Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann Pan Michelle Obama

My last post focused belatedly on Rush Limbaugh’s take on Thanksgiving. In my mind, that ridiculous rant was yet another of the seemingly endless examples of angry people on the right spewing anger to serve no productive purpose. Mr. Limbaugh and people like him spew their anger to attract listeners or adherents, but then never seem to do anything productive with their followers. They just encourage people to gripe and indulge in self-righteousness and/or self-pity. And sometimes such media celebrities frankly start to run out of material to spark outrage, so they have to really get inventive and dig deep to find something new. To me, Mr. Limbaugh’s silly rant against Mr. Obama’s expression of gratitude to the Native Americans on the occasion of Thanksgiving is evidence of that desperation to continually find a source of fuel for unproductive anger and outrage Similar examples of such desperation can be found in recent rhetoric by Governor Sarah Palin and Representative Michele Bachmann as they pan First Lady Michelle Obama.

Ms. Obama has been trying to champion non-partisan issues that impact many Americans. One of the main causes she has championed has been the fight against childhood obesity. She has been promoting the eating of veggies, portion control and leading an active lifestyle. She has visited schools, appeared on the Disney Channel and cultivated a garden at the White House in support of this cause.

I personally appreciate Ms. Obama taking on this issue. My husband and I have both always struggled with our weight. We dreaded P.E. because we were never any good at the sports played and were last to be picked for teams. Our childhood memories are full of fast food and many hours watching T.V. We both want something different for our kids. We work hard to include a lot of fresh produce in our family’s diet, and to limit sweets and fried foods to occasional treats. And though my husband and I both loathe sports, we try to hide that fact from our kids and to encourage them to get plenty of exercise. Beyond their soccer teams and dance lessons, as a family we all go hiking, bike riding, and swimming together throughout the year. Despite my own sedentary work life, I also try to set a good example for my kids by regularly putting my treadmill to its intended use instead of using it as a coat rack (which frankly would be my natural preference if little eyes weren’t looking up to me).

I also appreciate Ms. Obama taking on the issue of childhood obesity because I have seen firsthand what a huge problem it is in our country. When I taught grade school, I had a lot of obese children in my classes. It always broke my heart. The health consequences of obesity are serious. Many of the students I taught had family members with diabetes. A few of my students had themselves already developed the disease. Beyond the health issues, I also felt for the obese students in my classes because they were socially ostracized at times despite my best efforts to intervene and encourage everyone to be friends. Children can be cruel.

So, yeah, for Michelle Obama. I’m so glad she has taken on this challenging issue. And one would think that everyone would rally around her in a nonpartisan manner. Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee both have championed the cause. It seems like a no-brainer. I mean, no one is pro-childhood obesity, are they? Even if you have no intrinsic concern for the human suffering involved, from just a detached, economic point of view childhood obesity is a very bad thing. In this age of out-of-control health care costs, no one could possibly think rising rates of juvenile diabetes are a good thing, right?

Well, instead of being supportive of Ms. Obama’s efforts, Sarah Palin has chosen to make snarky public comments attacking the First Lady. Apparently, per Governor Palin, Ms. Obama needs to get off our collective backs. Governor Palin has always been slim and athletic, so maybe she hasn’t noticed that we have a nation of obese folks. The status quo has not worked. As a result, maybe it is not the end of the world to talk about this problem publicly and bring attention to it. I’m disappointed in Governor Palin’s attitude on this issue. Her ugly comments seem to have no purpose other than to encourage the anger of those prone to taking offense easily. The comments are not productive and do not in any way help solve the problem of childhood obesity.

For more information on Governor Palin’s comments, see the article in the link below:

Recently, Representative Michele Bachmann has jumped in along a similar vein. Ms. Obama made comments supportive of breastfeeding and making it easier for mothers who choose that for their infants. She has noted the evidence that breastfed children are less likely to be obese, so these comments are part of her efforts to fight childhood obesity. I frankly hadn’t heard about her comments, but good for her. Most women work outside the home these days, but logistically it is extremely difficult to breastfeed when you are not with your infant during the day. Again, who is against breastfeeding? What is wrong with Ms. Obama encouraging breastfeeding? Unless you work for a company making baby formula, I’m thinking no one could really be against it. Again, it should be a no brainer.

