The Common Good

Letter from Croatia

Sojomail - June 9, 2004

Quote of the Week Nouwen on patience
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: Letter from Croatia
On the Ground Colombia Journal: 'I too was tortured'
P.O.V. Ed Spivey Jr.: The United States of Ronald Reagan
Warning: Satire Bush will miss Tenet's faulty intelligence
Media Watch From Iraq to Venezuela
Good News Amishsploitation show shelved
Soul Works A prayer for Iraq and for ourselves
Culture Watch Women and war
Boomerang Readers write

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Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Be patient and trust that the treasure you are looking for is hidden in the ground on which you stand.

- Henri J.M. Nouwen

Source: Daily Dig

Letter from Croatia
by David Batstone

In late May I took part in an historic workshop in the former Yugoslavia. The presidents of four young republics - Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina - gathered together on the island of Brijuni, a retreat site often used by the former Yugoslav leader Tito. The Croatian-based Foundation 2020 invited me to take part as an outside advisor.

The theme of the workshop was both simple and profound given the recent history of the region: What are the terms of trust? The topic led to additional questions at the workshop: How do nation-states grow to trust each other? How do citizens learn to trust state institutions? How do customers learn to trust business enterprises?

I was asked to offer a concise definition of trust, and this is what I shared: Trust sets an environment of reliable conditions that enable an agent to make a judgment of how much to risk.

Maybe it would help if I put that in personal terms. I'm sure you know people that you like as friends, but you don't really trust them. They are not sufficiently reliable, and you choose not to become vulnerable with them in a way that might hurt you. On the flip side of the coin, there are people whom you'd rather not hang out with socially, but you do trust them. Usually we turn to our experience when making these judgments, but many of us also lean on our intuition.

Trust is more complex when it comes to collective bodies, like a government body or a business firm. We still bank on our experience, but we also look for protocols that will guarantee fairness and accountability. Institutions will fail; that is a historic fact. But it matters to us how they deal with their failures and rectify events of injustice.

It brings to mind an investigation I did of the ServiceMaster Corporation when I was writing my most recent book. ServiceMaster discovered that when it acted promptly, and authentically, to solve a customer error, the customer's reported trust in the company grew. In fact, the reported levels of trust grew higher in those circumstances than it did for customers who never reported a failure of service.

Back to the former Yugoslavia, it was not easy to talk about trust in a judicial system when so many villains were never brought to justice. In Bosnia-Herzegovina alone, the president of that republic reminded us, more than 200,000 innocent civilians lost their lives. Can we go forward and build trust when we have not rectified the past? Yet, can we ever escape the cycles of revenge that keep the present a prisoner of the past? I left the workshop with those questions swimming in my mind.

As citizens, consumers, workers, and investors, we yearn for conditions of reliablity. Insecurity, on the other hand, kills relationships. In the region of the former Yugoslavia, those words move beyond hyperbole.

Read more commentary by David Batstone

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. - Matthew 5:9

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Colombia Journal: 'I too was tortured'
by Hector Mondragon

It was hard to see the photos of the torture in Iraq because I too was tortured. I saw myself naked with my feet fastened together and my hands tied behind my back. I saw my own head covered with a cloth bag. I remembered my feelings - the humiliation, pain....

Twenty-three years later at Colby College a sociology professor whose office was adjacent to mine and who is a member of School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) gave me a list of the Colombian army officials who graduated from the School of the Americas. What a surprise - there was the name of the official who had ordered my torture. SOAW has also distributed the "textbooks" from this school, in which torture techniques are taught to Latin American military officials. I have always refused to hate the people who tortured me. I know that they, too, have been wounded by the system of power that converted them into torturers. Learning of the SOA confirmed that for me.

Torturers are not "a few bad apples" who just need to be thrown away or have the rotten piece cut off. They are human beings who have been converted into instruments of the system of economic exploitation and oppression. None of them came to be this way on their own. Condemning a few of them to jail might be "fair," but it is not going to stop the nightmare. For example, it's known that there are similarities between the treatment of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib and Israeli methods used against Palestinian detainees. There is a master. And there are methods. These are not isolated events.

