Martin 50 Years Later

Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago.   Murdered as he confronted systemic injustice fueled by racism.  His civil rights advocacy led to the end of legal segregation and enforced voter suppression. What hasn’t changed is the persistence of racism.

On March 18th Stephon Clark was shot by police in his grandparents backyard in Sacramento.  Police were called to the neighborhood because of reports of a man breaking car windows. Two officers saw Stephon and fired 22 shots, eight hitting and killing him.  They thought he had a gun.  What he actually had in his hand was a cell phone.  Initial autopsy reports that the first six shots struck Stephon in the back. https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/3/21/17149092/stephon-clark-police-shooting-sacramento

The shooting is currently under review.  If this is like most police shootings, no charges will be filed against the officers.  What this highlights is a racial bias in the so-called judicial system, against people of color, particularly against young men.  People of color make up a disproportionate percent of the prison population. People of color serve longer prison terms for the same offense as compared to a white person.

This was true in Dr. King’s day.  It’s true now.

Racism is also at work in our current political climate.  Scratch below the surface of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of President Trump and Jeff Sessions and you’ll find racism.  In Mr. Trump’s world view, Mexicans are ‘murderers, rapists and drug dealers’.  In this world view we need to militarize our border.  We need to fear ‘the other’.  In almost every case ‘the other’ is a person of color.

Dr. King was martyred because he stood over against the fear and hatred of his time.  He was demonized by his opponents.  The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to continue Dr. King’s principles.  They too are demonized by their opponents.

So why do we talk about Dr. King’s dream  5o years later after his death?  Why didn’t the dream die with him?

Simply put, because he offers truth.  The truth that ‘hate is to great a price to pay’.  The truth that ‘only selfless love can make an enemy into a friend’.

Racism is a shape shifter.  It takes many forms.

Yet it has no place in a healthy society.  No place in a healthy person.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man guided by a source of wisdom that is eternal.  That comes from the very presence of God.

On one occasion King received word that his home in Montgomery had been bombed.  After reassuring himself about the safety of his wife and baby he had to confront the rage of a crowd bent on retaliation.  Dr. King said:

We cannot solve this problem of racism through  retaliatory violence.  We must meet violence with nonviolence.  Remember the words of Jesus, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.”…We must love our white brothers, our enemies,  no matter what they do to us.  We must  make them know that we loved them…We must meet hate with love.’

Martin King’s love was not passive.  It organized.  It confronted.  It persevered in the face of injustice.  His message offered a new way of being.

Dr. King didn’t believe in ‘us’ and them’.  For Martin there was only ‘us’.  May it be so.

 

 

 

Refusing to be Silent

Fabiano de Oliveira, a Brazilian man detained by immigration officials, was allowed to come home.   Karah de Oliveira, his wife, found out around 2:30 p.m. Friday that he was being released, when her husband called from the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, the maximum security prison where he’s been for the past month.

The family, who lives in Beverly, MA, were reunited at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Burlington, Massachusetts on Friday night. It was the first time Fabiano was able to hold his wife and their five-year old son.  The family is reunited as Fabiano goes through a legal process, hopefully resulting in permanent residency.

The de Oliveira family live in the city I call home.  Fabiano’s story is that of countless others.  He left poverty in Brazil in 2005 and came with the dream of making a better life.  He worked hard to send money back to his family.

He and Karah (a life long resident of Beverly)  met in 2010 and married in 2016.  They have a child.  Fabiano has worked hard, paid taxes, kept out of trouble.

By all accounts he is a loving family man, a good employee.  The kind of guy you’d be happy to have as a neighbor.

The only problem is he lacks the proper documents.  This makes him illegal in the eyes of the Trump administration and resulted in his arrest and detention for the last month.  Arrested ironically when he went to an ICE office to fill out paper work for legal status.

That he was released is great news.  But the reality is that tens of thousands of others with similar stories remain incarcerated.  Most like Fabiano are loving parents, hard workers, good neighbors.  The truth is that the rate of criminal activity is far lower for undocumented immigrants, than those of us who are citizens.

On Saturday a dozen of us gathered at the ICE office in Burlington for a prayer vigil.  We had heard that morning that Fabiano had been released.  Our vigil continued for those who remained incarcerated.

