Category Archives: Justice

Honest talk about guns

This may come as a shock to many of you, but sometimes I don’t know what to say.

(Then again considering how infrequently I’ve posted here, perhaps that isn’t so shocking.)

Saturday is the one year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and I don’t know what to say.  I can say that I’m appalled, sad, furious when thinking about December 14, 2012. Yet even those words seem to barely scratch the surface of my emotions.

photo by UMNS
photo by UMNS

I didn’t grow up with guns. No one in my close family hunts (or at least not that I know of). None of my childhood friends ever went hunting or talked about it. Other than a bb gun at scout camp, I’ve never fired any kind of gun. And I’m not interested in changing that. I don’t understand “gun culture.” And I’m not really interested in changing that, either.

However, I also know that I am a big ol’ walking, talking, writing, breathing contradiction (which comes as no shock whatsoever). I can say that I deplore guns, the destruction they bring, and the culture that promotes them. But an honest look at pretty much every TV show, book, movie, comic book, and video game that I enjoy has some form of violence as part of its story; often involving guns. So I don’t really know what to say.

As cliché and fake as it sounds, today I do have friends that own guns, friends that hunt. I don’t – and wouldn’t – ask them or want them to change that about themselves. It is part of who they are. In addition, I’m convicted by that great exchange from season two, episode four of The West Wing: Ainsley Hayes scolds Sam Seaborn that his gun control position is not about public safety or personal freedom, but it’s about “you don’t like people who do like guns. You don’t like the people. Think about that.” I see that possibility in myself, but I know I must push back against that tendency. Having a good, close friend who owns guns and hunts helps me with that.

Saturday is the one year anniversary of the massacre in Newtown. Sunday in worship (for sure at the Evening service, possibly at the morning services) we will remember those victims. But honestly, I don’t know what to say.

I’m convinced that gun deaths are not part of God’s dream for the world. I’m convinced that as a follower of God in the Way of Jesus, I’m called to work to bring God’s dreams for the world to life. I’m convinced that is true of our congregation as well. I know that the UMC’s Resolution on Gun Violence states, “we call upon the church to affirm its faith through vigorous efforts to curb and eliminate gun violence.”

Honestly though, I don’t know what to say those “vigorous efforts” should be. But I’m tired of doing nothing. So here is what I propose:

  1. Read the whole Resolution on Gun violence.
  2. Read the Board of Church & Society post about remembering Newtown.
  3. Read about 24 other school shootings that have happened since Sandy Hook. Another one happened today in Colorado.
  4. Attend Sunday Evening Worship this week at 5:00pm. Bring your knowledge, your experience, your limitations, your passion and join with others doing the same as we consider together how Woodridge UMC will work vigorously to curb gun violence in 2014.
  5. Begin the conversation by leaving a comment. Just remember to keep it respectful.

Of course we won’t all agree. But looking at scripture, tradition, experience, and reason together is the way forward; the way to more healing, more hope, more life in this, God’s world.

Together we will find the words. Together we will find the way.

 

