Saturday, December 30, 2006

War and Peace

War is much on my mind at the moment, as I am preparing some reflections on peace and justice for an event tomorrow. I encountered this History of Religious War animated map this afternoon. 5000 years in 90 seconds. Being a visual person, this makes more impact on me than other types of timelines.

Where will the next action point be? Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

People on the move...

We have passed through the advent season of waiting. Hopeful anticipation has given way to joyful celebration of the Emmanuel, God-with-us! At least one teller of the stories shares with us that after Jesus' birth, the new family fled their homeland for safety from Herod's wrath. A family of immigrants, political refugees. Hoping for a safe future for their young son, Mary and Joseph took him to another land, one that was prospering.

Thus, we come back to immigration. The hot button issue of the year is not going to let the year go out quietly. MSNBC has posted an Associated Press article on a law forbidding landlords to rent to illegal immigrants. The "usual suspects" - English as official language, etc - are also part of this package. You can read for yourself on the Farmers Branch, TX municipal website. Like Hazleton, PA, Farmers Branch, TX, had been a declining community which found new life thanks to the wave of immigration. The ACLU and local landlords are suing Farmer's Branch - in part due to concerns about process, as much as content.

I hear that Tom Brokaw produced a special report that was to air this evening, "In the Shadow of the American Dream." More, perhaps, if I'm able to track down part or all of the report, after the fact...

Friday, December 15, 2006

One more thought on the soul, from the insomniac

I think the soul is what the poets have tried to capture through the ages with their words. In a parables class this fall, I used the phrase "invades the semicolon between one heartbeat and the next" to describe the Good News. I think the soul lives in that pause - that semicolon.

In honor and celebration of my friends and colleagues in Parables, I quote the words of ee cummings:

almighty God! I thank thee for my soul; & may I never die spiritually into a mere mind through disease of loneliness

Immigration Enforcement - Human Rights Issues!

Has anyone been following the stories of this week's immigration raids in 6 states? Synopsis: 1200 people detained, about half are immigrants from Mexico. The story is similar to what we saw in the Star Packaging case in Walworth County, WI - identity theft by undocumented immigrants so they can get working papers.

38% of individuals in the meatpacking industry are foreign-born noncitizens ( Justice & Witness page). Some coverage I've read estimates that 50% of the Swift company workforce is now gone. According to coverage I've read so far, these individuals are being held, without access to lawyers or clergy, at a military installation. Here's some of the coverage:

Wisconsin Ag Connection - Not known for being a liberal bastion, but references potential civil rights violations. - Thoughtful approach to "what could have been done differently"
What about the children? - No matter what your position on immigration issues, do these children really deserve to be traumatized?
Expect More - NYT article cites anticipation of further crackdowns, courtesy of Homeland Security
Clergy and Victim Rights Advocates Denied - Advocates attempt to get access to detainees in Iowa, and fail. More here.
Swift & Company official website. Links to company news releases. Note there are reports the company filed to try to stop the raids & cooperate with ICE, and were refused.
Chicago Tribune coverage. Cites Pew Hispanic Center study on the industry.

A letter I received at work, cosigned by the head of both the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Iowas Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

To our sister coalitions throughout the United States and territories,

We are writing to make you aware of the abuse of human rights and absence of due process that is currently underway as a result of what is reported as the largest immigration raid in US history. On Tuesday, ICE officials descended on Swift meatpacking plants in Marshalltown, Iowa; Grand Island, Nebraska; Greeley, Colorado; Hyrum, Utah; and Cactus, TX. Over 1,200 people were reportedly arrested. A large number (not certain how many) of detainees from Iowa and Nebraska are being held at a National Guard facility (Camp Dodge) in the Des Moines area.

Here in Iowa, ICE officials were flown in from all over the country, and descended with chartered buses, hauling away 3 busloads from the Swift plant in Marshalltown, Iowa. They had no opportunity to communicate with anyone. As of this morning, no one, not even clergy, has been allowed to see them. Family members, attorneys, advocates, priests, ministers, have all been denied access, even to offer minimal information on their basic rights. The detainees were reportedly told that they can call a lawyer if they provide the full name and phone number. Two IowaCASA staff were threatened with arrest yesterday as they sought permission to pass out pamphlets to the detainees aboard the buses. One is a US citizen by birth, but born in Germany, one born in Mexico and a legal permanent resident. They did not have identification on their persons and were told they could be arrested on the spot for the “crime” of failing to carry identification papers at all times.

Throughout yesterday and today a coalition of groups coordinated by Sonia Parras Konrad of ICADV’s MUNA clinic, attempted to get information to the detainees, coordinate press, create a united clergy effort, etc. There is also a widespread effort by immigration attorneys to assist the detainees in other states.