Imagine our surprise when Fabiano and Karah showed up to say ‘thank you’ for supporting them and ‘thank you’ for continuing to stand with and for other families  being torn apart by the current immigration policy.

It has been said that the nation we become is determined by regular citizens like you and me.  We stand vigil for those who are most vulnerable.  We refuse to be silent.  We refuse to be complicit with an unjust immigration system.

America has always been as much an idea as a place.  A place where if  people work hard and respect others, they find a welcome.

Mr.Trump is putting in place an infrastructure of prisons and an increase of ICE officers, that will result in a more than doubling of those detained or deported by the end of 2018.  The capacity for annual arrests and deportations will soon reach 540,000.

Each of these numbers has a face.  Each has a story.  Each life detained and deported has a ripple effect that affects countless others.  That tears at the fabric of a community.

Here in the small city of Beverly, Massachusetts, we got a taste of what this ruthless policy looks like. It was visited upon one of our own families.

That enough of us stood up and said ‘no’, ‘not in my name’ gives me hope.

The nation we become requires constant vigilance and persistence.   There are many more families who look for people of conscience to stand with them.  To stand up for the American dream.

In the Company of Dreamers

I spent this week attending a conference on immigration hosted by PICO http://www.piconetwork.org  We gathered as a faith-based group of 110 activists from 13 states working for humane immigration reform.

Several workshops were led by Dreamers.  The Dreamers I met are educated young people,  who move effortlessly between English and Spanish.  Each is deeply committed to the values that we as a nation aspire to: Hard work, family, faith, responsibility to community, respect for others.

I heard their stories.  Listened to their hopes and dreams.  I heard too their fear of being deported, of being separated from family and friends.  Of being forced to return to a land they don’t know.

I was inspired by Jennifer who came to this country at thirteen years of age.  Her parents crossed the border without papers, fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras.  In the eighteen years since, she graduated from college, has a full-time job, pays taxes and is raising two beautiful children who are U.S citizens.

Jennifer is a Dreamer. One of the 800,000 who were brought to the United States by their parents as children.


In 2012 President Obama, as a result of Congress’ inability to act, passed an executive order (DACA) giving them temporary legal status (renewable every two years).  DACA allowed these young people to go to college, get a job, serve in the military.   They became known as ‘dreamers’.

In September 2017 President Trump rescinded that order.  As of March 5th 2018 the Dreamers will lose their protection and be subject to deportation.

In the meantime, the Republican led Congress is playing a cruel game.   Dreamers are used as pawns for their political maneuvering.

In recent days Republicans led by President Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have become more hard line.   They’ve tied the fate of the young people to further militarization of the border with Mexico,  further restrictions on immigration and an increased budget for deportation.

The budget includes adding beds in detention facilities.  Their goal is to increase from the current 39,000 beds nationwide to 51, 379 beds by the end of 2018.  Each bed on average is used by ten individuals over the course of the year.  As a person is detained and then deported it frees up the bed for a new detainee.

Do the math and the goal of ICE is to ramp up to 513, 790 deportations per year (double the average in recent years).  Each of these 513, 790 people have a name. Each has a story.  Each has a dream.

One of those names at risk, is my friend Jennifer and her two children.

It’s been said that ‘the one who controls the narrative, has the power‘.  Mr. Trump and his supporters cast immigrants in the most negative way.  He has referred to brown and black immigrants as coming from ‘shithole countries’.  He whips up a crowd saying that ‘Mexicans are rapists, murderers and drug dealers’.

This narrative is racist and fear based.

But I believe in a different narrative. That the United States has always been more than a place on the map.  We are a country of ideas and ideals to which we aspire.  One of those ideals is that we are a nation of immigrants.  That we make room for people of all backgrounds, who aspire to work hard, raise a family and contribute to the overall good. 

A new friendship, Kent and Ruben. Kent was born in the United States. Ruben in Haiti. Both call USA, home.

 

This is the story I believe in. This is the story that makes America truly great.  This is the story I will stand up for.

How about you?  What story do you believe in?  What story will you tell?

Each generation must decide which story we believe in.  Which ideals we will live by.

