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Jun 27

Preaching Notes

Posted on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 in Richard

So I'm preaching this week, which means I'm doing the usual hunting and pecking around the internet...  I have a very atypical request for a short sermon (no hour long biblical excursion!) but I have found an abundance of poignant materials for this upcoming week.  This weeks' Gospel texts speak very much to the suffering we all face, and God's grace in it.  In the Old Testament, underneath a touching lament of the loss of friendship is a bald display of the costs of war.  I'll be preaching the NT, but I believe the OT speaks to our country very much in this next week. In Dan Clendenin's  I'm Already Against the Next War, he reflects on the inevitable cost of war - whether in the Samuel narrative against the Philistines or in today's wars around the globe.  Far more than discussing if war is ever right,he presses for our realization that war always brings a price we can scarcely imagine. Origen of Alexandria (185–254 AD), perhaps Christianity's greatest early scholar,[offers a  repudiation the violence of war, military service, and even the state itself.]
And as we — by our prayers — vanquish all the demons that stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this service are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers, we practice self-denying disciplines and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be lead astray by them. And none fight better for the king [and his role of preserving justice] than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he demands it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army of piety by offering our prayers to God.
There's some good homework for us this Independence Day. the lectionary texts are here
Apr 26


Posted on Thursday, April 26, 2012 in Richard

So you might have seen that something went on in Colombia recently, although it was not likely to have been very focused on the actual goings-on of the major hemispheric meeting that took place in one of the most charming spots in the country. Perhaps it is not surprising that an international diplomatic summit can be overtaken by an all-too familiar sex scandal - but what does that show us about ourselves?  There has been a lot of ink spilled over this scandal, but Juliana Jiménez at Slate's XX Factor hit it best.  Read the whole thing, but here are some tidbits to get you interested...

That this happened, I believe, is a result of, and will add to, the image of overly sexualized Latin American women. The reputation Colombia has for “its women” is notorious and stereotypically sexist. Lonely Planet, for example, says of the city of Cali, Colombia: “While the city itself isn’t breathtaking, Cali famously claims to produce the most beautiful women in Colombia.” Produce. Like sugar cane or mangoes...

Distraction or not, a beautiful moment of transnational bonding took place in this scandal: both sides of the Caribbean did their part to reduce women to their sexuality and perpetuate the stereotype of the over-sexualized Colombian woman. Observers may not have been able to come to terms on Cuba or the war on drugs, but many were able to agree that the sanctity and preservation of the age-old transaction of women’s bodies and dignity deserves the utmost attention. I guess we do share some common values after all.

Mamie will have some more reflections from the Cumbre de los Pueblos up soon, once the mountain of translations have been scaled...
Apr 2

Praying and Acting – Care to Join?

Posted on Monday, April 2, 2012 in Richard, Uncategorized

Days of Prayer and Action

April 13-16 :: A Place to Call Home

Be a voice for peace and justice in Colombia by joining thousands of people of faith for the 7th Annual National Days of Action for Colombia. With more than five million people forced off their land, Colombia is home to the world's greatest displacement crisis. More and more people are driven from their homes every day. Help us flood Congress with our message of peace and justice for Colombia. During the National Days of Action for Colombia we will call on our government to pursue policies that protect small-scale farmers, Colombian human rights advocates, and communities at risk for displacement. For sustainable peace in Colombia, the U.S. must stop funding the Colombian military and pushing the unfair trade and failed drug policies. Here is the organizer packet with all the information to help plan some events.  We'll be praying and acting here in Colombia.  Why don't you join us?


Here is a video of the ecumenical event held here in Barranquilla two years ago to get you excited...  
Mar 13


Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 in Richard

How do you speak out when you are fearful for your life?  What does democracy look like when people cannot show their faces?  How do we seek justice when it can cost so much? Last week I was at a protest with people clamoring for justice in a place where there is very little of it.  The protest was in Montería, a small city on the North Coast that has been one of the epicenters of Colombia's paramilitary rule.   It is known the country over as one of the most dangerous areas - a region not mentioned when Colombia's recent 'makeover' is discussed.  Montería, Cordoba is still in the grips of paramilitaries, large landowners, and narco-traffickers.  So what happens when people show up for a good old-fashioned protest? The protest was about land, as is often the case in Colombia.  Millions of acres of land have been stolen, mostly from small campesinos. Efforts to reclaim that land are very slow, often unfruitful, and always carry great risk.  The government of Colombia has recently passed a law known as the Law of Victims and Land Restitution, which aims to provide some form of restitution to those who have been displaced.  But as in all cases of good intentions, the devil is in the details, and the track record of this type of restitution is mighty slim here in Colombia. This law and its implementation is a complex process, one that our partners here in the IPC will be following closely in the months to come.  But this post is not about the complexities of a law, or its relative pros and cons.  It is about people gathering in the street, fearful for their lives, but exuding courage.  It is about putting on a brave face, when for some that meant needing to put a mask on over it (see photo on left). (Videos of protests, funerals, and even meetings with government officials have ended up in the hands of paramilitaries and formed the basis for the many death lists that circulate.) Protesting the stealing of land and the collusion of the government in that process is a dangerous task.  Doing it in Montería seemed nigh on crazy - but for the symbolic victory this represented for many.  If there are people who are willing to plant a flag for justice and truth there, in Montería, then maybe more will follow in other parts of the country.  In the areas where the violence has not hit as hard, or seems more distant, maybe others will speak out.  If people are willing to protest in Montería, then surely people the world over will listen to their cries. I asked one woman who was marching, carrying a photo of her son who had been killed in Colombia's violence, why she had come.  She said that she had been silent before her son's death, wishing the violence away.  But after his death, she vowed to take every opportunity to speak out for justice where there is none and truth where there are lies.  And so she came, with nerves and fears and hopes and memories, to say no more to the killing and stealing; no more silence in the face of injustice. In the city of Montería, there is a statue that pays homage to the paramilitary and military of the Colombian state.  It shows them arm in arm, backed by an angel ascending, carrying up an open Bible.  In the background is a wall with military weapons mounted throughout.  The statue stands as a public tribute to the paramilitary - those who are responsible for the majority of grave human rights violations in this conflicted country.  Because that statue stands, in plain sight of all, there is a need to protest.  And until it comes down, and all that it signifies is dismantled, I pray there will be people brave enough to make that protest and others willing enough to hear it. Here is news article from Semana (Spanish) and a more parred down report from Colombia Reports (English).  How flat things can seem in a reporters notebook...  
Feb 13

Life in the Doughnut

Posted on Monday, February 13, 2012 in Richard

On David Duncan's excellent blog on development theory From Poverty to Power, Kate Raeworth shares this reflection on living in the doughnut hole.  In the genre of Alice in Wonderland's rabbit-hole dreamscapes, Raeworth's doughnut hole is an amazing confluence of planetary limits and social boundaries.  That is to say, she asks the question of how do we live when we are caught between the constraints of a planet with fixed, limited resources and the constraints of living humanely with one another? Basically just about everything I find terrifying in this world - transposed on top of each other.

Raeworth discusses "Doughnut Economics" - finding the economic space in between planetary and social boundaries.  As an engineer, and as a person of faith, I find each of these limits compelling.  And urgent.  And addressable.

I'm interested in how others find this idea of 'doughnut economics.' Do you find one set of constraints or the other more compelling?  More urgent? More or less manageable?  Do you find people or organizations working on both sides of the equation  - or placing themselves intentionally in the doughnut hole, as it were? I do think that these questions are fundamentally connected by our levels of resource use and control.  You cannot disconnect the levels of consumption of folks in the United States from both the tangible effects of poverty, hunger, and deprivation experienced by the world's poor nor from the underlying limits of a finite planet.  And so we come back, as we often do, to fundamental questions of fairness, equality, and sharing.  These questions will change many of our lives, and they are the same lessons I am working on sharing with our daughter, just as every parent I know does.  Why can't we actually learn these lessons?   Here is the idea visually: And where we stand on the donuthole indicators:  
Jan 31

What is going on in Colombia?

