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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.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What Do I Tell My Son about Trayvon Martin, Revisited

Sunday morning, the morning after the Zimmerman "not guilty" verdict was handed down, I was scheduled to preach (I am not the Pastor, but I preach from time to time). I shared how the night before, at 1:30 in the morning, I walked through my neighborhood to the store and bought some Skittles and Arizona Green Tea, just what Trayvon Martin bought on February 26, 2012, the day he was murdered. I shared that I never once feared for my life as I walked; how being shot was the last thing on my mind. And I knew I was safe in this neighborhood and practically any other neighborhood, simply because I am White. Trayvon was shot because of a lethal combination of racism and easy accessibility to guns. Trayvon is dead because he is Black.

I shared with my church some statistics showing that for the same offenses between African-Americans and Whites, considerably longer sentences are handed down to Blacks than for Whites. I shared how when the victim of a murder is Black, sentences handed down are much lighter than when the victim is White.

I shared with my church that the criminal justice system is innately racist. This isn't hyperbole or a dramatic overstatement. This was not said in an emotional outburst. This is a fact and it is confirmed with the acquittal of George Zimmerman who racially profiled Trayvon and then shot him.

I then read the blog post I had written in 2012, and that is pasted below, about what I am supposed to tell my son Isaiah, who is a person of color, and now must be on guard as he walks in our neighborhood, even when he just walks to get candy. Sadly, I can post this here again, over a year later, and it is still relevant because when it comes to young black men, we still live in a nation where there is no justice.

When I first heard about the murder of Trayvon Martin and the seeming cover-up by the Sanford, Florida police of the alleged killer, I got angry. Lots of people got angry. It actually did not connect for me though until I saw and heard the grief expressed by his parents and by other parents in the African-American community. I heard numerous stories of African-American parents who have been telling their sons for years to take extra precaution when they are walking alone – to not put their hands in their pockets so no one thinks they have a gun, to answer all questions with extra respect, to never run away from someone with a badge, to always tell someone where they are going and to not walk in strange neighborhoods if they can help it, to always be sure of your surroundings and to avoid affluent neighborhoods or places where few black people live. It all sounds so exhausting.

As I heard all of the stories from parents with African-American sons I started becoming fearful for my son. I am white, but my youngest son, who is adopted, is considered Black. He is actually biracial. His birth mom is Anglo and his birth dad was actually born in the Caribbean. Isaiah is a beautiful caramel color and in the summer, because he loves to swim almost every day, his skin takes on a beautiful chocolate-caramel color.

Isaiah is the best kid in the world, he really is. People love him. He is a natural at almost anything he tries. He is amazing. He is a natural athlete, a natural leader in his class, and smart as a whip. His best feature though is that he loves so thoroughly and trusts so naturally. Isaiah is my joy. No matter where I am or what I am doing, when I think of him I cannot help but smile. If I am travelling and I think of him for long enough I cry because I miss him. I love to wrestle with him – even though he is ten, he is strong! – and I can feel my body physically missing him when I am away for longer than a few days.

So, as the murder of Trayvon has opened up and revealed the inherent racism that still runs so strong in our society, and as I hear of the constant vigilance that African-American males have to live under, even just to do something as simple as walk to a neighborhood store and buy some candy and something to drink, I realized that, as a father of a son who is perceived to be African-American, I don’t know what to tell Isaiah. I don’t know what to tell Isaiah because I am white and I can walk to the store, with a hoody on (which I often wear), buy all the candy I want, and walk in my neighborhood, or practically any neighborhood I want to walk in, and I never think about possibly being shot. It is a thought that never crosses my mind and I know it is because I am white and I live in a society that values white people.

But it will cross Isaiah’s mind. It has to if he wants to stay alive in our society where racism is still very much alive and where guns are so accessible, almost as easy as buying candy. It kills me to come to this realization and I am not sure I know what to tell him. I am a father and my job is to love my son unconditionally and to prepare him to be a man who loves and cares for others, to commit himself to the work of God’s Kingdom in this world. And though I thought I was able to prepare both of my sons for this reality, Trayvon’s murder has made me realize that I am woefully unprepared. And it scares me.

The fact that African-American males live under constant threat is not a new phenomenon to me. I have lived in numerous places that are predominantly populated by people of color, mostly in urban contexts. I have seen the police in places like Lexington, KY or Waco, TX approach black men differently than they do white men. I know that this practice, in some places, is actually taught. I was a Wesley Foundation Director at a small junior college in West Texas and one of my students, who was pursuing an associate’s degree in law enforcement, one day told me that his professor taught that in a traffic stop, they are to approach the vehicle much differently if the occupants are white females than if the occupants are black men. I was outraged that this was being taught, and so I wrote a letter to the professor, to the President of the school and I even contacted the local news media and I got zero responses from anyone. Systemic racism is not surprising to me. It is a historical fact and it still happens every day, no matter how much denial people, including the supposed “liberal” media, are steeped in.

But it is so different to see and acknowledge racism, to be outraged by it, as a white male with no deep attachment to it, than it is to see it and feel it as a father of an African-American young boy. It is nothing less than frightening to think about my beautiful son growing up in this culture where guns and racism are so rampant and create a lethal combination.

So, what do I tell Isaiah? I must tell him that though there are people who are committed to stamping out racism, though there are people who love him for the beautiful child of God that he is, though he has unbelievable gifts to share with the world, though all of this is absolutely true, our society is still sick with violence and racist hatred. And the violence and hatred is fueled not only by an innate sinfulness in all of us, it is fueled by larger and more sinister forces than individual sin. If only it were individual sin. That would be so much easier because then our approach could be limited to a message of individualistic salvation.

