Sunday, February 27, 2011

Friends Beyond Borders
How Cuba Caravans are Making a Difference
and How Colorado Springs is Helping

Last July folks from Colorado bought a school bus, filled it with humanitarian aid, and joined the Pastors for Peace Cuba Caravan to Cuba. Our bus was one of twelve vehicles that carried over a hundred tons of aid to our poor but friendly neighbors who live on the emerald island. A hundred people spent nine days in Cuba meeting and making friends as an act of solidarity with disadvantaged Cubans and a protest against an unjust trade and travel blockade that the U.S. government has had in place against Cuba for fifty years. Our bus is now being used by the Julio Diaz Orthopedic Hospital in Havana. The ages of the caravanistas range from children and youth to eighty+plus year-olds and come from all faiths and walks of life. They travel without the required license as a peaceful protest against an unjust law. They share the common dream of a Cuba/U.S. neighborhood of peace and prosperity. There have been 21 such caravans over the years. The 22nd one will travel to Cuba in July of this year.
Ever since 1959 when Fidel Castro led the revolution, America has been obsessed with Cuba. Cubans are now a major ethnic group in Florida and the exiled community is so powerful that every U.S. president has been pressured by its interests. Two Cuban-Americans who serve on the House Foreign Relations Committee are now in a position to block legislation to lift the embargo. While representatives from both political parties continue to call for the repeal of this ineffective and unjust law, the Obama administration has moved ahead to make it possible for Cuban-Americans to travel freely and to send money to their impoverished family who still live in Cuba. And travel rights for educational and religious organizations have been restored. Travel agencies report that there is a surge of people waiting to travel when all restrictions are lifted and business groups are preparing for greater trade opportunities. Cuba's own economic reform is now allowing some Cubans to open their own business. And while political oppression still exists, most observers are urging the U.S. to use diplomatic and political channels to influence positive change. The embargo only hurts the poor.
As long as the embargo exists in any form Pastors for Peace will continue to advocate repeal and will travel to Cuba with people and aid to help our neighbors. There will be a caravan again this summer. Caravanistas representing Pastors for Peace will be hosted at an event in Colorado Springs on July 12th. Details will be posted later on this blog. To find out how you can be a part of the continuing effort to make “Friends Beyond Borders,” access or email Max Hale at

David Bristow records local Pastors for Peace folks as bus with aid head for Cuba

Colorado's bus prepares to leave for Cuba

Monday, February 21, 2011

One Delicious Peach!

I was once arrested for eating a peach. Do I have your attention? It was spring in Korea 1952. It was the time of the Korean War and I was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, stationed in Taegu with the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG), Eighth Army. The natives who had survived the war thus far were struggling to keep body and soul together. The sun was shining but the combination of dust and the smell of the honey buckets (collectors of human excrement used as fertilizer) made it difficult to breathe.
My First Sergeant and I were walking down the street when I spied a peach. You must know that I grew up in peach country. That peach was as close as I could get to home at the moment. I paid the equivalent of $3.00 for it and had just bitten into it when I heard tires screeching and someone yell, “Sergeant, throw down that peach!” It was an MP patrolling the area in a jeep. I had an early idea of what this was about but I kept eating while Sergeant Wright confronted the MP. Because of the native practice of using the honey buckets for fertilizer, the Eighth Army Medics had placed all indigenous food off limits. KMAG medics made a distinction. They ruled that only food grown on or below the ground was contaminated. The First Sergeant's attempt to explain that made no difference to the MP but while they debated the issue, I finished the peach. The MP was angry enough about the encounter that he cited me with a Delinquency Report (DR).
A little humor from my stint in “The Land of the Morning Calm.” A break, as slight as it was, from the deadly seriousness of senseless war. There are other stories of a far different nature, many tragic. And there is,of course, the story of Kang Koo Ri, a life that defies despair and models hope. I remember them all. Oh yes, the Delinquency Report came to the First Sergeant's office. He tore it up. I kept my stripes.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sisyphus #10

It's Monday again and as our reporter shows up for his weekly interview with Sisyphus, the old man greets him with “TGIM”

R: I know about TGIF but TGIM?

S: Thank God It's Monday. It's part of the rhythm of life. Monday, so to speak, is when we get the chance to start over.

R: But you have to do the same thing over and over. Don't you ever get bored?

S: Bored people are boring people. A lot of folks have to do the same thing over and over and even though they have more freedom than I have, everyone can control the way they look at life. I find meaning in my work. I know it's hard to understand but it's the way I preserve my dignity.

R: I suppose that's true. Even retired people can find tasks, work if you will, that gives them purpose. I know of a lady who is well up in her nineties and whose health is severely threatened but who delights in discovering 12-letter words.

[The two talk a lot about work and it's meaning all the way up the hill. While the reporter does most of the talking while Sisyphus is pushing the rock, the old man has learned to pace himself and talk a little more. The scene at the top is always the same. Sisyphus tries his hardest to get the rock over the hill but, of course, it fails. So, it's back down the hill they go.]

S: Let me catch my breath and then we'll start back down the hill.

R: That's an interesting choice of words. The Hebrew word for God resting after creating the world literally means “catch my breath.”

S: Isn't that what Sabbath provides? It's the other part of the rhythm of life. One can work too hard. It has only been a few years since the Japanese created a word that means death from overwork. I stand by what I said about work giving one purpose and meaning but some people are obsessive. That's not healthy.

R: I once interviewed an eighty-year-old man who felt he had to record every activity of every minute of every day of his life for his past sixty-nine years. When I talked with him, he hadn't missed a day and had recorded over nineteen million words.

S: And you think pushing a rock is boring. It seems to me that people too often shortchange themselves by not taking the time to rest and reflect on the meaning of their work. The concept of Chi is that the body will often heal itself if we allow it to. There is a story about some who were scandalized to find the Apostle John playing with his followers. John told one of them, who was carrying a bow, to draw an arrow: he did this several times and John asked whether he could keep on doing it without interruption; the reply was the the bow would break in the end. John therefore argued that man's mind would also break if the tension were never relaxed.

R: I've heard it said that when one ceases from work, we show ourselves to be labor's master.

S: The hassidic rabbi, Zalman Schachter says the sabbath is long and full when one knows how to be beyond doing. Or, as Tilden Edwards, an Episcopal priest says, “Love in the Triune “God is open, connecting, freeing, playful, painful, transforming. Its two faces are labor and rest, ministry and sabbath. Such love is the fulfillment of all the commandments...It is a rhythm that God provides to human life for its care, cleansing, and opening to grace. This rhythm is not for one day or one week or one year only. It is for life.”

R: Once again, we've talked all the way down. I've got a deadline to get this interview in then I think I'm going to take some time off to reflect on what we've been talking about. See you next week?

S: I'll be here.

Gees Bend Alabama 1968