Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dogs and Cats

When we moved out of our house in Columbia, we purged a majority of our belongings, including most of our books. Now, I’m someone who always has quite a number of books on my shelf that I have not yet read. Two of these books, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat, both by Alexandra Fuller, were given to me in the last few years by Katie’s dad and stepmom, and Katie had read both, but I had not (though not because I didn't want to). When Katie saw them in the “give away pile” she told me I should pull them out and read them if I could, because I’d like them.

Indeed, they are really good, and despite all of our training and preparations, I managed to get through both of them. Both were bestsellers and have been out for years, so I’m certainly not the first person to have read them, and I would recommend them if you like non-fiction and autobiographies. Alexandra Fuller was raised in Rhodesia and was a child when the ruling (all White) Rhodesian government fell to Black freedom fighters (led by then-hero-now-dictator Robert Mugabe) and became Zimbabwe. During her youth, Fuller lived in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia.

Her narratives mix in a good amount of history but are told in first-person, so the books are both educational and personally engaging. One of the more interesting aspects of her stories is the inescapable “whiteness” of her family in a world full of "color". There comes a point in Dogs where the family has been through so much loss and heartache that I found myself asking “Why don’t they just leave Africa?” But the answer is clear: regardless of their English roots, they’re African, and Africa is their home. In fact, at some point, they do leave, and within a few years they return "Home" to southern Africa. The author, in her adult years, lives in the US and always talks about feeling Africa fill her lungs when she steps off a plane to return to see her parents In Zambia; it is at that moment that she truly feels “home.”

She spends a good amount of time contemplating this aspect of her life as well as atoning for her “sins,” the sins of the White Rhodesian culture that brutally subjugated the majority Black population. She is not racist, but her family was, and Dogs discussed this with brutal honesty. In Cat, she befriends a former Rhodesian soldier and travels back with him to the regions where he fought, so she delves deeply into the Rhodesian war and all of its horrors (committed by both sides).

Fuller’s strength is her ability to humanize people that would at first glance seem like “bad” people. In her youth, her parents are unrepentantly racist. The soldier in Cat (known only as “K”) could be tried as a war criminal for the things he has done in his youth and has been psychologically damaged by what he has seen and done. Yet, these are real people, with real lives and dreams and feelings. "K" is plagued by the guilt of what he has done and has become a ardent Christian in seeking forgiveness. For all the negative things Fuller writes about her parents, especially her mother, she loves them. They are quite amazing people; their resiliency in the face of the obstacles and adversity they face is amazing. They do some bad things, but they do a lot of good things, too. They aren’t “bad” people, just damaged souls trying to make it through life.

So read these books. Both are worth your time. She has a few more books that I have not yet read, the newest being a full biography of her mother. I’m sure that would be a fascinating read.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Rabble-Rouser in the House

This last Wednesday night, our training group hosted Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest and a controversial figure in the Catholic Church. First and foremost, he’s a really nice guy and he’s very earnest about what he believes. The controversy stems from WHAT he believes, some of which flies in the face of the Catholic church’s structure.

He’s known for his stance on two major issues. Most recently- and most controversially- he has been outspoken in favor of the ordination of women priests in the Catholic Church. It is an understatement to say that the Vatican is not cool with this. Because of Fr. Roy’s stance and his participation in the ordination of a woman (he delivered the homily at the service) he has been excommunicated. He is very clear that his conscience will not allow him to recant, as he feels that it is sexist to state that a man’s call to the priesthood is authentic, but a woman’s is not. He has appealed to the Vatican to at least allow this topic to be discussed and debated in an open dialogue. His is a very controversial stance, and I know there were people in the audience that were not in agreement, and that is OK. In no way are we asked to agree with this if we are opposed. MKLM is a big enough family for multiple viewpoints.

Here's my quick opinion: I've not really given much thought to the issue, honestly. Personally, while the idea of women priests seems strange to me, I find no moral reasoning to be against it. The Vatican has a clear stance on the issue (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis), so I expect Fr. Roy will ultimately get booted or they'll just tolerate him and never actually finalize any of the threats; I certainly don't expect a reversal of the Vatican's opinion. And I also expect that the idea of women priests is a predominately Western viewpoint; I cannot imagine there's much support for it in Africa or Latin America, and what Fr. Roy is asking would affect every Catholic, so worldwide support would be a must. I expect we'll have married priests before we'll ever see a woman priest officially recognized by the Vatican. But I commend the man for staying true to his conscience, even in the face of a great loss of what he holds dear. CLICK HERE to read the statement Fr. Roy sent to Maryknolls when asked to recant his support. (It should also be pointed out that Katie and I have had some pleasant chats with Fr. Dougherty, to whom the letter is addressed and whom Fr. Roy still calls a close friend.)

The second issue- and his primary claim to fame- is the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA, which has been renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The school serves as a training academy for military personal from Central and South America. The crux of the matter is as follows, according to the site

"WHINSEC is a Defense Department facility at Fort Benning, near Columbus, GA, which provides “professional education and training for civilian, military and law enforcement students from nations throughout the Western Hemisphere.”

...It is the Defense Department’s principal Spanish-language training facility and, along with the U.S. Air Force's Inter-American Air Forces Academy (IAAFA), attracts the largest number of Latin American military students.

…Ask critics, and they will tell you that the institute has trained more than 60,000 soldiers in the counterinsurgency techniques, military intelligence, psychological warfare and interrogation, sniper training - and even torture, that have been the building blocks of the region’s history of bloody oppression and dictatorship. Ask a supporter, and they will tell you that the Institute has carried out a mission they consider crucial to national security, under fire of false accusations and Leftist propaganda.

There have been more than a few people trained at the facility who have been implicated in human rights abuses and murders. In protest of this training facility, Fr. Bourgeois founded School of the Americas Watch. Every year in November, this group is joined by thousands of others to protest outside the gates of Ft. Benning.

Now, here’s where the evening gets surreal and very amusing to me. Years ago, I bought a punk music compilation which contained the song “School of Assassins” (about the School of the Americas) by the band Anti-Flag. In the middle, there’s a sample of a guy yelling in protest of the SOA, and lo and behold, it’s Fr. Roy. So here I am Wednesday night, sitting across the table from the man himself, and I tell him I have a song in which he’s sampled. He’s never heard it, so I go get my computer, and minutes later find myself playing the song to the very man sampled within.

He was so freaking excited about this song. When we were wrapping up dinner, I took 2 pictures with him. The first is the more formal shot:

Then, he asked Katie to take one more shot and he threw his fists in the air and yelled “Anti-Flag! Get Those Motherf@#@$!” AWESOME.

Here’s a YouTube video of the Anti-Flag song that contains images of the yearly protests. Click HERE to see the lyrics of the song.

Feel free to post comments and thoughts in the comments section. There’s a lot to talk about in here.