Hope

REPORT : 'A Window of Hope'

If you’re in need of some good news, check out Aaron McCarroll Gallegos’ Sojourners magazine commentary “From ‘Iron Fist’ to Hand of Peace” (from the November 2012 issue). The author tells the story of the remarkable truce between El Salvador’s most notorious gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18.

The Transnational Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador (TAGSPPES), which helped broker the truce, recently released a report called “A Window of Hope: El Salvador's Opportunity to Address History of Violence.”

According to TAGSPPES, the six-month-long truce has already led to a 70 percent reduction in homicides. While the truce is a precarious peace at best, it provides an opening for growth and healing in El Salvador: “The space opened by the truce is an historic opportunity that cannot be squandered or El Salvador risks maintaining its status as one of the poorest and most violent places in the world into the foreseeable future.”

The report outlines the advisory group’s findings and recommendations to help reduce gang violence and bring reconciliation to El Salvador. Read the full report here.

 

 

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Orphans Among Us

"Honja." Photo by Cathleen Falsani.
"Honja." Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

My neighbors signed my report card.

Having had the same conversation countless times in my life, I have learned that one sentence sums up a cacophony of explanations.

It is tricky, I have found, trying to explain why friends are listed as my emergency contacts, why I wake up Christmas morning in the home of people to whom I am not related, and why my parents — both living — have been anything but.

The separation started so long ago that I struggle to remember exactly when it began. When I was starting middle school my mom’s depression hit hard and fast. My dad, who understands love as a finite commodity, could not muster any for me. Loving her meant giving all of it to try to save her. His attempts and inability to do so created a stress that amplified his MS from inconvenient to disabling.

In a moment, it seemed, they were gone.

We were wealthy and Southern and had everything that went along with both: a close-knit community, punctilious social obligations, and money to stay afloat. In the world in which I grew up, everyone surely knew everything about everyone, but damn if they weren’t polite enough to pretend it was all OK. It was a magnificent masquerade.

But the truth remained: I was an orphan.

The Lamb and the Beast

WHEN A GROUP of refugees from Burma who attend my church in Melbourne, Australia, asked me to co-lead a study of the book of Revelation last year, at first I was apprehensive. After all, the book is strange and confusing. Many, including Martin Luther, have asked whether it’s even necessary to include it in the New Testament. But, as our group plunged into Revelation’s mysterious depths, I was to learn that, unlike Western Christians, praying refugees readily see its lessons about the powers of evil—social, political, spiritual, and personal—and the decisive struggle that the Son of God mounts against them.

The 18 young women and men in the study, who ranged from 16-to- 24-years old, were members of the Karen ethnic group. The civil war in their home region of Burma has, over decades, resulted in massive displacement and suffering. In recent years thousands of Karen people have resettled in the U.S. and other countries, including Australia. (Although current political developments in Burma raise cautious hope of eventual peace, at present fighting continues in Karen State and other areas inhabited by ethnic minorities.)

Leading the study of Revelation with me was Thara Nonoe, a Karen man in his mid-50s highly esteemed in the community for his skills in imparting knowledge and writing poetry. (“Thara,” which means “teacher,” is a Karen title of respect.) The young always listen to him keenly. Our six-part study was a segment of a two-year series of lay religious education. As I prepared, I was haunted by Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost: “In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my Spirit” (Acts 2:17). Pentecost signifies that the last days have arrived, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet Joel. In my mind, these words have particular reference to oppressed believers such as Christian refugees.

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Behold, The Dreamer Cometh

A few weeks after the October 2002 plane crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia, and five others, a Lutheran confirmation class visiting D.C. from Minnesota decided to stop by Wellstone’s office to pay their respects. As the group went through security at the Senate office building, one of the students—who had worked on the senator’s re-election campaign and was still wearing a Wellstone button—set off the metal detector. The officer took her to the side to wand her. As he was checking her, the guard said, “Not one other senator in this place knows my name; Paul Wellstone knew my kid’s name.” He and the student hugged each other, and both started weeping.

Paul Wellstone touched people’s lives in profound ways, mostly because he genuinely sought to live a life of integrity, in both public and personal matters. He once advised, “Never separate the life you live from the words you speak,” and those who knew him best said he honestly tried to follow that advice. (A Midwest political observer said the Right never knew what to do with Wellstone, because he lived “conservative values” at home while working for progressive change in the public sphere.)

Wellstone’s political career began when, as a political science professor at Minnesota’s Carleton College, he started working with farmers to block electric lines forcibly run through their farms—and he continued to organize and agitate on behalf of regular people for the rest of his days.

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Life Lessons From Baseball

Baseball on the infield chalk, David Lee / Shutterstock.com

I have been a Little League baseball coach for both of my sons’ teams for many years. And I’ve learned that baseball can teach us life lessons.

Just a few weeks ago, my 9-year-old’s team was down 5-0, and we had already lost our first two games. It didn’t look good. But all of a sudden, our bats came alive; all our practice and preparation suddenly showed itself. Best of all, our rally started in the bottom half of the order, with our weakest hitters. Two kids got on with walks, and our least experienced player came to the plate. With international parents, he had never played baseball before, and you could tell he didn’t have a clue. But somehow he hit the ball, and it went into the outfield. Our first two runs scored, and he ended up on second base. Being from a British Commonwealth culture, he began to walk over to the shortstop and second baseman and shake their hands! “Stefan,” I shouted. “You have to stay on the base!” “Oh,” he said. “I’ve never been here before.”

