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David Sylvester
David A. Sylvester is a writer and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area with an interest in classical philosophy, spirituality and social justice.

An Emergency Appeal from Honduras


by: on February 12th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Image Courtesy of Yamil Gonzalez

Let me step aside from the activities of our delegation during our week in Honduras and interject a personal plea:

If you’re like me, you get all kinds of appeals for calls and letters of support, for donations to make and for delegations to join. The pain of the world cries out to us daily, and our efforts seem so inconsequential. Perhaps, like me, you have often passed them by, or also like me, you’ve joined delegations from time to time.

Here’s the thing: This time is different, really different.

Honduras is on the tipping point between peaceful negotiations and civil war. The uneasy political truce in Honduras is breaking down, right now, after the years of increasing intimidation and assassinations since the military coup against the constitutionally elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

As you may know, the military kidnapped Zelaya and somewhat melodramatically flew him out of the country at night in his pajamas. Since then, a wave of protest, repression and assassination has swept the country.

Whatever tenuous agreements among the political parties that have held the country together since the military coup, ruptured at last November’ contested election. In the midst of counting the ballots, when it appeared that the opposition candidate Salvador Nasrallah was winning, the election commission stopped the count. The counting resumed hours later, yet Nasrallah’s lead had vanished and the Hernández had a 1.5 percent edge. Perhaps it is worth nothing that the election commission is dominated by Hernández supporters. Opposition candidate Salvador Nasrallah refused to accept the result.

Afterwards, the Organization of American States agreed there was evidence of fraud and called for a new election, but the U.S. has tacitly supported Hernández as the winner.

Over the coming months, the crisis is likely to grow worse. The opposition Alianza shows no signs of giving in this seizure of power by Juan Orlando Hernández and his right-wing National Party. In December, Zelaya issued an appeal to the American people to make every effort to stop the “immoral support” that the U.S. government has given to the dictatorship of Hernández. In his appeal, he wrote:

The electoral fraud supported by the U.S. State Department in favor of the dictatorship has forced our people to protest massively throughout the country, despite savage government repression that has taken the lives of more than 34 young people since the election, and in which hundreds of protestors have been criminalized and imprisoned.

After this electoral coup, police and military forces have been sweeping through opposition villages, harassing and threatening people in their homes. The death toll is now reaching about 40, often merely bystanders at protests who are fired upon with live ammunition.

It’s bad enough that some police officers are questioning and rebelling against their orders.

That is why I appeal to you, now, at this moment, to stop and help tip the balance toward peace and away from violence and repression. Any action you take to influence the U.S. in favor of peaceful domestic dialogue may save real lives, right now. You can:

  • Call, email or write your Congressional representative to ask him or her to support the ‘Berta Caceres’ resolution A.R. 1299 to stop military aid to the Honduran government until the security forces stop violating human rights and past perpetrators are brought to justice.
  • Send a donation to the emergency fund to support SHARE and the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. [Yes, every delegation runs more on faith than dollars!]
  • Or designate your donation to SHARE on behalf of Radio Progreso.
  • Even a simple email to Radio Progreso and Padre Melo to show support for free and independent news would help. (Email: prensa@radioprogreso.net.) If Melo and the station receive emails, they can print these out and show the wide range of support from people of good will to anyone who questions their rights to free speech and assembly.

I wouldn’t stop to ask you this unless I really believed that American voices at this moment could save lives over the coming months. The pressure on the American government is vital to at least give the Honduran civil society a chance to work things out on their own without the historical interference of the imperial giant to the north.


David A. Sylvesteris a Bay Area writer, teacher and contributor toTikkun. A Roman Catholic, he is also a member of Beyt Tikkun and has traveled to El Salvador as an election observer in 2009 and to Iraq in 1998 on a humanitarian mission with Voices in the Wilderness. In 2006, he served three months in a federal prison camp for civil disobedience at the U.S. army base at Fort Benning to protest the U.S.-training of Central American military troops.

A Holiday Fantasy: Your New Year’s Resolution for 2016


by: on December 31st, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Editor’s note: Our Tikkun contributing writer David Sylvester offers us a contemporary and super-shortened update and transformation to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but it’s not just for Christians, and it addresses our hopes for the New Year. See what parts of his fantasy could be yours as you make your own New Year’s resolutions using our TIKKUN mantra, “Don’t be realistic — go for your highest visions of the world you really want.” And meantime, if you haven’t yet made an end-of-the-year donation to Tikkun, do it now at www.tikkun.org/donate or by mailing a check to Tikkun, 2342 Shattuck Ave #1200, Berkeley, Ca. 94704. Meanwhile, may we all have a healthy, love-filled and transformative 2016 — Rabbi Michael Lerner.

All December, the pressure had been building, and something inside was about to explode, and maybe this time I wouldn’t make it through this one last week, and I’d wind up leaving cerebral spaghetti all over the walls, and there I was, trying to keep it together in line at Starbucks, and the baristas had the spirit too. They were furiously pumping out the espressos and steaming up the hot milk, but the addicts were edgy, so the manager cranked up the mechanical music until the speakers were thundering and crackling with “MURRRRRRY MURRRYYY CHRIZZZZZZZZZMUZZZZ….,” — and it was like this electronic avalanche was crashing down on my shoulders, and I was crouching low to escape it, while sliding some dollar bills across the counter to the cashier and mouthing: “L-A-T-T-E.” She took my money and gave me the look. She got it. Holiday Trauma.

I turned from the counter and found myself waiting outside in the parking lot, jostled back and forth by invisible elbows, and just past the fences, the cars and trucks were stopped dead on Interstate 880 like a locomotive off its rails, everyone trying to head south toward four different shopping malls. I could hear the muffled wailing of the children trapped inside the cars, dying to go to the new Episode VII of Star Wars instead shopping for borrriiing things, and I sensed the moms were gritting their teeth, because after all, for Chrissake, all the work it takes to keep everyone happy, and the significant others was just sitting there, staring at the red taillights, lost in a fog, thinking about work and their administrative assistants.

I was really needing my latte,and so I tried to head back inside, but a dozen people surged around me, pushing into my arms these multi-colored boxes of the things I didn’t want or need, and my arms were sagging, and some in the crowd began to sneer at my ingratitude, and others were envious because I was getting so much, so they started ripping the boxes from my hands and tearing at the colored paper, and the door to Starbucks opened, and the loudspeakers roared forth with, “HAAAVE A HAAAAPPPPYYY HAAPPPPPY NUUUUUUUU …,” and if this is the way the old year ends, then heaven help us for the New Year, but it didn’t matter because I was falling to the pavement at the feet of the mob. Then with a scream, I woke.

I was in bed.

I was sitting upright, the blankets twisted around my waist, my hair and neck wet with sweat, the sun shining through the windows.

All the world was silent.

I rubbed my face. What a nightmare! Or was it? Was I now I falling asleep into a new dream? Maybe I’m dreaming that I’m awake.


Pope Francis’ Lesson: The Abrahamic religions need a spiritual summit meeting, not dialogue-by-press-statements


by: on August 28th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Pope Francis

Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Pope Francis appeared to step into the quagmire in Iraq last week when he reportedly “endorsed the use of force” against ISIS. He was speaking a week after Obama authorized U.S attacks on ISIS military positions to stave off the threatened destruction of refugees in the Kurdish mountains. So was the “Pontiff of Peace” sprinkling holy water on airstrikes, perhaps even embarking on “the last crusade”?

No, in fact, the pope was doing nothing of the sort. His message was garbled through glib and superficial reporting, as Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has shown in an excellent analysis in The Daily Beast of what the pope said and didn’t say.

However the pope’s statement – and subsequent misinterpretations – clearly show how urgently the leaders of the three Abrahamic religions need to start talking face to face rather than through press statements. The crisis in the Middle East goes far beyond the military and political conflict, horrific as it is. At a deeper level, the spiritual identity of all three religions is under assault from the militarization of language and glorification of conflict.

