When it “getting worse” is a privilege

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Over the course of this election season, I’ve at times taken a Zen approach to it all and said to more than a few people, “Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.” And there is definitely still a part of me that believes this may, in fact, be true—sometimes I don’t think anything will change some people’s minds about how our society needs to be run except them experiencing hardship themselves, though I also know that experiencing hardship in and of itself does not produce the same outcomes of belief in all people and can sometimes more deeply ingrain stereotypes and biases…

But aside from all the little spins I can put on the argument to make it seem like a good one, as I’ve thought more about this in the past few weeks, I’ve come to conclude it’s a dangerous outlook for me to have for one simple reason: I’m speaking from a point of privilege.

Over the past few months I’ve also talked to many about how I’m a straight, young, white male, and how that pretty much puts me at the top of the “Privilege Olympics”. So I continue to work toward equality and equity for all people. But continually recognizing and “checking” one’s privilege is a 24/7 job, and it’s easy to let your guard down.

Whenever I’ve said that maybe “it has to get worse”, I’ve subconsciously been confident that whatever “worse” means, it doesn’t mean worse for me:

  • If Roe v. Wade is reversed, I won’t be the one who has to suffer the consequences it would have for the control of my body and reproductive choice.
  • If salary inequality continues such that women are paid only 70-80% of what men are paid, or if that percentage decreases, I won’t be losing any money from it.
  • If voter ID laws that disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, and people of color continue to be rolled out and applied, I won’t have to worry about losing my ability to vote.
  • If the movement of equal rights of homosexuals is halted, and gains made in the past years reversed, I won’t experience the consequences of any of those changes.
  • If Obamacare is repealed or amended, I’ll still have health insurance or be able to afford coverage.
  • If the economy takes another downturn, I’ll probably still have a full-time job. And even if I should lose it, I have significant savings that could last me for a while and have everything working in my favor to help me get a new job faster than others in a similar position. And even if worst comes to worst, I have grandparents who own their homes outright that I could live with (in addition to parents with a partially paid off home).
  • If religious rights of non-Christians are curtailed, it won’t affect how and if I want to worship as I see fit.
  • If we continue to fight wars, allow drone attacks, and permit oppressive governments to bring about terrible lives for people around the world, it won’t be my life that’s affected.

So while it may not matter to me personally if “it has to get worse before it gets better”, it sure does matter for many others (well over half the country, actually). If I’m going to be fighting for the rights of ALL people, to be striving for equality for the oppressed and marginalized, then I need to be taking a stand toward creating a better country for us ALL to live in and recognizing that when changes for the worse happen, even if they don’t affect me directly, they still matter and aren’t just “collateral damage” for some eventual change that may happen some day.

So when you and I go to the ballot box and vote (and even those who choose not to vote), it’s important to remember that it’s not all about “me” but about all those we know and don’t know who will be affected by the very real consequences of decisions made by those we elect to positions in our government. Our choices matter and directly impact the lives of other around the country and around the world. It’s not to be taken lightly; I’m going to continue to try to remember that, and I hope you do, too.

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the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 3)

Thursday 25 March 2010

So while the U.S. continues to talk about the health care reform bill(s) (my comments come next week), the p/i show continues!  First, some recent news articles on the issue:
Mon 22 Mar: Clinton accuses Israel of hurting U.S. credibility (AP)
Wed 24 Mar: Israel approves new building in East Jerusalem (AP)
Thurs 25 Mar: U.S. Fails to Persuade Israel on Housing Dispute (NY Times)

On to today’s post!

Both the blogs in pt. 1 and pt. 2 on this topic talked about Israeli policy in relation to Palestine and Palestinians, and in this blog I want to focus mainly on whether or not those policies are actually positive for Israel’s future, brought about by an Op-Ed by Uri Dromi, who was spokesman for the Israeli governments from 1992 to 1996, titled “Will Israel Join the March of Folly?

