Thursday, September 30, 2010

Comments to this Blog

I welcome and encourage readers of this blog to comment on posts. The purpose of a public blog is to try to stimulate reflection and dialogue on different issues. It is interesting to hear the diverse reactions that various people have to the issues addressed in individual posts. If I were not interested in the dissemination and exchange of ideas, then this blog would be private with a password shared only with friends and family.

Moreover, I do not only welcome and encourage views that echo my own or those of my guest bloggers. Contrasting views are certainly welcome and encouraged as well. We learn from one another when we hear what our neighbors believe and what their motivations are for embracing particular positions.

Though I welcome and encourage reader comments, the comments on this blog are moderated. In other words, as the editor of this blog, I must approve reader comments before they are visible publicly. However, I take a permissive approach in what I approve to be published. I have no desire to be the thought police or cherry pick the comments that I find most compelling from a substantive perspective.

There have only been a few comments that I did not publish. Until recently, they were all spam for commercial pornography sites. Indeed, I take such a permissive approach in publishing comments that I inadvertently published one of those X-rated comments a while back. Fortunately, my husband soon flagged for me that a seemingly innocent reader comment had an imbedded link to a pornographic website. I deleted the comment immediately after he flagged the issue for me. (I apologize profusely to any readers who may have been inadvertently transported to a porn site because of that oversight!)

Because my moderation of reader comments is aimed primarily at screening out offensive spam, I have permitted reader comments to be published even when the words were rather repulsive to me and were ugly in tone. A difference of opinion is not threatening to me. I’m a lawyer by training. It comes with the job that others are going to disagree with positions I embrace. That is the reality of the adversary system. I’m used to it. Not a problem.

Indeed, I have expressed before my own belief that truth will eventually make itself known. As a Christian, I try to have a sense of humility and recognize that I do not have a monopoly on understanding the truth. I’m a mere mortal, and am grateful that God is tolerant when I just don’t get it. I’m sure that happens more often that is should. Heck, when you read the New Testament, there are numerous examples of not even the disciples understanding the truth initially. If those folks who spent so much time with our Lord when he was on this Earth didn’t always understand, it is comforting to those of us who are trying to discern truth two thousand years later.

I also understand that God often uses our brothers and sisters to help guide us to the truth. In that vein, I try to keep an open mind when others express a difference of opinion on this blog (or in other venues). Even if I typically disagree with the perspective a particular reader is expressing, I do try to discern if his or her comment might contain some truth that could be enlightening to me.

I find it interesting, however, that most of the reader comments left on this blog that have an ugly tone to them are left anonymously. In my opinion, anonymity is the hallmark of cowards. If one does not have the courage to take a stand publicly and to include one’s name, to me, that suggests a lack of conviction. At least in my eyes, that also diminishes the value and amount of respect owed to a particular (anonymous) individual’s position.

That having been said, I will admit that Blogspot’s format makes posting comments a little confusing. But it is easy to submit comments on a non-anonymous basis when a reader selects the “Name/URL” profile option, then specifies just his/her name. A reader does not have to specify a URL (whatever that is!). Indeed, a reader can submit a comment that way by providing only one name, e.g., his/her first name or his/her last name. To submit a non-anonymous comment in this fashion, it is not even necessary to leave one’s e-mail address or any other contact information.

Recently, a reader left a rather long comment anonymously on this blog that I opted to not publish. It was the first non-spam comment I have not published, and I did not reach that decision quickly or lightly. I shared the comment with my husband and a number of colleagues to seek their interpretation of the reader’s words.

The gist of the comment was that there are “wolves” in the modern Christian church and President Obama is not a Christian. Interestingly, the reader was not commenting on the prior blog post about the topic of Mr. Obama’s professed Christian faith; instead the reader was commenting on other readers’ comments from the January 12, 2010 post about “Janet Parshall’s America.”

The unpublished comment also expressed the (unsubstantiated) belief that Mr. Obama was not “born here,” and the anonymous reader referred to our president by including his middle name. It is interesting how those who argue he is Muslim often feel the need to include Mr. Obama’s middle name “Hussein.” The insinuation seems to be that Mr. Obama’s religious beliefs are dictated by his middle name. It had frankly never occurred to me that everyone bearing the name “Hussein” is an adherent of Islam. Interesting. I have known several gentlemen with the name “Jesús,” but I’m not sure they were necessarily all Christians. I have also known several women with the name “Gay,” but I’m pretty sure they have all been heterosexual. Indeed, each of their husbands would have been pretty surprised to hear otherwise.

