“Be Still and Know” contemplative prayer video

One of the great things about working at Sojourners is always getting to do something new. Here’s a video made by our assistant editor Jeannie Choi and our interactive media producer Matt Hildreth interviewing me about contemplative prayer.

I had just come back from accompanying a friend at “Divorce Court” when I made this video – so the chance to “breath in and breath out” was greatly appreciated! Hope you like it. (Read Ruth Haley Barton’s article on contemplative prayer here.)

Obama at Ben’s Chili Bowl

On Sunday afternoon, Prez-to-be Obama showed up at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. institution in my neighborhood of Columbia Heights. Co-worker Aaron Graham was there with his wife, Amy, and son Elijah. Aaron wrote:

Yesterday, Amy, Elijah, and I were having a nice little lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl with some friends from out of town. And guess who walks in unannounced! I told him I worked for Jim Wallis at Sojourners and then introduced him to Elijah, he bent down to grab Elijah’s hand and said, “hi Elijah, I’m Barack.” Then he said “you work for Jim? Congratulations thats great, tell him hello.”

Watch a short little video of Obama in action at the Bowl:

Bee Dreams: ‘Anthers Bright with Pollen’

In the deep mid-winter, it’s nice to think about bees. Below is a photo by California photograher Kate Kunath. It’s from her photo series Stung: Beekeeping in the 21st Century.

bee_california_kunath1

The apiarist in Kunath’s photo is Jeff Anderson of Oakdale, California. Below is a little more about him from Sharon Levy’s article The Vanishing. Her writing is luscious and warm.

Just down the road, Jeff Anderson and his three assistants methodically pry the lid off each of hundreds of hive boxes to check the health of the colonies inside. As the day wears on and the March sunshine warms this little-used ranch road in California’s Sierra foothills, more and more bees take flight.

Wild buckthorn bushes lining the road carry clusters of tiny white flowers, their anthers bright with pollen. Bees work the blossoms, packing the yellow grains into smooth depressions on their hind legs, specially designed to carry this fuel (pollen is a high-protein food) back to the hive. On their travels, they transfer pollen from plant to plant, flower to flower, fertilizing the blossoms and allowing them to set fruit. This ancient partnership of pollinator and plant is essential to life as we know it. One-third of the food we eat comes from crops that need animal pollinators, a role often filled by bees but sometimes by butterflies, beetles, birds, or bats. Bee-pollinated foods include squash, tomatoes, peppers, apples, and pears. Unfortunately, the honeybees surrounding me are members of a threatened tribe, whose loss would have a dire effect on farmers, not to mention everyone who eats fruits and vegetables.

It’s cold and clear in Washington today. The sun is low and the shadows long and sharp. For now the bees are tucked away inside their hives eating the rewards of a spring and summer of hard work. Their primary job for the next few months is just to stay warm–and focus on the queen. I like that. Maybe I’ll try that too. Stay warm and focus on the Sabbath Queen: “Come, let us go to receive Shabbat the Queen.”

“Some Songs Required” a poem

I wrote this strange little poem a few years ago. It wasn’t prompted by anything happening in the Middle East, but as I revisit it now, there is some element of lament that resonates with my current lament for the people in Gaza and Israel.

Some Songs Required
Psalm 137

by Rose Marie Berger

Down the river from Babylon
there was a city of Dales,

not quite like Zion. In Nutdale,
Elmdale, and Oakdale people sat

two by two in boxes neatly stacked
where they wept without knowing why.

Upriver, Babylon heard only their singing
in a special language of clicks and snaps;

not in the stringed language of the lyre,
that riffled and flowed over the feet

of the Stored Ones. True too that the Dale-dwellers
babbled in a tongue fewer and fewer of them

could understand. Instead they stared:
at each other, at the river, pointing out the little

heads of children, afloat like golden boats
on the current. While Babylon, teeth sharp

from gnawing on its platinum
bedpost at night, reached down its

right hand to touch the flag hanging
limp between its legs. A single gold tear

slipped away to tell the others.

Waxing the Waterboard?

There’s an important conversation happening now at the tail end of the Bush-Cheney administration about whether or not to prosecute President Bush and Vice President Cheney on criminal charges for illegal acts they committed during their administration.

Abu Ghraib series by Fernando Botero
Abu Ghraib series by Fernando Botero

Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York has urged Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and other senior Bush administration officials for violations of the law relating to the torture of prisoners in US custody. Nadler is the chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Read his letter to the Attorney General here.

Over at JosephRoss.net, my compatriot Joe is raising similar questions. He writes:

George W. Bush is a president who approved torture, allowed the CIA to fly prisoners to other countries for torture, who repeatedly stated that the U.S. does not torture and then it was proven that we do. We just didn’t call it that. As long as it’s called “enhanced interrogation techniques” and “stress positions” it’s alright and legal. This is also a president whose vice-president, just last week, admitted that he approved of “waterboarding” which is against the law. Recall that the U.S. has actually prosecuted other countries for “waterboarding.” Now we’re suddenly not sure it’s torture?

