Social Justice

Blind Piety

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equals human first runPresident Trump’s America is looking less and less American, and totally un-Christian. With the flurry of controversial executive orders our new President has shown the effects of something with which many Christians in the West seem to suffer: blind piety. All in the name of morals and American values, with a strong dash of dishonesty and fear-mongering, our new President shreds the image of America around the world and moves us farther from the Christian values of justice, mercy and love for our neighbors. President Trump road a wave of this blind self-centered piety and unreasoning fear all the way to the White House. Now some of the most vulnerable people on the planet are beginning to pay the price.

What is blind piety? Piety is defined as a quality of being religious or reverent. Blind piety is a religiosity that ignores its negative and hurtful impact on the people around it. Jesus actually condemned it in his own day, and an apt name would also be shallow piety or even mean piety. Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day who acted piously in vowing their income to the support of the Temple, but in doing so actually neglected their own aging parents who were in need. (Matthew 15) Now, I always wondered at that passage thinking, “How will something like that ever find a dynamic equivalent, today?” Well, ask and receive. It’s been played out on our national stage just this week. With an executive order that piously calls on abortion as a reason to cut our nation’s international help to some of the most needful and most defenseless women and families around the world our President has endangered lives, and many religious people are applauding and smiling. Blind piety. Mean religion. Just as in the day of Jesus, religion used to deny people our assistance is an affront to God.

sighing jesusAt another time (Luke 14) Jesus chastises the hypocrisy of the religious thinkers who would refuse to help a fellow human being because of the religious obligations of not working on the Sabbath, but of course they would rescue a child or an animal in sudden distress. The hypocrisy is staggering, and it’s playing out before our eyes in this day and age. Our leaders are turning away from the most needful and endangered children on the planet, and mantling themselves in faith and patriotism while doing it! The President continues to narrate his actions with the familiar and completely dishonest alternative facts about a lack of vetting and the danger represented by refugees. He targets Muslim nations and vilifies and criminalizes the most vulnerable people on the planet. He speaks of walling us off from others, as though we are not all connected human beings with a shared and mutual life on this planet. These actions are not Christian, American or moral.

Why did Jesus condemn those religious leaders of his day? It was for what they had neglected: people. People are at the core of religious law, as he named that core: justice and mercy and faith. (Matthew 23) Jesus will later sum up the Law in two expressions of love: love for God and love for neighbor. (Matthew 25) The problem is not that religion is against people, but these people were misunderstanding their religion. We are guilty in the same way today when we turn from justice, mercy and faith to hide behind fear, exclusion and dishonesty. Some have chosen a blind piety that neglects people.

imageThe sad truth is that these Christians in the West are turning from one of our oldest and deepest religious values: the heart of a stranger. Far back in our oldest Jewish religious roots as Christians is this amazing idea of identifying with the endangered. God gave Israel strict rules for protecting the alien and stranger among them, for blessing them and for serving them. The people of Israel were reminded of their own time as strangers in a strange land, and therefore they should hold to the heart of a stranger. (Exodus 22 & 23, Deuteronomy 24) That is an amazing statement and command of empathy and service. Until the incarnation of Christ into human flesh I cannot think of a more identificational statement in scripture.

These current events call for our silence to be broken and our voices raised. This political landscape suddenly shifts to assault our deepest religious values and we cannot withhold our condemnation of these executive actions. Let us be courageous and true. Let us be vocal and honest. Let us speak against these executive actions and their false religiouslity, blind piety and alternative facts. Let us be as courageous as Jesus to speak for justice, mercy and faith. That courage got him ridiculed, cast out and killed, but most of us face far less danger in our privileged status here in our own country. Privilege is never a license to ignore injustice, forget mercy or live faithlessly in our own time.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Todd
(to the greater glory of God)

Praying for Syria

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love everyoneI was driving to work this morning, to the sounds of my radio and the BBC World News, no bombs, no gunshots, no screams. The program was about Syria and the experience of everyday folks still trying to make a life in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

My soul is heavy and burdened for the thousands killed in that conflict, a death toll estimated to have almost reached half a million people as of February. The number of refugees has been placed at 4.5 million. Let this quote sink in for a moment: “More than 85 percent of the country is living in poverty, with close to 7 in 10 Syrians stuck in extreme poverty — unable to afford essentials like food or water. At the start of the war in 2011, joblessness stood at 14.9 percent. By the end of last year, it surged to 52.9 percent.” from the Syrian Center for Policy Research.