But no, societal violence and racist hatred is entrenched in the systems and structures which run and support our society. There are those who are blind to systematic violence and racism – who see it solely as individual sin – and there are those who financially benefit from the violence and racism that permeates our society. In fact, those that benefit systematically from violence and racism actually need those who refuse to see structural sin – who only see it individually – in order for their profits to continue to increase.

So, what do I tell Isaiah? I must explain to my ten year old that the organization responsible for writing the Stand Your Ground bill for Florida, a bill that gives a license to people to shoot and kill anyone who they perceive to mean them harm, is the National Rifle Association. And the NRA profits from the fact that the state has seen the number of justifiable homicides triple since its passage in 2005. You see, when people feel fearful, they buy guns for protection. When they are allowed to use those guns to shoot people they perceive as dangerous (and those are often people of color), then fear is ratcheted up even higher so that more people feel the need the buy more guns. On and on it goes. Because of the massive amount of money the NRA pours into elections, and the massive lobbying they do of state legislatures like Florida’s, lawmakers have been happy to throw reason and public safety out the window so that their cash cow, the mighty and powerful NRA, can give them an “A” rating and they can get reelected. This is how the game is played and the NRA plays it well.

What do I tell Isaiah? I must tell my son that the world is dangerous for all people, but even more so for him. Simply because he is black. The forces that benefit from violence and racism seem more powerful right now than the forces of love. I know theologically that love wins in the end. But right now that feels too theoretical. Love did not win out for Trayvon. Violence and racism won. So, in the face of such evil and yes, forces like these (and no, I am not calling individual people evil) are in fact evil because they are working to destroy that which God so deeply and passionately loves. Profiting from racism and violence is evil and like all evil, it must be stopped, though it promises to not go quietly.

So, what should I tell Isaiah, my beautiful boy, my son, my joy? I must continue to protect him, I must warn and advise him. But I must also invite him to join with me in fighting against violence and hatred and to love people (which he does so amazingly and unconditionally). I must invite him to join with me and so many others in shining the light on groups like the National Rifle Association who benefit from the violence and racist hatred and resulting fear that is so present in our society and only creates a “need” for more gun sales. I must invite Isaiah to shine the light on groups like the NRA, especially when so many weak-kneed political “leaders” are cowed into silent submission. I must give Isaiah the opportunities to love those who are harmed or killed by the overabundance of guns in our society and those who are continually marginalized and hurt by racism. And I must invite Isaiah to join me and, hopefully, a growing movement in the Church to shine the light on injustice and the collusion of politics, fear, and profits which characterizes the work of the NRA and the politicians in their hip pockets.

I think I know what I must tell Isaiah. I must tell him that I love him, that God loves him unconditionally and together, along with so many others within the Church and outside of it, we can change the world through love and light. Maybe it won’t be such a bad conversation after all.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Immigration Reform Any Old White Man Would Love

I read this morning (Tuesday, June 25) that in approaching the likely cloture and final votes on the Senate immigration bill later this week, any amendments that are brought up will have to be "non-controversial." I am struck by that thought especially in light of yesterday's (Monday) action by the Senate, which passed the Corker-Hoeven amendment. The Corker-Hoeven amendment will add a staggering $38 billion on southern border security to the already staggering $4.5 billion in the base bill, S. 744, to the already staggering $18 billion spent on border security in 2012 alone. This amendment will add 20,000 patrol agents - in addition to the 19,000 that will already be there - to the border. This will add even more militaristic hardware as well as 700 miles of fencing to the border. Senator Corker himself called this bill "overkill" and I could not agree more. And remember, this isn't about keeping out our Canadian neighbors to the North. This is about the southern border. This is about people of color and protecting a (currently) dominant white country against their entrance to ease the discomfort that too many mostly old, white men who populate too much of the Senate have when the discussion centers around immigration.

What struck me this week was the fact that after years of howling at the moon about how the federal government spends too much money and is in too much debt, the Senate easily, happily spent $38 billion with nary a complaint from Fox News about the cost, even while those who spoke against it derided it as not doing enough! And this gross expenditure is not seen as controversial at all. This is rightful governance in their eyes - nothing controversial about it. Just another day at the office.

Of course, at the same time, Congress is allowing millions of people - some of whom are people of color - to go without essential social services. The federal government has allowed hundreds of thousands of women and children to go without their WIC benefits and have laid off thousands of teachers for Head Start and special education. Don't you know that making sure women and children have good, healthy food to eat, and ensuring that poor children learn is far too controversial to deal with?

$38 billion is the price we just paid for a group of mostly old, white men to feel better about making sure that not too many immigrant people of color enter into their country at once. And who will pay to ease the conscience of those delicate, frail mostly old, white men? People of color of course! We must make those dastardly undocumented immigrants pay for their presence. Never mind that those who dared to come to this country, risking their lives in the process, work jobs that no one else wanted, to be part of the fastest growing demographic in the otherwise dying mainline denominations, and who strengthen the U.S. economy and culture through their presence. Yes, we are paying for enormous and unneeded border militarism through the fees and fines levied on immigrants who want to keep their families together and provide a better future for their children. How dare they!!