Dromi begins this way:

“Barbara Tuchman, in her classic book “March of Folly,” examined four cases in history when governments acted contrary to their own best interests: the Trojans who let the Greeks bring the fatal horse into their midst; the papacy, which allowed and even brought about the Protestant secession; the British who lost America, and America, which lost the war in Vietnam.”

He continues shortly after with his thesis at hand:

“By expanding settlements instead of separating from the Palestinians while we still can, we Israelis are dooming ourselves to lose the Jewish and democratic state that has been won with so much sacrifice. In other words, we are immersed in our own march of folly. And we are doing it with our eyes open.”

I went to a session last fall that detailed some strategies for talking with members of Congress about the Palestine/Israel issue and conflict, and one of the main points to suggested to use was that a sustained people, involving a Palestinian state, was in the best interests of the the U.S. and Israel.  And that is Dromi’s point, too.  However, the current Israeli policies are running counter to that objective and leave Israel open to continued critism and possibly, in the end, it’s own downfall.

This week continued the dispute of the last two, and Britain joined in the criticism, too (see Israel Absorbs Twin Rebukes From Top Allies).

Dromi’s point comes to a head this way:

Consider the following scenario: The Palestinians decide to do nothing, just wait patiently until there is no way to divide the land anymore. The country just becomes one, binational state.

Then, assuming that the Israelis wouldn’t dare or wouldn’t be allowed by the rest of the world to run the country as an apartheid state, the Palestinians start voting in elections and running for Parliament.

Thus, the existence of a Jewish national state, which many people do desire (I’m not against it, actually; I just want justice for all), is no more.  Do you see why the U.S. needs to continue it’s rebukes?

So while the settlements in the West Bank may pose the most problems for a Palestinian state, as I said in pt. 2, Jerusalem is likely the final sticking point for any agreement.  It may be that Palestinians will not even begin peace talks until settlement construction and home takeovers in East Jerusalem cease, and with the current Israeli policy of a unified Jerusalem, can peace ever happen?

This Map of Settlements Around Jerusalem shows one reason the Palestinians are so mad.  If you click on the map, you can see a red dotted line that demarcates what Israel claims to be Jerusalem, much of which is on the Palestinian side of the 1967 Green Line.  I counted a dozen settlements Israel considers part of Jerusalem that are on what many would consider the Palestinian side of the boundary for a future state.  There are also Palestinian towns inside this boundary, and even one in the bottom left corner you can see that is planned to be encircled by the wall/barrier Israel is constructing.  (Read about that town, the village of Al-Walaja, here.)

It would be impossible to simply reverse the last 40+ years since the 1967 Six-Day War.  However, if Israel continues forward with it’s current policy, Israel as a Jewish state may soon cease to exist.  If that’s not how you want the future shaping up, I suggest you make your voice heard and do something about it.

(Also, I have here a link to another Op-Ed I thought I’d want to write more on by Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States which mainly just says that the U.S. and Israel are best buds and it needs to remain that way (especially from an Israeli perspective).  Read his take on things here:
For Israel and America, a Disagreement, Not a Crisis)


the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 2)

Sunday 21 March 2010

OK, so if you haven’t read pt. 1 yet, please do that now…

Ready for part 2?

If you’ve been keeping up with the news the past two weeks, I’m sure you’re at least semi-familiar with this whole U.S./Israel “spat,” “feud,” or whatever you want to call what’s been happening these past couple of weeks.  In case you’re not (or to get you back in the mood), here are two options:

The situation in news articles (I’m big on the AP and NY Times these days) (please click at least one — it’s time consuming to link all these articles!):
Tues 9 Mar: As Biden Visits, Israel Unveils Plan for New Settlements (NYT)
Thurs 11 Mar: Biden to Leave Mideast Amid Unease (NYT)
Fri 12 Mar: Clinton Rebukes Israel on Housing Announcement (NYT);
Clinton slams Israel on housing announcement (AP)
Sun 14 Mar: Israeli settlement action ‘an insult’: Obama aide (AP)
Mon 15 Mar: Israel Feeling Rising Anger From the U.S. (NYT);
US Israel criticism ignites firestorm in Congress (AP)
Tues 16 Mar: US envoy cancels Mideast trip, Israel feud deepens (AP) ;
US, Israel try to back away from the brink (AP)

