John Lewis was interviewed by Krista Tippett recently about the use of non-violence during the civil rights era. The whole conversation is transcendent. He talks about being beaten during one of the protests and how he was absolutely certain he was going to die.
This exchange has remained in my mind:
Rep. John Lewis: I wanted to believe, and I did believe, that things would get better. But later I discovered, I guess, that you have to have this sense of faith that what you’re moving toward is already done. It’s already happened.
Ms. Tippett: Say some more about that.
Rep. Lewis: It’s the power to believe that you can see, that you visualize, that sense of community, that sense of family, that sense of one house.
Ms. Tippett: And live as if?
Rep. Lewis: And you live that you’re already there, that you’re already in that community, part of that sense of one family, one house.
We see this idea lurking in many places, some profound, some not.
“Be the change you wish to see.”
“Fake it ’til you make it.”
It’s also basic Christian eschatology. I can’t find the reference now, but Desmond Tutu talks about preaching against apartheid during the height of that evil system. The police rimmed the arena with guns and intimidation as he spoke. At one point he turned his attention to them and invited them to put down their guns.
Come and join us, he said, because you have already lost. We have won.
I sense this dynamic at work in the fight for marriage equality. We have reached a tipping point, and there is something relentlessly inevitable about it now. It is not a question of if, but when. This doesn’t mean that marriage equality supporters are done with their work. On the contrary, “living as if” gives a sense of energy and urgency to the work. Even many people opposed to gay marriage understand that sooner or later, it will be the law of the land.
(Of course, the inevitability of something doesn’t automatically make it right or good. But I believe the ability to marry the person you love regardless of gender is both a right and a good.)
I wonder where you’ve seen this dynamic John Lewis describes. I wonder when and how you live toward this in your own life.
We’re officially in a season in the Dana household when there is so much going on it’s actually comical. My Lenten discipline of “doing nothing extra” could not come at a better time… though it’s often hard to figure out what’s “extra,” and even when one separates the wheat from the chaff, there is still more to do than time to do it.
So here’s a quick Friday Link Love. Maybe like me you need a little palate cleanser between must-do tasks. Hope these bring a little joy and inspiration.
MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time will probably make a much smaller splash than Evans’s book even though it is one of the most helpful and well-conceived books on spirituality I’ve ever read.
In the aftermath of a major disaster, it’s hard for aid workers to know what’s happening on the ground, and to direct resources where they are needed most. That’s when text messaging and social media can help. By analyzing tweets and other snippets, it’s possible to see trends–say, where people are trapped, or where there are water shortages–and do something about them.
The issue is the analysis part, says Lukas Biewald, CEO of CrowdFlower, a San Francisco company that finds people online willing to do “micro tasks” (normally for commercial purposes). One, you’ve got a huge amount of data to sift through, and not a lot of time. And two, all the text might be in a language–or filled with local references–that you don’t understand. You need some way of crunching it quickly, using people who aren’t put off by colloquial or foreign terms.
Patrick Meier, director of social innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute, and a member of a group called the Digital Humanitarian Network, says crowdsourcing can help. Following last December’s Typhoon Pablo, in the Philippines, DHN identified 20,000 relevant tweets, and then called on CrowdFlower to find volunteers to make the first assessment. The groups identified, one, messages with links to photos and video, and, two, messages that referred to damage that could be geo-tagged. From about 100 tweets, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) could then build a map plotting damaged houses and bridges, flooding, and so on.
A Presbyterian minister who helped resolve bloody conflicts in Sudan reflects on his long career of peacemaking in America and Africa.
Bill Lowrey is a friend and colleague here in the greater DC area an amazing inspiration. I love that Faith and Leadership saw fit to feature him on their site. People who think that Christianity is nothing but hate and intolerance need to read about this fine man who has quietly and humbly devoted his life to peace and justice.
Some of my Facebook friends have been posting beautiful, excruciating articles about the loss of Noah Pozner, the youngest victim of Newtown. He was a twin. He was a darling child. And his family has been thoughtful, yet unflinching, in their mourning of him.
You can read the articles here and here—please be warned that they are wrenching. You may forget to breathe.
But as I read them I kept thinking about an interview I heard years ago on Speaking of Faith (before it became On Being) with Laurie Zoloth, a Jewish ethicist who studies the issues around human cloning. As you might imagine, she writes with a great deal of concern over the prospect of cloning a human being, and the tangled web of issues such a possibility would raise for society.