Michele Bachmann is even pro-breastfeeding. She has shared publically that she breastfed all five of her children. Good for her. Good for her kids. That is wonderful. But despite being in the pro-breastfeeding camp, Representative Bachmann finds fault in Ms. Obama encouraging others to breastfeed. Somehow such encouragement from the White House is a bad thing. A former tax lawyer, Representative Bachmann is also irate that modest tax incentives might be available in to help women who want to pump breast milk when they work outside the home. Per Representative Bachmann, this is all apparently evidence of a “nanny state.” I’m glad that Representative Bachmann was able to be with her five children in person to breastfeed them and/or to buy her own breast pump to provide them with breast milk when she was not with them. Not all women are financially able to do such things.
For more information on Representative Bachmann’s comments, see the article at the link below:

I find the attacks on Ms. Obama to be ridiculous. It is a good thing to encourage people to do things to benefit their health. That is particularly true when we live in a nation of folks suffering from diseases that are preventable and when we are in the midst of an unsustainable escalation in health care costs.

And Ms. Obama’s campaigns against childhood obesity and her comments in support of breastfeeding are certainly not unusual when looking at the work of her predecessors. Was Nancy Reagan being paternalistic (or maternalistic) when she encouraged kids to “just say no” to drugs? Were Barbara and Laura Bush pushing a nanny state when they were encouraging people to learn to read and patronize libraries, respectively?

Clearly there are a whole lot of Americans who use illegal narcotics and their lives are ruined as a consequence. But maybe First Ladies just shouldn’t get involved. Perhaps we ought to have told Nancy Reagan to get off our backs in the 1980s when she spoke out. The nerve. Lecturing us about drug use.

As First Lady, Barbara Bush used her platform to promote literacy. Maybe she should have just backed off. Maybe the folks who are unable to read just don’t like phonics. This is a free country. Step off, sister! Let us live in ignorance.

More recently, Laura Bush used her influence as First Lady to increase the funding of libraries. How dare she?! What meddling. We didn’t need her interference. We knew how much funding libraries needed without her butting in.

Obviously, the last three paragraphs have been sarcastic. That is how silly these recent attacks on Ms. Obama have been. What is Ms. Obama supposed to do? Is she not allowed to take on any causes? How pathetic that even nonpartisan efforts against childhood obesity and in favor of breast feeding can be manipulated to rile up the masses.

I feel frustrated that these types of manipulation have been so successful. It is just not productive and it is ugly. Clearly, as a nation, we did not achieve greatness by sitting around whining and indulging in pointless anger over minor points. That is not how we established the first modern democracy, stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from fascism, developed a vaccine against polio or developed the internet. We Americans are better than that.

Job 26:2

"What a help you are to the weak!
How you have saved the arm without strength!”

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rush Limbaugh Explains the True Meaning of Thanksgiving

It is late, but I recently became aware of Rush Limbaugh’s rant on President Obama’s Thanksgiving expression of respect and gratitude to the Native Americans.

The article below contains Mr. Limbaugh’s comments:

Mr. Limbaugh seems to deny that the European Pilgrims were in any way imperfect or that the Native Americans were/are in any way admirable. After calling President Obama’s expression of appreciation to the Native Americans as a “wildly distorted” view of the historical significance of the holiday, Mr. Limbaugh summed up his own beliefs about Thanksgiving. He explained that the “true story of Thanksgiving is how socialism failed.” He added that “the Indians didn't teach us capitalism" and "we shared our bounty with them… because we first failed as socialists."

How nice of Mr. Limbaugh to set us straight. Previously, I had always believed the point of Thanksgiving was for us to express gratitude to our omnipotent, loving and every-faithful God for the gifts he has bestowed upon us.

Philippians 4:6

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Colossians 4:2

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Obstructionist Politics and the Filibuster

The United States Senate website defines “filibuster” as:

Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.


Currently, sixty of the one hundred members of the Senate must vote to end a filibuster. The filibuster procedure has traditionally been viewed as a way to protect the minority party in the Senate. It preserves some of the minority’s influence so that the majority party does not have free reign to do whatever they want with unfettered discretion. The filibuster is essentially a check against majority domination.