We have  all been looking on as our president romantically remembers all the good times he had as president. He is photographed looking reflectively out windows, goes on talk shows describing what he will miss, gives interviews like an entertainer whose concert tour has come to an end. This politeness ought to be more than Americans will tolerate.

I’m certain the last thing the Obama Administration wants is to investigate a former U.S. president and perhaps find him or others in the Bush Administration guilty of breaking both U.S. law and international law. Yet, what is to stop a future U.S. president from doing equally immoral and illegal acts if we do not hold the present one accountable?

Read the whole post here.

There’s always an argument made to “let by-gones be by-gones” at the end of a presidency. The incoming administration doesn’t want the next one to turn around and investigate them! Understandable, but WRONG when it comes to preserving the Constitution and now allowing laws to be broken with impunity.

“This shocking admission by Vice President [Cheney that he was aware of the waterboarding program and “helped get the process cleared”] demands at a minimum a federal investigation and,” Congressman Nadler says, “if necessary, the pursuit of criminal charges. No one is above the law and, if the Vice President admits he broke the law, then he must be held responsible.”

In one of the first acts of the 111th Congress, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers proposed legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts – National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties- to probe the “broad range” of policies pursued by the Bush administration “under claims of unreviewable war powers,” including torture of detainees and warrantless wiretaps.

Lest any of think that “warrantless wiretaps” only happen to “other people,” I suggest reading the story Spying on Pacifists, Environmentalists, and Nuns (LA Times, December 7, 2008) about the Maryland State Police sending undercover agents to infiltrate the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance and Marylanders Against the Death Penalty. It’s a prime example of how “them” is now “us.”

You Won’t See This on HGTV

Outside model home decorated from thrift stores
Outside model home decorated from thrift stores

I woke up at 12:30 a.m. It’s really the best time to listen to the radio. I happened on Dick Gordon’s show on North Carolina Public Radio called The Story.

He was interviewing Terri Thompson, a marketing manager for a bank in North Carolina, about her penchant for only buying from thrift stores, flea markets, second-hand shops, or “found items/dumpster diving.” As the economy tanks, retail stores are going with it–but thrift stores are booming.

A recent survey from the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops (NARTs), 74% said that September and October sales increased over the prior year, by an average of 35%. Goodwill Industries, a nonprofit that operates 2,200 thrift stories, says that same-store revenue have increased by an average of 7% compared to last year.

Dick Gordon talked to Terri Thompson about how she makes treasures out of trash. For those who are trying to live more simply and step away from the ever-hungry god of consumerism, Terri’s story is interesting. Especially when she convinces a  local builder to give her the keys to a model home and she furnished it entirely with secondhand items.

As she tells Dick, the event was a huge success and convinced many more people of the value of purchasing things used. In fact, she raised $40,000 for local nonprofits and the near-by Habitat for Humanity ReStore saw a 30% increase in customers.

Let’s put the FUN of RECESS back in recession!
Listen to the broadcast.
See 360-degree room views from the Frugal Design Showcase Home.

Library of Congress Seeking Sermons on Obama Inauguration

On Jan. 20, 2009, the United States will inaugurate Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American smallpresident. In anticipation of citizens’ efforts to mark this historic time around the country, the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress will be collecting audio and video recordings of sermons and orations that comment on the significance of the inauguration of 2009. It is expected that such sermons and orations will be delivered at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, as well as before humanist congregations and other secular gatherings. The AFC is seeking as wide a representation of orations as possible. This collection is one of many oral history and spoken word collections at the AFC that preserve American emotions and memories of important cultural events.

Congregations and groups interested in contributing to this once-in-a-lifetime documentary project are asked to record sermons and orations delivered during Inauguration Week 2009 and donate them to the Library of Congress. The donated recordings will be preserved at the AFC in order to enhance the nation’s historical record and preserve the voices of religious leaders other orators for researchers and scholars of the future. After being processed by archivists, the collection will be made available to scholars, students and the general public.
See all the information here: http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2008/08-234.html

Park Regent’s Peace Banners

by Rose Marie Berger

For many years, I’ve enjoyed this tradition of the Park Regent Apartments at the intersection of Park Road and Mt. Pleasant Street in Washington, D.C. From the buildings prime location, the owners hang bright blue banners with the word for peace emblazoned in white font in a dozen different languages.