Inspired, other kids who had never got hits before also got them now. Then the best hitters started to hit, and we came back to win 11 to 6. In a long team meeting afterward, the kids couldn’t stop telling each other what they had learned. “We didn’t give up, and we came back!” “Our rally started with the bottom of the order.” “Sometimes you get what you need from unexpected places.” “We all just kept cheering for each other.” “Everybody helped us win today.” Finally, our star player said, “This just goes to show you: You can’t ever give up on hope. We always have to keep on hoping no matter what.”

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The Affordable Care Act: Without a Vision, the People Perish

Image by Konstantin Sutyagin / shutterstock.
Image by Konstantin Sutyagin / shutterstock.

Where there is no vision, the people perish. ~ Proverbs 29:18

Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was remarkable in a number of ways. The vast majority of articles, blogs, and analyses focus on the political ramifications of the decision.

Is this a win for the Obama administration or fuel for the Romney campaign? Pundits have looked at nearly every political angle, from the upcoming presidential election to its effects on local politics.

While I appreciate the political analysis and the importance of political processes to the wellbeing of the United States, I believe that a majority of coverage has missed one of the most remarkable points of the ACA: It changes the vision of our national community.

Is Hope the Key to Tackling Poverty?

In the latest edition of The Economist, a new theory on how to tackle poverty: offer hope.

The idea that an infusion of hope can make a big difference to the lives of wretchedly poor people sounds like something dreamed up by a well-meaning activist or a tub-thumping politician. Yet this was the central thrust of a lecture at Harvard University on May 3rd by Esther Duflo, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology known for her data-driven analysis of poverty. Ms Duflo argued that the effects of some anti-poverty programmes go beyond the direct impact of the resources they provide. These programmes also make it possible for the very poor to hope for more than mere survival.

Read more about Ms. Duflo's research here

New Wind, New Flesh

Experiments in my first science class at school left an indelible impression on my imagination. I was particularly fascinated when the physics teacher covered a hefty bar magnet with a sheet of paper and then sprinkled iron filings over it. We made the filings jump about by banging the table and when they fell back they aligned themselves into a graceful fern-like pattern, revealing the invisible lines of force emanating from the magnet below. That’s why I love this sentence from the Easter sermon in John Updike’s novel A Month of Sundays: “Still to this day ... the rumor lives, that something mitigating has occurred, as if just yesterday, to align, like a magnet passing underneath a paper heaped with filings, the shards of our confusion, our covetousness, our trespasses on the confusions of others, our sleepless terror and walking corruption.”

Again in Eastertide we sense that the resurrection of Jesus has started to pull the scattered impulses of our lives into a new pattern. We realize afresh that Christian life is essentially powered by hope, a passion for the unprecedented, possibilities for life in our world that have never been seen before. We recall that Christian life is not a religious ideology to be propagated, but an actual incorporation into the person of the risen Christ and an intimate experience of divine indwelling, through the Spirit active and present in the heart and in our relationships.

Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest serving at St. Columba’s Church in Washington, D.C.

[ May 6 ]
Sink Deep Your Roots
Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31;
1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

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Faith is Certain and Endless

Sunrise over New York City. Image via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/HRlswn).
Sunrise over New York City. Image via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/HRlswn).

I know that the sun will rise tomorrow.

With all of the scientific facts and astronomical data we are blessed with today, I can expect to wake up tomorrow and see rays of light shining through my window.

There is also no debating time. Our clocks, both digital and internal, continue to tick onward no matter the circumstances. These are inexorable certainties in life. However, these proven facts of our existence are limited. They are not the whole story.

There are things in life we neither can physically see nor explain, and yet we choose to believe anyway.

When our little siblings place their fallen teeth underneath their pillows, hoping to see a winged fairy deliver gifts in return, they are relying entirely on an unproven belief. When students choose universities to attend, they do not know what the outcomes of their decisions will be, nor can they predetermine their futures after school. But they continue to grow and experiment with life anyway.

Even the wisest of theologians and clergy have very few answers to the questions pertaining to God’s existence that enter our minds on a daily basis. All of these situations represent something many of us hold onto so dearly: Faith.

How to Forget Paris

Heart image via Shutterstock
Heart image via Shutterstock

A friend of mine — one who’s wiser and kinder and more thoughtful than I — knows the difficult, painful unweaving I’m talking about. She, too, was carroted down the rabbit trail of a hope-filled future shared with someone, only to discover her bed was left just as cold as the promises she’d so earnestly trusted.

“Falling in love is totally magical and beautiful and gives you this insane ability to operate on 4 hours of sleep a night for a long time,” she said. “It chooses you and that gift is one of life’s best ones. You have to choose it back, though.” She paused, her voice cracking, and I knew she meant it. “At some point, you become more real to each other and the hard work sets in. So you try and try, and even then, sometimes it doesn’t work out. And when that happens, you’ll be ok.” I was looking at her across the table.

“Just let it be sad,” she concluded. “Ironically, sadness will be your guide out of sadness.”

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