These victims of a brutal war are women, men and children, our neighbors. Love them. Each and every one of them is a human being made in God’s image, carrying the value and worth that God has placed within each of us. They are God’s beloved. They have died and they are hurting, and so I pray with them, today.

Pray with me for peace to break lose in Syria. Pray for the fighters and the rebels, the soldiers and the leaders. Pray for the mothers and fathers, the children and the entire nation to know peace. Pray for the souls of the dead and the tomorrows of the living. Stop and desire in your heart the best for them and the richest of choice blessings. Sit with me and we will bend our wills to love them deeply.

I learned an East African proverb from our mentors at seminary years ago, “When the elephants fight it’s the grass which suffers.” Pray that the love of war, the pride of hate and the tendency to violence may be overcome. Pray that the winds and ravages of war may end and that the Syrian people can again stand straight and tall in the warmth of God’s sun.

Believe that our prayers are heard, and given any chance speak for peace! Speak for the blessing of the Syrian people. Speak for the refugees. Believe that our prayers are heard, and given any chance act for peace! Find an agency that is helping the people of Aleppo, and give. Find a group that is serving the refugees, and donate. In this way we show our faith that God hears us and we offer ourselves to be part of the answer.

All things to God’s glory and the blessing of God’s world.

AMDG, Todd

Making Amends, Changing the Future

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new human logo button black272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?

“In 1838, the Jesuit priests who ran the country’s top Catholic university needed money to keep it alive. Now comes the task of making amends.”
 16, 2016

This is an important story for the Catholic Church, for Georgetown University and for our whole nation. Our deep historical sin of human trafficking, and the need to make amends for that sin, are not simply political or financial issues, they are the stories of fellow human beings with names and families that need to be told and owned by everyone in America, today. Even if you are not descended from human beings sold and exchanged as property, it is not so difficult to empathize and imagine the generational pain and impact of these kinds of wrongs in our history.

Today and tomorrow we need to be so much more aware of every person’s dignity, and also for yesterday, we need to be aware of a debt owed to those who carried more than their share of the cost at arriving where we are today as a nation. If first responders and soldiers are heroes for serving our country, and I believe that they are, then so also are the named and unnamed, remembered and forgotten slaves who toiled and served the economic engines at the birth of our nation. They may have not chosen their fate, but we can still honor their existence, repent the sins which enslaved them, and give them and their descendants their due. Honor them. Never forget them. Making amends is not about changing history, because that is something we cannot do. Making amends to them and to their families is about changing our now, and changing our future. That is something we can and must do.

This is an important story.
AMDG, Todd

Transgender Day of Awareness

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Rainbow human logo buttonIt’s November 20th and the 16th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. If it’s a new idea to you, to mark this day, then I invite you to take a long painful look at the violence and rejection faced by our transgender family and friends, neighbors across our nation and world, every single day.

Especially today we’re remembering that our words feed into a larger mass of intolerance, fear and ignorance that will metastasize into physical violence, injury and death.

I’ll emphasize two important things from my last statement:
1) I believe we all carry some responsibility for the violence and deaths when we speak rejection, speak hatred and speak intolerant judgment toward transgender people. Our words can either support and build or diffuse and remove the hatred and fear toward our transgender neighbors, and…
2) Violence will happen toward our transgender neighbors; this is not an if but a when situation. This means it is crucial that we work toward a safer world for these precious, valuable fellow humans.

I invite you to make a conscious change when you speak of people, especially our transgender neighbors around the country and our world. I humbly offer these suggestions, believing them to be moral and needed responses:
1) No more jokes about transgender. It’s often a terrifying and painful situation for someone to contemplate or begin transitioning. It’s also often a time of joy and relief. They are seeing counselors and doctors and undertaking major change in their lives… they don’t need any more stress or trouble from us.
2) Let’s educate ourselves on the violence. Let’s dare to look at the numbers and the problem of violence toward our transgender neighbors and ask why it is happening and how we can help put it to an end.
3) Don’t spread rumors and false assumptions about transgender people. I can’t help but think of groups who spread fear and false ideas about transgender people, like the negative ads most recently in Houston which portrayed transgender people as opportunistic sexual predators. This is disgusting and not needed in our society.
4) Simply speak to and about people with dignity, all people. This isn’t as they say rocket science. When speaking of a transgender person, give them the courtesy and dignity of kindness. When speaking to a transgender person, give them the courtesy and dignity of kindness. Your grandmother will be proud.

all that mattersWe don’t have a Transgender Day of Remembrance to set our transgender neighbors apart, but to highlight the need to work together toward safer and more dignified inclusion. As human beings, as fellow citizens and as people of faith, it is our responsibility to participate in making this world a safe place for all our neighbors.We share this world; let’s share it responsibly and joyfully.