Out of pure curiosity, I called the Park Regent Apartments to ask about the history of hanging these peace banners. The very helpful property manager, Art Buildman, told me:

“We’ve been doing this for the eight years that I’ve been around here. I’ve been hanging them myself for the last three years. I don’t really know how it got started. I think maybe the Mount Pleasant Citizens Association suggested it. We usually put them up sometime before Christmas and take them down in January. We’ve got a larger size banner that says ‘peace’ in English, but I’m afraid to hang it because I’m afraid I’ll damage the roof by attaching it. I don’t dare hang any longer ones, because of the wind. There used to be banners in red, but we can’t find those. I’ve got a picture of the red banners here in the office that you are welcome to come by and see. “

Personally, I remember seeing longer ones hung from the Park Regent in the 1990s, then there were several years when they didn’t hang them at all. But now the tradition seems firmly back in place. And they now hang them on both buildings in the Park Regent complex. It used to be that they hung only on the building right at the corner. The Mount Pleasant Historical Society says this about the Park Regent (See more about historic Mount Pleasant.):

In 1910 the Park Regent was constructed at the intersection of Park Road and Mount Pleasant Street. The buff brick U-shaped building is imaginatively sited on its difficult trapezoidal site through the extension of one wing. A bold bracketed cornice and paneled brickwork crown the Beaux-Arts style building.

Below are a few more photos of the Park Regent by local photographers:

By NCinDC
By Amber M. Wiley
By Amber M. Wiley

Read “Architectural Detail” in New Beltway Poetry Issue

I’m very happy to announce that my poem “Architectural Detail” is published in the new issue of the online journal Beltway Poetry. Read “Architectural Detail” here.

I started writing this poem while I was on six weeks of grand jury duty in Washington, D.C. It was an awful experience of listening to countless drug cases mixed in with child abuse and child prostitution cases. During lunch breaks, I would slip away to the National Building Museum and rest my soul in its cathedral-like expanse. I liked watching the workers go about their daily routine. It calmed me. Below is a little intro to the newest issue of Beltway Poetry:

Beltway Poetry opens 2009 with a new issue devoted entirely to poems about museums.  Thirty-three poets write about museums, historical sites, and other public places devoted to preservation and exhibition.  The poems address the institutions and “their collections, their workers, and the many ways in which they fulfill their founders’ hopes of enlarging the scope of civic life,” as guest co-editor Maureen Thorson writes in her introduction.  “In these poems, poets engage in conversations with artists, their subjects, and with art itself. They stand in witness to the forces of history.”

Saundra Rose Maley asks King Tut,”…is there a crossing over/ Or is this life just what it is, a sandal strap/At best?”

Kendra Kopelke lets the woman in a Hopper painting speak: ” He put me here/like a candle/to ignite the room.”

Stephen Cushman imagines painter’s models, “posing in a yoga twist,/head going one way, torso another.”

David Gewanter writes of a museum store clerk, ” I love to see my mother behind//the counter, tidying up the fossil fish/and reptile rulers.”  Linda Pastan contemplates death from a safe distance, asking, ” Whose skulls are these,/and isn’t it dread/that informs our pleasure//in this canvas?”

Special thanks to Kim Roberts for her wonderful dedication to Beltway Poetry. Beltway Poetry Quarterly, now in its ninth year of online publication, is available for free online at http://www.beltwaypoetry.com. For a free subscription, go to: http://lists.mutualaid.org/mailman/listinfo/beltwaypoetryquarterly.

People-less Houses Movement

According to a recent Associated Press story, the Take Back the Land folks in Florida are making the sub-prime debacle work for those living on the streets. “We’re matching homeless people with peopleless homes,” said TBL activist Max Rameau. Yep! They are moving homeless folks into beautiful, spacious, foreclosed upon houses.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Max Rameau delivers his sales pitch like a pro. “All tile floor!” he says during a recent showing. “And the living room, wow! It has great blinds.”

But in nearly every other respect, he is unlike any real estate agent you’ve ever met. He is unshaven, drives a beat-up car and wears grungy cut-off sweat pants. He also breaks into the homes he shows. And his clients don’t have a dime for a down payment.

Rameau is an activist who has been executing a bailout plan of his own around Miami’s empty streets: He is helping homeless people illegally move into foreclosed homes.

Rameau and a group of like-minded advocates formed Take Back the Land, which also helps the new “tenants” with secondhand furniture, cleaning supplies and yard upkeep. So far, he has moved six families into foreclosed homes and has nine on a waiting list.

“I think everyone deserves a home,” said Rameau, who said he takes no money from his work with the homeless. “Homeless people across the country are squatting in empty homes. The question is: Is this going to be done out of desperation or with direction?”

“There’s a real need here, and there’s a disconnect between the need and the law,” he said. “Being arrested is just one of the potential factors in doing this.”

I think the TBL movement is a great riff on the Landless People’s Movement in South Africa and the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil and elsewhere. TBL is just doing it “American-style.”

With the suicide of capitalism comes the blurring of what has been narrowly understood as “private property.” At the top, the Bush administration has been forced to “nationalize” the banking industry and, apparently, at the bottom, in Miami, TBL is reclaiming as public property those abandoned houses now owned by the banks due to foreclosures. Interesting.