Mourning, and yet…

It has been rough week. It’s been a week of mourning. It has been a week of mourning with Miriam, all the Cabanas family and friends, and our congregation over Ernie’s sudden death. Just a few days ago Miriam and Ernie hugged me on their way out of church after our worship service, all smiles and energy. They are one of the sweetest, most affectionate couples I’ve ever known. I can’t help but be lifted up and encouraged by the love they share and the manner in which they share it. I will greatly miss Ernie’s hopeful smile and jubilant approach toward life. It has been a week of mourning with the nation over yet another mass shooting, this time at the Washington Navy Yard in D.C. Mourning our society’s lack of good understanding of – and care for – those who suffer from mental illness. Mourning our inability – as a nation, as a congregation, even as individuals – to even so much as have a conversation about the role guns play in our society and in these deaths that keep mounting up. It has been a week of mourning with the region over yet another shooting in a Chicago park. No deaths reported, but 13 people were injured, including a 3 year old boy shot in the jaw who is in critical condition. Enough! How will we as individuals, as families, as a congregation respond to this scourge in our streets? When will enough people, enough children, be shot to make us stand up and say, Enough! Our fascination with guns is literally killing us! It has been a week of mourning for the continued and continuing assassination of the character of those in our midst who need help. Who, despite all their efforts, can’t feed their children or themselves. They are not “lazy” or “greedy” or “desiring dependency”. They are people. People like me. People like you. They just happen to be people who need a little help putting food on their table. The honest truth is we all need help sometimes and we all need each other. We’re all dependent upon the work, the blood, the sweat of others. Yet we demonize hungry and poor people for being hungry and poor. Even more baffling, yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives, voted 217-210 to cut SNAP by $39 billion over the next ten years, thereby declaring they want even more people – nearly 4 million more people – to be hungry and they want 210,000 children to be without school lunches. As Rev. David Beckmann says, picking on the poorest among us is unacceptable, especially for a country that prides itself on a strong moral grounding. It has been a rough week. It has been a week of mourning. I am angry and I am sad. And yet… And yet, I love and strive to serve the God who declares that spite and hate and violence and despair and even death do not have the last word in the world. Rather that last word belongs to God as revealed in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and that word is grace. That word is love. That word is life. And it is offered to all. And yet, I serve a congregation at which this past Sunday our Lead Pastor, the Rev. Dr. James Galbreath, declared from the pulpit as the sermon that Woodridge UMC’s altar is for all. All three of our congregation’s clergy are united in this: Pastor Jim, Deacon Beth, and me. All three of us have signed the Altar for All statement “committing to fulfill our vow to ministry by marrying or blessing couples regardless of their sexual orientation or gender expression.” And this gives me hope in the midst of my sadness and anger. Further, we presented our position in what I believe was an honest and faithful way – from a pastoral standpoint rather than a dogmatic one and acknowledging that not every member of our church agrees with us. We are open for conversation.  And that gives me hope in the midst of sadness and anger. You can sign the Altar for All statement too. There is provision for clergy and laity. Or you can continue to be in conversation with us about this.  And this gives me hope in the midst of sadness and anger. I am convinced that God as revealed in Jesus is the God of “and yet…” So that’s where I want to be too; in the midst of the “and yet…”

 

Record-breaking OL not done yet

Last Sunday, my congregation, Woodridge United Methodist Church, partnered with Bread for the World in taking an Offering of Letters. Rosie’s story (see above video) was a key component of our presentation and perhaps part of the reason the OL produced 110 names on the petition to the President and 120 letters to our Senators. The 120 letters is a WUMC record! (It was the first year that an OL included a petition to the President.)

I am, naturally, thrilled by this response and very proud of our people for their advocacy for and with hungry and poor people in America and around the world. It seems to me, such advocacy is an important expression of our faith in Jesus.

But this Offering of Letters isn’t done yet. First of all, if you weren’t able to participate in the OL last week, it’s not too late. You can sign the Petition to the President online. The sample letter to Senators is below. Use that as a guide in writing to your Senators. Or, if you’re in the area, paper copies of the petition and the letters will be available in WUMC’s Narthex (a fancy churchy word for lobby) on Sunday.

The final action item (if you’ll forgive the corporate-speak) of this OL happens May 15. That video above of Rosie’s story is an excerpt from A Place at the Table, an excellent documentary on hunger in America. The film is currently available on iTunes and On Demand. But on the 15th it is showing at AMC Showplace 16 in Naperville at 7:30pm. In addition to watching the movie, we’ll also present our petitions and letters to local Bread for the World organizers.

The petition and the letters were an unqualified success. I hope you’ll join us for film as well. Tickets are only available in advance online

Here’s the sample letter to Senators regarding food aid reform:

Dear Senator ______,

I urge you to publicly support the U.S. food aid reforms that President Obama proposed in his budget request. With these common-sense reforms, our food aid program will work harder for U.S. taxpayers, and two to four million more people in need will receive life-saving help at no additional cost.

In recent years, a number of trusted sources have shown that despite the best of intentions, current laws governing U.S. food aid make it slow to reach people in need and wasteful of taxpayer dollars. The President’s proposal would provide the U.S. with the greater flexibility to respond to hunger needs around the world.

As a person of faith, I want to see hungry people fed, and I also want to see our nation’s resources utilized as effectively and efficiently as possible. Please support—in every way possible—the President’s proposed food aid reforms.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Your Address

 

‘Behind all those big words are human beings’

How about a bevy of links for your weekend? These are all what I deem “Well said!”

-I probably say this a lot, but this is why we fight…for justice that is. The title for this post comes from this inspiring video.

How are we doing on the current Millenium Development Goals?

-Are you the parent of a tween? The aunt of one? Or an uncle/cousin/relative/friend/teacher/pastor/acquaintance  of a tween? Basically if you are alive and know anyone else who is currently a child, you totally need to read this:

People will actually vote for who they think is the least attractive in the comments, and whichever girl’s name is written the most will be awarded a big fat X drawn across her face.

Do you want me to repeat that last part?

Of course you don’t, but I’m going to anyway.

