Boy Scouts

Boy Scouts

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What the Film, Noah, Can and Can't Teach Us

I have seen a lot of clamor on Facebook and Twitter and elsewhere from those who have seen the film, Noah and who are outraged that the film "isn't biblical," or that the Director is supposedly an atheist (I have no idea if he is or isn't, nor do I really care), or whether you like it or don't like depends on whether you are a liberal or conservative. Honestly, I don't know if I get the outrage, especially by those who are so angry that the film does not follow the biblical story of Noah close enough. What did folks expect?

So, let me out myself. I have seen the film and I liked it. And yes, I am a liberal, at least politically speaking. I thought it was well-made, and while there were some odd moments, I liked it specifically because I didn't need it to follow the biblical story to the letter. While I want to respect the disappointment from those who wanted more from the film, I must say that I don't go to movies to get Sunday School lessons or biblical exegesis. Hollywood will always disappoint us on that level. And they probably should.

Hollywood first and foremost wants to make money. However, I believe there are those who work in the film industry who want to tell good stories as well. The film, Noah, is a good story in many respects. Yes, I thought it was typically Hollywood to have the rock dudes help build the ark and then have an epic battle where Noah is saved at the last moment.

And I was disturbed by Noah's obsession with being the last human family on earth, but I liked being disturbed because being disturbed makes me think and reflect. It is always disturbing to see a commitment to ideology - even when we think that ideology comes straight from God - being regarded more importantly than people. I wish this lesson was more easily learned in all of the theological debates that are swarming the Church right now. Noah thankfully rediscovered the importance of human life at the last minute and nothing in this film better illustrates the love that Jesus lived and taught in the New Testament. In my mind, Noah carried a powerful gospel message.

While I don't go to the movies to always get a Bible lesson, I will admit this: I often hear from Jesus while I watch films (though not yet during a film featuring Kirk Cameron!). So, if we can accept the fact that Hollywood will never get exegete Scripture correctly, I still believe that we can experience Jesus at the movies.

Want to see sacrificial love? See Hotel Rwanda and watch the powerful story of Paul Rusesbagina who shelters Tutsis during the genocide, even though he himself is Hutu. At one point, while the Western missionaries are being loaded onto a bus, the military forces taking them to shelter rip the Rwandan children out of their arms and Rusesbagina takes in more vulnerable Rwandans to his already crowded hotel. Though the rest of the world has abandoned him and the Tutsi refugees staying at his hotel, Rusesbagina, facing almost certain death, takes in the children, shaming all those who left him and all of us who watched the film and remembered we did nothing to stop the genocide. This is one of the most convicting films I have ever seen.

Want to see incarnational relationships? See The Mission, which tells the story of 18th century Jesuit missionaries in the jungles of South America as European powers, Spain and Portugal, vie for colonial power and the Catholic Church seems more intent on securing its own institutional power than in supporting their missionaries or the indigenous people they served. Watching the final battle and the fall of the mission and the attempted annihilation of the Guarani, the missionaries stayed true to their unreserved love of the people they served. The timeless battle between the risk of mission and the security of institutional stasis is always before us as followers of Jesus, probably now more than ever. Every missionary should be required to watch this film. I will always be transformed and utterly challenged by this film.

Want to see hate transformed by love? Watch Philadelphia as Denzel Washington's character, Joe Miller, a homophobic lawyer in Philadelphia, whose hatred and fear of homosexuals is transformed by the courage of Andrew Beckett (played by Tom Hanks). Beckett sues his former law firm for discrimination and does so as he is dying of AIDS. One of the final scenes shows Miller compassionately placing an oxygen mask onto Beckett's face hours before he dies. Whereas Miller once previously considered touching Beckett to be dangerous, his friendship with Beckett grows to genuine love. This is a courageous, transforming film that helped to change so many attitudes including my own.

