot tank arrived, and then another. As this gentle pastor, deeply committed to nonviolence, prayed for food for the hungry, 10 or more police in riot gear marched up to him and created a blockade between him and most of the vigil participants.

Peter looked out at the scene unfolding in front of him and addressed the gathered assembly, including the riot police standing at his chest. Except for the occasional revving of the riot tank engine and subtle street noise, it was quiet as we listened...and waited. He called for justice where injustice reigns, freedom for the oppressed, regard for life over lust for money and power, return of land to landless peasants, safety for Colombia's poor - those most often robbed of life in this senseless violence, wisdom for legislators who have not done justice, loved mercy, or walked humbly. He exhorted the new administration and congress to govern in obedience to Jesus' teachings of reconciliation, nonviolence, and love.

A fourth and final riot tank rolled up the hill and stopped just short of the outermost ring of participants.

We sang another song, (what more could we do?) "Make me an instrument of your peace..." and then Peter invited us to close in prayer. Defying all instructions ever given at nonviolent direct action trainings in the U.S., Leticia, Peter's wife, reached out and placed her hand on the nearest riot policeman as he stood poised. He returned her gesture, whispering, "May God bless you."

We once more plead for an end to the bloodshed, an end to the fear, an end to this war that threatens the freedom and lives of all who stood and shed tears in longing for peace that night.


Janna Bowman is the coordinator for International Solidarity Relationships and Political Advocacy for Justapaz: Christian Center of Justice, Peace, and Nonviolent Action, a Mennonite Peace and Justice organization based in Bogotá. She has worked with Justapaz for one and a half years through a term of service with Mennonite Central Committee. The Conscientious Objection Collective is an organization born of the Mennonite Church that has grown into ecumenical and secular circles.

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F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
The personal ethical assistant

Technology may have made our lives more efficient, but the latest developments in corporate America have shown us that we may need an upgrade in the ethics area.

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B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
Bottoms up: Income disparity by state

States with the widest gaps in average income 1998-2000:

                         Avg. family income
                                                        Top to
                  Bottom fifth          Top fifth	bottom ratio

New York           $12,639             $161,858         12.8
Louisiana          $10,130             $117,374         11.6
Texas              $12,568             $138,001         11.0
California         $14,053             $154,304         11.0
Massachusetts      $15,740             $165,729         10.5
Tennessee          $13,078             $137,524         10.5
Kentucky           $12,602             $130,825         10.4

States with the narrowest gaps in average income 1998-2000:

                         Avg. family income
                                                        Top to                                                      
                  Bottom fifth          Top fifth	bottom ratio

Indiana            $17,868             $125,616          7.0
Utah               $18,758             $131,951          7.0
South Dakota       $16,845             $120,705          7.2
Minnesota          $20,245             $154,972          7.7
Wyoming            $14,867             $116,984          7.9
Iowa               $16,586             $131,668          7.9
Colorado           $19,522             $155,809          8.0

Source: Economic Policy Institute and Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities - analysis of data from U.S. Census
Bureau's Current Population Survey


S o u l   W o r k s
Passing of a peacemaker: Ladon Sheets

If our eyes could see, could we bear the Light?

                            -Ladon Sheats

Ladon Sheats, 68, mentor and friend to many in Christian activist circles (among other adventures, he was a longtime member of Georgia's Koinonia Community), died on August 7 at the Guadalupe Catholic Worker in Los Angeles. There, friends and volunteers provided almost four months of hospice care to Ladon after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April. Stories and photos of his care are available on


T e c h   E t h i x
Smile, you're on in-store camera

by Erik Baard

Thanks to advances in various types of recognition software, you're not even safe from prying eyes - and greedy retailers - when you wander around a department store. To read why, go to:,1848,54078,00.html/wn_ascii


C u l t u r e   W a t c h
Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising"

by Mark Taylor

There could hardly be a more interesting moment for a new music release from Bruce Springsteen. His long awaited 15- song album "The Rising" was released July 30 and will be followed by a 46-city barnstorming tour through the U.S. and Europe. Touring will continue into 2003, culminating in multiple-date concerts at select U.S. cities next summer.

Springsteen already served as a kind of priest to grieving citizens when he offered his short song "City of Ruins" as a prayer-like invocation to begin a two-hour televised tribute to the dead that appeared just days after the Sept. 11 attacks. The CD's title track, "The Rising," is narrated by a now-departed rescuer who sings from somewhere beyond death to invite all the living to "come on up for the rising." Another song, "Lonesome Day," has him singing with a soulful chorus "It's alright, it's alright."

Springsteen acknowledges that many of the new songs were born amid America's post-9/11 trauma. Long sheltered from war trauma on their own land, U.S. residents may need this troubadour of song to assuage their grief, fear, and rage. They may need, too, his cautionary wisdom. "Lonesome Day" seems to understand his people's temptation to a "little vengeance," but it also says "You better look before you shoot."