Whichever girl’s name is written the most will be awarded with a big fat X drawn across her face. [read the rest] (H/T Todd Query)

-Worlds collide when my friends Adam Ericksen (a UMC’er) and Tripp Hudgins (an American Baptist) have a fantastic 8 part blogalogue regarding Rob Bell’s new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. The fun begins here.

-United Methodist uber-blogger, Morgan Guyton, is back at it after a Lenten break. He’s whip smart and engages with a wide range of topics.

-Our friends at CAASE and End Demand IL just launched a new campaign: The Ugly Truth.

“The Ugly Truth” is a multi-media communications campaign that was created by The Voices and Faces Project, an End Demand Illinois partner, to challenge myths about prostitution and remind the public of the harm endured by those in the sex trade. We’ve created our campaign to reach millions of Illinois citizens, calling them to better understand – and work to end – sexual exploitation.

Check it and add your voice to their campaign. 

Your turn! What are you reading and writing and doing for justice?

Remembering that ‘shot rang out in the Memphis sky’

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but it was 45 years ago today (April 4) that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Yesterday, Fred Clark posted a long excerpt from Dr. King’s April 3rd speech, often called the “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. It’s fabulous oratory. Fred rightly pointed out that the crux of that speech – and of King’s work and the gospel of Jesus – is to stop asking how we’ll be affected by advocating for justice and instead ask how others will be affected if we aren’t advocates. “What will happen to them if I don’t stop to help?”

Upworthy also has great MLK content today, videos, audio and stills.

It’s no secret that U2 is my favorite band. So naturally I thought about posting their tribute to Dr. King, “Pride (in the name of love).” Then I came across this cover by John Legend. It is a much different take on the song, but it is hauntingly beautiful.

Watch this and then let’s redouble our efforts to bring justice, equality and goodness into the world. You and me. Together we can and should and must do that.

John Legend performs PRIDE (In The Name of Love) by ElectricArtists

 

Watch, read, and give for #WorldWaterDay

Today, March 22, is World Water Day. So what? Water changes everything:

I first learned of World Water Day two years ago. Some of what I wrote then still applies:

I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t even notice just how available water is to me. Among the kitchen sink, the water dispenser in our fridge and our bathrooms, I probably can’t get more than 20 feet away from a water source!

Comparing my water privilege to these stats from around the world is, in a word, sobering:

  • About 800 million people in the world lack access to reliable, safe drinking water.
  • 90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are children under five years old. Every 20 seconds a child dies from water-related illness.
  • The integrated approach of providing water, sanitation and hygiene reduces the number of deaths caused by diarrheal diseases by an average of 65%. (WHO)

Fortunately, there are many organizations doing really good work helping developing countries find and access safe waterWater.orgCharity: WaterNational Geographic (which has an eye-opening tool to calculate your water footprint, yikes!), World Health Organization, Blood:Water Mission, and WaterAid.

And, the United Methodist Church through The United Methodist Committee on Relief’s Water Collaboration. (UMCOR is the humanitarian arm of the UMC.)

As far as I can tell, partnering with any one of those organizations is a great and important way to make a difference in the world water crisis (though I haven’t done extensive research into all of them).

For we who follow God in the Way of Jesus – for self-professed Christians – taking up this cause is not optional. How can we claim to love and serve the one we identify as Living Water if we aren’t doing all we can to help sisters and brothers around the world have the water they need to simply live.

world water day

How are you celebrating World Water Day?

Women and girls

“There’s nothing like having a daughter for turning you into a feminist,” remarked a parishioner after a sermon I gave sometime ago. While I remember neither the specific statement I made nor exactly when this exchange occurred, I vividly remember thinking, “I really hope I was a feminist before we had a daughter. Maybe I haven’t been as strong and vocal an advocate for and with women as I thought?”

Girls are the secret weapon in the war on poverty. But only if they’re protected and educated. – Mercy Corps’ A Girl Can

However, on this International Women’s Day (March 8) it is all too tragically clear that simply having a daughter – or a sister or an aunt or a wife or a friend or a cousin or a mother – is not enough to transform people into feminists*:

Domestic Violence

Via United Methodist Women.

Women ages fifteen to forty-five are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. – Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Hoping and praying that those awful, sobering, gut-wrenching, heart-rending statistics change is a good first step, but it isn’t enough.

I definitely haven’t paid enough attention over the years to the excellent work and advocacy being done by UM Women: Fighting domestic violence, partnering with civic leaders, and providing a plethora of resources and events. We can join these already-in-progress efforts.

