Shelley Bluejay Pierce: The Critical Journey From Apathy to Empathy

June 11, 2008

“What would happen if we took away their fancy speechwriters, their campaign directors and all their media “spin-doctors” so that all that remained was the human being?”

…  asks Shelley Bluejay Pierce, in her latest thought-provoking opinion piece, written for the Pacific Free Press (Hard Truths for Hard Times).

The Critical Journey From Apathy to Empathy – “In the Beginning was the Word,” Now What?
by Shelley Bluejay Pierce

(part 3)
Most Americans took a deep breath and were grateful when finally, after months and months of incessant political media coverage, we knew who the final Presidential candidates were supposed to be. The onslaught of interviews, political analysts, reports on the Rev. Wright issue and ads declaring that only Hillary Clinton was qualified to pick up the White House phone at 3 AM assaulted us ad nauseum.

I have found myself desiring a new approach to the political campaigns. What would happen if we forced the candidates to take a “temporary” position as President and had them show us, by their actions and not their words, how they would perform as the leader of the USA?

Read more of “In the Beginning was the Word,” Now What? here.

Mitsuyoshi Toge: ‘How Could I Ever Forget That Flash’

August 8, 2007

Mitsuyoshi Toge: ‘How Could I Ever Forget That Flash’

Mitsuyoshi Toge, born in Hiroshima in 1917, was a Catholic and a poet. He was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on August 6, 1945, when he was 24 years old. Toge died at age 36. His firsthand experience of the bomb, his passion for peace, and his realistic insight into the event made him a leading poet in Hiroshima. This poem is from Hiroshima-Nagasaki: A Pictorial Record of the Atomic Destruction (1978).


How could I ever forget that flash of light!
In a moment, thirty thousand people ceased to be,
The cries of fifty thousand killed
At the bottom of crushing darkness;

Through yellow smoke whirling into light,
Buildings split, bridges collapsed,
Crowded trams burnt as they rolled about
Hiroshima, all full of boundless heaps of embers.
Soon after, skin dangling like rags;
With hands on breasts;
Treading upon the broken brains;
Wearing shreds of burn cloth round their loins;
There came numberless lines of the naked,
all crying.
Bodies on the parade ground, scattered like
jumbled stone images of Jizo;
Crowds in piles by the river banks,
loaded upon rafts fastened to the shore,
Turned by and by into corpses
under the scorching sun;
in the midst of flame
tossing against the evening sky,
Round about the street where mother and
brother were trapped alive under the fallen house
The fire-flood shifted on.
On beds of filth along the Armory floor,
Heaps, and God knew who they were?
Heaps of schoolgirls lying in refuse
Pot-bellied, one-eyed, with half their skin peeled
off bald.
The sun shone, and nothing moved
But the buzzing flies in the metal basins
Reeking with stagnant ordure.
How can I forget that stillness
Prevailing over the city of three hundred thousands?
Amidst that calm,
How can I forget the entreaties
Of departed wife and child
Through their orbs of eyes,
Cutting through our minds and souls?

Henri Nouwen’s ‘Lifesigns’: thoughts to ponder

April 15, 2007

Christian writer Henri Nouwen makes a compelling case for the need of nations to shift their priorities from merely concerns of national well-being to the betterment of all of humanity, “concerned with the survival of humanity and willing to make national sacrifices”. Regardless of your faith/lack thereof or political affiliations, his writings are well worthwhile to read, ponder and follow. The following is an excerpt from one of his writings:

“Ecstatic living entails a constant willingness to leave the safe, secure, familiar place and reach out to others, even when that involves risking one’s own security. On an international scale this means a foreign policy that goes far beyond the question, “How can our nation survive?” It would be a policy primarily concerned with the survival of humanity and willing to make national sacrifices. It would be a policy which realizes that idolizing the security of the nation endangers the whole of humanity. It would be a policy which places being human before being American, Russian, Cuban, Nicaraguan, or Mexican. In short, it would be a policy that seeks to liberate our common humanity.

Ecstasy always reaches out to new freedom. As long as national security is our primary concern and national survival more important than preserving life on this planet, we continue to live in the house of fear. Ultimately, we must chose between security – individual, social, or national – and freedom… The life of discipleship goes far beyond individual piety or communal loyalty. The whole world is called to be converted! Nations, not just individual people, are called to leave the house of fear – where suspicion, hatred and war rule – and enter the house of love, where reconciliation, healing and peace can reign.

The great spiritual leaders, from St. Benedict to St. Catherine of Siena to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Thomas Merton, have all grasped this truth: the power of the renewing Word of God cannot be kept within safe boundaries of the personal or interpersonal. They call for a new Jerusalem, a new earth, a new global movement.

The movement from the house of fear to the house of love has become necessary for the survival of humanity…

We must move of the place of death wishes and death threats and search, as nations, for ways of international reconciliation, cooperation, and care. We indeed need academies of peace, ministries of peace, and peacekeeping forces. We need educational reform, church reform, and even entertainment reform that makes peace its main concern. We need a new economic order beyond socialism and capitalism which makes justice for all its goal. But, most of all, we need to believe as nations that a new international order is possible and that rivalries between countries or blocs of countries are as outdated as the medieval rivalries between cities. This is what “global ecstasy” is all about. It is the movement from fear to love, from death to life, from stagnation to rebirth. from living as rivals to living as people belonging to one common humanity.

(from Lifesigns, p.109,112-113)

**Henry Nouwen’s book: Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective (Paperback) is available from Amazon by clicking here.

