Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Family Tree: Rooted in the Earth

In response to Sarah Palin's recent claims that climate change is based on "junk science and doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood," Al Gore said that "global warming is not a political issue but a moral one,” he said. Which is it? Is it immoral to do nothing about global warming?

A Family Tree: Rooted in the Earth
One of the most foundational stories in Christianity is the story of Adam and Eve. Their story begins as God forms humanity from out of the dust of the earth. For Christians, our identity is derived from our origins found in the dust of the earth. Humans are irrevocably tied to the earth and to all of creation which was brought forth from the same earth. We are tied to the waters, to every animal of the field, and to every bird of the air. And for this reason Christians and humans have a moral imperative to act against global climate change. We must act to preserve the earth because the earth is who we are.

We are becoming increasingly aware of our lineage, sprung forth out of the earth, as climate crisis threatens. As the earth warms, both drought and flood inhibit the ability of farmers to produce crops. And with the pangs of hunger and starvation our relationship with the earth and our common ancestry from the dust become agonizingly apparent. As glaciers melt, communities around the world will find that the nourishing waters are no longer springing forth from the earth. And with the pain of thirst, our common ancestry from the dust becomes more readily apparent. As global water levels rise, many communities’ ability to merely dwell on the dust from which they came is threatened. And in the midst of exile we are reminded again of our common ancestry from the dust.

It is our moral duty and imperative duty as humans to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsting, and to give shelter to the homeless. We do this because the hungry, thirsting, and homeless are who we are, they are human. In this same way, it is our duty as humans to act to alleviate climate crisis because the earth is who we are.

The beginning is important because it tells us about the end. Not only is our past tied to a relationship with the earth, but our future as well. Our future and hope lies in our terrestrial identity. Our hope is that life will again spring forth from the earth. Especially in this time of ecological distress, our future rests on the earth’s ability to nourish us. Therefore, humanity must move forward aware of our earthly identity and act to combat global climate crisis.

Leia Mais…

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The People’s Decorations for the People’s House

Christmas decorations at the White House include a crèche in the East Room (despite reports that White House social secretary Desirée Rogers suggested that the Obamas were planning a "non-religious Christmas.") Should the White House, whose residents serve all Americans, display a crèche or a menorah or any strictly religious symbols during the holidays?

The People’s Decorations for the People’s House

Since President Obama moved in, he has placed an emphasis on the White House as “the people’s house.” In doing so, the President has emphasized the name by which the home was called before the “White House” caught on. Yet, the display of the traditional White House crèche does not symbolize the President’s estate as the people’s house. Indeed, the White House is the people’s house and its decorations during the holiday season should represent the people whom it claims.

The crèche, itself, was given to the White House in 1967 and certainly does not represent the people of the United States in 2009. In the summer of 1967 race riots raged across the country, most notably the 12th street riot in Detroit where 43 people died. In the 42 years since the crèche was given to the White House, the country has grown radically in its racial, ethnic, and religious diversity to an extent which must have been inconceivable in 1967. Not to mention, the crèche itself is an 18th century Italian work. (Where is the outcry about the display of the anti-American propaganda crèche in the White House?) With the first black president in office, this crèche seems incapable of representing the people of the United States in the here and now. The decorations of the White House during this holiday season must represent the people of the United States here and now. That means decorations from the diversity of religions practiced in the United States and it means Christmas decorations that represent the diversity of Christian expressions now present in the United States.

The White House made great strides in working towards a holiday season which includes and represents the people of the United States when Michelle Obama sent off old ornaments from past White House holiday seasons. They were shipped off to 60 different communities around the country who decorated them with local landmarks and sent them back to the White House to be used. If the White House can be so geographically representative in its holiday decorations, why can’t it be just as religiously representative?

We must also remember that the Obama family is a part of the people who claim the White House as their own. And the White House should be decorated in a way which represents the Obamas. In particular, as a household with two small children the White House should be decorated in a way which helps to express and form their family’s faith. This means decorating the White House with explicitly Christian decorations (the faith tradition which the Obama’s have always claimed) and with decorations which are true to the family’s tradition itself. A crèche that had been traditionally used by the family would be much more appropriate than a crèche from the Lyndon Johnson administration. An authentic expression of faith in decorating the White House would be refreshing and would set an honest precedent for living into the ideal of the White House as “the people’s house.”

Leia Mais…

Monday, December 7, 2009

Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, a Minaret

Q: What's your reaction to Sunday's decision by voters in Switzerland to ban construction of minarets, the slender towers from which Muslims are called to daily prayers?

Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, A Minaret
I can appreciate the power of symbol, in particular the power of public symbols. I come from South Carolina, a state where the government still flies the confederate battle flag on the grounds of the state house. Through years of heated debate and significant economic boycotts the state has continued to fly this flag, a symbol of hate used to create and promote an environment of fear amongst both the state’s population of color and whites. While one might argue that this prominent display of this flag is merely symbolic, it has real consequences as it takes the existing fears and magnifies them spreading fear and oppression into that state’s future. Yes, symbols have power in our culture.

