Tagged: justice

Don’t miss the main point; Re-read the important stuff if you have to

FAITH TALK

I try to read through the Bible about once a year and it really all boils down to a few things. I’ve read the law and the prophets and the psalms and the proverbs in the old testament and I’ve read the gospels and the acts of the apostles and the epistles in the new testament and it all seems to come down to these:

Faith, Hope, and Love

Of course, the greatest of these is love. God is love, there is no fear in love. The whole of the law and the prophets is summed up in love the Lord your God with all your hear and all your soul and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment is to love one another.

But still, people who call themselves Christian demand, compete for and cheat to gain and maintain control (showing a lack of faith). They use fear as a tool to get leverage and to motivate, and they seem to be motivated by jealousy, defensiveness and anger- all showing their lack of hope.  And they behave and talk as if they’re motivated by hate. Even if/when they claim not to be, their actions and words convince other people that they are.

Now I don’t read Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, and I realize that whether I like it or not, many people seem to interpret Scripture very differently than I do. I’m only human and I pray that if I’m way off base, God will correct my thinking, but I guess my suspicion is that most people who throw around the Bible to support their political, social or philosophical positions haven’t spent a lot of time reading it, let alone asking God’s Spirit to truly work on their hearts or change their character to be much like Jesus’.

You’re right- I’m not an ordained minister, I don’t have a ThD or a PhD or a DivD or RelD, or whatever expert degree in Biblical history, literature or doctrinal studies to make me the ultimate expert. I’m not God. I’m just another sinner like everybody else.

If you really want some credentials, I’ve taken undergraduate college-level religion and theology courses, been taught about at least basic level hermeneutics and exegesis and was given a diploma granting me permission to teach religion classes to 7-12th graders in Lutheran schools. I’ve taught adult (not very well) and youth (not very well attended) Bible studies and helped my wife teach junior high Sunday School classes. I’ve served as an elder at two congregations and on the church council at one.

None of that makes me any holier than the next schmoe or more better, smarter, or the definitive expert on God’s Word- but even a numb-skull jerk like me can tell you that if your religion tells you to hate people, hurt people or deny them the same legal/social/economic/political rights as you, then there’s something very wrong with your religion.

May I suggest that either you’re not listening, you’re not willing to surrender and let God be God (and give up being god yourself) or you’re not bothering to read God’s Word as often or as deeply as you say you do (or as you think you do).

Ask yourself something. If God gave YOU your rights, your property, your money, your lifestyle, your position in life- what makes you think He hasn’t given those same rights to other people? Or don’t you think of all other people as people?

Which brings me to my next line of thought.

CIVICS 101

I end up reading through a lot of other things pretty much every year because I teach Civics. The Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitutional Amendments, our state constitution (Iowa,) a number of laws, treaties, Presidential speeches (including the Gettysburg Address)  and number of letters and speeches from other noted historical figures like Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And guess what?

It really all boils down to a few things:

Liberty and Justice for ALL

Some read the Pledge of Allegiance and focus on the flag, the republic for which it stands or on God, but I stick on last three words because I’ve noticed a pattern where these three concepts (at least in synonym form) keep showing up in document after document.

The Mayflower Compact doesn’t address freedom (liberty) and it certainly didn’t offer rights or equality to women, natives or other non-whites, but it does say that the signers would offer all DUE obedience to any JUST laws meant for the GENERAL good of the colony. That certainly seems to cover justice and all.

I teach my Civics classes that at the core of the Declaration of Independence is that King George III and Parliament had broken the social contract (been unjust) to the colonists, therefore Congress believed that they were justified in separating from the mother country.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created EQUAL and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable RIGHTS… to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it…”

The three principles there are equality, rights, and justice (social-contract), or if you reverse the order; liberty (rights and freedoms), and justice for all (equality).

The Preamble to the Constitution implies and assumes equality when it begins “We the people.” The “blessings of liberty” means the right to partake in participatory, representative-democracy. Establishing justice is the first goal meant to help us form our more perfect unity.

The First Amendment describes our most fundamental rights (including religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.  Other amendments cover many other rights and liberties and the Fourteenth Amendment in particular emphasizes the equal nature that justice is supposed to take.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminds us that America is supposed to be “dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal” (as the Declaration says). Yet most people seem to miss that that proposition is the “great task remaining before us” to which Lincoln urges us to find increased devotion toward.