In recent years, the filibuster has been at the heart of nasty political squabbles and its future has come into question. A few years ago, the then-majority Republican Party threatened to end the filibuster procedure. The “nuclear option,” as it was dubbed by then-Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, would have changed the Senate’s procedural rules to allow a simple majority to end a filibuster. In 2005, then-Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee threatened to use the nuclear option due to the inability to confirm some of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

The Republicans’ threat was prompted because ten of President Bush’s judicial nominees were blocked by the Democrats, who charged those candidates were extremists. The then-minority Democrats in the Senate had allowed over two hundred of President Bush’s judicial nominees to be confirmed. So, in actuality, the nuclear option was threatened over the Democrats’ opposition to a relatively small number of judicial nominees. The links below describe the 2005 controversy:

Senator Frist even took the issue to the Conservative Christian community and claimed that the filibusters were aimed at people of faith. The links below contain reports on Senator Frist’s campaigning.

The 2005 crisis was resolved with a compromise of sorts by the “Gang of 14”—a group of seven Democratic and seven Republican senators who made a pact to oppose the nuclear option, as well as the filibuster of judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances. In essence, the Senate Democrats saved the filibuster in 2005 by promising to not use it. The link below contains a report on the compromise.

It is probably fortunate for the Republicans that they did not use the nuclear option. Shortly after the threats of the nuclear option, the Republicans became the minority party in the Senate. In the 2006 elections, they lost control of the Senate.

Neither Lott nor Frist are still in the Senate at the present time. Senator Lott resigned from Senate leadership in 2002 after making racially insensitive and ignorant remarks about Strom Thurmond’s platform in his presidential campaign in 1948 as a Dixiecrat. He remained in the Senate until 2007, when he resigned to pursue a career in lobbying. Senator Frist had had a long and successful career as a surgeon before entering politics. He was first elected to the Senate in 1995 and resigned in 2007. He has since continued his medical career by teaching at Vanderbilt University and being involved in various charities with a health care focus.

Since becoming the minority party in the Senate, the Republicans have embraced a new-found admiration for the filibuster procedure. They have used it a record number of times in recent years. In the past two years alone, there have been eighty-nine filibusters.

Although they are not proposing the “nuclear option,” this gridlock has led the current majority-Democrats to consider some more modest reforms of the filibuster procedure to make it more transparent. The report below provides some of the details of the Democrats’ current concerns about the filibuster:

The wisdom of the filibuster procedure continues to be a controversial device. It is a thorn in the side of the majority party and a cherished tool of the minority. The link below contains a debate from 2005 on the wisdom of the filibuster. The text includes arguments both in favor and against the existence of the filibuster.

About a year ago, Professor Gregory Koger was interviewed by Terry Gross on the radio program “Fresh Air” to discuss the filibuster procedure and Professor Koger’s book Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate.

James 4:4-6 (The Message)

You're cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn't care? The proverb has it that "he's a fiercely jealous lover." And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you'll find. It's common knowledge that "God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jon Stewart’s Frustration About Politics Trumping Assistance to 9/11 First Responders

I rarely watch the Daily Show. I think Jon Stewart is very funny, but I just don’t have time to watch much television. Over the Christmas holiday break, however, I did watch an episode. In the last episode of 2010, Mr. Stewart railed against Republican obstruction of a bill that he thought was a non-partisan no-brainer: the Zagroda Bill.

The bill was aimed at assisting 9/11 first responders who are now suffering debilitating and often fatal illnesses brought on by their exposure to all kinds of toxins while working at Ground Zero for prolonged periods. At the time of the Daily Show episode in question, the bill had passed the House, but Republicans were blocking the bill’s passage in the Senate.

In an episode with very little humor and a lot of moral outrage, Mr. Stewart interviewed a diverse group of first responders to get their reactions to the partisan politics impeding the bill’s passage. It was a really heart-breaking discussion. These men were on the front lines and selflessly gave of themselves at a very bleak time in our nation’s history. They had been moved by patriotism and by the agony of the families of 9/11 victims to do the grueling and frankly disgusting work of clearing the debris after the Twin Towers fell. As they indicated in the interview with Mr. Stewart, their motivation was to try to bring closure to people who had lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks. These first responders ruined their own health in the process, and were getting bureaucratic run-around preventing them from getting compensation for these injuries. At the end of the interview, Mr. Stewart thanked the first responders and expressed that he felt he ought to apologize to them for some reason because of the country’s inability to take care of them in their hour of need.