While it may appear that the Swiss ban on minarets is an attack on an Islamic symbol, it is in of itself a symbolic act. It may appear that this piece of legislation is merely symbolic. This ban is a fearful act and is symbolic in the same way that the continual presence of the confederate battle flag on the state house grounds in Columbia is a fearful act. This ban takes existing, irrational, and hateful fears and magnifies and spreads them. And not only does the fear of Islam spread but Muslim’s fear spreads. And a nation, like a state, is divided and pushed apart as people move into the future in fear.

But we do not have to choose symbolic acts which promote fear. In my religious tradition, as we approach Christmas during the Advent season, there is a sense of hope of what is to come on Christmas. Yet, if we are honest, there is also an element of fear. For us, as Christ comes into the world, Christ brings something new and unknown, something we do not know. But ultimately, we proclaim that when God comes into the world our hopes are fulfilled. God chooses hope over fear. And so, as we face an unknown future we are empowered to choose hope over fear. We are called to symbols of hope, not fear, so that this same hope might be magnified and spread in the face of the fears we all possess.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell: the military & religion

The Fort Hood shootings have raised questions again about how the military should handle the personal religious beliefs of its soldiers, whether they are evangelical Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, and so on. What is the proper role of religion -- and personal religious belief -- in the U.S. armed forces? Should a particular religious affiliation disqualify someone from active military service? How far should the military go to accommodate personal religious beliefs and practices?

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: the military & religion

Ever since the beginning of the first gulf war in the early nineties, derogatory terms like “hajji” and “raghead” have become part of the US military vocabulary in order to dehumanize enemies in the middle east. However, the result of this technique is that not only is the enemy dehumanized, but so are the soldiers themselves. It is the role of religion in the military to humanize the soldier.

Humanity is defined and exists in as much as we are in relationship; with other humans, with creation, and with God. Christians within my tradition confess that humans are created in the image of God. In particular, humans are created in the image of a God who is always in relationship with itself, with the world, and with humans.

And so, when we dehumanize the enemy, we end up dehumanizing ourselves. Yet, militaries around the world are always tempted to dehumanize the enemy and soldier alike in the pursuit of military objectives. But it is the task of religion and faith to keep both the soldier and the enemy human. Doing so, religion forces the military to recognize the full humanity of its service people. When religion humanizes the soldier the military is confronted with the fact that service people’s theological convictions and faith cannot be partitioned off from their military tasks. Rather they are whole people who must deal with both the congruency and incongruence of their faiths and the work they are called to do.

This must be of great concern with a humanized military. The stresses we all face in determining whether our actions and vocation are consistent with our understanding of God are only amplified in a military context. The military must take seriously the significant psychological and theological stresses that its service people endure. Let me be clear here, the heinous actions of Hasan at Fort Hood cannot be understood or blamed on any single factor, let alone the particular stress of rectifying faith convictions with military service. But in the wake of this incident, increasing cases post traumatic stress disorder and military suicides in Iraq the military must take seriously these extreme stresses by providing appropriate treatment and its decision making on all levels.

But a humanized military can be one of our society’s greatest assets. A military filled with soldiers who are in relationship with the other is a military that is truly empowered to stand on the side of the oppressed and defenseless. And when the military does this, it is in right relationship with religion and faith.

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Avoiding the 'D' Word

This week's On Faith Question from the Washington Post:
Proposed health-care reform legislation includes a provision that allows Medicare to pay for "end-of-life" counseling for seniors and their families who request it. The provision -- which Sarah Palin erroneously described as "death panels" for seniors -- nearly derailed President Obama's health-care initiative. Some Republicans still argue that the provision would ration health care for the elderly. Does end-of-life care prolong life or does it prolong suffering? Should it be a part of health-care reform?

Avoiding the ‘D’ Word

Most people in the United State are not prepared to talk about death. Culturally, we are bombarded with ideas and images that only propagate life, seemingly ignoring death. As I watch football on Sunday afternoons, a relentless stream of commercials peddling cures to erectile dysfunction, show images of how we can continue to live life to its fullest, even as death approaches. And on the most popular medical dramas of our times, shows which utilize the intense emotions surrounding death in the medical fields, death is far from a reality. Just look back to Grey’s Anatomy from a couple of seasons ago, when a main character dies, only to be brought back to life through a twisting of plotlines.

I must also admit that religion and Christianity in particular, have not been particularly helpful in preparing people to deal and talk about death. Many churches now hold ‘Celebrations of Life’ rather than funerals. They choose to focus wholly on the person’s life, rather than acknowledge the fact that this person has just died. Even in the quiet conversations in parish halls, congregants will avoid using the ‘d’ word all together, preferring to say that someone has ‘passed on’ rather than to say that someone has died.