I contend, in fact, that his closing about “government of the people, by the people and for the people” embodies these same three concepts. It is OF the people because ALL people are created equal- there isn’t supposed to be a ruling class like in an aristocracy, oligarchy or plutocracy. It is BY the people because we all have a RIGHT (the LIBERTY) to participate- if not to run, then to vote, to speak up and speak out, to assemble and petition.

And this is the “creed” in his “I have a dream” speech that MLK imagines the United States rising up and finally living out. Keeping the contract that promised equal rights, because we’re ALL created equal and endowed by God with the same rights.

Liberty and justice for ALL.

I don’t see these three the least bit incompatible with faith, hope, and especially love. Bottom line; If you don’t believe ALL human beings are equal and therefore entitled to justice, equal rights, equal opportunities, equal dignity, equal respect and fair treatment- well, you’re not doing “America” right.

I recommend reading some of the documents that formed this great experiment in participatory government. You don’t have to be a History Major or take a graduate course in political science. The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address are all a Google-search away, for free. There are free versions available on many app for your phone. Look for whenever you see those three concepts of equality, rights and social-contract, AKA liberty, and justice for ALL.

If you STILL can’t see what I see, if you STILL don’t find that governments exist to protect rights and we have rights because we’re all created equal- if you still aren’t humbled or inspired toward altruism, compassion and community- if you’re still convinced that America is for only a chosen, exceptional few and government’s only role is to protect the privileges and property of those few- well, then, may I recommend that you start reading the Bible and look for the core message THERE.

End of sermon (rant/plea/manifesto- whatever you want to call it.

 

 

Advertisements

The Jesus Revolution

itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/word-of-life-church-podcast/id83833326

Great sermon by Brian Zahnd on Isaiah 56:1-8, Acts 8:4-32, & Galatians 3:28. Exclusion is legalistic, the Gospel, grace, love, & mercy are all INCLUSIVE.

A Valuable Read/View for Our Times

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ~Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1963

Thank you Kirwan Inst. and kudos to Jamaal Bell. I teach middle school civics and we’re studying Dr. King’s letter and how it relates to the civil rights movement as it’s covered in our textbook and the 14th Amendment. I think that both having a variety of narrators rather than a single actor portraying King or merely reading the letter, combine with the still images and historic footage you’ve woven together made this a more meaningful and compelling piece- especially for rural, mostly white Iowa eighth graders in 2018, who otherwise may not have understood or appreciated the letter as well.

When I re-read or re-teach this letter, I am reminded of Dr. King’s intelligence, patience, compassion, and insight. This letter has inspired me to write poems and blog posts and paint paintings.

This year, however, just as Dr. King wrote it in response to well intentioned white clergy fifty-five years ago, I wish I could introduce it to all the well-meaning white Christians, especially moderates and conservatives.

King, speaking to clergymen after all, even though it’s an “open” letter that the entire world was privy to in newspapers and magazines, alluded to several saints, philosophers and scriptures. He referrers to the teachings and examples of Jesus frequently in the letter.

These days, my family, friends and neighbors don’t understand the protests over police brutality in the last 2-3 years in Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Baltimore, etc. They saw white supremacists demonstrating in Charlotteville, VA and somehow they blamed former President Obama for being racially divisive during his time in office.

President Trump started his campaign off by describing Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists and started his administration off by calling for a ban on travel and immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.

Just this week Attorney General Jeff Sessions let slip during remarks to law enforcement officials in Washington that he thinks that sheriffs’  have an”AngloAmerican heritage.”

My own Congressman, Steve King (R) of Iowa has opposed immigration because he doesn’t think we can restore our “superior culture” with “other people’s babies.” King has met with and admires Tomio Okamura, the leader of a neo-fascist white supremacist party in the Czech Republic.

As much as people would like to think that we’re more enlightened than Americans were in 1963 or have somehow achieved racial harmony, but obviously we haven’t. I fear that too many of us ARE the “white moderates” that Doctor King criticized in this letter.

We have become complacent or numb to injustice and inequalities. We’re reluctant to recognize let alone repent of our own latent racism. Many of us our even either in denial about or oblivious to institutional forms of racism and the racism of many of our leaders, either because recognizing it would mean having to do something about it or worse, recognizing it would reflect poorly on ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we could possibly be wrong.