In the next segment of the show, Mr. Stewart interviewed Governor Mike Huckabee. I personally have a lot of respect for Governor Huckabee. In the past, I have perceived him to have better values and priorities than most Republican politicians. However, his interview with Mr. Stewart was quite disappointing. He was ignorant about the Zagroda Bill, and essentially played the role of a GOP apologist. Governor Huckabee tried to deflect Mr. Stewart’s concerns about recent partisan obstructionism by sharing anecdotes about a first responder he knew and his own father who had been a fire fighter.

In the Daily Show episode in question, Mr. Stewart noted that Fox News focused a lot of attention on 9/11 outrage with respect to the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, but they had paid very little attention to the Zagroda Bill obstructionism. Mr. Stewart was very critical of that selective approach to 9/11 outrage.

Mr. Stewart was also quite critical of the Democrats handling of the Zagroda Bill obstructionism. He expressed that the Democrats had essentially dropped the ball in not exploiting for political gain the Republican opposition and stalling over the bill. Mr. Stewart indicated that the Republicans’ approach to the Zagroda Bill was appalling and that approach would have been helpful to exploit. Basically, Mr. Stewart insinuated the Democrats had been too nice, too naïve and/or too inept politically.

In the Daily Show episode, Mr. Stewart also expressed that he was so angry about the partisan obstructionism surrounding the Zagroda Bill that he could barely verbalize his thoughts. I can understand how he felt. I too sometimes get so frustrated at the injustices in this world that I cannot express myself as coherently as I might otherwise. All of us who are passionate about justice get that way at times. However, it is important for us to get a handle on our emotions and persevere. If we let our emotions get the better of us, it gives others an opportunity to discount our position.

The Daily Show episode in question can be viewed in full at the following link:

The episode in question was aired on December 16th. Subsequently, the Zagroda Bill did pass the Senate with some major changes (including cutting the total funding almost in half). The process also left a bad taste in many people’s mouth. It was deeply disillusioning that political gain was put ahead of helping people who had made great personal sacrifices for their fellow Americans. The link below includes some details about the bill’s passage:

John 15:13

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Family Promise

My church participates in a non-denominational ministry to homeless families called Family Promise. The program provides temporary housing to families with children who do not have a permanent home. Each week, the families live at a different faith community’s campus. Several weeks each year our church’s nursery, library, and Sunday school rooms are transformed with cots and cribs into make-shift bedrooms for a week. Members of our congregation coordinate with the Family Promise program to make this happen. Volunteers from our congregation cook and serve meals in our parish hall for the families each night of their stay.

My own family has provided meals several times and we did so again a few weeks ago when Family Promise came to our campus. The first time we volunteered, my husband and I frankly found it very awkward. We didn’t know how to make small talk with the parents of the guest families. We didn’t want to say the wrong thing. We were overwhelmed with the plight of the families, but didn’t want to appear to be in any way pitying or condescending.

Though my husband and I were socially inept in that setting, we were very proud of our kids who were great at breaking the ice. We had explained to them beforehand why these families were living at our church for the week. Our kids definitely understood the difficulty of the families’ situation. But unlike their awkward parents, our kids had no trouble just interacting with the children of the guest families in a natural, genuine and loving way. The first time we helped with Family Promise, the kids of the guest families patiently took turns teaching our kids to play ping-pong in our church’s parish hall. The kids of the guest families were also very sweet to duck quickly and not admonish when our kids’ ability to return the ping-pong ball was not stellar.

On another occasion when we served dinner for Family Promise, the families had been taken shopping that day and were given a bit of money to be able to buy a couple things. That evening, my younger daughter and I sat down with a teenage girl to eat dinner. My younger daughter adores princesses and anything with a touch of bling. She was in awe of some little beaded bracelets the teenage girl was wearing. Without hesitation, the teenager asked my younger daughter which one she wanted. I protested that was not necessary, but the teenager insisted and I did not want to offend her. My younger daughter was over-the-top thrilled to get to wear and take home a lovely little bracelet. I later learned that bracelet was one of three the teenager had bought with the bit of spending money she had been given. It was a special treat for her to have those bracelets. It broke my heart that she had made that sacrifice, but it seemed to make her happy that my daughter admired something of hers and she was able to share it.

