Here for You

Here for You
By Blind Peanut Nicholson

I can lend you an ear
I can give you a hand
I can offer a shoulder
That understands

We can share our minds
We can share our hearts
We can share our arms
Perhaps other parts

I can dry your tears
I can cover your back
Take whatever you need
If there’s something you lack

From my head to my toe
Whatever I can do
I want you to know
That I’m here for you

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The Peace and Justice Files: KIDS THESE DAYS

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler fled the US on January 19, and is now working with a refugee assistance group near Belgrade, Serbia.)

How many times recently have you heard someone say, or seen a post on social media, something like this?

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, sit indecently, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Sound familiar?

It should – it’s attributed to Socrates.

Seems that dissing the younger generation as being lazy good-for-nothings has been a hobby for grumpy old folks for a long, long time. “In my day…we respected our elders, we did what we were told…”

No, you didn’t.

You were just as much a mixture of delightful angel and pain-in-the-butt snotnose as I or anyone else was. You’ve just forgotten.

And the world back then was not as trouble-free as you seem to remember it being. We were just ignorant.

In fact, let me suggest that the very first time you hear a phrase like “what is wrong with kids these days” pass your lips, you should immediately make a note to have yourself checked for the onset of senile dementia. It’s a sure sign that your brain is starting to calcify.

For the last several months, it has been my privilege and pleasure to meet, hang out with, and get to know some truly phenomenal young people. They are knowledgeable about the world and connected to it in ways that are unimaginable to those of us who maybe perhaps had a foreign “pen pal“ or two or grew up watching the occasional travel documentary on PBS.

Emilia (not her real name) and her partner Helga (ditto) and I were talking recently here in Belgrade – I was interested in knowing where their activism and engagement had come from. Was it a product of education, of familial values, of religious belief, of watching the news? Emilia spoke instead of how travel had given her the opportunity to meet and interact with people from other countries. “After a while,” she said, in a phrase that struck me deeply, “every country has a face.” An earthquake in Peru, say, is no longer just some remote geological event – it happens 20 kilometers from the home of your friend Maria, whom you met on a hiking trip in Vermont, and with whom you stay in touch on Instagram.

Other volunteers here have told me similar stories. Sometimes thhad the money, sometimes they worked for it, sometimes they found their way one step at a time, but the ability to personally witness other parts of the world, and see our fellow humans as just that – humans – has done something to their hearts and souls, something that I think needs to happen to as many people as possible.

So next time you see one of these newspaper opinion pieces about all the problems with Millennials, take it with a good-sized portion of salt – and if you are a Millennial, don’t let anyone else try to tell you who you really are.
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THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: BEOGRAD BLUES

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler left the USA on January 19, and is now in Belgrade, Serbia, helping with refugee assistance.)

First off, I’d like to thank the folks who responded to last month’s survey request, regarding how well we as a nation are fulfilling the goals set forth by the Founders in the Preamble to the Constitution. I could use a few more responses, though. Please stop by https://www.surveymonkey.de/r/MCKVFVM and let me know what you think. (So far, the results are not exactly encouraging…)

Now then:

Through a very useful website called www.greecevol.info, I found out about a fairly new NGO called BelgrAID, based in the Serbian capital city of Belgrade (also called Beograd, depending on your language). These folks cook nutritious daily meals for a group of refugees from various countries, about 800-1000 young men who are housed in a former Yugoslav army base in the nearby city of Obrenovac. They also provide help to other vulnerable communities here in Belgrade, and transport personal care supplies to various camps across Serbia.

They. Are. Amazing.

I find myself among an ever-changing gaggle of a couple of dozen competent, energetic, idealistic, practical, and motivated young people, from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, America, and other countries. (A group of awesome Portuguese Girl Scouts came through recently from Lisbon.) German, Spanish, English, Italian, and other tongues fill the air. There are also a handful of neighborhood dogs that we have adopted – or rather who have adopted us – and who provide amusement and comfort that more than makes up for the times they eat our socks.

Some of these folks are long-term, dedicated volunteers. Others are students or workers taking some time during their summer holidays to be of service. Others are travelers and adventurers, combining their wanderlusts with a desire to make a difference.

Why are they here?

I spent an afternoon talking to a young woman named Carolina, from the Bay Area of California.  She had been on vacation in Greece, and fell into a conversation with an older woman who had been spending time in the Greek Islands dealing with the huge influx of refugees last fall.

“Oh,” she remembered thinking: “I have to do that.”

Clear. Obvious. No-brainer.

They are here because there is work to be done, and human needs to be filled. Pure and simple.

So I have met some of these men, these Farsi and Benghalis and Pashtuns, and shared some meals and conversations with them. They are tanners and aircraft mechanics, would-be accountants and experienced managers. They tear up when they hear emotional pop songs from their homelands. They meet, talk, and play soccer and basketball these young, free, strong Western women, but they always act as impeccable gentlemen towards them, even though you can see the longing and loneliness in their eyes.

In a few days, I’ll get to go meet some refugee kids in one of the other camps, perform for them, and maybe introduce some of them to the old-fashioned tin can stilts I’ve been making in my spare time. If you’d like to know more about supporting BelgrAID, or my work here in particular, drop me a note at skip.mendler@gmail.com.  Thanks.