AMDG, Todd

Also…
~ My post on November 20th 2014 Transgender Day of Remembrance with some amazing video footage.

~ My post on the problem of sexuality and violence.

~ My post earlier this year hoping for more unity in our humanity.

The Hashtag Matters

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black lives matter banner at crib   Black lives matter. I find it hard to understand why we have to elaborate so much on what this statement actually means. It means that our black neighbors matter. Our black friends matter. Our black family members matter. Following the suggestion of a congregant and leader here at CiB I made a #BlackLivesMatter banner for the lawn out front, to express our solidarity with all our black neighbors and to express our solidarity with a local church that had its own #BlackLivesMatter banner defaced multiple times.

When I got an email asking what I thought of this idea, making a banner for our church lawn, I thought immediately of another local church banner that was defaced. Back in the last couple of years a sister church up on Old Georgetown Rd, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, had a banner asking for us to stand against gun violence defaced by the removal of gun. Really people, words matter.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was born of a very real and present fear among our black neighbors that their lives don’t matter or don’t matter as much as other lives. That fear is born of many actual and verifiable things like:

2nd welcome banner at crib   And if that weren’t enough, too many of their white neighbors just shrug and blame the victim for these inequalities and offer crass advice about too often playing the race card. And of course, we can always find an exception to a rule. There are black Americans who have not faced as much racism or negative attention from neighbors and law enforcement. But even as we are glad that some may not face such trouble, we are not granted a license to ignore the experience of so many who do. Finding a black neighbor without this fear does not erase the fear in the lives of others, just as one police officer behaving badly does not mean all police officers are bad. The hashtag is not just spin. The hashtag is asking if we care about our neighbor’s fear and pain. The hashtag invites us to come together around a truth that cannot be denied: black lives do matter. The hashtag doesn’t divide; it asks us to come together to put meaningful action behind our beliefs of equality and justice.

It seems we do have to say it: #BlackLivesMatter does not mean that white lives don’t, or brown lives don’t, or blue lives don’t (murder of police officers is tragically spiking this year), or that any other lives don’t matter. It simply means that black lives do matter, for real. It doesn’t mean they matter more, but does for sure address the fear that some believe that they matter less. The hashtag was born for a reason, with cause. It didn’t come from nowhere. It came from fear, doubt and experience.

It would be amazing if we didn’t need the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag! It would be an answer to prayers! It would be a great if our neighbors no longer lived in the fear and doubt that they would be aggressively policed and killed without cause. It would be wonderful if they that justice was also for them and theirs. It would be fabulous if their fears and concerns were heard and acted upon. The hashtag dreams of that world! Let it do its work. Let it remind us that listening to one another and taking one another seriously is important. Let it remind us that there are people behind hashtags, people that matter.

People of faith of any color should not be afraid of #BlackLivesMatter, but should embrace it’s truth: black lives do indeed matter. To become part of the solution we have to listen to the voices expressing the fear and doubt, and the pain and anger. Denying the voices of our neighbors who are hurting simply denies us and them the opportunity to begin the healing.

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   Escalate peace. The hashtag is not a call to violence or to more fighting. The hashtag is a call to step back and view one another with dignity and respect, black and white and blue and every shade around. We have to stop escalating the violence and fear and begin to build bridges and relationships between communities that will foster cooperation and growth. We can do this. We must do this. And the people of the book who claim the One who said “my peace I leave you” must work to establish this vision in the soil of very continent, nation and community of our beautiful shared planet.