And speaking of making sure we bar controversial amendments, let us remember, that it was two other groups of mostly old, white men - Catholic Bishops and religious conservatives - that ensured that the bill we have before us is NOT comprehensive immigration reform because we exclude reunifying same sex families. Those two groups of mostly old, white men could not stomach reuniting families who are forced to endure the horrible existence of being separated from those they love the most because the loving parents happen to be of the same gender. Too controversial for these frail, mostly old, white men. It's not controversial at all to separate families so long as those are families of people of color and the people impacted are gay or lesbian and we do so in the name of securing the border between the United States and Mexico.

It's time we admit that the current effort to reform the immigration system is directed entirely toward easing the discomfort mostly old, white men feel when those who might benefit do not look like who they are. We have to make sure these mostly old, white men feel good about themselves, that they don't feel threatened in any way, and that we use messaging that affirms their ethnocentric, frankly racist and xenophobic worldview.

I am tired of tip-toeing lightly around the frail, delicate, feeble worldviews of the mostly old, white men who are in control and who are hell-bent on maintaining that control. I am tired of advocating tirelessly for justice for people who are vulnerable and who often are people of color, and then hearing that we have to accept half-ass reform that will fall far, far short of what is needed to protect and defend the rights of the vulnerable because the mostly old, white men do not think pushing for what is truly needed - a pathway to full citizenship and the reunification of ALL families, including same-sex families is not "politically feasible." Then we have to watch the mostly old, white men congratulate themselves for being "leaders." It honestly makes me want to puke.

Passing half-ass reform that will not provide real solutions isn't about leadership, it's about maintaining control and ensuring that the mostly old, white men can keep their worlds and their "ways of life" they talk so endlessly about preserving.

No more. Those worlds and those ways of life must and will end, in this life or the next. The Kingdom of God that I want to see will have nothing to do with preserving power or positions of status for elitist groups that want to keep it and all the benefits those positions bring for themselves. Because of the Corker-Hoeven amendment the border may belong to the 40,000 border patrol agents, and the current social, economic, and political order may belong to the groups of mostly old, white men. But rest assured, the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor. We paid an immense price to ease the slight discomfort of mostly old, white men this week. But I believe God is keeping a running tab and will be expecting payment in full one day. The Kingdom of God belongs to the poor and if the mostly old, white men do not realize it now, they will soon enough. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Enjoyment is the Only Thing

I am a parent of 2 boys, one 14 years old and one 11 years old. Both boys love to play sports - sports is a huge part of our lives and a huge part of relationship. We love to play sports, love to watch sports (on TV and better yet, live in person), and we actually love to talk about it. We are a very sports-oriented family, but I have become fed up with what I see as increasingly bad coaching.  

The story a few months ago of the Rutgers' basketball coach yelling at and physically assaulting his players during practice was revolting to watch and made everyone who did rightly call for his firing. Now, unbelievably, Rutgers, it appears, has hired a Director of the Athletics Department who did the exact same thing to her players while a head coach of volleyball at Tennessee. The calls for her resignation will grow in the coming days and I join those calls. There is no place for such behavior by coaches towards players at any level. It is an abuse of power by the coaches and counseling should be made available to all players at the expense of the coaches involved and the institutions that hire them and long-term, if not permanent expulsion from coaching should be the result for coaches who engage in such outrageous behavior.

The problem of bad coaching is solved right? Wrong, I am afraid.

Bad coaching has become epidemic. And by bad coaching I don't mean teaching poor fundamentals to the sport or employing wrong situational strategy (both of which happen far too often as well). By bad coaching, I mean making that which is ancillary primary. As a parent, my primary hope for my children as they play sports is enjoyment of the sport. In fact, that is my only hope. Do they enjoy winning more than losing? Of course, who doesn't? But my kids have lost plenty of games where they also enjoyed the game, they enjoyed competing, and through proper perspective (what I would like to call good coaching), they valued the experience of losing. When it comes to youth sports, I don't believe winning is everything, or winning is the only thing. Winning is just a thing; just a part of the overall experience. Enjoyment of the sport is the only thing that matters.

Now, don't get me wrong. I do not believe in giving every kid who plays a trophy and saying every game should end in a tie. I believe all kids should feel the wonderful taste of victory and I believe all kids should feel the bitter taste of defeat. Both are necessary experiences for the full enjoyment of playing sports.

But coaches, and all too often parents of players, make winning primary above enjoyment and i believe this is to the detriment of the kids and their long-term enjoyment of the sport. I have seen coaches yell at 11 year-old kids about missing blocks, shooting the wrong gap on defense, running through a sign in baseball, swinging at a bad pitch, and the list could go on and on. And when I say yell, I mean yell - a grown-up voice loudly yelling at a eleven year-old who made a mistake. I have been involved in little league sports in some way, shape or form ever since I was a youth pastor in Denver City in the early 90s and I honestly cannot imagine any context in any sport that would require a grown-up yelling at a 11 year-old child. Not if the child's enjoyment is the primary focus of coaching.

I have coached and have helped coaches in both football and baseball. I know it can be frustrating to teach a child something repeatedly - sometimes weeks on end - and to see that child make the same mistake time after time after time. But the primary focus of children and sports is not perfection - it is enjoyment. Now, enjoyment does tend to follow increased mastery of the sport. It always is more fun to get a hit, make a catch, or make the play that you could not have made earlier in the season when you first started.

