The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Search Results

Wising-up about pirates: Why force will fail

with 4 comments

The world cheered last week when US Navy sharpshooters felled three Somalian pirates in an instant, liberating the captain of the Maersk Alabama.  Millions celebrated Capt. Phillips’ freedom.

Wonderful as it is that Phillips is free, the overall situation has been made worse.  At the price of millions of American dollars, three young Somalians are dead and one American captain free.  Other Somalians have vowed revenge, promising that future hijackings (which had been mostly bloodless) will quickly become more violent.

TV plots preach that the right folks with the right firepower actually do solve problems.  It almost never happens in real life.  Violence douses a momentary flare-up and pours gasoline on the conflict that caused it.  Off the coast of Somalia?  One captain rescued; ten thousand potential pirates enraged.

The answer surely lies in asking the right question:  Why are those young men pirates? Indeed, why are bands of young men sources of violence all around the world?  Patt Cottingham writes a thought-provoking summary:

clipped from www.huffingtonpost.com

2009-04-20-YoungMales.jpg
For any one with eyes wide open there is a root pattern going on here globally. Young males who have been brought up in an atmosphere of failed states, violence, a feeling of powerlessness, no hope for the future, and who have no anticipation about living very long, become fearless […]

Look around and you see them off the coast of Somalia, in Hamas, in Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, in Palestine, Afghanistan, Africa, Pakistan, India, in Mexican drug cartels, in gangs on the streets of LA, and in jails across the United States. […]
[Y]ou will hear phrases like just blow them up, obliterate them, wipe them out, kill them all, and other declarations of force and bravado. This knee jerk reaction is a global failure that leaves the question still unanswered as to what can be done to change this […]
Isn’t it far wiser to begin to set a course to address the root causes of this? […]
Goodbye to military force as the answer to snuff out young male insurgents.
Hello to the will to get to the root causes of young male insurgents.
Goodbye to the thinking that rogue terror gangs don’t affect us […]
Goodbye to seeing young men with guns and no value for life as worthless.
Hello to seeing young men with guns and no value for life worth our redemption […]

2009-04-20-flag.jpg
blog it

Not much glam, not many thrills, not many political points scored by addressing the real stuff. But if we spent a tenth as much time and effort on avoiding problems as we do shooting our way out of them, we’d get a lot more bang for the buck.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Out from bigotry (sermon for August 17, 08)

with 5 comments

And a bit about white privilege …

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

1 This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.[…]

Something’s about to happen – what is it [a revelation of God], and so what do we do? Maintain justice,” Isaiah has God saying, “and do what is right.”

6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.

Who’s this about now? Foreigners. And those who will follow God from any land (though following God is described here in Jewish terms, of course), gain a rich welcome to the presence of God.  Watch:

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

I love it!  “A house of prayer for all nations.”  Is this just about white middle-class Americans like me?  Nope. Read the rest of this entry »

“I’LL KICK THE S**T OUT OF YOU!”

with 11 comments

I spent a memorable afternoon Thursday, beneath a tree on a corner in the little town of Conesville, Iowa, learning about a world that I hadn’t known before.

Melissa Regennitter/ Muscatine Journal

From left: Migrant worker Hector Manuel Cardona-Ramirez sits next to Monte Asbury, a Washington, Iowa, pastor. To Asbury’s right are two other migrant workers who bunk with Cardona-Ramirez and more than 600 others from Mexico in a migrant worker camp in Conesville. On Thursday, Asbury listened to a group of migrant workers who said they’d been unjustly fired and complained of illness. Asbury, an online blogger who writes about immigration and human rights was there to give moral support. Photo: Melissa Regennitter/ Muscatine Journal

My friend Carlos Rich (he’s a community organizer who works on immigrant health issues for the Center for New Community) had phoned, that morning, to tell me of some fellows who’d been fired from their jobs detasseling corn and picking melons.  Some had talked to a reporter the previous day, and Carlos wondered if that was connected to the firing.  Off we went.