Fri 19 Mar: Clinton Calls Israel’s Moves to Ease Tension ‘Useful’ (NYT)
Sat 20 Mar: UN Chief says Israeli settlements must be stopped (AP) (OK, so this one is a little off topic, but still in the vein of all the rest, perhaps the best to read!)
Sun 21 Mar: Israel: No building restrictions in east Jerusalem (AP)

What brought about the curious events of the past two weeks was simply an announcement of  a planned building project that occurred when Joe Biden was visiting prior to planned mediated peace talks scheduled for last week.  Then Biden, upon hearing the announcement, condemned the plan, and the spat began.  Members of Congress and pro-Israel groups in the U.S. criticized the criticism, and the back and forth began.  When you break down this whole fiasco, though, it really comes down to the issue alluded to in that last article: Israeli building in East Jerusalem.

Just as the West Bank was land Israel took control of during the Six-Day War in 1967, so were the lands we currently refer to as East Jerusalem.  While most people can understand and accept that Palestinians living in the West Bank desire this land for a future state.  However, the issue of Jerusalem is definitely much murkier, specifically because it’s hard to think of a city being divided between two countries, as it was between 1948 and 1967.  However, it is also unacceptable for either Palestinians or Israelis to give up what was under their control during that 20-year span.

However, this quote speaks volumes:

“As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv” and there would be no restrictions, Netanyahu told his Cabinet.

Later in the article we here this:

Netanyahu has always opposed compromise over Jerusalem. Israel captured the city’s eastern sector from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it, a move not recognized by any other country. Over four decades, Israel has built a string of Jewish neighborhoods around the Arab section of the city.

Jerusalem may, in the end, but the one sticking point that can’t be overcome.  One past plan included Jerusalem being an “international” city, belonging to no country in particular but under unified control by a body such as or similar to the United Nations.  However, with Jerusalem the current capital of Israel and East Jerusalem usually declared the capital of any future Palestinian state, we seem to have a problem.

The question is whether, knowing this and all the other issues needing to be resolved, the U.S. will show some force in using its power of influence politically and monetarily (or withholding money from Israel, as the case may be) to make true change happen.

I have more to say, but since I like to keep these pretty short, I’ll hold off for a part 3.  Before I close, though, I wanted to pull a few quotes from a NY Times feature, “Room For Debate,” which features multiple people talking about a particular subject.  In this case, the issue was titled, “Israel’s Challenge to the U.S.”  Read on, and click the article title link here for more on this topic.

From Amjad Atallah

The United States has been sending its messages with carrots and great diplomatic restraint. The current Israeli government, in stark contrast, has been responding like a petulant child, outraged that it hasn’t been able to get U.S. acquiescence to its own short-term political strategy.

There is a great deal at stake in this public and private dispute between Israel and the United States. President Obama should consider responding in a similar manner, by creating his own facts on the ground, and ending all forms of U.S. cover and support of the settlement enterprise and other policies that sustain the occupation.

From Daoud Kuttab

All attempts to appease and reward Israel for its acquisition by war has resulted in pushing peace away. If President George W. Bush truly believed, and President Obama truly believes — as they both publicly stated — that an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state is in the “national interest” of the United States, Washington must resolve once and for all that any Jewish settlement built on Palestinian territory forcefully taken in 1967 will not be tolerated.

Once America regains its resolve in this area, the peace train can proceed to its destination.


the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 1)

Friday 19 March 2010

Well… This blog post has been a long time coming. I starting compiling articles to link and use for this post over a week ago, and I’ve been trying to continue to keep up with them ever since, but it’s been a challenge.