Parenthetically, when I was at the St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco recently, the volunteer coordinator told a similar story and explained that it helped the dignity of the clients to be able to give something back to others. Sometimes it is just a kind word or a complement because that is all they have to give. But on the day I volunteered at the St. Anthony Foundation, a young man had gifted a scarf to one of the professors volunteering. The volunteer coordinator explained that for several reasons the scarf was very valuable to the young man. It was cold and he needed it to stay warm. And he had just received the scarf the month before as a Christmas present knitted by volunteers at the St. Anthony Foundation. It had undoubtedly been his only Christmas present. But the volunteer coordinator explained it was appropriate and helpful for the volunteering professor to accept the gift. The volunteer coordinator described that when one is always on the receiving end, it makes one feel inferior, powerless and unimportant. But giving to someone else helps level the playing field. Being able to give his scarf may have been a sacrifice to the young man in some respects, but the volunteer coordinator indicated it also helped raise his spirits and self-esteem tremendously.

Recently when our family served dinner for Family Promise, several toddlers I had never met ran up to me to hold my hand for the evening prayer circle to bless the meal. I felt like I had been mistaken for a movie star. My own kids (who had been holding my hands) generously made room for the toddlers on our side of the prayer circle. Indeed, they felt like big kids to hold the toddlers’ little fidgety hands.

One of the dads of the guest families had just come from work, and he still had his uniform on. Based on the uniform, he worked at a fast food restaurant chain that I won’t name. The dad seemed to really appreciate the baked chicken, salad and green beans we served that night. I guess at work he doesn’t serve that many vegetables.

Another dad was looking for work and had a hearing aid. His teen son seemed to have some type of a cognitive disability. After we went home, my husband said that he had learned that dad had had a particularly tough day. He had lost his wallet. It apparently fell out of his pocket at some point as the Family Promise coordinators took him to various places that day. I got teary-eyed to think what that must be like. These families have no permanent place to stay, they move each week, they have no place to store their belongings. I’m sure his wallet had his most important documents. With no fixed home or telephone number, I’m not sure how he’ll get back the papers he needs. I felt overwhelmed for him.

One a more positive note, there had been a real victory for one of the families staying with our church that week. Some friends of ours had counseled the families on job interviewing skills. One friend helped one of the dads find a decent outfit from our church’s thrift store, so he had a neat pair of clothes for a job interview he had at a landscape company. The dad got the job! His new bosses said he was the first person to ever come for a job interview in something other than jeans. We were all so thrilled for his success. But he won’t be making a huge amount of money and the family still has a lot of challenges in finding a more permanent place to live. We pray that this job will be the first step towards more stability for the family.

At dinner, my younger daughter and I ended up sitting with a single mom and her three year old. The mom had a serious look on her face the whole evening. I’m not sure she smiled the entire time we were with them. The little girl was beautiful but was a handful. The mom was struggling to make her sit down and eat some of the nutritious food being served. The little girl just wanted to eat cupcakes.

After dinner we went outside to the little playground at our church campus. After the sun went down, it became cold. The mom told me how she suffers from the cold and was very grateful because our church had heat in the rooms where the families were sleeping. Apparently most of the churches where they were staying did not. At the other churches, she had to ask for extra blankets and had trouble sleeping due to the cold.

Our family served dinner on the last night the Family Promise guests were with us that week. The next day they were being taken to a new church. That night my husband and I had such heavy hearts. It is hard enough to raise children with two parents and a steady roof over our heads. We couldn’t imagine the challenge of the young mom that night. I keep praying for her and her little girl.

If you would like to learn more about the Family Promise ministry, you can visit the link below:

Ezekiel 22:7 (New Living Translation)

Fathers and mothers are treated with contempt. Foreigners are forced to pay for protection. Orphans and widows are wronged and oppressed among you.

Friday, February 11, 2011

St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco

For me, one of the highlights of the law professor conference was an optional service project at the St. Anthony Foundation in the Tenderloin district. It is a Catholic ministry serving the homeless and the poor.

The volunteers coordinator gave us professors an insightful talk about the backgrounds of the clients of the Foundation, the complex poverty issues in the Tenderloin area and the specific challenges encountered by the Foundation’s clients. I was surprised to hear that many of the clients of the Foundation are not homeless, they have jobs but do not earn enough to support themselves. They often do not show up early in the month, i.e., soon after payday. But they come seeking services once their meager funds for the month have been exhausted and they can no longer afford to buy food.