So many films carry so many powerful, biblical messages that can change us and make us holy. Noah is a tremendous story with many lessons that provide biblical lessons. Films are stories and some are good and some are bad. It's okay to not like Noah, but no film - not Noah, not The Ten Commandments, not The Last Temptation of Christ, and not even The Passion - is inerrantly biblical. Nor should they be. Let's allow Hollywood to make the movies and let's enjoy them and sometimes be transformed by them. But thinking Hollywood is going to teach us Sunday school lessons or appropriately exegete Scripture is always going to lead us to deep disappointment. In this case, the book is always better than the film. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why I Will Get Arrested on President's Day

On Monday, February 17, I will join a group of faith leaders and undocumented immigrants and together we will commit civil disobedience in front of the White House in hopes of being arrested as we protest the 2 millionth deportation which is expected to happen in just a few weeks. We are saying we do not want any more deportations - not 1 more - until genuine, solution-based immigration reform is passed.

It is my prayer that this action will bring about the end to deportations. I am also praying that this action will pierce the hearts of those in the Church who have chosen to sit idly by, to watch from a distance rather than to act. And it is my prayer that this action, more than anything else, will help bring comfort to immigrants in this country who live daily in fear of being arrested and deported, ripped away from their families and friends, from their homes and communities of faith.

This Administration has deported nearly 2 million people since 2009. Think about that. 2 million people. It boggles the imagination. 2 million fathers or mothers, sons or daughters, nieces or nephews, aunts or uncles. 2 million people have been ripped away from their families. 2 million circles of friends have been broken. There is a lot of yelling and screaming about "big government" these days, especially from the politically far right, but I have yet to hear them yell or scream or make a fuss at all over the most intrusive act I know of - the federal government breaking into homes or workplaces, grocery stores or restaurants or even places of worship and taking someone away from their lives, ripping them from their most intimate relationships and sending them back to a country that some of them have not seen in decades or do not even remember at all.

I know President Obama's get tough approach with immigration over the first five years of his administration is meant to try and prove to the Republicans that he can be trusted on border security. Guess what? It hasn't worked at all. After nearly 2 million deportations John Boehner said just last week that the President cannot be trusted to secure the border. Can he be trusted by the Republicans at 2.5 million? 3 million? The truth is that this is all just politics for Boehner and the House Republicans, as it is for most DC politicians. And now that President Obama knows he will never do enough to gain the trust of the other side of the aisle it is time - indeed, it is far past time to do what is right and to stop the machinery of deportations once and for all.

Many individuals who have been and who are still being deported are people who have lived in the United States for years, some for decades and some, practically all of their lives. They come to this country to pursue their dreams, to escape religious, economic or political oppression, or to reunite with family members. They contribute to the United States in so many ways. They are our neighbors, they are our colleagues at work, and they are members of our congregations - our brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of those who have been and who still are being deported represent absolutely no threat to you or me or anyone else. Yet the record number of deportations continues unabated. It is horrific. When you step back and look at the enormous number of deportations and the enormous number of people we have incarcerated in this country, I believe we have to name this for what it is: state-sponsored terror committed against people of color.

The other reason I am getting arrested is to spur the Church to action, not just to support legislative reform, but to speak out and move publicly against deportations. Some religious leaders are indeed speaking out. I am very proud of the over 1,300 United Methodist Bishops and clergy from 49 states who, in less than one week's time, signed a letter just a few months ago calling for "an end to all deportations until genuine, solution-based reform is passed."

I am sure other religious leaders have spoken out as well, but the time for press conferences is over. The time for redemptive action that involves personal risk is now. With the 2 millionth deportation quickly approaching, where is the outcry by all faith leaders on this issue? Why does the group being arrested on Monday, February 17 not include every supposed national faith leader who supports immigration reform?

I cannot help but wonder if the lack of outcry against the Administration concerning their over-dependence on deportation centers on the Washington DC-based advocates' obsession with access to power. The prophet Jeremiah charged many of the priests in his day of pleasing the King rather than God; of becoming palace priests. The result of their mistaken allegiance is that they cried out "peace, peace when there is no peace." (6:14) They ignored the reality of injustice those who were vulnerable faced so that those in power would not have to come face to face with the devastation they were actually causing.

I fear that far too many religious leaders today, especially those based in Washington DC, seem far more preoccupied with the politics of immigration than with defending and supporting the rights of immigrants. Access to the White House is not worth muffling our voices and refusing to speak out against the injustice this Administration continues to commit by its over-reliance on deportations.