Posted on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 in Richard

We are often asked - so things are better in Colombia, right?  It is always a hard question to answer - see Which Story? from Tuesday - but in the past two months, it has been even more complicated.  After entering office with high hopes, and with some very positive steps toward seeking some form of justice for the millions of Colombians who have suffered in this country's violent conflict, recent steps by the Santos administration have called much of that progress into sharp question. Adam Isacson has an excellent analysis here.  It is a comprehensive look at events from the past year.  It begins with an analysis of a major change the Colombian government is considering in its military justice system - a change that is widely considered to significantly weaken Colombia's fledgling attempts to hold some form of civilian control and accountability over the armed forces. On top of that, the Colombian government has taken several public positions against human rights workers and the persons they represent.  The first was a case being investigated about a famous massacre in the small town of Mapiripán, and following that was a case against a group of displaced persons in Las Pavas.  Both cases are complicated, as these cases always are, but in both cases the government has gone out of its way to condemn and question the whole of the human rights community and of displaced persons working for restitution.  Together they paint a very troubling picture. Isacson concludes that "the human rights counteroffensive appears to be an ill-advised attempt to appease radicalized sectors of the military."  He also notes that the timing of these efforts is notable - coming just off the heels of the US Congress' approval of the Colombia - US Free Trade Agreement.  In other words, the world's attention is now off of Colombia, so efforts here on human rights protection, even if it only seemed a window dressing, can now be put by the wayside. These questions of the government's support of human rights is of critical concern in Colombia in these days, especially considering the importance of a recent law to restore land to the millions of displaced persons here.  A major obstacle to this process is the violence leaders of persons returning to their land have faced, and will continue to face, without the government strongly guaranteeing their safety. What is our response as people of faith?  Our partners in the IPC have been watching and discussing these events with great concern. The issue of land restoration and the safety of those involved  are the top priorities for the IPC in the coming year. In the face of these growing storm clouds, our partners in the IPC offer two responses.   The first is not to lose heart.  While the hope that their government may have turned a corner and could be actively working to protect and defend the majority of the Colombian people may be badly battered and flickering, it is not extinguished.  Because our hope is not in any government's action or inaction, but in the movement of the Spirit which is always seeking ways to instigate peace and foster new life and nurture wholeness. The second response is to get busy.  Through years of working on the issues of justice and full life for all people, the IPC knows that it takes all of us - both here in Colombia and the thousands of partners and accompaniers and readers in the United States to affect the change needed here.  We can let our representatives know that the eyes of the world do still indeed care about the state of human rights in Colombia.  We can still write to the State Department to stop its human rights certifications that will be hollowed out by this change in Colombia's justice system.  We can continue in our solidarity and accompaniment of the people of the IPC and all displaced Colombians, showing that they are not alone, that their sisters and brothers in faith are alongside them as a tangible sign of the living God's presence with them. So we pray.  And hope.  And act.


Other related news reports are here:  The first is an example of the government's good steps at addressing land reform in cooperation with civil society groups.  The second is a report of how those very government officials manage to subvert any positive steps and corrupt the system further.   The Fellowship of Reconciliation, a partner also working in Colombia, has a further analysis of the case of one of the groups of displaced peoples the government is calling into question.
Jan 26

Thinking Big

Posted on Thursday, January 26, 2012 in Richard

Some interesting links from around the web on some of the '30,000 feet subject's' that are often neglected when we think about our work in this world...
  • One of my favorite development bloggers takes a look at where religion and development work intersect.  It shows how far our sides have drifted apart - he seems to be writing about making the first tentative steps toward an alien race - but historically and on the ground, Development NGO's, people's organizations, and religious bodies have long been steadfast partners.
[caption id="attachment_2456" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Photo: Charles Ayoub"][/caption]
  • What?  The world's largest escalator in one of our favorite cities?  Medellin rocks!  (like the MetroCables, this escalator serves some of the cities most isolated and impoverished neighborhoods.  Medellin has a world-class system of public voting on development projects, and this escalator is a prime example of how people want to improve their neighborhoods.)
  • [caption id="attachment_2457" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="from"][/caption] What is the population problem? by Claire Melamed.  This is from the slew of articles came out when the world's 7th billion person was both last year.  A good look at the deeper questions of justice and equity that are raised when one considers the current state of how we use our world's resources instead of only thinking of population numbers.
  • A great look at the impacts, both positive and negative, of short-term mission trips,  from our friend and Co-Worker in Guatemala Amanda Craft.
Dec 24

Yet More Advent Reflections

Posted on Saturday, December 24, 2011 in Mamie

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5

I am trying desperately to hold onto this.