We met eight men in a very hard spot.  They’d come to Iowa from their homes in Colima and Durango, Mexico.  Up at 3:30 A.M. each morning, they jockeyed for position on the buses taking workers to the fields. After a day in the blistering heat, they’d be back  – at 9:30 P.M. – for a quick meal and shower, then to the bunkhouse for 10:30 lights-out. Seven days a week.

Carlos invited reporters to join us (see Melissa Regenitter’s article in the Muscatine Journal).  While they made their way to Conesville, the boss drove past several times, sometimes stopping to pleasantly ask who we (Carlos and I) were, and to ask the men if they were going to work this afternoon.  It was a puzzle, given their certainty that they’d been fired. Carlos was cell-phoning what seemed like a dozen people – the Governor’s Office in Colima, some legal advisors – and the general drift I got was that it was a good idea for none of us to say much if we were questioned.

In the distance, the massive bunkhouse

In the distance, the massive bunkhouse

Which proved to be a handy thing to know.   For in a bit, an office worker drove up, eye-poppingly irate.  To the men, soothing mother-hen reproaches:  “How could you boys do this to [the bosses] after all they’ve done for you?  You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

In my mind, a window opened up and history blew in.  How many times had that siren-song seduced workers through the years?  Hadn’t it been sung in the dangerous factories of the north – the stifling cotton fields of the south – the brutal vegetable harvests of California?  It seemed like the timeless, place-less essence of the struggle of workers:  You  “boys” should be ashamed of yourselves. (Some were close to her in age.)  How could you be so ungrateful? What’s gotten into you?  We’re friends, you know we are!  What have they been telling you?

Endless line of portable toilets

A vast collection of portable toilets

The men were politely, firmly quiet.

To me, she gave a mildly derogatory “some kind of pastor” talk:  “What are you telling these boys?  They’re good boys!”

But to Carlos, venom:  “Shut up! … I’ll kick the s**t out of you!

It’s hard to imagine how trapped foreign workers are. If they want to quit, how will they get home, thousands of miles away?  Without English, to whom can they turn for help?  They’ll need to go to a city to get a bus.  But what city? And without transport, how will they get there?

One row of the bunkhouse. This room had about 160 beds, and was one of four.

About 160 men sleep in this huge bunkroom. Three more rooms, of 150-200 beds each, adjoin.

Intelligent, thoughtful men, all with perfect H2A visas (see the bottom of Melissa’s article), all with families at home needing income badly enough for them to risk this journey into a foreign country.  But it wasn’t going to work.  After telling of heat and work-related ailments, confusions about firings, conditions different than the Mexican recruiter had led them to expect, and less work than they’d hoped, they decided they just wanted to go home.  Since they’d borrowed to pay for their passports and visas, and after the $100 a week they paid the company for food, they figured they’d just about break even after the next morning’s paycheck.

Worried about staying in the camp after attracting media attention, they traveled back to Washington in my pickup.  They spent the night in the church, so grateful to be secure, so delighted to have found a way out.  Carlos gave a lift over to get paychecks on Friday (and the boss was more generous in the final settlement than they’d expected), and then up to Iowa City’s bus station to start the long ride home.

Most of us, after showers, at the church

Most of us, after showers, at the church - Carlos Rich is at the top left. I'm the one with the baby-bottom-pink face!

Perhaps most unexpected was the tenderness of the friendships developed in those hours.  After trading stories down at my place, glimmers of hope remained in my mind, suggesting that God had done something wonderful among us all.  I was honored to enjoy it.

What a memorable privilege it was, sharing that moment with these good men.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Monte Asbury

Written by Monte

August 4, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Immigration raid in Postville: Justice denied

with 2 comments

Raid in Postville

Raid in Postville

For most of those three hours, this man was just weeping, and he was weeping for his family, worried about his children. He had children back in Guatemala, his mother, his wife and his sister all depending on him. He was the sole earner for the entire family.