My prayer is that the action taken on February 17 will be so transformative that it will change the many palace priests we have in Washington DC into prophets of righteousness crying out against the injustice of the deportation machinery; a machinery that has created a sense of terror in so many immigrant communities. We do not need palace priests who soothe those in positions of power, telling them that people of faith stand with them. If politicians - no matter which party they belong to - are hell-bent on ripping immigrant families apart, then we need prophets crying out for justice, crying out for the voices of those so easily ignored to be heard, crying out for the lives of those so easily crushed and disregarded to be kept safe.

While palace priests need professional talking points that will tickle the ears of those in high positions of influence, prophets need only hear the anguished stories from those whose loved ones have been whisked away in the middle of the night. And hear them we must. I am personally sick of the endless press conferences where religious leaders praise politicians for taking a step forward on immigration reform when those politicians either actively take part in pushing for more deportations or have done and said nothing to stop the deportation machinery. Everyone must be held accountable for lives destroyed and families torn apart.

The essence of the prophetic task is to tell the truth no matter who it may offend. The essence of being a palace priest is to maintain the status quo and moreover, to maintain your own position within that status quo. We need religious leaders who will tell us, the politicians, and indeed, the entire world the truth of how deportations have ruined lives, ripped apart families, and devastated congregations and communities. The prophet seeks to align the values, actions, heart and soul of society with the Kingdom of God. The prophet is solely interested in the transformation of the worldview and basic allegiances of the individual and the society as a whole.

I pray our actions on February 17 will be prophetic, but God's Spirit has a bigger say in determining that than I do. I do believe that we have heard from far too many palace priests for far too long. It is time to hear from some prophets and something tells me that they won't be invited to the next DC faith leaders press conference. They prophets will be the ones lying in front of buses refusing to allow ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) buses to take more immigrants to be deported. The prophets might even be kneeling in front of the White House on President's Day urging an end to the injustice of continued mass deportations.

The good news is that the prophetic task is not reserved for a few, but is open to all in the Church. You don't have to have a long, important title. Most prophets have no title at all. We just have to be willing to listen to our immigrant sisters and brothers, hear the devastation in the stories they tell us and be willing to risk our safety to gain safety for them. And it is time to risk. It is time to tell the truth. And it is time for deportations to end for good. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

GBCS Statement on House Republican Standards for Immigration Reform

The General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church acknowledges the release of the Standards for Immigration Reform by House Republicans on Thursday. United Methodists have eagerly anticipated legislative progress for quite some time as we witness the impact the broken immigration system has had on families, congregations and entire communities. Real solutions are needed as immigrant families face the crisis of an uncertain future, possible deportation and family separation. The Standards fall far short of the solutions that are needed, and at present are a step in the wrong direction.

The solution-based reforms The United Methodist Church advocates for include:
  • Citizenship for undocumented migrants, with any process or "pathway" created having minimal obstacles and maximum accessibility,
  • Reunifying families separated by migration or detainment,
  • Protection of the basic civil and human rights of all migrants, especially the preservation of due process and the rights of migrant workers.
The Standards for Immigration Reform seem to deny undocumented immigrants any kind of "pathway" to citizenship and in addition, create significant hardship for immigrants to even attain legal status. The Standards hold that immigrants must "pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits)."

Further, before undocumented immigrants can obtain legal status the Standards state that "enforcement triggers" must be fulfilled. A possibility exists that legislation in keeping with the Standards would keep immigrants in legal status without full benefits of citizenship, in essence making them permanent second-class citizens. The intention of the Standards seems to make any process of legality as inaccessible as possible, with citizenship potentially impossible.

We do strongly endorse the Standards' call for citizenship for DREAM Act students. At the same time, however, the Standards mandate that available visas would no longer be used to reunite families. This would dismantle the emphasis on family reunification that has been the cornerstone of the U.S. immigration system for almost fifty years. Instead, visas would be used solely for "individuals to help grow our economy."

The Standards call for a "step by step process" and refuse to consider conferencing with the Senate legislation. The only steps, though, the Standards identify towards reform include border security and interior enforcement. With no accessible process to attain citizenship spelled out and the dismantling of the family immigration system, the Standards fail to bring forth the solutions our immigrant sisters and brothers genuinely need.

The Standards fall short because they fail to see that immigration is innately a human-rights issue. More than an issue of national security or economic prosperity, immigration is about immigrants: individuals and families who have bravely sojourned to the United States in search of basic human survival, safety, and freedom. If we believe that the United States is a place of freedom, equality, and justice, then it is our responsibility and privilege to make those ideals a reality for native born and immigrant alike.