Springsteen has always walked a difficult line between celebrating U.S. nationalism and questioning its excesses. He went with - maybe was co-opted by - the nationalist fervor of the Reagan years, as evident in his unfurling of the U.S. flag from stage during the "Born in the USA" tour, and in the many flag-waving fans at those 1980s shows. Yet, as soon as he saw the hasty patriotism attaching to this tour, he stripped down the centerpiece song "Born in the USA" to a stark acoustic format, making more obvious his critique of a U.S. that can send its citizens off to kill abroad and then abandon them when they return.

It may be truer to say that Springsteen's songs push the whole notion of "America" into a more comprehensive frame of human aspiration and global interdependence, invoking a popular spirit in community that transcends anything containable in a national power like the U.S. In a sense, this more global popular spirit rises from Springsteen's rootedness in a tradition that is broader and more tangled than that signaled by Whitman, Emerson, and Steinbeck. It comes from his belonging to a musical tradition that includes many of America's most excluded groups - groups who brought to prominence jazz, blues, funk, and early rock and roll. All these elements were especially present in the Springsteen band's early years.

When Springsteen barnstorms the country, will only the U.S. flag be waving? It may be more necessary, now, to ride his songs into dealing with U.S. grief, rage, and fear. After Sept. 11, citizen pain was quickly transposed into nationalist fervor and "war on terrorism." Did we miss a chance to enter collectively into the more intricate textures of our grief, rage, and fear? Maybe "The Rising" will be one resource for regaining that chance. In so doing, we might also glimpse the more global popular spirit that Springsteen's art seems to envision. People lifted to that kind of vision in post-9/11 U.S. would be a "rising" worth waiting for, indeed.


Mark Taylor is professor of theology and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.

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B o o m e r a n g

David Murray writes from Cedarville, Michigan:

I just read David Batstone's "Work at the Tipping Point," [SojoMail 7/24/02]. An image that came to my mind, much less political than Mr. Batstone's and certainly less soulful, was that of an electrical switch, where power meets resistance. The resistance enables the power to be used effectively and usefully. Or resistance empowers.

Often, the little ordinary things around us tell us more about our spirituality and theologies and philosophies if we stop to consider what is there at our fingertips. Jesus was/is simple and direct. In reflecting on the recent bishop's effort to stop sexual abuse by priests and in turn punish those caught, at some point that power will meet resistance and the resistance will channel the power into something useful and purposeful. Jesus confronted the Power when he faced the woman caught in adultery. Ironically, using the bishop's standards, the woman could have been forgiven and stoned. But Jesus resisted that surge of power and switched the current to a purposive source of energy. What is power for if not to liberate, to enliven?


Delbert Eyster writes from Clear Spring, Maryland:

Thanks for Jim Wallis' column, "Robbery by the fountain pen" [SojoMail 07/17/02]. In the health industry, huge rewards have driven up the costs of health insurance and the doctors' malpractice insurance. Many are leaving their profession since they cannot meet the high premium costs. So where will it end? Where is the justice to all of this? (Since I have been on disability, due to a succession of heart attacks, the cost of keeping me alive is much more than what I have earned in my lifetime. Our techology is great, but at what cost?)


Catherine Johnson writes from Houston, Texas:

Re. Rabbi Mark W. Kiel's Boomerang letter [8/7/02]...

What is this world coming to when a rabbi pooh-poohs the "moral high ground?" Besides, it's not as if Israel's tit-for-tat revenge and retaliation policy has been a rousing success at stopping terrorist attacks! Ariel Sharon came to power on the promise of safety and security for Israelis, yet, so far, his methods have resulted only in more death and destruction.

The "terror [Israel] endures constantly" (according to Kiel) has been anything but constant. As long as Israel appeared willing to negotiate a peace agreement leading to a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, the Palestinians rarely resorted to violence. It is only since Ehud Barak (yes, Barak not Arafat) scuttled the Taba negotiations [see "The Myth of the Generous Offer"] that the Palestinians' hopes have been dashed and, for some, violence has become a last resort for resisting occupation and oppression.


Frank Scrivner writes from Miami, Florida:

Rabbi Kiel would like us to believe that Israel's dropping of a 2000-pound bomb on a crowded Gaza City neighborhood at midnight might have been a "blunder, which some of the press also reported."

As a frequent reader of the Israeli press, I got the distinct impression that any such "blunder" claims were floated only after the Israeli government realized that world opinion was overwhelmingly against the attack. Until then, despite the all-too-predictable civilian carnage of this reckless bombing, the assassination had been labeled "one of our great successes" by Prime Minister Sharon.

Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed, maimed, or terrorized in the Middle East (and Afghanistan) at the hands of the Israeli (and American) military. Either they are totally incompetent, hopelessly reckless, or else they just plain don't give a damn about civilian casualties.


Maria Garcia writes from Denver, Colorado:

I was appalled by Rabbi Kiel's dismissal of Rabbi Waskow as "a pacifist who believes terrorists should be fought with arrest warrants and kindness." Kiel's implication that terrorists should be treated differently than other criminals is highly problematic. That every person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law is a time- honored judicial principle and a hallmark of what we call civilization.

