Diversity

Possibility of Escape

'Freedom beyond the window,' Giggietto / Shutterstock.com

'Freedom beyond the window,' Giggietto / Shutterstock.com

That is also us, the possibility of us, if the wonderful accident of our birth had taken place elsewhere: you could be the refugee, I could be the torturer. To face that truth is also our burden. After all, each of us has been the bystander, the reasonable person who just happens not to hear, not to speak, not to see those people, the invisible ones, those who live on the other side of the border. - Karen Connelly, The Lizard Cage

It was a little over two weeks ago that Marlo entered Atwood Hall here in Lexington federal prison. Nearly all the women here are nonviolent offenders. When I first saw Marlo, her eyes seemed glued to the tiled floors as she shuffled along hallways. I guessed her age to be 25 or so. A few days later, she came to a choir rehearsal. She was still shy, but she looked up and offered a quiet smile when she joined the soprano section. The next time our choir gathered, Marlo raised her hand before we ended our rehearsal. "I got something to say," she said, as she stood. "When I first came here, I can tell all of you now, I was terrified. Just plain terrified. I have 70 months, and I felt so scared." The intake process for this, her introduction to the prison system, had badly frightened her, but before sundown that same day, a second intake process had occurred, with several inmates finding her, reassuring her, and getting her beyond that first panic.

During my four stints in U.S. federal prisons, I've witnessed long-term inmates' unconquerably humane response when a newcomer arrives. An unscripted choreography occurs, and the new prisoner finds that other women will help her through the trauma of adjustment to being locked up for many months or years. Halfway through a 3-month sentence myself, I'm saddened to realize that I'll very likely adapt to an outside world for which these women, and prisoners throughout the U.S. prison system, are often completely invisible.

The Day She Came Out: Why Rob Bell Is Right and the Church Is Being Left Behind

Two women in love. Image courtesy Syda Productions/shutterstock.com

Two women in love. Image courtesy Syda Productions/shutterstock.com

She was one of the best students I’ve ever had in a youth group. She’s funny, smart, friendly, warm, and likeable. She exerted a quiet sense of confident leadership among her peers and she’s serious about following Jesus. She’s everything that a pastor would want in a member of a youth group. 

And I’ll never forget the day she told our youth group that she’s a lesbian. 

My God I love that girl. 

And so did our youth group. Girls and boys listened attentively as she described her experience of “coming out” to her parents, siblings, friends, and now her youth group. Like so many other young women and men, her deeply personal experience was full of joy and pain.  

“Thank you. That took a lot of courage," one girl said as she held back tears of inspiration. 

“When did you know?” Another girl asked.

“Who did you come out to first?” Another asked. 

It was a profound moment of vulnerability and acceptance. I was very proud of her and of the youth group. 

“This,” I thought, “is what church is all about.” 

That was years ago. Unfortunately, it still takes a lot of courage to come out of the closet. As elated as I was about that experience, today I read an article that made me continue to worry about LGBTQ kids in other churches. It’s titled, “Dear Rob Bell: The Church Isn’t Giving an Inch on Gay Marriage.”  

Once again I begin to dread the message that awaits so many Christian kids who desperately want to come out of the closet but can’t for fear of being ostracized by their church. 

Selma and Our Next Bridge to Cross

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama hugs Rep. John Lewis in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The Edmund Pettus Bridge was named after a Confederate general who became a Grand Dragon in the Ku Klux Klan. His name, still emblazoned over the top of that now famous bridge, was a powerful and threatening symbol of white power and supremacy in Selma, Ala. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had at one time removed Selma from their list of places to organize because “the white folks were too mean, and black folks were too afraid."

But that didn’t deter a group of courageous African Americans from marching across that bridge a half-century ago, risking their lives for the right to vote in America. They were attacked and beaten by the fierce forces, led by notorious Sheriff Jim Clark, for their resistance to the frightening violence of white power.

Last Saturday, during the 50th anniversary event of “Bloody Sunday,” I spent many hours just looking at that bridge. The words that kept coming to me were “courage” and “resistance.” My question became: what bridge we will now have to cross?

Congressman John Lewis, whose skull was cracked that day as a young man, opened the main event.

"On that day, 600 people marched into history … We were beaten, tear gassed, some of us [were] left bloody right here on this bridge. … But we never became bitter or hostile. We kept believing that the truth we stood for would have the final say.”

Then Lewis introduced the president, "If someone had told me, when we were crossing this bridge, that one day I would be back here introducing the first African-American president, I would have said you're crazy.”

What happened on this bridge, President Barack Obama said, “was a contest to determine the meaning of America,” and where “the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America … ultimately triumphed.”