We encourage House Republican leadership to continue to work on these Standards and as they are perfected, we stand ready to work with them to bring solutions that are genuine and lasting to the broken immigration system. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

We Need Clergy to Lead for Genuine Immigration Reform

That is what makes the leadership of our clergy so unique and vital. I am not ordained. I am called to ministry, as is everyone who follows Jesus! if you are not ordained, I hope you will send this to your pastor and every other pastor you know encouraging them to sign!

Clergy are those especially called by God to lead, to offer comfort in times of distress, to articulate God's direction and vision for us. We need such clergy now more than ever. If you are clergy, we are looking to you for leadership.

So, I ask clergy to sign this letter that will be sent to the House Nov. 18. Sign it today. Recruit other United Methodist clergy to sign as well. Share it with your district clusters, with folks you went to seminary with, share it with other United Methodist networks you are part of, such as Justice for Our Neighbors, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Reconciling Ministries Network, Good News, everyone!

If you are not clergy, urge your pastor(s) to sign; urge every United Methodist pastor you know to sign as well! We need all clergy to lead on this!

For those who are clergy, you are called by God to offer comfort and support to people who are vulnerable and  experiencing distress. We know that immigrant families need your comfort now because they are experiencing stress through record numbers of deportations and continued separation of their families.

So, I ask you to sign the letter

For those who are clergy, you are called by God to articulate God's direction and vision for the Church, for the world, and even for our elected leaders in the House who need that articulated vision like never before. D.C. is trapped amidst political rancor. The only voices that seem to have influence are well-financed special interest lobbies seeking all kinds of odd agendas.

So, I ask you to sign the letter

As a person called by God to articulate God's Kingdom dream for the world God created, you can remind the leaders of our nation that this is not just another political issue on which to score points. This is a human-rights issue: This is about families and our responsibility and privilege as a nation to welcome newly arriving people with dignity and compassion. 

So, I again ask you to sign the letter

For those who are clergy, I know many of you don't want to alienate people in your congregation who do not believe in this. You don't want to get involved in politics. But, it is too late not to get involved in politics. When God called you to lead God's people, that inherently meant that you must stand with and care for the people God has called you to lead in every facet of their lives — and every facet includes the political realm. We cannot leave that to others just because it can be divisive at times. In fact, it is principally because the political realm can be divisive that we need you to witness to God's love and justice in the midst of it!

By not signing, by saying nothing, you are making as loud a political statement as you would be by signing. Perhaps even louder. 

To those in our congregations who are slow to welcome and be in relationships with newly arriving immigrants, we must continue to pray and invite them to join us. They are missing out on their own transformation. Inviting them to join us is a necessary part of their sanctification! But we can't stop speaking, we can't stop acting, we can't stop moving forward just because the naysayers are uncomfortable.

Our clergy must shepherd us in and through this kind of discomfort. Change without a feeling of discomfort is no change at all!

I ask clergy to sign the letter. Stand up, step forward, lead us. Yeah, some folks might be upset. But if they don't get mad at this, they will be upset when their favorite coffee mug goes missing from the church kitchen. It's always something so I say make it count.

Those of us who are not called to ordained ministry are looking to you. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

You Wanna Change the World? You Gotta Love the World

Every so often the practice or actions of a church crystallizes the essence of a church’s missional engagement as that of a fortress: defensive, protective, suspicious, and waiting for counter-attack. I am afraid this is the case here. I have pasted a letter immediately below that was sent to our office that details how the church has asked the local Cub Scout Pack to no longer meet in its building because of a decision made by the national office of the Boy Scouts to allow openly gay scouts to participate. There is no evidence that the local pack has openly gay scouts participating – this is all in response to a national decision. Here is the letter:


We would like to notify you that our church is revoking the charter for Cub Scout Pack 59 effective immediately. This decision was made by the Administrative Council at the church based on the May 2013 decision by the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership standards regarding sexual orientation/preference.

Our church believes that the Boy Scouts of America has seriously erred in the resolution to admit openly gay scouts.  In the United Methodist Church, we believe that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.  As a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church, we cannot continue to charter a Cub Scout Pack.  We also feel that the Boy Scouts of America has broken its agreement to respect the aims and beliefs of the charter organization.