During the interview, Zoloth shared her experience of being part of a volunteer Jewish burial society. Jewish custom requires bodies to be buried before sundown if at all possible. Several years prior, on the day of Passover, she was called to take part in the burial preparation for a four-year-old girl. The girl had been running across the street to her father’s waiting arms when she was hit by a car. Zoloth arrived at the funeral home with the other women to prepare the body, which was horribly, heartbreakingly broken. The preparations for burial included washing the body with water, and dozens of other careful, ritualistic details. “This little girl was the tiniest person we had prepared,” Zoloth says. “I and all the other women there were frantic with grief.”
And then, this Jewish ethicist who has spoken out against human cloning went on to say, “I knew at that point that I would have cloned her. If I could have. If I’d had the technology… I didn’t care if it was risky, I wanted that baby girl back.”
And yet the mother of this little girl, a woman of deep Jewish faith, said, “If you want to bring my daughter back, I need you to go to work in the world, to do acts of loving kindness and mercy, of justice and love. That will bring her back.” This is the Hebrew concept of tikkun olam, or “healing of the world.” In Jewish theology, it is this healing, this repair of the world, that will bring the Messiah. This is what will bring the lost ones back. The mother believed that completely.
Only through a radically altered world, a world of justice, peace and mercy, would her daughter be restored.
And Zoloth realized, “It is not the body that this little girl needs, it is a world reborn that this little girl needs.”
An interview with the author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. I’m seeing stuff about this book all over the place.
The author’s focus seems to be on how kids prevail in rough neighborhoods and despite socio-economic disadvantage. As a parent in a very different context, I’d like to know specific ways to encourage my own children. The schools are still focused on IQ and test scores as measures of success. How do we transition toward grit, curiosity and character?
“I’m so sorry for your loss.” Yes, it’s completely unoriginal, but that doesn’t really matter here. If you knew the person who passed away, you could add in meaningful memories. When my previous boss died this year, I told his family, whom I was also close to, how he had been my mentor when I was just a kid out of college and one of my biggest supporters. I’m not sure if it helped them, but probably most families would appreciate your recognizing their loved one and their loss.
Tough Times, Luck and Love: One Family’s Story of Childhood Leukemia — Vimeo
I am acquainted with this family through friends. Sweet and (some) wrenching photos combined with an interview with the mother. Wise and heartfelt.
Waterparks are implementing “flash passes” so people can pay more to cut to the front of the line. The author sees this as a metaphor:
It sounds like an innovative answer to the problem that everybody faces at an amusement park, and one perfectly in keeping with the approaches currently in place at airports and even on some crowded American highways — perfectly in keeping with the two-tiering of America. You can pay for one level of access, or you can pay for another. If you have the means, you can even pay for freedom. There’s only one problem: Cutting the line is cheating, and everyone knows it. Children know it most acutely, know it in their bones, and so when they’ve been waiting on a line for a half-hour and a family sporting yellow plastic Flash Passes on their wrists walks up and steps in front of them, they can’t help asking why that family has been permitted the privilege of perpetrating what looks like an obvious injustice. And then you have to explain not just that they paid for it but that you haven’t paid enough — that the $100 or so that you’ve ponied up was just enough to teach your children that they are second- or third-class citizens.
It wouldn’t be so bad, if the line still moved. But it doesn’t. It stops, every time a group of people with Flash Passes cut to the front. You used to be able to go on, say, three or four rides an hour, even on the most crowded days. Now you go on one or two.
Praise and thanks for Disney, whose Fast Passes are free and available to anyone who wants to go to the trouble of retrieving them.
My goal for the year is “less.” I just want to keep all my vices but engage in them less often.
I’m not giving up Diet Coke, but I’ll drink it less (like once a day during work days)often.
I’m not giving up driving, but I’ll do it less often.
I’m not giving up computer time, but I’ll do it less often.
This is excellent. I think there are Sabbath implications here. We sometimes think that if we can’t do it perfectly then we won’t do it at all. If a weekly Sabbath seems impossible, how about every two weeks? Every month? How about a commitment simply to labor a little less?
Interesting article about Native Americans’ reverential treatment of sexual minorities (including gay persons) in their communities:
Rather than emphasising the homosexuality of these persons, however, many Native Americans focused on their spiritual gifts. American Indian traditionalists, even today, tend to see a person’s basic character as a reflection of their spirit. Since everything that exists is thought to come from the spirit world, androgynous or transgender persons are seen as doubly blessed, having both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Thus, they are honoured for having two spirits, and are seen as more spiritually gifted than the typical masculine male or feminine female.