Read the full article

Read Sojourners' profile of Hector Mondragon

Take action to close the School of the Americas


From Violence to Wholeness: Retreats in the Spirituality of Creative Nonviolence

The Texas Conference of Churches is offering an interactive curriculum that helps us explore how the spirituality and practice of active nonviolence enriches our lives and the lives of our churches, communities, and nations. Participants will explore five themes: violence, creative nonviolence, successful social movements, community building, and action planning.

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P.O.V. ^top
The United States of Ronald Reagan
by Ed Spivey Jr.

During this time of mourning and remembrance, it might be helpful to recall the parts of Ronald Reagan's legacy that you won't hear much about during the next few days. While many in this country are tearfully advocating sainthood for the late president, this essay - written in 2001 - gives a different perspective, one equally worthy of remembrance and consideration:

Ronald Reagan did make us feel good about ourselves and our nation. That's because Americans have always wanted to be in a movie with a happy ending. Reagan's daily fictionalized account of reality kept us in a state of euphoria we had needed ever since Vietnam took away our innocence and self-respect (and Jimmy Carter made us feel guilty about our thermostat settings).

And now the Reagan name is going to be in every county...on libraries, road signs, subway stops, and probably a lake or two. If only these tributes acknowledged the realities and not the myths of his legacy then, for example, a Florida county could have the Reagan Museum of Contra Training. New Jersey could have several Ronald Reagan Toxic Waste Dumps. Texas could have the Reagan Center for Make Believe, where components of the missile defense system he conceived would be on display.

Read the full article


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SATIRE: Bush will miss Tenet's faulty intelligence

President Bush responded to CIA Director George Tenet's surprise resignation, telling reporters at the White House, "His faulty intelligence will be missed." Mr. Tenet, whose tenure as the head of the spy agency was often shrouded in controversy, nevertheless received high marks from the president: "When it comes to collecting unsubstantiated shreds of fake information, there will never be anyone in the same league as Mr. George Tenet."

Mr. Bush waxed nostalgic about Mr. Tenet's assertion that the evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk," calling that moment "a milestone in the history of phony intelligence-gathering."

"The next time we have to convince the American people that we need to go to war, who's going to be there to dig up the flimsy, completely bogus case that has to be made?" one agency official said. "That's when you're really going to miss George Tenet."

Read the full article


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From Iraq to Venezuela

The New York Times recently admitted it was guilty of "flawed journalism" in uncritically accepting the government's claims in the lead-up to the Iraq war. The media should also take a good hard look at the Bush administration's line - and at itself - in the case of Venezuela. In covering that country, major U.S. media routinely repeat opposition exaggerations and make major factual errors.

Read about it in economist Mark Weisbrot's column

Read Sojourners' Rose Berger's firsthand account of her visit to Venuezuela

Employment Opportunity - Sojourners

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Amishsploitation show shelved

The Amish in the City "reality" show once planned by UPN is conspicuously absent from the network's fall lineup due to pressure from the Anabaptist community and its advocates, according to The Mennonite Weekly Review. The network apparently underestimated the lobbying power of the "quiet in the land," which included activism by Amish church leaders and congregations, the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom, the Center for Rural Strategies, a Kentucky-based grassroots organization that led efforts to can the show, and a letter signed by 51 members of Congress circulated by Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, whose district includes large Amish communities.

The proposed reality show would have placed Amish youth with worldy counterparts in an urban setting. In an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mennonite sociologist Donald S. Kraybill denounced the network for planning to place "Amish teens in a Hollywood zoo so the rest of the world can gawk and snicker at their 'primitive' behavior."

Though the show won't appear this fall, some advocates have stopped short of declaring total victory, concerned that UPN has deflected questions about whether the show has been completely cancelled or if it may appear later as a summer replacement series.

Read the full article

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A prayer for Iraq and for ourselves
by John Hostetter

God of all peoples and nations, some things are too big for me and that is when I am most inclined to pray. Hear my prayer today. I'm disturbed with our administration. I'm troubled that we are involved in a war that has disrupted, if not destroyed, thousands of lives. The pride and arrogance of our leaders has led to death and devastation in Iraq and places our own nation's future in peril.