Then there’s women’s inequality. Why do we hesitate to equate sexism with racism? Are they not the same? I think that when King talks about Austrian philosopher Martin Buber’s discussion about “I and Thou” rather than “I-It,” we could apply that to women as well as to people of color. Don’t we too often treat women as things rather than people?

And of course today discussion of LGBT rights is much more prominent than in the 1960’s. Even if you have difficulties getting past religious qualms about non-traditional (“non-binary”) sexuality, its impossible to get around that the Constitution’s requirements of equal protection and due process for all, regardless of race, creed, gender, and political persuasion. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter who it’s against or what your motivation.

This year, what made an impression on me was King’s discussion about just and unjust laws. Too many politicians have been using the argument about following the “rule of law” to whip up anger and indignation against DACA “Dreamer”immigrants, who’s parents brought them to this country when they were young children and who essentially have never known any country (home) than this one, but now face deportation decades later.

Doctor King handles head-on the fact that morality and justice are more important than the letter-of-the law, especially when state or local laws are abused by those in power to discriminate, segregate, or violate the rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution. Had he been a judge or a lawyer rather than a pastor and organizer, he probably would’ve quoted the Fourteenth Amendment directly.

I wish my loved ones would realize that when laws are inadequate, unclear, or unfair, it is our responsibility to revise, reform, or replace them. And that challenging them, protesting, sometimes even deliberately breaking them are all part of our constant democratic process.

I feel like ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ is a masterpiece of writing. Personally, I consider it part of the broader American “unwritten-constitution,” along side things like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Washington’s farewell address or Teddy Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine and along side his own ‘I Have a Dream’ speech which he made just four or five months after he wrote this.

If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to find a copy. If you have about an hour that you’d otherwise end up using on Netflix or YouTube anyway, watch the video linked to at the top of this blog post. Consider it kind of an audio version of this letter. My prayer is that it will impact you half as much as it has me.

 

Lessons from Doc

5376582452_9b812aa1f4_bI realize that MLK Day was a couple of weeks ago but this blog post has kind of been nagging at me ever since then.

Everyone knows him from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from 1963 and as an important civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. But how many of us have ever took the time to really read, study or digest that speech?

History buffs and civil rights advocates may know more about him. They may know that he’s also remembered for his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ for leading protests there and a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to draw attention to state discrimination in voting rights.

They may credit him with helping to put pressure on President Johnson and Congress to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They know that after fighting so long against legal segregation and political equality in the South, he had begun campaigning for economic justice nationwide.

But we forget that he was a pastor, a theologian, an intellectual, a husband and father, a reader, thinker and writer. “Rev. Dr.” means that he was ordained and had a PhD. He wasn’t just a gifted speaker, activist and organizer. He was a ridiculously prolific writer.

He’s one of my personal favorite writers.

As a History/Social Studies teacher, I think his most fascinating piece, in therms of political science, sociology and philosophy has to be his 1967 speech ‘Beyond Vietnam.’

Two of my favorite books aren’t political speeches or editorials though, they’re sermons, devotions and essays on spirituality, love, and King’s  trademark non-violence. Strength to Love  from 1963 and The Measure of a Man , from 1968.

Without having open copies by my side, or a tab open to search for quoted from MLK, I want to share some principles I’ve gleaned from Doctor King’s writings that I try to apply as life lessons. Full disclosure; I’m a white male that grew up in the middle-class suburbs of Phoenix in the 70’s (‘Leave it to Beaver,’ only not in the 50’s).

Maybe that’s the point though- while as a progressive it ticks me off to see right-wing extremists and conservative Republican pundits and politicians try to co-opt Dr. King’s quotes or use his image to try to evoke pretend inclusion or phony compassion- much of King’s teaching really does transcend race, gender, and era.

King made no secret that he was influenced by Mahatma Ghandi, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  I bet he was also influenced a lot by Mahalia Jackson and Cloretta Scott-King too. What positive role models? We could all use some role models like those today.

When I read King, I see much of his ideas and beliefs echoed in secular authors like Viktor Frankl and Christian authors like C.S. Lewis. white And in white evangelicals like Tony Campolo and black activists like John Lewis and Cornell West. Most of all, I hear echoes of Saint Paul and of Jesus.