If this particular anonymous reader had only included in his/her comment the points about wolves in the church, President Barack Hussein Obama not being a Christian and the allegation that our president was not “born here,” I would have published the comment though I would have disagreed with some of those views. (The anonymous reader may have had a point about wolves in the church.) However, this particular reader’s comment also included several additional statements that were open to different interpretations, but could be fairly read as veiled encouragements to violently overthrow our government.

I carefully reviewed the reader’s words with several learned individuals, whom I respect. We puzzled over the ambiguity of the statements. Several colleagues thought the comment was innocuous and could be published in good conscience. But others thought the reader’s words were veiled references encouraging violence. The reader’s statements were very ambiguous, but ultimately I opted to not publish them because I do not want this blog to potentially be a forum for the encouragement of violence, even if the encouragement is veiled. There are plenty of other sites on the web that will provide such a venue.

To be transparent, I want to try to be clear about my own guidelines for publishing reader comments. I will continue to publish comments with which I disagree (even vehemently) because I think there is value in an exchange of ideas. However, I will not publish what appears to be spam, particularly if it is sexually explicit. And I will not publish comments that can be fairly understood to encourage violence. So, I am pretty tolerant with respect to reader comments, but I don’t want to promulgate commercials for the sex trade or veiled encouragements of violence.

Even though I did not publish this particular reader’s comment, I thought it important to mention its existence to readers. In my mind, this unpublished anonymous comment demonstrates that there is sometimes a fine line between the anti-government rhetoric we are often hearing in public discourse these days and a call to embrace violence to achieve political change. Regardless of one’s political beliefs, I think it is important to avoid crossing that line.

Indeed, even in the recent past, at times of bitter division in this country, we have avoided crossing that line. For example, in January 2001, some earnestly believed that the presidential election had been “stolen” and George W. Bush was illegally installed as president. Those individuals protested at President Bush’s inauguration parade, but I’m not aware that there was a left wing call to install Al Gore in the White House by means of violence. As I recall, the rule of law was respected by those on the left though they were bitterly disappointed by the outcome, and though some even believed the law had been abused to achieve that outcome. That hesitancy to embrace violence as a means to achieve political ends is not always present in other countries. In some nations, if the military or other powerful elites do not like the outcome of an election, they seize control of the government through violence. I am grateful we do not live in that type of political climate and I pray we never do.

Nonetheless, in the current political climate, some have openly begun to call for “Second Amendment remedies” as a sort of Plan B in the event they are not successful in the political arena. In a country that is supposed to be a model to the world that the rule of law works and should be respected, such calls are horrifying, deeply repulsive and frankly unpatriotic.

Moreover, in a country that some have asserted is founded on Christian values, such calls are particularly incomprehensible. Jesus lived at a time and place where there was truly brutal political repression and rampant corruption. Yet Jesus did not opt to lead a violent campaign to overthrow those in power. That was not his way. It would have been fundamentally at odds with his teachings. That is apparent from even a cursory reading of the New Testament.

The links below provide some background on this recent unfortunate suggestion of “Second Amendment remedies.”

Exodus 23:1

"Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.”

Matthew 26:49-54

Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for." Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Christian Leaders’ Response to the Controversy over President Obama’s Christian Faith

I was encouraged to read that recently a number of Christian leaders signed an open letter denouncing the baseless speculation over the authenticity of President Obama’s Christian faith. Signatories included famous leaders like T.D. Jakes (author, pastor and televangelist), Jim Wallis (author and president of Sojourners), Donald Miller (author), Rich Stearns (president of WorldVision), Kirbyjon Caldwell (a pastor in the Houston area who is close to the Bush family), as well as a whole bunch of folks with lower profiles. I also found it encouraging that the signatories came from a number of Christian theological perspectives including nondenominational, Presbyterian, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Moravian, Catholic, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, United Church of Christ and a few others.

Information about the letter is available in the article in the link below.

Deuteronomy 32:3

I will proclaim the name of the LORD.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!

Psalm 15:1-3

LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman

Thursday, September 23, 2010

President Obama’s Christian Faith as a Political Issue

In the 2008 presidential election, the issue of Barack Obama’s status as a Christian was somewhat of a political issue. Some conspiracy theorists asserted he was Muslim despite the evidence that he has been a practicing Christian for several decades, well before entering public life. Amidst concerns about multiple wars and the worst economy since the Great Depression, the issue never really took center stage in the election.

Once Mr. Obama won the presidential election, I had thought the issue of his religion was going to fade away along with the baseless whispers over his “natural born” citizenship. Like the emergence of the post-election birther movement, I’m amazed (and rather demoralized) at the emergence of the authenticity of President Obama’s Christian faith as a political issue.

In recent months, the media have reported on polls indicating that relatively high numbers of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim and the percentage has been growing since the presidential election. The polls indicate that more Republicans than other groups believe he is a Muslim. Articles about this issue from the last few years are available below:

I’ve written before in this blog at my great frustration with conservative Christians who deny President Obama’s profession of Christian faith. The vast majority of us who fall into the category of “progressive Christians” respected President George W. Bush’s own profession of faith though at times that was a tremendous challenge to us. Under his leadership, our country opted for war when it was not necessary, support for that war was mustered because of the dissemination of falsehoods, our government apparently engaged in torture of human beings, and our government let our own people die agonizing deaths along the Gulf Coast after the tragedy of Katrina. Engaging in violence, speaking falsehoods and turning a blind eye to human suffering are not Christian values. Indeed our Savior taught us to embrace the opposite values. We are to be peacemakers, speak truth and minister to our neighbors’ needs.

Despite these challenges, I personally know of no Christians who believe that President George W. Bush is not really a Christian and only proclaimed he was one for political gain. To my knowledge, not one (progressive) Christian whom I know personally or have heard in the media has ever expressed the belief that our former president is not a Christian. Not even one. Not ever. Indeed, famous progressive Christians like Jim Wallis and E.J. Dionne have even publically confirmed many times they believe the former president’s Christian faith was sincere. Indeed, while President Bush was in the White House, they even made appeals to him based on their common Christian faith to encourage President Bush to make certain policy decisions. I’m not famous, but I too have always accepted President George W. Bush’s profession of faith. Frankly, I do so in large part because I cannot fathom anyone using our beautiful, omnipotent creator for crass, short-term political gain.

This situation gives rise to a question that I’ve asked myself many times: If Christians on the left have been accepting of President Bush’s assertions of his Christian faith, why haven’t Christians on the right been similarly accepting of President Obama’s assertions of his faith? This is quite a puzzle to me.

I’ve repeatedly heard conservative Christians defend the attacks on Mr. Obama by saying he doesn’t represent Christian values since he “promotes abortion” and “fights for gay marriage.” Such arguments prompt two reactions in me. My first reaction is simply frustration because such arguments are based on falsehoods; I don’t understand how anyone can be so out of touch to say things that are so far from reality. My second reaction is admittedly more cynical. Because such assertions are so far from reality, I begin to suspect that folks making such statements know they are incorrect, but are making them nonetheless for political gain, i.e., to mislead others.

In point of fact, regardless of how you feel about abortion and same-sex marriage, it is a distortion of great proportion to assert that Mr. Obama “promotes abortion” or “fights for gay marriage.” If you look at Barack Obama’s record, those are simply falsehoods. Indeed, NOW is pretty unhappy with President Obama because they don’t think he has been a strong enough advocate for abortion rights. Similarly, many in the LGBT community have been dissatisfied with President Obama for a long time because he has not championed same-sex marriage rights.

But even if you think that President Obama’s actual policy positions are not grounded in Christian values, again the same argument could have been made about President Bush’s policy choices. Nonetheless, that situation did not result in a movement of progressive Christians waging an internet gossip campaign to convince our fellow citizens that George W. Bush was actually a Buddhist, an adherent of Wicca or an atheist.

John 3:20-21

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Insightful Coverage of the “Mosque” Controversy

In the prior post, I described a talk radio host’s hostility towards the proposed building of a “mosque” near the land where the World Trade Center once stood. I chose to put quotation marks around the word used by that talk radio host after I listened to a report on NPR about that controversy. The NPR report is available at the link below:

Although I am not Muslim and obviously have very different theological beliefs, I felt much empathy to the Muslim group as it was described in that NPR report. It was explained that they feel that their faith is often misrepresented in the media, which focuses mostly on extremists of the Muslim faith. Certainly, a progressive Christian in America at the dawn of the twenty-first century can relate to such an experience!

