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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Violence in Honduras: Imported from the North

I just returned from a ten-day long sojourn through Guatemala, Honduras, and Chiapas, Mexico as part of an interfaith delegation made up of leaders from across the United States, led by the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity to learn about the root causes of migration. For this post I want to focus on the connection of violence in Honduras, a beautiful country with beautiful people.

One thing we learned while in Honduras is that violence pervades much of Honduras and often is so intimidating that Hondurans find it challenging to dream of a country free from violence. The exportation of the “American Dream” to Honduras serves as a mythical and largely unattainable actualization of the individual without strengthening the whole, making the family unit expendable. The American Dream has become the Honduran nightmare as Northern imports have overwhelmed Honduras through:
  • images of a Western-based affluent lifestyle that are mostly inaccessible, but which lure Hondurans to migrate dangerously to the North,
  • the strengthening of gangs whose members are often intimidated into joining because there are no viable employment opportunities,
  • violence through the presence of US-made guns that allow the powerful and strong to prey upon the weak and vulnerable in order to horde resources for the few at the expense of the many, and
  • the rape of the land through the extraction of natural and human resources by international corporations from the North and other developed countries that force people from their land and, in the end, leads to the disintegration of the family.
Our delegation learned that the family unit has been decimated in many instances because of the internal migration from rural to urban places due to mining and mountain top renewal. When families arrive in the cities they find a lack of employment opportunities which then forces family members to migrate again. During this second migration many Hondurans sojourn to the North to find jobs to support their families who stay behind. Some of those who do not make it often fall victim to human trafficking. Some who do make it to the U.S. are arrested and deported due to a broken immigration system that benefits U.S. corporations with cheap labor while providing no worker protections until migrants are arrested, detained, and deported. And those who do make it and find fairly livable employment live constantly under state-sponsored terror initiated by the US government through detainment in for-profit prisons until they are deported back to Honduras. Hondurans are dehumanized into economic units that benefit the North and strip Honduras bare of its greatest resources.

The rise of violence through gangs (which have been imported from the North back to Honduras due to deportations from prisons where migrants were forced to join gangs for their survival) has now forced even children as young as 7 years old who fear being recruited into a life of violence to migrate to the North for their own continued existence. When and if the children arrive in the United States they are often shipped around from detention center to detention center and denied due process before they are dispatched back to Honduras where an unknown fate awaits them.

Something that has stood out to me and others in our time in Honduras is that people of faith in Honduras are alive and well! In faith, Hondurans are creating communities of love to support and provide for one another even as members of their families are forced to flee and the family unit is being undermined and disintegrated.

We have seen examples of the faith community creating family-like structures:
  • Mothers of the Disappeared have created family-like systems of love and support as they grieve the loss of their loved ones and refuse to accept that their loss has been in vain.
  • Los Indignados is a family-creating organization intent on bringing together all those who are tired of the corruption and impunity by the Honduran government – another exportation from the North – and they are moving in protest weekly throughout the country.
  • St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Progreso is creating families as they regularly remember the Lord’s Supper, instituted by Jesus as a way for the Body of Christ to create new communities of love to provide systems of support that are also celebratory of the stages of life.
These communities of faith are constructing distinctive realities of love and solidarity in the midst of enormous destructive forces.  They provide the hope for a safe and secure Honduras and point prophetically to the forms of violence the faith communities of the North impose when our congregations choose complicity through apathy and ignoring the needs of our sisters and brothers in Honduras.

While crucial infrastructure has been sacrificed by governmental corruption and ridiculous expenditures such as militarizing the police (which benefits greedy Northern-based defense contractors and the US government), Honduran faith communities are doing all they can to fill the gaps – but their capacity is not enough! Brave and courageous women and men of God, old and young alike – the Esthers of Honduras – are risking their lives to point out the Hamans of Honduras in order to create livable and joyous communities of faith for the future of Honduras.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Communion in Honduras

Sunday night we visited St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Progreso, Honduras where Father Melo, who has been the host for our interfaith delegation, serves as priest. It was a beautiful service and the happiness of the faces of the congregation shown bright the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I am not usually happy about going to church. I served for years in United Methodist churches and I am presently a member of Culmore United Methodist Church in Falls Church, VA, which I love. But honestly, in my own personal spiritual journey, going to church has been a struggle. It just seems all too often a responsibility than a joy, more a routine than an opportunity for revelation.

But I was excited to attend St. Theresa’s tonight. Maybe it is because in a country where I am constantly dependent on others for language translation (yes, like a dope, I do not know Spanish well enough without translation), I wanted to be in the familiar context of a people journeying towards God, even in the place where life can be enormously challenging. For whatever reason, I wanted to worship Sunday night. I wanted to feel God’s presence and witness the Body of Christ offering themselves in worship to Jesus our Savior.

I was not let down. It was powerful. The people were welcoming and the worship was lively and invitational. There were several members of our group who graciously offered to translate the service as it was happening, but I sat away from the translators. I wanted to experience worship in the mystery of it and just take in the presence of the Spirit. I could pick up some words here and there and that was enough. But I experienced the joy of life’s celebrations as we celebrated the birthday of a little boy and the baptism of a young man who decided to come to Christ and join the church.

The baptism of the young man was very moving for me. We have spent all of our trip hearing the stories of people who are marginalized or oppressed in some way. We have heard about the extraction of resources by international companies and how people are being assassinated who attempt to bring this rape of their country to the light. We have heard the stories from an ethnic group, the Garifuna, who have historically been marginalized because they are darker-skinned and now, they face enormous pressure from the tourism industry who want to displace them yet again in order to build hotels and resorts for wealthy tourists. And we have heard the stories of mothers whose sons and daughters have disappeared – sometimes for decades – as they journeyed north to pursue their dream to live free from violence and poverty.