If I could pass anything on to my children or my students, I wish I could plant these lessons in their hearts and minds, but I know they have to read Kings books for themselves, listen to his speeches for themselves, study history, read scriptures and encounter God all for themselves. I can’t do it for them. Be that as it may, here are some things I learned from Dr. King.

Off the top of my head, & from the well of my heart-

Lessons I’ve learned from Doctor King

  • Meet physical force with soul force
  • Peace isn’t just an end, it’s a means to many ends
  • Forgiveness is hard, but it shouldn’t just be a habit, but a way of life
  • Be a thermostat, not just a thermometer
  • Better to be tough minded and soft hearted than hard-hearted and soft-minded!
  • Never give up hope, seek to become a prisoner of hope
  • Undeserved suffering is redemptive
  • ALL of our destinies are inextricably tied together
  • Injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE
  • Never stop; if you can’t fly, run, if you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk crawl- but keep moving forward.
  • Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do that
  • Just a sneeze can change history
  • Just because something is a law doesn’t make it just and unjust laws sometimes may even need to be broken to draw attention to the fact that they ought to be changed
  • Change comes from faith, prayer, love, community, and sacrifice
  • Words are powerful
  • It’s one thing to claim to believe something, it’s another to live out the true meaning of those beliefs
  • Love
  • Love others, even your enemies

5375980979_2b41504e19_z

For Love of Country

This is a non-stop aching in the gut.

I can’t avoid the news forever, I apparently need to avoid Facebook and Twitter for at least a while.

Trump voters are offended by (and perhaps afraid of) the protests and flags being burned and the president-elect being disparaged.

Some of us who didn’t vote for Trump are frightened that civil rights and civil liberties will be stripped away. We are afraid that democracy as we knew it will be suspended, violated, tortured and dismembered.

Really? Wearing a damn safety-pin is unpatriotic?

Really? We’re persecuting you with words like “deplorable” or accusations of racism, sexism, & xenophobia? We’re the bullies? Not the Klansmen waving confederate flags at Veteran’s day parades? Not those writing Jew, and Nigger, and Faggot on peoples’ homes and cars?

Is it alarmist or reactionary or irrational to wonder if you should flee to Canada? Was it alarmist or reactionary or irrational for Austrians and Belgians and Czechs and Poles to flee Europe in the 1930’s?

I’m a coward. I will sit down and shut up and do my best not to rock the boat. It’s more important to me to get a long with neighbors and family and friends. I live in a homogeneous, rural area, what minorities or LGBT people do I have to stand up for?

But my hero, the mad I empathize for and admire right now is Captain Georg von Trapp, the Austrian naval officer who refused to support or accept an enlistment from NAZI Germany.

MY country was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal. But it seems that our nation has been annexed by a power that believes in mocking the disabled, assaulting women, profiling Blacks, deporting Hispanics, “converting” homosexuals and torturing suspects. This new regime came to power on the fury of uneducated disadvantaged working class whites, but its intended policies will outrageously benefit the wealthiest of the wealthy.

Is this how Langston Hughes felt all his life? That the promises of equality and liberty and justice are all hollow, or at least that they are only for a privileged, privileged  few?

God, give me the courage to stand in the conviction of our principles. Grant me the wisdom and self-control and gentleness and the magnanimity to demonstrate and teach and persuade the angry, self-righteous, defensive masses those principles. But if the day ever comes, Lord, grant me the protection and opportunity to spirit my family to safety, like von Trapp did his across the Alps to Switzerland.

My country, ‘ tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;

Our fathers’ God, to thee,
Author of liberty, to thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might, great God, our King.

christopherplummer_captvontrapp770

If the past were a foreign country, it just invaded.

I didn’t come up with that like, “If the past were a foreign country, it just invaded.” Someone else it. If I’d been more responsible, I’d have closer attention to whom so that I could give them credit, but these last couple of days I’ve been in kind of an emotional daze. I remember the same kind of numb fog when my father died.

Over reaction, you say? Trust me, I was not that emotionally invested in Hillary Clinton. But since my childhood I have been deeply emotionally invested in America. The America that I thought I knew.

The afternoon of September 11, 2001 and for at least the next week, everything felt different. Worse than being trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits. Anxiety and uncertainty gripped us. The day of the 9/11 the skies were conspicuously empty. Having grown up with my dad working at the airport for American Airlines, I had always been unconsciously aware of the constant mostly unnoticed rhythm of traffic in the skies and of the crisscrossing of vapor trails.

This week, after the unthinkable happened, I now eye everyone with suspicion.

At school, I wait for the middle school boys to become Rolfe, the delivery boy teenage suitor tuned Hitler youth and challenge my authority and accuse me of being a traitor to the new state.

At the grocery store I worry that every immigrant or Latino is afraid of me because they imagine that I hate them, I’m judging them or I’m ready to falsely accuse them of something or deport them- because I’m a white male. A middle-aged, middle-class, white male. Especially the girls. I’m acutely aware (even if it’s irrational) that they fear me most. Almost as if I’m Frankenstein’s Monster visiting the village, and they cower around corners to avoid my slightest glance.

Yeah, my Black and Latino and Gay “friends” are just former students on Facebook, far away, not people I live around or work with every day (I’m not trying to show them off as Liberal trophies of tolerance), but I fear too that they may not trust me or like me anymore. Will they resent me? Will they be waiting for me to turn on them like everyone else seems to have in the last few days? Am I just another “one of them” to them?

I view everyone differently. Dear friends and neighbors and family too. Who can I be open with? Who feels like I do? Who’s going to scoff at my concerns? Who will judge me derisively as a “libtard?”

Who casually, callously, uncritically voted for him just because they didn’t like her, didn’t trust her?

Who voted for him with conviction, with passion, because they were convinced that he truly is the only one who can take back our country and make it great again?

And who relished voting for him because he lets them say what they’ve always wanted to say. He legitimizes their fiery, passionate, fucking hatred of those fucking fucktards that have been fucking up our country so long?

Who would write me off and marginalize my values, the compassion and kindness and egalitarianism that I was taught- as soft, irresponsible, weak, not really Christian.

Who would betray me should the day come, like it does in Sinclair Lewis’ novel ‘It Can’t Happen Here,’ when the the thugs come to take me to the re-education camps? Or at least, who would let that happen if someone else betrayed me?

Who would beat me up, vandalize my home, threaten my family?

And I think of my daughters. Will they never be allowed to hold office? Will they lose their right to vote? Will no one believe them if they’re ever harassed, or assaulted, abused, or raped?

Will they never be good enough because they’re not thin enough, not blonde enough, not sexy enough?

What about my daughter with the speech impediment and variety of other special needs.

Will she be denied Medicare? Will she be denied a job? Will she be beaten up?

So yes, I feel like we’ve been invaded. But maybe not like France or Belgium. Maybe more like Austria. Invaded by invitation. And yes, I’m resentful, but if it makes the invaders feel any more self-satisfied, I’m more fearful than I am angry.

But don’t get too complacent or smug. Soon my fog will lift and righteous indignation and deep commitment will connect to others who feel like I do. We know we’re not alone. We’re already reaching out. Soon we’ll shake off our funk and reorganize. And then we’ll begin to rise back up.

And love will find a way. Decency will find a way. Kindness, compassion, community… even justice will find a way and she will take her country back, so that she can once again offer liberty and justice to ALL.

Because the arch of history is long, but believe it or not, like it or not, it will bend toward justice.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-12569-1386280587-1

 

 

 

 

POEM; All God’s Children

 

All God’s Children
Seared in flames
One hundred years later
One hundred years later
Still languishing
One hundred years later
Where is freedom?
Where is justice?
One hundred years later,

All God’s Children
We cannot walk alone.
As we walk
As we walk

All God’s Children
We can never be satisfied
We can never be satisfied
We can never be satisfied
Until justice rolls down

All God’s Children
I have a dream today
I have a dream today
I have a dream

All God’s Children
This is our hope
This is the faith
With this faith
With this faith

All God’s Children
Work
Pray
Struggle
Go to jail
Stand up
Together
Together
Together

All God’s Children
Let freedom ring
Let it ring
Let it ring
Ring
Ring
Ring

Free at last
Free at last

All God’s Children
Free at last
At last
Thank God Almighty

One hundred years later
Still languishing

All God’s Children
One hundred years later

6244378288_e5730c4b60_b