We ask the question, “How does this decision support the mission of the Boy Scouts of America to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices?”  If the Scout Oath begins with duty to God, then condoning/practicing homosexuality is in direct opposition to this oath because it is the practice of sin.  Duty to God does not result in the practice of sin. Our church makes decisions based on the truths found in God’s Holy Word. We do not make decisions by listening to the world’s views or gay activists’ agendas. In addition, the Scouting Ministry Office of the United Methodist Church, the United Methodist Men, and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society do not speak for nor make decisions for our local church. We are copying this letter to individuals from these organization.

We have met with the Cubmaster and another Den Leader from the Pack to explain our decision.  We have also made it clear to them that the families and children from Cub Scout Pack 59 are welcome in our church for any/all of our church activities compatible with Christian teaching.

I obviously disagree with the position of this church and would encourage the Boy Scouts that in addition to allowing gay scouts to participate, the national office of the Boy Scouts should have allowed gay Scout Masters to lead local packs. But, even if you were to follow the very rigid beliefs laid out by this church’s leadership, they, in the end, betray their own beliefs by kicking out the local Cub Scouts pack. Here is why.

My message to the church’s leadership is this: if you, in fact, believe that homosexuality is a sin, and if you believe that the mission of the Church is to bring transformation to the world so that we more perfectly reflect the Kingdom of God here on earth, and if you believe that Jesus is the fullest manifestation of the Kingdom and he himself said that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, then the last thing you would want to do – if you indeed cared about these values – is to kick out those who you believe need to be loved into the Kingdom. What this church proclaims and what they practice are indeed two very different things. Indeed, what they practice essentially cancels what they proclaim.

What might be the greatest challenge to a biblically-based missional engagement, which is our call to love people unconditionally, is most often our own righteousness. Lord knows I struggle with this so I harbor no anger towards this church, but I do feel compassion and perhaps even sympathy. Make no mistake, I vehemently disagree with their doctrine in this case, but more than this, it is their using their dogma as a shield, even as a sword, to accuse, condemn, and kick out, to marginalize and ostracize, that makes their message, in the end, entirely unchristian and entirely unbiblical.

Yes, it feels good to state boldly what we believe, but the dangerous part of this is that we get so caught up in what we believe that we hide behind it, we use it as a shield to defend ourselves and we lose sight of our greatest calling which is not to proclaim what we believe, but instead, to love. When we forget our calling then we also lose, in fact, our identity. We want so desperately for others to come to Christ and we want, equally, to be used as an instrument for people to know Jesus, but then, because we really have more faith in our proclamation rather than in the Spirit who woos and calls others to repentance, we ostracize and demonize those who we believe – even in this case falsely believe – need God’s love and grace the most. We condemn others and we lose ourselves in the process.

The question I hope this church will wrestle with is: how do you love people into relationship with Jesus by detaching ourselves from their presence and removing any hope of relationship with them? Did any of us “get saved” through detached proclamation or rather, was it through loving, incarnational relationships?

I am sure this letter felt good for the pastor to write. I am sure it feels good to tell others that they do not speak for you. But I seriously doubt this letter will move the Boy Scouts one bit closer back to the practice of removing openly gay scouts from participating and I know for a fact that this letter will never move one person closer to Christ. It is a letter sent to others, but meant for those already in the pews. It was a letter that brings love and holiness to no one, including themselves. It is a letter written, sent, and received in complete futility. And isn’t the futile efforts to protect ourselves and castigate the rest of the world the surest way to have absolutely no impact on the world? Lord have mercy on this church. Lord have mercy on us all. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Why We Need to Tell President Obama to Stop Deporting Immigrants

Recently, I was asked by a friend and colleague the strategic reasoning of why we should begin to push harder on the Administration to stop deporting immigrants altogether until genuine, solution-based immigration reform was passed. In light of the fact that this Administration has deported well over a million people, here was my response. 

My first thought is that we need to push hard for this simply because it is the right thing to do and it provides an alleviation of suffering for people who have suffered greatly under this Administration.

But I think in addition to that - which frankly, is enough for me - is the fact that this provides an opportunity for us, the faith community and more specifically the Church, to remind the WH (White House), the media, the public, and especially ourselves what this issue is all about - this is first and foremost a human rights issue. For far too long we (faith community, particularly the Church) have played along and allowed corporate interests to define this as an economic prosperity/border and national security issue. Immigrants are reduced to units of profit or potential servants of patriotism.

I read something on my commute this morning which I believe rightly characterizes the DC-based immigration coalition and the way in which we have sold our birthright for a bowl of crappy soup, my comments are in brackets:

"Economic monopoly, cultural monopoly, and political monopoly coalesce in the same exclusive club of corporate power. This group is beyond politics and ready to collaborate  with any political system [including a social system, which is the Church] so long as the system accepts its rules of the game and is ready to assume its cultural forms." (Collier & Esteban, 1998, p. 40)

This is exactly what we have allowed to be done and with the religious conservative roundtable and their horrible list of principles (a "guarantee of a secure border" and "fairness to taxpayers" must have made the corporate/nationalistic interests happy beyond measure), the corporate/nationalistic powers now have the legitimacy of a small narrow piece of the Church sanctifying their interests - this narrow slice of the Church that has been called the entirety of "the faith community" by the media and upper East side funders. This is why the inclusion of religious conservatives has been detrimental to the larger goal of genuine reform.

Yes, pushing for an end to deportations and universal DACA might scare Republicans into compromising on some extraordinarily watered-down version of immigration reform - i.e. the Senate bill - if they think the President will act, the Republicans will get nothing out of it and the President will get all of the credit. But to be honest, I get so tired of these kinds of political projections and shenanigans that even before I am done writing this sentence I am bored to death.

I think we push hard for universal DACA and for a complete end to all deportations because it provides relief to suffering people and because it might deliver the Church from the corporate entanglements that have kept us from sounding like and behaving like the Church. We frankly should have been calling for this all along, but this moment gives us a gracious opportunity to recover our voice that has been lost because we want so desperately to be politically relevant. We want desperately - too desperately I believe - to keep our political access, even though we put at possible risk our ability to remain incarnated among people who truly are vulnerable to the actions of this Administration.

We have to hear their voices now more than ever and I have yet to hear the voice of an immigrant say it is ok for the White House to continue deportations because it is a good idea politically. I just hear people saying stop the madness.

And this wouldn't be the first time that the Church finds liberation through listening first to the people directly impacted by injustice and broken systems.

Just my two cents

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kick-Butt Quotes from Mario Savio

I have read dozens of books about the civil rights and peace movements of the 1960s and I remain fascinated with the sacrifice, passion, creativity, and unswerving commitment by those who made up these movements, most of whom were young people. Most of us are familiar with the more prominent leaders: Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis and Julian Bond are among some of the more notable.

But there are so many more leaders without whom the movements would not nearly have accomplished all that they did. Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Tom Hayden, James Bevel, Daisy Bates, Ella Baker, James Farmer, Rita Schwerner – there are so many!

It is the lesser known leaders who give me the greatest hope. It is the lesser known people who sacrificed so much – who gave their lives, or at least the best years of their lives to a cause greater than themselves. What we do not know is that so many lives were forever altered through beatings, through economic marginalization, through cutting short their education to give themselves to movements for justice. It is their commitment that overwhelms and inspires me; that deepens my hunger for justice and righteousness and that builds a fire for justice within me that cannot be quenched.

In the beautifully written biography of Mario Savio by Mark Cohen details the life of one of the primary leaders of the Free Speech Movement at Cal-Berkeley in the mid-1960s. His life is one that genuinely inspires me. Not coincidentally, just as the other movements for peace and justice were birthed out of the civil rights movement – especially the Freedom Summer of 1964 when white college students from the North came to Mississippi to register Blacks to vote and to illuminate the oppression of the segregated South – a major part of the formation of Savio came from his participation in Freedom Summer.

I list a few of Savio’s quotes below, taken from Cohen's book. But what I most appreciated about Cohen’s biography was the honesty of the narrative. Savio was not perfect and he made mistakes, sometimes out of over-zealousness; something I can easily relate with. But he also detailed Savio’s ongoing struggles with mental illness as well as Savio’s refusal to capitalize on his popularity after the Free Speech Movement to garner for himself the accolades and prominence in other movements, such as the peace movement. 