In the public discussion of the “mosque” controversy, I also saw an insightful post on “My Dog Ate My Blog,” which is a blog by people who work in the field of education. The post is available at the following link:

On a related note, the Diane Rehm Show recently had a thought-provoking program on religious intolerance in the United States. Because of recent events, the issue of anti-Muslim intolerance in particular was a focus of the program. A transcript of that show is available at the link below:

John 4:7-9 (New King James Version)

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Listening to A.M. Talk Radio This Past Summer

This past summer our family spent time camping in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. At times we were in really remote areas where there was no television or internet access. The local newspapers had only local news, and we felt out of touch with what was going on in the rest of the world.

We were in a part of the country with vast expanses of land and a very low population density. We kept trying, but couldn’t ever find an NPR or other news station. Frankly, there were only a few radio stations at all. Finally, my husband and I were so desperate for some non-local news, so we took a break from listening to our children’s audiobooks and music CDs to listen to right wing talk radio on A.M. stations. There were some local talk radio programs, as well as some national programs. Although there was a time in my life when I forced myself to listen to Rush on a regular basis, these days I don’t listen to such programs very much. I was shocked at the extreme and nasty nature of some of what was said in the radio programs we listened to. Particularly I was horrified at a reoccurring theme of hostility towards Muslims, Arabs and South Asians.

First of all I was appalled at the use of a particular term that I heard on these programs: r-- h---. I had never heard the term before, and I am not entirely sure what it is even supposed to mean. But I heard it several times on several different shows, mostly from listeners who called in to share their thoughts with the hosts. From the context, I gather the term is an epithet. Indeed, the hosts did not seem comfortable with its use. They tried to distance themselves from the term when listeners used it. I only heard one host use the term, but he made it clear that he was quoting someone else. That host was also quick to add he did not endorse the use of the term himself.

I found these attitudes of the hosts rather remarkable for two reasons. In other portions of their programs they attacked “political correctness” as a nefarious ploy of the left. The hosts also seemed quite comfortable with pretty vile bigotry against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians in other parts of their programs. The hosts just seemed to draw the line at name calling. I find that curious.

On one local West Texas program, the host was ranting about plans to build a “mosque” on the grounds where the World Trade Center once stood. My husband and I listened to this program months ago. Interestingly, that talk radio rant was actually the first either of us had heard of this proposed construction; it was not yet on the national news. In extremely bitter terms, the host described his utter disgust and deeply felt outrage over the proposed construction. He characterized the proposed “mosque” as an “insult,” a “kick in the gut,” and an “attack” on Americans. He expressed his anger that President Obama would not “stand up” to such Muslim insults. I was appalled when one of his callers later chimed in by stating: “Obama is not black, he is yellow.” The host of that particular program ended his rant by stating in a frankly scary tone that if he went to Manhattan and the “mosque” was there, he would spit on it. I was stunned, disappointed and generally rather creeped out to live in the same country with the folks who participated in this particular talk radio show.

While listening to another program, a listener called in to share insight from a recent experience. He explained he worked at a gas station in Florida, and a British tourist had just told him during his purchase of gas that a Pakistani engineer helped design the BP well that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last April. The caller stated rather agitatedly that that connection needed to be explored because it was “evidence” that the BP oil spill was a terrorist attack. Oh, my. If I had been the host, I would not have even known where to start with such a comment. Sadly, the program’s host seemed to just encourage the listener’s paranoia and bigoted assumptions.

The hosts of several of the talk radio shows we listened to were really up in arms about Helen Thomas’s then-recent comments expressing hostility towards the state of Israel. Astonishingly, one host noted that her heritage as a Lebanese American was the reason for her attitude. He explained that “her people” hate Jews and it was natural to assume she was brought up in with that same mindset. Wow.

Listening to the bigotry, hostility and paranoia of the hosts and listeners of these A.M. talk radio shows was really eye-opening. Obviously, I live a sheltered life because previously I had never been exposed to such ugly and ignorant statements about Muslims, Arabs and South Asians. Since childhood, I have had friends and acquaintances who fell into these demographics; they are absolutely lovely individuals, for whom I have much admiration and affection.