What am I to do, O Lord? Speak about this publicly? Write about this to our leaders? Today I will pray. Lead my steps tomorrow. I pray that leaders, men and women of courage and conviction, will step forward and speak words of truth. I pray that stubborn heads of government will learn to listen and see in new ways. I pray for an end to the ignorance, violence, hatred, and depravity. I pray for our soldiers who have already been brutalized and for those who have themselves been instruments of brutality. I pray for the peacemakers. Grant them strength as they live out their convictions. I pray for the healing and restoration of a troubled Iraq.

God, I am in some sense hopeless. Too long have children, the poor, the aged, and the powerless suffered at the hands of those who believe they are entitled to have more of all the world offers. And too few are the men and women who speak about peace and stand with integrity in places of leadership. Lord, I don't see how it can ever happen, but I pray for peace. Short of your intervening in the hearts and minds of people, there can be no change. That is why I'm praying today. May your will be done in this nation and in your world. Let there be peace, and not just for my land, but for all. And not just so my children may be spared the conflicts and darkness of war, but that all the world's children may discover the beauty of a life lived in loving-kindness, justice, and mercy. Amen.


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Readers write

Jean S. Wright writes from Coshocton, Ohio:

Nine months a year, I teach for Head Start. The other three months, I ask "Would you like fries with that?" Thanks, Jim Wallis, for speaking up for the moms and dads who work the burger jobs, the front counter sales jobs, and the hotel clerk or cleaner jobs ["Giving 'Burger King Moms' a voice," SojoMail 6/4/2004]! When I teach, I teach their children, and I can assure anyone who wants to know that they are out there, in droves, and they are working as hard as they can to make it. I hope your piece helps find them a place at the electoral table.

One of my fond mom memories is of our younger son sitting under the clothes conveyor at the dry cleaners where I worked, playing with little cars, because I couldn't afford to pay a sitter - we had great fun between customers. Thanks for bringing that memory out!


Misty Lizarraga writes from Austin, Texas:

Here's the reality that I live with. The cost of living has far surpassed the ability of average wages to keep up. I don't even work for minimum wage and I can barely shelter, feed, and clothe my kids. What I see year after year (I'm 42) is that both major parties ignore the working poor. If you want to see what a concerned candidate says about a living wage in America, check this out: "Time to Get Serious About a Living Wage" on Let's stop talking and let's organize!

Since Sojourners does concern itself with politics and with social justice issues and a living wage, I don't understand why Nader is not taken more seriously. He is a brilliant man who has dedicated his life to civil rights and the protection of the underdog.


Mark Aldridge writes from Santa Clara, California:

I couldn't agree with you more when you speak about the lack of effectiveness by both the Republicans and Democrats in truly dealing with the "p" word - poverty. You also stated that the minimum wage hasn't been raised for seven years and the "p" word only came up in the Democratic primaries briefly in the speeches of John Edwards and Howard Dean.

This is where I have to disagree. As usual Dennis Kucinich is being ignored. Dennis Kucinich, the only remaining Democratic candidate still campaigning next to John Kerry, has repeatedly spoken of these two issues. He continues to campaign not in the hopes of obtaining the nomination, but in having a voice in shaping the Democratic platform. I feel he is sincere in his show of compassion and words of creating real change.


Jeanne Scott writes from Shipman, Virginia:

Jim Wallis has captured a real-life snapshot of life as a single mom in America in a low-wage job.... Jim, the answer is NOT more government. That answer seems to just create an environment that breeds more Burger King moms. Our social problems will only begin to be resolved when each person so concerned looks around, finds a need, and decides to sacrifice something of their plenty - or even need - to fill the need in another.


Michael Isensee writes from San Luis Obispo, California:

I would encourage Sylve Davis [Boomerang 6/4/2004] to seek out the movie A Day Without a Mexican before passing judgment on the millions of people who seek a better life for their families by crossing armed borders to seek employment. I have broken bread and worked beside the people who come across these borders. They typically work 60-hour weeks doing the multitude of jobs many U.S. citizens have decided are beneath them: washing our cars, harvesting and preparing our food, cleaning our buildings and dishes, and even caring for our kids. At least in California, the current economy would collapse without the presence of so-called "illegal immigrants." I find common cause with them as my ancestors were illegal immigrants from Norway and Sweden and England, also coming here for economic opportunity without visas but hoping America would be their land of opportunity and freedom. The only difference was the Native Americans were not as adept at keeping their borders closed to foreigners.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: . We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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