Working in DC and seeing many supposed “leaders” in the causes of justice I see all too often that many “leaders” are simply mouthpieces in search of microphones. They do press conferences like most of us breathe air. They are professional spokespersons, media mega-hit superstars who can deliver silky smooth sound bites on any issue for any occasion as effortlessly - all for the cause either of justice or themselves. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

Not so with Savio. His was an honest soul passionately in search of honesty and integrity and a world that would value all people. Savio was most known for his leadership of the Free Speech Movement, and even though he struggled for years with mental illness, and though his involvement in later causes for justice did not gain him the notoriety he earned when he was in college, his passion and his commitment never wavered. In or out of the spotlight, he never stopped believing, working, organizing. God, I love that.

Below are a few of his quotes. I find his ideas still quite relevant though Savio has been dead for years now. I never knew Savio, but when I finished the book I felt such sadness, like I had lost a friend. For those committed to justice, Savio is indeed a friend and he is missed.

Savio’s most famous speech made during the Free Speech Movement, December 2, 1964
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

Savio made these remarks at his high school graduation in June, 1960
“We might well consider each individual to be a single atom: Each atom is, of itself, insignificant, but one tiny spark can cause an explosive release of energy. So too, one tiny spark of purpose set loose among [people] can inflame the world in a chain reaction of fruitful activity….the actions of every individual – no matter how insignificant they may seem – can assume cosmic significance if we only have a purpose outside [ourselves] and faith in [our] ability to achieve that purpose. And our purpose must be spiritual.”

Savio made these remarks in the fall of 1964 during the Free Speech Movement
“In our free speech fight at the University of California we have come up against what may emerge as the greatest problem of our nation – depersonalized, unresponsive bureaucracy….The things we are asking for in our civil rights protests have a deceptively quaint ring. We are asking for the due process of law. We are asking for our actions to be judged by committees of our peers. We are asking that regulations ought to be considered as arrived at legitimately only from the consensus of the governed. These phrases all are pretty old, but they are not being taken seriously in America today.”

Savio wrote this October 1, 1984 in response to the invasion of the tiny island of Grenada
“Judging from public reaction to the U.S. ‘triumph’ in Grenada, we must sadly conclude that for many the lesson of Vietnam is that fighting colonial wars is perfectly acceptable; what is unacceptable is losing them.”

Savio’s remarks were given at the 20th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement in October of 1984
“[The people of the civil rights movement] overcame their fear by holding one another…and that got to the children of white America. And we threw ourselves ardently into their movement. We wanted to be part of them, because in America of the 1950s, a very boring and in some ways scary time, we had seen nothing of people holding one another. And that’s what the black people showed us – that we could overcome our fears by holding one another….Our government is preparing a bloodbath in Central America, and we have a choice – we have a choice! Either we manage to prevent that by establishing some kind of bond of real solidarity between us and the people of Nicaragua, of El Salvador – of all of Central America – and therefore make it our Mississippi for this generation. Either it will be the Mississippi of this generation or it will be the Vietnam of this generation.”

Savio’s remarks were made at the 30th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement
“We have the passion because our community is a community of compassion. With the poor of the earth no matter what side of the border they’re on – whether they’re legal or illegal, just folks, folks whether they’re black or brown, folks whether they’re yellow or red, folks who wear pants, folks who wear dresses, folks who wear both for God’s sake! We want to cast our lot with the people not with the bosses. We don’t want to buy into that coalition against the poor. Do it! Do it!”

Savio wrote this in May of 1995 against the anti-affirmative action California ballot initiative
“Affirmative action may sometimes require fine-tuning, but such adjustment, when necessary, should be undertaken only by people fully committed to the goals of gender and ethnic equality, not by those who deny the persistence of prejudice.”

Savio wrote this in 1995 against the anti-affirmative action California ballot initiative

“Racism in the United States began in 1619, when the first African was brought to Virginia in chains. Of the subsequent 377 years, for 245 the country permitted slavery. For the next 100, legal discrimination was the rule, accompanied by frequent acts of terror such as lynchings and church burnings…Not until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did our nation formally resolve to overcome the damage done over the previous 350 years. For only about 30 years has the US, as a whole, undertaken positive action to heal its centuries-old racial wounds. It is offensive to suggest…that a single generation of affirmative action has remedied such a long, sustained history of abuse.”