Moreover, I just cannot fathom someone wanting to spit on a place of worship. Frankly, spitting is just a disgusting habit wherever one does it. But on a place of worship?! I can only imagine how hurt (and threatened) I might feel if someone came to my church and spit on it. I cannot comprehend doing that to another human being.

Finally, I am astounded that gossip from a gas station patron would be taken so seriously, and that the alleged existence of a Pakistani engineer’s involvement would be grounds for a conspiracy theory. There is a reason that hearsay is generally not permitted as evidence in a court of law.

Because our country does not produce enough engineers, we actually have a large number of foreign-born engineers who do important work in our country and make innumerable valuable contributions to our economy. Are we now supposed to assume such engineers are terrorists if they are from Pakistan? What if they are from the U.K.? What about all the doctors and nurses who come to work in the United States from other countries? Should we now fear going for our cholesterol screenings and flu shots due to the specter of foreign-born health workers? Next time I take my kids to the doctor, is it ok if the nurses are from Canada, but I’m supposed to get suspicious if they are from the Philippines? I really don’t follow the logic. Perhaps I need enlightening on this point.

Though bigotry against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians was apparently acceptable to the hosts and listeners of these talk radio shows, I found it interesting that one host and his listeners were so touchy about anti-Semitism. Maybe I’m being simplistic, but I would think if one is fine with bigotry against one group, then bigotry against another would also be viewed as acceptable. Apparently, it doesn’t work like that. The rules of bigotry are very confusing!

Finally, I am horrified that all Lebanese Americans are—at least in some quarters--labeled as anti-Semitic bigots simply because of their heritage. I know many white Southerners (like myself) do not appreciate stereotypes that we are all racist and sympathetic to the Klan. Assuming that anyone of a particular racial or ethnic group is bigoted by virtue of his/her heritage is simply unfair and un-American.

Luke 6:43-45 (New International Version)

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.
Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers.
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Mark 9:40 (New King James Version)

For he who is not against us is on our side.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara and the Consequences of Structural Injustice

Because of his famous quote mentioned in the prior post, I was curious to know a more about Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara and did a little research.

Câmara is perhaps best known for having written "Spiral of Violence," an influential essay that has been characterized as a work of liberation theology. Câmara wrote the essay in 1971; the Cold War and the Vietnam War provided important context for his views. The essay links structural injustice with escalating rebellion and repressive reaction. In the essay, Câmara praises Gandhi as a prophet. The essay is hopeful; Câmara expresses confidence in the future because of the promise of the world’s youth.

An English translation of "Spiral of Violence" is available at the following link:

In 1973, Câmara was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In 1975, he won the Pacem in Terris Award, which is a prestigious Catholic honor that has also been bestowed on Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Sister Helen Prejean and Lech Walesa, among others.

Psalm 146:7 (New King James Version)

Who executes justice for the oppressed,
Who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD gives freedom to the prisoners.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara and the Communist/Socialist Label

At some point, I came across an intriguing quote:

"When I give food to the hungry they call me a saint; when I ask why the poor
are hungry they call me a communist."

The words are attributed to Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, a Brazilian Roman Catholic priest and archbishop. He lived from 1909 until 1999.

This quote is appealing to me because it describes an old ploy that is unfortunately still being used today to discredit people who raise concerns about structural impediments to justice. I guess with the fall of the Soviet empire twenty years ago, the term “communist” no longer gets thrown around. Now days, they instead throw the term “socialist” at folks who raise structural concerns about economic and/or social justice issues. The term has such a negative connotation in our modern American culture that just labeling someone or some proposal as “socialist” is often enough to make it unpopular. No one wants to be associated with the term because it is toxic and will ensure that most Americans will discount your positions.

It particularly frustrates me when fellow Christians throw out the phrase “socialist” to discredit their brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve heard conservative Christians refer to more progressive Christ followers as embracing “more of a socialist philosophy” than a “Christian world view” when such progressive Christians advocate ideas like universal health care or rolling back tax cuts for high income taxpayers. The implication seems to be that such ideas are not Christian. It is implied they are inspired by Karl Marx, not Jesus Christ.