She explained that there are six basic demographic groups who are served by the Foundation: (1) the homeless, (2) the disabled and senior citizens who are dependent on government assistance, (3) families with children, (4) those who are mentally ill or have substance abuse problems, (5) veterans and (6) recent immigrants. She noted that these different groups overlap in many instances, but the identification of these groups helps one understand how clients come to need the services of the St. Anthony Foundation. She also mentioned that people in the latter category (i.e., recent immigrants) were most likely to escape the poverty of their current situation.

The volunteers coordinator explained that the people who have homes are in single room occupancy units in the Tenderloin. Typically their homes are the size of a closet, have shared bathrooms and have no facilities for preparing food. She noted the difficulty of families surviving under such circumstances—taking shifts to sleep, not getting nutritious meals, and not having a place for children to study or play.

I was privileged to be in a group of volunteers who were put to work in the St. Anthony Dining Room. The Foundation expressly does not use the term “soup kitchen” because that is impersonal; they would like the clients to build community over their meals, like people do at their family’s kitchen table.

After a brief training, I was set to work carrying trays of food to the clients sitting at tables. I was quite nervous. I’ve always been impressed by waiters and waitresses for their ability to carry trays of food and drink without dropping anything. I’ve been grateful that I had other avenues to earn a living because I frankly doubt I would be able to hold down a job as a waitress. Nonetheless, I am happy to report that I did not drop anything on any of the clients at the St. Anthony Dining Room. (Phew!)

Later, I was assigned to bus tables, which surprisingly I found to be even more of a challenge than delivering the trays. Many people did not finish their “juice” (which resembled Kool-Aid) and I had to balance lots of full cups in my bussing tub without spilling it all over myself, the floor or the clients. It was not easy.

And towards the end of my shift, they asked that I go around to serve clients water. This turned out to be quite a task because I could only manage to carry a couple of cups in my hand at a time and a lot of folks were thirsty! My water service was frequently interrupted as I ran back for more cups. As a result, there was a lengthy wait to get water if one was not inclined to drink the “juice” that came standard with one’s meal. Lugging a huge pitcher of water also hurt my wrist after a while. Consequently, I was very impressed by the petite nun who cheerfully handled water duty the entire time I was in the Dining Room. She seemed to be a regular at the St. Anthony Dining Room, and seemed to know many of the clients. Assuming she does water duty on a regular basis, I’m guessing she has arms of steel at this point.

I was extremely glad to have had an opportunity to work at the St. Anthony Dining Room during my visit to San Francisco. It was heart-breaking and humbling. There were several women with young children in the Dining Room. As a mother myself, that brought some moisture to my eyes. Parents want the best for their children. We can tolerate deprivations that impact just us, but I cannot imagine the agony of not having the basics to provide for one’s own child. See mothers with young children in the St. Anthony Dining Room was an important reminder of how fortunate my children and I are. And it frankly made me angry that in this country of abundance other children do not have the same experience.

Several things struck me while I was serving clients in the Dining Room. First, the folks were waiting in long lines to get into the modest sized room with tables and it was pretty cold outside. As a wimpy gal from the Sun Belt, being outside briefly was hard for me that day. The folks in that line were clearly very hungry to be waiting like that for a chance to get inside. The room itself was pretty cold. I don’t think there was any heat, but at least the wind was not blowing on us. I had worn a t-shirt because I thought I’d get messy; I was freezing though I was constantly moving around the Dining Room.

The clients of the St. Anthony Dining Room were very grateful for the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and doughnuts served that day. To take some food with them, many of the clients were shoveling extra helpings into flimsy sandwich baggies provided by the St. Anthony Foundation or filthy plastic containers the clients had brought with them. They understandably did not want to be hungry later, but I worried that the baggies were going to break and make a mess. I was also worried that they might get food poisoning from the way they were transporting food for later.