To respond to these spiritual temptations of power and dominance, there’s an urgent need for these religious leaders to declare a “spiritual emergency” and meet in a “spiritual summit” to speak clearly to their faithful, from their respective traditions and scriptures, in defense of their shared values and vision of faith as applied to the current circumstances.


No More Cheap and Easy Easters!


by: on April 7th, 2012 | Comments Off

This weekend, the churches across this country will fill up with people who identify themselves as Christians to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Let me see if I have this right: This was a man who counseled us to “Turn the other cheek,” and “Love your enemies.”

And the United States of America is a country with the highest prison population in the world and a record number of inmates on death row awaiting execution;

A country that assassinates people at will, from drones flying at a high altitude, by push-button technology, without any legal process at all;

A country that launched an illegal war called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” that killed tens of thousands and has turned a million people into refugees;

A country that thinks owning a gun is a sign of freedom and independence and gun control infringes on “our rights.”

This weekend, the priests and preachers will proclaim the “Paschal mystery of salvation” in front of packed congregations. We Christians will join with Jesus as he celebrates his last supper with his disciples, washes their feet in a humble gesture of servanthood, then agonizes alone all night as he faces a rigged trial and unjust execution. We will kiss the Cross, the instrument of his torture and execution, and dedicate ourselves to “taking up our cross daily” and then give each other hugs over his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

You might disagree with me, but in my opinion, if we Christians left our churches on Sunday and followed Christ in action on Monday, the killing would stop that very day. In other words, it is a mockery of life, death and resurrection of Jesus to call this a Christian country.  


Why the Defrocking of Fr. Roy Bourgeois Will Test the Spirituality and Sincerity of SOAW Protest


by: on April 12th, 2011 | 45 Comments »

If you are following the news, you might know that sometime this week, Fr. Roy Bourgeois is going to be expelled from the Maryknoll order after more than 40 years as one of its leading members. Later, the Vatican is undoubtedly going to defrock – the word is “laicize” — him as a Catholic priest.

Father Roy Bourgeois. Flickrcc/peaceworker46

This rupture comes two years after Fr. Roy participated in an unapproved ordination of a Catholic woman as a priest. At the time, he was excommunicated as a Catholic but not expelled. Since then, some kind of unacknowledged truce seemed to prevail between Fr. Roy and the Maryknolls, even though I know Fr. Roy sent a letter last year to other Maryknoll priests asking them to come forward publicly and support the ordination of women.


The Catholic Crisis: Part II: When faith is challenged, Catholics must grow up


by: on July 27th, 2010 | 39 Comments »

Many years ago, when I was struggling to understand the smoke-and-mirrors world of corporate journalism, a Washington, D.C., veteran passed on to me a bit of wisdom:

When I was a reporter, an old PR pro once told me something. He said ‘You come to the press conferences and you listen, and the first mistake you make is that you think we’re lying. You discover we’re not lying. Then you make a greater mistake. You think we’re telling the truth.’ (1)

In Part I of examining the Catholic Crisis, I tried to point out the problem with this greater mistake. We examined the falsity within the partial truths of the meta-stories in pop culture, these simplistic, black-and-white constructs that make the world safe and understandable. We picked apart the assumptions blended with facts in one of last week’s news story that made it seem the Vatican thinks the ordaining of women is as bad as priests who sexually abuse children.

Now, we turn to a more difficult side of the partial truth: the way in which it is true. The truth within the partial truth poses a challenge to human understanding, because it is so difficult to face that our mind wants nothing more than to jump to quick and easy explanations, to construct meta-stories of some kind. But if we do this, we avoid the paradox that can, with struggle, force us to mature.


The Catholic Crisis: Part I: How pop culture gets it wrong and distorts the truth


by: on July 26th, 2010 | 5 Comments »

If you have followed the latest news, you might think that the Catholic Church has just made changes to “equate” the the sexual abuse of children with ordaining women as priests.