This attitude makes no sense to me. I grew up at the end of the Cold War, and witnessed the implosion of the Soviet Bloc as a young adult. I don’t know anyone who seriously thinks a command economy is a feasible or desirable policy alternative. People of my generation saw Marxism as a miserable, failed experiment that has mercifully ended in most parts of the world.

I don’t think anyone can deny that the Bible is full of concern for the poor and other vulnerable members of society. That is a pervasive theme that one just cannot miss with even a casual reading of the text. By contrast, the accumulation of wealth and property was just not a core value of our Lord. Indeed, at his encouragement, Jesus’s followers often sold or left behind their belongings before they joined his ministry. Jesus often warned against the love of money and accumulating material possessions.

Christ also taught us to love and care for one another. Indeed, the early Christians took this teaching so seriously that they lived communally. They pooled their resources and try to provide for all within the Christian community. I myself am certainly not looking to join a Christian commune, but pooling and sharing resources has always been a quintessentially Christian thing to do even if we haven’t always done it to the same (extreme) extent of the early Christians. And of course, Jesus himself astutely noted that some of us have more to contribute to the community’s resources than others.

Job 36:15 (King James)

He delivers the poor in their affliction,
And opens their ears in oppression.

Psalm 10:18 (GOD’S WORD Translation)

In order to provide justice for orphans and oppressed people
so that no mere mortal will terrify them again.

Luke 12:48 (American Standard Version)
And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more.

Mark 12:41-44 (Amplified Bible)

And He sat down opposite the treasury and saw how the crowd was casting money into the treasury. Many rich [people] were throwing in large sums.
And a widow who was poverty-stricken came and put in two copper mites [the smallest of coins], which together make half of a cent.
And He called His disciples [to Him] and said to them, Truly and surely I tell you, this widow, [she who is] poverty-stricken, has put in more than all those contributing to the treasury.
For they all threw in out of their abundance; but she, out of her deep poverty, has put in everything that she had--[even] all she had on which to live.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

“No Socialism” v. “No Selfishness”

As a follow up to the prior post, another interesting part of the aforementioned Methodist pastor’s sermon on “Peace with Justice Sunday” involved his reality check to the congregation that justice doesn’t come easy. He noted it generally requires sacrifice.

In that context, the pastor described that locally in San Antonio there had recently been a big political debate involving a potential increase in taxes. In response to the controversy, he mentioned that some folks in town had put up signs in their lawns that stated “no new taxes” or “no socialism.” The pastor observed that others in town had responded to such signs by placing their own signs in their lawns: “no selfishness.” Indeed, during our trip, we did notice several of those “no selfishness” signs around town.

I really did not know much about this phenomenon other than the brief mention in the pastor’s sermon. Recently, my mother (an avid newspaper reader) sent me an article about this war of signs the pastor had referenced. I thought it was an interesting article. It is available at the following link:

Psalm 12:5

“For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the LORD; “I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.”

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Peace with Justice Sunday

This past summer our family traveled to and around Texas to visit our relatives and do some camping. While on the road, we were blessed by some terrific preaching. We tend to be pretty ecumenical. Our family belongs to a wonderful Episcopalian church in Arizona, but denominational divides sadden us greatly. One Sunday during our trip, we worshipped with a lovely Methodist congregation. The day we visited was apparently “Peace with Justice Sunday” in the Methodist church. The link below provides some information about that day:

The children’s pastor taught a great lesson to the kids gathered at the front of the sanctuary. She taught about how we all look different on the outside, but we’re the same inside and God loves us all equally. She used an analogy kids could understand: M&Ms. She had a volunteer child close her eyes and eat an M&M she was given. The child was asked to name which color of M&M she had eaten. She guessed incorrectly. The process was repeated several times. None of the volunteer children guessed correctly. The children’s pastor explained that our eyes can mislead us by having us focus on things that are irrelevant in the long run. And just like we enjoy all M&Ms equally, God treasures each of us the same regardless of what we look like on the outside. Amen!

After the children left the sanctuary to go to Sunday school, another pastor gave a sermon to the adults that hit upon a number of interesting points involving the overarching theme of “peace with justice.” The pastor spoke about the idea that justice is typically achieved via relationships. In one example, he spoke with humility that previously in his walk with Christ, he had been very bigoted against homosexuals. He shared humbly that God had softened his heart with regard to his attitudes due to a particular relationship.