Girls who stay in school during adolescence marry later and are less likely to be subjected to forced sex. – Mercy Corps’ A Girl Can

How else can we support equality on this International Women’s Day? Again, no wheel-inventing necessary, simply learn from and move with others leading the way:

  • The ONE Campaign offers 5 ideas, all of which you can do from your computer (or, you know, other devices).
  • Wold Chicago is hosting a great event today. My mom and my wife are attending it. Hopefully I can get them to share about the event in a future post. (Full disclosure: World Chicago’s Executive Director, Peggy Parfenoff, is a long-time family friend.)
  • Read A Girl Can from Mercy Corps. Their pictures, stats, and video will enrage you, inspire you, and move you to action.

A girl who can read teaches her mother to read, tells her brothers about women’s rights, and makes school a priority for her own children. – Mercy Corps’ A Girl Can

In the spirit of ONE’s idea #5: Looking back on my formative years, before I knew terms like feminist, advocate, empowerment, equality, or gendered roles, I knew that our family didn’t always fit the usual mode. Sure, Mom cooked most of the meals. But Dad did the laundry and we all helped clean the house.

Mom and Dad had the same level of education and both worked similar full-time, outside-of-the-home jobs.

Dad painstakingly worked to keep all the landscaping immaculate. He knew every flower, plant, tree, and (horrors!) weed. Mom was the one with the collection of sports trophies for softball, basketball and bowling. The Sports Illustrated subscription came to her. It was a big accomplishment the day when teenaged Dave finally beat Mom at ping-pong for the first time. Teaching me to throw, catch and hit a baseball? Mom did that. Learning proper form and release shooting hoops? That came from Mom. Scoring bowling by hand? Reading a box score in the newspaper? Correctly marking each play on the baseball score card? Mom, Mom, and Mom again.

Thank you, Mom (and Dad) for teaching me strength, partnership, and equality simply by being who you are. I love you. I hope Joann and I can pass on those lessons to both our son and our daughter.

Your turn! How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?

*Yes, I realize that is a loaded term for some, a term to avoid. However, I truly don’t understand that at all. If women are people too, then what could possibly be bad about “advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men“?? I’m not being glib here, I truly don’t see the problem or issue or controversy.

Victory! What’s next?

Thursday was a really good day.

After months and even years of delay, the U.S. House of Representatives FINALLY passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – and with it the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA)!

The General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church reminded us what The United Methodist Church says about Family Violence and Abuse:

We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms—verbal, psychological, physical, sexual—is detrimental to the covenant of the human community. – UMC Social Principles 161.G

The bill had already passed the Senate and President Obama has said he will sign it right away. Most of the news I saw about this focused on how the main bill protects all women, including native Americans, undocumented immigrants and LGBT women. As Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), herself a rape victim, sharply put it with a paraphrase of 19th century escaped slave and civil rights advocate, Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t they women?”

Yes. Yes, they are.

But the VAWA also included the TVPRA as an amendment. TVPA expired over two years ago; we finally have it back! What’s that mean? I’ll let two of our best anti-trafficking partners – Polaris Project and International Justice Mission – tell you.

From Polaris Project:

This bill sets important funding benchmarks, encourages distribution of the National Human Trafficking Hotline number by federal agencies, establishes grant programs for state agencies to assist child victims of sex trafficking, strengthens the ability to prosecute those who fraudulently hire individuals in foreign labor contracts, and more. [read the rest]

IJM adds that the 2013 version of the TVPRA has new provisions as well:

  • Gives the State Department authority to partner with overseas governments to stop child trafficking in targeted areas. It’s much more specific and measurable than previous programs
  • An emergency response provision helps the State Department quickly deploy teams of experts into crisis areas—like the situation in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake—where disorder and poverty can leave children or other vulnerable poor especially susceptible to trafficking.
  • New tools to help prosecute traffickers and people who exploit the poor.
  • Continued support for existing programs that support survivors of trafficking both in the U.S. and overseas. [read the rest]

After this victory, as President Bartlett used to ask, What’s next?
Time to talk hunger again, that’s what.

Our friends at Bread for the World ask, How is it possible that people in this country continue to go hungry, despite our abundance of food?

As an answer to that question, they are partners with a new film from Magnolia Pictures and its accompanying social action campaign. “March 1st marks the premiere of A Place at the Table, a new eye-opening documentary that answers the question through the lives of three people. Their stories reveal the depth of the hunger crisis in America and the factors that drive it.

Watch the trailer. But be careful, the trailer does its job – you will want to see the whole movie. Good thing then A Place at the Table is available right now On Demand and through iTunes. Find A Place at the Table on Facebook and Twitter.