There are many awful stories emerging, particularly in regard to the children: a house of 35 children without parents and community members attempting to care for them; a priest trying to find a breastfeeding mother whose infant won’t eat and being denied access; the same priest trying to find a father of an asthmatic child to get information about the child’s care and again being denied access; attendance at the Marshalltown schools down by 25% yesterday. Other reports of frantic families have emerged, a man desperately trying to give some money to his wife sitting on one of the buses before it was driving away, and being prevented from doing so; teenagers trying to figure out how to get paperwork and assistance to their parents.

It is horrible and devastating. Accused rapists and mass murderers are routinely afforded far more rights than these people whose “crime” was to work at very difficult low-wage jobs.

At the moment, the coalition advocates are again attempting to get in to see the detainees to give them information about their rights, find out about children needing assistance, etc. It is unclear as of this writing whether they have been admitted.

Next week, families all over the United States will be united over meals that include roasts and hams prepared by these workers. As other families come together, those who helped provide the food will be alone in detention, worried about husbands, wives, children, and face to face with the worst this country has to offer.

We ask you to join in expressing our outrage at policies that violate human rights, due process, devastate families, and make none of us proud.
I am not making any statement on the culpability of employers in hiring, our our complicity in supporting this industry. That is another topic for another day. However, biblical tradition points us towards refuge and hospitality for the stranger and sojourner in our midst. These are human beings, not anonymous numbers. Please consider what your faith calls you to do in the face of this human suffering.

What is a soul?

This was the hot topic of our final public theology class. The most heated part of the discussion (respectful, but strongly worded!) was on the topic of abortion, choice, and fatherhood. I've rehashed that debate often enough (the organization I work for is, as a matter of conscience and integrity with our mission of empowerment, pro-choice). I would like to share some of the other thoughts that came up -

What is a soul? My (current) answer , informed by prior thought and important contributions from classmates- the soul is that in us which reaches outward towards God and community. When we choose to isolate ourselves, or are forced into isolation by circumstance, I believe that vital God-spark in us diminishes. I believe, from seeing it in others, and experiencing it myself, that it can be nurtured back to health, but it is a long road. Kudos to a classmate for his comments on relationality that pushed me to sharpen my thoughts on the issue.
Just the same, when we over-extend, and neglect the nurture of our own soul (it takes a certain level of strength to reach out to others), we must tend our own gardens (apologies to Voltaire...), for a while, so that capacity to relate can be recharged. A classmate said, "I believe our souls learn, grow and expand when we attend to them." Hear, hear!
Yes, it's your friendly neighborhood introvert talking, but I think the sentiment would still hold for extroverts, to a different degree. [Extroverts - speak up! Do I have you all wrong?]
It is the balance of relationality and solitude for reflection that nurtures the soul. The gardener in me recognizes we need both light and dark (makes me want to re-read John of the Cross) to grow. Essential processes occur in both sides of the cycle. I'm too lazy to get my old plant physiology book out, but my recollection is that the plant breathes CO2 and exhales oxygen at different times of the day.

What do you think the soul is? Are there other metaphors you would suggest besides a plant? I'm always looking for items for my toolkit!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Theological education / Healing

A question came up in last week's class which has been knocking around my brain. I didn't have an answer at the time, but as always - after the fact - it has come to me. The question was how can seminary education be about the "cure of the soul".

First, I think we need to talk about healing, not cure. Now that we've established that particular bias of mine...

I think we can only teach/learn anything with integrity once it becomes an integrated part of educational experiences. Praxis! We can't learn "the cure of the soul" by reading about it, or trying it out on an unsuspecting congregation, we need to learn by practicing it in our very own classrooms. To that end, I have been reflecting on seminary classes to date which have been about that task for me, and what elements were present. The following list comes to mind (non-exhaustive) -
  • beginning and/or ending with prayer and greeting one another
  • safe environment encouraging/rewarding risk - the best i've seen so far would be great models of appreciative inquiry, starting from the best of "what is" and filling in the gaps for "what might be even better". I have to say, I've used "AI" in business contexts before, with very good outcomes, but experiencing it in the classroom is phenomenal!
  • safe environment for personal sharing - I think the previous item sets the stage for this one
  • the conversational equivalent of "white space" - in class time for reflection prior to discussion periods. Let me tell you, introverts love it! It gives us a chance to get a word in edgewise. It's also a great way to model some of what we learn in pastoral care about not rushing to fill empty space in conversations.
I'm sure there are others...if you can think of some, feel free to comment.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

More on 'who is human'

Tonight's newspaper held an article that seems to me a strong example of how we selectively miscount and undercount those we take to be less than human.

Headline - Study: Violence in Iraq downplayed.
In additional coverage of the Iraq Study Group report, my local newspaper picked up a wire service article. Quoting the article, quoting the report:
"The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases...A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack...A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt US personnel doesn't count."

Translation: The loss of an Iraqi life doesn't count. Violence done to Iraqis doesn't count. This is not news, but the highest level government study I have heard of yet to identify what human rights advocates have been crying throughout this war.

Collateral damage, one of the great euphemisms of battle. And another way in which we deny the humanity of those we see as "different."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Who is human?

"Christians are called by Christ to humanize those statistics." - Archbishop Wilton Gregory (Atlanta, GA)

This week's topic: God and the Human Being. In our class discussion, we talked about theological themes that appear in public discourse. One undercurrent I've noticed is dehumanizing the "opposition". This is certainly nothing new. Some places this comes to mind -

The business world: how many times do we make our opponent into an 'it' rather a "he/she/they"? Plenty of examples here - supervisor/employee, salesperson/competition, employee/customer. All of a sudden, we move from business transactions to demonizing the other, to treating them as if they are a thing, not a human being with emotions and feelings, all in the name of winning.

The immigration debate: Forgive me for indulging in what seems to be "topic of the year" for me. But I have noticed - and continue to notice - a tendency to remove undocumented immigrants from their status as human beings, and treat them as "things" that are out of place.

This is not a clean comparison, but a partial illustration of the point. Imagine, for instance, a compost pile. Think about spoiled and wasted food. Rotten vegetables, quasi-unusable pieces, peels, coffee grounds, eggshells. My grandmother used to call it swill. My daughter would call it yuck. In the refrigerator's produce drawer or out in the open in the house, it would be disgusting. On the patio, same deal. But put it in a box, or a pile further removed from the house, add a few worms, and suddenly it changes character. Now, we have a compost pile, folks! Unclean has been transmuted into clean.

Likewise, undocumented immigrants are ok when they're silent or out of sight: cleaning our hotel rooms, busing our tables, processing the canned vegetables that will grace our tables this winter. But let them make a mistake, become visible in the newspaper, ask for help, seek change, speak to issues of import in the community, and suddenly they are a threat.

If people are near us - "invading" our schools, communities, seeking help from social service organizations - they become a threat. We deal with the threat by dehumanizing the real human beings here. Treat them like things that one can arbitrarily move at a whim, it's something entirely different. Here in "my" community, immigrants are unnatural, unclean, intrinsically disordered, dangerous. Safely elsewhere? Out of sight? Isolated? Not nearly the threat. It makes me want to re-read Mary Douglas' book, Purity and Danger, that I highly recommend if you're interested in this train of thought.

More on immigration? A recent forum called for compassion for undocumented immigrants - compassion, what we show for living beings, not things. Pigeonholing people, assigning them a category, labeling them, is the first step at dehumanizing them. Not to get overly philosophical here, but what is more real - the label, or the human being in front of you? The box we construct to contain a living, breathing child of God? Or the child?

Class conversation roamed all over the place. We also had some talk of body image and eating disorders, and I would leave you with this thought: Dehumanizing is not something we only do to the other, but also to ourselves. We can make our body the enemy (especially thinking of the diets of the holiday & post-holiday season) that betrays us, the body a thing that offends us - or recognize that it, too, is part of creation. What would happen if we began treating our own whole selves as sacred?

Clearly, I'm not much in favor of dualism. More on God & the Human Being after our next discussion on the soul.

Friday, December 01, 2006


No time to do one of my typical long posts this evening (post on God & The Human Being discussion to come). Wisconsin is shoveling out from the storm, and the plows have been overly in depositing snow at the foot my driveway.

But I just saw this post on DKos that hit my outrage meter. So here you go. I haven't sourced the diary for accuracy, I haven't looked for related news beyond this. Read all caveats you want to.
What caught my eye was this quote: (The diarist is quoting radio host Dennis Prager on the use of a Bible in a swearing-in ceremony for new members of Congress, saying it 'undermines American civilization' to use anything else.)
"The New Testament is not my Bible but it is America's Bible," he said, noting that Jewish officeholders who had insisted on the Hebrew Bible were "secularists" who didn't believe what was in it anyway. [emphasis added by me]
There are all kinds of inaccuracies in the background that I don't have time to get into here. However, I am deeply disturbed by anyone claiming the Bible as belonging to any nation! And the 'undermining American civilization' comment makes me wonder what is at stake with those who might agree with this radio host.
Perhaps another post for another day (if the snowplows spare the driveway overnight...)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

clergy leadership in the public square

"Truth is above harmony. Those who fear disorder more than injustice invariably produce more of both."
- William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (from the website of Protestants for the Common Good, a Chicago faith-based organization)

Our public theology class recently chatted with Rev. Tim Ahrens, one of the leaders of We Believe Ohio. Part of the discussion revolved around how we (in our guest lecturer's words) "silence [ourselves], make excuses, or refrain from speaking because of [our] fears." There's so much truth to that. For those of us who tend to be introverts, have not had a history of being activists, and who wear multiple hats in the community, speaking out involves an element of personal and professional risk.

One quick example: submitting an op-ed (see previous post) on immigration issues to the local newspaper. While my comments had a name and professional role/agency affiliation attached, two short comments printed in today's paper had the luxury of anonymity.

  • Professional ramifications: These called-in "sound-off" responses were both in opposition to the position I took, and one stated the caller was reconsidering their support for the agency based upon my position. The callers said the comments indicated I was "in favor of illegal immigration." I would argue these callers are missing an important nuance in the article. There are probably many more of these individuals out there. However, I see it as a matter of racial justice, which is central to the agency's mission, so it was vital that we speak out - even if it got people angry.
  • Personal ramifications: In addition to the ramifications for the agency that employs me, I also have to consider (selfishly) whether those who help fund my seminary education through scholarships might object to my position, and how that will affect me in the future.
  • Clergy in the public square? I have also been involved with individuals through the years who believe that clergy should not address these issues. I have over time come to disagree. I would agree with classmates and our speaker who see an important role for social justice leadership within the local church. I look with excitement at the work of organizations such as We Believe Ohio, Chicago's Protestants for the Common Good, and the Let Justice Roll living wage campaign as positive models for how clergy can galvanize action through community work.

Local Readers (come on, I know you're out there): What might happen if clergy in our own community used their occasional space on the religion page for social justice oriented columns? So far, they seem more oriented towards individual devotions, family matters, and local church participation. What if the focus changed outward? Do matters such as the racial justice/immigration comment I submitted belong on the op-ed page? Religion page? Both? Neither? Not-so-local readers, you're welcome to comment, too!

(A logistical note to my readers who are new to blogs - if you have trouble entering a comment, you can send me an email message to publish instead.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Wishes

May each of you have enough to fill your bellies and hearts this day. May you have a peaceful place to rest your head, and someone to comfort or challenge you as needed.

I am thankful for my daughter. For my ongoing love affair with the written word, and for words of wisdom from others. I am thankful for the wise women of the church who have inspired me through the years. I am thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. And for many other things that would make this post quite long...

For what are you thankful?

Grace and peace to you on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

we don't have to play into racist assumptions

My op-ed from a recent post was accepted, with edits to reflect local developments, by the Janesville Gazette.

For background on the situation in Walworth County, Wisconsin, I would point you here for the incident that prompted the community conversation. Here for risks that immigrants take to come to Southern Wisconsin. And here for the fear-filled atmosphere in the local Hispanic/Latino community. And here for the discussion of law enforcement vs. immigration/customs enforcement responsibility. More links from other sources to come.

But, more disturbingly, I would point you here for an article on identity theft that is only tangentially about the local situation. The online version doesn't come across as tightly linked to the series, but in print, it ran juxtaposed under the first article, under a banner headline about "why they come". I think the series, as packaged, plays into racist assumptions in a way that is very damaging.

Unfortunately, the paper doesn't run its op-eds in the online version. Feedback on the revised op-ed is running 50/50 so far.

More to come...

Monday, November 13, 2006

when you take it a step further...

Comic strips and hyperbole are a natural combination.

I had to share today's FoxTrot comic strip. What happens to unemployed political ad writers?

Funny take on public discourse, illuminating an extremely important point. All that venom and negative energy doesn't just up and disappear at the end of the campaign. Where does it go?

Do we follow that energy? Move ahead of it? Try to shake the dust off our feet (or in a more contemporary metaphor, scrape it off the heels of our shoes)? What can we do to dissipate it -around us, and in us?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

election response

So I stayed up on election night, until it was election late night. I woke up on the sofa when it was post-election early morning, news channel still running a ticker of election results. Then it was time to get the munchkin ready for school. I highly recommend a kindergartener as a great antidote to the election-night hysteria and edge-of-your-seat wait for vote counts (in this case, from Montana, Virginia, and various state/local referenda). Now that I have fallen behind the news cycle yet again, I offer these reflections.

Those of you trying to offer instant analysis of what message the voters were trying to send - please stop. Get a life. I have heard all sorts of answers on this one, and as far as I'm concerned they're all wrong, and they're all right. It's as simple as this: a critical mass of citizen-voters of this nation saw something that angered them, or sickened them, or ... you get the point. These individuals each evaluated the situation, and decided that enough was enough. Their motivations didn't all have to be the same. In electing Democratic candidates, this nation's voters made many individual choices. It wasn't groupthink. It was war. It was environment. It was arrogance. It was health care. It was science. It was friends and family. They relied upon all sorts of indicators that impact their everyday life, including their faith. Read into the election results what you will, but realize that in doing so, you discount the agency of each person who took the time to learn about the candidates, the issues, and go to the polls. Do not diminish your neighbors in that way.

What comes next? My favorite political cartoonist, Tom Toles, channels Charles Schulz - Before the election, and after.

I am encouraged by the get-to-business tone I've been observing from the Democrats. They seem to be acting like grownups. Definitely preferred over "I told you so," or drunken revelry. I believe that the grassroots and the netroots worked their behinds off to make the party's election success a reality. However, we also need to look at what the party has to offer. The Democrats did not win office so much on their own merits, but because they were the most viable alternative.

In that vein, a classmate recently offered this tremendously relevant parable. I cannot claim credit for the idea, but I share it for your reflection: "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the earth. And should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. By itself, the earth produces, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the harvest is ripe, he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29)

I hope and pray that our newly elected Democratic leadership in Congress earns this. As always, feel free to disagree. And tell me about it!

Monday, November 06, 2006

By any means necessary?

But first, a plea from your sister:
Registered voters: If you have not yet voted, and you are reading this on Tuesday, stop. Now. Get your keys. Leave home. Find your polling place. Vote. Then come back and read. I promise you, this blog will still be here when you return. Barring a cataclysm on the Internet that is beyond my control.

OK. Thank you for engaging in that exercise in civic responsibility. Now, to the question for the day: what are "appropriate" cultural influences to be used as grist for public theology? In a recent class, Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' was part of the background material assigned for our reflections on violence. At the time it was released, I took a stand that I was not going to support Mr. Gibson's work by allocating my time or my money. Publicity on this film was so ubiquitous at that time, though, it was hard to avoid. Even the promo clips gave me nightmares. I was seriously disturbed by the professor's assigning this work.

Speaking of civic responsibility, though: in doing public theology, should we go by the "any means necessary" school? Go with what catches public attention? I.E., if the public conversation is on Mel's The Passion, do we have a responsibility to address it? Do we propose alternatives? Or avoid it altogether? Can we stick with the sanitized/pretty versions? The fact is that no unbiased version of the story exists. How can we responsibly engage with the 'spin' that's already in the marketplace of ideas?

If The Passion were released today, I'd have to say that I would use it, despite my squeamishness and theological disagreements with the filmmaker. I would try to offer resources for processing the sights, sounds, and ideas viewers encountered. Frankly, after that level of violence, I think we move beyond the field of education and into the realm of pastoral care.

I think anything in the marketplace of ideas is fair game for public theology. Particularly if it makes me uncomfortable, it needs my attention. Sure, I'd rather spend my days practicing my interpretive skills on Veggie Tales. But, we have a penchant for moving from the bright Saturday morning cartoons to the ominous mood music of The Da Vinci Code, Mel's version of The Passion, the Left Behind series. In class discussion, I called The Passion pornographic, in its use of violence to stir the viewer. I used The Matrix in a Pizza & A Movie video series at church a few years ago. Extremely violent? Without a doubt. But powerful, potent in its ability to engage the imagination around themes of faith. I don't think we get to stay in 'G' rated films. Our world is not 'G' rated, our imaginations are not 'G' rated. Even when we like to pretend they are.

Call for comments: what's fair game in public theology? If public theology is everyday God-talk, what's usable from our cultural melange? TV? Books? Video? What tools do you use? Do you consider anything off limits?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Free to Hate

As our class explores and practices public theology this term, another assignment (in addition to this blog) has been to write an op-ed on the subject of 'freedom'. This is my draft. Feel free to comment!

The American melting pot has boiled over in this year's immigration debate. Earlier this election year, an opportunistic House leadership raised the specter of 15 million illegal Mexican immigrants (heavens, what a number!) having anchor babies, stealing our jobs, and avidly consuming social services. Divisive partisan opinions were fed by irresponsible media commentators. While our elected officials used immigration as a talking point in their road show, the issue of what to do became more pressing in local communities around the nation. The fear and anger fed into public discourse became embedded in small and midsized communities as ethnic hatred.

We're talking about hating people based on their skin color, their language, their national origin. Too strong? Perhaps. But the vehemence of these commentators, of individuals who feel their livelihood is at stake, indicates more than just strong feelings. These aren't just words. They cement opinions, which generate actions.

The fear or indifference at the root of hate is a precursor to violence – the type of violence that allows one group to work for the elimination or exit of another. Our national conversation about immigration has developed into talk of restricting access to human services and mass expulsions. The term ethnic cleansing used to apply to other countries, other communities. South Africa under apartheid. Yugoslavia. Sudan. Congratulations, America. Welcome (back) to the club.

In response to the federal government's failure to act to stem the flow of immigrants, the mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania proposed an ordinance (which the city council passed 4-1). It penalizes employers and landlords who hire and house illegal immigrants. It hasn't gone into effect yet, but almost overnight, with no notice, a city of 30,000 or so lost thousands of residents. Five thousand people, as best as they can figure, just picked up and left.

News reports indicate a once-thriving street of shops and restaurants has fallen quiet; For Rent signs populate neighborhoods, rather than people. What's just as bad is a spike in discrimination complaints. Some report a trend of increasingly overt hostility towards Hispanics, regardless of immigration status. The ordinance has left people free to hate – based on neighborhood, nationality, skin color, English proficiency.

The mayor of Hazleton says that illegal immigration is destroying small town America. In response, a struggling community chooses measures that exile 15% of its population; shutter vibrant, successful businesses; and increase racial hostility. Forget about the problems allegedly caused by illegal immigrants. Hazleton's elected leaders are doing quite a good job of destroying the city on their own.

Unfortunately, ethnic hatred also spreads. Following Hazleton's lead, at least 40 other communities in the United States are considering laws aimed squarely at pushing undocumented immigrants out of town. The measures, and their authors, are indifferent to their effect on law-abiding families, on United States citizens who are guilty simply of having the wrong skin color and the wrong ancestry. Officials claim that they are simply responding to the critical problems they face as a result of illegal immigration. They speak of gangs, murders, drugs. They claim that these laws are targeted against illegal immigrants of any nationality. The reality is that no population group has a monopoly on violent elements. And no population group has a monopoly on their ability to contribute to community life.

Sadly, we are adept at racial profiling, pulling people over for 'driving while brown', firing them for speaking Spanish in the workplace, assuming that they are illegal or undocumented because they happen to be less proficient in English. Sadly, Hazleton and other communities across the US are free to destroy themselves, in the course of trying to purify themselves. We are free to buy into the hatred seeded by cynical politicians, commentators, and those who ought to know better. We are also free to make other choices.

If America's greatest resource is its freedom, then we ought to exercise it sustainably. A sustainable freedom recognizes our interdependence. It obligates us to build community, not sever connections. Such freedom urges us to offer welcome to the stranger and sojourner in our midst. It seems there is more wisdom to be had from the young. The students of Hazleton Area High School just proposed a diversity club. They're calling it Unidos. Among its goals? Fostering dialogue between social, cultural and economic groups. Now that's a club we need to join.

Note: this op-ed was accepted for publication (in edited form) by the Janesville Gazette. See their 11/21/06 print edition.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mark 10:46-52

I preached at my home congregation this Sunday. The congregation has been incredibly supportive of my seminary journey so far, for which I am immensely grateful. This experience of community is most welcome for a single mother who works full time and attends school.

So, welcoming. The crowd has always been warm and welcoming to me. It was an interesting contrast to the Gospel reading in the morning's lectionary text. In Mark 10:46-52, the crowd is less than accepting of Bartimaeus as he is trying to get Jesus' attention. In essence, they tell him to shut up! A blind man is begging by the side of the road, asks Jesus for mercy, and the crowd tries to silence him.

That Jesus, though - he's a tricky one. He could have walked up to the man. Jesus could have called Bartimaeus to himself. He defies our expectations, though. He makes the crowd do it! The crowd, despite their lack of understanding, their willingness to exclude, has the opportunity to do the gospel. Jesus compels them to invite Bartimaeus to travel in their midst. How's that for grace? And mercy? And justice?

Thanks be to God for those communities which invite us in. May we have the ears to hear, and the vision to see those who are by the side of the road. May God grant us the grace we need to invite them to join us for the journey.

In my community, Bartimaeus, and his sisters and brothers on the margins spend days in the library, and nights by the river that cuts through the middle of our city. I cross that river on my way to church, and on my journey between home and office. Where does your path cross with Bartimaeus'?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fear Itself...

No time to blog extensively right now...working on a sermon for tomorrow. However, there's this great editorial cartoon from Toles that plays off the campaign ad theme...given the impending holiday and all, it made me laugh. Toles is usually on target and is quick to skewer whoever needs skewering, whatever their political persuasion. So, comment, folks, on the politics of fear... I'll try to post some more links later.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

blatant racist propaganda

It seems as issues of racial justice have been garnering more and more of my attention as of late. Usually, my thoughts swirl more around the immigration debate, but I've been pushed by current events into looking at another angle. I would point you to the following links if you are of a mind to join me...

A blatantly racist television ad has been airing in the Tennessee senatorial race. Most have used the term racist, race-baiting and tacky to describe it. But make your own judgment after viewing it. It has been pulled in most markets, in favor of a different ad (this one using what's been characterized as "jungle drums"...not exactly an improvement), but no apology has been forthcoming. Current party leadership didn't see any problem with it. This issue, and the race as a whole, is being actively blogged on DailyKos. And half a million dollars has been sunk into the ad to date. Good heavens, it even ticked off the Canadians!
  • After the building meme on Googlebombing the election, I decided to check something out. Interestingly enough, when you google republican racist, the highest news articles date from 2002-2003. Go to the news page? This senatorial race shoots to the top of the list. I would suspect those results will change very quickly. (I hope. TN is not the only state in which the "good old" Southern strategy has been an issue. Don't even get me started on George Allen.) Also interestingly, an article on googlebombing was briefly linked from MSNBC's home page tonight, but when I went back, the link had disappeared.

In a southern Wisconsin community last weekend, there was a funeral for the "N word". Right around the same time I heard it used elsewhere, unapologetically. I don't think I had heard anyone use that word openly since I lived in rural Louisiana. I'm still too stunned by the incident to reflect. So I offer it to you for your prayers and consideration. Was the funeral premature?

In the face of these news items, I have to believe we can all do something. Simplistic, certainly. Idealistic, without a doubt. Maybe it's drinking new wine. Maybe it's the nudge of the Spirit to examine my own complicity. But, I offer you 10 simple ideas to eliminate racism. And, The Birmingham Pledge. I shared the pledge with the 60 staff members and 15 board members of the nonprofit agency that employs me, and I challenged them all to explore it before signing. I hope you'll consider it, too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

moderated comments

Dear Reader: I have set up this blog with moderated comments in order to keep comments focused on related topics. There may be a slight delay between your comment and its appearance on this site.

  • Please be aware that comments unrelated to the topic may not be approved.
  • Ditto with flaming or abusive/bullying behavior towards others.

Please think before you post, so we can discuss difficult topics and varying viewpoints openly but fairly. Thank you!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

torture near and far

My public theology class discussed the topic of torture this week. We'll be returning to it several times this fall. The discussion ventured into many areas, but a recurring point was the lasting effects of torture - upon the tortured, and upon the torturer. Does one who is tortured stay tortured? How does torture change the torturer? Where is the place of grace in all of this?

Some things others have said on the topic. Catching up from a hotel room (attending a conference on human trafficking this weekend), I ran across the following links which seemed particularly relevant:

Chilean President Bachelet visits site of her own torture. In her comments, she reads as a witness to survival. How does President Bachelet's story speak to you? What other witnesses to survival would you lift up?

Russian journalist's unfinished torture article published (posthumously). Speaking of witnesses...Anna Politkovskaya’s work on exposing kidnapping and torture in Chechnya likely got her killed. More background here. Among her many awards was the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. I've been looking for a link to Ms. Politkovskaya's article itself, but have been unsuccessful. If anyone finds it, please pass it along.

Once Upon A Time In Guantanamo. A searing meditation on what is being done in our name. This piece has a power that reaches between the lines of the news stories and grabs you by the throat. We are systematically stripping away so much...from those held in these places, from those who are the immediate agents of pain, from ourselves...

Closing thoughts. In a post-class comment, a classmate brought up the idea of grace. Grace and torture - they seem like strange bedfellows. But it is grace that allows us to see Anna Politkovskaya and the disappeared as our neighbor. It is certainly grace that helps us entertain the thought of torturers as persons who are themselves in torment, who are neighbors in need of our love. In 'Letters and Papers from Prison', Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

There remains an experience of incomparable value . . . to see the great events of world history from below; from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled ---- in short, from the perspective of those who suffer . . . to look with new eyes on matters great and small.

...What will happen when this sorry period in our history comes to a close? Will these torturers be reviled and outcast? Pariahs? Do they - will they - suffer? Can we look with new eyes, and see both the tortured and the torturer as our neighbor? And how can we hold them both in our prayers?

In separateness lies the world's great misery; in compassion lies the world's true strength.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

breaking bread together

Oh, why is it we invest so much energy in holding each other at arm's length? How much of it is on purpose, and how much by accident?

We are in the midst of a major loss in social capital. I am no economist, nor am I a sociologist - but I would assert from my limited understandings that in this framework, we are in the midst of a kind of recession. In my own community, I see declining involvement in service clubs. A decrease in volunteerism overall. Certainly, this is not news. Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone is more than 5 years old now, but still provides a useful overview of the phenomenon. For a more searing view on the issue, watch the movie Crash. The first lines of the movie say it all:
It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

I may not be in L.A., but I can identify with that sentiment. We over-rely on the idea of self-reliance. Now, I'm divorced, and my ex and I share placement of our daughter 50/50. I also work full time as an executive director, in addition to being a part time commuting graduate student. My life moves fast, and I'm seldom in one geographic space for very long. I'm certainly guilty of a "go it alone" mentality, as much as I believe otherwise.

I work in a nonprofit agency that helps survivors of domestic violence move towards healing. For years, we have used the watchwords of "independence" and "self-sufficiency." Certainly, these are important for someone whose days and nights have been focused around decoding the whims of another. In the face of fragmented relationships that are the result of domestic violence, perhaps we should also consider how healthy networks of interdependence can be just as important. Check out this post on StreetProphets that picks up a theological conversation about relational power and dominion theology.

(By the way, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Wear a purple ribbon. Do you know how to contact your local domestic violence agency? What about its 24-hour crisis line? Do you know any of the signs of domestic violence? It's worth thinking about.)

This insidious trend of separation sneaks up everywhere. It even came up in one of my classes recently. In the course of his presentation, a classmate asked his audience to reflect upon the most recent table around which they shared a meal. More detail: a meal that involved people not in their immediate family. I had to search my mind for a while to remember when that shared meal might have been. So when the time for comment came up, that was my first thought. In the course of trying to connect with his audience, my fellow student may have distanced a significant percentage of people who couldn't identify with the phenomenon of a shared meal. Prove me wrong! Comment, and tell me about your most recent shared meal.

