Christmas Greetings

Minds Crossing, Concord, NH                                                                    Christmas 2016

 

“Say to the anxious, ‘Be strong! Fear not! Your God comes to save you…’ for water will spring up in the wilderness and torrents flow in the desert… it will be called the Way of Holiness… it will become a pilgrim’s way.” (Isaiah 35: 4)

 

There is a spring flowing in the wilderness of Palestine. For centuries it has provided water for the village of Taybeh, known in biblical times as Ephraim. Three years ago Nadim Khoury started a brewery that depends upon water from the spring.

Faye and I visited Taybeh last April during a two-week traveling seminar, Faith in the Face of Empire.  We learned that Taybeh receives its spring water only three days a week. It is metered and administered by the occupying Israeli military. Most of the water is diverted to a nearby recently constructed illegal Israeli settlement.

Hearing their story filled me with anxiety. A brewery requires a “torrent” of water to succeed, which their spring is restricted from supplying. However, these Christians, powerless under Israeli occupation, remain strong in their belief that the road to the Taybeh Brewery will “become a pilgrim’s way.” How confusing is that!

It was confusing to return home to Minds Crossing where many fear that the waters of civility are being rationed or shut off altogether by the election rhetoric and plans for the future administration. We thirst for peace with justice in a world of never ending war. We thirst for peace with justice in a time threatening to roll back gains for the rights of women, GLBTQ people, people of color, and immigrants. However, every time we turn on a water faucet for a drink of water, to take a shower, or to drip irrigate our tiny vegetable garden we remember Taybeh: their trust in the vision of Isaiah.

This Christmas time, we join with Nadim and the people of Taybeh to hope in the impossible: “water will spring up in the wilderness and torrents flow in the desert… it will be called the Way of Holiness… it will become a pilgrim’s way” (Isaiah 35: 4).

In our tumultuous world may we all discover the “pilgrim way.”

A blessed Christmas and a hope-filled New Year,

John and Faye Buttrick

 

 

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U.S. / Mexico border issues

The Barrier Wall                                                                               December 18, 2016

On the Saturday after the elections, my wife and I and one of our daughters and her husband traveled from San Diego to Border Field State Park in the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. It was a sunny warm day for the two-mile walk through the saltwater low lands. The sweet scent of flowers was in the air. The songs of marshland birds and the flash of gull’s wings competed for our attention. Ahead and on our left we could see the distant houses and new construction on the hillside in Tijuana, Mexico. In the foreground was a high concrete wall barrier separating the United States from Mexico. Our destination was Friendship Park at the shore of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way we joined a young Mexican woman and her father. She is a U.S. citizen. He has a window washing business in San Marcos, CA. They were making the journey to the Park to meet his mother and family members who are not allowed to enter the United States. The father and daughter are reluctant to go into Mexico. They fear they would not be allowed to return to their U.S. home.

Friendship Park is a paved strip of land about 50 feet wide between two high steel fences traversing the border west of Tijuana and extending 100 yards beyond the surf into the Pacific Ocean. Down the middle is a road used exclusively by the U.S. Border Patrol vehicles. While we waited for the gate to open into this barren strip of land we could look beyond the two fences to see groups of people strolling on the beach on the Mexican side.

The gate into Friendship Park only opens on Saturday and Sunday from 10am until 2pm. The sign beside the gate explains that only 20 people at a time can be in the area between the fences. On the other side of this narrow strip people wait behind the second fence to meet their friends and relatives from the U.S.

When the gate was opened, father and daughter rushed across the narrow Friendship Park to greet his mother and other family members standing beyond the second fence. They spoke excitedly through the fence. The father had not seen his mother in fourteen years. They pressed their hands against the fence: son and mother and two separated sisters. There was no touching. Woven through the steel frame of the fence is a heavy wire mesh preventing contact and the passing of any items to one another.

There were fewer than twenty people waiting at the gate this day so we also entered the park between the two fences.   We watched two parents introduce their infant child to family and friends on the Mexican side. One U.S. Border Patrol official, standing next to his vehicle, was controlling the gate and watching the people gathered at the far fence. I learned that he was also a public relations officer for the Border Patrol.   He was originally from Maine but when he joined the Border Patrol he was assigned to the border with Mexico. When I asked him why he chose to join the Border Patrol he replied, “I want to serve my country.” However he also explained that work in Maine was scarce and he needed a job.

During our ½ hour conversation I asked, “What is the discussion among your colleagues about the presidential transition?”

He responded, “We don’t think a wall will be built along the whole border. However, we do anticipate that there will be more money for the hiring of more personnel.”“What is it like to watch these people visiting with the fence between them?”

“We opened this area (Friendship Park) to give them the opportunity to meet,” he justifies.

I explained that I had talked with a Texan who lived on the border and missed the days when there was free movement across the border to visit, shop, work, and for entertainment.

“I’m too young to remember those days but I’ve heard the stories,” he responded. “I agree it is the way relationships should be between the people of our two countries. But today, after 9/11, it is important to restrict movement across the border.”

“Doesn’t dividing families and restricting interaction among people of our two countries contribute to more tension, misunderstanding, and fear,” I asked?

“It does, but you should know that over 50% of border patrol personnel along this section of the border are of Mexican descent,” suggesting that their presence makes the situation acceptable.

I also learned that once or twice a year there is a time designated for people from each side of the border to stand in the opening of an emergency door in the fence to touch each other and embrace for as long as three minutes, under the watchful eye of a border official. These meetings are organized and limited by a lottery. I commented, “It seems to me that this destroys dignity rather than communicating good will.”