 

 

 

 

 

Stories from the March: We Belong to One Another

The Women’s March https://www.womensmarch.com on the day following President Trump’s Inauguration was a grassroots movement that brought millions into the streets (in cities across the nation and world).  Each person who marched has their own story. 

This is the second of two ‘guest blog’ installments by my friend and pastoral colleague, Julie Flowers https://www.fbcbeverly.org/ In the week since the March, President Trump has already written a flurry of executive orders and signaled plans for new laws.  Changes that I believe will erode our core values as a nation. 

Democracy is a fragile enterprise and requires that each generation give voice to and protect those core values that define who we want to be.  I invite you to read Julie’s story, reflect on what you hold dear and get involved.  

Installment 2: In Which We March

(Intersectionality, Connection, Anti-Racism, Feminism, and a Moment That Could be a Movement)

 We followed the crush of people up the stairs and out of the Metro station, stepping out into the overcast Washington, D.C. morning. Elisabeth and I paused, trying to get our bearings. There were people everywhere. There were street vendors calling to us, selling hats, shirts, and buttons; there were crowds moving in a throng toward the National Mall; there were Women’s March volunteers in orange mesh vests, answering questions and pointing the way toward where the marchers were gathering: down toward the Mall, past the vast island of port-a-potties, a chanting, cheering, sign-holding crowded that already, even at this early morning hour, stretched for city blocks. Taking it all in, Elisabeth and I set out toward the Mall, as chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” echoed just beyond us.

photo-womens-march-4

We made our way, merging into the crowd we had seen in the distance. Now we were not outsiders looking in – we were one with this mass of people, closely packed into the streets. The crowd was mostly women, although there were certainly a large number of men – of all ages, all races, and with varied stories. Some were there in wheelchairs. Others walked with a walker or a cane. Some clutched the hands of young children or wore babies in carriers, securely strapped to their bodies. And we were a part of it.

All around us, we saw signs – “Look at that one!” we would call out to one another, as we noticed a favorite. We took pictures. Everyone was talking, strangers in the crowd becoming friends, even if only for those few moments. We were united in a common cause – resisting hate and standing up for women, for our POC sisters and brothers, for immigrants, for Muslims, for the environment, for education, for freedom.

photo-womens-march-3

Something happened, there in that place. For those moments, in that unique time, in a crowd that could have been pushy and angry with one another, annoyed at being packed in too tight and too close, annoyed at being hungry and thirsty and tired, the opposite happened. People saw one another. People worked together to make sure a wheelchair could easily pass through. Young people stopped to help older people down a curb or over a low fence. A middle-aged woman led a young woman who looked faint out of the tightest part of the crowd by the hand. They had only met moments before when the older woman noticed the younger one was struggling, and now, in this place, they were friends – and more than that – they belonged to one another.

There was an attention to and a care for the mutual well-being of those in that crowd. I saw people look one another in the eye. I heard people offer words of care, kindness, and support. I saw countless people in one area open bags and produce a wide array of snacks for a little boy who was hungry.

Lilla Watson, an Indigenous woman and artist from Australia, said:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.”

In those moments, crowded together there on the National Mall, spilling over onto city street upon city street, there was the spark of the realization that our liberation is, indeed, bound up with one another. We were a sea of stories; a sea of backgrounds; a sea of experiences, and we could not – and we cannot – rise without one another.

Feminism – and make no mistake, the feminist movement has room for women and men – must be an intersectional endeavor if we truly want to bring about our shared liberation. Intersectionality, a term first coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw is a means to express the reality that women experience oppression in varying configurations and degrees of intensity.

There is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism. For example, black women face both sexism and racism as they navigate their day-to-day lives. Or a black lesbian woman faces racism, sexism, and homophobia. Intersectionality is the term given to acknowledging those layers and unique lived experiences of women.