Therefore, many Native American religions, rather than stigmatising such persons, often looked to them as religious leaders and teachers.
I preached this sermon a few weeks ago. In it I reference briefly the family in our church who have had not one, but two boys with ALD, adrenoleukodystrophy. Between this sermon and now, we lost sweet Jacob, who fought hard but has now joined his older brother Eric in the life to come.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…
MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
August 19, 2012
Parables and Pop Culture: The Gospel and The Hunger Games
May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor
Reaping Day in District 12
It’s appropriate that last week we looked at reality TV in our series, because Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy is in some ways an example of reality TV taken to its absurd conclusion.
By way of summary: The Hunger Games is a yearly contest in which 24 young people are chosen randomly, a boy and a girl from each of 12 districts, and put in an arena and made to fight one another until there is only one victor left standing.
That is horrific enough, but the Hunger Games are actually a means of social control. The Capitol, which is the city that oversees the games, stages this event as a way of reminding the districts who is in charge. Some time in the past there was an uprising against the Capitol. The people were unsuccessful in the end, and in order to keep the people down, the leadership in the Capitol makes them offer up their children for this event, and then make them watch it. It’s the elites’ way of saying, Don’t you dare forget that we are the powerful ones and you are so weak and expendable. Many of these districts already suffer from poverty and starvation; the Hunger Games are just the final blow against any hope they might have of bettering their situation.
By the way, you may know that crucifixion served a similar function. It was reserved for low-status defendants, not for Roman citizens and members of the elite. It made an example of those who threatened the Roman social order: runaway slaves, those who attacked the property of the powerful rich, those who committed treason by claiming power and rule not authorized by Rome. Jesus’ crucifixion indicates that he is perceived by the ruling elite to pose a threat to the status quo. That’s exactly the dynamic that’s going on here. Terrorism, by the powerful toward the powerless.
The competitors, called tributes, are chosen in each district during a ceremony called the reaping. The residents are made to get dressed up and act as if this macabre scene is some kind of festive celebration. And the Capitol’s representative in district 12 always says the same thing prior to the selection of tributes: “May the odds be ever in your favor.”
It’s one of the more haunting refrains in the book because it is so hollow, so insincere. For the Hunger Games to happen, the odds can’t be in everyone’s favor. A boy will be chosen as tribute. A girl will be chosen as tribute. And only one person will prevail in the arena, and 23 others will lose… and lose their lives. The whole rotten system depends on the odds being in some people’s favor and not others.
Now, each young person’s name is entered into the reaping once a year, but some children’s names are listed multiple times. Because conditions are so dire in some of the districts, families can buy additional rations of food, but these rations come at a price: they must enter their children’s names another time into the reaping bowl. It’s a gamble, because the more times a name is entered, the greater that person’s chances of being selected as a tribute to fight in the games. But at the brink of starvation, it’s a gamble many feel trapped into making.
The story opens with our hero, Katniss Everdeen, preparing to go to the reaping ceremony. It is also her younger sister’s first year, since she is now 12 years old, the minimum age for the games. Katniss isn’t even thinking about her sister, since her name is only entered once, and there are so many names, some of which have been entered dozens of times. Of all the thousands of slips of paper, what are the chances that Primrose would be chosen?
But the unthinkable happens, and she is chosen, little Prim, who is so small and young, who has no skills in fighting.
The odds are not in her favor.
I think a lot about the odds. I’ve shared with you before that if I ever have the chance to ask God a question, it would be this: I understand that there is suffering in the world. I understand that we live in a “fallen creation.” But why can’t the suffering at least be evenly distributed? Why do certain people seem to have more than their share of hardship?
Close to home, many of us have wondered why ALD has hit such a wonderful family in our church, and not once but twice? Why do some people struggle so?
We know there are neighborhoods in our city where young people are more likely to go to jail than to college. Where double digit unemployment is not just a function of the recession, but a constant state of being. Yes, with enough luck and talent and resiliency, folks can succeed. But it would be naïve to suggest that the odds are as much in their favor as they are for children of the people in this room.
I think we all know people who seem to have more than their share of hardship. The person with the mental illness that they’ve struggled with for years. The person who has been looking for a job for such a long time. When we look at these cases we often use the phrase, “They were just dealt a bad hand.” That’s not too far away from saying that the odds were not in their favor.
It’s not fair. It’s not just.