I wanted to write some of my thoughts on the whole U.S./Israel “dispute,” and the commentary and articles written on the subject just kept on coming!  However, in looking at all my articles, I realized that this “spat” has overshadowed and not really included an event that happened a few weeks before the U.S./Israel “issue” began and which has caused much more concern for Palestinians but not such a”sexy” news story for Americans — thus, the reason you’ve likely not heard of it!

On 21 February 2010, Benjamin Netanyahu issued a list of Israeli national heritage sites that included two West Bank sites of importance to Palestinians (Muslims in particular, though they’re significant for Jews, Christians, and Muslims).  As the NY Times said,

“[Mr. Netanyahu] said he intended to include the Cave of the Patriarchs, also known as Ibrahimi Mosque, the Hebron shrine revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians as the burial place of Abraham, on the list of about 150 sites. In 1994, a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, fatally shot 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers inside the shrine.

“Mr. Netanyahu said he also planned to include Rachel’s Tomb, a shrine just inside the West Bank city of Bethlehem.”

(The full article is titled “Israel’s Plans for 2 Sites Stir Unrest in West Bank.” — I actually couldn’t find an article solely about the announcement, only was an article written once the “unrest” began… interesting.)

Oh, and did I mention that this announcement came the very same week as the anniversary of the Goldstein rampage mentioned?

Which leads to this: Israel Seals Off West Bank

“JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has sealed off the West Bank for 48 hours, preventing Palestinians from entering Israel because of fears of unrest.

“There have been clashes after Friday prayers at mosques in Jerusalem and elsewhere in recent weeks, sparked by deadlock in peace talks and Israel’s inclusion of two West Bank shrines on a list of national heritage sites.

“Several Palestinians have been badly wounded and dozens of protesters and Israeli policemen have suffered light injuries.

“Police say only men over 50 will be allowed to pray Friday at the shrine at the center of the disturbances — the Jerusalem compound Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. There are no limitations on women.

“The closure began at midnight Thursday and will end at midnight Saturday.”

Right, so Israel basically makes an announcement that they’re going to continue to impose themselves in the West Bank, it riles up Palestinians (and shouldn’t it?) for a few weeks (likely a bit more than those summer health care town hall meetings, I’d think), and then Israel, out of  “safety concerns,” shuts down the West Bank for the weekend (for men under 50).

Oh, and then, days later, the big U.S./Israel spat begins, and the world forgets about this issue — but the Palestinians don’t.

Now for my opining: That seems to be how things work in the Middle East.  There’s a lot of slight of hand, “Quick, look over there!” happening on and it just leads us to forget about what really happening — Israel is slowly making the “facts on the ground” such that removal of Israel and Israelis from the West Bank will simply be unfeasible, and then what?  Either it’s an Israeli/Palestinian joint state (rights of all TBD) or Palestinians are somehow forced out.  Either way, this “two-state solution” everyone seems to think is the way to go isn’t the outcome.

I’m convinced there’s more than one way to peace in the Middle East, just as there’s more than one way to crack an egg (a nice non-violent alternative to that “other” euphemism).  But if the U.S. and the rest of the world continue to turn a blind eye to the oppression and injustice occurring in the West Bank, the bigger the challenge will become.

Have the events of the past 2-ish weeks shown that maybe the U.S. is taking notice to Israel’s slow infiltration of the West Bank?  Come back for pt. 2 of the Palestine/Israel show late Sunday — it only get’s better!  (And now with a part 3!)

(And if/while you’re waiting, read some comments to the NY Times article about restricted access to Muslim holy sites.)


another issue with divorces: religion

Thursday 18 February 2010

This was an interesting article I came across a few days ago:
Dad Pleads Not Guilty on Violating Court Order For Taking Daughter to Church

The mom’s Jewish, the dad was Catholic but apparently converted to Judaism when the two were married (though according to sources from the article, he remained connected to his Catholicism).  The parents get divorced, the mom has custody with the dad having some visitation rights, and one weekend the dad goes and has the child baptized in a Catholic church.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the mom gets the judge to order an injunction so the dad was forbidden from “exposing his daughter to any other religion than the Jewish religion,” as stated in the court order.