I keep up with a number of blogs that report on international news. Some are focused on Colombia, some are quick updates from around the globe, and one is a set of pictures from the Boston Globe called "The Big Picture". I don't always have time (or bandwidth) to scroll through everything they put up, but when I do I am rarely disappointed. From photos of the lunar eclipse to global carnaval celebrations, there is often a little of everything from a little bit of everywhere. This week is the Year in Pictures, and this is where my Advent hope has been flickering. To be honest, crap happens in Colombia all the time. So-and-so official was collaborating with paramilitaries, DAS (the now defunct intelligence agency, sort of like our FBI) is revealed to torture and trace and threaten judges, reporters, and civil leaders, floods paralyze the country and more die in landslides, farmers and their non-governmental agency partners are accused of faking their own displacement while 700 towns are said to have known illegal armed group activity.This is the stuff of every day. We don't write about it all the time because...well, sometimes one can't even keep up. But more than that it is because even for us these things are the backdrop to daily life. If you're not careful, they can become wallpaper - texture to a life that you can walk by and not even see anymore. It could be laziness; it could be survival tactic - hard to say. Add to that the remembered pain of the world in this year's pictures - tsunami in Japan, tornadoes in Alabama, gunman in Oslo, famine in Somalia, and the children...starving, in refugee camps, playing beside ridiculously polluted rivers. How does light shine into all that darkness? And might that light include that of a flash bulb - taking the pictures so that we might all see this pain? If so, why do we do nothing about it? It is old news to say that Jesus is the reason for the season, that presents are not the purpose, that much of what we do is trimming as much as are ornaments and tinsel. We know that. We just don't change much. But when lives are at stake, and we know it, why do we still stay the same? If, as my devotional says, this is indeed "the most outrageous season of hope and anticipation" then what indeed are we waiting for? Come, Lord Jesus, Come - and help us follow.  
Nov 15

Violence and Poverty

Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 in Richard

I've been thinking through the connections between poverty and violence recently, and gathering up a batch of links from around the web.  While many policy attempts are made to reduce violence or protect certain populations, tackling the roots of this violence - the gross social inequities that are so prevalent in Latin America, are much harder projects.  Here's a survey of stories that link these two fundamental issues Violence / Impunity Colombia is 5th most dangerous country on earth: Study - Colombia news | Colombia Reports Bloggings by boz: More dangerous than Mexico From a year ago, but the trend continues.  I'll bet that almost no consumer of US news thinks that Mexico is safer, in terms of homicide rates, than all of Central America and much of South America.  Interesting to compare actual statistics and our perceptions based on the nightly news. 2010 most violent year since paramilitary demobilization: Report - Colombia news | Colombia Reports Court reverses 10 army murder sentences - Colombia news | Colombia Reports Controversial plans for separate military courts to be included in judicial reform - Colombia news | Colombia Reports Violentology An interesting alternative view at the overall story of violence in Colombia over the past 10ish years.The author Stephen Ferry 's TED video is well worth a watch for Spanish speakers. Poverty Colombia is joint 5th most unequal country in region - Colombia news | Colombia Reports Why is inequality falling in Latin America? - Global Dashboard Reflecting the regions positive shift away from inequality, mostly based on left of center government's social spending.  (Sounds heretical to US ears, right?)  Human Development Index: how does your country compare? | Map | Datablog | News |    
Nov 1

An Election Tampering Primer

Posted on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 in Mamie

So it turns out that working with an election monitoring group (MOE), even for a day, is quite an educational experience. I was struck as we attended an opening ceremonies of sorts for the voting day that everyone there commented on how the elections were going to be free of corruption this year with no voting irregularities.

Of all the promises and speeches that get made on US election days, the idea of voting fraud and corruption is rarely the issue (unless you were voting in Florida in 2000, but whatever). Indeed, the fraud in US elections tends more toward pre-election voter redistricting or moves to require IDs which often disenfranchise one population thus benefiting another. There has been some voter intimidation and I am sure vote buying, but I don't think we have anything on voter fraud Colombian style (not even in Chicago).