It is because of this cultural conditioning to avoid death, even in thought, that ‘end of life’ counseling must be included in any health reform legislation. Dying is a part of living. Unfortunately, most individuals and their families are not prepared to deal with the realities of dying on their own. They need the outside support of medical and palliative care professionals in order to help provide comfort to both the patient and their families in the midst of the stress and anxiety of death with which they are most often not prepared. As Christians, we proclaim a God who is present not only in the exhilarating moments of living, but also in the mundane and even in our dying. End of life counseling can be a source of comfort, reassurance, and presence in a situation where our cultural support leaves us standing alone. Families need this support and by providing it, we point to the God who is present and bringing comfort not only in our living but also in our dying.

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

God is Bringing Goodness; Whether We Believe It or Not

Q: Is there good without God? Can people be good without God? How can people be good, in the moral and ethical sense, without being grounded in some sort of belief in a being which is greater than they are? Where do concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, come from if not from religion? From where do you get your sense of good and evil, right and wrong?

God Brings Goodness, Whether We Believe It or Not

I don’t believe in believe. If ever there has been a word whose theological currency has been exhausted it is “believe.” All I have to do is turn my television to a number local public access channel to find televangelists exhorting me to “just believe” and the goodness of salvation will be mine. It is this tattered and worn understanding of belief which I find to be the crux of this week’s question. ‘Does good only come through believing?”

To this question I must resoundingly respond in the negative. Within my Christian tradition goodness does not come through believing. The focus is not on the works of the faithful, whether that work is believing or feeding the hungry. Rather the focus is on what God does and is doing. And what God is doing is bringing goodness and life in the midst of this world. I believe that God is fully immersed in this world bringing justice, peace, and goodness through those of us who are both saint and sinner, both the dust and the arising.

Yet at the same time, I must profess that what we do believe is important. It shapes the way we view and interact with the world. It is important that I believe that God is fully immersed in this world, because it calls me to full engagement with this world. What we believe determines how we engage the world, but my faith rests in the power of God to bring life and goodness into this world with or without my belief.

As I considered this question my thoughts turned to the Living Room Café. The Living Room Cafe is a non-religious based organization located in Woodlawn on Chicago's south side, and a place where I am occasionally privileged to volunteer. It provides restaurant-style meals, case management, support groups, life-skills training, and financial assistance to homeless men and women. And even though the Living Room Café isn’t an explicitly religious or faith-based organization, it is readily apparent to me that God is moving and bringing goodness through the work of this organization. And at the same time what the Living Room Cafe believes matters. Their belief, that goodness can be found even in and amongst the homeless, marks and shapes their ability to cultivate goodness in the world. God is bringing goodness into the world, whether we believe it or not.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Widespread Panic: Why We Need Hate Crimes Legislation

Congress is expected to expand federal hate crimes laws to add "sexual orientation" to a list that already includes "race, color, religion or national origin." Is this necessary? Should there be special laws against crimes motivated by intolerance, bigotry and hatred? Isn't a crime a crime?

Widespread Panic: Why We Need Hate Crimes Legislation

Hate crimes cause wide spread panic and fear. Christians must work to check such fears with peace and hope. Special legislation recognizing these fear mongering crimes is one way to oppose such terror.

Compared to other crimes, hate crimes are perpetrated because of the identity of the victim, whether their race, sexual identity, color, national origin, or religion. And as a result, there is more than the individual victim of the individual act of hate. All people of that particular group are affected. They must live in fear that they might become victims solely because of who they are.

Hate crime is terrorism. This is perhaps the best example to illumine the seriousness with which we must take hate crime. In the events of September 11th, thousands of Americans were murdered because of their identity, because of who they were. And yet, they were not the only victims. Rather the whole United States, Americans everywhere, were inflicted with terror and live in fear, still to this day, because of this crime of hate.

Hate crimes based on race, sexual identity, color, or religion act in the same way. Hate crimes inflict unchecked fear and terror in the populations that see themselves aligned with these groups. They cause wide spread emotional damage. They cause people to fear because of who they are, because of how they were made.

In the face of such anxiety and fear, Christians must work for peace and hope. Like the God who created life and order out of the primordial chaos, Christians must work to bring life and peace against fear and terror. Laws specifically against hate crimes are one way of doing so.

Christians must take very seriously crimes perpetrated because of someone’s deeply embedded identity. In our creation stories we claim that humanity was created in the image of God. There is a unity with all of humanity being made in the image of God. Perhaps there will come a day when there will be no need for specific hate crime laws. That day will come when we truly recognize our unity, when all of humanity feels threatened by violence anywhere. We must recognize our common humanity, that we are all made in the image of our creator. And that violence anywhere is a threat against humanity everywhere.

But that day has not arrived. Here on the south side of Chicago, school children are continuing to die in the streets. Fear and anxiety spreads uncheck amongst the public school children of this city. And yet this violence is seen only as a problem to be solved, not as a threat against us all. Currently, that story repeats itself; here in Cook County and around the world. Until the day comes when we are just as aghast by crimes against the other as with crimes against ourselves, we need hate crime legislation.

Leia Mais…