AMDG, Todd

Reframing Our Expectations for One Another

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all that matters

Did you see the prank video floating through our Facebook streams recently about who helps a nicely dressed business man who falls and who helps an apparently homeless man who falls? The video opens many questions for us and itself seems to focus mainly on the appearances of the two men… I immediately wanted to go deeper with the video. If you haven’t seen it, here it is…

Perhaps like me, you live in and among a homeless population. We have many homeless folks in downtown Bethesda and more and more you can’t catch a red light on many main streets without a homeless or needful person asking for help while you wait. Homeless neighbors sit by us at Starbucks, greet us at the Metro and some will come and sit in our church building during the day as a quiet respite from the street. For the most part I believe we have created a different set of rules for interacting with our homeless neighbors, and that is a large part of what is happening in the video.

I dug around to see if my thoughts were online anywhere, and I at least found this bit on social interactions that better defined the thing I think we’re talking about in this case of this video… (the bolded emphasis in mine)

In sociology, social interaction is a dynamic sequence of social actions between individuals (or groups) who modify their actions and reactions due to actions by their interaction partner(s). Social interactions can be differentiated into accidental, repeated, regular and regulated.

A social interaction is a social exchange between two or more individuals. These interactions form the basis for social structure and therefore are a key object of basic social inquiry and analysis. Social interaction can be studied between groups of two (dyads), three (triads) or larger social groups.

Social structures and cultures are founded upon social interactions. By interacting with one another, people design rules, institutions and systems within which they seek to live. Symbols are used to communicate the expectations of a given society to those new to it, either children or outsiders. Through this broad schema of social development, one sees how social interaction lies at its core.

Source: Boundless. “Understanding Social Interaction.” Boundless Sociology. Boundless, 03 Jul. 2014. Retrieved 06 Feb. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/sociology/textbooks/boundless-sociology-textbook/social-interaction-5/understanding-social-interaction-50/understanding-social-interaction-314-5912/

I believe the business man in the video represents someone living by our social rules, within acceptable systems and institutions. So when he falls, there is an immediate need among others to restore him. He better represents what we have invested ourselves in, an acceptable life by normative social standards. The homeless man? He is presumed to be living outside those systems and institutions, and therefore his fall has less impact on the passersby. They are not invested in him already, and so his immediate predicament is less impactful for them. In fact, he represents a threat for many people, either an immediate threat to their safety or a more cosmic threat to our presumed rules for living.

Am I trying to explain away the video and lessen it’s moral message and impact? No way! I want to take it’s message and come up with a deeper message than just, “Yo, help a brother off the curb!” As a human, I need to intentionally invest in my neighbors, even when they are living and doing life outside of my normative bounds, rules and institutions. Otherwise, I risk developing the kinds of blinders that allow me to walk past a fallen person without helping.

As a human who tries to operate out of a specific faith orientation, I am further challenged by following a religious leader who personally rejected and moved outside of many normative societal rules and regulations of his time. Yes, Jesus.

I’ve grown up hearing sermon after sermon about Jesus touching the untouchable, but has sermon after sermon changed any of us? Have we been equipped with eyes and understanding that allow us to risk stepping into the lives of those outside the social norm? The answer is a qualified and limited yes… I know and have known many amazing human beings, inside and outside of faith communities, who routinely step over those social lines and engage neighbors living outside the bounds of social norms. The answer is also a qualified and limited no… because many of us still operate almost exclusively inside the norms, some even religion’izing the social norms to become matters of faith. Don’t know what that means? Try to find the verse in the Bible that says, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” (Hint: It ain’t there.)

If I’m being a bit too esoteric for you here, think of it this way… when a clean-cut businessman falls, there is very little cost to helping him… his clothes are less likely to stink or to get me dirty, he probably won’t ask me for money, and after a nice verbal gesture of appreciation we’ll both go on about our day with very little time lost. However, operating on our usual assumptions about people who live outside our normative rules and systems, I wonder if helping a homeless man will get me dirty, if he’ll smell bad, if he’ll ask me for money, if he’ll have a mental illness and hurt me, if he’ll want to talk and take up a bunch of my time… the assumptions go on, and those assumptions increase my projected cost to any social engagement with that person. Seriously, it takes a while to say it, but I think we routinely make these mental and spiritual calculations in a nanosecond.

Let’s pay up. Let’s intentionally reframe some of our social rules so that we are prepared to pay the cost of stepping outside the easy social norms and engage people less like us. It makes us more human. It makes us more faithful.

Just the other day I tried to give a friendly greeting to a certain local homeless man I often see at my favorite Starbucks. It’s one of the things I do, with homeless or well-off-seeming locals… I say hi and introduce myself. We’re neighbors after all. This particular homeless man wanted nothing to do with me. He rudely rebuffed me, loudly proclaiming that he didn’t want to talk to me, see me or shake my extended hand. And, it was a little embarrassing for me.