That’s what the New York Times told us over a week ago:

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican issued revisions to its internal laws on Thursday making it easier to discipline sex-abuser priests, but caused confusion by also stating that ordaining women as priests was as grave an offense as pedophilia.

The decision to link the issues appears to reflect the determination of embattled Vatican leaders to resist any suggestion that pedophilia within the priesthood can be addressed by ending the celibacy requirement or by allowing women to become priests.

Naturally, if you take this report at face value, as I did and many others have, including some on Tikkun Daily, you would think that the Church must be run by people who are either overtly evil or mentally ill. So I started looking into this episode. The more I looked, the more complicated it became.

Protest against sexual abuse of children by priests (flickr.cc/Steve Rhodes)

After investigating it this week, as a veteran journalist and a Catholic, I think I found the real culprit in this story. The real culprit is a spiritual virus of our times: the partial truth.

The partial truth has two lives. In its first life, it is a partial lie. It creates a false frame for the debate, makes moralistic dichotomies and leads to simplistic, destructive decisions. In its second life, it also contains some truth. The truthful side of a partial truth needs to be confronted honestly in its true depth so that understanding can develop and real solutions sought. But the lying quality of the partial truth has so confused and distorted the debate that an honest search for a solution has become all the more difficult and even derailed.


Rethinking Economics: How Sam Daley-Harris inspires hope with citizen activism and microcredit for the poor


by: on July 23rd, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Feeling lethargic or depressed?

Take a look at this 20-minute video of Sam Daley-Harris talking about his work lobbying for social change and advocating for microcredit to help assist the poor. You will probably get a healthier jolt of inspiration and energy than from another espresso or Red Bull.


Why Empire is a Spiritual Disease: U.S. death squads, assassinations, and plans for perpetual occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan


by: on July 2nd, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Three years ago, Sen. Barack Obama was sharp, forceful and eloquent in his questions to Gen. David Petraeus about the failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. In a congressional hearing on Iraq, Obama did not mince words with the general:

This continues to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake. And we are now confronted with the question: How do we clean up the mess and make the best out of a situation in which there are no good options, there are bad options and worse options?

Sen. Barack Obama questions Gen. Petraeus during Iraq hearings, 2007. (Go to 3:00 of this 9:45 minute video for above quote.)

This same candidate Obama was also confidently talking about withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months during his 2007 interviews. He defended a pull-out to two New York Times reporters, saying it would not “backfire” and discourage the Iraqis to find a political solution involving all sides of the conflict, as the critics claimed.


Dennis Hopper: The man who showed us why America is going crazy


by: on June 11th, 2010 | 6 Comments »

Herman Vaske (left) and Dennis Hopper in "The A-Z of Separating People From Their Money"

Dennis Hopper had an unfortunate gift for self-marginalization. He played the buffoon, the drunk, the druggie, the sex addict whose foolish behavior obscured a serious sensibility. When he died on May 29 at the age of 74 from prostate cancer, his life was once again in chaos. On his deathbed, he was divorcing his wife of 18 years, getting a restraining order to keep from seeing her. The mainstream writers, with their unfailing instinct for the superficial, remembered him as a “Hollywood bad boy,” a “rebel,” a “hellraiser.” The New York Times memorialized him for portraying “drug-addled, often deranged misfits.”

But this official record distorts, suppresses and marginalizes what the mainstream doesn’t want to see in Hopper’s work. It confuses his social and political critique, most notably in “Easy Rider,” with intentionally bizarre roles such as the psychopath Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet.”

More importantly, the mainstream writers entirely omitted some of Hopper’s most interesting and sustained efforts. In the late 1990s, he narrated and acted in three separate films stretching over nine hours of viewing time made by a German director who you’ve probably never heard of. Not only are Hermann Vaske and his films unknown in the U.S. but you can only get one of these films here – and then only on VHS and only from specialty video stores. (In Berkeley, CA, Reel Video; in San Francisco, Le Video.) It’s the first of the Hopper and Vaske trilogy called “The Fine Art of Separating People from their Money.”