Despite the fact that folks were really hungry, few of them ate the bread or the fruit that was served on their trays. We volunteers felt bad that so much food was going to waste. A wise friend of mine volunteering that day guessed that it may have been an issue with the clients’ teeth. The bread that had been donated for lunch was French bread and sourdough. The fruit served was apples. The volunteer coordinator later confirmed my friend’s guess. Apparently, the city of San Francisco did not provide dental services to the poor, but would pay to have teeth pulled. The volunteer coordinator indicated many of their clients simply had few or no teeth. They probably would have loved to eat the tough bread and fruit, but were not physically able to do so. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes were more manageable.

Though the bread and fruit were not popular with the clients, many of them were enthusiastic about the little slabs of butter placed on each tray. Some of the clients were going around to various tables asking if anyone had any butter left over. I wasn’t sure what that was about. My wise friend indicated she thought they might use it for lip balm in the cold. That made a lot of sense. I had forgotten to bring lip balm with me that day and after just a matter of hours my lips were sore and chapped. I cannot imagine what would happen if you lived on the street exposed to the harsh San Francisco cold and wind.

Another thing that struck me about my visit to the Dining Room was the ways that the clients spoke to me. As a gal who is originally from the South, I instinctively “ma’am” and “sir” people I don’t know, and my mama taught me to say “please” and “thank you” early and often. Many of the clients seemed a little surprised by such courtesy, but they seemed to really appreciate it. Many extended it right back to me. They would thank me for serving them or they would voluntarily reach across the long table to hand me something I needed to pick up. Several ladies complemented me on my curly hair. Some of the clients read the name tag I was given by the volunteer coordinator and would make a point to thank me by name. Some of the clients called me “dear,” which seemed sweet.

I have to admit a few of the male clients called me “honey” and “sweetheart.” Those names were sort of borderline, but seemed generally well-intended. However, one gentleman called me “baby,” which didn’t sit real well with me, but I was mature enough to not get riled up. Another client was pretty rude to me and insinuated that I was deaf and/or not too bright when I was trying to serve water to a ridiculously large number of thirsty people and couldn’t stop what I was doing to serve him right away on the other side of the Dining Room. Again, I didn’t get bent out of shape. I’ve served under-served communities at many times in my life, and have found that sometimes people who continually are disrespected and dumped upon just need to vent a bit. None of us likes to be treated like that and it can be hard on one’s dignity. I understand that and am grateful my own dignity has not taken such dings over the years.

The St. Anthony Foundation’s website is available at the link below. Theirs is an extensive and very important ministry. I know they also always need funding. Things are particularly difficult for them right now because government grants have dried up and in the current economy demands for their services have risen.

Luke 18:7

Now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Law Professor Conference

Recently, I went to an annual conference of law professors. I always enjoy it and learn a lot. Professors give talks on a variety of legal topics from a wide array of disciplines. It is amazing and invigorating to listen to the different types of things about which legal scholars are thinking, studying and writing. Their ideas help inform my teaching and my scholarship—and it is just plain interesting.

Beyond the substantive content of the presentations, I admit I just also enjoy people watching at events like this conference. It is interesting to see certain patterns in the attendees depending on the topic.

For example, I attended a panel discussion about the dearth of conservative voices in the legal academy. I probably don’t fit the definition of a “conservative” in most respects, but the topic was interesting to me for a variety of reasons. I like to listen to perspectives different from my own. When compared to other sessions at the conference, there were relatively few attendees at the session on conservative voices in the academy. Apparently, there is not much interest in the topic within the legal academy, but that is probably not a shock to most people given the supposed “liberal” tilt of academics.

I must say, however, that the homogeneity in appearance of the attendees at that session struck me as rather funny. Initially, I was the only female in the room, but two or three other ladies eventually arrived. Nonetheless, it was an almost exclusively male audience and a completely all-male panel. While I was at that session, there was not one person of color in the whole room. Not one.

But what struck me as funny was the attire of the attendees at the dearth of conservative voices session. They were disproportionately dressed in tweed jackets. A large number were also wearing ties. As I didn’t see a lot of tweed or ties at the conference as a whole, this concentration really stood out and made me want to laugh. I could only stay for part of the panel discussion because I had committed to participating in a service project. And because I was going to be serving a meal at a homeless shelter, I was dressed very casually in jeans and tennis shoes. For a number of reasons, I rather stood out in the audience of the session on the dearth of conservative voices in the legal academy!