Was the judge (state) overstepping its rights of separation of church and state?  How is this to be dealt with, especially when the religions are as different as Jewish and Christian (as opposed to something like Catholic or Lutheran)?  Does the mom have to accept this, or do her legal rights of custody grant her other rights in what her child can or cannot be exposed to?

Thoughts?

I doubt it will end here, but I wonder how far it might go.


ELCA moves forward to include committed homosexuals as clergy

Saturday 22 August 2009

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about how the media created shocking headlines that tinted the facts a bit about an ELCA vote regarding homosexual pastors.  Well, hours after more big steps were taken by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the media titans were at it again, this time with an AP story title being pretty blunt and shocking (and, of course, not the whole story): “Lutherans to Allow Sexually Active Gays as Clergy“.  There were also some factual errors in the story, which are likely explained due to the quickness of the writing, but one also has to wonder who just wants to grab your attention so you will read their story!

Luckily, by morning, story titles had calmed down and content appeared accurate.  Here are a few examples, if you’re into reading all about this topic:
“Monogomous” Gays Can Serve in ELCA (Washington Post – good but short)
Lutheran Group Eases Limits on Gay Clergy (NY Times – good, a bit longer)
Lutherans lift barrier for gay clergy (LA Times)
ELCA votes to allow gay pastors (Star Tribune, Minneapolis/St. Paul)
Conservatives  mull future after ELCA lifts gay ban (AP’s “updated” article)
ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans (ELCA news release)

While those articles, as a whole, give a good idea about the changes, let’s quickly look at what actually happened in Minneapolis this week, using actual words that were approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

First, a social statement, basically a declaration of belief, was approved on Wednesday .  It needed 2/3 of the vote, and actually got exactly that with a vote of 676-338.  I’m not going to get into that here, as it’s a long, though important, document, but you can read the statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” as well as a news article and the legislative summary from the ELCA website.

Now, in terms of gay clergy (all references ELCA website):
First, the assembly agreed to “respect the bound consciences of all,” thus basically allowing for those willing to agree to disagree to remain united under one organization.

Secondly, the assembly agreed: “that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”  (This vote passed by about 60%, 619-402.)

Thirdly, a few hours later, the assembly agreed: “that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.”  (This vote passed by about 55%, 559-451)

And finally, the assembly basically allowed for individual churches to be flexible in their implementation of the previous resolutions and directed necessary formal changes be made to implement the previous agreements.  (See specifics here.)

So that’s the news, but what’s the big deal?

What we have now might be viewed by many as a “local option.”  As a whole, the ELCA will not exclude anyone who is in a “life-long, monogamous” relationship from being called as a pastor.  However, it allows particular congregations to do as they wish in recognizing same-gender relationships and calling pastors in such relationships.

So what’s the critique?  How can people not be happy if everyone can basically do what they want?  If I believe same-genedered relationships to be sinful, I don’t have to accept them in my church, and I certainly don’t have to have a pastor that is in one.  And if I believe all is well with the Lord in such relationships, I can be a member of a church that expounds this belief, too.

Well, that right there is the critique.  ELCA members who do not condone same-gendered relationships feel that by this action, the ELCA is saying same-gender relationships are OK.  Even if one doesn’t believe such relationships are supported by God, why would she or he remain part of a church body that (essentially) does?

It’s unfortunate for the sake of Christian unity that the “bound consciences” way of thinking is hard to follow through with.  If it does, somehow, find a way to work, that’s certainly a good sign for those looking to further unite the “holy catholic church.”  But Martin Luther, seeking to reform the Roman Catholic (capital “c”), simply made a new church, from which sprang many, many more.  And the growth, prominence, and flourishing state of non-denominational churches in this country shows, I think, that many who call themselves Christian aren’t that interested in unity any way.