To forge a way forward, to truly resist the hateful rhetoric and damaging and dangerous actions of Donald Trump’s administration, we must acknowledge that our liberation is bound up in one another’s. As a white woman, too, I am committed to acknowledging and checking the privilege that the system affords me for nothing more than the color of the skin into which I was born, and to inviting the voices and the experiences and the leadership of my sisters of color to come forward. Women and men of color in this nation have been fighting and marching and chanting and organizing against a system that oppresses and disenfranchises them for hundreds of years.

photo-womens-march-5

For many of us, waking up in despair on November 9th and all that has unfolded since, has been but a small taste of what it’s been like to stand in their shoes in this nation. Respect for their voices, their experiences, and their struggle is imperative if we wish to move ahead and win liberation against tyranny and hate for all of us. If we wish to move ahead and save our planet. If we wish to move ahead and protect women’s rights to make choices about their own bodies. If we wish to move ahead and fight for equal rights and dignity and justice for all people.

Our liberation is bound up with each other. Divided, we will fall. There is no question.

The women’s marches – not only in Washington, D.C. but all across the nation and around the world – were a moment. But there is, within that moment, the power and the potential to unleash a movement. A beautiful, powerful, intersectional, anti-racist, feminist, justice-seeking, movement.

The chants of the march echo still in my ears: “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

May it be so.

If you want to read more about feminism, intersectionality, and the Women’s March, here are a few resources (not intended to exhaustive in any way!) to get you started:

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/why-our-feminism-must-be-intersectional/

http://www.vox.com/identities/2017/1/17/14267766/womens-march-on-washington-inauguration-trump-feminism-intersectionaltiy-race-class

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/intersectionality-womens-march-on-washington_us_5883e2bce4b096b4a23248bb

Saying No to a Bully

Donald Trump the billionaire real estate mogul is polling 38% in the upcoming Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire. His closest competitor is 14%. He has risen in the polls while fanning flames of fear toward immigrants from Mexico and Muslim refugees from the Middle East.

Mr. Trump’s hate speech has long been the bread and butter of political opportunists. During World War 2 American families of Japanese ancestry were placed in concentration camps. Racism fueled by fear provided easy sound bites for American political leaders to subjugate one’s neighbors. A progressive president like Franklin Roosevelt was not immune and signed the order imprisoning families.

During the Great Depression and again in the mid 1950’s (Operation Wetback instituted by President Eisenhower), tens of thousands of Americans of Mexican descent were forced to return to Mexico. Some were undocumented, some were naturalized citizens and others born in the USA. Parts of our nation were so toxic that many felt they had no alternative but to move to Mexico.

This is all to say that Donald Trump knows it is a proven formula, to pander to the worst instincts of the human condition. He plays on fears and ignorance and rises in the polls. To their credit many leaders within his own party have challenged Mr. Trump’s statements.

What are people of good will to do, in the face of such hate speech?

A hopeful example is found in the words of a pastor in Nazi Germany, during the lead up to World War 2. His name was Martin Niemoller. He was part of an underground movement of Christians in Germany, known as the Confessing Church. While much of the Christian church was silent and even complicit, this group actively worked against the Nazis.

Pastor Niemoller in the early days of the Nazi political party was a supporter of Hitler. As the Nazi movement grew Niemoller renounced Hitler and became an outspoken critic. He was ultimately sent to a concentration camp from 1937 – 1945 and barely survived.

Martin Niemoller

He regretted that he hadn’t acted sooner. From prison he wrote: “First they came for the socialist but I wasn’t a socialist. Then they came for the Jews but I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the gypsy, the communist, the homosexual, the unionist but I wasn’t one. When they came for me, there was no one else left to ask, ‘why’?”

It’s been said that evil happens because people of good-will remain silent. Martin Niemoller’s counsel and witness is for people of good will to speak, to act and ultimately stand with those who are oppressed and voiceless.

Will we stand up in this country for immigration reform? Will we offer welcome to the refugee? Will we speak out and stand up against the voices for hate and exclusion?

If not us, then who?

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Let us speak, let us act.

Refugee Crisis Meets a Crisis of Conscience

We can’t escape the images of refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea and the list goes on. Certain photos have become iconic: A baby boy’s body washed up on a Greek island; an anguished father holding his exhausted child. Some nations like Hungary have placed razor wire, others like France and Germany struggle to make room for hundreds of thousands of the displaced.

Syrian Dad and child

Then last week a terrorist cell brought carnage to Paris. 128 murdered/ executed, 350 plus wounded, a city and nation traumatized. One assailant was believed to be a Syrian.