Turning the Tables: A Lenten Sermon on Jesus, the Money Changers, and #Selma50

Historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., loneroc / Shutterstock.com

Historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., loneroc / Shutterstock.com

Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ - John 2:15,16

This is one of the most important stories in the life of Jesus. So important, that it’s one of a handful of stories that all four Gospel writers actually all share.

Even though they remember it differently.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke — they recall that this episode where Jesus entered the Temple grounds and stirred stuff up once and for all — they remember it near the end of his life. They place it as one of the main reasons that Jesus is arrested and put to death as a capitol offense against the Roman Empire.

Walking into the Temple — run by the Jewish religious elite who had been put in place by the Roman imperial oppressors — was tantamount into walking into a federal government building and blowing it up.

Except Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus is a pacifist. Jesus is a prophet.

White Christians Now a Minority in 19 States

Courtesy of Fady Habib

Courtesy of Fady Habib

The notion of America as a mostly white, mostly Christian country is rapidly becoming a fact for the history books.

“The U.S. religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation that is fundamentally reshaping American politics and culture,” said Dan Cox, research director for Public Religion Research Institute.

Last week, PRRI released the American Values Atlas, an interactive online tool that compiles data about Americans’ opinions, identities, and values. One of the biggest takeaways of this years’ study was that, for the first time ever, America is not a majority Protestant nation.

Police: From Warriors to Guardians

 shawncarrie / Shutterstock.com

Silhouette of a Ferguson police officer during riots in November. shawncarrie / Shutterstock.com

Some of those protestors were right,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, as he released the Justice Department’s report on the police department in Ferguson, Mo. The report should be read by anyone who believes in racial justice and reconciliation, because it shows us what we are still up against in 2015, 50 years after the Selma march. This is not a post-racial America, especially in regard to our policing and criminal justice systems. Ferguson has become a teaching parable for the nation.

After a detailed and thorough investigation over many months, the devastating report revealed a police force and court system in Ferguson that proves true virtually everything young protestors and local residents have been saying since the shooting of Michael Brown last August.

The Ferguson Police Department replaced its mission of public protection with revenue generation by extracting money from the black residents of their town, using methods that the Justice Department said “may be unlawful.” The report painfully and painstakingly reveals unconstitutional and consistently abusive policing aimed at balancing the city budget on the backs of its poorest and black citizens. The Ferguson police went beyond even racial profiling to direct racist exploitation for a profit, with police apparently more concerned about “ fill[ing] the revenue pipeline” than protecting public safety. The use of traffic stops, citations, court appearances, fines, and even arrests that were specifically targeted at black residents revealed a profound contempt for black people with racial slurs and abuse a daily occurrence. Disgusting racist jokes, even aimed at the president and the first lady, circulated in e-mails from police supervisors and court officials. One joked about a black mother getting a crime prevention award for having an abortion.

Anti-Semitism a Big Problem at U.S. Colleges, Report Says

A student group in South Africa this month called on all Jews to leave the Durban University of Technology, an act of anti-Semitism that Americans could not imagine on their own college campuses.

But a comprehensive survey of anti-Semitism at American colleges released this week shows that significant hostility is directed at Jews on U.S. campuses, too.

The National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students, produced by a Trinity College team well-known for its research on religious groups, found that 54 percent of Jewish students experienced anti-Semitism on campus in the first six months of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Professors Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar asked 1,157 students in an online questionnaire about the types, context and location of anti-Semitism they had encountered, and found that anti-Jewish bias is a problem for Jews of all levels of religious observance.

“And this is a national problem; it’s not just happening in pockets of areas,” Keysar said. “Hopefully people will read this survey as a wake-up call. Clearly, the students want us to do something.”

The survey, she also noted, was given to students months before last summer’s war between Israel and Gaza, which ignited much anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses, sentiment that at times crossed the line into anti-Semitism.

Is Dark Skin A Sin?

Song of Solomon photo, Joe Fallico / Shutterstock.com

Song of Solomon photo, Joe Fallico / Shutterstock.com

I am black, but [AND] comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept. Song of Songs 1: 5-6

As the Executive Director for Faith in New York, an affiliate of the PICO National Network, I organize faith communities to take action for justice concerning issues that threaten the health of our communities. One of our campaigns is Live Free New York, which is a part of a national movement in which people of faith are working to end mass incarceration, gun violence, and police brutality through policy change and direct action.

Mass incarceration is an issue with many tentacles, and in New York, one tentacle is school suspension rates that are through the roof for black children. What many in the black community don’t understand is that according to data from the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, as presented in a recent New York Times article: “black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide are suspended at a rate of 12 percent compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls and more than girls of any race or ethnicity. … An analysis by Villanova [University] researchers of data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health indicated that black girls with the darkest skin tones were three times more likely to be suspended than black girls with the lightest skin.”

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