I saw similar patterns at sessions I attended on tax and business law topics. There were more women and some people of color in attendance at those sessions, but there were not huge numbers of non-males or non-whites. The dress of the attendees at tax and business law sessions was not quite as formal as the session on conservative voices in the academy. There weren’t as many suits and ties. But many of the women were in skirts and heels. The men often had dress shirts and jackets of some kinds. I guess the tax and business profs are used to a more formal dress code than some other parts of the academy.

During the conference, I attended a session on religion and the law, which was fascinating. There was a fair gender mix of the attendees, but almost everyone in the room was Caucasian. There was one person of color on the panel, but I didn’t see any other people of color in the audience, which was surprising to me. The folks at the religion and the law session were dressed somewhat conservatively. I didn’t see any tattoos or piercings, and no one was dressed in a particularly hip way. They dressed in a more traditional manner, but their attire wasn’t formal. Indeed, there were few people in suits. I would characterize the dress of most folks at the religion and law session as being dressy-casual. But there were also some folks in neat jeans and loafers.

I attended a session on minorities and the law. People in attendance were dressed similarly to those at the religion and the law session, but the racial composition was quite different. Most of the attendees and speakers were African American. I was one of only a few white folks in the room. I’m not sure why other academics were not interested in issues affecting minorities. Because the academy has a reputation for being very “liberal,” I would have thought more folks (and folks from more varied backgrounds) would have been interested in the concerns of the section on minorities and the law. Apparently not. That was pretty sad to me.

I attended several sessions on LGBT issues, and the audiences struck me as a pretty diverse group. Indeed, upon reflection, they were the most diverse-looking group of all the sessions I attended at the conference. There seemed to be a fair balance in terms of gender. A majority of the group was Caucasian, but there were many people of color representing different races and ethnicities. The attire of the attendees also really varied. There were folks very casually dressed in jeans and tennis shoes. There were people in knakis and button-down shirts. There were women in skirts and heels, or nice slacks and blouses. There were hip looking people and conservative looking fuddy-duddies.

Finally, towards the end of the conference, I attended a session on legal issues impacting women. Perhaps I was naïve, but I was sad to see that the attendees were almost all female. There were only three or four men in the room while I was there. I recognized several of those men because I had sat near them at one of the LGBT sessions I had attended. I’m not sure why more men were not interested in women’s issues. Again, the academy has a reputation for being very “liberal.” I am not sure why there aren’t more members concerned about issues impacting women.

Colossians 4:1

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness,

knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Trying to Disagree without Being Disagreeable

My local community newspaper provides a lot of great community news, for which I am grateful. However, it also publishes readers’ letters that are often quite vitriolic. I appreciate free speech, but the tenor of the letters leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many people. It has prompted some to stop reading this community newspaper altogether.

I understand that reaction. The letters to the editor are often ugly in tone, factually inaccurate and/or sanctimonious. They remind me a lot of what I hear when I tune in to conservative talk radio and the hosts take calls from their riled-up listeners. I appreciate friends of mine who simply don’t want to be exposed to such negativity.

But I also get frustrated that readers of this community newspaper rarely dispute any of the bitter and false things expressed in such letters to the editor. I have noticed that such unchallenged ugliness seems to actually encourage others to contribute to the downward spiral. It also seems to discourage more positive voices from even being raised. For this reason, I’ve written my own letters to the editor in a couple of instances in recent months. I have had enthusiastic feedback from friends in our community who are tired of all the letters spewing anger and non sequiturs.

Recently, I was motivated to write in response to two readers’ letters. Incredibly, one blamed President Obama for an unemployed neighbor becoming a “lazy” drug addict. The other reader bitterly threw blame in all directions for the state of Arizona’s health care system. Though he had blame to throw at undocumented workers and medical professionals, the reader specifically exempted our own governor, Jan Brewer, from all culpability. These readers’ letters are available at the link below:

My letter in response was printed. It is available at the following link:

I think we ought to stand up and be heard when people speak out in an unproductive, hate-filled manner. It is so unworthy of a dynamic and optimistic country like ours. But we have to challenge such mean-spirited voices in a way that is not personally belittling and that ultimately encourages more productive discourse. It is a fine line to condemn the message and not the messenger in such instances. It is also a line that we in the United States are not always skilled at discerning. Indeed, we have not had a lot of role models to follow in recent years.

Matthew 5:14 (The Message)

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”