Now, at that moment of rebuff, I have a choice: 1) I can narrow my social rules and interactions, letting that experience confirm assumptions and stereotypes about “certain people,” and I can be very less inclined to try again to greet someone who is doing life outside my norms, or 2) I can pay the cost of that interaction, a blush and a rebuff, and offering a prayer for the pain and hurt this man is obviously carrying, I can prepare myself for loving the next neighbor to come along in my little sphere of life.

You see, Jesus did not touch the untouchable. Please, hear that… Jesus did not touch the untouchable. For Jesus all people were touchable, worthy of touch, deserving of touch and imminently desirable to touch. He wanted to engage them and was willing to pay the price, which could sometimes be high. He was whispered about, condemned and made fun of for engaging some folks, and in one memorable event he helps ten people, with only a single person taking the time to thank him.

Now, if you don’t live in a place with a present homeless population, I bet there still people not like you… I bet there are people who seem to live outside your rules and norms. Can you pay the cost of loving them? Can you move outside the norms of what you are most comfortable with and find them touchable? Can I? Or as our more grammatical gifted friends would correct me, “Will I?”

AMDG, Todd

Why We Must Prosecute Abusive Police Officers

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national march on police violenceWhy would we want to prosecute abusive police officers? Because we aren’t talking about whether all police officers are good or bad. They come in both varieties and we must prosecute the bad ones to respect and help the good ones. We need to recognize the difference so we can better appreciate the good and put an end to the bad.

I recently shared a post from Father James Martin S.J. on Facebook in which he points out that holding a bad officer responsible for abusive behavior is not to be against all officers in general, but against abuse. I’ll go a step further and say that’s it’s a necessity to hold bad officers accountable so that we further differentiate between the two. It is disrespectful in the extreme to every good upstanding police officer to let any overzealous, abusive or criminal officer get away with violence, much less with murder.

There are often stories of police officers who are amazing! I revel in those stories and I enjoy seeing and sharing them on my social media streams. I appreciate so much every officer who takes the job of policing our communities seriously and serves us with their best. Thank God for good police officers! Here are a couple of recent inspiring stories, officers who go the extra mile for people: With Food & Mercy and With Simple Courtesy.

I respect police officers so much. But I’m also going to downtown DC on Saturday to march with everyone else who gathers to protest police brutality. I don’t march because all police officers are bad. I march with families who have lost loved ones to bad policing. I march in memory of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, whose lives matter, and whose lives should not have been taken, and whose deaths are real and terrible.

~ I will march because of the lack of indictments for the officers who killed Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner (and so many others). Those missing indictments should scare every single person in this country, black, white, brown, yellow, male, female, etc etc. Can we be so dismissive of gun violence and the brutality of being choked to death that we just go on with our lives? Can two unarmed U.S. citizens be killed on our streets and our justice system simply choose not to address their deaths? Changes are needed.

~ I will march because so many of my friends here in their own country feel disrespected, disenfranchised, targeted and unsafe. Good good people are hurting because we haven’t learned to live together better than this. They carry a burden every day and every time they enter the public arena. I march on Saturday to show my solidarity with them. I march because I love them.

~ I will march because peace and a better tomorrow cannot come from simply ignoring the problems of today. We cannot dismiss this conversation away or ignore the pain and pleas of our neighbors just because it’s more sensational (or self-justifying) to focus on the rioters and looters.

~ And finally, I will march out of hope and a dream of peace, not out of anger or seeking violence. I’m not looking for a fight, but for an honest recognition that we have some real work ahead of us to bring justice to all our people. I will head downtown Saturday with a prayer on my heart and lips that God keeps the violent at bay and holds us all in check, so that voices might be easier heard than dismissed.

You don’t have to march on Saturday, but I sure wish you would. I sure wish you’d raise your voice with all the hurting people who cry for justice, for explanations, for hope for their children. I wish we’d all choose to work harder to speak for one another, seeing ourselves as our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper and the whole human family as our kin and beloved ones. We do not have separate futures in this country, but one shared and connected journey. Our children and grandchildren need us to secure the freedom, equality, safety and justice of that future in every way we can. We’ll only fully realize that hope when we work together.

AMDG, Todd