I look at the ways our political discourse and civic life cooperate to separate us from each other, and realize that this is truly not a course that we should pursue. I believe that the life of faith requires that we build community rather than focus on categories and divisions. A first step? Sitting at table together, and sharing your stories. Whom will you invite to dinner?

PS, on a related note: Kudos to one of my CTS classmates on this recent post addressing compassion and "wedge issues". It's not about the issues, it's about the people! If you're interested in thoughtful progressive takes on politics and economics, visit Fragmentary Theology often. It's well worth the read.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A covenant with death

Miscellaneous reflections on today's congressional action:

Habeas Corpus... (Associated Press article here) Sen. Specter, thank you for proposing your amendment and pointing us back to the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Sen. Levin, thank you for your statement that the bill as written was "legally abusive." Sen. Lincoln Chafee, from my home state of Rhode Island (always was, always will be, no matter where I live), thank you for making me proud of the state's history of independence. Sen. Feingold, thank you for representing me!

As for the rest of you...Sen. Graham, your statement "It impedes the war effort, and it is irresponsible" is in itself irresponsible. 51 United States Senators voted against the U.S. Constitution today, in rejecting Sen. Specter's amendment to the torture bill. Democrats who voted for the torture bill, this is not about smart politics. Rep. Hastert, this is not about coddling terrorists. Voices in the blogosphere crying, "they would have kept doing it anyway" - this is not about pragmatism. This is about showing integrity. The founders must be rolling in their graves. "We hold these truths to be self evident..." " the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity..."

Mass media, for the most part, abdicated their responsibility. There was an important opportunity to inform the public. For much of the day, there was nothing listed about this legislation on the index page of news sites I visited. There was little to prod citizens into action, into contacting their representatives - pro, or con. The "compromise" bill that came before our elected representatives today was more extreme than the one reported over the weekend. Where was the reporting on that?

One for the books:

  • Encyclopedia Entry: In case you weren't watching, today, we have (literally) just rewritten the book on torture.

  • Dictionary: Why in the world did we just authorize a single person to define what "torture" means, in the United States? There's a name for that. Visit your local dictionary. Check out a page or two.

  • Etymology: the roots of the word "torture": the act of twisting. To twist out of proper relation. Lies, and distortions. We have made a covenant with death.

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem. Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement; when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will not come to us; for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter; ...[therefore thus says the Lord God,] I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet; hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter. Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand. (Isaiah 28:14-18a,NRSV)

Faith demands action. To everyone - and I include myself - who has been a spectator to today's shameful events: Now is the time to speak up. Now is the time to communicate what values you hold dear, and convey a forcefull message that this agreement cannot stand.

Now is also the time to stay alert. Beware of what news may be dropped on us tomorrow, on a Friday when news tends to get lost, when we are distracted by today's events. Ask: what is it we are being distracted from?

kyrie eleison

I do not want to sound hysterical. I never thought I would say this. Today, I am absolutely ashamed of what our nation has become, and what we stand for around the world. We are losing this country piece by piece; we are trading our souls, piece by piece. Part of me is still in my first grade classroom singing "My country, 'tis of thee..." Part of me is weeping. And all of me? Angry as hell that torture has been officially endorsed, in my name, by the highest representative body in the land, making me complicit. Forgive me. I am rambling. I am at the end of a long day, and I am weary. I cannot begin to match the eloquence with which others have expressed their pain and anger, their fear and their faith. So, I call your attention to this prayer. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The use and abuse of punctuation

When I write, punctuation matters! Over the course of my academic life and professional career, I have probably invested a lot of energy discerning whether the semicolon or hyphen would be more appropriate for a given situation. From today's blogosphere, here's a read on the appropriate use of the comma:

US President George Bush, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer:
"I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is -- my point is, there's a strong will for democracy."

Excuse me? The crisis in Iraq is just a comma? More US lives lost than on 9/11; we've lost count (or never even bothered to keep track) of Iraqis killed; billions of dollars spent on killing and torture, with more certain to follow; damage to the souls of all those who have been involved in these atrocities - and it's just a comma?

I rather prefer this use of the comma. May our Still Speaking God inform our cries for justice in the face of such arrogance.

p.s.: And for you grammar junkies out there, here's the scoop on the less politically fraught use of the ,

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Today's story: Public theology.

To be continued in installments throughout the autumn, and perhaps beyond, if the experiment works out. I'm enrolled in a seminary course in public theology, and our coursework includes actually doing public theology rather than just studying it. We'll be engaging various political/social/economic/you-name-it issues throughout the course of the term. Assignments include writing op-eds, posting to our own blog and inviting discussion.

The stories are there to be shared, and wrestled with - and hopefully changed for the better in the telling, hearing, and re-telling.

So, welcome! Pull up a chair and a cup of your favorite hot beverage (I'll be drinking tea) and join me for the ride. I welcome your comments and conversation.