So describes Erik Camayd, a professor of modern languages at Florida International University in Miami, who was one of the court-appointed interpreters flown in for the trial of immigrants arrested here in Iowa.  Here’s Amy Goodman’s set-up:

We turn now to Postville, Iowa, a small town of just over 2,000 people. On May 12th, the town became the site of the largest immigration raid in US history. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, arrested 389 workers at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in the country. Nearly 300 of the workers were charged with aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud. Many were sent to prison.

Camayd, who’s been participating in trials for twenty-five years, describes what he saw:

Then began the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see, because cameras were not allowed past the perimeter of the compound. Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, some in tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment.

Since these people are so very poor, and since they are often the only source of income for an extended family, a jail sentence may mean their children go hungry.  Even if utterly innocent, the decision forced upon them is justice or hungry kids:

I saw immediately that this man had no choice but to plead guilty, if he wanted to return to his family as soon as possible … what made this case unique was that, for the first time, at least in this scale, they were not being deported but actually criminally prosecuted and sent to jail for five months or more. And the fact that they did not have a right to bail and that if they wanted to plead “not guilty” they would have had to wait possibly longer, up to six or eight months in jail without bail waiting for a trial, made this situation very, very difficult to really say that there was justice done in many of these cases. […]

[T]o place them in that position, basically holding their families’ well-being ransom over their heads in order to induce them to accept a plea agreement and plead guilty as the fastest way to get back home and then placing them in jail for that time under that kind of duress, I think that it’s very disturbing. It’s very disturbing. […]

Indeed, it is.

It may be legal, but it isn’t justice.


Read Erik Camayd’s personal account of the raid [Download pdf]


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Monte Asbury

Written by Monte

July 14, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Political reform and spiritual transformation

with 2 comments

This map, posted at My Clipmarks aroused considerable conversation, eventually taking a direction I hadn’t considered. Deep in the discussion, an excellent clipper named Righthand posted this comment:

There is also the personal level. You need to be a real generous Christian to want your fellow man to be your equal.*

Ding-ding! Thoughtful comment alert! Here’s the clip:

clipped from www.censusscope.org

 

Nationally, 12.4 percent of residents are considered to be in poverty. “In Poverty” means that a given person falls below the poverty threshold assigned by the U.S. Census Bureau. Please see our chart topic on Poverty for a discussion of poverty thresholds.

Examination of the map shows, however, that this 12.4 percent is a misleading representation of poverty status across the United States. Poverty is considerably more prevalent in the southern states. In a clear majority of counties in the South, the proportion of persons in poverty is higher than the national rate.

  blog it

And a response to the comment?

Alarmingly true. And the point of our faith would be “to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.” In response to a weasel’s question: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the Good Samaritan story – in which the only good guy is a despised, supposedly heretical foreigner who takes care of someone who’s a foreigner to him, asking nothing in return.

And is this not the real issue behind the endless debates on poverty, healthcare, immigration, and war? We don’t want to lose our stuff. We’re more concerned that the poor live like us than we are that they eat. We’re more concerned that the “right” people take care of the sick than we are that the sick are cared for. We want what our international neighbors have. We don’t want them to have what we have.

We don’t love them as we love ourselves. I wonder if that’s why ongoing spiritual transformation is so important—without love, political reform (of the left or the right) becomes merely self-serving. When our hearts are broken—for Darfur, for south L.A., for Mexicans in poverty—the endless philosophical evasions (And who is my neighbor? or, Shouldn’t private enterprise be the one who … ?) might be swept away by a torrent of more genuine passion for people.

Break my heart, O God.

Think so?

*His comment’s not intended to mean only Christians would want equality; he’s making the case that the run -of – the- mill Christian heart may not be big enough to do so.


Tags: , , , , , , Monte Asbury

Written by Monte

February 7, 2008 at 3:53 pm