This yearning for justice has echoed through the centuries and millenia of human history. Jesus’ followers, living under empire, struggled with the same questions. It’s not fair that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It’s not just to have a system in which some people are seen as valuable and some people are expendable.
It’s not right that the odds seem to be so heavily in some people’s favor.
And right in the midst of these questions and struggles, Jesus speaks:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falselyon my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The word of the Lord.
* * *
A few things occur to me as I consider these words of Jesus.
One is that they come at the beginning of his so-called Sermon on the Mount. Before he says anything about how to pray or how to spend money or how to love or forgive or treat our neighbor, he begins with these words. This is the starting point. Jesus steps up before the crowd, clears his throat and the first word out of his mouth is Blessed. Blessed.
And the word is (to get a little grammatical here) indicative. It’s not a command—go and be blessed—and it’s not conditional—if you do this, then you will be blessed. It describes something that is already so.
Blessed is Jesus’ very first word in his very first teaching, and the message could not be clearer: that there is a grace that exists in the world, it’s loose in the world, running amok, rewriting the rules about who is beloved and who is not, who is favored and who is not, whose “odds” really matter. That grace is simply this: if God is for us, who can be against us? The blessing is that if you are in mourning, or if you are poor in spirit, if you are at the end of your own resources, if you are feeling persecuted, if the odds are never ever ever in your favor… you are blessed of God.
Notice whom Jesus blesses: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. That’s who showed up that day, right? Needing to experience the power of the living God? The people who feel like the odds are never in their favor… that’s who he’s talking to, that’s who the message is for. For people like Katniss Everdeen and the people of District 12. For people on the negative side of world’s ledger. Those are Jesus’ people.
That’s good news no matter who you are. If you consider yourself down and out, inhale and exhale and trust that you have been called blessed, that suffering is not God’s desire for you, that God can and does work out God’s shalom which is so much deeper than evening up the odds.
And if you are not poor in spirit, if you are not mourning, if you are not persecuted, well congratulations, you get to be the mechanism through which God can shower blessing upon those who are.
I read an article this week about a man named Zach Balle:
Zach Balle had a successful real estate career in Phoenix, which earned him an impressive paycheck but left him unfulfilled.
After a colleague offered some unorthodox advice—“Book a flight to a country you’ve never been to”—Balle found himself in a small Guatemalan community where many children received their lessons outdoors. “If it rained, they didn’t have class that day,” says Balle, now 28. “I decided I wanted to build them a school—which was totally unrealistic.”
Armed with newfound inspiration, Balle quit his job and started researching his plan. He was dismayed to discover that even a simple structure would cost nearly $15,000 for supplies and labor. When he explained his dilemma to a contact in the Peace Corps, she told him about a method of construction she was using that transforms trash into building material. Balle decided to help her build a school in the Guatemalan community of Granados.
After local children collected empty soda bottles and stuffed them full of chip bags and candy wrappers, the resulting “ecobricks” were placed between chicken wire panels and covered with cement to create the walls of the structure.Their two-room schoolhouse, completed in October 2009, used more than 5,000 plastic bottles and 2,053 pounds of trash, cost less than $6,000 to build, and now serves roughly 300 of Granados’s students. (Source)
That is the kind of blessing that God makes possible. Where the world sees refuse and hopelessness and very long odds, God sees an opportunity for blessing. A way where there seems to be no way. Trash into treasure.
That’s the kind of blessing that we are invited to participate in.
I said earlier that during the reaping in District 12, Primrose Everdeen, Katniss’s younger sister, is chosen as tribute. Folks who’ve read the books know what happens, and others can guess: The guards come to take Prim away, and everyone sees and feels how young she is, how wrong this is, and before she can stop herself her big sister Katniss yells out, “I volunteer!”
“I volunteer as tribute.”
There has not been a volunteer in District 12 in a long, long time. Nobody knows what to do. How does this work? And while the powers consult the book of rules, the people assembled there, the poor in spirit and the mourners, the meek and hungry, stand in silence, and they offer her the traditional salute that is reserved for moments of great thanksgiving and reverence.
They know that they have seen something beautiful. They have seen something transcendent. They have seen a moment soaked in blessing. And that doesn’t make everything OK, because the Capitol still oppresses the people and keeps them under the thumb. Blessing doesn’t suddenly put the odds in our favor. But a blessing inaugurates something. It changes the calculus. Katniss’s sacrifice sets something in motion that cannot be stopped. We’ll talk about that some next week. But for the moment, all the people can do is watch—in silence, in reverence—this blessing that somehow happened against all odds.