It’s likely that those who can’t accept this new turn of events will go elsewhere, with churches and individuals leaving the ELCA, possibly creating a smaller Lutheran church body or finding some other group to join up with.  One could hope that it might bring about ties across denominations that actually do bring further Christian unity, but in this age of individuality, that seems unlikely.

I welcome your thoughts and views on the subject: your feelings about the action of the ELCA this week, your plans of action (if they be any) in response to this vote, and your thoughts about the future of the ELCA as a whole and its current (some of which are sure to be former) congregations.

Can a denomination survive and “agree to disagree?”  I don’t know, but the ELCA appears to be the petri dish for such an experiment.


the challenge of the Word

Sunday 17 May 2009

This past Thursday, I attended a Bible Study where the topic each week is something based on current events and relating them back to the Bible and a Christian way of living.  It was only my second week there, and to set the scene a bit, it’s a 7AM breakfast and study attended by men only, most of whom are retired.  We’re in a church a bit north of the city in a community that used to be rural but has definitely become suburban.  The topic of the first week was the H1N1 virus and what a Christian response to “perceived threats” should look like, and this week’s topic was torture implemented by the US government.  This is not a study of the week of heart!

For the study, a little background is given and then the lesson progresses through various scripture passages that relate to the topic.  Part of the background was a recent survey that revealed that over half of churchgoers who attend services at least weekly — 54% — believe that torture of suspected terrorists is “sometimes” or “often” justified, compared to 42% of those who do not attend services.  Only 25% of total respondents (churchgoers and not) said torture is “never” justified.  (See more info: percentage graphic; more commentary.)

The discussion started out more political, which I wasn’t too interested in discussing, especially since I had met most of these men only the week before, but also because I didn’t seem to share much in common politically with those who were talking, and a Bible Study didn’t seem the right place to squabble about politics.  At this point, I was thinking to myself, “I don’t know if I can come to this again.  We seem to have really divergent views, and this is a bit uncomfortable for me.”

However, as the discussion moved on, more Bible verses were touched upon and the topic branched out into the idea of loving one’s enemies.  Others still showed some doubt in how “realistic” this might be, but it was now that I felt compelled to speak.  It wasn’t any more about politics, it was about faith and belief — my reason for attending.  I can’t adequately summarize what I was able to say (I’m not sure if I was really the one speaking), but I started by telling everyone that I’m a proponent of nonviolence, and I’m sure the rest of it had much to do with the idea of how challenging it really is to follow Christ’s examples and commandments. (This morning in worship I learned that “commandment” is only mentioned in John’s gospel once by Jesus, in saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12)  Torture and war don’t seem to me to be showing love in the way Jesus first loved us.

All in all, I felt pretty OK the way the Bible Study turned out.  It could be easy for me to just no show up again, knowing there are many there who I may not agree with on various matters, political and otherwise.  We all so often surround ourselves with like-minded people and don’t experience others holding views other than the ones we hold so dear.  We don’t get out of our comfort zones, and then we’re shocked when we hear others believing things contrary to what we believe in, for we have had no contact with them and cannot fathom where those viewpoints came from.  But being in a place where people can be open to others’ differences of opinion and thought, treating them with love and compassion in a discussion that seeks understanding and not the creation of enemies, is something we need a LOT more of in this would of ours.

I was lucky enough to attend a banquet today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a pastor’s ordination (the date he became a pastor).  He summoned up what he felt is his calling in ministry in just a few short words: To afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. As it hit my ears, it resonated deep inside of me, and I know it is something I will carry with me from this day forth.

The Gospel is challenging stuff, and if we (Christians) don’t shake things up and challenge one another to abandon what’s “comfortable” and look deeply into Scripture to truly follow the commands of Christ, who will?