Pieces of Charlemagne 

The poor man was hardly cold
Before the intrigues began
Brother Antonius
Took an ankle to Sicily
And was never seen again
Hans the young coroner’s assistant
Carefully trimmed the glorious beard
And swept the results into his pocket
Though some imperial cat hairs
May have been mixed in with the cuttings
The sisters who prepared the body
Kept tightly curled souvenirs
Hidden in lockets and scapulars
Slowly, pieces of Charlemagne
Meandered across his old empire
Some wrapped in burlap
Some swaddled in gold and lapis lazuli
Here, this is his ulna
Here is a paten made from his patella
Here is the finger he gave to a peasant in Armenia
But what I want to see is not his skull
But the furrows from his brow

​WORK TILL THE WORK GETS DONE

We gotta work, work, work till the work gets done
But the work is never done so I
Guess we’ll just keep on workin
Work, work, work till the work gets done
Gotta work till the work gets done

We gotta pray, pray, pray until the prayin’s done
But the prayin’s never done so I
Guess we’ll just keep on prayin
Pray, pray, pray till the prayin’s done
Gotta pray till the prayin’s done

I look at what we gotta do and there’s
No end to it
What are we supposed to do?
I suppose we’re supposed to do it
Work, work, work till the work gets done
Gotta work till the work gets done

We gotta hope, hope, hope until the hope is gone
But the hope is never gone so I
Guess we’ll just keep on hopin
Hope, hope, hope until the hope is gone
Gotta hope till the hope is gone

We gotta love, love, love until the love is gone
But the love is never gone so I
Guess we’ll just keep on lovin
Love, love, love until the love is gone
Gotta love till the love is gone

I look on down the road, can’t
See the end of it
Guess we’ll keep goin on
Till we get to rise above it
Love, love, love until the love is gone
Gotta love till the love is gone

We gotta live, live, live until the life is gone
But the life keeps goin on so I
Guess we’ll just keep on livin
Live, live, live until the life is gone
Gotta live till the life is gone
Gotta live till the life is gone
Gotta live till the life is gone

(2012)

Throwdown in Jerusalem (A Modest Proposal)

The combination briar patch and powder keg that is sometimes called “the Holy Land” is chock-full of contentious and seemingly irresolvable issues. One of the thorniest involves the area of Jerusalem called the Temple Mount, which houses some of the holiest sites of both Judaism and Islam. It is also revered by Christians, especially those of the apocalyptic variety, since the restoration of the ancient Jewish Temple is an important part of their eschatological timeline, and the desired site is presently physically occupied by a mosque.

I won’t even try to recount the whole history here – there are plenty of sources you can find for that. Suffice it to say that recent events have once more brought the tenuous and sensitive question of ownership to the fore.

Oh, and one more thing: I think I may have a solution to this conundrum.

It’s simple enough, if you accept my premise, which is that if the Almighty has an opinion on this matter – and the disputing parties all agree that He does – then we should be able to ask Him about it.

There is a precedent for the sort of thing I have in mind. Back in the Old Testament, in 1 Kings 18 in fact, there’s a great story about the prophet Elijah and his throwdown with the priests of Baal. Elijah suggests that they set up ritual sacrifices to their respective gods, and see what happens – the idea being that the real deity will cause his sacrifice to be devoured  in flame.

Baal’s guys try their best, but nothing happens – and Elijah has some fun talking smack at them all the while. Then he not only sets up his sacrifice, he has it doused thoroughly with water (so the story says) – but Yahweh blows it all sky-high anyway.

So here’s my idea. Let’s get some hardcore representatives of the three faiths involved – an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, a radical Islamic imam, and a fundamentalist pro-Israel Christian preacher like, say, James Hagee – to set up some old-school sacrifices, and then beseech the Almighty to let His Will be known.

And then we see what happens… with this caveat: if nothing happens at all, then the parties agree that this will be interpreted as a clear sign from The Creator that we should all start acting like grownups and learn how to share.

Now here’s the main point, and my challenge: I do not belive that ANYBODY – Muslim, Jewish, or Christian – actually has the faith, or the confidence in their position, to put their claim to such a test. They might talk a good game, and trot out historical and scriptural evidence to back themselves up, but they don’t really believe their own rhetoric.

Maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see. Continue reading

JUDGMENT DAY (from the Anticalypse)

(An excerpt from the Anticalypse of Sebastian of Appalachia)

And then behold, I found I sat as in a park, upon a bench, in the shade of trees, and the day was clear and bright. And the pigeons did flock all about, and I heard the barking of dogs, and the laughter of children playing. But I knew that beyond this park, all was discord and conflict and fire, and the destruction of the world continued apace.

And next to me sat an angel, tall, dark-skinned, radiant; but he seemed as a street musician or travelling minstrel; and behold he was garbed all in blue, from the soft cloth hat on his head to the shoes of his feet, and butterflies danced upon him, shining with a light like unto rainbows, and the soft tinklings of bells were heard about him.

“The Justice of the Lord is perfect and absolute,” said the blue one to me, “but His Mercy is also infinite. This is the mercy that I know you seek. But consider, and consider well, for this is the choice to be made, by you, upon this, your Day of Judgment: He can extend this mercy unto you, but if so then He shall extend it to all, even those who have harmed or frightened or angered you, whom you have judged to be evil and worthy of punishment. Or he can exact his terrible justice upon them, and so satisfy your thirst for retribution; but then that same awful gaze must needs be turned upon you, and you know what that means.

“And so, beloved… how do you want this all to go down, hmmm?”