“It’s the way it has to be,” he replied with an uneasy shrug.

A silent parting handshake acknowledged a mutual uneasy troubling tension.

Before we left the Park, we went over to the second fence to say “good by” to our father and daughter walking companions. They introduced us to their family from Mexico. Through the fence there could be no handshaking, just smiles and well wishes. Returning through the gate on the U.S. side, we looked down to the shore of the Pacific Ocean where the two fences enter the water. On the Mexican side there were adults and children sitting on the beach and swimming. The U.S. side was deserted except for one Border Patrol vehicle driving through the sand.

As we walked the two miles back to our car we pondered the irony in the name “Friendship Park,” a barren strip of land between two iron fences, one with a steel meshed barrier. We later learned from No More Deaths that so far this year 469 people have needed help to recover $54,134 taken from them by the Arizona Department of Corrections when they were deported. Others stranded in Nogales, Mexico have needed help to make 2150 phone calls to tell friends and family about their sudden deportation from the United States. There have been remains of 144 people found in the southern Arizona desert so far this year.

Conversation about the border between the United States and Mexico has been dominated by fear of lost jobs, economic assistance abuse, drugs, terrorism, and “the wall.” Missing is an awareness of the human condition. In the West Wing, in the halls of Congress, and in our neighborhoods we must begin to frame the discussion of border issues around human dignity, uniting families, developing friendships, and acknowledging the valuable contributions each person can make to our respective countries. Then, perhaps, the next time we visit the borderlands we will be able to shake the hands of the man’s Mexican mother and his daughter’s sister. And together we will hear the voices of the songbirds and see the gulls flying back and forth across the border.

 

J

 

 

Valued People

December 8, 2016

Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend there were numerous cautions on the radio, TV, and in print media urging the avoidance of political conversations around the thanksgiving table. A significant motivation for this caution is the increasing divide between blue collar or no collar low income working people and intellectuals who benefit from higher education. The former group is cast as hard working with common sense ideas about relationships, personal freedoms, and familiar values. The latter group is perceived as a privileged elite claiming superior reasoning power. They seek to dictate values and rules for their own benefit, advocate for “political correctness,” and designate how people should relate to one another.

It’s difficult to talk about this divide because each of us belongs to one side or the other and therefore cannot claim unbiased insight. However, I find myself trying, even though I’m perceived as living on the side of the educated elite. I protest that I have labored as a farm worker, worked as a waiter, and sweated on a road construction crew. In the Army I advance only to Specialist 5th class. But I’ve also earned a masters degree and have earned my living with words, spoken and written. Therefore my education and subsequent profession leaves me isolated from a man, whose job relies on physical strength, once saying to me, “It’s not right. Just because you have the ability to write, you are able to push your bad ideas in a newspaper article. Clever words are not my way. I use plain common sense and simple language, saying it like it is. It does not make good copy for the newspaper. But it’s the truth.” Even the language we use separates us into two different worlds.

It seems this past election cycle has exacerbated this burgeoning divide in the American psyche, with the potential to split friends and family members into separate angry camps of people who voted for different candidates. People who voted for Donald Trump protest that others are branding them with unjustified labels related to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. Many women, people of color, people of different national and cultural origins, the GLBTQI community, and people of diverse religious faith expressions are interpreting the Trump win as giving permission to threaten their integrity.

President elect, Donald Trump, continues to feed this divide. He has branded with his name the endorsement of aggressive language and crude labels against people and groups perceived as enemies or different. He has encouraged populace impulses of suspicion, bravado, and uncensored attitudes where the value of a person is determined by shirt collar color, education, physical prowess, religious belief, cultural origin or choice of beverage.

Harry Reid recently wrote, “If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump…” However, we cannot wait for president elect Trump to apologize for setting a course of words and actions that denigrates swaths of people. Nor can we wait for him to acknowledge flimflamming the people to vote for him. It is not enough to accept the defense of his followers that he only exaggerates to make valid points. It is time to reject all of the divisive labels and open a conversation across the divide.

The key to crossing this divide involves, first, the recognition that we are presently experiencing the worst of our human nature and inclinations. Then, rather than accepting this predicament as inevitable, let it lead us to shift the focus toward the integrity and value of each and every person among us. Where we’ve been complicit in devaluing another, begin to acknowledge our abuse of power. Where we’ve been silent, begin to talk to one another across the divide, nurturing the strength of spirit that does not depend upon the weakness of others but on the contributions each person makes to our society and country.

We are a people who depend upon one another. My wellbeing counts on the contributions of the store clerk, the factory worker, the elected official, health care professionals, the farmer, the migrant worker, educators, tradespeople, and so many others. We all suffer when a union is busted, familiar physical work disappears, and low-paying service jobs replace former middle class jobs. We are all impacted when some lose medical or pension benefits and opportunities for education that recognize differing learning aptitudes and skill sets. We are only weak when we let the Trump mindset pit us against each other. Then the only winners are the ultra wealthy and dictatorial despots. Our strength as Americans is measured by our determination to stand with any group of people who is depreciated or denigrated. Our nation will gain strength and integrity when no bigoted action, statement, or joke by a politician or a stranger on the street goes unchallenged.

Perhaps the Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanza / holiday table is a place to demonstrate a determination to feed the human ability for passionate reasoning, careful listening for understanding, empathy and love. This transparency can open us up to face into, name, and overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other attitudes that divide us. Open trusting conversation will create a new normal of hospitality, of understanding other cultures and religious faiths and of empathy. Now that’s a conversation with which we can live and thrive.