I’d love to hear your reactions to the film in the comments.

‘Break the Chains…Women Are Not Possessions’

It’s noon on Valentine’s Day. It’s time to dance and break the chains!

If I could be, I would be downtown dancing with Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) or War Chest Boutique: Naperville to join in with 1 Billion Rising.

UPDATE: Check out pictures from CAASE’s rising in Daley Plaza. A friend who works downtown declared, “They made quite the ruckus today!”

CAASE 1B rising

Since I can’t be with them, I contemplated recording a little dance on my own…but thought better of it. I’m not afraid to look like an idiot (which I would), I’ve been in youth ministry for two decades now. Looking like an idiot is part of the job description. No, I thought better of it because I want you to keep reading, not run away in horror never to return. I thought better of it because I don’t want to even give the appearance of making light of this effort.

Where does the 1 billion come from in 1 Billion Rising? 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s 1 billion women.

It is long, long, long past time for all of us to stop treating women as possessions, as nothing more than bodies to be used, abused, and discarded.

It is long, long, long past time for Congress to reauthorize both the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The delay in these actions is unconscionable and shameful.

I urge you to contact your Congress persons right now, today about these acts. Our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives, our grandmothers, our friends are fully human and must be treated as such.

UPDATE 2: As I prepared a version of this post for my church blog I thought about how complicit the church is in perpetuating the mistreatment of women. Here’s what I wrote about that:

Yes, it’s true, the culture in which the bible was written treated women as property, as little more than baby-making machines (more sons, please). But that was two and three and four thousand years ago. Don’t we know better by now?

The church as far too often led the way in treating women terribly. We’re not just talking ancient history here either. Still today, far too many churches tell women their only place is in the home completing domestic chores. Far too many churches still tell women their only important role the only role allowed is that of wife and mother. Still today, far too many churches tell women it is sinful to leave their abusive husband. All of that must stop!

Instead of me being goofy, I offer you this incredible video. Watch it then do a little dance and make a little noise to end violence against women and human trafficking.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence

As I wrote on Thursday afternoon, word broke of yet another shooting at a school. This time a 14-year-old was shot at a middle school in Atlanta, Georgia. According to police, the suspect is in custody and the wounded student is “alert.” Both suspect and victim are students at the middle school.

This shooting occurred:

  • 7 weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT which left 28 dead.
  • 3 weeks after a 16-year-old shot two students with a shotgun at Taft High School, Taft, CA.
  • 16 days after a student shot an administrator and himself at Stevens Institute of Business and Arts in downtown St. Louis.
  • 9 days after three people were shot at Lone Star Community College near Houston, TX.
  • 2 days after King Prep High School student, Hadiya Pendleton was shot to death in a park in Chicago.
  • 1 day after a gunman shot and killed a school bus driver and abducted a Kindergarten student in Midland City, Alabama.

And those are just the school-related shootings.

To say that all this breaks my heart sounds far too trite, and yet other, better words fail to present themselves. I am sad and I am angry. It seems clear this is not how God intends for us to treat one another. It seems clear that our culture is addicted to violence and in love with guns. It seems clear that I am part of the problem. From the shows I watch to the movies I enjoy to the books I read to the comics I buy, violence is too often a common denominator.

Yet what can we do? After all, Deacon Beth sharply reminded us earlier this month as she considered King Herod’s actions after the birth of Jesus, the slaughtering of innocents is not a new phenomenon. What can we do? Are we resigned to this fate? Beth concluded her post with a brilliant response: “May we choose, as followers of Christ, not to buy guns for an illusory feeling of ‘protection.’ And may we fight, fight, fight for sanity in our gun laws.”

Now a new way to enter that fight for sanity presents itself.

We – as individuals, as families, as a congregation – can emulate The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women by joining our voices with Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. Over 40 denominations and faith-based organizations have joined, including Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs.

This coalition wrote a letter to President Obama and Congress, which reads in part:

Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death. While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who have perished, we must also support our prayers with action.We support immediate legislative action to accomplish the following:

  1. Every person who buys a gun should pass a criminal background check;

  2. High capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians; and

  3. Gun trafficking should be a federal crime.

Adding our voice to this movement will not, by itself, stop all gun violence. A diversity of other actions are needed too. Actions born of our faith that the one we call Lord and Savior is also Prince of Peace. But this is a good step in the right direction. It is something we can do. Join the Faiths United coalition here.

Photo: Reuters
Participants from Newtown, Connecticut, wearing the green and white colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School, walk in the March on Washington for Gun Control on the National Mall. [Photo: Reuters]
For more on this: