Thursday, February 02, 2012

Stranger in strange lands - part one

Tuesday, January 24, I left for a friend’s wedding in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Quique had stayed with me for about 6 months in 2003 while studying English at Iowa State University. Though he is working in Des Moines, the wedding was in his home town where his wife lived.

It was a long trip – about 24 hours in bus both ways! But it was well worth it. 

The first night I stayed in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. Getting back from dinner with a friend who’s studying Spanish there, I turned on the television in the hotel room and found myself in the middle of US President Obama’s State of the Union address. I was not impressed. Probably because I am in the middle of reading some essays by Bill McKibben, in The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life, I found the president’s remarks about energy problematic, mostly because he is not confronting the idol of consumerism.

But I really found myself shaken when he said, “America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs.” This smacks of imperialism, a sense that we are the champions of the world. In fact, he seemed to reiterate this by saying, “America is back.”

I believe that he also has bought into the idol of militarism and the myth of redemptive violence. He said, “Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies. From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.”

I am saddened by these remarks – as well as his administration’s decision not  to expand the conscience exemptions proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services

In this context I headed out to Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. These are strange lands to me – but sometimes I think I am even more a stranger in the US, which seems to have become a strange land to me.

As I wrote this, back in Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, I thought of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., exactly a year before he was killed in his “Beyond Viet Nam” speech:

[The late John F. Kennedy] said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken -- the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies….
This blog entry has been hard to write, but because I have been privileged to walk among the poor and the marginalized of the earth I feel a need to speak these words of loving criticism.

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