The response of many around the world was fear. Fear that the tide of refugees contain terrorists. Fear that we need to put up barriers between ourselves and those who are different. Fear that we too are at risk.

In the United States Donald Trump has climbed to the top of Republican presidential poll waving the flag of fear. He’s called for an insurmountable wall being built along the Mexican border. He’s called for mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants, most from Mexico.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in the wake of the Paris attack has called for a halt to efforts to welcome Syrian refugees. He’s called the current 18 month vetting process insufficient. Nearly all Republicans and a significant number of Democrats voted with the Speaker. Over half the Governors support further restrictions.

Fear has a way of constricting the mind and the heart. Many who have voted to remove the welcome mat are people of faith. What are we to make of this?

Jesus understood the power of fear. He understood what it means to be a homeless refuge. In response he told a story whose hero is a Samaritan, an outcast. At a time when an emphasis was placed on religious orthodoxy and racial purity the Samaritan was neither. They were outcasts. Looked down upon by those in power.

In his story in Luke’s Gospel 10: 25 – 37 Jesus tells of a man beaten, robbed, stripped naked and left to die in a ditch. Along comes a religious leader who sees but chooses to walk by. Next is a political leader who also walks by.

It is the Samaritan who stops, binds up the man’s wounds and takes him to an inn. There he pays for the victims lodging and medical care. Jesus ends the story by asking the listeners: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” They replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus replied: “Go and do likewise.”

Good Samaritan pic

It is one thing to say or do the right thing when there is little cost. But as we wrestle with how to respond to the refugee crisis this isn’t easy or cost-free. My faith tradition puts it this way, ‘this is come to Jesus time’. We either believe in Jesus’ wisdom or we don’t. We either believe in the power of love or we give in to the power of fear.

This is the time when we as Jesus followers are called to push back against the fear peddlers. We are called to set aside our fears and step out in faith. We are asked to place our faith in a 2000 year old story that promises to show us the way forward. Will you walk with me?

Scarcity, Fear and the Refugee Crisis: Part 1

Much of our world is governed by the Economy of Scarcity. The Economy of Scarcity teaches that there is only so much to go around and that the wise person takes care of oneself and one’s own first. If anything is left over then you may choose to share. Nations go to war to protect what they have.

The governing principle of Scarcity is fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of someone else taking what is yours. Fear that you must rely on yourself first and foremost. In the United States our mythology of the strong, independent pioneer reinforces this mindset. Libertarian principles both political and cultural reinforce this ideal.

The positive side is that it leads people and nations to strive to be self-sufficient. The negative is what takes place when circumstances are so overwhelming that individualism is not enough.

We are in such a time. According the United Nations there are currently 195 million refugees the largest since World War II. A series of regional wars fueled by political instability, tribal and religious tensions have formed a perfect storm.

Currently hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan, Libia, Yemen, Somalia and other locals are fleeing for their lives seeking the stability and resources of Europe. The response of Europe has been mixed: Italy and Greece have done their best to cope with refugees coming to their shores in leaky boats (3000 are estimated to have drowned in 2015 to date).

Refugees in boat

Hungary has put up barbed wire fences and is moving to criminalize those fleeing to their country. Germany and Austria which have been the principal leaders for a humane response are at risk of being overwhelmed unless other hesitant countries in Europe step up.

Here in the United States the scarcity mindset is at work. After a long silence the Obama administration has offered to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees. In contrast Germany has said it will take up to 800,000 refugees in 2015.

Donald Trump is leading in Republican presidential polling with anti-immigration rhetoric. He is calling for forced deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the USA (primarily from Mexico and Central America). He is playing the scarcity card that we can’t afford to take care of others problems whether it be people fleeing poverty or war.

Yet the reality is that our world is inter-dependent. Instability in one region has implications for everyone. The Economy of Scarcity offers no answers. Is there an alternative? I invite you to read this blogs next installment. But before we can explore an alternative we must acknowledge the subtle and not so subtle hold that scarcity thinking has on how we so often function as nations, states, tribes, families and as individuals.

Fear drives scarcity thinking. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Stay tuned.