So, witnessing Jesus’ redemptive love and the church welcoming in another brother to the Body in the midst of hearing from people who are directly impacted by overwhelming forces of injustice is a sign that the Church is alive and growing and will provide times of joy even in the midst of pain and suffering. The gates of hell will not overcome the Church.

The most powerful time of worship for me was communion. Many Catholic churches do not practice an open table for communion (heck, too many churches of all denominations prevent people both from taking communion as well as administering communion and I’d love to see a completely open table!), but Father Melo’s sermon was about sharing and he said he especially wanted our delegation, which is interfaith, to receive freely the Lord’s Supper.

After I went forward and received the elements I went back to my seat and thanked God for bringing me to these amazing people. I thought about how communion is both a time to connect with Jesus, to remember how he instituted this practice for his followers so that we could remember his sacrificial love for all the world.

But communion is more than just for our personal renewal. It is innately community building. Communion brings us all together, no matter how old or young, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, women or men, straight or gay, no matter our race or ethnicity, our title or our lack of titles; no matter who we are or what we have done, the Lord’s Supper binds us into one community. Communion creates the world God dreams for us to live into.

An inherent aspect of the injustices of this world work to separate, marginalize, and isolate those directly impacted by injustice from those of us who benefit from those injustices. Our delegation has heard the stories of isolation time and time again from so many of the people we have listened to. And I have struggled with how to respond to this reality, not wanting to respond in the typical Northern, Anglo, male way of wanting to “fix their problems.” Listening and learning can be hard in that it takes discipline to not immediately rush out and do something that is as much about soothing my conscience as it is bringing about real justice and shalom.

But tonight, after I received communion, I sat in my seat and I praised God that God has brought me to the people of Honduras – a people who belong to God in the land God has created and given to them. And because of God’s love for us all my heart is with them. Because of God’s grace, I received God’s gift of being present in Honduras. And so I praise God for Honduras and for Hondurans, a powerful people hungry for justice and eager to love. Let’s God’s Kingdom come.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

My Prayer for Conservatives (and Liberals!)

I admit, it has been a hard month or so for conservatives. The Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality and Obamacare have sent shockwaves through conservative circles. There is anger and confusion over what to do and how to respond. And though many people outside of those conservative circles have celebrated these momentous decisions, there is a part of me that has some measured concern over how conservatives will respond.

You see, I am one who believes we all benefit when people live up to the best of who they are. I disagree with many conservatives over important issues, but I want conservatives to be the best conservatives they can be. Heck, I disagree with a lot of liberals over some important issues and I want liberals to be the best liberals they can be. I don’t think we are stronger when liberals make conservatives into liberals or the other way around. We all should be more focused on being transformed into the likeness of Christ and less on the conversion from one end of the political spectrum to the other.

I believe when conservatives talk about the importance of individual accountability and responsibility and the danger of over-reaching and overly bureaucratic government programs we all benefit from those well-grounded and articulate ideas. I, for one, am hoping for a presidential race where these concerns are put forth in persuasive ways that create real and constructive debates and not just sound bites and the resulting political and social entrenchment that we are stuck in.

So, while I am probably one of the last people many conservatives will listen to, I am frankly concerned that the response for many conservatives to recent events, especially the SCOTUS decisions I mentioned above, is increasingly turning into self-elected martyrdom.

I can feel it already. “Protecting my rights” is being trumpeted long and loud – indeed, it is already happening in some places – by big-name personalities with persecution-complexes who have long profited from the industry of fear-mongering that characterizes political punditry these days. You almost get the sense that some people love being persecuted; they love to feel like the world is out to get them simply because the world has no desire to look like them or see the world as they do. Hey, diversity is tough under any circumstances, but when the boundaries of your worldview are so rigidly fixed on who belongs and who doesn’t belong and then you find out that the rest of the world is saying those you deem don’t belong actually do belong, it can be devastating.

When your worldview comes under attack, you are usually given a choice: fight back or struggle through the difficult work of transformation. It seems clear to me that many conservatives are opting for the fight back approach. Thus, the emphasis on “protecting my rights.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that individual rights are sacred. The problem is that, as far as I have seen or heard, no one is really treading on those rights. No one is telling pastors they have to perform gay weddings – they don’t. In fact, while everyone now has a legal right to be married, no one – straight or gay – has a right to demand that pastors perform their weddings. If anyone attempted to supersede that right, I would be the first to protest. But that ain’t happening and is not likely to happen anytime soon. But some, unfortunately, are trying to market their persecution complex and sadly, there seems to be a plethora of buyers.

What makes this whole enterprise especially fruitless for the rest of us is that it undermines one of the best arguments conservatives have: individual responsibility and accountability. When we wrongfully claim persecution by others then we can easily dismiss our own need to be individually responsible or accountable for our actions. We can do anything because we are “persecuted.” We also rob those who truly are persecuted for following Jesus the concern and action that should be rightfully focused on their context. Everyone loses with the persecution-complex.

So, my prayer for conservatives is that, in the midst of the legitimate confusion and even anger that they feel, they will choose to love. While some will attempt to say that opting to love is to compromise their values, I would simply argue that to love is what each of us is called to regardless of whether our political perspectives carry the day or not. Some may disagree with this, but I want to suggest loving people does not necessarily mean accepting and supporting marriage equality. I have loved a lot of people who I vehemently disagree with and my love for them did not change their views or behavior nor did their love for me change mine. Loving people does mean to hope and work for the best for people. This means people can disagree with me; they can hold diametrically opposite views from me, but I don’t need them to agree with me for me to pray that God would grant them the most meaningful life possible.

I would pray in all of these disagreements that this would be our prayer for those on the other side. This is my prayer for conservatives and even for liberals. Let’s choose to love.