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...)