Customer review of Lifesigns:

Psychologist–Priest, Henri Nouwen is the author of 40 books on the spiritual life read widely by Catholics and Protestants. His book The Wounded Healer is required reading for psychotherapists. He taught at the Menninger Foundation, Yale, Harvard and in his last years shared his life with the developmentally disabled at the L’Arche Daybreak community (referring to Noah’s ark) in Toronto, founded by Jean Vanier. Here he found in the small society of the handicapped a paradigm for a society governed by fear.

Vanier said to Henri Nouwen at a retreat, “Working with mentally handicapped people, I have come to recognize that all human beings, whatever their condition, are called to intimacy, fecundity, and ecstacy.” Jesus refers to this holy triad in John 15 4-17: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (15:4) This certainly is an invitation to intimacy. “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (15:5). This is a call to fecundity. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (15:11). Here we have ecstasy. In this book Nouwen shows how the relationship of these three Christian elements are essential to a life of love and hope.

Intimacy is a divine gift allowing us to transcend fearful distance as well as fearful closeness, and to experience a love before and beyond all human acceptance or rejection. The opposite side of the coin of intimacy is solidarity. We cannot claim intimacy with God if we ignore our fellow human beings. It becomes our task to strive toward harmony among all people thereby our “intimacy manifests itself as solidarity and solidarity as intimacy.” (Nouwen, p. 45).

Ecstasy comes from the Greek work “ekstasis” where “ek” means out of and “stasis” means to stand still. Nouwen observes, “To be ecstatic literally means to be outside of a static place. Thus, those who live ecstatic lives are always moving away from rigidly fixed situations and exploring new, unmapped dimensions of reality. Joy is always new.” (P.,,,,) We can have old pain, old grief, old sadness, but we cannot have old joy. Joy is not being happy with some passing pleasure, but an inner bubbling up which permeates the entire body.


Read rest of this Amazon customer review here.

June Callwood, 1924-2007

April 15, 2007



Toronto journalist and activist June Callwood receives the Writers’ Trust Award for Distinguished Contribution March 7. Callwood, 82, urged the audience to avoid becoming complacent in the face of social injustice. Seven other awards, totalling $123,000 in prize money, were also given out.

“If any of you happens to see an injustice, you are no longer a spectator, you are a participant. And you have an obligation to do something.” – June Calwood

A tireless advocate for social justice, journalist June Callwood left an indelible mark on Toronto. She was the city’s conscience, fearlessly soldiering with one mission in life: to try to repair the world.

To all the people whose lives were helped by her selfless efforts, she will be remembered as Saint June. Although her own life was filled with tragedies — the loss of two sons, and her subsequent battle with cancer — June Callwood never gave up fighting for the underdog, the voiceless, those in need.

We mourn the loss of June Callwood, an extraordinary woman who lived a full life, helped so many, and enriched the lives of all those who came in contact with her.

Read more about June Callwood in the Sunday Toronto Star:

June Callwood, 82: Tireless advocate

June Callwood’s life in pictures – view Star slideshow here.

Voices: June Callwood remembered

A final hour with my friend

Applauding a force for fairness

Casey House

Tomgram, Meghann Farnsworth, “I want you to print this…”

March 23, 2007

Every spring, I venture out to the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and briefly become an editor to a group of young journalists. Given my Tomdispatch life, I teach a class fittingly called “Strong Words.” I always hope my students pick up something about writing — and especially rewriting — from me, while I learn much that’s surprising about our world (and technology I’ll never be able to handle) from them. It seems like a reasonable enough exchange.

For the last three years, the pieces from this class have taken over the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday Insight section for one week, as they will again this coming Sunday. I always get to preview one or two that best fit my particular Tomdispatch obsessions. Last year, for instance, I posted Chad Heeter’s “My Saudi Arabian Breakfast”; the previous year, Lisa Lambert’s “GodAssault, Morality as the Ultimate Game.”

This year, Meghann Farnsworth offers a window into journalism of a sort you don’t often see opened and I thought it well worth sharing with Tomdispatch readers. Tom

Girl on Fire

Confessions of a Former Journalistic Neophyte
By Meghann Farnsworth

I was the adult, a 25-year old journalism student on my first reporting trip abroad. She was the child, 16 going on 40. I had the translator, the driver waiting outside, a hotel room in the safest part of the city, a ticket out of the country in three days. She had her mother, fidgeting nervously in the waiting room, a multitude of STD tests, a house she rarely left in a violent neighborhood, and one of the most dangerous gangs in Guatemala City threatening her life if she talked.

A journalist’s job is to ask questions. Journalism school emphasizes the need to get “color,” “scenes,” “details.” Final articles are to be written in an authoritative, confident voice. And yet, what rules of engagement apply when a reporter — OK, in my case a young reporter — is faced with a source as vulnerable and traumatized as this girl?

Increasing violence against women in Guatemala City, that was what I had come down to investigate. Although I knew my subject, had read the literature, the government briefings and the daily local news reports, there was no way I could have prepared myself for the reality. Covering violence means being physically exposed to its final product: its victims, dead or alive.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Rita Joe, R.I.P.

March 22, 2007

I am deeply saddened by the death of Rita Joe of Eskasoni, the poet laureate of the Mi’kmaq nation. She died Tuesday night after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 75.

Throughout her life, Rita Joe’s philosophy has been to find the beauty in every place or circumstance and to keep an upbeat attitude about life. Rita was an amazing woman. She will be greatly missed.

Joe had published seven books, including five poetry anthologies and an autobiography, The Song of Rita Joe.

Joe’s poetry and activism made her a symbol of native pride.

The Aboriginal Achievement Foundation says Joe worked throughout her life to counter native stereotypes, and her poems and songs reflect both pain and hope.

Read this CBC News article: Rita Joe, ‘poet laureate’ of Mi’kmaq, dies