I remember, as a youth pastor in Denver City, helping out with little league games, being the official scorer and often times, stepping in to help coach teams when coaches couldn't show up or there was a lack of coaches. I remember one kid named Charlie on a team I was helping out with and I worked with him at every practice. Charlie, who was eleven but had never played baseball before, had an awkward throwing motion and had never hit a baseball when he started the year. It took a lot of work but Charlie persisted and by the end of the year, he was a good little second baseman and he got more than his share of hits. Not once did I, or the head coach of Charlie's team, yell at Charlie for making mistakes. And you know what? Charlie loved baseball. I saw good coaching when I was in Denver City because the coaches at all levels focused on the kids' enjoyment of the sport.

But I have become fed up with the coaching I am seeing all too often now. Of the six total years both of my boys have played football I can say that they had quality coaching one year out of the six. The result? This year neither wants to play football. It's not worth it. The coaching is that bad. Screaming and yelling by so-called coaches has killed their love for football and they played a combined total of six years.

And it isn't just the screaming and yelling that kills it. It's the constant stream of 2-3 hour practices well after the season is under way. It's the 20 minute post-game speeches that some of the ego-maniacal coaches seem to think they have a right to give after eleven year old have just spent 2 1/2 hours playing a sport and still have to go home and finish homework. What the hell needs to be said to children beyond, "Good game guys, see ya Tuesday!"?

But I am done with it. No more. In fact, I have been done with it for quite some time. If coaches aren't going to make the child's enjoyment of the sport the primary thing, then I am going to - nothing else matters. When too many practices are scheduled and they interfere with school or church, or they already have games more than twice a week, then I am not letting my boys go. Enjoyment is more important.

And when coaches want them at the game 45 minutes prior to a game, then the game goes two to two and an half hours long, no postgame speeches unless you morph into Knute Rockne (and even then, he knew well enough to give the rah-rah speech ahead of time and to do it quickly). I pull my kid out before the soliloquy even gets started.

And yelling? Absolutely no way. Not at my kid, not in my lifetime. Last year, when my youngest was playing football, he had a coach who regularly yelled and screamed and name-called and berated his players - ten and eleven year-olds. I confronted him a couple of times and finally told him I didn't want him speaking to my son for the rest of the season. That could be the last season my son will play football - a sport he loved and is good at.

I encourage other parents to do the same. Parents and coaches should make the enjoyment of the sport the only thing to focus on for our children. Wins and losses simply do not matter when it comes to kids' sports - only enjoyment does. Just think how much fun our kids would have if their enjoyment really was our primary concern. Just think how much fun we would have if their enjoyment was our only concern. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lazy Liberals, WAKE UP!!!

As the fight for just and humane immigration reform begins with a mark-up in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, I know there will be much political analysis about what will help legislation pass and what could defeat it. I feel strangely and cautiously optimistic for the first time in years - really ever. But I also see real potential for defeat. Even more, I see real potential for something even worse than no legislation passing: legislation that passes but does not bring about genuine and much-needed reform and leaves us stuck with an unworkable system that excludes many and further militarizes the border and increases enforcement which will make defense contractors and private prisons even richer. We are in danger of the illusion of reform without the substance of reform and that is the worst possible scenario.

I hate to sound the voice of gloom, but I can tell you that the sounds associated with such illusion of reform with no substance will not come with a cacophony of anger from one side of the political aisle, but rather, failure will be associated with the sound of silence. It will be the silence of liberals. Sadly, liberals have grown far too dependent on the sounds of others and far too accommodating for the larger cause of supposedly "getting something done" and we have, all too often when it comes to issues such as immigration, gone silent and lost our greatest strength: passionate devotion to our values.

I have seen an alarming vision of this with the recent entrance of religious conservatives into the struggle for immigration reform. Religious conservatives becoming engaged in humanitarian issues such as immigration has been, in my mind, something of a mixed blessing. Religious conservatives have brought greater media attention because of the media's infatuation with them. In addition, supposedly liberal funders have given incredibly large sums of money to groups that, out of nowhere, have made organizing religious conservatives one of their priorities. Watching DC advocacy groups chase after funding dollars should be a reality show.

But one of the many downsides to the entrance of religious conservatives is that all too often I have heard some liberals speak of their entrance into the struggle as if it means that the rest of the faith community can take a vacation. Now, let me be specific. There are many, many progressive people of faith who are not waiting for others to make genuine reform happen. I know many of them personally and they are amazing. I know United Methodists - many of them moderate to liberal - who have engaged in over 1050 public witness in support of just and humane immigration reform during just the past four years. Yet, I also know far too many - many of them occupying titles and positions of influence. But they are passive. To be blunt, they are lazy.

I might make some angry for saying this, and I again want to stress that this characterization does not apply to all liberals by any stretch of the imagination. But too many liberals have become lazy. Lazy liberals rely far too easily on tired, worn out ,ineffective church structures that no longer work, if they ever did. Lazy liberals have ignored the work of individual conversations and recruiting new folks to build teams with and have instead depended on email lists and church statements and worn out Bible studies. Lazy liberals have accepted the media's almost complete marginalization of liberal voices and have excitedly pointed to the emergence of religious conservative voices, ignoring the deep divides in terms of values between the two sides. Yep, too many of us are lazy.

And our laziness comes not only at the peril at our voices being marginalized. More importantly, our laziness and our dependence on religious conservatives imperils the genuine reform needed to truly defend and support the basic civil and human rights of our immigrant sisters and brothers. I believe that an energized liberal faith community is the only thing that can take the current Senate bill offered by the Gang of 8, which offers the illusion of reform, and, through much-needed amendments, see that it is perfected to include the substance of reform.