Is Kiel really implying that the Israeli government (or, even worse, its military) should be allowed to assassinate suspected terrorists at will, i.e., to act as judge, jury, and executioner? Or that the United States should be allowed to "bring down Hussein" just because we've dubbed him a "murdering dictator"? Where is the black line, and, perhaps more importantly, who gets to draw it?

Instead of acting like Wild West posses exacting vigilante justice, Israel and the United States should operate within the United Nations and International Criminal Court. Once these superpowers learn to "play well with others," they might even discover that the force of law really is superior to the law of force at bringing about a peaceful world with security for all people.


Ron Kraybill, professor of the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, writes:

Rabbi Kiel's critique of Rabbi Waskow demonstrates a common response to 9/11 and merits careful attention.

Kiel writes: "When the towers went down, Waskow's immediate response was: let's not strike back, let's love our enemies, let's look for the root causes of their anger and hatred for us. In other words, we are to blame. Does that mean that we deserve what we got? Of course it doesn't, but it's pretty close to saying that, just as his Sojo comments now are pretty close to saying that Israel deserves the terror it endures constantly."

I suggest that to insist that we look for root causes is not a statement about blame; it reflects rather a commitment to doing what is within our own reach to address a grave problem created by a complex set of interacting causes.

As a parent, I seek to teach my children to go beyond preoccupation with allocating blame in their spats, for the argument is endless when it dwells at the level of "his fault/ her fault." Instead of blaming others, I ask each child to simply do what lies within their own control to alter a destructive interaction. Similarly, I believe we advance as a human community when we shift from a culture of blame to a culture of responsibility for our own response in addressing social and political problems.

The current U.S response to 9/11 reflects a dismayingly simplistic focus on blame (and of course, punishment, which almost always follows in a culture of blame) as the sole response to a problem many years in the making. Many other obvious responses well within our reach remain untouched. In the end, we pay a huge price, for this dangerous problem will grow with time. Blame and retaliation not only contribute to an upward spiral of violence. Even worse on the long-term, they divert attention from the much broader set of responses required to address complex problems. From a distance, the Israeli/Palestinian situation seems to be a tragic case study of this dynamic.


Tony Helm writes from Tootgarook, Victoria, Australia:

Re. Rabbi Waskow's column in SojoMail [30/07/02]....

The Rabbi does three things:
1. Makes statements prefaced by "We know that..." with no source quoted - five times.
2. Makes statements prefaced by "We have learned...from... [some reputable source] - twice.
3. Asks questions - 10 times.

In all of these devices of pure rhetoric, he makes it clear that he is against the Jews in Israel. Pity. If he had been a shade more two-sided we might have believed some of what he had to say. But in most cases he quotes nobody else but himself. So to use his form of rhetoric:

Was the reason Rabbi Waskow wrote this article because he really knows so little about what's actually going on in Israel?


Peter VanderKam writes from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada:

We read in the Chronicle Journal of Aug. 6, 2002, that Iraq has, for the second time, invited the United Nations to send inspectors to check their weapons systems. The United Nations are apparently ready to take President Hussein at his word (if certain conditions are met), the U.S. is not. In order to settle this dispute one way or the other, it seems sensible to go along with the United Nations and call Hussein's bluff. If the inspections take place, everybody wins. If the inspections fall through, the world has the evidence it is waiting for. The main thing is that any drastic/punitive actions taken are engaged in under the auspices of the United Nations.

In the meantime, I have a question: Where does our prime minister stand? Having thought about this, I can't come up with any clear-cut statement on this issue from my Canadian government. If the U.S. decides to go it alone, will that mean that Canada is automatically involved? Is there any way Canada can say "thanks but no thanks"? I am aware that this is probably a silly question, but I feel it needs to be put to and debated in public.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:




The second gathering of Word and World: A People's School
will be held in Tucson, Arizona, Nov. 9-16, 2002. The
main theme of this school is social justice movements
throughout the Southwest from the time of the Spanish
conquest to the present, as well as the spiritual significance
of the Sonora Desert. Word and World is a popular institute
designed to address the need for theological pedagogy
between the seminary, the sanctuary, and the street.

Contact: Deborah Lee; (520) 670-9048;


W e b s c e n e
This week's best of the Web

*Explore nonviolent options for international conflict

The Fourth Freedom Forum's mission is to encourage discussion, development, and dissemination of ideas that will free humanity from the fear of war. The emphasis is on barring armed aggression and eliminating nuclear and other weapons of mass murder through enforceable international law. Learn more at:


*Yo-Yo Ma follows the Silk Road

Through his many years of traveling, Yo-Yo Ma became interested in the flow of ideas among different cultures along the Silk Road. Learn about how his fascination blossomed into the Silk Road Project, which is weaving its own cultural web. Go to:


*Breakup songs

Breaking up may be hard to do, but it certainly isn't short of soundtracks. is a lonely heart's resource of more than 250 of the greatest breakup songs of all time, complete with accompanying lyrics.


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