We have more thoughts about the meaning and impact of these elections to come, but here is just a taste of the "voting irregularities" that can make monitoring important. Some of these we saw while some we merely heard about.

Vote Tampering:

  •  Carousel - Someone outside the voting area gives you a marked ballot (thus ensuring that you vote for their candidate). You take the marked ballot into the voting area, “vote”, and bring the blank ballot back out to the person waiting thus supplying them with another ballot they can fill out for the next carousel rider. You are, of course, paid for your participation.
  • Mochilero - This person is named after the bag, “mochila”, he carries. In it is a great deal of money (one person caught on Sunday had about a million and a half pesos on him) with which he goes about soliciting votes. In addition to this being illegal, it is also quite dangerous both because of all the money being carried and because that person becomes a target for an opposing candidate's machine if he is discovered. If the police catch him he will be jailed for a year or so. He (or his family) is paid during this time. While he is in prison or when he gets our he may still be killed by the opposition. It feels a bit like a fool's errand, and yet if your family needs the money...
  • Transhumancia – I don't really know how to translate this, because the English “transhumance” refers to livestock migration, but the idea of shuttling from one place to the other is dead on. This fun twist on voting refers to registering and transporting buses of people from one voting district to another. You take folks from one area in which you are not concerned about the vote outcome, and you shuttle them to another place in which you are not so secure. In one community in Atlántico that means having 8,000 people registered to vote in a town with a population of only 5, do the math...
  • ID Fraud – Everyone in Colombia has to present an identification to vote (they all get their initial ID cards issued free), yet there continue to be cases when Señora. X shows up at the polling place and finds...she has already voted! In one town this year they implemented fingerprint ID confirmation to try and lower the supplanting of voters. The challenge there was that if your fingerprint did not register (was not able to be read vs. did not match) then there was no back-up confirmation available and you were passed on through, because if you weren't then your right to vote would be denied. Kind of a catch-22.
  • Ballot stuffing – Just like it sounds, it showed up at one table where everyone else had 15 votes at their tables and this one had 90...even though that many people had not entered the voting place.
  • Vote passing – I love this one. Many voting sites are schools as they are in the United States however, because we live on the Caribbean coast, many schools are basically open air with walls that have open windows and holes for ventilation both in the individual classrooms and around the perimeter. So what is the easiest way to dispose of votes you don't like or get some you do? Just pass them through the wall!
  • Transportation manipulation – This scheme has two faces.
    1.  A candidate pays people TO bring folks to the polls. A man we know was paid $200,000 (about $100) to drive people back and forth to polling sites all day long. To put this in perspective, $515,000 is the amount you would earn in a month if you had a job that paid you minimum wage (though many folks do not actually make that), so running folks to the polls for one day would get you over a third of what you would make in a month. Makes you wish elections came around more often...
    2. A candidate pays people NOT to bring people to the polls. They are not taken somewhere else, their services are just not available. A bus company is paid to keep their buses in the lot. Taxi drivers are paid to stay home. I don't have a contact to know how much this one pays, but I think few of us would turn down being paid to not work.
  • Where's Waldo - Okay, this is clearly my name for it, but it basically involves moving the election site, or posting information that says it has been moved. In many areas there is just one voting site in all the township, and you might not have the ability to get to more than one.
  • Asonada - Definition: political disturbance, or mayhem. Just in case you were not able to fix the votes on the front end, besides "counting errors" (which, after seeing the vote counting mechanism seem remarkably easy to sustain even as legitimate errors), you can sound an asonada. This basically involves going up to a table that you know you have not won and yelling and screaming about how the process there was totally fraudulent - especially if it was not so. You get to blow off some steam and get the votes at that table nullified all at one time. It is like a two-fer.
There are other ways to pay for votes - with "coupons" at a nearby meat shop, with cash but in a fixed location vs. mochilera style, and with promises of mattresses or school supplies or lunch. MOE puts up a big campaign about not throwing away your vote, but with all the schemes folks put into play, I can see how voters would decide to take advantage of whatever offer they are going to get because once "their man" is in office...well, that is where the buck literally just stops. If the officials that are elected aren't going to help you for four years, but you can get $50,000 out of them today... I'm just saying, it's tougher to decide than it should be.
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