The Senate bill as it is currently introduced fully embraces the principles put forward by religious conservatives and ignores, not surprisingly, the values that liberal faith groups have been putting forward for years. Religious conservative principles include:
  • Guaranteed secure borders. Now, I have written elsewhere on the theological and missiological nonsense of Christians advocating for a guarantee of secure borders, but for purposes here, the crafters of the Senate bill clearly saw this principle as political cover for an immigration bill that is far, far more about border security than it is about immigrants. On top of the 18 billion having been spent in fiscal year 2012 alone, the Senate bill adds another 4.5 billion for good measure. At a time when the sequester cuts have taken over 600,000 recipients off of WIC, the Senate's crass expenditures will go straight into the coffers of defense contractors and private prisons as they expand hideous programs like Operation Streamline. (Hey lazy liberals, still asleep?)
  • Priority on unifying the immediate family only. The Senate bill takes the cue that stripping important family categories that have been in place for close to 50 years such as siblings and bringing over adult children will not be met with any stiff resistance. (Maybe starting to stir a little bit lazy liberals?)
  • Fairness to tax payers. Now, I have no earthly idea how this principle has anything to do with the immigration debate, but it is there for religious conservatives nonetheless. This causes even more disbelief when faced with the reality that immigrants do pay taxes! Still, it is there and it seems to have been given credence by framers of the Senate bill when they created a point system that favors high tech employees and corporations over and against family reunification and low-skilled workers. While big corporations will be quite happy with this, many of the immigrants who make up our congregations will not and we have to ask ourselves who it is that needs the voice of the faith community more in this fight for genuine reform. (OK lazy liberals, now I am starting to see a little movement)
  • Lastly, while not a principle that is listed by religious conservatives, discriminating against the GLBT community and not allowing family members of same-sex families to reunify has been, in meetings I have attended, THE primary focus of concern for religious conservatives when it comes to reform. Though President Obama favors this provision and though liberals see this provision as an obvious human rights issue, the Senate bill favors the sentiments of religious conservatives and has decided they want certain immigrants to come to our country: straight ones. This, more than any other principle embraced by religious conservatives, illustrates the heretical belief that we are supposed to distinguish between deserving and undeserving people who are vulnerable. (Yeah, now I see you sitting up! I hope you had a nice nap my lazy liberal friends, but a lot has happened during your slumber and none of it good)

 With the Senate bill embracing the principles of religious conservatives, I believe we will have immigration reform, if passed, that is not workable and is not centered on immigrants.

Just as we reject the illusion of reform without the substance of reform, we too must reject the notion of religious unity without actual unity. For years now, everyone has been telling liberals like me to not expose the differences among faith groups - to instead emphasize unity, even when so many of us recognize that there is no unity when it comes to what we want to see in immigration reform. Yes, we all acknowledge the system is broken - only the most inane voices do not acknowledge that. But the unity that so many foolishly trumpet quickly falls apart from there. The truth is that there can never be unity when one group entirely ignores the other. Though I have been to hundreds of coalition meetings on immigration reform, I can honestly say I have never been to one with religious conservatives on this issue. That is stunning in and of itself.

Lazy liberals must wake up or we will end up watching a reform that, once there is even further negotiating and cattle-trading, will be so watered down that it is a sham. We either wake up, and wake up this week by making our voices heard in a big way to Senate Judiciary Committee members through our calls, or immigrants will be the worse for our lack of effort.

Here are some aspects to the Senate bill that desperately need amending:
  • Reduce the total wait time for immigrants to wait with a Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status from 10 years to 6 years
  • Give immigrants with RPI full access to health care and other important social services
  • Extend the cut-off date for Registered Provisional Immigrant status to from December 31, 2011 to the date of enactment
  • Don't exclude those with aggravated felony offenses or with three misdemeanors from attaining the RPI status. We especially want to eliminate the term "aggravated felony" which could include some misdemeanor offenses or minor drug offenses. Moreover, we should exempt individuals who are in states with 1070-type laws or where there has been consistent practices of racial profiling.
  • Include same-sex family members who are separated in the effort to reunify families
  • Lower the effectiveness rate for securing the border from its current level of 90% and remove the pathway to citizenship from all border security triggers
  • Reinstate the categories of siblings and adult children and eliminate the point system
  • Base any further expenditures on border security on reinstating the sequester cuts to the most vulnerable. As soon as every person cut from access to such programs as WIC and Head Start is fully reinstated, then money can be appropriated for more border security madness.

 These simple changes would make the Senate bill actually workable and humane.

But let me be clear, you calling all these Senators by yourself is not going to do it. We have got to build a movement. For folks (like myself) who look back at the 60s longingly at the movement-building and organizing that took place, we have not, by and large, not done a powerful job of mimicking them. Knowing that there is no single bill that will fully defend and support the rights of immigrants, here are a couple of things we must do to have long-term impact for years to come:
  • We must first enter into incarnational relationships with immigrants - advocating without immersed relationships among immigrant communities is the way to follow the current path blazed by DC advocacy groups who advocate for principles and not people
  • We need to have one on one conversations with people in our congregations and invite them to join us in forming teams of folks, incarnated among immigrant communities
And to have an impact this week and in the weeks to come, here are a couple of things we can do right now:
  • Make calls each day to the list of Senate Judiciary Members (list is below) relating the list of needed changes listed above
  • Wake up our dead or dying institutional structures by doing more than sending emails - we need to call everyone on our justice lists and urge them to make calls as well!
  • Find out who made calls and invite them to join with you in meeting with your Senator the last week in May for a Neighbor to Neighbor meeting, urging them to support immigration reform that supports these simple changes.
As I stated before, I know lots of progressive people of faith who are fully engaged and waiting for no one to step up for them. But I also far too many lazy liberals and it is time to jump on the bus so that we can go. We have been waiting around long enough. It is time for liberals to be bold and demand the changes that we know will make reform genuine and truly inclusive. And if they refuse to give in and assume that we will meekly step aside and allow the word reform to be hijacked by the political and economic status quo. Then it will be time for us to say no to any reform at all.

Lazy liberals, WAKE UP!!! The only ones who can bring about the reform that we need - that our immigrant sisters and brothers absolutely need and deserve - are us. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Post-Easter Thought on the Gun Violence Debate

The passage we read for church this Sunday was taken from John 20 and as my pastor read this familiar Scripture describing Thomas' doubting of Jesus' resurrection, something I hadn't seen before struck me. In the passage Jesus appears to all of the disciples except Thomas, who, true to his nature, doubts that he arose at all. Thomas wants to touch the nail holes in Jesus' hands and put his hand in Jesus' side. Luckily for Thomas, Jesus reappears and graciously and patiently allows Thomas to touch him and see for himself the truth of his physical resurrection. In itself, this is a powerful reminder that Jesus is far more patient than his Church often is when it comes to dealing with the natural doubts of disciples.

But what struck me when I heard the passage read aloud is the time between Jesus' appearances. It was "a week later" after Jesus first appeared that Jesus reappeared and made the truth known to Thomas. I was struck because imagine this scene: the disciples see Jesus alive and well and then tell Thomas of this amazing new reality and Thomas' reaction is not to believe his brothers, but to doubt them and demand that he see for himself before he places his trust in the resurrection. What do you think the disciples are thinking and feeling when they hear Thomas' demand? These are people that Thomas has lived among, come to know intimately, experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows with; they all have seen Jesus and know he has overcome death. He was crucified and now he is alive, he is the Christ. But Thomas not only doubts Jesus' resurrection, he doubts the witness and testimony of these, probably his closest friends in the world.

Now, the text says absolutely nothing about what happened within the span of that week. The text is focused on Jesus' actions during his post-Easter time on earth. But wouldn't you love to know what exactly happened during that week, at least in terms of group dynamics? Were the disciples frustrated with Thomas for not believing them? Did Thomas think they were too easily fooled, willing themselves into believing anything just to make themselves feel better? Was there anger? Did Thomas threaten to walk out on them for being foolish? Did they threaten to kick Thomas out for once again doubting, for demanding to know in his own way and refusing to believe them? Did the two sides become entrenched, which is what so often happens when two sides both assume they are right and justified in their righteousness?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. No one does, for again, the text says nothing of what happened during that weeks' time. But yet, the only thing we do know is that the disciples failed to convince Thomas that Jesus has arisen because the next week Jesus appears again to the group with Thomas present. Thomas still has not come to believe in Jesus' resurrection for he is amazed to see Jesus. And we also can say with reasonable certainty that Thomas and the disciples have not reached the point of throwing each other out the window because they are all gathered together with the doors shut tight! Lastly, we can also say that the disciples were indeed right - Jesus had risen, thanks be to God! It's not that Thomas was wrong. He just had not yet come to the realization that the disciples themselves had.

So, how in the world can this speak to the current debate on guns about to happen in the Senate this week and next? I see a couple of ways. One is that there is a certain level of entrenchment on this issue. It was recently reported that 13 Republican Senators, led by Rand Paul (KY) and Ted Cruz (TX) are intending to filibuster any bill seeking to prevent gun violence. You could say they are like Thomas, doubting the veracity that through banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines and through instituting universal background checks will gun violence tragedies like the one in Newtown, CT be stopped.

Secondly, just as the disciples were right in their knowledge that indeed Jesus had arisen, so are we who believe that banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and instituting universal background checks on all gun sales will dramatically reduce mass gun shootings. We are right and history bears us out. When a much softer assault weapons ban was in place between 1994-2004 the number of these mass shootings was far lower than it is now. We know we are right because in other societies when these measures are in place, they do not experience these kinds of tragedies at all. But being right, unfortunately, has little to do with enacting good policies. If being right was all that was needed, there never would have been an Iraq War, minimum wage would be far higher than it is, and Obamacare would be far more reaching and would not have been controversial in its creation.

One possibility for Thomas' doubting is that he knew deep down the disciples were right, but he was frustrated he did not get to see, like everyone else, the resurrected Jesus. Maybe he hoped for another visitation. Again, we do not know for sure. But we do know that another visitation - the divine intervention of Jesus into human history - is what it took for Thomas to come to believe. The word of the disciples was not enough. Maybe the other disciples quit arguing with him early on into the week out of sheer frustration and just silently (and perhaps not so silently) prayed for another visit from Jesus the risen Christ.

It took divine intervention for Thomas to believe. And I believe that is what it will take with the gun issue as well - a visitation from Jesus. Now, hear me out. I am NOT saying that we should give up advocating, give up making calls, give up emailing or sending in clergy letters like United Methodists are doing throughout the United States, urging Senators to vote for S. 649 and S. 150. God forbid we quit! We absolutely must continue to call and email, continue to recruit clergy to send in their clergy letters, and strongly urge others to do the same! But I am saying that with those who are so entrenched with doubt, or with fear of the gun lobby, or with whatever reason they cling to that prevents common sense legislation that will reduce gun violence, we must also pray that they receive a visit from the risen Christ. We must pray for divine intervention.

And like the disciples, we will spend the week, or month, or year, or however long it takes, being faithful to Jesus, lovingly inviting the Thomas' in our life to join us, no matter if they are named Senator Paul or Senator Cruz, or Senator Rubio, etc. We will lovingly invite them to join us in manifesting the Kingdom of God on earth, a Kingdom where there are no assault weapons, no high capacity magazines, and where there is love, compassion and accountability. We are faithful in what we do, we witness to what we know is right - and we are indeed right - and we invite even those entrenched on the other side from ours to join us in experiencing Kingdom life in its fullest. We wait hoping. We wait expectantly knowing Jesus will visit them and us. Come Lord Jesus come. And let us be working while we want.

To call your both of your Senators and urge them to support universal background checks (S. 649) and a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines (S. 150), please call 1-888-427-0484, ask for your Senator's office and then here is a sample script: "Hi, my name is                        and as a United Methodist and someone who believes in ending gun violence, I urge Senator                              to support S. 150 (Assault Weapons Ban) and S. 649 (Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act)." 
And don't forget to call BOTH of your Senators!

Friday, March 22, 2013

March 19: Why Jeremiah Still Weeps

The snow has yet to melt off the graves of the twenty children who were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT and Congress has forgotten about them entirely. As I write this (March 19), Spring has not yet started and Senate Democratic leadership has given up bringing to the Senate floor legislation that would ban assault weapons and the high capacity magazines used to kill 20 children and 6 teachers. As I write this, it is also ten years ago to the day that the invasion of Iraq began. Somehow, in a truly sickening way, the symmetry is startling.

Whether it was ten years ago when Democrats gave in so easily to President Bush's mad dash towards preemptive war, or the current Democratic cave-in to the power of the NRA and their absolute refusal to value life above gun manufacturing profits, Democratic leadership seems to be permanently impotent.

I knew that no matter how horrible the massacre in Newtown was, that the shock and outrage we all felt would not last through the holidays into the Spring. We are just not wired for long periods of attention.

I must admit though, I did have some hope upon seeing President Obama's State of the Union speech where he ended it calling - no, shaming - members of Congress by demanding that the people of Newtown deserved a vote on preventing gun violence. He called Congress out stating rightfully that the people of Aurora, the people of Tucson, the people of Oak Creek, WI, and the people of Chicago all deserve a vote. Heck, he could have named practically every city and town in the United States as gun violence has become so pervasive and we have grown so accustomed to it. I can still remember his speech. I can almost hear his voice as he called for Congressional action. I had a small glimmer of hope then, that perhaps this might be enough to rip the Republican and Democratic umbilical cord tied to the NRA.

I should have known better. The problem with this issue isn't Republican entrenchment, as it is with so many other issues. The problem is Democratic backbone - or a lack thereof. Senate Democrats are refusing to bring the assault weapons ban and the ban on high capacity magazines to the floor for a vote. Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Chicago, everywhere, you don't get a vote. You do not get a vote despite the fact that a ban on assault weapons is favored by 57% of the US public, and despite the fact that a ban on high capacity magazines is favored by close to 70%. How foolish I was to believe that if the American people wanted something they would get it. Not here, not with this Congress and not with the Senate Democratic leadership who seem incapable of leading.

115 days from the shooting in Newtown and we have lost the outrage and the determination to "do something to end gun violence" that we kept hearing elected "leaders" ramble on about.

Ten years since we invaded Iraq.

There is something so horribly poetic that we give up on ending gun violence the same day that, ten years ago, we gave up on common sense alternatives to unnecessary warfare. Ten years ago we had a President and Vice-President with an insane certainty in their own righteousness. Today we have an insane lobby group with enormous money and a paranoid fear of the repeal of the 2nd Amendment; something I will bet my legs will not happen in my lifetime or in ten lifetimes to come. Insanity reigned ten years ago and insanity reigns today. Any political opposition offering reason and peace as viable alternatives, both then and now, is out to lunch.

Why is our society so violent and so resistant to rational thinking such as searching for weapons of mass destruction before we initiate full-scale warfare? Why are we so focused on preserving the right to shoot hundreds of bullets in literally seconds - something that actually is not a right guaranteed by any reasonable reading of the Constitution - at the expense of lives of our children? And why are we so paralyzed and resistant to reasonable action such as banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, or actually demanding that the rationale for preemptive war be proven before we kill hundreds of thousands of people? Maybe smarter people can answer these questions. I cannot.

I am not surprised that there are some who want access to military-style weapons because they, who happen to mostly be white middle-aged men, believe that there will be a government takeover, which happens to be led by a Black man.

I am not surprised that there are some who want to invade other countries and mask those efforts with lies and deceit and who are pushing us still towards another unnecessary war with Iran.

I am not even surprised that the Democratic leadership caved ten years ago and today and pose little threat to the forces which drove us to war then and which drive us towards ever-increasing gun violence today.

I am not surprised that the rest of us have grown used to unrestrained violence and those who profit from it and a lack of leadership standing up to it.

I am not surprised that the response of people of faith to all of this has been at best muffled outrage or at worst, acquiescence.

I just am not surprised anymore.

And this is why Jeremiah still weeps. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

We are a Nation of Flaws

One of the primary talking points the White House constantly puts out in regards to their plans to reform the broken immigration system is that "we are a nation of laws." In fact, it is often the first thing President Obama says when he talks about the needs for immigration reform. When saying this, the President is intending to say we must hold those who are in the United States without documentation accountable for their legal status. "We are a nation of laws" means to reinforce that society is essentially orderly and fair.

We are a nation of laws. Yet, as we have seen in recent weeks, the rhetoric of being a nation of laws and the reality can often be far apart. Even the most liberal among political leaders still frame the immigration discussion as being primarily about securing the border and insist that any pathway to citizenship be rigorous and difficult for undocumented immigrants, thereby somehow ensuring the slogan that we are indeed a nation of laws is more reality than just rhetoric. However, somehow this great respect for legality does not easily translate top other areas. For instance, the belief that "we are a nation of laws" does not seem to apply to those arbitrarily deemed an enemy of the state as there is no legal process in place for those the President chooses to put on a kill list, even for those who have U.S. citizenship. Why doesn't the President, if he dare discuss the drone  attacks at all, use the slogan, "we are a nation of laws" for that? Yet, though we have kill lists, including some American citizens, that are not worthy of due process protections, why do we tell undocumented immigrants and the poor that we are a nation of laws and that they should be held accountable for their "illegal" behavior?

We are a nation of laws. Why was this not said by the President or the many members of Congress, especially those with close ties to lobby firms who represent giant financial institutions, when the financial meltdown occurred in 2008. Hedge fund managers, predatory lenders, and financial institutions all got away with bank robbery - literally. Some of these huge corporations accepted bailouts and rewarded CEO's while millions of people lost their jobs and their life savings. What's more, not only were people in positions of power and influence not held responsible, many have attained new positions of power and influence. However, we will be insistent that any pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants - many of whom do back-breaking low-paid work in horrible conditions with no protections and no high-priced firms lobbying on their behalf - includes enormous fines and back taxes (to help make up for the oil corporations which pay nothing in some cases), and then wait years, maybe even decades before they are able to complete that pathway. But still, we insist that we are a nation of laws.

Yes, we are a nation of laws. Yet, we knowingly committed torture and besides a few low-level guards at Abu Ghraib, no one was tried or even brought up on charges of war crimes for devising a policy of torture and then implementing it and carefully concealing it from Congress and the public. People like John Yoo, David Addington, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush were responsible for torturing perhaps dozens of people, perhaps more. We do not know for sure. Has this elite group of people, far above prosecution it seems, been held responsible for the war crimes they clearly have committed since we are a nation of laws? Absolutely not. They have written books and been on book tours and made handsome royalties. Or they even dare to teach in law schools for heaven's sake! Yet, we must make sure that any undocumented immigrants who so much as get drunk in public not be allowed to have access to any pathway to citizenship. Yes indeed, we are a nation of laws.

And it is funny how and why these laws are made. I read the other day that Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican from my home state of Tennessee has introduced a bill that would mandate drug testing for everyone who receives any form of welfare. Funny how we didn't drug test all of the Bank CEO's who got hundreds of millions of dollars in government bailouts. We don't drug test the lobbyists who live on Capitol Hill and persuade Congress to continue to pour billions of dollars into the defense industry so that we can build weapons we have no need for. No one in Congress would even dare mention that. But yet, we want to make sure that people who get hundreds of dollars - barely enough to exist or get by - do not use drugs. We must make sure we help only the very few "deserving poor," a distinction that is solely a modern creation. There is no biblical basis for distinguishing the deserving from the non-deserving poor at all. Yep, we sure are a nation of laws.

You know, as I was writing this and saying this over and over - we are a nation of laws, it started coming out differently. We are a nation of laws slowly became, "we are a nation of flaws." Perhaps that is what President Obama and all the rest of the politicians who mindlessly spew out such nonsense really mean after all. We are a nation of flaws. We are a nation where we punish people who are poor for, well, being poor. And we subtly excuse those who are wealthy and connected because some people, like the corporations they control (or that control them) are deemed "too big to fail."

We are a nation of flaws. We have two systems of justice: one for the powerful and affluent and one for everyone else. The old adage, it is better to be guilty and rich than innocent and poor is not old and not an adage. It is a timeless truth that remains as real today as it was in the days of Scripture.

God continually rebuked the wealthy and the powerful for withholding justice from the poor and the vulnerable because God knew we are a people of flaws. Biblical justice, on the other hand, was achieved through legally restoring those wrongfully accused and inclusively creating the opportunity for equal justice for the marginalized. Rather than a means of harsh punishment, God intended justice to be a source of healing to all of society (Exodus 23:6-8; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17 and 16:19-20). The prophets Amos and Isaiah specifically point out that in utilizing the judicial system as a means to secure power only for the affluent and to maintain the poor and marginalized as a perpetual underclass the powerful are in direct opposition to God’s basic intentions for justice (Isaiah 1:21-23; 5:20-23; Amos 2:6-8; 5:7, 10-13).

Yes, we are indeed a nation of flaws. We could be a nation of laws, but we must first address the flaws and that can only start when we recognize that our system of justice favors the rich over the poor, the powerful over the vulnerable. We must insist our elected leaders stop the rhetoric - that we are a nation of laws - and state the truth - we are a nation of flaws. But we can be a nation of laws, a nation where there is no partiality, where all people are treated equally and given a fair chance to succeed. And one place where it can start is by reforming our immigration system and focusing on reunifying families and providing a pathway to citizenship with minimal obstacles. Just saying we are a nation of laws does not mean that justice and equality are real. We have to change things and work to make them real, otherwise we will remain a nation of flaws.