The pastor explained he had had a friend at church for a long time, a very kind-hearted man who had ministered to this pastor spiritually and helped him in his walk. Eventually, the friend told this pastor he was gay. It was quite a shock to the pastor, but their friendship helped him understand homosexuality and his friend’s experience. The pastor went on to explain that because of that friendship he eventually became a supporter of an inclusive stance towards gays and lesbians in the church, and is an advocate of Reconciling Ministries. (For those of us who are not familiar with the Methodist church, an explanation of Reconciling Ministries is available at the following link:

Luke 5:27-29 (New King James Version)

After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.
Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.

Luke 19:1-2, 5-8 (New King James Version)

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sand and Sorrow (2007)

Sand and Sorrow is a documentary detailing the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Like many crises, we tend to hear about the key events in small chunks via the daily news. But such explanations are often hard to comprehend because we don’t have enough context. We are given such small bits of information at a time that it is hard to process the big picture and make sense of what is happening. Like many documentaries, Sand and Sorrow rectifies this situation by telling the story in a more comprehensive manner, detailing events over many years.

Although this approach is helpful, as with many documentaries, the viewer becomes numb after a while due to the shear scale of the problems and the scope of the human suffering. This numbness is exacerbated in some sense because—unlike Hotel Rwanda and NightSand and Sorrow doesn’t focus for any length of time on the plight of particular individuals. The human suffering is less impactful in some respects because it is relayed in generalities. That is not to mean that Sand and Sorrow is a light film. It certainly is not. It is a deeply upsetting film that documents an immense human tragedy.

Several aspects of the film were particularly noteworthy in my opinion. Sand and Sorrow documents the complete collapse of the stability and former social order of the local population. The film describes the Darfur region as an area that had been self-sufficient; it was an agrarian economy founded on a number of small villages. When the genocide began, that economy and social order collapsed. People that had been able to provide for their families were no longer able to do so.

The effects on families were particularly evident in the film. In genocide, even children are not spared. The film describes children being murdered by the Janjaweed and children witnessing the rape and/or murder of their parents and other family members. Families and remnants of families were run off their homes to live in squalid camps where they are lucky to get food and water, but have no opportunity to build a life. The film profiles the art work of children that shows violent images including killings, rapes and bleeding bodies.

The film also describes the systematic rape of women and girls as a tool of the Janjaweed. Brutal gang rapes are terrifying and humiliating in any context. But the film explains that in the culture of Darfur there is a particular devastating effects. Due to previous female genital mutilation rituals, rape is particularly painful. And there is a deep local social stigma to rape. As one interviewee explained, rape was simply unacceptable and it was better for a rape victim to die.

The film interviews a number of high profile individuals. The footage of Elie Wiesel was particularly depressing. He noted honestly that we always vow “never again” when we hear after the fact of genocide, but in truth genocide does happen again over and over. Sand and Sorrow at times explores why this happens.

The film focuses on the failure of the American media (particularly television) to pay attention to genocide, and to instead focus on celebrities. Because of media inattention to genocide, there is little public outcry and little resulting political pressure for governmental action. Sand and Sorrow focuses on Nicolas Kristoff of the New York Times, who broke the story of the Darfur genocide. The film emphasizes the importance of investigative journalists in leaving studios to speak to regular people rather than media pundits.

Sand and Sorrow also focuses on international political realities that contributed to the suffering in Darfur. China and Russia have protected the Sudanese government at the UN, and other member states frankly have not wanted to do anything. Moreover, the film spotlights the ties between the Sudanese government and the CIA in the post-9/11 era. The film charges that the United States has not wanted to get involved because of the intelligence benefits it has received from the Sudanese government. As a result, President Bush declared the situation in Darfur to be “genocide,” but then consistently failed to speak publicly about the tragedy.

The film tries to provide some hope for a seemingly hopeless situation. It spotlights grassroots movements in high schools, colleges and churches where concerned Americans protest passionately and try to call attention to the suffering. The film encourages more such outcries as the only way to prompt politicians to act.

Proverbs 31:8-9 (The Message)

"Speak up for the people who have no voice,
for the rights of all the down-and-outers.
Speak out for justice!
Stand up for the poor and destitute!"